Blind but now I see

Have you ever been metaphorically blind to something in your life, then later ask “what was I thinking?”. Oftentimes the truth, the right path, or even something incredible awaits us but yet it is almost as though we are blind to it. Brainstorming thoughts on the potential causes of this blindness:

  • Selfishness. We can be so focused on ourselves; whether it be our own pleasures or even needs, that we miss the bigger picture.
  • Fear. What we don’t know scares us so we avoid it.
  • Pre-conceived notions (invalid assumptions). For example, taking one bad experience or hearing about someone else’s bad experience we assume something will “always” be like that. Google some reviews on your favorite and most reliable restaurant or hotel and you’ll soon learn that someone has deemed the restaurant “low grade dog food”, and the hotel has bed bugs. My favorite here is beach vacation resorts when people say the mosquitoes were as big as birds, there was sand on the floor in the room (can you imagine?), or the walk to the beach was horrible – a whopping three minutes. Spoiled!
  • Arrogance. My way is probably better so why change?
  • Distractions. Follow your favorite baseball team through the playoffs and the World Series and you’re in for a minimum of 11 games (that’s if they sweep all three rounds). Assuming the team loses four or five games and each game lasts around three hours that is somewhere in the 45 hour range over the course of a few weeks. Not judging here; you’ll find me watching some baseball this post-season. The point is that we need to be cognizant of our distractions.
  • Carelessness. Just plain old “not paying attention” or not caring enough to pay attention.
  • Deception. Believing lies.

Today’s scripture readings include the conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-19) and while this was true physical blindness, it is also a great example of one who was metaphorically blind to the truth of Jesus Christ but through a miracle, he came to see and believe.

Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; (Acts 9:8-9, 17-18)

One of the things I love about journaling is that it has challenged me to do a lot of self-reflection, and document some of the things of my past. This week I took some time to consider my prior “blind spots” and their causes. The list below is about a third of what I came up with in a short period of time. Writing this list gave me a greater appreciation for God’s mercy and grace in my life as there are so many areas where I’ve been blind to the truth and missed out on the joy that our lord and savior Jesus Christ has for me.

  1. beetsBeets. Okay, so it starts out light but it was the first thing that popped into my head. Quite a few years ago I claimed this was the only food I despised and wouldn’t eat. I was so blind… beets are colorful, nutritious, and delicious!!! They can’t be beat! If you’ve ever seen (or heard) me eat really good food, you know that I do find joy in some of the little things.
  2. Career. Opportunities were right there in front of me. My priorities were not in place. I was selfish, arrogant, careless, distracted.
  3. Tobacco. I “dipped” tobacco as a teen and through college. Literally throwing up upon trying it, I still went on to become addicted to nicotine. The habit of placing a known cancer causing substance between my lip and gums went on for years. Blindness.
  4. Frequently getting home from school and playing video games for countless hours, or procrastinating (or simply not following) other worthy pursuits. These distractions were detrimental to my education, and personal/professional growth.
  5. Recognizing friendships that were good and healthy vs. those that were toxic. Do your friends lift you up? Do they encourage you to follow the straight and narrow path or the path of destruction?
  6. This next one has been on my heart for a while, in part because of some of the marriages that I’ve seen fall apart. Too often I have been blind to my own wife; the person I voluntarily chose and promised to spend the rest of my life with, for better or for worse. It is blindness to not recognize her beauty inside and out, all the time. We (talking about humans in general) invest so much time into education, career, kids, and retirement but how much do we invest in our relationships with our spouses? Simply living in the same house and trying to get along is so not enough, it isn’t even funny. Sometimes I realize Amy is waiting for me to notice her, and I’m just blind. However, when I get it right and pay attention, I receive the most beautiful smile imaginable. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful for her. She is a true gift from God. Husbands: love your wives. Pay attention.
  7. What greater blindness is there than missing the significance of the cross? Upon Saul’s conversion he proved his belief by immediately taking action. If we are not actively sharing the gospel with those who are lost, what does it say about what we believe Jesus has done for us?

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)

What am I blind to now? Lord, please remove the scales from my eyes. Let me see my sin as you see my sin. Let me see others as you see them; lead me to love others more and myself less. Amen.

Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

Smoke and Mirrors

Young Magician playing with Magic Powder

Judges 4; Acts 8; Jeremiah 17; Mark 3

I am intrigued by Simon the Sorcerer. He is successful at his craft, which is evidenced by a good following. People, all kinds of people, paid attention to him. In fact, his acts were so impressive that people thought he was a god. Imagine his life. He was a more than a celebrity. He was called on to help out in all kinds of situations, that is, Until Phillip showed up.   Phillip came to Samaria casting out unclean spirits and healing the paralyzed and the lame in the name of Jesus. When the people of Samaria heard him speak and saw him work, they quickly realized the falsehood of Simon, exchanging it for the real power of God.  Simon’s work was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  Phillip, however, was teaching the real deal. This new understanding led them to believe and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Ironically, Simon did the same. Verse 13 explains that “even Simon believed.” This is a great story, right? Simon and all the people recognized that God has greater power. Their response was belief and baptism. It sounds easy.  But, was it really surrender? As the story of Simon the sorcerer continues, we get a deep look into his heart. In fact, we get to see some things that even he himself was probably not aware of. Why not? Jeremiah 17:9 tells us today that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Simon proves this in dramatic fashion. When he sees Peter empowering people with the Holy Spirit by laying hands on them, he wants the same power for himself. He asks Peter to give him the same ability. “How much do you want for it,” he asks. Now, Peter was a quick character study. I’m guessing that he had questioned Simon’s motives since the first time they met. With Simon’s request, Peter is able to see his heart clearly. What does he see? “The gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).  Obviously, this is not the condition of a surrendered and saved heart.

Simon’s response to Peter offers us another glimpse at his heart. He asks Peter to pray “that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:24). This is request again reveals the iniquity in his heart. Contrast Simon’s response with one of true surrender. Surrender requires that we recognize our iniquity and trust God with it. When we do, God promises us renewal and transformation (Romans 12:2), assuring us that, “our hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2).

When I read about Simon, I get nervous.  If Simon was not able to detect the deceitfulness of his own heart, how can we detect and identify sickness in our own hearts? Jeremiah has the answer. He reminds us that it is the Lord who searches our hearts and tests our minds (Jeremiah 17:10). The trick is getting out-of-the-way long enough to let him. Are you willing to submit to the Lord today?

The Gospel is absolutely unique and complete

Today’s reading: Judges 3; Acts 7; Jeremiah 16; Mark 2

July 20th, 2016

JK’s sermon this Sunday, Victory Realized, made clear the prophecy of the Great White Throne from Revelation 20:11-15; you are in or you are out. The decision is final and perfect. In Mark 2:21-22, Jesus helps the Pharisees along to with this idea. They were struggling. Their religion, passed down from generation to generation, was quite comfortable to them (Luke 5:39). They had it figured out. They lived according to the law of Moses, or at least they thought they did. They certainly had each other thinking they were good to go (Matthew 6:5, Matthew 23:5).  Judaism did not recognize Jesus as the Christ. They were constantly trying to fit what Jesus did in to their ideas of their salvation plan: saved through works. A heart wrenching denial for me to read about (Matthew 23:37). God’s children, His chosen people, chose themselves and their adherence to the law to save themselves (John 12:43). God would you rescue them? Please God?

Jesus was constantly fulfilling their law. The fruit of the Spirit filled it all up (Galatians 5:22-23); check, check, check; and this confused them. They confused the fulfillment of the law with breaking the law (Matthew 5:17). It was as if they never really knew God (John 8:9). It became more and more obvious to those that followed Jesus that the Pharisees did not know the law after all (Matthew 23:24).

In the scripture for today, Jesus had just called Matthew Levi, a despised tax collector that the Pharisees would not associate with, to follow Him as a proclaimer of the Gospel. As if they could not stand this outrage, the followers of the Pharisees challenged Jesus with a question in an attempt to illuminate how He and His followers were out of step with the law. “How come your followers do not fast?” Jesus used one of their manufactured documents to help them understand. The Rabbi’s produced a document called the Megillat Taanit, translated as the scroll of fasting. While Yom Kippur, or day of atonement, was the only prescribed day to fast per the law, and certainly voluntary fasts to accompany life’s circumstances seemed true to the spirit of a true fast, they had manufactured other prescribed fasts. Some even subscribed to a twice a week fast on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, etc. When they fasted they fasted to please men (Matthew 6:16), they fasted publicly and because of this, this scroll of fasting set out rules that would be sure not to let fasting interrupt with other important celebrations, like a marriage feast. Apparently a public fast meant showing up to a celebration looking disheveled. Perhaps they thought drawing attention to oneself at a celebration centered on someone or something else would be in bad taste.

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles. – Mark 2:19–22

John MacArthur explains it this way in his sermon The Matchless Distinctiveness of the Gospel:

So our Lord is simply saying, in effect, the Messiah’s here, this is not a time to fast. It is completely inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast and moan while He, the long-awaited Messiah is present. He has come. He has arrived this day as He said in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Scripture is fulfilled in your ears, He is present. The fasting of the Pharisees, the fasting of the followers of John the Baptist, that’s what’s out of place, completely out of touch with God’s purpose and what God is doing, completely out of touch with the reality that the Messiah was there.

Jesus makes clear that He was the Christ, He brought with Him a new covenant, and it stood on its own. It could not fit into their ideas of salvation through works. It would break them. It would not work. They were incompatible. So then the decision is yours, do you believe or don’t you? Will you abandon your salvation plan for Christ’s or won’t you (Acts 13:39)? Like the pearl of great price, Jesus’s invitation requires you to sell everything to buy it. All your beliefs of how you might be saved, how you ought to live, what is right and wrong, who you are and who God is, what is the truth and what are lies. You have to give it all up, have faith and trust in God. Are you in or are you out?

Jesus Heals!

Today’s Date: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 

I love stories about our Lord’s healing.  It encourages and builds my faith when I need it most. Stories upon stories have been shared and lived out about Jesus healing. How awesome is He! What are the ways in which he has healed you?

Today’s ReadingJudges 2; Acts 6; Jeremiah 15; Mark 1

As we read through Mark you will hear some of these healing stories.  Jesus healed and continues to heal.  Are you in need of some healing?

Last week you heard an amazing story from Jennifer Armstrong and the healing that Jesus provided to her in Great is Thy Faithfulness.  Truly, when it comes down to healing we will need to examine our faithfulness. Let’s look at a few of these amazing stories in Mark 1 and grow together in believing that when our faith is strong our Lord is near and can heal anyone at any moment spiritually, mentally, and physically. (1 Corinthians 1:18, Luke 6:9-10, Mark 10:52, Luke 7:47-50).

Once Jesus heals the man with an Unclean Spirit in Mark 1:24-26 everyone is amazed and realize his authority over all. Jesus then heals Simon’s Mother-In-Law bringing the whole city to allow Jesus to heal many who were sick.

 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

We recognize and receive God’s healing through our faith.  Many times Jesus would heal those who had faith (ex. Mark 5:34, Luke 8:48) and got frustrated when others would want some kind of sign to show he could heal others. (ex. John 4:48, Luke 24:25 ) Keep the faith!

We also get the opportunity to share God’s grace of healing to others through our faith or confidence in God’s Word. This is an active faith not passive faith. We must share our faith with others. This could be through our prayers with others who are in the middle of tribulations. Mark 11:24

Jesus is our healer. His calendar is never too full for any of us.  No situation is too big or small when you ask. His treatment is gentle and results are wonderful. The way a believer receives God’s healing power is through faith. God’s healing power is available to us through the grace of Jesus Christ. We are Living in God’s Grace. Viv Anba Gras Bon Dieu.

So where do you need healing? Is it physically, mentally, or spiritually? It’s hard to do anything when you are in pain. Life is not filled with JOY. What about those you interact with throughout your day? God heals!  He is the great physician and He can heal anyone of any affliction, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. There are going to be times in your life when you’ll need God to heal you or a loved one, so pray to God for the healing that you need.

Dear God,  You are our healer. Let us call on you when we are in need and recognize that you alone are the one who we need to have faith in. Thank you for your love, grace, and healing you have already provided and for being there when we fail to remember. Amen

 

Listening Pleasure: Kari Jobe ~ Healer

 

All In

businessman keeping a tight grip on his money

Today’s reading:  Judges 1; Acts 5; Jeremiah 14; Matthew 28

 I just love Acts. When I made a big change in my life and first started learning about Jesus Christ, it started with the book of Acts.  I love the story about the apostles being arrested only to have the Lord send an angel to unlock the door in the middle of the night.  Did you notice in Acts 5:17 that Luke actually tells us the reason that the high priest imprisoned the apostles was because they were “filled with jealousy?”  I really got to thinking about that.  The high priests were jealous because the apostles and Jesus’ followers had something they wanted.  When I think about my Christian journey I don’t ever think of it in the context of jealousy.  I don’t think about the folks around me comparing their spirituality to mine and feeling jealous.  But you know, when I think about it, that’s exactly how I felt about Christians before.  I felt like they had a closeness and kinship that I could just never attain.  I wished I had their ability to stay cool and level headed in a crisis. Honestly, I felt a little left out.  Now that I’m living on the other side of Christianity, I’m beginning to understand more deeply the responsibility that comes with being all in.

I spent a little time this week with Ananias and Sapphira. Luke tells their story in the very beginning of Acts 5.  Ananias (Hebrew for the Lord is gracious) and Sapphira (Aramaic for beautiful) are a married couple that sell a little property and embezzle some of the profits.  Ananias in collusion with his wife chooses to hold back some of the money from the sale of his property rather than giving all of it over to the apostles for the church.  This sounds so bad, right?  But who among us hasn’t done a little bit of this?  I know I have.  I have most definitely held back some dollar amount details from my husband when it comes to buying things for the girls or a little ditty for myself.  I’ve sat in church and listened to our pastors appeal to us to put our faith in God and trust in him for security.  But guess what…I still closed by grubby little hand around my money because I’m too tempted by that earthly security.  Well, somehow Peter knows about Ananias’ little stunt and calls him out on it.  He says:

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” Acts 5:3

Did that strike a little fear in your heart like it did mine? Do we have a casual approach to entering the kingdom of God as this husband and wife team?  Are we too tempted by the short term gains in life to really be all in?  Ananias and Sapphira ostensibly are justifying this sin as an offense against their church community but the truth is that all sin is not against human beings but against God.  When we endeavor to lie or adjust the truth, Satan wants us to believe him that this is a covert act.  Really this is the enemy attacking Christ’s mission from within.  One of the commentaries I read for this reading today said it like this: “For Christian’s today that deliberately sin and remain unrepentant this is still a temptation: to so luxuriate in the love and grace of God that we do not take seriously the consequences of our deliberate sinning.” (Bible Gateway Commentary).  So we know what happened to Ananias and Sapphira at the end of the story.  Peter says to Ananias,

“Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God. When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.” (Acts 5:4-5)

Three hours later Peter questions Sapphira and she too cannot resist the temptation to lie. Sounds so bad, I know but I know I’ve done it.  After she does it, Peter says to her,

“How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9)

Oh my gosh it hurts to read, doesn’t it? Can you think of something worse than planning and scheming with your spouse to test the Holy Spirit.  Well, if you are like me you may be wondering why you haven’t been struck dead yet!  Both Ananias and Sapphira are given a dishonorable burial and their story serves as an example to the church of the importance of being all in. As I mature in my faith I see now that the integrity of the Christian church really depends on us all being all in. We are greatly blessed by the love and grace of our God.  We live in the rich luxury of knowing that our God is for us.  Knowing that he is in control of all things and that we get our eternity with Him.  But he requires us to be all in!  We can’t afford to be casual in our pursuit.

Lord, help us to remember that your word isn’t just a story for us, but the truth we must obey. Lord, help us to mature in our faith, keep our ears open to hear your voice and not the whispers of the enemy.  We love you Lord and we desperately want to be ALL IN!

Tears of Truth

It began like a dream: I was in a temple, being bathed in the blood and tears of hundreds of souls that spoke to me across the centuries, all clambering to be noticed. They demanded to be heard like spoiled children.image

The walls were covered with windows that opened their hearts into mine, and I was blessed and changed all at once and forever. This was a religious experience the likes of which I cannot remember. It was the summation of the epiphanies that had come before. God spoke to me, not only then, but throughout the day, into the night and in the days ahead. He spoke through the lives of the artist who’s voices time couldn’t contain — the perverse and the profound, the tormented and the enlightened.

I felt that God was painting a picture in my mind with their blood. The author of life was writing a book on my heart with the ink of their tears. He was opening my soul like a surgeon, slowly cranking my ribs apart, going deeper. I was being changed again. This was the next step in a seemingly endless succession on the stairway to heaven!

It was like a door had opened and I was able to enter another world, more real than the one I knew. Through it, I glimpsed a larger picture than ever before. Somehow I was able to see how pathological my constant self justification had really been. While I had fancied myself as a good man, when I had the chance to see what was really there, I was appalled.

Self justification may be a survival mechanism for this world, but it was an iron gate, padlocked and barred, preventing my passage to the next.

imageSin was real and in it I was constantly deceived. Finally, I was able to see the far reaching implications of even my smallest acts. Like ripples through time, they moved in all directions at once. It made me think of the viral spread of a message, or an idea, across social media. It was like a succession of infinitely wider rows of dominoes, expanding in a chain reaction across never ending horizons. People have no idea how powerful they really are, or the impact they are having on others, constantly. And yet, if this power isn’t subordinated to The One who understands its reach, it is either random or destructive but always lacking its intended potential.

The soul of man was epic, but at the same time like a grain of sand on an endless beach. When we are wrapped in the will of the Creator, who then fills our fragile vessels of clay with His Holy Spirit, things get interesting. God’s unlimited power brings alignment to our lives that are otherwise mostly struggle and rest. But in our struggles we begin to discover truth.

It all finally made sense. Our struggles were the hammer of God, and his brush was the cross that painted us in the transforming blood of Christ! God was the first artist and we were his greatest creation, forged in His image.

Today’s reading: Joshua 24; Acts 4; Jeremiah 13; Matthew 27

We had just been to the Museum of Art in Zurich, the Kunsthaus, and their collection had a such a powerful emotional and spiritual impact on me it was surprising. It actually brought me to tears twice in the middle of the museum. I hesitated to share the experience described above due to its extraordinary nature. Yet, I didn’t think I could keep this one to myself. I had awakened to a flood of tears that night, feeling this incredible sense that I had shared directly in both misery and the rapture from the lives of these amazing artists. I felt the heaviness they felt and it overwhelmed me, and in it all, I believed I had heard the voice of God. Certainly, my lack of sleep and the power of some of the most remarkable impressionist art in the world had blended together somehow with my Bible reading and prayers. This had all come together just in time for this week’s posting at the begining of my Summer’s vacation.

While I was reading today’s Bible passages I thought about the profound proclamation from Joshua:”….But for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15). It came in the midst of hesitation and resistance from his fellow Israelites, and reminded me of the always present temptation to follow other Gods. This made me think about all the people that don’t even understand that this is a choice or what it means.

In Acts I read about Peter, who spoke to the the rulers, elders and keepers of the law. After healing a man who was lame, he proclaimed: “… It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “’the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12). And this made me realize how difficult it was to see the this powerful truth, how easy it was to be deceived.

Jesus was a real person, but my relationship with Him required faith and hope. My struggles and suffering produced perseverance, character and hope. (Romans 5: 3-5) These were the things that came from the active pursuit of a complete understanding and full allegiance to the most significant figure in human history. Jesus was God in the flesh. He came into the world to save it.

I thank God that he came to save us! Amen.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

JSA-DAY

Today’s reading:  Joshua 23; Acts 3; Jeremiah 12; Matthew 26

Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed (Joshua 23:14).

Joshua had been leading the Israelites into battle for 28 years. Army by army, kingdom by kingdom, they took over the land God had promised them.  Honestly, I didn’t find it a very exciting or suspenseful storyline because the outcome was so predictable.  When God’s people followed his divine plan, they were successful.  When they did not, they were defeated.  As we come to the end of Joshua’s life in chapter 23, he reminds the Israelites about the source of their help and why the outcome had been so certain.  Did you catch it?  Verse 14 ends with such a powerful statement of God’s faithfulness and perfect provision – not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed.  Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

Today, July 16, I celebrate God’s incredible faithfulness to me and my family. The day started with my annual call of apology to my brother Darrin York.  It went something like this, “I’m sorry I wrecked your car, I’m sorry I ruined your vacation, I’m sorry I gave you nightmares, but I sure am glad I’m alive to say I’m sorry.  I love you D!”

Seventeen years ago today I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that probably should have claimed my life. My brother was the only witness, or at least the only one awake, as my sister-in-law Jessica York was asleep in the backseat.  With the help of many doctors and therapists, I came out of a coma and eventually regained my ability to walk and talk.  Thanks to the support of family and dear friends, my recovery took less time and was more complete than anyone ever thought possible.  The road wasn’t always easy, but while most survivors of a brain injury this severe live with some kind of long-term impairment, I have had the luxury of living a relatively ordinary life since that time.

Why? There is no other explanation than the prayers of fellow Christ followers and God’s incredible faithfulness.  Hundreds of people from across the United States prayed for me and my family during that time.  In fact, at the grocery store last summer I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years.  He had attended church with my family back when I was a kid.  After introducing myself, he looked at me and paused for a second.  He went on to say, “you know Jennifer, I thought about you just the other day.  I wondered what happened to you after your bad accident.  Then I realized it didn’t do any good to just think about you, so I stopped and prayed for you.”  I paused.  After all these years, God’s people are still praying.  Wow.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee. All I have needed Thy hand has provided, great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me (Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960), arrangement by Chris Rice, 2006).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3sd1Z75j7A

With a little help from my friends

I love writing for Bible Journal! This experience has caused me to view every situation in my life as a story and reflect on how Jesus is part of that story, with the potential to share that story on this site. God is at work in all things… ALL THINGS! He is mighty and perfect, and he loves us more than we can comprehend! Where do you see God at work in your life? Not sure? Take a moment and pray; humbly ask him to show you where he is at work. I believe if you truly want to know, and truly seek him, he will show you and answer this prayer.

Today’s reading includes Acts 2 which was the focus of my very first post, and today’s post is going to be a follow-up. Here’s a link in case you’ve not read it, or if you’d like to read it again under different circumstances: Cut to the Heart

Cut to the Heart ended with Acts 2:38, where the believers were promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what happened after the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:42-44)

What touches me here is that the believers while filled with the spirit became so selfless that they either gave away or pooled together all of their possessions. I think about people in my life who I’m honored to call “friend” and see this playing out. They freely give their time and even their possessions to others and me. They listen and obey God’s voice.

Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, (Jeremiah 11:4b)

How does God speak to us? Can we hear his voice? In the Old Testament God spoke through prophets and today he uses his Holy Spirit. One of the many mistakes I have made in my life was that while I claimed to be a christian, I had no relationship with God. I didn’t read the Bible, prayed only when it would benefit me, and didn’t seek God’s direction until something big came up. No wonder why I didn’t seem to hear an answer; there was no relationship. God was listening, I wasn’t. God wanted a relationship, I was selfish.

Having a relationship with God the Father, his son Jesus, and The Spirit is a result of active participation; listening, obeying, seeking, yielding. I was reminded of King David today by my mom and how he faced countless adverse situations but had tremendous faith. In 2 Samuel 5:17-25, David followed this pattern:

  1. Inquired of the Lord as to what he should do. (verses 19, 23)
  2. Obeyed God’s voice. (verses 20, 25)

How beautiful it is when we live this out today as we inquire to the Lord, listen, and then obey. It is very evident in my close relationships where there is an obedience to God. Special thanks to some of those impactful friends recently whether it be through prayer, listening, kind words, or acts of service: Amy, Mike, BJ, Duane, Rick, my mom, my sisters Marne and Katie. Your obedience is bearing good fruit. Thank you!!!

Joshua 22; Acts 2; Jeremiah 11; Matthew 25

Extra Credit:

  1. Today’s scripture reading had multiple references to God calling us to listen and obey. Re-read them and consider where God may be calling you to listen and obey. Seeing this pattern helped me remember how serious God is about his commands. If he says “listen”, since he is a faithful and true God, that means that he is giving us a way to listen, but we must actively participate. Here are the verses: Joshua 22:2, Jeremiah 11:2-4, Jeremiah 11:6-7.
  2. Check out this prayer one of my friends sent to me after I asked him for some prayer over a certain situation the other morning. This left me in awe, humbled, thankful and joyful and was another reminder of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit, listening and obeying. Praise God for putting real friends in my path; friends who care about me! Is there someone in your life who needs prayer? Why not text or email them a specific prayer over them right now? Here’s the prayer:

God You are the Creator. You are holy and set apart. We are sinners God. Would you please forgive us of our sins. God please also forgive those that sin against us. God we forgive them. God we need You. We like sheep, do not know what is best for us. God would you send Your Spirit to fill us up? God would you fill Jon up this morning with Your Spirit. Got would you push everything else out? Would you fill him up to overflowing so that even those who see him coming from afar would see You through him and for Your glory? God would you empower Jon this morning to abide in Your fruit; love, joy peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. God would you help Jon love people with the love of Christ that he’s been given; patience; kindness; without envy; without boasting; without pride; with rightness toward others; with selflessness and humility putting others first; not quick to anger; with no evil thought; rejoicing with the truth; protecting; trusting; hoping? God would you uphold Jon’s words, guarding his mouth and not letting his words fall to the ground? Would you fill him with integrity LORD? God we rely completely on You. We come under Your protection and provision as Your servants LORD. God would you bless Jon and increase his territory? Would you place Your hand upon him and keep him from evil? God to me this feels like a long list. I know you have all these good things to give to those who ask for them. God would you pour them out upon your servant Jon this morning and for all his life? We humble ourselves God. Thank You LORD! You are good! You are worthy of all glory and honor and power for You have created all things and for Your pleasure they are and were created!

The Holy Spirit

White Holy Dove flying in the sky panoramic view

Joshua 20–21; Acts 1; Jeremiah 10; Matthew 24

In Acts 1, the disciples are hanging around Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. While they wait, Jesus comes to them.  He talks with them about the kingdom of God. Talking to the one who died on the cross, brought them hope.  Hope that their dreams of a new life had not ended. In fact, their life with Jesus was very much alive. The disciples could feel the new world order upon them. This was the time that they had waited for. Jesus would now rule the world! Israel will finally be restored and all of God’s promises would now be fulfilled. The Bible explains these promises with words like freedom, liberty, fearlessness and peace, along with promises about healing our physical ailments and living prosperous lives. This was it. Israel will again be on top, the leader of all nations. Let’s go! But, Jesus wasn’t ready. He was holding them back. When they ask when it will happen, he responds, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business” (Acts 1:7, Message). For now, he continues, “you will receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that will enable you to be my witnesses.”

In that moment, upon hearing Jesus’ answer, do you think the disciples were disappointed? Seriously, the victory party they were anticipating seemingly vanished into thin air. No doubt, they did not fully understand. Yet, they remained silent. Consider that their silence is an indication of their acceptance and submission. They trust Jesus with whatever is coming. Or, perhaps their hope is kindled in Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. With his presence, Jesus explains, the disciples will receive power. In Greek, it is called “dynamis.” If you hear our modern words “dynamite” and “dynamic” in there, you are getting the idea. The Holy Spirit brings power that is explosive. His power provides “energy, ability, efficacy, and meaning.” With the Holy Spirit, Jesus explains, the name of Jesus will be extended “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

I readily admit that this scripture reveals my ignorance of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, this American Christian often misuses and misinterprets the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, selfishly claiming His good work for myself.  Similar to the disciples, I want to use this power to reign over all.  If I cannot reign over all, I’ll settle for health and good fortune.  You see, when the Holy Spirit indwells us with the power of God, we can easily use His gifts to get ahead in this world.  According to John Maxwell, this is a defensive posture resulting from focusing on my short life and not on servicing all of God’s creation, extending His rule for eternity.

Contrast that with true Holy Spirit indwelling. Jesus releases the Holy Spirit to us so that we can share God’s love and meaning with the world. Aligning with Him means that I will use my gifts in concert with His vision, not mine. This is what the disciples were able to grasp. They quickly dropped their own pursuits and limited vision in favor of His. As we move through the book of Acts over the next several days, we get to watch the Holy Spirit work through the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The Spirit gives power is both dynamic and explosive in the lives of everyone that the disciples meet. It is the beginning of Jesus’ great vision to take God’s message of love and hope to the ends of the earth.  Today, we continue to carry out this vision.  How are we doing with it?

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan offers several great questions that help us evaluate our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Take some time to consider them.

  • Can you say with confidence—from the depth of your being—that you know God and are known by Him?
  • Do I want to lead, or do I want to be led by the Spirit?
  • How would you be missed if you left this place? What would change? Basically, what difference does your presence here make? Or, as my youth pastor once asked me, what would your church (and the worldwide church) look like if everyone was as committed as you are? If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered? Or would it be weak and listless?

Vipers, a Coin and 10 Virgins

Today’s reading: Joshua 18–19; Psalms 149–150; Jeremiah 9; Matthew 23

July 13th, 2016

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. – Matthew 23:27–28

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In the preceding chapter Jesus had just finished silencing the Sadducees and Pharisees. At this point all Jesus’s opposers realized that challenging Him would mean public identification of their hypocrisy (see extra credit below). In the wake of their silence, Chapter 23 then is a clear warning to all, in their presence, not to follow them to hell (Matthew 23:15). Jesus warns us what to watch out for, how to identify them. Jesus tells us that they are all about profession; religious dress (Matthew 23:5), exalted places (Matthew 23:6), and phony titles (Matthew 23:9), but lacking true saving faith. Jesus then proceeds to indict them with eight specific accounts of their spiritual bankruptcy; the eight woes of the Pharisees.

In Mastering Self; to Lead Self and Others, Chief Hanna, holds that a Christian’s challenge in mastering self is to overcome our inherited corrupt nature expressed through the metaphors of the Pharisee, Philistine, and Pagan. He goes on to define: the Pharisee is preoccupied with pride and pretentious performance: hypocritical religionists with rules, rites, and rituals; Pagans are preoccupied with pleasure and all its passion and preference; Philistines are preoccupied with possessions and pursuits that do not edify. Discrimination, discernment and discretion or put another way; identification, understanding the truth, and freedom to chose life, are offered as the tools we need, and have in Christ, to overcome these destructive tendencies.

God would you help us to identify the deceiver’s lies, know your truth, and chose life? God would you empower us with Your Spirit so that we can live victoriously? We ask this in Jesus Name. Thank you God! You are good! Amen!

 

Extra Credit:

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The Coin. In the previous chapter several religious leaders challenged Jesus in the temple. It didn’t go so well for them. In fact, they were completely silenced (Matthew 22:46). Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s is possibly the most notable response in these series of challenges. The more we dig into history the more we can understand the implications of this public exchange. Just a few observations here to pique interest. When they tried to trap Him into opposing Caesar publicly, Jesus asks them a two part question about the coin: Whose is this image and superscription? (Matthew 22:20) They answered ‘Caesar’s’, identifying the image’s likeness but only the superscription’s author. They wouldn’t dare repeat the superscription, it was bad enough that they could even produce the coin, let alone that they brought it into the temple, for it read: “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS,” which translates, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the god Augustus, himself now Augustus.” This is the guy the religious leaders were trying to align themselves with to condemn Jesus publicly. On the reverse side was the goddess of peace with the inscription “Pontif Maxim”, which translates to “high priest”; the person who gives access to god. Ironic. In the end the only begotten Son of God, King of kings, and Prince of peace was holding a little graven image with a king claiming to be the son of god and a goddess of peace claiming to be the high priest giving access to god. An entirely false thing in every way but one; it was seemingly a sound representation of the value of the Pharisee’s religious profession. Which brings us to the parable of the 10 Virgins.   

Five-Wise-and-Five-Foolish-Virgins

10 Virgins: 5 were wise, 5 were fools. In the upcoming chapter, Matthew 24 we have the story of the 10 Virgins. Given the context of the last two chapters consider how their lamps may represent Christian profession, symbols of their Christian faith. The five fools took their lamps, their Christian symbols but they had no oil. The oil makes the lamp work. It’s what’s on the inside. It’s what makes it all real. Having been surprised by Christ’s coming they scrambled to find oil but could not get any in time and so they were turned away. The virgins with not only lamps (Christian Profession) but with oil on the inside (real saving faith) were welcomed in. The takeaway: your faith better be real, on the inside. Not built to please men (John 12:42, Galatians 1:10). Know you are built to please God (Revelation 4:11) and live according to this truth. 

Interested to know if your faith is real? Read James and work through his book of faith tests. James helped the newly Jewish Christian people test their faith for authenticity. The Jewish people, in my estimation, were quite serious about their relationship with God. Which at the time, having just changed, presented quite the stir in their lives. James walks them through the most important question, “How do you know if you have saving faith in this new covenant?” Here’s a test of saving faith by way of wisdom. Interested to know if you are wise? John MacArthur leads us through James’s test: Earthy and Heavenly Wisdom