On My Heart - A Weekly Devotional by Bob Krepps

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December 18, 2003 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear Him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  The he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.  Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15: 1 – 10 (NIV)

The religious people of Jesus’ day were criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the wrong crowd.  He socialized with “sinners”!  In response to their criticism Jesus tells three stories to illustrate God’s heart and love for the “lost”.

Too often we act more like the religious leaders of Jesus day than like Jesus.  We isolate ourselves from those who do not think or believe like us.  We avoid non-believers because they have opinions we don’t like, do things we don’t approve of or are not interested in things we are interested in.  We avoid spending time with people we are uncomfortable being with or are hard for us to love.  I need to ask myself the question, do I love people in the way Jesus would want me to love people?  Do I view others as “sinners” and yet do not see the sin of pride and selfishness in my own heart?  We need to love as Jesus loved.  We need to acknowledge that we are also sinners in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God.

If you have ever observed a parent who has lost a child, you know that they go into action.  Nothing stops them until they find their child.  Finding their child becomes the most important goal in their life.  It becomes their only goal until the child is found.  One summer day my heart was captured by a news story.  A family had gone on a short outing and picnic.  Their seven year old son had wondered off - everyone thought he was with someone else.  After a frantic search for the boy, the family knew they needed help.  Soon search and rescue teams and several helicopters joined the search.  Several hundred people dropped what they were doing to search for this little boy.  Why?  Because the stakes were high!  A child cannot survive in the harsh elements of the Arizona desert for very long.  This was a life and death situation!

The stakes are even higher when we are talking about lost people.  All around us, every day, people you and I know are in a desperate situation.  They do not know Jesus Christ.  They need to know the love and grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is a matter of eternal life and death.  I need to "leave the ninety-nine" more often and love people around me.  How about you?

The boy was found the next day after spending a frightening night alone in the desert.  There were tears, joy and celebration when he was found.  Jesus says, "In the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents . . .”  When a lost sinner is redeemed there is a huge party in heaven!

These stories are not about sheep or silver coins; they are about people.  No one would object to looking for lost sheep or coins but when Jesus went searching for lost people they objected.  Are you willing to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ and love the people God has put in your life?  If your only or primary contact is with those who are Christians, will you begin to leave the safety of the ninety-nine?  Ask God to give you His heart for people and the ability to love “lost sheep”.

December 11, 2003 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even is own life – he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.  Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to finish it?  For if he lays a foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king.  Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.  Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Luke 14:  25 – 35 (NIV)

Jesus was becoming popular; large crowds were traveling following Him wherever He went.  The crowds did not understand what Jesus was about or what it really meant to follow Him.  Many were just there for the excitement.  Jesus was not interested in quickly increasing the numbers of His followers.   He turns to the crowd and says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even is own life – he cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus is not advocating that we hate our family.  What He is saying is that the love and devotion we must have for Him when compared to our love for our family could seem like hate.  Jesus is making it clear that a commitment to Him is not painless.  “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Discipleship is demanding, and our devotion to Jesus Christ may even end in martyrdom.  Those who follow Him must be prepared for this possibility.

Jesus gives a couple of illustrations to clarify His point.  A person who impulsively starts to build something and then discovers that he doesn’t have enough money to finish would be ridiculed as foolish.  In the same way, Jesus asks us to carefully consider the cost of following Him.  Those who hastily abandon Him when pressure comes are not true followers; they are fools.  Wise national leaders carefully gather intelligence and consider all the risks before going to war.  In the same way when we follow Jesus Christ we are placing our lives into His hands.  “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  He is the trustworthy One who took up His cross and carried it for us.  He is our loving Master Builder; when He begins a good work in our lives He brings it to completion.  He is faithful and does not abandon us.

Have you counted the cost of following Jesus Christ?  Is your commitment to Jesus solid and informed, superficial or non-existent?  Jesus is looking for disciples who have an authentic commitment to Him.  He is worthy of that type of commitment.  Thank Him often for taking up His cross and dying for you.

December 4, 2003 When one of those at the table heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”  Jesus replied:  “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.  Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’  The servant came back and reported this to his master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’  Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”  Luke 14:  15 – 23 (NIV)

Why would someone make excuses to reject the greatest invitation ever given?  Jesus gives some insight into this question in this parable.  He tells a story about a man who invites a lot of guests to a great banquet.  In an age without clocks, an invitation to a banquet was given ahead of time announcing the event and then when the dinner was ready a second messenger was sent to invite everyone who accepted the first invitation to come.  It was a great insult to reject the second invitation.  The people in Jesus’ story make up some very poor excuses to this second invitation, saying they can not come to this banquet.  One says, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.’  I am sure he must have looked at the field before he decided to buy it!  Another says, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.’  That’s like saying, ‘I just bought a car or a tractor and I would rather play with my new toy instead of coming to your banquet.’  Didn’t he try them out before he bought them?  Another says he can’t come because he is married.

We all make excuses to avoid doing things we do not want to do.  The excuses we give often hide our real reason; avoiding something we don’t want to do.  In Jesus’ story people reject God’s gracious invitation of the gospel because they do not treasure Him.  Almost everything else is more important.  Jesus Christ is not attractive to them.  The invitation doesn’t seem worth considering.  Other things are more attractive. 

When the servant reports all the excuses back, the master becomes angry and orders, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  When we see God’s invitation is something we are in desperate need of we take His invitation seriously.  When we clearly see our sin and where it leads then we can see that the gospel is the only answer.  Jesus Christ becomes a necessity.  There is no other alternative.  The amazing feast to which God invites us is now delightfully attractive.

How much do you treasure Jesus Christ?  Do you delight in spending time with Him?  Are you making excuses that keep you from enjoying God’s spiritual feast?  Ask God to give you a deep hunger for Him.  Pray also that God will open the eyes of others (the spiritually blind) so they will see their need to take God’s invitation of the gospel seriously.

November 27, 2003 When He noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, He told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’  Then you will be honored in there presence of all your fellow guests.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus then said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.  Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14: 7 – 14 (NIV)

Jesus went to eat at the house of a prominent religious leader.  He notices how the guests picked where they sat.  A seat next to the host at the host’s right was the highest place of honor; then the seat at the host’s left, and so on.  It would be easy to see where everyone was in the pecking order.  The religious leaders at this dinner were experts in exalting themselves.   Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity about humility and God’s kingdom.

At first, this might seem like a great strategy to cleverly gain more recognition.  That’s not Jesus point.   Jesus is saying that honor is not to be sought after and grasped.  It is something that is given to us.  If you seek to be exalted, the result will be humiliation and embarrassment.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus Christ was One who humbled Himself; we are to follow His example.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”  Philippians 2:  3 – 8 (NIV)  We are to honor our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who humbled Himself, above everyone.  God promises to exalt His Son and He also promises that we will one day participate in His glorious exaltation.  Let the Host, Jesus Christ, be the One to say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’

Next, Jesus focuses on the purpose of hospitality.  True hospitality is not centered on selfishly advancing our own goals.  It is others centered!  True hospitality is focused on being kind to and blessing others.  That’s that kind of hospitality God blesses and rewards.

Do you seek recognition, status or honor?  Or are you following the humble example of Jesus Christ?  Do you practice ‘others centered hospitality’ or ‘self-centered hospitality’ or no hospitality at all?  Ask God to show you any prideful or selfish attitudes you have that He may want to transform.  Thank Jesus today that He willingly humbled Himself for us.

A Thanksgiving Meditation:

"Praise is rooted in the fact that we are created by God, life is a gift from God, each day is a blessing from God, and the next breath we breathe is in the hand of God."  Dan Puckett

November 20, 2003 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem.  Someone asked Him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’  But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’  Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.  Away from me, all you evildoers!’  There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.  People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.  Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.  Luke 13: 22 – 30 (NIV)

Jesus is asked what seems to be a very simple question, “Are only a few people going to be saved?”  First, Jesus says that the door is narrow and many who think they deserve to be saved will not be saved.  There is urgency to making seeking the kingdom of God the main priority of life.  You cannot postpone getting your relationship with God right.  There is no time for that.  One day the door will be slammed shut; it will be too late.  There will be intense anger and grief when those who expect to be let into God’s kingdom find themselves locked out forever.  That’s the very shocking and strong warning Jesus gives us.

Jesus goes on to say that there will be a lot of surprises as to who will be there and who will have places of honor.  God is a God who is perfect in all His ways.  There are people who are never noticed by anyone, who devoutly love and humbly serve the Lord Jesus, who will be greatly honored at Christ’s banquet table.  There will be others who receive a great deal of recognition and honor now who will barely make it into the kingdom.  Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. 

Jesus also says to those listening to Him.  Some of you will who think you are getting in will be left out of God’s kingdom, but there will be people there from every place on earth.  People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.  When answering the question, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” a big part of Jesus’ answer is there will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation in God’s glorious kingdom.  (Even people we might not think deserve to be there.)  There is a narrow door, but, a lot of people from all over the world will be celebrating in God’s kingdom.

The door to heaven is narrow because Jesus Christ Himself is that doorHe said, “I am the door; he who enters through Me will be saved.”  (John 10:9)  Our efforts never get us into the kingdom of God.  Jesus does.  We must humble ourselves, admit our desperate need and come through Him.  We are saved by His grace.  What Jesus is saying is that we should be passionate about seeking Him first and seeking His kingdom.  Make every effort to enter it His way.  Do not delay seeking Him.

Are you seeking God and His kingdom?  Are you striving to enter through the narrow door of Jesus Christ or are you relying on something else to save you?  Thank Him for providing and becoming exactly what we need; a narrow door.

November 13, 2003 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall it I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”  Again He asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Luke 13:  18 – 21 (NIV)

What are a few people compared to the enormous task of taking the good news to the entire world?  Jesus gives insight into God’s kingdom using two examples.  First, He says that God’s kingdom starts small.  But, these small beginning seeds of God’s kingdom eventually grow into large trees.  Don’t be discouraged, the growth potential of small seeds planted to God’s glory is tremendous.  New seeds constantly need to be planted. 

God’s kingdom can also be compared to a small amount of yeast that makes bread rise.  Again, something very small causes significant change.  The flour is greatly transformed because of a tiny amount of yeast.

Our attempts to sow seeds of the gospel may seem feeble and useless.  Our small attempts to spread God’s kingdom may seem like nothing.  We may be tempted not to even start something because we think, “What difference will this make?  This is so little compared to what is really needed.”  Do not be overwhelmed or discouraged.  Do not despise something that starts small.  God is not small or powerless.  God takes the tiny seed that we sow and creates powerful growth and transformation.  We may not even see it at first, but eventually growth takes place.  That is what God’s kingdom is like.  Let Jesus’ words about His kingdom encourage you as you serve Him.

November 6, 2003On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.  When Jesus saw her, He called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from infirmity.”  Then He put His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.  Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work.  So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites!  Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it to give it water?  The should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”  When He said this, all His opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing.  Luke 13:  10 – 17 (NIV)

Imagine what it would be life to be in agony for eighteen years, unable to stand straight up at all.  When Jesus sees this woman His heart goes out to her.  He does not wait for her to come up to Him and ask for healing.  Jesus goes out of His way to minister to her.  When Jesus saw her, He called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from infirmity.”  Then He put His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.  She was free this crippling condition!  God had healed her in an amazing way.

An indignant angry religious leader loudly rebukes Jesus for healing this woman in front of everyone.  “There are six days for work.  So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  He hated Jesus’ ministry and self righteously attacks Jesus for healing this poor woman on the wrong day.  This was a day God had set aside to benefit human beings.  This religious leader moralistically distorts God’s purpose for the Sabbath in order to attack Jesus.  Jesus rebukes him by reminding him that even animals are untied and cared for on the Sabbath.  Are not people more important than livestock?  Shouldn’t this woman be set free from her suffering on the Sabbath; a day set aside for acts of mercy?  All His opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing. 

Are you too quick to criticize people who are ministering in a way that doesn’t quite fit your understanding of how ministry should be done?

Like Jesus, we are to notice people and minister to them.  Like Jesus, we will face opposition when we are doing what God has called us to do.  We need to look to Jesus Christ when we face opposition.  He understands and cares.

October 30, 2003 Then He told this parable:  “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?’  ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.’”  Luke 13:  6 – 9 (NIV)

Jesus tells a short parable about an owner of a vineyard.  He is very upset because a fig tree he planted is not bearing fruit.  He has patiently waited three seasons for fruit.  Now he has had enough!  He decides that this tree is a wasted investment and should be cut down and replaced.  The man hired to care for the tree pleads for one more year.  If the fig tree fails to bear fruit next season after another year of fertilizer, pruning and care then he will cut down. 

What does this story teach us?  God is patient with His people.  But there is a limit to God’s patience.  He expects us to be fruitful.  We are called to bear fruit.  We may need some more “fertilizer” and tender care in order to be productive.  But, Jesus message is clear; if we are not producing spiritual fruit then a change has to be made.

How does your life compare to this fig tree?  How fruitful are you?  If you had just one year to make changes in your life, what would you do?  What fruit do you want to be producing by this time next year?

October 23, 2003Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  Luke 13:  1 – 5 (NIV)

This is one of the hard statements of Jesus that I wish He had never said.  I’d rather not write a devotional on these verses.  Some people in the crowd ask Jesus about a current event that must have been on everyone’s mind.  The Roman Governor had a reputation for abusing his power.  This time he had not only ruthlessly slaughtered some people but he also mixed their blood with their sacrifices to God.   It was shockingly sacrilegious and a horrible injustice.  How could God allow something like this to happen?  This was the question they wanted Jesus to answer.

It is common, even today, for some people to think that a person’s suffering is directly related to how much they have sinned.  I have actually had well meaning Christians come to me when I was ill to tell me that some sin I committed must have caused my illness.   Otherwise, they reasoned, I would not be sick.  Jesus dismisses that idea immediately.  “Do you think that these were worse sinners because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!”  Suffering is a reality that exists in a world of sin.  But a person who is sick, in pain or suffering an injustice is not usually suffering because of a particular sin or in proportion to how much they have sinned. 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He shocks us by saying, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  That is a harsh comment.  They are certainly not words of comfort.  He also mentions another recent event, a tower fell killing a group of innocent bystanders.  Why did those eighteen die?  Were they worse sinners than others who escaped?  No.   Again Jesus says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  What is Jesus saying?  The penalty for sinning is death, yet we continue to sin and rebel against a Holy God.  We are under the sentence of death.  It is only because of God’s mercy that anyone is alive.  Yet, we are surprised when we experience suffering.  We take God’s grace and mercy for granted.  Every moment we live and every blessing we enjoy is because God is a patient and merciful God.  We don’t deserve His mercy.  When we see or hear about any disaster, injustice or suffering the question we should ask is this:  Why didn’t it happen to me?  We should be more surprised and amazed by God’s grace.  Jesus lovingly gives this harsh warning because He wants us to wake up to the fact that God’s patience and mercy should lead us to repentance.

Are you taking God’s grace and mercy for granted?  Do you thank God daily for the blessings you enjoy?  Does God’s goodness to you motivate you to turn away from sin and to turn to Jesus Christ for cleansing and forgiveness?

October 16, 2003Then Jesus said to His disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or what about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider how the lilies grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and you Father knows that you need them.  But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father had been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Luke 12: 22 – 34 (NIV)

Worry and anxiety can be serious problems.  Anxiety can paralyze and even destroy us.  It can erode our faith in the living God.  Jesus is not encouraging laziness or irresponsibility.  That is not faith.  Jesus’ concern is that we keep our focus on the more important things.  Worry distracts our attention from God.  We can begin to think that money can do what God can not do; turning money into an idol.  We look to money, not God to solve our problems.  I sometimes think that if only I had this thing or a certain amount of money my problems would be solved or my future would be secure.

Jesus chooses the raven (not a well thought of bird like a dove) as an example for His disciples to think about.  They considered the raven to be an unclean, ugly, and worthless scavenger.  Yet, God cares for and feeds the ravens.  “And how much more valuable you are than birds!”   Worrying will not add even an hour to your life.  So why worry about food and clothing?  God cares about you and knows what you need.  Let God worry about them.  We are to seek God and His Kingdom above all else.  Why get so preoccupied with lesser things?

We need to develop a deep trust that puts God first.  If we are to be anxious about anything it should be about our own spiritual condition and the spiritual condition of those we love.  Are you walking closely with God?  The Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, wants to give us (His little flock) the riches of His kingdom as an inheritance.  Do not be afraid.   Do not worry.  Trust your heavenly Father to provide what He already knows you need.

October 9, 2003Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  Then he said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  And He told them this parable:  “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.’  Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night you life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12: 13 – 21 (NIV)

Jesus is exasperated with this man who interrupts him with a selfish concern.  He is preoccupied with a family dispute over money.  Jesus has been teaching vital spiritual truths.  Was this man even listening?  Jesus now uses this as an opportunity to teach the crowd another lesson.

The man in Jesus’ parable is not a fool because he is successful and diligent to plan ahead.  He isn’t a fool because he is rich.  He is a fool because lives his life as if that is all that counts.  He doesn’t think about God.  He has no sense of the value of his soul.  He thinks he knows the future.  He thinks that he has nothing to worry about, but he has never considered the state of his soul.  God calls him a fool.  He has failed to consider eternity.  He has neglected his own soul.  He is not rich toward God.

Are you rich toward God?  Or do you live as if your life consists primarily of your material possessions, earning money or having a good time?  Are you preoccupied with concerns in your life that are keeping you from caring for your own soul?  Would God call you a fool or wise today?  Carefully consider the state of your soul.  Ask God to give you a heart of wisdom.

October 2, 2003 - I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after killing the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.  But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.  Luke 12: 4 – 9 (NIV)

Jesus is talking to those closest to Him, His friends.  He knows that the pressure of the dangers facing those who follow Him can and will become very intense.  They will even come face to face with death because of their loyalty to Christ.  Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.”  Ultimate power and authority is in the hands of God.  God alone has power over life and death.  God alone has the authority to cast a soul into hell.  Only He can destroy in the ultimate sense.  He is the only One we are to fear.  God is an awesome God.  We are to worship Him in awe and reverence. 

A healthy fear of God should drive us to embrace the love of God found in Jesus Christ.  Jesus reminds His friends that they are deeply loved and valued by God.  You are so important to God that He knows and takes pleasure in every little detail about you.  “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are numbered.”   God pays attention to us!  You can be confident that He values you greatly.  If you acknowledge Jesus Christ before men then He will be your advocate when you appear before the judgment throne of God.  You will not have to stand alone before God.  “The Son of Man will also acknowledge you before the angels of God.”  You will stand covered by the grace and mercy of Christ with nothing to fear.  All fear of divine judgment is removed by being in Jesus Christ.

Are you afraid to openly acknowledge Jesus Christ?  What are you afraid of?

September 25, 2003Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to His disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.  Luke 12: 1 – 3 (NIV)

There is somebody watching everything we do.  There is someone who knows everything we think.  There are no private acts with God.  He doesn’t even need hidden cameras.  “There is nothing in all creation hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  Hebrews 4:13.  Jesus warns that ultimately, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”   There is no real privacy.  God will tear off the masks of hypocrisy and reveal the truth.  Everyone will know.  God loves us too much to allow our secret sin to continue unexposed.

Jesus encouraged us to keep some things private.  His followers are not to make a public show of giving, praying or fasting.  God will see, bless and openly reward these private acts done out of love for Him.  (See Matthew 6: 1 - 18.)

It is best that we live our lives as if everything we do, say and think is being observed.  God does see everything.  There is a day when God will expose everything; our secret sins and our secret virtues.  That would be terrifying were it not for the fact that we have a loving Savior who promises to cover His people with the righteousness of Christ.  On the day of God’s judgment, everyone who is in Christ will be hidden in Him.

Are you living your life each day with the awareness that God sees and knows all?  Are you ashamed of things you do in private or would they bring you honor if publicly revealed?  Is there anything you are doing in private you would be embarrassed to have exposed?

September 18, 2003When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited Him to eat with him; so He went in and reclined at the table.  But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.  Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You foolish people!  Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?  But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.  Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of you mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.  You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.  Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.  Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”  Luke 11: 37 – 44 (NIV)

Religious leaders of Jesus’ day had added various ritual requirements to the law God had given in Holy Scripture.  One of these additions was the ritual of ceremonial purification and cleansing before eating a meal.  A religious leader (a Pharisee) invited Jesus to dinner.  He was surprised that Jesus did not ceremonially wash before the meal.  Jesus responds to his negative reaction by saying, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You foolish people!”   They were practicing the ritual, but they were ignoring the truth that this ritual was designed to teach.  Religion is dead when it degenerates into meaningless empty external forms and rituals.  Jesus points out that they are still actually unclean because they fail to cleanse sin from their hearts.  The love of God, justice and mercy which are the very heart of God’s law can not be neglected.  That would be foolish.

Jesus goes on to point out that these religious leaders love the recognition and respect they receive.  Their hearts are captured by advancing their status, recognition and a desire look good in front of people.  We are very susceptible to the same temptations if we are not captured with the desire to please Jesus Christ above everyone else.  In the Old Testament law, if you stepped on a grave you were ceremonially unclean.  It was a common practice to whitewash tombs to make them more visible.  But, some tombs would be neglected and would be stepped on by accident.  If you accidentally stepped on one of these graves you would have to go through a purification ceremony.  Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are like unmarked graves.  People are being deceived by their false teaching and hypocrisy.  They are led astray by following their “spiritual” guides.  Spiritual guides who look good on the outside but whose hearts are far from God are very displeasing to God.

Who do you desire to please most?  Jesus Christ, yourself or someone else?  Are you pretending to be someone you are not?  Does what other people see on the outside of your life match the internal reality of your life?  Are there areas of sin in your life that you are not honestly dealing with?  Is there an area of obedience to God that you are neglecting?  You can’t fool God!  God knows everything about us.  This should cause us to flee to the loving arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  His great mercy leads us to repentance.  God’s Holy Spirit transforms our sinful desires and enables us to love and please Him.

September 11, 2003As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation.  It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.  The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.  No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl.  Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.  Your eye is the lamp of your body.  When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light.  But when they are bad, your body is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.  Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines within you.”  Luke 11: 29 – 36 (NIV)

People were not satisfied with the power that Jesus had already demonstrated in His ministry.  He had healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons but they still insisted on more.  He had given them signs that could have only come from the hand of the living God.  The crowds wanted more.  Now Jesus says that no miraculous sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.  Jonah was rescued by a great fish and delivered from death.  He lived to preach to the people of Nineveh.  Jesus indicates that He will perform an even greater sign than Jonah’s; He will actually rise from the dead.  Jesus’ resurrection will confirm who He is:  the Divine Son of the Living God.  He goes on to say that people from earlier generations will condemn them at the judgment.  One who is far greater than Solomon or Jonah was present and they still refuse to repent and believe.

Jesus came into the world and clearly manifested Himself as the Light of the World.  But, men and women are blinded by sin and close their eyes to the light our glorious Savior.  Lives characterized by the darkness of sin fear the exposure that light brings.  If we acknowledge Christ as Lord, then that means we must humble ourselves and admit our sin and our need for forgiveness.  It means we must repent and trust in Christ alone to forgive our sin and allow God to transform us by His Spirit.  Jesus’ point is that the real reason people will not believe in Him is not that there is not enough evidence (signs) but that people shut their eyes to a world filled with evidence of God’s glory.

How is your spiritual eyesight?  Are you allowing Jesus Christ to shine His light into the dark places of your life?  Are you insisting on “signs” from God before you fully trust Him?  Ask God for healthy spiritual eyes to enable you to see Him more clearly.

September 4, 2003Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’  Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed.  I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.  So I say to you:  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  Luke 11:  5 – 13 (NIV)

The disciples had just asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  He first taught them a basic pattern for prayer.  This is the next part of Jesus’ response to His disciples’ request.  Jesus says, suppose that a traveling friend unexpectedly arrives at your door at midnight.  It wouldn’t have been unusual for someone to arrive late at night seeking lodging.  Hospitality was an important part of this society.  The weary traveler is hungry and needs food you do not have.  So you go next door and wake your neighbor in order to borrow the food he needs.  In Jesus’ example, the neighbor will not get up because of their friendship but does eventually give him what he needs because of the man’s boldness and persistence.  Jesus’ point is that we are to pray persistently and specifically.  God is not like this reluctant neighbor.  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4: 2)  Are you praying?  Are you praying specifically?  Are you persistent in prayer?  Ask, seek and knock!  This statement from Jesus should motivate and encourage us to pray.  Think about how many of God’s blessings you may have missed out on because you failed to ask for them.

What kind of father would give their hungry child a scorpion if they asked for an egg?  Only a cruel and abusive father would do something like that!  Jesus point is that even sinful people know how to give good things to their children.  God is pure and good.  Our Heavenly Father can not do anything evil.  God knows much better than we do how to give good gifts to His children.  Your loving Heavenly Father invites you to ask, seek and knock in prayer.

What are you asking God for?  Bread?  Success?  Money?  Healing?  The progress of the gospel?  God also invites you to ask Him for His Holy Spirit.  “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

August 28, 2003One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.”  Luke 11: 1 – 4 (NIV)

Jesus’ disciples learned a lot from being with Him day and night for several years.  They observed Him teach, heal, raise the dead and handle all kinds of situations.  Jesus also frequently taught and exhorted His own disciples.  There are a lot of things that the disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them.  The disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them to raise the dead, turn water into wine, to walk on water, to cast out demons or heal the sick.  They didn’t ask Him to teach them theology or answers to hard questions they might be asked.  One day, after Jesus had been praying, they did ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”   They did not ask “teach us how to pray” but “teach us to pray.”  They had been with Jesus long enough to know that source of everything that attracted them to Him was the hours He spent alone talking with His Heavenly Father.  They saw a direct connection between Jesus’ intense prayer life and His character, wisdom, and power in ministry.  The disciples want the same kind of intimate relationship with God that Jesus has, so they ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Jesus teaches His disciples a simple model prayer outline; a pattern for prayer.  Jesus tells them to address God as their Father.  They now have the awesome privilege to come intimately into the presence of the Creator of the universe as an adopted child of the Living God.  They can address Him as Father.  In Jesus’ day this is definitely a radical concept!  Then Jesus gives them several petitions (requests) to consistently bring before God.  First, pray that God’s name will be hallowed (treated as holy and honored).  In other words; pray that God will be treated with respect and reverence.  Second, pray that God’s Kingdom will be clearly manifested (made known or be evident) in the world.  Third, pray God will give us the basic nourishment that we need to live today.  Then Jesus says to confess our sin to God every day whenever you sin, ask for forgiveness and forgive others who sin against you.  It is vital to our relationship with God and with others that we constantly experience God’s mercy and extend His grace to others.  Finally, we are to pray for protection and deliverance from temptation.  Are all these things a part of your daily prayer life?

How would you rate your prayer life?  Is it the secret source of power and strength for your life and ministry?  Or do you still need to learn to pray?  It is not easy to spend time alone with God.  Prayer does not come naturally or happen automatically.  Powerful, effective prayer and intimacy with God requires significant time, effort, discipline and practice.  There are no short cuts to a close relationship with God.  We can know how to pray, talk about praying or even teach about prayer but what really matters is this:  Are we spending time alone with God praying?

August 21, 2003As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10 38 – 42 (NIV)

Martha and Mary opened their home to Jesus and His disciples.  On this occasion, Mary neglected her responsibilities as a hostess to listen to Jesus.  There was a lot of work to do in order to serve their guests properly.  Martha was left to take care of all the preparations herself.  Exasperated, Martha complains to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  Instead of the help she wanted, Martha gets a gentle rebuke from Jesus.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

Like Mary, Martha should have dropped everything to listen to Jesus.  His words were words of life.  Jesus was teaching vital truth about the Kingdom of God.  In a few weeks Jesus would no longer be with them.  But His words would remain with them.  Every opportunity to be with Jesus and listen to Him should have been treasured.  Mary was seeking first the Kingdom of God and that would not be taken away from her.  That was more far more important than fixing dinner or taking care of the dishes.  We are not told what Martha did at this point.  Martha deeply loved the Lord, that’s why she was serving Him.  She probably stopped what she was doing and spent next few hours sitting at the feet of Jesus taking in the Words of Life that came from His lips.  Jesus knew that’s what she needed most.

Who are you most like:  Mary or Martha?  (I identify more with Martha!)  Do you regularly take time to sit “at the Lord’s feet”, to listen to His Word?  Is your main priority in life seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness?  How will you practice Mary’s choice this week?

August 14, 2003On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What is written in the law?” He replied.  “How do you read it?”  He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied.  “Do this and you will live.”  But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:  25 – 37 (NIV)

Jesus’ enemies would often ask Him difficult questions in order to test Him.  They were not honest questions.  They were tying to find fault in something He said.  They wanted to embarrass or entrap Jesus.  On this occasion an expert in biblical law asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  This man is an expert in biblical law, so Jesus refers the question back to him by asking, “What is written in the law?”  This expert is now in the uncomfortable position of being the one questioned.  He gives Jesus a proper textbook answer taken right from the Scriptures (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 18:18).  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, the master teacher, tells him that he got the answer right.  Jesus goes on to say, “Do this and you will live.”  It is one thing to give the right answer, but doing it not that simple!  It is impossible!  This man wants to justify himself, in other words, he wants to prove that he is righteous enough to meet God’s standard.  So he asks, “Who is my neighbor?”  Whom must I love?

Jesus response is to tell a story about a traveler who is beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left for dead.  He will probably die if someone doesn’t help him soon.  Two religious workers traveling on the same road actually see this man’s plight but ignore him.  They want to get to their destinations and don’t want to get involved.  But someone does stop, has compassion on this man and lovingly provides the help he needs.  He even uses his own money to pay for the man’s lodging and care while he recovers.  In Jesus’ story it is a Samaritan who ministers to this battered man.  He was a person from a race, people and religious tradition they despised.  The religious tradition of that time was that only your own community members were your neighbors.  Jesus removes the boundaries.  Now all people are included as my neighbors.  In the twist of plot the story takes, those who should have naturally been caring neighbors were not.  Jesus now asks the very uncomfortable expert in biblical law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  Of course, there is only one right answer, he is the one now trapped by Jesus’ question.  He answers, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

Who is your neighbor?  How do you usually answer that question?  What does it really mean to love God and to love your neighbor?  How will you put this type of love into practice this coming week?  Ask God to transform your heart with His love.

It is simply impossible for me to consistently and fully love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.  Yet, this is the greatest (most important) commandment God has given us.  It is also impossible to for me to love each human being as much as I love myself.  Yet, that is God’s standard.  It is a standard I can not perfectly meet.  That is why we desperately need Jesus Christ.  It is impossible to be justified before God on our own.  It is only because of Christ’s righteousness and what He has done for us that we can stand justified before a holy God.  Praise God for His incredible mercy and grace!  Rely on His grace alone for your righteousness.

August 7, 2003After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.  Luke 10: 1 – 3 (NIV)

Earlier Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on a special ministry assignment (Luke 9).  Now He appoints seventy-two and sends them out to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom.  The first thing Jesus tells this group of disciples is “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  God is powerfully at work preparing a ripe harvest.  Jesus instructs those He is sending out to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”  It is God’s harvest!  He does not tell them to pray for the harvest.  It is plentiful.  He asks them to pray for workers.  They are few.  Pray that God will send more workers into His harvest field.  That is the greatest need!

Jesus also tells His disciples up front that He is sending them out as lambs among wolves.  We follow Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep; the Lamb of God who was slaughtered for the sin of the world.  He suffered for us.  Those who serve Him must also be prepared to suffer for His sake.  There is real risk to going into the harvest field as God’s workers.  There will always be hostility directed at God and His Kingdom.  Those involved on the frontlines of outreach will be targets of animosity.  That’s one reason why the workers are few.  In spite of the danger of strong opposition, our commander, the Lord Jesus Christ, still sends workers into the harvest field.  The need is great.  Courage is required.  There is also great joy, satisfaction and fulfillment in participating in God’s work.

Are you praying that God will send more workers into His harvest field?  Are you willing to be God’s answer to this prayer for more workers?  Are you praying for Christian workers on the frontlines of outreach?  Ask God today to send out more workers into “His harvest field”.  Encourage others to pray.  Pray for God’s protection upon those who have gone out and are serving in our Lord’s harvest fields as lambs among wolves“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  Pray!

July 31, 2003As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and bird of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”  Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:  57 – 62 (NIV)

There is a cost to following Jesus Christ.  As Jesus headed to fulfill His destiny, He encounters three different people.  The first one says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus response is surprising.  Instead of immediately welcoming this potential follower, Jesus warns him to consider the high cost first.  There would be no security.  “Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Jesus asks another to follow Him.  But this person replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  This request seems reasonable.  In the first century the duty to bury a parent superseded all other religious requirements.  But, if the father was already dead this man would not have been with Jesus.  He would have been obligated to be at the funeral.  It might have been months or years before his father actually died.  Following Jesus Christ can not wait until a more convenient time.  Several years ago a young man told me that he believed that everything the Bible said about Jesus Christ was true.  Then he said sadly, “But, I can’t become a Christian because I am the oldest son in my family and I have to bury my father.”  His family expected him to perform non-Christian acts of religious worship when his father died.  He could not face disappointing his family.

The last person tells Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”  This might seem like a reasonable request, but Jesus says “No”.  You can not look back.  Your eyes must be fixed on Christ and His Kingdom.

Do you make excuses for not completely following Jesus Christ today?  What are they?  Are your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and His Kingdom?  Ask God to give you the strength to follow Him daily.

July 24, 2003As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”  But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.  Luke 9:  51 – 56 (NIV)

Have you ever wanted to figuratively “call fire down from heaven to destroy” someone who rejected, hindered or harmed you?  I have to admit that I have.  Jesus is resolutely on His way to fulfill His mission.  He will not hesitate or turn back.  He will not avoid the cross.  The group traveling with Jesus is quite large.  Jesus sends messengers ahead so the village will be ready to offer the customary hospitality to this large group of travelers.  But they discover that they are not welcome.  The people in this village do not want Jesus as a guest.  James and John are infuriated by this insult and by this lack of hospitality.  They are so angry that they are ready to call God’s judgment down upon the town.  Jesus rebukes His disciples.  Jesus’ mission is redemption, not judgment.  James and John are not reflecting the love, patience, mercy and grace of Christ.  Their attitude is the opposite of everything Jesus’ ministry is about.  Jesus’ response is to quietly go on to the next village.  The people in the next town will be blessed by Jesus’ presence.

How do you respond when you are insulted or inconvenienced?  Like the disciples did in these verses or like Jesus?  What attitudes does God want you to develop toward people in situations like this?  Ask God transform your attitudes.  This is something only He has the power to do.  Ask Jesus Christ to fill you with His Spirit and to consistently produce the fruit of His Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) in your life.

July 17, 2003And argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside Him.  Then He said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.”  “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”  “Don’t stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”  Luke 9:  46 – 50 (NIV)

The disciples of Jesus begin to argue about the pecking order that existed among them.  Which of them would be the greatest?  Jesus’ view of greatness is very different from the disciples’ view of what it means to be great.  To powerfully communicate truth about true greatness to His disciples Jesus takes a child and has the child stand beside Him.  Jesus says that it is the one who takes time for a child who is great.  Even a child, who is not considered great or important, is important and valuable to God!  Jesus goes on to say, “For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.”  In God’s eyes, greatness is measured by humble service.  The disciples measured greatness by the same standards that everyone else measured greatness:  status, power, talent, achievement or wealth. 

Someone outside their circle was ministering to people in the name of Jesus and casting out demons.  John was very upset! This man had no right to be ministering to people in Jesus name!  He informs Jesus about it and how they had tried to stop this unauthorized activity.  Jesus instructs His disciples not to stop this man who was extending, not undermining, the ministry of Jesus.

We want to be significant, to do something or be someone truly great.  Take an honest look at yourself.  How do you gauge greatness?  How does your view of greatness compare with God’s?  Do you take time for children or for people others would not value as important?  Do you value the ministry of others (not in your circle) who are extending the Kingdom of God?

July 10, 2003 – The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him.  A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.  A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth.  It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.  I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”  “O unbelieving and perverse generation.”  Jesus replied, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?  Bring your son here.”  Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion.  But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.  And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you:  The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  But they did not understand what this meant.  It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it.  Luke 9: 37 – 45 (NIV)

The disciples of Jesus Christ had been given the authority to heal and cast out evil spirits (Luke 9: 1).  But, while Jesus was on the mountain they encountered a problem that they could not handle.  Now as soon as Jesus returned, a desperate father was begging Jesus to heal his only son.  Jesus seems to be impatient with the lack of faith of His disciples when He says, “O unbelieving and perverse generation.  How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”  Later the disciples ask Jesus why they could not cast out the evil spirit from the boy; He tells them that “this kind can only come out by prayer” (Mark 9:29).  Jesus rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy.  Everyone present was amazed at the greatness of God.  The crowd is impressed by Jesus amazing power and authority.  But Jesus wants to prepare His disciples for what would soon follow.  He does not want them to be deceived by His popularity.  While everyone is marveling at what He had just done, Jesus tells His disciples to listen carefully to Him.  “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  The work of redemption would be painful and costly.  But sadly the disciples did not understand what He meant.  They probably did not want to believe what He was trying to tell them.  They were too afraid to even ask Him about it. 

How is your faith?  Is it growing?  What are you trusting God for today?  Are you developing a lifestyle of believing prayer?  Our Lord Jesus Christ wants our faith and our trust in Him to develop and grow.  Faith is always active.  What are some steps of faith that God might be asking you to take?  Ask God to enable you to trust Him today.

July 3, 2003 – About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  (He did not know what he was saying.)  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.  The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.  Luke 9: 28 – 36 (NIV)

The dazzling brightness of Jesus’ divine glory breaks through on a mountain as He is praying.  Three of His disciples; Peter, John and James witness this amazing event.  Years later Peter refers to this amazing transfiguration of Jesus when he writes:  “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.”  (2 Peter 1: 16 – 18)  In the Old Testament we read that Moses’ face glowed after he met with God, reflecting the glory of God’s presence.  But this was very different.  It was not a reflection of glory.  Jesus is the brightness of divine glory!  His face began to shine like the sun; His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.  Moses and Elijah then appear in splendor and talk to Jesus about the suffering and death He must soon go through. 

Peter has to say something.  He wants to stay on the mountain and prolong this awesome experience as long as possible.  But this event is intended only as preparation and encouragement for the difficult redemptive work of humiliation, suffering and death that Jesus must fulfill.  They can not stay on the mountain.  Now a cloud of glory envelops them and God the Father speaks saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” 

Are you taking time to listen Jesus Christ?  Are you doing all the talking (and asking) when you pray?  Ask Jesus Christ to speak to you as you pray and read God’s Word.  Spend some time in silence before God.  Do you seek to prolong “mountain top” experiences with God to avoid the hard work of living for Christ in “valley”?  Meditate on the fact that Jesus Christ “is the radiance God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.  After He provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”  (Hebrews 1: 3)  There is no one who compares to our glorious Lord!  We should be eager to listen to Him.

June 26, 2003 – Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  “But what about you?” He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”  Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.  And He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Then He said to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of Him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.”  Luke 9:  18 – 26 (NIV)

There are many opinions today about the identity of Jesus.  The same was true in the time in which Jesus lived.  One day when Jesus was with His disciples praying in private, He asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  There was a variety of public opinion; some thought he was John the Baptist, others Elijah and others a great prophet.  The crowds did recognize that Jesus was not an ordinary person.  Then Jesus asks those closest to Him, those who were with Him day and night, “What about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  Peter responds for the group, “The Christ of God.”  Jesus’ closest disciples viewed Him as the unique Messiah, the Anointed One.

Jesus then goes on to clarify what He will have to experience as the Messiah.  He would suffer greatly, be rejected, killed and then rise from the dead.  There could be no redemption from sin without the Son of Man being delivered and offered as a sacrifice.  That’s what it meant to be the Christ of God; the Messiah.  God promises great joy, glory and rewards to His people on the day He comes to consummate His Kingdom.  But, those of us who follow Him cannot just identify with the great triumph of the resurrection and His Kingdom.  We must also be willing to share in the humiliation and suffering that comes from identifying with Jesus Christ.

Who do you say Jesus is?  Where do you stand on that question when your life or your reputation is at stake? How do you answer that question when you might look foolish or be rejected for following Jesus Christ?  “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of Him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.”   No one likes to suffer, be rejected, ridiculed or thought of as foolish.  Yet, every believer in Jesus Christ will experience these things at some point if they let their faith in Christ become known and live lives that honor Jesus.  Jesus makes it very clear, if are ashamed of Him then He will be ashamed of us.  There is no need to be ashamed of our wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus.  He gave His life completely and suffered shame for us.  We can count on the reality of the resurrection, God’s glorious Kingdom and His unfailing promises.  Praise and thank God today for everything Jesus Christ has done for you!

June 19, 2003 – When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.  Then He took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him.  He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.  Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to Him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”  He replied, “You give them something to eat.”  They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish – unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (About five thousand men were there.)  But He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”  The disciples did so, and everybody sat down.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking to heaven, He gave thanks and broke them.  Then He gave them to the disciples to set before the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  Luke 9: 10 – 17 (NIV)

Jesus’ disciples have just returned from traveling from village to village preaching the gospel and ministering to people.  They report to Jesus and to each other what had happened while they were in the villages.  They are tired and looking forward to getting away for some rest.  But the crowds soon learn their location and find them.   Instead of sending the crowds away or retreating to another place, Jesus welcomes them.   He teaches them about the kingdom of God and heals those who need healing.  Expressing concern for the wellbeing of the crowd in the afternoon heat, the disciples suggest that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages to get needed food and provisions.  Jesus replies with what must have seemed like an absurd statement, “You give them something to eat.”  They didn’t have much food and probably couldn’t even buy enough food to feed such a large a crowd in the small villages that were nearby.  Jesus then tells His disciples to have to have the people sit in groups of about fifty.  The disciples don’t argue with Jesus, they do exactly what Jesus asked them to do.  They have seen Him at work many times by now, they did not know what He is about to do, but they do trust Him.

Jesus gives thanks and blesses the small amount of food they have in the customary manner.  Then He breaks the loaves and fish and gives them to His disciples to give to the people.  Amazingly over five thousand people hungry people eat and are satisfied.  There is more food left over than what they started with!  This is something that only God could do!  What an incredible blessing it must have been for the disciples to have been a part God’s miraculous work that day.

Do you have a growing confidence in the greatness and power of God?  Ask Jesus Christ to develop your trust in Him.  Do have a growing compassion for people?  Ask God to enable you to see people with the same love and compassion that He has for people.  There are times when obeying God means that we will be involved in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of others when we think we need to get away and rest.  Jesus is the one who provides, strengthens, satisfies and sustains us.  Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, Living Water and Our Rest.

June 12, 2003 – Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed Him, for they were all expecting Him.  Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus feet, pleading with Him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.  As Jesus was in His way, the crowds almost crushed Him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.  She come up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.  When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are all crowding and pressing against you.”  But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”  Then the woman, see that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet.  In the presence of all the people, she told why she touched Him and how she had been instantly healed.  Then He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”  While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jarius, the synagogue ruler.  “Your daughter is dead,” he said.  “Don’t bother the teacher any more.”  Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”  When He arrived at the house of Jairus, He did not let anyone go in with Him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother.  Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her.  “Stop wailing,” Jesus said.  “She is not dead but asleep.”  They laughed at Him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!”  Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.  The Jesus told them to give her something to eat.  Her parents were astonished, but He ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.  Luke 8: 40 – 56 (NIV)

Jairus was desperate, his only daughter was dying.  Jairus had a high position of respect and honor in the community.  But this doesn’t matter now; he falls humbly on the ground in front of Jesus and begs Jesus to come to his house.  This is his only hope of saving his twelve year old daughter.  The crowd nearly crushes them as they head toward Jairus’ house. 

Luke now tells us about a woman who was in the crowd.  She has been in constant agony for twelve years suffering from bleeding.  She has gone to many physicians over the years, but nothing they did helped.  Because of her illness she also was ceremonially unclean.  This made her situation unbearable in the society in which she lived.  She desperately fought her way through the crowd so that she could get close enough to Jesus to touch Him.  She thought that she didn’t deserve the direct attention of Jesus, but if she could just touch His garment she would experience healing.  In one touch, her twelve years of suffering ended.  She was instantly healed.  Jesus asks, “Who touched me?”  This woman could no longer go unnoticed.  Jesus Christ stops and gives His complete attention to this humble woman.  He ministers words of peace, comfort and healing to her.  Jesus’ compassion and concern for her is very evident.  Jesus deeply ministered to her soul.  She had been noticed and touched by the living God.  She was valuable to God!

While Jesus is still speaking to the woman; someone from Jairus’ house comes with the devastating news that his daughter is dead.  Everyone thinks it is too late; with the exception of Jesus.  Jesus tells Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”  Death is not final.  When Jesus arrives at the home he orders everyone to leave except for the girl’s parents, Peter, James and John.  Jesus then tenderly takes her hand and says, “My child, get up!”  The girl immediately is brought back to life and is given something to eat!  Her parents are utterly astonished.  Their daughter had experienced the loving touch of Jesus.

Do you ever feel like you are too unimportant or unworthy for God to notice or care about you?  Jesus Christ, the Living God, wants to stop and give you His undivided attention.  Have you ever been afraid to come to God with a problem?  You can come to Him anytime, with anything.  Jesus wants you to experience His loving touch.  Praise God today that He does not overlook us.  There is no insignificant person in God’s eyes.  The One who has all power and authority deeply cares for you.

June 5, 2003They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.  When Jesus stepped ashore, He was met by a demon-possessed man from the town.  For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at His feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, don’t torture me!”  For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man.  Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.  Jesus asked him, “What is your name.”  “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.  And they begged Him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.  A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside.  The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and He gave them permission.  When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.  When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.  The all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.  So He got into the boat and left.  The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”  So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.  Luke 8: 26 – 39 (NIV)

What happens when someone meets Jesus?  This is a remarkable encounter that Jesus has with a demon possessed man who is totally out of control.  This demon possessed man was so demented that he lived homeless among tombs, completely naked and could not be restrained even with chains.  When he saw Jesus he shouted, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, don’t torture me!”  The demons, speaking through the man, immediately recognize who Jesus is and they are afraid of Jesus’ powerful authority over them.  The demons beg Jesus not to send them into the Abyss, the place of everlasting torment.  There will come a time when demons will face ultimate judgment and everlasting punishment, but this was not the time.  Jesus accedes to their request to be sent into a herd of swine.  When the demons enter the pigs, the herd runs down the steep bank into the lake and drowns. 

Now this man, who was possessed by many demons, was naked and out of control is sitting at Jesus feet.  His life has been transformed by his encounter with Jesus Christ.  He is now clothed and in his right mind.  Everyone else is afraid, he is not.  His fear is gone.  He is released from bondage.  All the other people want Jesus to leave.  He wants to stay close to Jesus.  He begs Jesus to allow him to go with Him.  Jesus sends him home with a job to do; “tell how much God has done for you.”  In obedience to Jesus, the man goes and tells everyone how much Jesus had done for him.

Your life changes when you encounter Jesus.  He sets us free from bondage and fear.  An encounter with Jesus affects life as usual.  The other people living in this area wanted Jesus to leave them alone.  Have you ever wanted Jesus to leave you alone?  (Afraid of major changes He might bring to your life.)

Reflect on how much God has done for you.  Thank God for His power, goodness and mercy in your life.  Then tell someone how much Jesus has done for you.

May 29, 2003 – One day Jesus said to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.”  So they got into a boat and set out.  As they sailed, He fell asleep.  A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Master, Master we’re going to drown!”  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  “Where is your faith?” He asked His disciples.  In fear and amazement they asked on another, “Who is this?  He commands even the winds and the water and water, and they obey Him.”  Luke 8: 22 – 25 (NIV)

One day Jesus and His disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus fell asleep in the boat.  Without warning, a storm blew up, violently raging across the lake.  The boat was filling with water and these seasoned fisherman were afraid they were about to die.  Jesus was so exhausted that this raging storm didn’t keep Him from sleeping.  The disciples were so terrified that they woke up Jesus saying, “Master, Master we are going to drown!”  Jesus got up, rebuked the storm wind and sea, and immediately the storm came to an abrupt end.  Then Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Where is your faith?”  It is as if He was asking them, “Don’t you know who is in this boat with you?  How can you possibly be afraid?”  Now that the storm had stopped, disciples were even more afraid.  “Who is this?” they asked.  Who is this person who has this kind of authority?  At once they knew that they were in the presence of someone who was completely unique.

There was never a person like Jesus Christ.  He is in a class by Himself.  All the forces of nature are under His authority.  No one else ever commanded a storm to stop.  Who is this?  He is much more than a man.  He is the creator of heaven and earth.  He is God, who has all authority in heaven and on earth.   How have you responded to Jesus Christ?  Have you submitted to His authority over your life?  Do you worship Him in amazement of who His is?  Do you thank Him often for all He had done for you?  Take time today to meditate on who Jesus Christ is and then spend some time praising and thanking Him.

May 22, 2003“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed.  Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.  For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.  Therefore consider carefully how you listen.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”  Luke 8: 16 – 18 (NIV)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8: 12 (NIV)

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.” Matthew 5:  14 (NIV)  In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5: 16

A lamp is designed to illuminate a dark room.  No one turns a light on (lights the lamp) and then covers it up so that no one can benefit from the light.  This scenario of a foolish person going to the trouble to light a lamp then covering or hiding the light is absurd.  Jesus states the obvious so His disciples will not miss His point. 

In John 8, Jesus describes Himself as the Light of the world.  Throughout the New Testament Jesus is described as the Light.  Jesus tells those who follow Him that we are children of light and also the light of the world.  We are to be lights to a world that is in living in darkness.  We are not to obscure or hide the light that Jesus Christ has ignited in us.  Jesus tells us to let our light shine brightly so that others will benefit from the light.

Because God is light, He knows everything; there is nothing that is secret from God.  God know us intimately and completely.  Jesus warns that “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”  Secret sin will one day be exposed by the light.  We need to carefully listen to God’s Word; not just listening to what we want to hear.  When I allow God to shine His light on my heart I see what is really there – sin.  When I confess my sin and live honestly in His light, I experience close fellowship with God.  When I bring my sin into God’s light, I experience the freedom of God’s grace, cleansing and forgiveness. 

Do people around you know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Are you reluctant to let your light shine?  How bright is your light shining?  If you want to have a vital relationship with God (one that shines) then the regular and honest confession of sin and repentance is essential.  It is also one of the hardest and most humbling things to do.  Do you have a regular habit of confessing sin?  Do you allow God to shine His light on your heart’s dark places?  Do not walk in darkness; you can not hide your sin from God.  Allow God to shine His light on your heart.  Experience the joy of God’s gracious forgiveness and enjoy His fellowship.

May 15, 2003 - While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, He told this parable:  "A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.  Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil.  It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."  When He said this, He called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  His disciples asked Him what this parable meant.  He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'  This is the meaning of the parable:  The seed is the word of God.  Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root.  They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.  The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stand for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."  Luke 8: 4 - 15 (NIV)

This is not a story about an incompetent farmer who foolishly wastes the seed he is planting.  Jesus is describing typical agricultural procedure in the ancient world.  The seed is sown first and then ploughed into the soil.  The farmer wouldn’t know what was below the surface of the top soil until he ploughed the field.  But the point of the story is not about farming.  Jesus is telling this story about a farmer to illustrate a spiritual principle. 

The seed represents the Word of God.  The different types of soil represent different types of people and their responses to God’s Word.  The first type of soil is those along the path.  These are the people who devil takes away the Word from their hearts so that they may not believe.  The second type is the rocky soil.  These respond positively to God’s Word at first, but they have no root.  Eventually, when their faith is tested, they fall away.  Next is the soil with thorns.  God’s Word is choked out by worry, riches or pleasure.  This is the person who has lost their first love for Christ because they are sidetracked by something else in life (like worry, materialism, or seeking power or pleasure).  The last type of soil is the good soil.  This is the person who listens intently to God’s Word; it germinates, takes root in their life and produces a fruitful crop.

How important is God’s Word to you?  Which soil represents the state of your heart right now?  Do you listen intently to God’s Word and apply it to your life?  Or is something in your life hindering or choking out God’s Word?  Are there things in your life that keep you from hearing God’s Word and responding to it in faith and obedience?  Ask God to give you a noble and good heart, ask Him to enable you to be the kind of person who really hears God’s Word, treasures it, and lives it out.  As God answers your prayer your spiritual roots will grow deep in Christ and your life will produce good fruit.

May 8, 2003 - Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so He went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner."  Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."  "Tell me teacher," he said.  "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?"  Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."  "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.  Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, form the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.  Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"  Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."  Luke 7: 36 - 50 (NIV)

Jesus was invited to dinner at a Pharisee's house.  An uninvited visitor also shows up.  She had "lived a sinful life", in other words she was a prostitute.  She had learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house and she was desperate to be near Jesus.  So she came in off the street with a jar of expensive perfume.  As was customary, Jesus would have been reclining with His feet stretched away from the table.  The woman stood behind Jesus at His feet crying and she began to wash Jesus feet with her tears.  She then wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and poured the costly perfume on Jesus' feet.  It was a very extravagant display of love and affection.   It was also an indication of a deep repentance for the sinful life she had led.

Simon (the Pharisee) was disgusted.  This was outrageous!  Jesus should have never allowed a sinful woman like that to touch him!  Someone who was really a man of God would never allow this kind of woman to come near him.  Jesus knew what Simon was thinking, and He told him a parable about two debtors who were unable to pay their debts, one owed ten times as much as the other.  The creditor forgave both debtors.  Jesus then asks Simon, "Which of them will love him more?"  He made His point, the person who has been forgiven much, loves much.  Simon had failed to even provide the basic customary hospitality of providing water to wash Jesus' dusty feet or to greet Him with the customary kiss on the cheek.  As a host, Simon had treated his guest rudely.  He had no love for Jesus.  He probably had just invited Jesus to dinner to attempt to entrap Him or find something to criticize.  Simon thought he was righteous, but he was blind to his own sin.  He had little love and compassion in his heart because he didn't know what it meant to be forgiven.

Simon needed to repent of his lack of love toward God and his scornful attitude toward "sinful" people.  The sinful woman desperately needed to hear the words "your sins are forgiven".  What is your attitude toward "sinful" people in your world?  Are you more like Simon (the Pharisee) or the sinful woman (the prostitute)?  Have you experienced the abiding peace that comes from knowing that your sins are completely forgiven?  Only Jesus Christ can bring that kind of peace and blessing to a human heart.  Are you a great lover of Jesus Christ?  If you have experienced forgiveness that equals the reality of your sin then you have been forgiven much.  You can now love much.  Spend some time today expressing your love and gratitude to Jesus Christ.

May 1, 2003 - John's disciples told him about all these things.  Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"  When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'"  At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So He replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me."  After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:  "What did you go out into the desert to see?  A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written:  'I will send my messenger ahead of you who will prepare a way before you.'   I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."  Luke 7: 18 - 28 (NIV)

Have you ever had doubts about God and His goodness?  Or doubts about who Jesus Christ is?  John had been faithful to fulfill the ministry God had given him to do.  He had even baptized Jesus and testified that Jesus was the One to come, "the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."  But now, John the Baptist was out of action, languishing in a miserable prison and very soon he would be executed.  I don't know exactly what John was thinking or feeling.  He must have been asking a lot questions:  Why am I here, in this prison?  When is God going to deliver me?  Did I have it all wrong?  Is Jesus really the Christ?  John sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?"  In other words, John seems to be saying, "I am not sure you are who I thought you were.  Should I look for someone else?"  Jesus understands John's agony.  He doesn't criticize him.  Instead, he reassures John by saying, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me."  John would have clearly understood that this was a direct reference to what the Bible says about the role of the Messiah who was to come.  Jesus was telling John, "Remember what the Bible says.  I am the fulfillment of it's predictions of the coming Messiah."  After John's disciples leave, Jesus publicly endorses and honors John as the greatest prophet in history.  John was loyal to Jesus Christ, even in the middle of his doubt and in this incredibly difficult test of his faith.  And Jesus pronounced a blessing on him.

Have you ever found yourself in circumstances where you were asking "why" questions or doubting God?  You are not alone.  Following Jesus is a challenge.  Disappointment, loss, pain, suffering, doubt or failure can make it very hard for us to walk by faith.  We do not always understand what God is doing or why.  But, our Lord understands the agony of what we are going through.  We can always go to Him, even with our questions and doubts.  God has given us His promises in the Bible to reassure us of His goodness, grace and love.  He promises to be with us.  He will not forsake us.

April 24, 2003 - Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a large crowd went along with Him.  As He approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out - the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, "Don't cry."  Then He went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up."  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.  "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said.  "God has come to help His people."  This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.  Luke 7: 11 - 17 (NIV)

While Jesus continued to travel throughout the region preaching and teaching, He comes upon this large funeral procession coming out of a town.  A widow is about to bury her only son.  She is overwhelmed with grief.  This woman, who had already lost her husband, was now left without a son to support and provide for her.  Her deep sorrow was almost too much for her to bear.  Jesus heart immediately goes out to this woman and He walks up to her and speaks loving words of comfort, "Don't cry."  Jesus then risks ritually defiling Himself by touching the coffin and He actually speaks to the corpse.  He says, "Young man, I say to you, get up."  What happens next fills everyone with awe and fear.  The young man, who was dead, sits up and even begins to speak!  This dead man had come back to life!  I can only begin to imagine the overwhelming joy this woman had when Jesus gave her son back to her.  The people who witnessed this knew something amazing and supernatural had happened.  They concluded that a great prophet had appeared.  But, someone much greater than a prophet was present.  Only God can bring life out of death.  God Himself had come.

That is the kind of God we have.  He cares about widows and orphans.  He is compassionate.  He is a God who is lovingly watching over us.  He knows when we are hurting.  He is a God who is alert to and cares about those who mourn.  Jesus Christ is always present when we are in a place of need.  He brings us comfort and He promises to ultimately wipe way every tear from our eyes.  Whatever your need is today, you can be confident that Jesus cares and that He is present.  Go to Him in prayer often, confident that He is lovingly watching over you.

April 17, 2003 - When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.  There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue."  So Jesus went with them.  He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, 'Go' and he goes; and that one, 'Come' and he comes.  I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.  Luke 7: 1 - 10 (NIV)

When Jesus speaks or acts the reaction of people is often amazement.  But, this is one of the very few instances all of the New Testament when Jesus is amazed by someone.  This soldier, a mid-level officer in charge of one hundred men, had never met Jesus or heard Him speak before.  He only had heard about Jesus and His reputation.  A highly valued servant of this centurion was near death, so he sends for Jesus.  This soldier also had a good reputation; although he represented a despised occupying power, he had friends in the community.  He was one of the few occupiers who actually cared about the people of the land he occupied.  The leaders of the town came to Jesus and begged Jesus to go and heal this soldier's servant.  They tell Jesus, "this man deserves to have you do this," because of who this man is and all he has done.  He had even built them a place of worship!  Jesus goes with them to the soldier's house.  On His way to his house Jesus is met by some more friends of the centurion who have come with another message:  "I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you."

The community elders based their request for help on the worthiness of the centurion.  But the centurion (a man who had a lot he could have been proud of) humbly recognized that he did not deserve anything.  He was a man who understood authority, and he knew Jesus had it.  Somehow he understood that Jesus Christ was someone who had supernatural authority over life and death.  If Jesus would "say the word," no matter where Jesus was, his servant would be healed.  He approached Jesus with amazing faith and humility.

How do you approach God?  Do you live by confidence in your own goodness or by trust in God's authority and power?  Is pride a barrier in recognizing the authority of Jesus Christ over your life?  When you approach God, do you come to Him in humility and faith?  Or do you try to manipulate God, as if He were obligated to obey you?  Jesus was amazed at the faith of a person who clearly understood the greatness and authority of the King of Kings, and then approached Him with appropriate humility and trust.  May He find such great faith in each of us.

April 10, 2003 - "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.  Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?  I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."  Luke 6: 43 - 49 (NIV)

True transformation and true righteousness is not a superficial or an external matter.  Jesus says that it goes right to the deepest inner core of our being.  Sin also comes from the very center of our being.  It is not just a matter of making mistakes; sin comes from the heart.  We can not focus on the superficial, our hearts desperately need attention.  The person who really listens to God's word and puts it into practice is developing the kind of tree that produces good fruit.  A person can pretend to have a deep intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, but Jesus says that the true test of love for Him is a life lived in obedience to God.  This is the person who has a deep foundation on the solid rock of Jesus Christ.  This is the person who has the character and strength to face life's "storms" with integrity and an abiding trust in God when everything and everyone around them is falling apart.

What did you learn about your life's foundation from the last "storm" you experienced?  Is your life lived on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ?  What is the quality of the fruit that you are producing?  How would those closest too you (your family) rate the quality of your fruit?  Develop a relationship with God that comes from the depths of your heart; not a relationship that is superficial.  Only Jesus Christ has the ability to transform the core of our inner being, so seek Him with all of your heart.  Ask Him for the strength and power to obey His Word. 

April 3, 2003 - "Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  And He also told them this parable:  "Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit?  A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let met take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  Luke 6:  37 - 42

It is easy to be a critic of other people.  But, we should be much more concerned about letting God search our own heart to reveal sin and more concerned about the reformation of our own life, than we are about getting everyone else to change.  That is the essence of what Jesus is saying here.  It is easy to be blind to our own shortcomings.  Jesus points out that our sin may actually be greater than the sins of others we are trying to point out.  First take the plank out of your own eye.  Of course, this also is a passage everyone can quote.  Even people who have never read the Bible know that it says "do not judge".  When we recognize evil and call it what it is, we are often accused of violating this principle to "do not judge".  But there is a big difference between discernment and a judgmental spirit that flows out of arrogance and self-righteousness.  We are to be discerning, not judgmental.  The so-called spiritual leaders of Jesus day loved to point out others' faults but were very blind to their own sin.

This passage is part of Jesus' comments on the golden rule:  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Do not condemn, forgive, give and you will reap the benefit.  Others will likely respond to you in the same ways.

What "measure" (or standard) do you use in evaluating and treating coworkers, family members, friends, neighbors, etc...?  Do you need to give out more love, grace and forgiveness?

March 27, 2003 - But I tell you who hear me:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even 'sinners' love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even 'sinners' do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners' expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6: 27 - 36 (NIV)

Jesus continues to address His disciples.  He makes a very radical statement.   It seems like Jesus is asking us to do the impossible:  love your enemies.  When someone hates me, mistreats me and curses me, my natural response is not to love them!  To return good actions for evil actions, to return kindness for hatred, to return a blessing when we are cursed and slandered, or to be generous and thoughtful to those who despise and hate us is unnatural.  Yet this is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do, be loving to your enemies.  This love has much more to do with actions than feelings.  Retaliation is our natural response when we are sinned against and mistreated.  But Jesus tells His followers that their ethic is not to be built on retaliation.  This was not just an unrealistic ideal; it exactly what Jesus practiced.  He endured insults, humiliation and prayed for His enemies.  Scripture says of us, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled us by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy and without blemish and free from accusation."  Colossians 1: 21 - 22.  Jesus Christ loved us, forgave us and blessed us even when we were His enemies.  We now are called to be people who give others love, grace and blessing.  This radical ethic of love is the mark one who is a follower of Jesus Christ.

How do you respond when you are mistreated or sinned against?  When someone curses you?  When you are hated?  When you are insulted?  When you are viciously slandered?  Do you respond with loving actions?  Apart from relying on God's supernatural grace and strength I find that it is impossible to be loving to those who hate and hurt me.  Ask God for the power and grace to love those who do not love you.  Pray for your enemies, not that they will be successful in their evil, but pray that their hearts will be changed.

March 20, 2003 - Looking at His disciples, He said:  "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.  For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets."  Luke 6:  20 - 26 (NIV)

Jesus speaks to His disciples.  They had forsaken the comforts of the world to live lives of sacrifice to serve Jesus Christ.  They were poor for righteousness sake.  To them Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."  In Matthew's version of this sermon it says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."  In other words, blessed are you who are not depending on yourselves and are not arrogant but are rich toward God.  Jesus goes on to say, "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh."  Jesus is clearly stating that there is a difference between the world in which we live now and the future world in which Christ will reign.  We are to keep the eternal perspective in view as we experience the present.  Jesus then goes on to say that anyone who is hated, ostracized, insulted or rejected because of loyalty to Christ is blessed.  He says, "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.  For that is how their fathers treated the prophets."  In other words, on the very day that we experience rejection and hatred because of our devotion to Christ we should rejoice!  He does not say that some day in the future we will be able to rejoice about it.  He says rejoice now!  The prophets were treated in the same way.  Just like the prophets, our reward in heaven will be great.

Now Jesus message turns from blessings to a message of woe (or doom).  He says, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets."  We should value things that can not be destroyed or taken away.  If we are not rich towards God we are cursed.  "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: 26  Jesus is not condemning humor when he says "woe to you who laugh now", but He is warning those who laugh at people (because they are devoted to Him) in derision and scorn.  Jesus reminds His disciples that false teachers and prophets were welcomed but true prophets were hated.  Their righteous message was hated and rejected.  In a sinful world, people who love Jesus Christ and live lives of uncompromising integrity and righteousness will alienate some.  If everyone speaks well of you, watch out!  Even Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, was hated.

What do you value?  What are you placing your confidence in?  Make sure your values match the values of God's kingdom.  Place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone.  Make this your prayer of meditation:

Thou art all my good in times of peace,

my only support in days of trouble,

my one sufficiency when life shall end.

Help me to see how good Thy will is in all,

and even when it crosses mine

teach me to be pleased with it.

(Prayer of meditation is from The Valley of Vision:  A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett, Editor)

March 13, 2003 - One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles:  Simon (whom He named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.  Luke 6:  12 - 16 (NIV)

Jesus Christ would often get away to pray.  His intimate relationship with His heavenly Father was Jesus' constant source of strength and power.  But this was different.  Jesus spent the entire night wrestling with God in prayer.  Why?  What issue was so much on His heart that Jesus would spend the whole night praying?  From His large group of disciples Jesus was going choose twelve who would be commissioned as Apostles.  This was one of the most important decisions He would ever make.  These would be Jesus' special emissaries.  These would be the people who Jesus would specially train and entrust to take His message to the world.

How do you make major (or even no so major) decisions?  Is prayer the main aspect of your decision making process?  Do you ask God for His wisdom and discernment?  Do you take time to listen to God speak to you?  Or do you rely mainly on your own wisdom or the advice of others?  There is nothing wrong with getting wise counsel and using the mind God has given us in decision making.  But, sadly, I have to admit; too often for me prayer has been an afterthought or just a small aspect of the process instead of something that vitally under girds my entire life.  I have at times found myself asking God to bless what I want to do rather than asking Him what He wants me to do first!  Am I wiser than God?  At other times, fear has kept me from making a decision or moving ahead.  I did not have the confidence or peace of God because I did not pray as I should have prayed.  Where is my trust?

Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of the Almighty God, spent time alone seeking His Heavenly Father's wisdom, discernment and direction in prayer.  If prayer was vital for Jesus Christ, then prayer is even more essential for us.  Follow Jesus example.  Seek the Lord and His wisdom each day of your life.  Lean on Him for understanding, wisdom and direction.

March 6, 2003 - One day as He was teaching, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village in Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.  And the power of the Lord was present for Him to heal the sick.  Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier:  to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk?'   But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..."  He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."  Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.  Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.  They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."  Luke 5: 17 - 26 (NIV)

Jesus popularity as a teacher spread; He was attracting a lot of attention.  Now the professional theologians and teachers came from all over the region to hear Jesus teach.  They had come to check him out and to check up on His theology.  While Jesus is teaching, some men come bringing a paralyzed friend to Jesus to be healed but they can not get close to Jesus because it is so crowded.  They know their need and they know that Jesus can help them.  They will not let anything stop them in their quest to bring their friend into Jesus' presence.    They climb up on the roof of the house, make an opening in the roof, and lower the man on his mat right in front of Jesus!  Jesus sees their great faith in Him; a faith that motives them to act.  He also perceives this man's deepest need is for forgiveness.  Right in front of these religious leaders and teachers Jesus tells the man, "Your sins are forgiven."  Immediately, in their minds, the teachers of the law accuse Jesus of the worst sin anyone could commit:  blasphemy.  Jesus was using this opportunity to declare that He had the authority on earth to forgive sins; an authority and power reserved for God alone.  Then Jesus backed up His declaration by healing the paralyzed man.  The man got up and went home praising God!  Everyone was amazed at what they had just seen and heard.

Jesus had supernatural power because He had supernatural authority.  He has the same power and authority today.  The greatest need we have, the need for forgiveness of sin, can only be met by Jesus Christ.  And God did not withhold Him.  God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus, the glorious Son of Man.  When we are paralyzed by sin and guilt, only Jesus Christ has the power and authority to forgive our sin and free us.

Are there obstacles that keep you from coming into the presence of Jesus Christ?  What are they?  Who are some people that can help you come into God's presence when you are struggling and in need?  Is there someone who needs your help to come into God's presence?  Don't let anything stop you from coming into Jesus' wonderful presence and experiencing His love and grace.

February 27, 2003 - While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.  When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged Him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man.  "I am willing," he said.  "Be clean!"  And immediately the leprosy left him.  Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."  Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  Luke 5: 12 - 16 (NIV)

This man was in a desperate situation.  He had leprosy and the disease was in an advanced stage.  At this time and place in history, when a person contracted leprosy it not only meant that they would face the prospect of a debilitating disease; it also meant living a life of banishment.  They had to remove themselves from all contact with healthy individuals, from family, friends and employment.  They were barred from worship and survived only on charity.  It was a miserable existence.  Lepers were the untouchables of that time.  Anyone who touched a leper was unclean and had to avoid people and worship for a period of time.  You were "cleansed" from leprosy as you would be from sin or filth, not "healed".  This man, with an advanced case of leprosy, falls down on his face and begs Jesus, "Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Somehow he knew that he was in the presence of One whose power and authority was greater than anything he had ever encountered.  He didn't say "If you can heal me" or "Can you heal me?".  Humbly submitting himself to Jesus, he says, "Lord, you can, will you?"  Jesus violates the ceremonial law by compassionately reaching out and touching this man.  He says, "I am willing, be clean!"  And immediately the man was completely healed.  Jesus then tells the man not to tell anyone but to fulfill the requirement of the law by going to the priest to have his healing verified and to make the required offerings.

Jesus reached out in love and compassion and touched this man before he healed him.  Have you ever felt like an outcast or unclean, like a "leper"?  How did Jesus "touch" you and cleanse you?  Who are the "lepers" in your world who need Jesus touch and cleansing?  Does God want to use you as His hands to reach out in love and touch one of them?  The touch of Christ is just as transforming today as it was for this man two thousand years ago.

Jesus' life was full, but he would often get away alone to pray.  His intimate relationship with His heavenly Father was Jesus' constant source of strength and power.  The only way we will have God's strength to touch people with the love of Christ is by maintaining and developing our intimacy with the Lord in prayer.  It is only Jesus Christ who can bring cleansing, wholeness and life.  We are just his hands.

February 20, 2003 - One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around Him and listening to the word of God, He saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore.  Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.  When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."  Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets."  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, an so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.  Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men."  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.  Luke 5: 1 - 11 (NIV)

A large crowd had gathered around Jesus listening to Him teach on the shore of a lake.  Jesus saw two boats and got into Simon's boat, and asked him to take the boat just a little way from shore, so everyone could see and hear Him.  He sat down in the boat and taught.  After Jesus had finished speaking, He told Simon to "put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."  Simon seems to be annoyed.  Jesus is a great teacher, but He is no fisherman.  Simon and his partners were the professional fishermen; they had been working all night and had caught nothing.  Very reluctantly Simon Peter obeyed.  When they let down the nets they caught so many fish that the nets started to break.  They called their partners in the other boat to come and help.  They had never seen anything like this; boats were so full of fish that both boats began to sink!  Peter's reacts by falling face down and begging Jesus to leave.  "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"  Instead of leaving, Jesus tells Simon, "Don't be afraid, from now on you will be catching men."  Simon Peter and his partners left everything to follow Him.

When Simon Peter realized that he was in the presence of someone who was uniquely awesome and holy, he became keenly aware of his own sinfulness.  He is so uncomfortable and afraid that he asks Jesus to leave.  But instead, Jesus Christ, the One who is full of grace and mercy, invites Peter to come close to Him and He calls Peter to be a disciple by saying, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will catch men."  Peter's call to service came when he was most aware of how sinful and unworthy he was.

Jesus makes people uncomfortable.  When we clearly see Jesus Christ in all of majesty, power and holiness, like Peter, we painfully discover our own sinfulness before God.  Our natural tendency is to keep God at a distance.  Our need is come closer to Jesus Christ and to hear Him say to us, "Do not be afraid."  Are you drawing near to God or keeping Him at a distance?  Take time today to draw near to God and experience His love and grace.

February 13, 2003 - Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon.  Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her.  So He bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  She got up at once and began to wait on them.  When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying His hands on each one, He healed them.  Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, "You are the Son of God!"  But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew He was the Christ.  At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place.  The people were looking for Him and when they came to where He was, they tried to keep Him from leaving them.  But He said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent."  And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.  Luke 4:  38 - 44 (NIV)

These few verses depict a day in the life of Jesus.  He goes to Simon Peter's home and is asked to help Peter's mother-in-law, who is sick.  He rebukes her high fever and instantly she is restored to health.  Then people begin bringing people with all kinds of sicknesses to Jesus.  We see Him compassionately giving them His undivided attention, healing them.  By the end of the day, Jesus is spiritually, emotionally and physically drained.  He needs to get away from the crowd to rest and spend time alone with God.  He needs to be renewed and refreshed.  The people do not want Jesus to leave their town.  The need there is great.  They want Him to stay; there is a lot more Jesus could do there.  But Jesus knew God's purpose in sending Him would not be fulfilled by staying in one place for very long.  He tells them that He must proclaim the good news of God's kingdom to other towns also.

Jesus practice again and again was to "go to a solitary place" and spend time alone in solitude and prayer.  Even the Son of God needed regular times of rest and renewal.  Jesus was able to clearly discern God's call on His life in the middle of the overwhelming needs that urgently clamored for His attention.  What pressures are you facing today?  Are you regularly taking time for rest and renewal?  Are you spending time in solitude and prayer?  Are you able to discern the difference between pressing urgent needs around you and God's long-range call on your life?

February 6, 2003 - Then He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.  They were amazed at His teaching, because His message had authority.  In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit.  He cried out at the top of His voice, "Ha!  What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are - the Holy One of God!"  "Be quiet!"  Jesus said sternly.  "Come out of him!"  Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.  All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching?  With authority and power He gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!"  And the news about Him spread throughout the surrounding area.  Luke 4: 31 - 37 (NIV)

This is the scene at the synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus is the teacher and people are amazed because His teaching is like nothing they had heard before.  His message and teaching had authority.  It wasn't superficial.  It was powerful.  Then suddenly there is a major disruption in the congregation; a demon possessed man interrupts Jesus crying out at the top of his voice, "Ha!  What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are - the Holy one of God."  This evil spirit knew who Jesus was, but he despised and hated Jesus.   In James 2:19 it says, "You believe that God is one.  Good!  Even the demons believe that - and shudder."  This demon was also frightened by the power of Jesus, he asked, "Have you come to destroy us?"  Jesus Christ, who came to destroy the works of the devil, commands the evil spirit to be quiet and leave.  Jesus' power and authority over the satanic kingdom is overwhelming - the evil spirit immediately leaves the person he has been tormenting.  This man, who has been in bondage to this evil spirit, is now free!  The people who heard and saw this were amazed and astonished.  Even the forces of Satan's kingdom trembled and fell in the presence of Jesus!  They couldn't help but talk about what they had seen and heard.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to our Lord, Jesus Christ.  How is His authority bringing freedom to you?  Sometimes the reality of sin and the presence of evil seem more real than the presence of God; but Satan is defeated.  Jesus Christ, the God of all power, purchased your freedom by dying for you.  "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)  Are you living in bondage or standing firm in the freedom you have in Jesus Christ?  Spend some time today meditating on God's amazing authority and power.  Thank Him for the freedom you have in Jesus Christ.

January 30, 2003 - Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside.  He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him.  He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom.  And He stood up to read.  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:  "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from Him lips.  "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.  Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me:  'Physician, heal yourself!  Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'"  "I tell you the truth," He continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed - only Naaman the Syrian."  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.  But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way.  Luke 4: 14 - 30 (NIV)

Jesus had been ministering and teaching for some time.  Now He comes home to Nazareth.  The people who saw Him grow up, who knew Him, who saw Him as a carpenter, who interacted with Him in the marketplace would now experience His public ministry for the first time.  As a visiting Rabbi Jesus stood to read the sacred text from Isaiah 61.  The Messiah was reading a prophecy describing the mission of the Messiah!  Jesus took the position of a teacher about to give a message from the text He just read; He sat down.  Jesus starts His message by saying that this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  He is announcing that He is in fact the Messiah.  He announces that He has come to preach the good news, to proclaim freedom, to perform acts of mercy, and to work for social justice.  He also makes it clear that His ministry will benefit the gentiles.  He came for the entire world!  What is the reaction of the people in Him hometown?  They are volatile and they quickly turn from being impressed to rejecting Him.  They are so furious when they hear His message that they drive Him out of the synagogue and attempt to kill Him.  But Jesus miraculously escapes.

Jesus knew that "no prophet is accepted in his hometown".  He was faithful to the mission and message that God the Father had called Him to accomplish, knowing that He would experience the rejection of those who were close to Him.  Have you been faithful to God's call on your life in spite of the rejection you might experience?  Or do make compromises to keep from being rejected?  Ask God for the strength to follow Him completely.  In what ways are you in need of the ministry that Jesus announced?  Ask Him to do these things in your life.  Jesus is our Messiah and He is still ministering to us today.

January 23, 2003 - Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry.  The devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."  Jesus answered, "It is written:  'Man does not live on bread alone.'"  The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to Him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  So if you worship me, it will be yours."  Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'"  The Devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple.  "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here.  For it is written: 'He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"  Jesus answered, "It says:  'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"  When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.  Luke 4: 1 - 13 (NIV)

Right after Jesus was baptized and God spoke from heaven saying "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.", He was led by God into the desert to fast, pray and undergo temptation.  Luke says that He was tempted by the devil for forty days.  Unlike Adam, Jesus Christ (the second Adam)  faced temptation alone, in a harsh environment, hungry and weakened.  In contrast, Adam faced his test in perfect paradise, on a full stomach, with the companionship of Eve.  In the first temptation recorded, Satan says to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."  God had just said, "You are my Son"; Satan was calling into question the trustworthiness of God's Word.   Jesus was being tempted not believe God but to give in to His fleshly hunger.  Jesus response was to trust the Word of God.  The next temptation was an appeal to the allure of the world.  The devil's temptation after showing Him all the kingdoms of the world was; "I will give you all their authority and splendor . . . if you worship me."  Again, Jesus passed the test, to worship anyone but God alone was would violate God's Word, "For it is written:  Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only."  In the final temptation the devil uses scripture, he subtlety twists it.  Basically he says, let's see if the Bible is really true; jump off the top of this building and we'll see if the angels will catch you.  Jesus reply was, God is testing me, I am not allowed to test Him.  Jesus trusted God; He believed God's Word and triumphed over Satan.  This wouldn't be the last time that Jesus would be tempted.  The devil left Him only until a more opportune time.  But Jesus never would give into temptation; He experienced every kind of temptation we will ever face, but He never sinned.

How do you handle temptation?  When are you most vulnerable to temptation?  If the devil had three opportunities to tempt you, what three temptations would he use?  What helps you overcome temptation when it comes?  Read Luke 4: 1 - 13 again, ask God to use it to encourage you to trust God and believe His Word when you face spiritual battle.  Our Lord Jesus understands what we are going through when we face any temptation and He is able to help.

January 15, 2003 - During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As is written in the words of Isaiah the prophet:  "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.  And all mankind will see God's salvation."  John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father.  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."  "What should we do then?"  the crowd asked.  John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who had none and the one who has food should do the same."  Tax collectors also came to be baptized.  "Teacher,"  They asked, "what should we do?"  "Don't collect more than you are required to,"  he told them.  Then some soldiers asked him,  "And what should we do?"  He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely - be content with your pay."  The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  John answered them all, "I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire."  And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.  Luke 3:  2 - 18 (NIV)

John came preaching a startling and very harsh message.  He called the people he was speaking to "a brood of vipers" and warned them to flee the coming wrath of God.  He told them that they couldn't depend on their traditions and heritage as descendants of Abraham - that would not save them from God's wrath - their hearts were corrupt and sinful.  He said they needed to repent and be cleansed from their sin before they would be ready to meet the coming Messiah.  The repentance that John said was required had to be genuine;  resulting in real change.  When the crowd asked John, "What should we do?", he gave them practical examples of what "fruit in keeping with repentance" looks like.  Tax collectors and soldiers were not required to give up their careers; they just had to stop misusing their position and authority.  First and foremost, John pointed his hearers to Christ.  He said that Christ, the one coming after him, was so great and awesome that John (this popular prophet) was not even worthy of being His slave.

Who have been "John the Baptists" in your life?  (People who have pointed you to Christ or encouraged you to repent of some sin.)  Have you appreciated their ministry in your life or have you resented and resisted them?   If John were speaking directly to you today, what would his message be?  What one action will you take this week to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance"?  John pointed people to Jesus Christ, the One who came to die and fully pay for our sin.  Be confident that in Jesus Christ, and in Christ alone, we are forgiven.   He deserves our praise.

January 9, 2003 - "Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.  When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to custom.  After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.  Thinking he was in their company, they traveled for a day.  Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listen to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished.  His mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.'  'Why were you searching for me?'  he asked.  'Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?'  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.  Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.  But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."  Luke 2: 41 - 52 (NIV)

This well known story is the only incident recorded in the Bible of Jesus' life as a youth.  As a twelve year old, Jesus had one more year before he would be considered an adult, responsible for keeping the law.  It was customary for boys to be taken to the temple a year  in advance for a time of orientation and preparation so that they would be familiar with the customs of the temple.  After the feast, as they were returning home, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was not with them in the caravan with their other relatives and friends.  They anxiously went back to look for him.  When they finally found him, he was in the temple listening to the teachers and asking and answering questions.  Jesus was astonishing everyone with his understanding and insight.  His mother asked him, 'Son why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you?'  Jesus' reply indicates that he thought they would understand.  God's son had to be in His Father's house (He uses the familiar form of the word for 'my Father', a term a child would use for his daddy.)  Jesus returned with them and continued to be a model child.  He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  This is an incident Mary would treasure as she looked backed on Jesus' life.

What does this passage tell us about Jesus' identity and character?  Do you have a hunger to know God and His Word?  Do you take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow?  Ask God to give you a greater desire to know Him and His Word.  Make it a daily priority to spend time with your heavenly Father.

January 2, 2003 - "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.  When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord'}, and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: 'a pair of doves or two young pigeons.'  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.  When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying; 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."  The Child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  Them Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too."  Luke 2: 21 - 35 (NIV)

This passage reveals a lot about Joseph and Mary.  They were committed to obeying God's law, they wanted their child to be dedicated to the Lord as an act of worship, and they were relatively poor (Normally a lamb was brought to be sacrificed at the altar, then a turtledove.  A special provision in the law allowed those who were very poor to substitute a second dove for the lamb.)  Mary and Joseph did not dedicate Jesus simply as a matter of ritual or custom; they took their responsibility as parents and as believers seriously.  While they were at the Temple they encountered an old man, Simeon, who is described as being righteous and devout.  God's Spirit was resting upon him.  He was waiting and watching for the Messiah.  God revealed to him that he would actually live to see the Messiah!  When he saw Joseph and Mary with Jesus he instantly recognized that this child was the Lord's Christ.  He could now die in peace.   Mary and Joseph must have been amazed and very encouraged by this special encounter with Simeon.

In Simeon's prayer, the word he uses for Lord is despoteis (the English word despot comes from this word), it means one who has absolute power and authority over someone.  It is a word rarely used for God.  We do not know much about Simeon.  But Simeon is a man who sees God as having total authority over him.  He humbly and submissively walks with God.  For many years Simeon maintained his devotion to God and kept the faith.  When God gave him this promise he knew that God would be faithful to fulfill it.  He was the kind of older believer, one who has walked with God faithfully for years, who is a great example and encouragement to me.

How do you view God?  Does He have authority over your life?  Are there areas in your life that you need to bring under God's authority?  Are you confident God will fulfill His promises to you?  Determine today to live your life faithfully and consistently walking with God every day.

December 26, 2002 - "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (this was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to his and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, as son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and an earth peace to me on whom His favor rests.'  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these thing and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."  Luke 2: 1 - 20 (NIV)

This was the most historic birth that has ever taken place.  Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, veiled His eternal majesty and humbled Himself by becoming a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable, in the humblest of circumstances.  His bed was a feeding trough.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, had entered the world.  God made His announcement of this amazing event to a group of shepherds, not the rich and powerful or religious.  Shepherds where not known as respectable members of the community.  They had no fixed residence and they had a reputation for loose living and dishonesty.  They were considered so untrustworthy that they were forbidden by law to testify in court.  Their occupation also kept them from participation in religious ceremonies.   An angel of the Lord appeared to these lowly shepherds and God's glory shone around them.  They were terrified at this angelic appearance and  by the spectacular display of the glory of God (not the angel's glory).  The angel's message was an amazing and a personal one; "a Savior is born to you."  God loves shepherds!  The Messiah would be their Savior!  Then a multitude of the heavenly host appeared with a glorious chorus of praise.  These shepherds would never be the same.   After they saw him, they spread the good news about this child and returned to the fields glorifying and praising God.

The shepherds' testimony was worthless in a court of law, but it was valued by God.  They heard the good news, came to Christ, believed and then proclaimed with joy all that they had experienced.  Reflect on the fact that God humbled Himself and took on human flesh so that you could experience peace with God.  Praise and thank God for all He has done for you.  Then talk about the great things God has done for you.  Proclaim the good news.   God greatly values your testimony.

December 19, 2002 - "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin's name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.'  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'  'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, ' since I am a virgin?'  The angel answered,  'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God'  'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered, 'May it be to me as you have said.'  Then the angel left her."  Luke 1: 26 - 38 (NIV)

Try to put yourself in Mary's place, what would of it been like to have received a visit like this?  Mary is "greatly troubled", fearful and then of course astonished by the message the angel Gabriel gives her.  She was to give birth to a son, the one who would be the Son of the Most High with an everlasting kingdom.  She would be the mother of the promised messiah!  But how could this be possible?  She was a virgin.  The angel revealed that God Himself would miraculously bring this about by His Spirit. What an amazing promise and privilege!   But she would have to pay a price, she would suffer.  Mary, a virtuous woman, would have to endure the shame and scorn of her family, friends and community.  She would be in the position of trying to explain what happened to Joseph.  She would have the awesome responsibility of protecting, caring for and raising this holy child.  Then she would eventually experience the pain of watching Him be crucified and die.  Mary responds in humble submission and trust to God's will for her life; she doesn't argue with the angel when her calling to be the mother of the Christ is revealed.  Her response to God is a great example for us to follow.

How easy is it for you to submit to the Lord in obedience and trust?  Is there an area of your life where you need to believe that "nothing is impossible with God"?  (I have some things I need to trust God for right now!)  What is keeping you from trusting Him?    Do you really believe that "nothing is impossible with God"?  Spend time getting to know the God who is faithful; ask Him to increase your faith.

December 12, 2002 - "In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.  But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.  Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.  Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him:  'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for the will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'  Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.'  The angel answered, 'I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.'  Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he had stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them.  They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak."  Luke 1: 5 - 22 (NIV)

God had not spoken through a prophet in 400 years.  Yet, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had not forgotten the promises of God, they still believed.  They followed the Lord faithfully.  To serve in the temple and offer up prayers for the people at the altar of incense was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It was an awesome privilege for Zechariah.  Zechariah had probably given up and stopped praying for a child long ago.  This day he was probably praying for the redemption of the people of God and for a Messiah to come.  As he was at the altar praying an angel of the Lord appeared to him.  Zechariah was terrified (I would be too!).  The angel's first words were do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  The message the angel came to bring was that Zechariah and Elizabeth would become the parents of a prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah.  The angel quotes Malachi 4: 4 -5, the last promise God had made in the Old Testament.  God had not forgotten.  Zechariah's prayer for the redemption of God's people would be answered!  But Zechariah, this faithful man of God, doubts this messenger sent from the very presence of God.  He does not believe, even when God clearly and dramatically speaks to him.

How do you respond to God's promises?  Like Zechariah?  When was the last time you doubted God?  What caused you to doubt?  We live in a world of unbelief, it not easy to believe God's Word.  God graciously did not base the fulfillment of His promise to Zechariah on Zachariah's faith.  God showed His faithfulness to His people and to Zechariah by fulfilling His promise.  Zechariah's prayer was answered!  Go to God in prayer often, confident that He is faithful.

December 5, 2002 - "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and when you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints."  Ephesians 6:  10 - 18 (NIV)

We are involved in a cosmic struggle.  It is a spiritual struggle.  It is a struggle against Satan and demonic forces.  Because of this, Paul describes the Christian life in the dramatic terms of warfare.  We definitely need strength for this struggle.  The strength we need to fight this lifelong battle is only found in and through Jesus Christ.  We are to "be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power".   We also have to be fully equipped for battle.   Our equipment and weapons are spiritual.  Paul takes the gear and weapons of a Roman soldier and gives a spiritual application to each piece.  There is the belt of truth.  In order to move into battle we must know the truth and live the truth.  The breastplate of righteousness; we need to rely on the grace of God and be clothed in Christ's righteousness, not our own.  Confession, repentance and resting in the grace of God as a way of life are vital.  Feet fitted with the gospel.  "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"  The shield of faith protects us from Satan's attacks.  We are protected from accusations that we are unworthy by our trust in the living God and by the fact that we are saved by grace and justified by faith; not our own goodness.    The helmet of Salvation is our protection. Our offensive weapon is the living word of God.

We are to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions".  Our struggle must take place in the context of unceasing and constant communication with our commander, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are at war; a consistent life prayer is not optional.  We are to pray for all kinds of things, but we are not just to pray for ourselves.

Are you relying of the Lord for your strength?  When you encounter temptation or other spiritual challenges, which pieces of your armor are weak?  Which are strong?  Remember our battle is very real; it is a serious cosmic struggle.  Make sure to put on the full armor of God.  Take some time to reflect on the resources God has given us.  Thank Him because "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness."  (II Peter 1: 3)

November 28, 2002 - "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Ephesians 5: 15 - 20 (NIV)

We live in a world of spiritual crisis.  God's kingdom is being attacked by the powers of darkness, sin is present everywhere in our culture, the days are evil.  We who are Christians are called to use our time wisely.  We are not to waste our time but to be productive, making the most of every opportunity.   Drunkenness is foolishness because we lose control, in contrast we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  God is the one who is to direct and control our lives.  When we are filled with the Spirit one result is that we will be speaking words of praise, encouragement and thanksgiving to one another.  We will have hearts overflowing with thanks to God.

Those of us in the Untied States are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday today.  This Thanksgiving Day consider this quote from E. M. Bounds "Thanksgiving is just what the word itself signifies - the giving of thanks to God.  It is giving something to God in words that we feel at heart for blessings received.  Gratitude arises from contemplation of the goodness of God.  It is bred by serious meditation on what God has done for us.  Gratitude and thanksgiving both point to and have to do with God and His mercies.  The heart is consciously grateful to God.  The soul gives heartfelt gratitude to God in words or acts."

How's your heart today?  Is it overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God?  If not, spend some time meditating on God's goodness and mercy. 

November 21, 2002 - "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be partners with them.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.  This is why it said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"  Ephesians 5:  3 - 14 (NIV)

Christians are people who have been transformed by the Spirit of God.  We are now God's beloved children, holy (set apart for Him) and children of light.  We are to imitate God by living a life characterized by holiness and purity.  That is not easy to do in the world we live in.  Too often, we have the disturbing tendency to flirt with temptation; we even try to gratify our sinful desires without sinning.  The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the exact opposite should be true of us - there must not be even a hint of immorality, impurity or greed.  Even our speech needs to reflect God's character and give thanks to God.  The misuse of language is not appropriate in the life of the believer.  (Paul is not condemning joking but coarse joking and filthy or rude speech.)  We are now children of light and should live as children of light, walking in the light.  This high standard of holiness and purity comes from a deep desire to please the Lord and express to our love for our heavenly Father.

Are you living as a child of light?  Is your tongue under the control of God's Holy Spirit?  Is there an area of secret sin or impurity in your life that needs to be exposed to God's light?  Do you continue to flirt with temptation or are you feeding your soul with things that are good, pure, right, and holy?  Take time to pray and ask God whether you are keeping some area of your life in darkness.  "If we confess our sins (bring it out of darkness into God's light), He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness."  I John 1: 9.  When we allow Christ to shine His light on us we experience God's grace, transformation and freedom to live as children of light.  When we are reflecting Christ's light we can glorify Him by following His command in Matthew 5:16 to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

November 14, 2002 - "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  Ephesians 5: 1 - 2 (NIV)

Because we are dearly loved children of the living God, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to reflect (or copy) God's character.  We are to imitate God who is good, holy, pure, righteous, just, merciful and loving.  We imitate God by imitating and following the example of Jesus Christ.  Self-sacrificing love was the main characteristic of Jesus Christ's life.  He came to serve and not to be served, He healed the sick, ministered to the poor, loved the unlovable and then He gave His life for the sin of the world.   When we live lives of love we are imitating God and pleasing Him.  Our love for the people around us is also a reflection of the love we have for God, just as Christ's love was a reflection of the love He had for His heavenly Father.  His sacrifice was a fragrant offering to God.

Imitating Jesus is not easy (In fact, it is impossible without God's transforming power and grace.).  I am much better at loving myself than I am at loving God and others.  There are some people who are easy for me to love, others that are hard for me to love.  But we are to follow the example of  Jesus Christ, who loved the unlovable and even loved those who hated Him.  It is impossible to love like Jesus loved without relying on God's power and grace.  Take time today to meditate on the fact that you are a dearly loved child of God and think about the amazing love Jesus Christ has for you. 

Are you imitating Christ by living a life of love?  Ask God for the strength and grace to love even those people you have a hard time loving. 

November 7, 2002 - "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."  Ephesians 4: 29 - 32 (NIV)

Words are powerful.  We can do a great deal of damage or an immeasurable amount of good by what we say.  Words can build a person up or they can destroy a person.  Often we are very careless in the way in which we talk to one another.  The Apostle Paul says that we should not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouth.  That's a very high standard.  Our speech should be Christ centered and others centered.  The words we say should build others up, meet their needs and benefit them.  Our model for forgiveness is Jesus Christ.  Christians are forgiven people.  If God were as reluctant to forgive me as I am to forgive those who sin against me, I would be in big trouble.   Sometimes it is very hard to forgive.   Yet, we are called to be forgiving.  Those of us who have experienced the grace of God and have been forgiven so much should be quick extend grace to others.  Characteristics of uncontrolled anger and lack of forgiveness are bitterness, brawling, slander and malice.  The opposite is kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Apart from the grace and power of God transforming my tongue and giving me the ability to forgive it would be impossible to follow the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4: 29 - 32.  Think about the conversations you have had this past week?  Have your words benefited others?  Is there someone that you are having a difficult time forgiving?  Ask God for the grace and power to do what you can not do on your own.  Spend some time today thanking God for how much grace and forgiveness He has extended to you.

October 31, 2002 - "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.'  (What does "He ascended" mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)  It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work"  Ephesians 4:  7 - 16 (NIV)

I have to admit that I was very tempted to skip these verses and not include them in this devotional.  First, as I started thinking about this passage and other verses in the New Testament on spiritual gifts this week I found myself asking again, "What gift(s) do I have?"  I soon realized that my focus was very self-centered, not centered on glorifying God and serving others.  What I was really asking is, "Do I have one of the better spiritual gifts?"  or "Am I more or less gifted than the average Christian?"  Then I came verse 15 which says, "Instead, speaking the truth in love...", a verse that has been used on me as an excuse to deliver some of the most unloving and painful personal attacks I have ever received.   Some of the most insensitive, unloving and hurtful words ever said to me began with the phrase, "I want to speak the truth in love to you."  This verse brings up painful memories, memories I want to avoid or forget.

What does God want to teach me through these verses?  Jesus Christ, the One who humbled Himself by descending to earth and taking on human flesh, then died to destroy our sin and set us free from captivity, has poured out His Holy Spirit as a gift to every believer.  God gracefully gives us spiritual gifts so that the body of Christ will be built up.  All the parts are vital and essential for the healthy functioning of the body.  Every person in Christ's body is significant, no one is unimportant.  No one is a misfit.  Christ Himself, the Head of this body, is fitting us together and building us up in love, as each part does its work.  My focus needs to be on the giver of the gifts, our Lord Jesus, and on serving Him by building up His body - the Church.

Are you thankful that God has given His people diverse gifts so that the body of Christ can grow and mature?  Do you understand and appreciate the fact that everyone in Christ's body is significant?  Is your focus on the gifts (or yourself) or on Jesus Christ (the gracious giver of the gifts)?  Spend some time thanking God for the ways He has uniquely gifted His people.

October 24, 2002 - "As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all."  Ephesians 4: 1 - 6 (NIV)

God has called us out of darkness into the body of Christ (the Church).  In Ephesians 1 Paul states that God loved us so much that He adopted us into His family.  He loved us so much that He brought us, his former enemies, into His family.   We are now children of the living God!  Not because we are worthy, but because of what Christ has done.  I have to admit that sometimes I do not feel like I am God's beloved child or a new creation in Jesus Christ.  But God's Word is truer than how I feel on any given day.  As believers in Jesus Christ, God has called us to be His children and in response we are to live lives worthy of our calling.  What does it mean to live a life worthy of our calling?  The Apostle Paul gives us the answer; be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  These sound a lot like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22 - 23).  This is spiritual fruit that we have to rely on God to produce in our lives.  These are also characteristics we observe in the life of Jesus Christ.  He humbled Himself by becoming a man and by serving others and dying on a cross for us.  He was gentle, patient and loving.

Are you living a life that reflects that you are a child of the living God?  Do humility, gentleness, patience and love characterize your life?  Do you make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit with other believers, even those you have a hard time getting along with?  Read Galatians 5:  22 - 23, meditate on the fruit of the Spirit and ask God to produce the fruit of His Holy Spirit in your life.  Ask God to enable you to live a life worthy of your calling as a child of the Living God.

October 3, 2002 - "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen."  Ephesians 3: 14 - 21 (NIV)

God is powerfully at work in the lives of His people.  He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.  Paul's prayers for people were deeply rooted in his knowledge of his glorious Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Apostle Paul prayed for other believers he prayed that God would strengthen them with spiritual power.  He prayed that they would fully comprehend the love of Christ and be filled with God's fullness.  Paul had a deep desire that the Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified and exalted through His people. 

Are your prayers rooted in a deep understanding of God and a desire that Jesus Christ be honored and glorified?  When you pray are you confident that God is rich, glorious and powerful?  Do you know that God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine?   Do you understand that God's love for you surpasses knowledge?  Ask God out of His glorious riches to strengthen you with His power.  Pray that you will be able to fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is.  Pray that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.  Then pray the same things for other believers that you know.

September 26, 2002 - "I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power.  Although I am less than the least of all of God's people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.  His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings because of my sufferings for you, which are for your glory."  Ephesians 3:  7 - 13 (NIV)

The value of the message of the gospel is so high we can't use words to describe it.  The riches of Christ are unsearchable.  Paul knew that he was totally dependent on the grace of God.  He calls himself a servant and less than the least of all God's people.  The fact that Paul, an avowed enemy of the Church, was now God's servant demonstrates the mighty power and grace of the Living God.  Paul was very aware that nothing in him qualified him to preach the message of the gospel.  He was profoundly grateful and amazed God had given him the privilege of being a servant of God.  Paul goes on to say that it is though His church, made up of sinful people redeemed by Jesus Christ, that God is now making known the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.  Now that's even more amazing!  God uses us to make His plan of salvation and glory known even to heavenly beings.

God has entrusted an amazing message of inestimable value to us.  None of us by our own righteousness or goodness is qualified for this task of ministry.  We are all people who have to depend on the grace of God as we proclaim the message of the gospel.  Take time today to meditate on the inestimable value of the gospel of God's grace.  Spend time thanking God that you now, through faith, can approach God with freedom and confidence.

September 19, 2002 - "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.  His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death the hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.  In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God's lives by His Spirit."  Ephesians 2: 13 - 22 (NIV)

Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled all the requirements that had to be fulfilled in order for us to be reconciled to God.  He destroyed the barrier that existed between us and God by shedding His blood in our place.  Jesus Christ established peace between us and God.  God now wants us to be reconciled to other people.  In Paul's day there was often hostility between believers of Jewish origin and Gentile Christians.   Paul states that it is by the cross that this hostility can be put to death.  Jesus Christ is our peace and our redeemer.  We are now reconciled into one body, one family of God in Jesus Christ.  All who embrace Jesus Christ have peace with God and have access to God the Father though the Holy Spirit.  We are fellow citizens of God's kingdom and members of His family.   This is the basis of our unity.  Paul also says that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.  In other words, the whole structure of the building rests on Jesus Christ.  Take away Christ and the building will fall.

Is Jesus Christ the real cornerstone of your life?  Ministry?  Are you grateful that Jesus Christ established peace between you and God?  Because of what Christ has done you have now have access to God, you can come near to Him, you are a citizen of God's kingdom and a child of the living God!   Spend some time thanking Jesus Christ for what He accomplished for you.  Are there barriers in any relationships in your life that the reconciling grace of Christ still needs to break down?  Ask God to reveal any attitudes you have toward other Christians that need to change.  Then ask Him for the power and grace to love those He loves.

September 12, 2002 - "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."  Ephesians 2: 1 - 8 (NIV)

When a doctor carefully examines a patient and then declares the patient dead, we know there is absolutely nothing else that can be done for them.  There is no hope for recovery.  The Apostle Paul declares that all of us were once in this very hopeless situation - we were dead - spiritually dead.  Although we were physically alive, we were dead to the things of God.  Things could not have been worse.  There was no possible way the situation could be salvaged.   We were under the power and influence of Satan and sin.  We rightfully deserved God's wrath.  Now comes one of my favorite phrases in the entire Bible, "But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive..."   God intervened and did what only God could do, bring the dead to life.  Our relationship with God is supernatural.  There is no other way to explain it!   It is entirely by God's incomparable grace and mercy that we, who were once dead, have been given new life in Jesus Christ.  God not only raised us from spiritual death to life, but He "raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms..."!  There is nothing you or I did (or could do) to deserve God's mercy and grace, it is His amazing gift of love to us.

How often do you think about all that God has done for you?  Take some time to read this passage from Ephesians again and think about the words used to describe God and His actions towards us - great love, rich in mercy, incomparable riches of His grace, made us alive, gift of God, etc..  Ask God to help you better understand and appreciate His incomparable love and grace.

September 5, 2002 - "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way."  Ephesians 1: 15 - 22 (NIV)

Unfortunately, I don't naturally pray for others in the same way that the Apostle Paul prayed.  Too often, my prayers are focused only on the physical needs of my family, friends, coworkers and myself.  When Paul prayed for people he constantly thanked God for them.  He prayed that they would understand the incredible future hope and the rich blessings promised to them as believers in Christ.  Then he prayed that they would know, understand and experience Jesus Christ in all His fullness and power.  He prayed that they would fully understand that the same power of God, the Holy Spirit, which raised Jesus Christ from the dead and then raised Him up to a place of supreme authority as King and Ruler of the universe, is at work in us and for us who believe.  Jesus Christ now, at this very moment, reigns as supreme Lord and ruler of everyone and everything.  He is the head of the Church.

When you pray for yourself and for others, what do you ask God for?  Do you pray the kind of prayers that Paul modeled in the book of Ephesians?  If you prayed this way and God answered your prayers, what would you expect to happen?  Paul knew that when God answered this prayer lives would be transformed.  The people he prayed for would be more aware of God's presence, grace, love and power.  They would have God's strength, endurance, confidence and power to serve, face trials, endure suffering, overcome temptation and love each other as Christ loved.  Using this prayer in Ephesians 1 as a guide, take time every day this coming week to praise God, to thank Him and to pray for yourself and for others.

August 29, 2002 - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will - to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.  And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."  Ephesians 1: 3 - 10 (NIV)

For the next few weeks we will look at and meditate on the book of Ephesians.  The Apostle Paul starts this letter overflowing with praise to God for blessing us in incredible ways.  God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Our forgiveness was purchased at cost of the life of Jesus Christ, He became sin for us and willingly experienced God's wrath for our sin.  If forgiveness of our sin was the only gift we ever received from God,  that alone would be enough for us to praise God for the rest of eternity.  But, in Jesus Christ, we have been given much more - every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Because we are now identified with Christ, God views us as holy and blameless.  God has also chosen us and adopted us into His family.  He loved us so much that He brought us, his former enemies, into His family.   We are now children of the living God!  That is extravagant love and grace!  Paul goes on to say that one day everyone and everything will be brought under the complete authority of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

How is your praise life?  Is praise a natural part of your prayer life or is it difficult for you to spend much time praising God?  If you are like me,  then you need develop your praise life.  Meditate on the amazing blessings you have as a believer in Jesus Christ.  Take some time today to follow the example of the Apostle Paul by putting praise first and making praise and thanksgiving a significant and natural part of your daily time with God.

August 25, 2002 - "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son.  Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  This is the confidence we have when approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him."  I John 5: 9 - 15 (NIV) 

John ends his letter where he began, with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He reminds us again that eternal life is given as a gift from God and is found only in Jesus.  God Himself has left us with a clear testimony.  When we have Jesus Christ we have eternal life.  Eternal life is only possible because Christ Jesus loved us enough to die in our place to pay for our sin.  What an amazing gift!  What lavish and extravagant love!  There is no doubt that God loves us.  Because of our fellowship with the living God we now can have confidence in approaching God in prayer.  John assures us that if we ask anything according to God's will He hears us and answers us.  That should motivate me to get to know God better and study the Word of God in order to understand what His will is.  This should motivate me to pray frequently.  

Neglecting to pray is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life.  How is your prayer life?  How often do you pray?  Do you confidently approach God knowing that He hears you?  Are you getting to know God's character through His Word so you can confidently pray according to His will?  Make it a daily practice to set aside time to pray.   Start by thanking God that He has given us Jesus Christ and through Him eternal life.

August 15, 2002 - "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God for God is love.  This is how God showed His love among us:  He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us."  I John 4: 7 - 12 (NIV)

The Apostle John points out that love should characterize the person who knows Jesus Christ.  We have been loved by God in an amazing and sacrificial way.  He loved us first, when we didn't love Him.  He gave the one person most precious to Him, His beloved Son, as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.  Jesus willingly became sin and endured God's wrath for us.  If God loved us so much, shouldn't we love each other?  It is easy to love people who love us or love people we enjoy being with.  It is much harder to love those who we just don't like, who irritate us, have hurt us,  have disappointed us or sinned against us.  God's love for us was not natural.  He didn't love us because we were lovable.  He loved us and redeemed us in spite of our sin.  God had no reason to love us, but He did.  That's the kind of love that should now characterize those of us who are the objects of that extraordinary love.  John goes on to say that no one has seen God; but if we love each other He will be made very evident in and through our lives.  Love is a powerful witness to the world around us.

Reflect on God's extraordinary love for you.  Spend some time praising and thanking God that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins.   To love people in the way God loved us requires His grace and power.  Ask God to give you the supernatural power and ability to love the people He brings into your life.

August 8, 2002 - "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."  I John 3: 1 - 3 (NIV)

The marvelous love God has shown to those of us who know Him is an extravagant love!  When we place our faith in Jesus Christ we experience much more than the forgiveness of our sins.  God actually adopts us into His family!  We are now children of God!  That puts the love of God for us on a much higher level!  God could have just rescued us from the penalty of sin or treated us like a benevolent King.  But God loved us so much that He brought us, His former enemies, into His own  family.   This amazing love is a love I will never fully understand.  But it is a love that is transforming.  The apostle John reveals something else that is amazing - "when He (Jesus) appears, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."  We were created in the image of God.  God's intent is that we should reflect God's character.  But, because of our sin, instead of reflecting God's image we demonstrate what God is not.  The hope of the Christian is that we will one day see Him, all defilement of sin will be cleansed from our hearts, we will be purified, we will then truly reflect God's image and experience the love of our Heavenly Father face to face.

Are you amazed that you are now a child of the living God?  We are not worthy to be called a child of God, only God's extraordinary love has made this possible.  Take some time meditate on how much God loves you and thank God for loving you so much.  Ask God to enable you to better reflect His image through your life.

August 1, 2002 - "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."  I John 2: 15 - 17 (NIV)

Many things compete for our attention and devotion.  The real problem is that too often they begin to take the place of God and draw our heart affection away from Him.  When they do, they become idols.  In these verses the Apostle John sums up what worldliness is in three categories:   the cravings of sinful man or lust of the flesh  - the selfish gratification of our physical nature; the lust of the eyes - materialism, the striving for things we want but don't need; and boasting of what he has or does - egotism or pride.  Christians have often defined worldliness by an external code of do's and don'ts but what really eats away at our spiritual life are the attitudes, motives or values that can capture our hearts like pride, jealousy, loving the approval of others, lust, or loving a life filled with comforts.    The Apostle John reminds us that the world and its desires are not eternal - they will not last.  God is eternal.

Where does love for the world and what it offers compete with love for God in your life?  Money?  Relationships?  Ambition?  Time?  Things?  Is there something in the "world" that has ensnared your heart and drawn your affection away from God?  Take some time today to focus your heart's affection on Jesus Christ. 

Quote:  "Let temporal things serve your use, but the eternal be the object of your desire."  Thomas a Kempis

July 25, 2002 - "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him."  I John 2:  9 - 11 (NIV)

Love is another characteristic of someone who is "walking in the light".  It is not always easy to love.   Life is full of misunderstandings; we are sinned against, harmed, criticized, treated unfairly and experience many disappointments.  Often it is the people who are closest to us to hurt us the most.   And unfortunately we hurt others.  Jesus Christ loved us even while we were His enemies.  As followers of Christ we are to imitate His love and grace.  When we are walking in the light, living honestly before God, allowing God to search our hearts, freely acknowledging our sin to God; then we realize how much we have been forgiven.  Love is patient, kind and not self-selfish.  Love forgives.

Do you have the kind of love that forgives much because you have been forgiven much?  To love like Jesus loved requires God's grace and power.  Is there someone that you are having a difficult time loving today?  Ask God to give you the ability to love them.  Has someone sinned against you or hurt you?  Ask the Lord for the strength to forgive them.   Take some time today to praise and thank Jesus Christ  for His mercy and grace.

July 19, 2002 - "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.  We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.  The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in Him.  But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in Him:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did."  I John 2: 1 - 6 (NIV)

These few verses in I John reveal a lot about Jesus Christ and His work.  He is our advocate (our defense attorney) when we sin, He fully satisfied the demands of a holy and just God by giving His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  When we come to know Christ,   He also regenerates us by His Holy Spirit, transforming our heart so that we can walk as He did.  In I John 1: 8 it says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."  Now in I John 2: 4 says, "The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in Him."  Both statements are true - believers in Jesus Christ are both saints and sinners.  The One who fully paid for our sin by dying for us is now in the process of sanctifying us by His Spirit.  God is in the process of transforming us!  The evidence in my life that God is at work is that I am more sensitive to sin in my life and I want to and do obey God.   God's grace always transforms the person who comes to know Him.  We naturally want to please the One who loved us so much by obeying His righteous commands.

Do you love Jesus Christ?  Do you know Him personally as your Lord and Savoir?  Does your love for Him show itself in obeying God and doing what He commands?  Is your life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (the fruit of the Spirit)?  Take some time today to thank Jesus Christ for becoming sin for us and perfectly satisfying the demands of God the Father for us.  Thank Him for His amazing grace and love.

July 11, 2002 - "This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you:  God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives."  I John 1: 5 - 10 (NIV)

God is light.  When I turn on a light in a dark room, the darkness disappears and I can see what is in the room.  When God's light shines on my hearts I can see what is really there - sin.  When we are "walking in the light" we are sensitive to sin, we confess our sin, we don't hide it or avoid it or rationalize it away.   As a result of confessing sin we experience God's cleansing and forgiveness.  We experience close fellowship with Jesus as we live honestly in His light.   But, if I am "walking in darkness", then I avoid admitting my sin, confession is an infrequent discipline and I tend to view myself as much more righteous than I am.  I am not fooling God (He knows my heart), I am deceiving myself.

Confessing sin as soon as God reveals it too you is very basic and vital to walking with God.  If you want to have a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, then confession and repentance are an essential part of your life.   It is also can be one of the hardest and most humbling things to do.  Do you have a regular habit of confessing your sin?  Do you allow God to shine His light on your heart?  Or do you avoid confessing?  Do you rationalize you sinful actions or attitudes as "not really sin" or "not that bad"?  Allow God to shine His light on your heart.  Do not walk in darkness, you cannot hide your sin from God.  Experience the joy of God's gracious forgiveness and enjoy His fellowship.

July 6, 2002 - "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete."  I  John 1: 1 - 4 (NIV) 

For the next few weeks we will look at and meditate on I John.  The writer of this book is the apostle John, the disciple who probably had the closest relationship with our Lord Jesus.  John knew Jesus better than anyone else.  He tells us in these verses that Jesus Christ is a real person.  They actually saw Him, heard Him and even touched Him - before and even after His resurrection.  But the most amazing point John makes here is that the fellowship that He had with Jesus continued after Jesus physically left the earth.  And that we, too, can enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ!  And because of our fellowship with God, we can have fellowship with one another. 

How well do you know Jesus Christ?  How would you describe your relationship with Him?  Second hand knowledge?  A casual acquaintance? or is He your intimate friend?  When you share your faith in Christ, are you sharing first hand experiences?  Like any other relationship, it is impossible to get to know Jesus without spending time with Him.  Be sure to set aside time every day to get know Jesus Christ more intimately.  He is eternal life, the one who existed from the beginning of time and the one who loves us more than anyone.  This is the One who actually desires to have fellowship with us.  There is no one I'd rather get to know and enjoy fellowship with than Jesus Christ.

June 28,2002 - "Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.  First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, "Where is this 'coming' He promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  II Peter 3:  1 - 9 (NIV)

Peter states that the reason he wrote his letters was to remind his readers of the truth they already knew and to stimulate them to wholesome thinking.  Peter wants his readers to remember and never forget the words of the prophets and of Jesus Christ Himself.  He want our thoughts to be influenced by the Word of God.  One reason that people scoff at the truth and ridicule those who believe and follow Christ is that they deliberately forget what they know to be true.  In fact, their reaction would not be as intense if our message was false.  God's Holy Spirit is still at work convicting people of sin, righteousness and judgment.  That conviction is never comfortable.  God's promises are true and His coming and judgment is certain.  God is also a patient God of mercy and grace who does not delight in judgment but wants us to come to Him in repentance so that we can experience His grace.  

How is your thought life?  Is it wholesome?  Are there unwholesome things that you are allowing to influence your thoughts?  How can you help stimulate others to wholesome thinking?  Take some time today to evaluate your thought life and take some steps stimulate it with God's Word and other wholesome influences.

June 20, 2002 - "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Above all you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.  For prophecy never had it origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."  II Peter 1: 19 - 21 (NIV)

How important is the Bible to you?  Do you pay careful attention to it?  Do you study it?  Do you apply it's principles to your life?  Peter reminds us that the Bible is actually God's Word.  The Bible is like a light that shines in our hearts; it lights our way, gives us direction, corrects us, gives us hope and encourages  us.  Most important of all, it shows us our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the "morning star" (Greek - phosphoros - literally, "light-bearer").  God's Word came through words of men (the prophets) but the Holy Spirit was the source, guiding the process.  Since it is actually God's Word, we should take the time to study it, know it and understand it well.  Do you need to change your Bible study habits given the importance of God's Word?  Or like me, do you need to pay more attention to what God is telling you through the Bible?

The following meditation is from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett, Editor

Thy Word is full of promises,

flowers of sweet fragrance,

fruit of refreshing flavour

when called by faith.

May I be made rich in its riches,

be strong in its power,

be happy in its joy,

abide in its sweetness,

feast on its preciousness,

draw vigour from its manna.

Lord increase my faith.

Are you thankful that God has given us the Bible?      Thank God today that He has given us His Word!

June 13, 2002 - "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that come from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain." II Peter 1: 12 - 18 (NIV)

Are you ever tempted to say or think, when you hear a sermon or read a passage from the Bible, "I have heard that before! Tell me something that I don't already know."? The Apostle Peter has no problem reminding his readers about the truths that they already know and are practicing. Too often the things I don't want to be reminded of are the truths that I most need to remember. I don't want the reminders because if I really consider what is being said I will have to come face to face with the fact that there are things in my life that need to change. At other times, I fail to really appreciate how amazing these truths about our Lord really are and boredom replaces thanksgiving and praise. Peter was an eyewitness of the majesty and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. His message was not just a nice made up story. He never got tired of telling about what he had seen and heard. Peter was transformed by Jesus Christ and he wanted those he came in contact with never to forget the vital, life changing message of the gospel of his Lord. What are the truths that you need to be reminded of? (Even though you know

them.) Are you constantly amazed by the message of the Bible or is your attitude "I've heard that before."? Spend some time today thinking about some of the familiar truths in God's Word and then thank and praise God for each one of them.

June 6, 2002 - "For this reason, make every effort to add to you faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to kowledge, self-control and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For it you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in you knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.  Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  II Peter 1: 5 - 11 (NIV)

This passage seems a little overwhelming, I need to add all these qualities to my life and grow in all of this areas.  How is that even possible?  Just getting a good handle on one of these areas seems impossible.  Then I am reminded that Peter has just told us in verse 3 that "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness...".  As new creatures in Christ, our Lord Jesus has captured our hearts.  We are regenerated, changed, no longer the same.  I have now have a God given me the desire to love, obey and please God.  I have also been given the power, through the Holy Spirit to love, obey and please God.  God desires to produce the fruit of His Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control) in us.  As we yield our hearts to the Lord, battle sin in our life and walk with Jesus, God produces His fruit in us.  He works powerfully in us to transform us by His Spirit.  Peter also reminds us that our welcome into God's eternal kingdom will be a rich one, beyond anything we can imagine.  Our loving Father, who has adopted us; and our Savior, who loved us so much He died for us; will be there to welcome us with open arms.

Is your life characterized by goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love?  Does this list reveal any sin that you need to confess and repent of?  Are their areas of your life that need to be yielded to the Lord?  Take time today to do this.  Spend some time praising God for His incredible love and grace.  Thank Him and depend on the fact that "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness...".

May 30, 2002 - "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."  II Peter 1:   2 - 4 (NIV)

When you begin to think about all that God has done for us, it is simply overwhelming!  Through Jesus Christ we have abundant grace and peace.  Through His power we have everything (not most everything) we need for life and godliness.  Too often we focus on what we think we lack instead of remembering that God has provided everything we need for life and he has provided the power we need to live godly lives.  Jesus Christ has provided what we need to grow in our faith.  Think about the promises of God, they are not minor promises but amazing ones.  We should be constantly praising God for the hope we have in Him.

Do you take God's gifts and promises to us for granted?  Do you forget that God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness?  Take some time now to thank God for all He has done for you and to meditate on God's promises.  Make today's focus on the grace you have been given rather than on what you think you still need.

May 23, 2002 - "Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.  I Peter 5: 8 - 11 (NIV)

Peter issues a very strong warning in today's passage.  We need to be alert and ready because we have a very real and powerful enemy, the devil.  Satan is called the accuser, the father of lies and the prince of darkness.  He is looking for someone who has their guard down so that he can devour (destroy) them.  This lion is not tame or safely confined in a zoo.  This lion is like the ones that tore apart and killed the early Christians in the coliseum in Rome.   We dare not underestimate his strength.  Peter had first hand experience with Satan's power.  In Luke 22: 31 Jesus warned Peter that "Satan has asked for you that he may sift you like wheat."  Peter ignored Jesus' warning and ended up denying Christ.  We don't want to overestimate his strength either, because Jesus Christ is far stronger.  We can resist the devil because "greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world."  I John 4: 4  James 4: 7 says "resist the devil and he will flee from you."  Even Satan's victory over Peter was temporary.  God's grace restored Peter, he became a rock, a steadfast apostle.  Now he leaves us with this powerful lesson.  We are to be alert, don't underestimate Satan.  But, Satan is no match for God.  Look to Jesus Christ, resist the devil.

What are you weak areas?  How is the devil seeking to devour you?  What are way you can resist him?  Spend some time today focusing on the power of God, His greatness and His grace.

May 16, 2002 - "Young men in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you."  I Peter 5: 5 - 7 (NIV)

Too often pride raises it's ugly head in my life.  It happens in many ways.  A reluctance to admit I am wrong, comparing myself to others, selfishness, trusting in myself instead of God, attempting to look better than I really am, are just a few ways pride shows up in my life.  Pride is the cultivation, preservation, exalting or protecting of self.  It is a commitment to self.  It is building up ourselves in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. God is opposed to the proud.  (I certainly don't want God to oppose me.  I'll loose.)  The proud person puts self in the place of priority that God alone should occupy.  We were created in God's image, with great dignity and value.  But everything we have and are is given to us by God.  We were created for God's purposes and not our own.  Jesus Christ humbled Himself by becoming a man and submitting Himself to death on a cross.  He came to serve, not to be served.  Peter in these verses is urging us follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Think about your own pride.  How does pride manifest itself in your life?  What prideful tendencies do you have?  Humbly confess these to God.  How is casting your anxiety on Him an act of humility?  Spend some time in prayer casting your anxieties on God.  How can you cultivate humility and combat pride in your life?  

When we focus on Jesus Christ and the greatness of God is easier to cultivate hearts of gratefulness and humility. Spend some time thinking about, worshiping and praising Jesus Christ.

May 9, 2002 - "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be a a murderer or  thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."  I Peter 4: 12 - 16 (NIV)

Are you surprised when you experience suffering or trials?  Do you ever feel like giving up and not continuing?  Peter is writing to believer in Jesus Christ who are going through some very trying times.  This passage is meant to encourage them to see that they are blessed because they are actually participating in the sufferings of Christ.  When I see Jesus Christ suffering on the cross, it becomes very clear that there is no suffering, no injustice, no indignity that Jesus has not suffered already.  No matter what my experience, Jesus has suffered to a far greater degree than I have.  He knows what we are going through.  Jesus knows what it is like to suffer.  God is greatly glorified when we respond to suffering like Jesus did, with joy, patience, love, peace and self-control, not returning evil for evil.  God's grace, power and glory are uniquely displayed and evident when we suffer as Christians.

If you are like me, you spend too much time complaining or in self pity.  None of us like suffering.  All of us will experience trials.  But God has arranged it so that the Son of God has suffered to a far greater degree than anything we will ever suffer.  Will we surrender our rights to God and ask Him for the grace and power to respond to our circumstances as Jesus would respond?  

May 1, 2002 - "The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.   If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen."  I Peter 4: 7 - 11 (NIV)

Because God has loved us so much and given us so much grace, our natural response should be to love one another deeply and to serve one another in the power and strength God provides.  We won't be sensitive to the Lord or to the people and needs around us unless our minds are clear and we are praying.  There are a lot of things that clutter up our lives, a lot of noise that competes with God for our attention.  I need to daily take some time to clear my mind of the noise and clutter so that I can seek God's face, pray and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God.  Then I will be able to use the gifts God has given me as they were intended to be used, to serve others as a instrument of God's grace. 

What is cluttering up your life?  Is there something you need to eliminate so you can spend more time with Jesus Christ?  Do you need to get away from the TV, computer, CD player or radio for a while so you can clear your mind and focus on Christ?  Are you serving others out of God's love and strength?

April 25, 2002 - "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."  I Peter 3: 15 - 17 (NIV)

How do we "set apart" or "sanctify" Jesus Christ as Lord in our hearts?  What does this mean?  It means that Jesus Christ is to have first place in our life.  He is to be regarded as holy.  We are to seek Him.  Too often we seek something other than Jesus Christ.  We seek God's blessings, like a deeper spiritual experience, healing, power, peace, strength, wisdom or a better prayer life, instead of seeking God Himself.  We need to realize that in Christ we are complete (Col. 2:10).  Jesus Christ Himself is our power, our strength, our wisdom, our peace and everything else we need.  He is the hope that is within in us.  No one has done as much for us as Jesus has done.  When we humble ourselves by coming to Jesus Christ and admitting our need, confessing our sins, repenting and experiencing His cleansing and grace we are setting apart Jesus as Lord.  Take some time today to set apart Christ as Lord in your heart.

April 18, 2002 - "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."  I Peter 3: 8 - 9 (NIV)

These two short verses say a lot about the heart attitudes and actions that should characterize our relationships with each other.  We are to live in harmony (literally be of "one mind") with each other, be sympathetic (understand, enter into and share the feelings of others), love, be compassionate (kind and tenderhearted) and be humble.  Then even when we are treated poorly, sinned against or insulted we are to bless the very person who harmed us!  That is not our natural response.  That is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us when He loved and blessed us.  Since we have been given so much love and grace we are now called to be people who give others grace and blessing.  That is something I find impossible to do apart from relying on God to give me the grace and ability to be a blessing.

Are these attitudes and character traits hard for you to live by?  Ask God for the strength to live out these verses.  Do you know someone who is hurting, grieving, struggling with sin, is in need or is discouraged?  How can you show sympathy and compassion toward them?  Have you been insulted or sinned against?  Ask God for the power to enable you to be a blessing to the one who has hurt you.

April 11, 2002 - "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.  'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.'  When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;  by His wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."  I Peter 2: 19 - 25 (NIV)

Jesus Christ was a perfect example to us of how to respond to unjust suffering.  Peter here describes both Jesus actions and His character.  Jesus entrusted Himself to God, the righteous and ultimate judge.  Jesus endured because He kept His eyes on the goal, the ultimate purpose of His suffering, paying for our sin.  He didn't demand His rights, lash out in anger or focus on the terrible injustice being committed.  We desperately needed a Savior and Jesus' focus was on providing exactly what we needed.

Think about a time when you were treated unjustly or experienced hurt from another person.  How did you respond?  How would have Jesus responded if He were in your situation?  In this passage Peter states that Jesus' death is not merely an example for us to follow, but that His death actually empowers us to acquire the character of Jesus Christ.  Because of God's grace I can now respond as Jesus would to those who harm me.  Spend time today meditating on the character of Jesus Christ and thank Him for enduring suffering for you.

April 4, 2002 - "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  One you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us."  I Peter 2: 9 - 12 (NIV)

In these few verses Peter describes our incredible position as believers in Jesus Christ.  In God's grace He has chosen us, made us priests and placed us in a new kingdom.  We now belong to God!  We have received incredible mercy!  We should be people who are consistently praising God for who His is and thanking God for all He has done for us.  Our natural response should be to love God and obey His Word.  We most need to remember our identity in Jesus Christ when we are going through difficult times, trials or when we are being tempted to give into sin.  Resting in God's grace and standing confident in our identity in Christ will provide amazing strength and comfort. 

Think about who God is and who you are (a royal priesthood, holy, belonging to God, chosen, one who has received mercy).  Think about what each of these mean.  What practical implications do they have in your life?  Do you treat other believers like they are a royal priesthood, holy, etc...?  How would you describe the war going on within yourself? Who is winning the battle?  Take time today to thank God for the grace, mercy and love He has shown you.

March 28, 2002 - "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  I Corinthians 15: 3 - 5 (NIV)

"God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God."  II Corinthians 5: 21 (NIV)

During the next few days we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul summarizes the essence of the gospel in these scripture passages.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our faith would we useless and empty.  We do have much to celebrate because our salvation has been secured by a living Savior, the one who has power over our greatest enemy, death.  

Our salvation flows from God. God is holy, righteous and just.  God does not lower His standards to accommodate us. How can an unjust, unholy man stand before a holy God and survive? Jesus was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken upon Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ did that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most vile thing on this planet With the concentration of sin He carried He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on Him, God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. All this was done for us. He took the punishment justice demanded form us.

Spend time this week meditating on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Praise and thank God for all He has done for you.

March 21, 2002 - "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers in the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever."  And this is the word that was preached to you.  Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."  I Peter 1: 22 - 2: 3 (NIV)

Because we are new creatures in Jesus Christ we are to love one another deeply.  This love involves action, not just a feeling of love or concern.  It is a love that shows itself in what we do.  It is a self-sacrificing love that serves.  Do you love others in a way that is demonstrated by your actions?  Ask God to enable you to love those you have a hard time loving.  Look for ways to love and serve the people you come in contact with this week.

The importance, value and lasting nature of the word of God is another point Peter is stressing in this passage.  Everything thing else will perish, but God's word lasts forever.  It is our spiritual food.  God's word is vital to bringing the message of God's grace and essential for spiritual growth.  God's word reveals sin in our hearts, so we can repent and turn to Christ.  It point us to Jesus Christ and life.  The Bible provides the spiritual nourishment we need to grow in our faith.  Do you spend time daily reading God's Word, the Bible?  Do meditate on and apply what you read?  Is your Bible study merely and intellectual exercise or does it draw you closer to the Lord and motivate you to worship, love and service?

March 14, 2002 - "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  "Be holy, because I am holy."  Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  I Peter 1: 13 - 19 (NIV)

In these few verses the apostle Peter issues several commands that believers in Jesus Christ are to take very seriously.  Think about what he means by each of these commands.  Ask yourself some questions.  How can I prepare my mind for action?  Am I self-controlled?  Is my hope fully and completely set on God's grace?  Am I relying on Jesus Christ and His grace alone for my salvation?  Are there evil desires or sin in my life that I am still holding on to?  To be holy means to be set apart for God's purposes.  Does my life honor Jesus Christ?  Or am I still conforming to the world's habits and goals?  For the Christian, the fear of God is not a fear of punishment, but a sense of awe in the presence of an all-powerful, holy, good, just and loving being.  Do you fear God in this way?

March 7, 2002 - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with and inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  I Peter 1: 3 - 9 (NIV)

During March we will be looking at and meditating on the book of I Peter.  Peter starts this letter focusing on God's incredible grace and mercy.  God has given us a new birth, not because of anything we have done - it is all because of what God has done for us.  We were dead in sin, unable to reach out to God until He made us alive in Christ.  We now have a living hope through Christ's resurrection from the dead.  Because of that hope we can count on an inheritance that is impossible to loose or even fade.  We now have a lot to rejoice about, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we have a constant hope within us.  We can even rejoice in suffering because we have God's presence and an eternal hope.  We can have a new perspective on trials, they are testing, refining and developing our faith.

How is your praise life?  Do you often find yourself thanking God for His grace and mercy?  To you find your self rejoicing because of your salvation?  Make praise a lifestyle in good times and in bad.  Our Lord Jesus Christ deserves more praise than we can ever give Him.

February 28, 2002 - "Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.  Is any one of you sick?  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;  the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."  James 5: 13 - 18 (NIV)

Prayer is vital and essential to the Christian.  Without prayer we can not have a relationship with God.  The Sovereign God of the universe not only invites us to talk with Him, He commands us to pray.  Prayer is powerful and effective because our God is powerful, not because there is something special about us or the way we pray.  In this passage James says that Elijah was a person just like us who prayed.  God answered Elijah's prayers, because He is God.  We should be praying no matter what circumstance in life we find ourselves.  Are you in trouble, happy, sick, or need forgiveness?   Then pray.  Ask others to pray for you.  If you have sinned, humble yourself by confessing your sin to a trusted friend who will pray for you.

February 21, 2002 - "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on a business and make money."  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."  As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."  James 4:  13 - 17 (NIV)

Life is short.  There are no guarantees that we will live another moment.  Our only confidence can be that our lives are in the hands of a sovereign God who is in control of the present and the future.  Our confidence can never be in ourselves.  Our confidence for the future must be in Jesus Christ.  James is not condemning planning or earning money in this passage.  He is condemning boasting and not viewing life from God's perspective.  James also says that sin is not just doing things we know are wrong, we also sin when we don't do what we know we should do - when we fail to do what is right.  

Do you look at life with an eternal perspective?  Take some time today to ask yourself, does my life glorify God?  Do you live life with confidence (instead of fear), knowing that the sovereign God of the universe is in control. Or do you just "play it safe" by not even doing what you know you should do?  All of us fail.  Our only hope is to rely on God's grace and mercy to redeem and transform us into His likeness.  Life is short, like a vapor that vanishes, eternity is forever.  It is vital that we place our life into the hands of the one living, eternal, almighty, Savior.

February 14, 2002 - "But He gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."  James 4:  6 - 10 (NIV)

God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.  To experience the grace of God we have to humble ourselves before God, confess our sin.  We must admit that we deserve to be punished for our sin.  We have to admit that we desperately need forgiveness.  When we do humble ourselves, God will come near to us and we will experience His immeasurable grace.  If you want God to actively oppose you then cultivate pride in your life instead of humility.  

Are you actively submitting to God today?  What are ways you need to resist the devil today?  Take some time alone with God to draw near to Him.  He will draw near to you.  Consider this meditation from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett, Editor

            Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly

            Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

            where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

            hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

            Let me learn by paradox

            that the way down is the way up,

            that to be low is to be high,

            that the broken heart is the healed heart,

            that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

            that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

            that to have nothing is to possess all,

            that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

            that to give is to receive,

            that the valley is the place of vision.

            Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,

            and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine;

            Let me find thy light in my darkness,

            thy life in my death,

            thy joy in my sorrow,

            thy grace in my sin,

            thy riches in my poverty,

            thy glory in my valley.

February 7, 2002 - "Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  Fore where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."  James 3: 13 - 18 (NIV)

There are two kinds of wisdom.  There is a wisdom that comes only from God and is full of the Spirit of God.  The fruit of the Spirit is evident in those who who have Godly wisdom.  There is also a wisdom that comes from the world.  It may enable those who use it to gain what they selfishly desire, but this is a wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual and of the devil.  It does not please God.  Those who use worldly wisdom find it easy to compromise their integrity for short term gain.  Instead of humbly confessing and repenting of sin, they deny their sin.

Where do you need God's wisdom today?  Are you spending time reading the Bible, God's Book of Wisdom, and asking the God of wisdom to give you His wisdom?  Spend some time now praying that God will give you heavenly wisdom and the fruits of that wisdom - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

January 31, 2002 - "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boast.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kind of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."  James 3: 1 - 12 (NIV)

The tongue is a very small part of the human body, yet it is a very powerful force.  This passage tells us several things about the tongue.  First, you can tell a lot about your spiritual health by the condition of your tongue.  James says the person who controls his tongue is a mature person.  Second, the tongue is a powerful and influential force.  Just like a small rudder directs a large ship, your words can have a powerful influence.  Words can encourage people, be an influence for good and bring the Gospel of God's grace to people.  Think about the most meaningful compliments you have ever received.  What were they?  Who gave you the compliment?  What did it mean to you?  How has that compliment affected you?  Third, James says that words can be destructive.  When I was a child I was told, "when someone insults you or calls you a name just say; sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me."  That statement is not true.  Broken bones do heal, but when a person's soul is injured by brutal insults, criticism or slander the scars can last a lifetime.  What have been the most powerful insults or criticisms you have ever received?  How has that affected you?

No one can tame the tongue.  Pray today for the grace to turn your tongue over to God's control.  Only He has the power to control what you can not control.  Pray that your words will be words of life, encouragement and blessing to the people in your life.

January 24, 2002 - "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that - and shudder."  James 2: 14 - 19 (NIV)

What is the relationship between faith and works?  In Ephesians 2: 8 it says "For it is by grace you are saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."  James is not contradicting the words of Paul.  If we have a faith that saves, our hearts are regenerated (transformed) by the Holy Spirit and our lives change because God's grace is transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.  True Christian faith is always characterized by good works and obedience to God, but there can be no true obedience of God or good deeds without faith.  Our actions are a natural result of our faith or lack of faith in Christ.  He alone has the power to save us.  He alone has the power to transform us.

Take a moment today to look at your life.  Is your faith evident to the people closest to you?  Ask God to forgive you for your sin and to transform you into His image. 

January 17, 2002 - "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a seat for you."  but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my dear brothers:  has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?"  James 2: 1 - 5

"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin are are convicted by the law as lawbreakers?  James 2:  8 - 9

We can show favoritism and discriminate without realizing we are doing it.  It is very easy even among Christians for us to show favoritism in our relationships with each other.  James here points out that this is clearly sin.  "Love your neighbor as yourself."  is a royal law of the Kingdom of God because is one of the primary laws of the Kingdom.  It is a law proclaimed and verified by the King of Kings Himself, Jesus Christ.  

Take some time this week to ask yourself the question - how can I "love my neighbor as myself?", then take some concrete steps to put God's royal law into practice.  Ask God to give you His strength and power to love the people around you.

January 10, 2002 - "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.   But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does."  James 1: 22 - 25 (NIV)

James tells his readers that it is very easy for Christians to deceive themselves by simply listening to God's Word.  We think we are walking with God because we are attending Church, Bible studies and even active in ministry.  But we are deceiving ourselves if we are not being transformed by the Word of God.  Reading the Word of God is like looking into a mirror.  It reveals our flaws - our sin.  This should motivate us to humbly go to our Lord Jesus Christ, confess our need for His grace and ask Him to transform us by His grace.  He does have the power to enable us to be doers of God's Word and not merely hearers. 

Do you meditate intently God's Word?  Do you recognize your sin, repent of it, and allow Jesus Christ to transform your actions from the heart?  If so, you will experience true freedom and be blessed in what you do.

January 3, 2002 - "James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:  greetings.  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."  James 1: 1 - 8 (NIV)

Every Christian faces trials.  Trials come in many forms; persecution, illness, death, financial hardship, relationship problems, family problems to name just a few.  They may be caused by no fault of our own or our own sin, the sin or malice of others, a natural disaster, or life circumstances.  But over every trial is a sovereign God who loves us.  James tells us that God wants to use the trials we face to develop our character.  We can learn to persevere and learn valuable lessons in prayer as the result of going through suffering.  Wisdom is something we desperately need when facing difficult trial.  James points out that if we ask God for wisdom He will give it generously to us.

Are you wise?  A wise person will not become bitter as the result of trials.  They will realize that God wants to use trials to bring about our maturity and His glory.  Allow the Lord Jesus Christ to strengthen and sustain you when you are suffering.  Spend some time today asking God to give you wisdom.  

December 27, 2001 - "Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.  Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid, what can man do to me?"  Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  Hebrews 13: 1 - 8

We end the year 2001 in the last chapter of Hebrews.  The focus here is on personal qualities that should characterize the lives of Christians.  Qualities like hospitality, remembering those in prison, ministering to those who are being mistreated or suffering, purity in marriage, contentment and dependence on the Lord, and appreciating those who have led us and taught us.  As you look to a new year evaluate your life, ask God to show you where you are doing well and where you fall short.  Confess any sin God shows you and ask God what His desires are for you in 2002.  What steps do you need to take to cultivate the qualities mentioned in Hebrews 13 in your life?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.  He has been faithful in the past, is faithful now and will be faithful to you in the future.  Rest and be strengthened by His amazing grace.

December 20, 2001 - "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But to angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds and said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."  Luke 2: 4 - 20 (NIV)

This week my prayer is that you will spent some time focusing on Jesus Christ and glorifying Him because the living God of the universe stepped on to earth, humbled Himself by becoming a man and gave His life so we might have life eternal.  I pray you will experience great joy this Christmas.

December 13, 2001 - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."  Hebrews 12: 1 - 3 (NIV)

In Hebrews chapter 11 there are many examples of men and women who have been faithful witnesses to God's goodness and glory.  They should motivate us to get rid of the sin in our lives that would hinder us from faithfully running the race of life we are now called to run.  Then fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.

We all need to "fix our eyes on Jesus" daily.  When I take time to look at Jesus Christ, what do I see?  First, I clearly see that God loves me with an incredible love.  Because of His love for me, Jesus willingly endured the cross to pay the penalty for my sin.  I also see clearly that our Lord is King and Ruler of the universe, He sits in authority at the right hand of the throne of God.  He was victorious over death, an enemy that only He has conquered.

Second, I clearly see who I am.  I actually deserve the punishment that Jesus Christ endured.  My sins are clearly not minor violations that can be excused, they are serious offences against a holy God.  When I look at Jesus I must come face to face with the fact that I am guilty and deserve the most drastic punishment possible.  I need to approach the Lord daily in humility, confession and repentance.  I am in desperate need of the grace of God.  He has provided what I so desperately need, an abundant amount of grace and mercy.

When I "fix my eyes on Jesus" it is easy for me to trust Him and love Him.  Prayer and confession come naturally to me when Jesus Christ is my focus.  When my focus is elsewhere, I loose perspective and become overwhelmed with life's difficulties.  Take some time today and every day to "fix your eyes on Jesus".  Focus your heart on Him.

December 6, 2001 - "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.  By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.  By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.  And by faith he still speaks even though he is dead.  By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.  For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because He is a rewards those who earnestly seek Him."  Hebrews 11:  1 - 6 (NIV)

Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews is often called the "hall of faith" of the Bible.  It lists more that a dozen examples of men and women who lived lives of faith.  They worshiped by faith, walked by faith, worked by faith, conquered by faith, suffered by faith and died by faith.  By faith they were courageous in battle, made strong in their weakness, victorious in defeat and patient in suffering and persecution.  When our faith and trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ we can live lives of confidence even when it seems like the evil all around us is set on destroying us.  The faith of the saints listed in Hebrews 11 inspires and encourages us.  When we place our faith in the Living Lord of the Universe, Jesus Christ, we are following their example.

Read Hebrews Chapter 11 several times this week.  Do you live a life of faith?  Is your faith in Jesus Christ or in something that is not reliable?  Take some steps this week to exercise and develop your faith.

November 29, 2001 - "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  Hebrews 10:  19 - 25 (NIV)

We can now have an amazing confidence to come to God because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.  Today take a spiritual inventory of your life.  Spend some time praying and then ask yourself these questions:  Am I drawing near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith?  Am I holding unswervingly to the hope in Christ that I profess?  Do I actively spur others on toward love and good deeds?  To I meet with other Christians for fellowship and encouragement?  Am I an encourager?  After taking your inventory make some commitments to make any changes in your life that God shows you to make as a result.

November 22, 2001 - Thanksgiving Day - "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  I Thessalonians 5: 16 - 18 (NIV)  "Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever."  Psalm 106:  1 (NIV) 

It is always God's will for us to give thanks, no matter what our circumstances.  On this Thanksgiving Day, set apart especially to give thanks, spend time thanking God for all the ways He has blessed you in the past and is blessing you now.  God is good.  He is the very source of our life!  I am very grateful for all our Lord has done for me and given me.

November 15, 2001 - "When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, 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, having obtained 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!"  Hebrews 9:  11 - 14 (NIV)

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was a superior sacrifice.  The elaborate tabernacle and sacrificial system of the Old Covenant was an illustration to teach was blood sacrifice and atonement were pointing toward.  These sacrifices only accomplish an outward cleansing.  Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can cleanse our consciences, bring forgiveness and impart life.  

Meditate on the fact that Christ's blood has cleansed you once for all so that you may serve the living God.  Take time to thank God for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus this week.  Then think of ways you can serve Him this week out of gratitude for all He has done for you.

November 8, 2001 - "The point of what we are saying is this:  We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.  Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  If He were on earth, He would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.  They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.  This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle:  'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'  But the ministry Jesus received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, ant it is founded on better promises."  Hebrews 8:  1 - 6 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews now summarizes the main point he has been trying to make in the last several chapters.  That is, Jesus ministry is superior because He sits at God the Father's right hand and serves in God's actual tabernacle.  Priests on earth serve in a tabernacle that is only a copy of the real one in heaven.  That ministry was valuable for instruction because it provides us with a picture of the real tabernacle.  But Jesus ministry is superior because it is not a shadow or a copy - it is reality!  His ministry is what actually cleanses us from sin and can actually bring us into a right relationship with the living God.  

How has Jesus ministered to you?  Take time today to meditate on and to thank God for all the ways the ministry of Jesus Christ is superior to every other ministry.  Allow Jesus to minister to you today.

November 1, 2001 - "But He became a priest  with an oath when God said to Him: 'The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: You are a priest forever.'  Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.  Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.  Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.  For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed a Son, who has been made perfect forever."  Hebrews 7: 21 - 28 (NIV)

Jesus Christ is indeed the supreme high priest.  His priesthood is permanent and superior to everyone that preceded Him.  And because it never ends He is able to save completely all to come to God through Him!  Jesus is also constantly interceding (praying) for us - bridging the gap that exists between us and God the Father.  The One who personally paid the price for our sinful deeds pleads our case before His Father's throne of judgment.   He begs for the forgiveness we desperately need but don't deserve.

Think about what it means to have Jesus Christ interceding for you.  What difference does this make in your life?  Take some time today to praise Jesus for being holy, pure and blameless.  Thank Him for paying the price for your sin.  Thank Him for interceding for you.  Rejoice in the fact that He is able to you save completely.

October 25, 2001 - "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weaknesses.  This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.  No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.  So Christ also did not take upon Himself the glory of becoming a high priest.  But God said to Him, 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'  And He says in another place, 'you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'  During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek."  Hebrews 5: 1 - 10 (NIV)

Hebrews chapter 5 deals with Jesus role as a high priest and that He is supremely qualified to be a high priest.  Jesus was appointed not as a temporary high priest, but as a permanent - eternal - high priest.  The sacrifice He offered was Himself.  Unlike other priests, Jesus did not need to offer sacrifices for His own sin.  He is perfectly able to understand and gently minister to us because of the suffering He experienced.  These verses also give us insight into prayer.  Jesus prayed fervently with tears to be saved out of death and He was heard.  How was Jesus prayer answered?  In one sense the Father's answer was no, Jesus would have to suffer a horrible painful death.  In another sense the answer was yes, Jesus would rise from the grave never to die again.  He was saved out of death and now sits enthroned as King of Kings at the right hand of God.  We now have the hope of eternal life because of His death and resurrection.  God's eternal purposes were accomplished through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

God often answers our prayers in ways that may at first not seem like an answer at all.  We may be close to despair.  But, God's answer is often to bring life out of death.  Have you experienced a loss?  The death of a dream or vision?  Deep disappointment or pain?  Jesus Christ is a high priest who understands.  Our Lord is a God who brings life even out of death.

October 18, 2001 - "There remains, then a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rest from his own work, just as God did from his.  Let us therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all of creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4: 9 - 16 (NIV)

Entering God's rest is a benefit of faith in Jesus Christ.  Is God's rest a reality in your life?  To what extent to you experience God's rest?  Reflect and meditate on the idea of resting in God alone.  The author of Hebrews goes on to talk about the word of God.  It is active and living and can penetrate our hearts so that we can enter God's rest.  He says that when we come under conviction of sin from meditating on God's word we have Jesus Christ, a high priest, to whom we can go to with anything because He can sympathize with us, understand us and cleanse us from every sin.  

Thank God for His promise of rest both now and in the future (in eternity).  Thank Him for knowing you and loving you completely.  Thank Him for providing understanding, grace and mercy.

October 11, 2001 - "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.  He was faithful to the one who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house.  Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future.  But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house.  And we are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast."  Hebrews 3: 1 - 6 (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is greater than the prophets, then he says that Jesus is greater than the angels.  In this chapter he says Jesus is superior to Moses, who was considered to be the greatest leader the Jewish nation ever had.  Moses redeemed and liberated the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  He spoke to God as one speaks to a friend and gave the written law to the Jewish people.  He mediated between God and the people.  No one was more respected than Moses.  Yet, Jesus Christ, the Messiah is far superior to Moses.  

We are told in this passage to fix our thoughts on Jesus.  This means we are to put our mind on Jesus and let it remain there so that we will understand who He is and what His will is for us.  We are to thoughtfully consider Jesus and concentrate our attention on Him.  Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is vital if we want to know, love, walk with and obey God.  

Where is heart today?  Do you love Jesus?  Is He first in your life?  Where is your hope?  Take some time now to examine your heart.  What things are distracting you from fixing your thoughts on Jesus Christ?  What can you do about these?  

October 5, 2001 - "Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham's descendants.  For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted."  Hebrews 2: 14 - 18 (NIV)

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man united in one person.  The Lord of the universe humbled Himself by taking on human flesh and becoming a man.  God loved us so much that He was willing to suffer and die to defeat our biggest enemy, death.  He understands intimately what we are experiencing - our fears, suffering and temptation.  There is no trial or trail or temptation we will ever face that Christ does not perfectly understand.  In His mercy He made atonement for our sins by offering and becoming the sacrifice Himself. 

Are you enslaved by the fear of death?  By other fears? By sin and temptation?  Are you experiencing suffering?  Jesus Christ understands and is able to help.  Let this truth sink deep into your heart, meditate on the truth of God's Word.  Pray and ask Jesus to help you come to Him, trust Him and let go of your fears. 

September 27, 2001 - "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.  And after He made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs."  Hebrews 1: 1 - 4 (NIV)

Hebrews is on of my favorite books of the Bible because the glory and greatness of Jesus Christ permeates the entire book.  With the arrival of Jesus, God speaks finally and completely in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Each time the prophets spoke they only reveal part of the story, now God's revelation is complete.  These four verses speak to us of the incredible greatness of Jesus.  He is the heir of all things, He made everything that exists and He shines forth God's glory.  When we look at Jesus we are looking at God.  He maintains and carries along every thing in the universe.  Without Him, our sin could never be forgiven.  He is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, a position of honor, glory and power.  Jesus is greater than the angels, who are extremely powerful and exalted beings.  He is the Lord of the universe.  My heart has been overwhelmed with praise for our Lord Jesus as I have read these verses over and over again this week.

Meditate and ponder these verses.  Is Jesus more than just a name to you?  Do you adore Him?  Do you love Him?  Do you trust Him with your life?  When our trust is in Jesus Christ we have nothing to fear.  Take time today to tell Him how much you love and adore Him.  Ask Him to help you trust Him with your fears.

September 20, 2001 - "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12: 2 (NIV)  

We all need to "fix our eyes on Jesus" daily.  When I take time to look at Jesus Christ, what do I see?  First, I clearly see that God loves me with an incredible love.  Because of His love for me, Jesus willingly endured the cross to pay the penalty for my sin.  I also see clearly that our Lord is King and Ruler of the universe, He sits in authority at the right hand of the throne of God.  He was victorious over death, an enemy that only He has conquered.

Second, I clearly see who I am.  I actually deserve the punishment that Jesus Christ endured.  My sins are clearly not minor violations that can be excused, they are serious offences against a holy God.  When I look at Jesus I must come face to face with the fact that I am guilty and deserve the most drastic punishment possible.  I need to approach the Lord daily in humility, confession and repentance.  I am in desperate need of the grace of God.  He has provided what I so desperately need, an abundant amount of grace and mercy.

When I "fix my eyes on Jesus" it is easy for me to trust Him and love Him.  Prayer and confession come naturally to me when Jesus Christ is my focus.  When my focus is elsewhere, I loose perspective and become overwhelmed with life's difficulties.  Take some time today and every day to "fix your eyes on Jesus".  Focus your heart on Him.

September 14, 2001 - Today is a national day of prayer and remembrance.  We can't do anything more important than pray urgently and fervently for our nation, the victims,  families affected, rescue workers and our national leaders.  Please join me in praying for our nation , our leaders who need God's wisdom, families who have undergone unspeakable loss, rescue workers and for the world.  Please pray that our nation and other nations will turn to the Lord and depend on Christ alone for grace and salvation.    

The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has been on my heart since Tuesday morning.  We have never seen anything like this in our history as a nation.  Life is incredibly fragile.  This tragedy has been a vivid reminder to me that I can not take life for granted, we need to be ready to meet our Lord at any moment.  It also brings into focus those things that are really important in life.

The stories of families who are now without fathers, mothers, sons or daughters is heart wrenching.  I can not go for long watching television without becoming very emotional.   And I am sure I have only heard a small fraction of the thousands of stories that could be told.  I am greatly comforted by the fact that God is sovereign and that nothing that happens is out of His loving control.  We will never have answers to all the why's that are being asked this week - we don't know why God allows evil and suffering.  We do know that God is good, He is not the author of evil and that He does "work all things together for good for those who love God, to those called according to His purpose." (Romans 8: 28)  Meditate on the goodness and love of God and pray for our nation this week, then reach out to embrace someone close to you.

September 10, 2001 - Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep."  I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15: 4 - 7 (NIV)   

A couple of summer's ago my heart was captured by a news story on a Saturday - I still remember it today.  A family with four children had gone to Madera Canyon (a short drive south of Tucson) for a picnic.  Their seven year old son wondered off - everyone thought he was with someone else.  After a frantic search for the boy, the family knew they needed help.  The Sheriff's department was called, soon search and rescue crews and a several army helicopters joined the search.  Several hundred people dropped what they were doing on a Saturday morning to search for this little boy.  Why all the fuss?  Because the stakes were high!  A small child can not survive in the harsh elements of the Arizona desert in the summer for very long.  This was a life and death situation!

The stakes are even higher when we are talking about lost people.  All around us, every day, people you and I know are in a desperate situation.  They do not know Jesus Christ.  They need to know the love and grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is a matter of eternal life and death.  I need to "leave the 99" more often and reach out in love to the people around me.  How about you?

The little boy was found the next day after spending a frightening night alone in the desert.  You can imagine the tears, joy and celebration that took place when he was found.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched it on the news.  I could imagine my son being the one who was lost.  Jesus says "in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents. . ."

Permission is granted to use these devotional messages for personal study and small groups. 

Study written by Bob Krepps  © 2001, 2002, 2003 all rights reserved

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