Conviction Takes Courage – Because Jesus Said So

Today’s reading is Acts 23.  During the previous chapters, Paul was on his journey to evangelize Christianity and spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.  In chapter 21, Paul was urged by the disciplines not to travel to Jerusalem due to the danger he would be in.  Paul was convicted and knew he needed to go there.  Paul was eventually arrested in Jerusalem for taking Greeks into the temple and was attacked by a Jewish mob.  Chapter 23 brings us to Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin, where he is professing his belief in the Risen Christ, and he is not backing down.   The Sanhedrin wanted Paul to be punished and likely, put to death.

The verses take us through the story where a group of Jews banded together and set a plot to kill Paul. As a point to remember, Paul was a Jew, a Roman citizen, and a Pharisee.  He was well known and connected.

In the book of Mark, he provided direct insight from Jesus about the persecution and future struggles of those who would spread Christianity.

In Mark 13-9-11, Jesus said the following:

9 “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to the councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues.  You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for the testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

In many parts of the world today, Christians are still persecuted and murdered for their faith.  Although we might not face the threat of death in our day-to-day life, the conviction of living by Christ’s Word can be a challenge. Many times, Christians are judged harshly for holding strong convictions and beliefs.  Neighbors, friends, and even family may ostracize you because they do not like or agree with your beliefs.   Maybe you don’t get invited to parties, co-workers avoid you, or perhaps being a Christian feels lonely.

We can be assured that although we will endure struggles in this world, Christ is with us.  Christ is with us in the moments we are being challenged and will provide us the courage and words to stand by our convictions.  The “difficult road” is to live a life according to the Gospel, yet we will endure persecution and strife.

Some great verses to remind us of Christ’s presence in our lives.

James 1:2-4 When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

1 Peter 1:6-7 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Paul was ultimately saved and sent away from the mob who wanted to kill him.  While Paul was being held captive, Christ came to Paul and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

Christ is with us also and encourages us to continue the fight to spread His Gospel, and most importantly defend the teachings and guidance in the Bible.  Because we disagree with someone based on Biblical guidance or reference does not mean we are hateful, discriminatory, or hostile.  We can deliver the message and teachings of Jesus with a kind word and compassionate heart.  Standing by our convictions and beliefs may lead to more difficult situations, uncomfortable conversations, and perhaps increased sacrifice.  But we can know with our whole heart that God will provide solace and rest for us in those moments.  We can stand tall with conviction and know that our God is with us.

Redemption for Us – We Are All Sinners

Today’s reading is from the 8th chapter of Acts.

Acts is a fascinating account, written by Luke, of the spread of Christianity following the resurrection of Christ.

The chapter opens with a divisive character named Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish leader, who eagerly persecuted, jailed, and condemned Christians, and abhorred the spread of Christianity.  Saul was a supporter of the stoning and death of the disciple Stephen, described in chapter 7.  He was described in Acts 8:3 as a man who “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”

For those that are familiar with Saul, we learn in chapter 9 that Saul converted to Christianity after Christ appeared to him.  Saul would later be called Paul and would arguably become on of the most vital Christians in history, next to Jesus himself, to spread the Word and Gospel.

Perhaps like you, I read the Bible searching for application to my life.  Life provides twists, turns, and challenges, and the search for peace and understanding are a constant.

I can see Paul’s life reflected in our present day.  Many times, we are in seasons of life where we are not good.  In fact, we might be terrible. Perhaps we are working through addiction, this could be to a substance or pornography.  Sometimes we are surrounded by friends that encourage us to participate in the wrong things.  Maybe we are in a bad relationship and our response is to be angry and nasty to other people.  Or perhaps we live our lives in regret and angst due to previous trauma, abuse, or disappointment that our lives have not turned out the way we want.  During these times, we don’t feel worthy of God’s grace and certainly cannot fathom there is a God that loves us.

The transformation and redemption of Paul is no different than the opportunity we have for our own lives.  Paul, formerly Saul, was a bad person.  He committed what may seem to be unforgivable sins.  He hated Christians.  He jailed them and ultimately supported their execution.  How could God forgive someone who was so bad?

Jesus was the first person in the world to preach, model, and spread forgiveness.  He brought to us the translation of who God our Father is, and what He wants from us.  Christ spoke about the love, forgiveness, and the relationship our God wants with us.  And to top it off, Jesus came to earth and converted prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and murderers to spread the Gospel.  Did you catch that?  Jesus chose the “worst kind of people” to demonstrate the love and forgiveness of following Him.

The blessing of the Bible is Jesus provided us a roadmap to live healthier and happier lives.  We can be assured that no matter how bad the sins are that we have committed, our God will forgive us.  All we must do is ask.  The lessons and teachings of Christ can be applied to our daily lives.  Stories of courage, acts of faith, redemption, and resilience can be applied to each day we live on earth.  There will be trials and bad days.  We see horrible, sinful acts committed each day.  God has never committed to us that bad stuff, which ultimately is sin, will not occur.  What the Gospel tells us is that no matter how awful the struggle, Christ is always with us and wants what’s best for us.  If we turn to the Gospel, we can live our lives with purpose knowing that the challenges and struggles can be overcome.

I am guilty of trying to make God fit into what I want him to be, based on what works best for my life, how I feel, and what I want, versus what Jesus and scripture teach us.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Perhaps you are searching for a church community to learn more about the Gospel and find meaning in your life.  Here are great church communities to listen to live, watch recorded messages, or discover Bible study resources.

I believe the only way to grow in our faith and gain understanding is to study and pursue God’s Word.  The more we read, the more we study, the more meaning and understanding we gain and can apply.

Forgiveness & Humility Shown By Jesus

Humility.  Freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.  This is Miriam-Webster’s definition.  The Oxford dictionary defines humility as, a modest or low view of one’s importance; humbleness.

Today our reading is from John 13 and this chapter is packed full of great lessons from our Savior, Jesus. In my opinion, the greatest of these lessons is humility and forgiveness.

I would be remiss if I did not reference one of the new Testaments most famous verses, John 13:34-35, where Jesus gave us a new commandment, “to love one another, as I have loved you.” Rather than write about these verses, my heart was pulled in a different direction for this journal, although Jesus’ commandment was profound for the future of the world and Christianity.

In verses John 13:1-17, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.  The act was incomprehensible for His disciples to understand.  He was their Teacher and Leader.  Why would He wash their feet?

Jesus knew the time was quickly approaching when He would be arrested and killed.  In verse 10, Jesus said “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet but is completely clean; and you are clean but not all of you.”  In verse 14, Jesus said “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Verse 15, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

In verse 21, Jesus said “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  He knew that Judas was the one that would turn Him over to the Roman authorities.  Jesus also predicted one of His most trusted disciples, Peter, would deny knowing Him three times before His death.  Knowing all of this, Jesus still washed both of their feet.

Jesus washed the feet of His disciples to symbolize how removing the dirt and grime from their feet would cleanse them, not just to clean their feet in the moment, but to symbolize the “washing away” of their sins. Jesus set the best example ever of HUMILITY and forgiveness.  The very men that He trusted as His confidants for the past three years would turn away from Him, and He still forgave them.

What can we apply from Jesus’ example to our lives?  Who in our lives have done wrong to us?  Who do we hold a grudge or harbor resentment against?

The most important message from these verses is that Jesus promises and commits to the forgiveness of our sins.   Even though we are sinners, we continue to do bad things, and we turn away from the Word and Scriptures, Jesus’ death on the cross provided you and I forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus’ death and resurrection “washed away” all the sins of mankind.  Knowing of His own death and the betrayal caused by the very people He was saving; He still forgave them.

In a recent sermon, Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel spoke about the paradoxes that Jesus used to remind us to live with HUMILITY.

      1. To be GREAT, you must be LEAST. (Matthew 20:25-28)
      2. To be STRONG, you must be WEAK. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
      3. To be WISE, you must be a FOOL. (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)
      4. To RECEIVE, you must GIVE. (Luke 6:38)
      5. To FIND your life, you must LOSE (Matthew 16:24-25)

Forgiveness requires HUMILITY. Sometimes we learn humility when we experience a life-changing event.  Sometimes we are forced to show humility when we realize we are not in control of every circumstance and situation and how things turn out.  Perhaps humility is an emotion that can bring about a profound recognition that we must acknowledge that we are not always right, or we must admit that we are wrong.

Honestly, HUMILITY is the most difficult emotion for me to embrace.  Life requires drive to survive, the will to succeed.  Life requires perseverance to thrive in difficult situations.  But many times, the emotions evoked in these moments’ drive us to attempt to take control of situations ourselves rather than “giving them to God.”  The harder we try, the worse it gets.   The more we push, the farther problems may be from being resolved.  The HUMILITY to relinquish control, to forgive, the willingness to relent, and the confidence to accept situations as they are and let them play out, according to God’s plan, not mine.  That takes HUMILITY.

I pray that I can be reminded of these verses in the moments I need them.  I pray that this message provides you reflection and assurance that your Savior loves you and forgives you.  I pray that we all have the same ability and HUMILITY that Jesus did, in the exact moments and times we need them.

Photo Credit: novenaprayer.com

The Guilt of Getting Away With Something

Around a month ago, I wrote about Matthew 27, the trial and conviction of Jesus with Pontius Pilate.

Today we read Luke 23, which was Luke’s version of the same events, Jesus’ trial, and sentence to death.

As I read Luke’s version, the person that stood out to me was Barabbas.   Luke 23:19 tells us Barabbas “who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.” Several times through Luke 23, Pontius Pilate declared that both he and Herod had found no wrongdoing of Jesus. Pilate was prepared to “chastise Him and release Him (Jesus).”  The crowd would not have it.  They declared in verse 18, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas.” Pilate pleaded with the crowd to release Jesus, but the crowd shouted in version 21, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”  Pilate pleaded with the crowd a third and final time, and they wanted Jesus to die.  As we know, Pilate relented and allowed the greatest human being to ever walk the earth to be murdered.

What is on my heart today is Barabbas.  What was going through his mind during the trial of Jesus when no attention was directed to his crimes? Was he guilty?  Why was the crowd letting him off the hook? Did he feel remorse while an innocent man was taking his place to be put to death?

If no one finds out that we did something that was wrong, do we feel guilty about it?  Perhaps it was stealing, hitting another person’s car, and not admitting to it, lying, or gossiping about a person and spreading false rumors, or maybe even injuring someone physically and not admitting to our guilt.

Our conscience is a fascinating and wonderful thing.  It is that certain little something that tells us the right thing to do, when perhaps we don’t know if we can or should.  Or maybe that “voice in our head” convinces us to do what is right, even though it might be to our detriment.  If I admit to wrongdoing, it might cost me financially, it might damage my reputation, or I might even be charged with a crime.

Faith in Jesus Christ provides me the moral compass to do the right thing even when no one else is watching.  To be clear, I am a sinner and FAR from perfect.  I make my share of daily mistakes that I am embarrassed about and many times regret.  But I am committed to telling the truth even if it hurts me.  Yes, I have hit someone’s parked car.  Yes, they were not there.  Yes, I could have left and not told anyone.  No, I could not bring myself to do it.  I left a handwritten note with my name and number and that admission cost me several hundred dollars to repair the persons vehicle.  I would do it over again.

Back to Barabbas.  It gets me to wonder what the rest of his life was like, carrying the guilt that an innocent man was put to death in place of him. The Bible says in Luke 23:44-45, describing when Jesus died, “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.”  From the very day Barabbas was set free, the earth experienced a scary and unimaginable event.  Do you think Barabbas’ conscience kicked in that day and he was scared and perhaps regretted getting away with his crimes?

We are all sinners.  We all make mistakes.  We all say and do bad things.  The awesome part of our faith is that Barabbas had the same opportunity to be saved and spend eternity in Heaven, just like you and I do.  If we truly believe, and profess with our mouths, that Jesus died on the cross to save our sins, we will spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  I hope Barabbas fell to his knees and asked for forgiveness.  The greatest thing about Jesus, our Savior, is that He would have forgiven Barabbas and welcomed him into Heaven with open arms.

A Good Samaritan…Without Expectations

In around 2012, I was walking from my hotel to my company’s office building in downtown San Francisco.  I remember the day vividly. It was a crisp morning, and the sun was shining. It was a beautiful day. I was feeling great.  My confidence was high.  I was at a good place in my life professionally, but I will admit that my relationship with Christ was not at a place of strength.  I was a believer but not living it.

My post is a little longer today, but I would like to share my journey with you.  I hope you will stick with me and read until the end.

As I walked down the sidewalk, I encountered morning commuters. People were walking with purpose.  They had a place to be, and they were rushing to get there.  It was a typical San Francisco street that was a bustling with lots of people.  In addition, I saw many homeless people, most sitting along the sidewalk asking for food or money.  My memory is that no one was stopping to help them out, including me. None of the homeless approached me but I tend to look at people in the face to acknowledge them.  Perhaps it’s how I was raised or maybe my Midwest upbringing, but a “Good morning” or a head nod to acknowledge a person was my typical pattern.  I have done this throughout my life, in small towns, major cities, or just walking in my neighborhood.

As I continued to my destination, I could see a homeless man walking down the sidewalk towards me.  I was quickly studying him.  His head was down. He had no bags or possessions, only the clothes on his back.  He was dirty. He had way more clothes on than the weather that day required.  I remember doing a quick assessment and what flashed through my mind was, “he is completely broken.” As we walked past each other, we locked eyes.  I didn’t say anything.  I made a facial gesture, something like a half-smile, a head nod, to acknowledge him.

The next twenty seconds are forever ingrained in my memory.  He spun around as my back was to him and he began to shout at me.  “What are you looking at? Do you think you are better than me?  Don’t you look at me? Don’t you ever look at me!”

Keep in mind, there are hundreds of people around us, and a man I don’t know, is screaming at me on the sidewalk.  My confident swagger then turned to nervousness, embarrassment, discomfort, and ultimately, I fled from the situation.  I don’t recall what else he said from that point, as he continued to yell, but I hurried from the scene with a much brisker walk to my destination.

From that moment, I would say I became somewhat afraid or intimidated by homeless people.  We live in the Washington DC area and encounter the homeless frequently.  We see them on sidewalks or begging for money at stoplights.  “Don’t give them money.  They will just buy drugs or alcohol.”  “Have you seen the news coverage of people who say they are homeless and then they walk over to their nice car and drive away?”

All these negative thoughts went through my mind for years as I would be confronted with people in need. I made many excuses why I should not engage the homeless, and shamefully, I did not give money or acknowledge the homeless for years.

Today’s reading is Luke chapter 10.  Verses 25 to 37 are the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan.  In case you have not read it, here’s the summary.  Jesus said, a man was walking between two cities, he was robbed, beaten, “leaving him half dead.”  A priest saw him and “he passed by on the other side.” A Levite saw him and “he passed by on the other side.” Then, a good Samaritan came to where the man was, “when he saw him, he had compassion.” He “bandaged his wounds,” and “brought him to an inn and took care of him.” When the good Samaritan left the inn, he gave the innkeeper money and said to him, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”

God has been working on me the past few years.  I have had numerous Bible studies, sermons, podcasts, and conversations where helping homeless people has been on my heart.  I have not known what to do with these “voices.”  Is this God speaking to me?  Is this what it is like when the Holy Spirit is “talking to me” or influencing me?

A couple months ago, my family and I were driving near the city, waiting in line at a stop light.  There was a man sitting on the side of the road, begging for money.  He was smiling, looking people in the eye, and wishing them to “have a great day.”  He appeared to be homeless, he was very dirty, had tattered clothes and there was a bag of what looked like his possessions behind him.  In that moment, I felt compelled to help him.  I rolled down my window, he approached.  I cannot recall exactly what he said but he gave me a pleasant greeting.  I was nervous and wanted to hurry through the encounter.  Get it over with and move on. I handed him money and the first thing that came to mind was, “what is his name?” “Sir, I hope this helps.  I will pray for you and hope that your situation gets better.  Don’t give up.  Pray to God for strength and He will help you. What is your name?”  He looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you.  I really appreciate that. My name is Peter.”

A couple weeks later, we are in the car at a different stop light.  I see another man begging for money.  I reached for a few dollars, not thinking about what the man will do with the money, but that he is asking for help.  “Sir, here is some money, I hope this helps you.  I will pray for you.  What is your name?” He responded, “Thank you for asking, sir, my name is Matt.”

To say I am ashamed is an understatement.   For years, I have turned my back on God’s children in need.  Who am I to judge what they will do with what I give them?  Yes, many homeless are addicts and some have a mental illness.  Bottom line is they are in need and asking for help.  Period.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-39, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Is it a coincidence that the names of the first two homeless people I helped had names of Jesus’ disciples?  Yes, Peter and Matthew were two of Jesus’ closest confidants throughout his three years of ministry on earth.

My prayer is that you hear my journey of fear and selfishness and, perhaps, it stirs emotion in you to help others.  I pray that we all look our fellow man in the eye, with compassion, reserving judgement and negative thoughts.  Every person has a story, good or bad, about the journey that life has taken them on.  Every soul is worth saving and every heart is worth healing as we are all God’s children.  The most powerful force that saves people’s lives and brings about everlasting change is having a relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  Bring words of hope, peace, and comfort to those in need.  They may not acknowledge you, respond with the perfect comment to you in the moment, or even seem thankful for your generosity.  Should we only give to others if they seem to appreciate it?

Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us, all the while knowing His fellow man, the very people He was dying for, would turn on Him and sentence Him to a terrible death.  Moving forward, I think I can muster the courage to give and not expect anything in return.  That is what Jesus did.  I will give freely to God’s children and not expect anything in return.

Photo Credit:  Orthodox Christian Network

Forgiveness Modeled by Jesus

Last month, I wrote about Matthew 27, the capture, conviction, and crucifixion of Jesus.  The book of Matthew was written by one of Jesus’ closest confidants and a disciple who followed Jesus during His teachings and witnessed the events of Jesus’ life.

Today, I write about Mark 14.  Mark, also called John Mark, was an early evangelist of the church with Paul.  He is known to have traveled with Paul and Barnabas to spread the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection

Mark 14 outlines the plot to kill Jesus and the final days He spent with His disciples before His capture.  What weights heavy on my heart about this chapter is the betrayal Jesus knew would happen from His closest confidants and yet He still forgave them.

Jesus spoke on Mark 14:18 “assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me with betray Me.”  During the Passover meal, Jesus knew that Judas would turn Him over to the Jewish authorities. Scripture tells us that Judas was one of the original twelve disciples, and he traveled with Jesus for three years during Jesus’ ministry.  Three years of travel and companionship with anyone would assumedly lead to a productive and positive relationship.  We would suppose that Judas supported Jesus in His ministry and was a confidant of Jesus.  One would think Jesus would grow to know, trust, and like Judas during their ministry.

In Mark 14:30, Jesus said to Peter, “assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”  Peter was identified in the Bible as one of the closest confidants of Jesus amongst the disciples, as mentioned in Mark 14:33 when Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane “And he took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.”  Hours before His capture, He brought Peter with Him, knowing the entire time that Peter would “turn his back” on Jesus and deny knowing Him on three separate occasions.

Has someone betrayed you?  Have you been hurt in a relationship, physically, emotionally, or mentally?  The pain caused by the betrayal from others can be devastating and sometimes, life-altering.  Each of us has our own story with likely very good reason to resent, dislike, or mistrust a person. We might resent the way they treated us, abused us, disregarded our relationship, our trust, our friendship, and might have damaged any possible future relationship with them. Unfortunately, carrying the burden or “baggage” from that betrayal can derail our lives. Perhaps we allow one incident to steal our trust, joy, belief, or even happiness in future relationships.  It is difficult to be hurt and not allow that hurt to carry over to other areas of our lives.

But then we read in Mark 14:24, when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper and He said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.”   At the very same table with Judas and Peter, Jesus forgave them.  He introduced the Lord’s Supper as the act to recognize the “new covenant.”  Luke 22:19-20 describes this event in a bit more detail in verse 19 And He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying “This is My body which his given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. Verse 20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying “this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

The new covenant was God’s commitment to forgive us of our sins, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  We can be assured that God forgives us of our sins, no matter how awful, if we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.  The new covenant provides us the opportunity to spend eternity in Heaven, when we commit to and believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  What a magnificent gift we have been given, for free.

So, during His final hours on earth, knowing that He would be betrayed by two of His closest confidants, He forgave them.  He not only forgave them, but He gave them communion teaching them how to forgive others.

Yes, forgiveness is hard.  We may forgive but we may never forget.  That’s ok but we must resolve and absolve hatred, resentment, animosity, and strife for others.  Jesus modeled for us, hours before His death, the ultimate gesture of forgiveness.  Perhaps we can muster the courage and confidence to forgive others, even when it might seem impossible at the time.

The Murder of our Savior – The Courage to Love Others

Mathew 27, in my opinion, is the most impactful and riveting chapter in the Bible.  The Bible is composed of sixty-six books, written by 40 men, over a period of 1500 years.  Every prophet, every vision, and nearly every parable that was taught was leading up to this moment.   The death of Christ, God’s Son, our Savior.

I cannot help but focus on the manner in which our Savior was convicted of crimes He did not commit and was sentenced to a horrible death by people who had no evidence of Him doing anything wrong.  Jesus was murdered because the Jewish leaders in charge felt threatened by Him.

Here is a riveting part of Christ’s death.  In Matthew 24, verse 23, Pilate said “Why, what evil has he done?”  What was in Pilate’s heart at that moment?  Why was he asking this question? More on that in a moment.

Verse 24 goes on to state “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it.’”  Verse 25 goes on to say the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

There are hundreds of people who contributed to the murder of Jesus.  The Sanhedrin, consisting of chief priests and elders, Judas, bystanders at the trial, the false witnesses who testified against Jesus, and the guards.  Even Pilate’s wife contributed to Jesus’ conviction as she told Pilate “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”  All contributed and supported the crucifixion of the Son of God.  But, one man could have stopped it.  Pontius Pilate.

When are those moments in life when we need to stand for something and have courage?

Pontius Pilate is arguably one of the most known names in the history of the world.  He is remembered, for eternity, for the horrible crucifixion he allowed.   But yet, the Bible inferred he had questions about Jesus’ guilt.  He seemed to have doubts but did not have the courage, in the moment, to stand up for Jesus and save Him from the mob.

The courage to stand up for our own opinion can be difficult. To rid ourselves of the ease to “follow the herd,” because it seems like the popular or easy thing to do, can be a difficult proposition.  We need to focus on what feelings control us in the moments of decision, when we have to make a choice.  We should not allow ourselves to go along with negative feelings of envy, jealousy, the feeling of “getting attention,” or perhaps the sense of anger or rage against others.

The most fascinating aspect of Matthew 27 to me is that Jesus died to save the exact people that murdered Him.  He took the beatings, the spitting, the ridicule, the torture and the unfathomable pain to provide the salvation for believers to spend eternity in Heaven.

What is on my heart today is that if Jesus had the courage to make the sacrifice He did at His crucifixion, I should be able to muster the courage to love and appreciate people when it might not seem popular.  Loving or supporting others might not seem accepted at the time, but in the end, could have a massive impact on someone’s life.  We never know when our support will mean the most.

Jesus commanded, before His death, in John 13:34-35.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

By loving others, we show our love for Jesus.

Great Faith Provides a Great Yield

Growing up in the heart of farm country in Central Illinois, we were surrounded and engulfed in farming.  Every friend lived by a field and every trip involved a drive that through mile after mile of soybeans and corn. Although no one in our family were farmers, the conversation of the weather, the condition of the crops to grow throughout the seasons, as well as the yield were a consistent dialogue.

In chapter 13 of the book of Matthew, Jesus taught eight parables all related to the Word of God and its ability to prosper and grow in our lives.  He also spoke about judgment day when Jesus comes back to earth and the sinners will be separated from the believers.  The parables were about seeds, soil, tares (weeds), and yield.  I can understand these parables well.

As we live our lives, we are influenced in many ways.  We are exposed to different people who have different views and opinions on religion and faith in Christ.  We participate in different personal and professional gatherings.  We live in homes and neighborhoods where we associate with different people.  Some of us are close to our families, and we spend a significant amount of time with them.  Social media also has an impact on our thoughts and beliefs as well when we are exposed to information daily that is influenced by the people we associate with online.  And the most significant influence, our spouse or significant other.

Does the “tribe” of people you associate with influence your faith in a positive or negative way?  When you speak of faith, or even going to church, do your friends and family encourage and acknowledge in a positive way? Or do they shun you like you are crazy to believe that “religion stuff?”

My prayer for you today is that you guard your life and who you associate with carefully.  Surround yourself with individuals who push you to grow in your faith.  Spend time with people who care for your well-being and constantly put you before themselves.  Guard your spiritual life and ensure you spend time with those that help you grow your faith in Jesus by living out His Word daily.  Find a great church family that inspires you to dig into the Word of God and study it daily.

The parables in chapter 13 speak of the “evil one” or “enemy” who pull us away from God.  Be careful.  The devil does not always appear to us in obvious ways.  Evil can come in the simple form of creating doubt in Jesus and our faith.  That may come from your friend group. Evil can pull us away from attending worship, reading our Bibles, or even reading daily devotions like this one.  That could be your neighbors or, unfortunately, members of your family. Our thoughts that are generated from a place of pity and self-doubt can gradually erode our faith and pull us farther from God.  That may come from our own frustration when our prayers are not answered.

I think the biggest “trap” that can pull us away from our faith is pain and disappointment.  Many times, friends or family may question our faith because of tragedies, pain, or unanswered prayers.  How can you believe in that “religion stuff” when (fill in the blank) didn’t work out?

Paster Andy Stanley says “The foundation of our faith in Jesus is not answered prayers and everything going our way. It’s always a mistake to wrap our faith and confidence in God around the fulfillment of our dreams or answered prayers. Dreams that don’t come true say nothing about the presence or faithfulness of God.”

When you question your faith, perhaps due to the influence and elements around you, remember that some of the most inspirational believers to ever walk the earth went through terrible challenges and pain.  Our faith should not be based on every wish and dream coming true.  Our faith is based on knowing Jesus is our Lord and Savior, is with us all the time, and will provide a “soft place to land” when the bad times come.  Although we do not understand in that moment, He is using the challenges and difficulties to grow our faith in Him.  Yes, bad things can create good.  Guard the people and places you associate with in your life as well.

My final thoughts today are wishing my bride, Kim, a Happy 24th Anniversary (the best 20 years of my life LOL! Kim will get this).  She has been such a blessing in my life. We have had an amazing life together with many adventures.  Our marriage has been filled with joy and happiness as well as sadness and tragedy.  What I love about our marriage is that we lean on our faith, both individually and as a couple, to partner in our union together.  We give credit to Christ in the happiness and turn to Him for strength in the sadness. As every day brings uncertainty and challenges, I know with Jesus at the center of our lives, we will continue to grow in our faith together as a couple.

Let All Things Praise the Lord

Today’s journal writing marks the final chapter of Psalms. Our Bible Journal team has written about every chapter, one hundred chapters written by eight authors, and fifty chapters from unknown authors.   The Book of Psalm is filled with love and adoration, struggle and strife, happiness and joy, and desperation and sadness.

Sound familiar?  The books of Psalm were written thousands of years ago, as mankind still struggled with balance and challenges related to everyday life.  The authors question God, implore to God, and ultimately praise God in the final chapter.   The chapters describe what many of us feel and experience today.

Psalm 150 concludes the book with this…

1 Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

2 Praise Him for His mighty acts;

Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!

3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;

Praise Him with the lute and harp!

4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;

Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!

5 Praise Him with the loud cymbals;

Praise Him the clashing cymbals!

6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Do you feel like praising God?  Do you believe a relationship with God is right for you?  Or do you have questions?  Are you unsure why things happen and how that relates to God?

I choose to praise God, and it comes down to one verse.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Understanding God’s word can be complex.  It can be overwhelming, especially stories that are thousands of years old.  What I do know is that there is emphatic proof that Jesus walked the earth, and He was the Son of God.  I believe that Jesus came to earth to save man from ourselves.  I believe God, through Jesus, demonstrated how we are to love and treat others.  Man, has consistently fallen away from God throughout history and Jesus was sent to change our relationship with God.  If you need more proof of Jesus’ existence, read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

I can always do better, but I try to praise God through my prayers, the message and good news about Jesus I share with others, and my attempts to serve as an example how a relationship with God can change your life for the better.   Praise Him through the trials and tribulations.  Praise Him through the pain. Praise Him during the good times.  Our lives are about growing closer to our God and our faith can grow stronger through the good times and the bad.

Idols

The one hundred and thirty fifth Psalm was written by an author that is not identified. This unknown person contrasts the greatness of God with the powerlessness of idols.  Verses fifteen to eighteen say the following:

15 The idols of nations are silver and gold,

The work of men’s hands,

16 They have mouths, but they do not speak;

Eyes they have, but they do not see;

17 They have ears, but they do not hear;

Nor is there any breath in their mouths,

18 Those who make them are like them;

So is everyone who trusts in them.

What do you think of when you hear the word idol?  Perhaps you think of a statue or alter with weird images or depictions of a god.

Idol is defined as “an object of extreme devotion, a person or thing that is greatly admired, love or revered.”  The passage today caused me to think more broadly about the definition of an “idol.”  In modern day, it seems a bit out of touch to think about worshipping a physical idol but what are the “idols” that we worship today?  My thinking today is that anything that takes us away from worshipping our God should be considered an idol.

“Idols” come in many shapes and sizes.  We may idolize money.  We may idolize success.  We may “worship” and devote our lives to our career.  Perhaps recognition and attention through social media has become an addiction or “idol” for us.  Guilty as charged on all the above.

What I know is that when I spend time studying, reading, learning, and listening to the Word of God, I find more application and understanding for God’s purpose for my life.  The scriptures are packed full of guidance and application how God has asked us to live our lives.   The opportunity to sing, pray, learn, and worship our Lord each week at worship service is a small sacrifice to offer to our God after He continuously preserves and loves us throughout our daily lives.

I understand that the routine and busyness of life can pull us away from attending worship and communing with God.  Raising children to be active in sports or hobbies can conflict with spending time with God.

Say no to the Sunday morning golf match, running club, tennis match, or whatever the “idol” is that prevents you from attending church with your family.  Say no to the sports team that offers your child practice on Sunday mornings.  Say no to the biking club that insists that the only day of the week to meet is Sunday morning. Preserve time to spend time with God.

Don’t let the “idols” of this life prevent us from recognizing our God, who has shown us more love and mercy than we could ever repay.