Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Asking for the right things

Matthew 27:25  "All the people answered, 'Let His blood be on us and our children!'"

This was the crowd's response to Pilate when he turned Jesus over to them, refusing to endorse His crucifixion.  Pilate found nothing about Jesus that violated Roman law.  Further, his conscience told him that what was happening was wrong, and that he should take no part in it.

The crowd had been worked up into such a frenzy, though, that they would not take "no" for an answer.  When Pilate said he would not be responsible for Jesus' execution, the crowd responded with misguided bravado, as if to say, "Fine, we will take responsibility for this."

But the wording in the verse is very noteworthy.  "Let His blood be on us and our children" was the crowd's way of accepting the responsibility.  But in fact, what they were asking for is precisely what they needed most of all.  Jesus died as the ultimate, perfect sacrifice and atonement for our sins.  The animal sacrifice system was put in place to offer death and blood as payment for sin.  As the Lamb of God, Christ's death was the ultimate sacrifice, and His blood covers us once and for all. 

"Let His blood be on us and our children" is exactly what we should be asking for today.  We are responsible for His death, because our sin created the situation whereby His death was necessary.  But His death, and our covering in His blood as atonement for our sin, is the greatest blessing we could ever receive. 

Sometimes we are asking for the right things, even when we have no idea what or why we are asking.

Friday, October 21, 2011

God doesn't need our help

Matthew 26:53  " 'Do you think I cannot call on My Father and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?' "

Peter had just drawn his sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to seize and arrest Jesus.  On the surface, this seems like a noble act of devotion and protection.  But really, it is quite ridiculous, as Jesus points out.  Peter saw what was happening and decided he must take action.  The God of the Universe had been seized by a group of men and rendered helpless, and it was up to Peter to save God!  The course of human history depended on what action Peter chose to take in this moment!

The last two sentences above are ridiculous when you read them and really think about it.  To think that the Creator of Heaven and earth couldn't defend Himself if He needed to or wanted to, and that He would need us to take action because He could not, is laughable.  Yet we often take this approach to one degree or another.  We try to force the outcome of situations by our own words or actions because we think something won't happen otherwise.  We are, in effect, saying God can't handle the situation without us. 

We all should practice putting away our swords and trusting that God can and will act when He see fit to do so.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unity, not uniformity

John 18:23  " 'I in them and You in Me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.' "

Before His crucifiction, Jesus prayed for the disciples.  One of the things He prayed for was unity, as a testimony to the world of Christ's mission and the Father's love.  Notice that He didn't simply ask for unity and then stop His prayer.  He asked for unity around the central messages that needed to be shared with unsaved people.

It is important for us to differentiate between "unity" and "uniformity".  These two concepts are not the same.  Unity means a common belief in a central truth.  The details are undefined.  Uniformity is more specific, meaning that things are said and done in the same way by all.  Which of these did Jesus pray for?  Which of these did He not pray for?

It's the one Jesus did not pray for that often trips us up.  We get uncomfortable and judgmental when we see or hear another group of believers not acting or worshipping the same way we do.  We tend to think they are doing it wrong, which must mean that they are misguided and don't have a "true" relationship with God.  How can we truly assess that?  How do we know we aren't the misguided ones?

Jesus calls us to have a personal relationship with God.  Someone may outwardly do things like we do, but not have a personal relationship with God.  Isn't this the person we are more likely to get along with versus the person who looks different than us and worships God in a completely different way than we do?  What if the latter person does, in fact, have the personal relationship that God calls us to?  Not accepting that person shows that we are more focused on uniformity than unity. 

The vine and the branches are often used as a description of our relationship to Christ.  But it also gives us important insight into our proper relationship with other believers.  All branches are connected to the vine.  The vine is what sustains the branches and gives them life.  A branch doesn't draw its life from the other branches.  In fact, the branches aren't even connected to one another.  Further, one branch doesn't look exactly the same as any other branch.  The branches are not uniform in appearance, qualities, position, etc.  They are all unified, however, by their individual connections to the vine. 

Strive for unity, not uniformity, with fellow believers.  This is how Jesus says we will most effectively glorify God in the world.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When trouble comes our way

John 16:33  " 'I have told you these things so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.' "

Why are we surprised and caught off-guard when trouble comes our way?  We question God in these times, wondering why He is allowing these things to occur.  Don't we believe that if we do our part by being a good person, that God should do His part by protecting us from trouble?

Jesus can't say it any more plainly than He does in this verse- "in this world you will have trouble."  And consider to whom He is making this statement- His disciples.  He's not saying this to unbelievers or to those who are persecuting Him.  He's saying this to His inner circle.  You'd think if anyone was going to be protected from trouble, it would be these guys.

So there we have it.  We can no longer be caught off-guard by trouble in our lives.  If you are not currently experiencing some level of trouble, praise God and look for the lessons He is trying to teach you in this time of peace.  But know that trouble is likely to come (again). 

It's the next part of the verse that is most important- "I have overcome the world."  No trouble we experience here on earth is permanent.  We know that through faith in Jesus, we ultimately win.  And as He says, this should bring us peace in the face of trouble.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Branches don't produce more fruit by trying harder

John 15:5  " 'I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.' "

Jesus commands us to glorify the Father by bearing much fruit and showing ourselves to be His disciples.  Galatians 5:22-23 provides a list of "fruits":
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control
That's quite a long and intimidating to-do list!  I can tell you that I usually miss the mark on at least one of these before I even get out of the house each morning.  It is easy to look at this list of qualities we are to have, reflect on our daily performance, and become discouraged.  Add these items to our earthly to-do list, and the whole exercise is just exhausting.  We are likely to fail much more often than we succeed.

Jesus just shined an enormous light on these feelings of personal failure in the verse above by saying, "Apart from Me you can do nothing."  If we continue to rely on our own willpower and ability to perform, He tells us what will happen- we fail.  So take the weight of guilt off your shoulders- we can't do this.

What we can do is remain in Him.  Commit to the daily disciplines of reading God's Word, praying, asking Him for help, responding to His promptings on your heart, and making choices that you know are in His will.  If we do this, He will produce the fruit through us.  Forcing yourself to be nice to someone who irritates you is an admirable thing.  But don't confuse this with the fruit Jesus speaks of.  Fruit is not behavior modification, but heart transformation.  When that person is no longer irritating because you can now see them as a fellow child of God, who may have different fears and insecurities than you have, or may have a different way of acting to mask their internal pain, then you are on your way to bearing fruit.

Friday, October 14, 2011

To know Him is to love Him

John 14:7  " 'If you really knew Me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.' "

What does it mean to really know someone?  Is it enough to simply read about them?  Is it enough to simply hear what they said?  Is it enough to know what they taught? 

Knowing about someone is not the same as knowing them.  Jesus asks us to really know Him.  He goes further by asking us to love Him.  The order of these two makes sense- after all, you can't love someone without really knowing them.  So in order to fulfill His request that we love Him, we must really know Him. 

There are so many aspects to really knowing someone.  Their personality, their quirks, their fears and insecurities, their sense of humor, their moods and so on.  It is not until you reach this knowledge of someone that you have an opportunity to fall in love with them. 

How do we achieve this level of knowledge with Jesus, so that we can then love Him?  How do we turn Him into a real person and not just a storybook character we encounter in the pages of the Bible?  John Eldredge, one of my favorite authors, released a new book this week entitled, Beautiful Outlaw.  In the book, he explores the personality and humanness of Jesus so that we may really know Him.  I look forward to reading it and sharing in his insights.

If you are interested, here is a link to an introductory video trailer about the book:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Courage in the face of persecution

Mark 14:71  "He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man you are talking about.' "

Peter's response to the accusation that he was a follower of Jesus fulfilled Jesus' prediction that Peter would disown Him three times.  In talking with Jesus face to face, Peter denied that this could happen.  He boldly stated that even if the others fell away, he would not.  And then, in the moment of truth, Peter denied Jesus just as He said he would.

It is easy for us to walk around with the same level of confidence in our love and acknowledgment of Jesus that Peter had.  We live in a country where we are free to proclaim Jesus.  We do not face the threat of persecution and our government will not come against us for our Christian beliefs.  If you believe otherwise about our government, go spend some time in a place where Christians are truly persecuted and are constantly in hiding for fear of imprisonment or death, and remind yourself how easy we have it here. 

How would you react in the face of persecution?  Would you proclaim Jesus as your Lord and Savior if it meant imprisonment or physical harm?  I hope I would.  But like Peter, you never really know until you are in the situation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us

Mark 13:11  " 'Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.' "

Many people shy away from having a discussion with someone about their faith.  One of the most common fears I have heard people express is the fear of not knowing enough.  They fear that the other person will ask a question they can't answer and it will somehow expose their faith as being shallow and not well-founded.  They believe that pastors and those who have spent a lifetime studying the Gospels are more "qualified" to have these types of discussions.

To have this mindset is not only wrong, but also somewhat arrogant.  Worrying about having adequate knowledge and knowing your "sales pitch" implies that it is up to us to convince people to believe in the Gospel.  It is, in fact, the job of the Holy Spirit, not us.  Jesus confirms this by telling us it is not us who is speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 

Chances are we will never know the answer to every question a seeker might ask of us.  Luckily, belief and faith are not intelletual exercises that rise and fall based on the quality and strength of our arguments.  Simply tell someone your testimony- no one can argue with that (and you can probably answer all of those questions!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Giving until it hurts

Mark 12:44  " 'They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on.' "

Jesus is speaking to His disciples about the poor widow woman who had given all she had to God's temple.  Surely this woman felt the same internal struggle we might feel in this situation.  The possible rationalizations we could come up with include that God wouldn't ask us to put ourselves and our families at risk by giving away all we have and leaving nothing for ourselves.  We may view this as irresponsible or as a lack of good stewardship of the resources God has given us. 

But isn't the story of the widow giving all she had a perfect reflection of what God asks us to do with our lives?  He doesn't ask for a small portion of our lives, something equivalent to a tithe.  He doesn't ask us to simply give the excess or surplus of our lives to Him, keeping the rest for ourselves.  He asks us to give all of our lives to Him. 

I've heard people say "give until it hurts" in reference to charitable donations and offerings.  God goes much further than this.  He asks us to give until we die.  Giving all of your life to Him means dying to yourself.  That's what He asked of His Son, and it is what He asks of us, as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Answering God from the heart

Mark 11:31-32  "They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, 'From Heaven', He will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men'...' (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)"

In reply to a trick question, Jesus asked the chief priests and teachers of the law whether John the Baptist's baptism was from Heaven or from men.  The verses above show the calculation of their potential responses, which caused them to answer "I don't know".  An insincere question may deserve an insincere response.

But what about when God speaks to us?  When He puts something on our hearts, no doubt it is sincere.  But is our response sincere?  Or do we turn His prompting into an intellectual exercise of weighing the possible responses and their respective costs, and then providing a response based on human reasoning?

God examines our heart and is most interested in honesty and transparency about what is in our heart.  We can use our brains to decide what the right answer is, but if it differs from what is in our heart, God is not fooled.  Answer God from your heart, and pray that He will conform your heart to His.