What If the Darkness Continued?

19 Apr

491102673_f395dc3a9dMatthew 27:57-61
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.  And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock.  And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The Sabbath day, after the burial had to be the darkest day in earth’s history.  The candle of God had been extinguished by the ugliness we call death.  A light had gone out for the disciples and for the world.  Any sense of hope was gone.
The question for me to consider is, what would it have been like for that dark day and night to continue?  What would have happened to this world if Jesus hadn’t been raised, or if Satan had gotten the victory over God’s Son?  Or what would it have meant if Jesus was just a defeated prophet, true or not?  What would I be missing?  I would certainly be missing the New Testament record.  I would be living a life without these words:
1. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).”
2. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matt. 6:9).”
3. “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14).”
4. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Matt. 20:26).”
5. “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28).”
6. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
7. “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and they know me… (John 10:14).”
8. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… (John 11:25).”
9. “Let not your heart be troubled, Believe in God; believe also in me (John 14:1).”
10. “…I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3).”
I can’t imagine a life without the promises Jesus gave.  I am grateful that I don’t have to.  And I pray with a heavy heart for those who don’t know this Jesus who made the world one dark day, but offers to give light today.

What Jesus Did for Me – A prayer

18 Apr

the road Jesus walked to the cross...

Via Dolorosa – the road Jesus walked to the cross…

Matthew 27:45-50
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “ This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “ Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
“On this Good Friday, I am moved, Lord Jesus that you stepped into my abyss of aloneness in death.  You experienced separation by choice, so I could experience unity by grace.  You were excluded so I could be included.  You so redeemed my life, that even death is not an enemy but a friend that ushers me into Your glory.  You hung in destitute darkness, so I could stand in Your light.  I grieve over my sin that drove You to the cross.  I rejoice over the love and grace that held You there.  Today be praised, O Lover of my soul.  Be magnified in your humiliation.  Let me love you once again and love you more fully, my Savior and my King.”

2 Things We Must Do For Spiritual Survival

17 Apr 20140416-195331.jpg

It was on the night before His crucifixion that Jesus left the upper room and walked across the valley to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was on the Mount of Olives.  What, at other times had been a place for a meaningful talk, or a spiritual respite, became a battle ground that night.

Jesus went there to pray.  But this wouldn’t be an ordinary prayer session with His Dad in heaven.  It would be a wrestling match.  And he knew the disciples needed to stay engaged.

Matthew 26:41-47  Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “ My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “ Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Jesus knew what the night would hold.  Everyone had to be ready.  This was going to be hard on Jesus, but he knew it would also be hard on his followers.  Satan was going to unleash all his ugliness and Jesus would be the target.  The Father had a plan that included the defeat and death of his own Son.  In this setting, Jesus gave instruction to His disciples.  He knew their condition and he knows ours.  Human spirits are willing but the flesh is weak, he said.  After all, at our best, we are made of dust.  How we handle our weakness is where the battle is won or lost.

Jesus said, “Watch.”  Be awake.  Be aware.  This world is a spiritual battlefield.  The battle was fought that night, but it is also fought every time we are tempted to walk away from the will of God.  We think sin is our idea.  We think rebellion is personal.  It isn’t.  It is part of the warfare of the spirit-universe.  We have to watch.  See the reality of God’s world.  It is made of flesh and spirit.  It is made of material and immaterial.  It is made of temporal and eternal.  Watch.

Jesus also said, “Pray.”  Prayer is expressed dependence on God.  Jesus knew His disciples wouldn’t make it through this on their own.  And Peter didn’t.  They needed the power and presence of God with them.  Their protection would have to come from Him.  We cannot battle the unseen alone.  We cannot fight the principalities and authorities with human flesh.  We need the Spirit of God.  And the Spirit comes in answer to prayer.

Whatever you’re facing this Holy Week.  Watch and Pray.  Watch for the spiritual realities of what you’re up against.  Pray.  Really pray.  Cry out to God for His help and strength.  And the promise is, just like Jesus, the victory will be yours because of Him.

2 Things Needed to Get Beyond Good Intentions

16 Apr Looking east toward the Mt. of Olives & Garden of Gethsemane

In the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, he started to cut to the chase in some of his teaching.  He wasn’t going to leave important things unsaid.  So he addressed those who lived their life intending to do God’s will.
Matthew 21:28-32  “ What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘ Son, go and work in the vineyard today. ’ And he answered, ‘I will not, ’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘ I go, sir, ’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “ Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Living by good intentions is a life of empty hope.  We may make ourselves feel better by saying we want to do something, or planned on doing something.  But if we never get around to it, our intentions are worth nothing.
1. Good intentions are merely empty promises.  The oldest son reassured the Father of his love and devotion by promising something he never did.  These empty promises revealed insincerity.  They show a heart of mixed loyalty.  It seemed like the oldest son was really loyal.  In reality, his words were just a way to get Dad off his back.
2. Good intentions are ineffective.  The oldest son didn’t help the vineyard work at all.  The weeds grew, the dead branches were never pruned.  Empty words don’t change reality, acting on the will of God does.
The opposite of living with good intentions is living in repentance and by faith.
1. Live in repentance.  The youngest son, after rejecting his Dad’s command, changed his tune.  We don’t see it with his words, but his actions.  He turned.  Our repentance keeps us turning everyday from the temptations that encourage us to ignore the desires of God.  Take time daily to admit our tendencies, our desires and our actions that keep us from doing His will.
2. Live by faith.  After his change of heart, the youngest son acted in faith.  He showed loyalty and respect to his Dad by responding to his words.  He trusted that his Dad knew best what needed to be done.  The youngest son also found confidence in living in a newfound “oneness” with His Dad.  We can have the same oneness and receive the same affirmation if we will listen to the Word of God and do what He tells us to do.  We must re-order our lives around His desires.  That is faith.
There is both a warning and an encouragement in these verses.  The encouragement is, the path we start on isn’t the path we have to stay on – this is repentance.  The warning is, words aren’t enough – this is faith.
The only regret I’ve heard from people after they’ve surrendered their lives to Christ is, “Why did I wait so long?”  This Holy Week, let’s get past our good intentions to placate God.  Let’s respond to the Father’s will through repentance and faith.  Trust Jesus His Son.  There is no better way to honor His sacrifice and celebrate His victory over death.

4 Reasons to Make Jesus Your Authority.

15 Apr 20140415-081636.jpg

From the time we reach the terrible two’s, most of us have a problem with authority.  Either we rebel, trying to establish our right to rule our universe.  Or for some of us who are a bit more submissive by nature, our problem is that we choose the wrong authority. We submit to those who either have no real power, or are abusive in their power.

During the Holy Week events, the issue of authority came up for Jesus.  He saw beneath the question, to the intent.  And in this helps us ask and answer the question, “By what authority do I do what I do?”

Matthew 21:23-27  And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “ By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “ If we say, ‘ From heaven, ’ he will say to us, ‘ Why then did you not believe him? ’ But if we say, ‘ From man, ’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “ Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

The opposers of Jesus were setting him up for what was to come.  They were trying to turn the crowd against him.  So they brought up the issue of authority.  “By what authority are you doing these things…?”  

Jesus answered with a question of his own.  “The baptism of John, from where did it come?”  The way he turned the tables on them demonstrated their own lack of authority.  These guys were afraid of the crowd.  They had no real authority on their own.  And Jesus wouldn’t play their game.  He knew His authority was God and this would keep him unmoved from his purpose of redeeming humanity.

Living under the wrong authority leads down a path of despair.  It makes people move with the winds of culture, circumstances, or feelings.  It’s like building house of cards that will crumble at the slightest disruption.  In the end it is futile because there is always something more powerful that will defeat it.

Acknowledging Jesus Christ and the God of Creation as our authority allows us to live with confidence, joy and freedom.  It also allows us to live in harmony with His purposes.  When you think of who your ultimate “authority” is, ask yourself these questions?

Whose authority will you live under?
1. Who is good?  The goodness of God is reflected in Christ who lived sinlessly and lovingly in this world.
2. Who is powerful?  His is the authority that spoke the world into existence and rose from the dead.
3. Who is forgiving?  He is the one who cried, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
4. Who is willing to include you?  He is the one who invited, “Come, follow me.”

This Holy Week find joy and confidence by surrendering to His authority.  He is good, powerful, forgiving and willing to have you join Him.

Time for Spiritual Housecleaning?

14 Apr The Western Wall in Jerusalem - a place of prayer.

Matthew 21:12-13  And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money- changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘ My house shall be called a house of prayer, ’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
After his triumphal entry, Jesus entered the temple grounds.  The Temple Mount is 53 acres of elevated platform.  On top were colonades, open plaza space and in the center, the Temple itself.  This place that was designed by God for the purpose of making God available had become the center of religious commerce.
As Jesus approached the cross, He was not obsessing on what was going to happen to Him, but He was focused on the fact that men had taken something that was supposed to make God accessible (worship and prayer) and had created more walls to keep people out.
Today, we, the church, do the same thing.  We distort the message of the gospel with a market-driven, powerless substitute.  We pretty ourselves up so no one sees our failures and foibles, all while making it harder for others to find grace.  We design ministry to make insiders feel like their doing something, while keeping outsiders at a distance.
Here are some ways we do this in our 21st Century church culture.
1. We have made men and women into Christian superstars instead of humbled servants.
2. We hide our own weaknesses and failures making others think a life of grace is unneeded or unattainable.
3. We measure success by filing people in and out of slick programs without showing them transformed lives.
Lest we think we can just blame church culture, we have to be honest and say, that these trends flow from the condition of our own hearts.  We like superstars because true servants convict us.  We hide from God and others because we don’t want to see what’s deep within us.  We don’t want transformed lives because that means God is really in control and we are not.
The cross is the ultimate act of inclusion.  It makes grace available to all.  We must strive for servanthood – that’s the Jesus path.  We must strive for authenticity – honesty makes grace real.  We must strive for transformation – a life lived in the presence of God.  This Holy Week, take time to ask Jesus to show you what He wants to clean in you?  How can you live your life to make the gospel more accessible to others?

Tell Me Again Why Holiness Isn’t Dull.

24 Mar 20140324-160751.jpg

“Must it be dull and tiresome to be delivered from blindness and vanity, from false hopes and vain fears, to improve in holiness, to feel the comforts of conscience in all your actions, to know God is your friend, that all must work for your good, that neither life nor death, neither man nor devils can do you harm; but that all your sufferings and doings that are offered to God, all your watchings and prayers, and labors of love and charity, all your improvements, are in a short time to be rewarded with everlasting glory in the presence of God… ?” – William Law

Stop for a moment, read this again slowly. Consider each phrase prayerfully. And ask “is this the path I’m on?”

When one is redeemed by Christ and pursues holiness and piety it brings a life of satisfaction and an eternity of joy!


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