Monthly Archives: October 2015

Today’s Scripture – October 28, 2015

John 6:16-21 (NIV):  When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.  A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.  When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.  But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”  Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The disciples had seen Jesus do some amazing things:  heal the sick, restore sight to the blind and strength to the lame, cast out demons, turn water to wine, and even calm a raging storm.  But they had never seen anything like Him walking to them on the storm-tossed waters of the Sea of Galilee!

It was getting dark, but Jesus hadn’t come down from the mountain.  Instead, He had told them to start for Capernaum without Him (Matthew 14:22).  But the wind was against them, which meant long hours of rowing against strong waves.

They had only put 3 or 4 miles behind them when they saw a figure walking toward them on the water’s surface.  Their first thought was that it was a ghost, and they all screamed in terror (Matthew 14:26).  But above the sound of the wind and the waves, they clearly heard the voice of Jesus call to them, “I am.” (Usually translated, “It is I.”)

As Jesus got closer, the disciples could see that it really was Him, and they gladly welcomed Him on board.  Suddenly, the wind stopped blowing (Mark 6:51), and they were able to row very quickly to Capernaum, where they were headed.

At this point, the disciples didn’t know what to make of all of this.  They already had seen that Jesus was no ordinary man, or even a normal miracle worker.  Everything He did seemed to raise the bar another notch.  But to walk on water was so far outside the realm of the imaginable that they were more freaked out than ever.  Eventually they would find a place in their heads for all of this to fit.  But for now, all they could do was to ponder these amazing things in their hearts.

Father, we are just as vulnerable to getting freaked out by the things You do as the disciples were.  Just about the time we think we have You figured out, pigeon-holed into a comfortable place in our heads, You do something even more amazing, showing us a truth about Yourself that opens our minds to dimensions we have not even imagined.  But, as off-balance as these times can make us feel, they are actually a good thing.  Help us to never amend or explain away what we see, what You have shown us.  Instead, help us to wrestle constructively with every ray of new light that You give us, until we are able to assimilate it.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 20, 2015

John 6:10-15 (NIV):  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

What seemed like an insurmountable problem was no big deal to Jesus.  The difference was that Jesus constantly heard God’s voice, and the disciples could hear nothing until Jesus spoke.  One day they, too, would hear God directly instead of relying on a “prophet” to tell them what He wanted, and in that day they would begin to do the things that Jesus had been doing, and even greater things (cf. John 14:12, 16:26-27).  But for now, they needed to listen to and obey Jesus as He instructed them in what to do to solve this “insurmountable” problem.

Step 1:  Have the people sit down in groups of fifties and hundreds (cf. Mark 6:39-40).  This calmed both the people and the disciples, and set up a feeling of anticipation instead of doubt:  Jesus was getting ready to do something!

Step 2:  Bless the food that God had provided.  Actually that is a misnomer.  Jesus didn’t bless the food, as much as He blessed God, who had provided it.  The typical “blessing” of the day was: Praise be to you, O Lord our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.  The focus is not primarily on the food, but on God, the provider of “daily bread,” which is exactly as it should be.  (That’s one of the big reasons that Jesus could do this and the disciples couldn’t.  They were focused on the food, or the lack of it, while Jesus was completely focused on the provider of the food.)

Step 3:  Distribute the food.  The miracle was not readily apparent until the distribution began.  Like the widow’s flour jar and oil jug that never ran out in the days of Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16), the miracle happened as the contents were used.  They never ran out.  As the disciples gave the bread to the people, there was always more to give.  As they distributed the fish, there was always more fish to distribute.  This continued until everyone had had enough to eat.

Step 4: Collect the leftovers.  Even after everyone had eaten, there was enough bread and fish to fill 12 baskets – enough to provide food for the disciples for the following day.  Jesus wanted to be sure that the food that God had provided wasn’t wasted, not just thrown away or left to decay.  This was not merely “conservationist” in the modern meaning; it was maintaining the focus on God.  This was food that God had graciously, even miraculously provided, and that provision should never be taken for granted.  God’s provision for the future was contained in the miracle of the present, and it needed to be seen as that and used responsibly.

Of course, when the people who had been fed by this miracle saw what had happened, they decided that Jesus was obviously someone special.  Not the Messiah, they thought, but the Prophet whom Moses had promised would come to lead them (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).  So they decided that they would crown Him king by popular vote, and then march on Jerusalem with Him at their head.  But Jesus knew their hearts as well as He knew their bodies and their needs.  He had not come to be the king of the Jews in Jerusalem.  He had come to be king of the Universe at the right hand of God Almighty.  So He withdrew to the mountain until things calmed down a little bit.

Father, how often do we see clearly the problems we face, but have a difficult time clearly seeing You, the one who has all of the answers?  How often do we panic and plead with You, instead of simply stopping and listening to Your voice?  And how often are our prayers of thanks focused on the gift instead of the Giver?  O, Lord, forgive us for our short-sightedness that oftentimes is actual blindness to what You are doing.  Forgive us for allowing our focus to be on the peripheral issues instead of on You, our Lord and Savior.  Amen

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Today’s Scripture – October 12, 2015

John 6:1-9 (NIV):  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish Passover Feast was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,  “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus took time away from the controversy, made some space between Him and those who opposed Him, by traveling across the Sea of Galilee.  But the people saw Him and followed Him out into the wilderness.  They wanted to see more miracles, more healings.

Jesus went up on a hillside with His disciples to get away for a while, but the crowds began moving up the hill toward them.  There were thousands of them – about 5000 men, plus women and children (cf. Matthew 14:21).

Jesus knew what God had called Him to do on this day, but He wanted to provide a teaching moment for His disciples.  So He pointed to the people swarming up the hill and asked Philip basically, “How are we going to provide enough food for all of those thousands of people?”  Of course the answer, as Philip clearly saw, was that even a year’s wages wouldn’t suffice to feed this crowd.  And they didn’t even have a year’s wages on hand.  The situation was hopeless; the question had no possible answer.

Andrew, always a man of action, saw a young by nearby with a small pack of food: five small barley loaves and two small fish.  This was enough to feed the boy for a day, but wouldn’t stretch far enough to feed even one more of the gathering crowd.

The disciples were practical men, fishers and tradesmen.  They knew how to problem solve, but they only knew how to do that on the physical plane.  And, from a physical plane point of view, this situation was impossible.  More than 5,000 hungry people, one young boy’s lunch, a little silver in the money bag, and not a single market anywhere in sight.  Impossible.

But Jesus dealt in more than the physical plane.  He also worked just as readily in the spiritual dimension – the source of not only every miracle that He did, but of all of the provision that He consistently received from the Father.  Jesus knew that after His departure, these disciples would need to be able to operate simultaneously on both planes as well.  So lesson one began now.

Father, how easy it is for us to get caught up in the same limitations:  to see only the physical solutions to the issues we face.  But, Lord, You tell us over and over again that in You we have all that we need – not just for our needs, but for every need, even those that present themselves as ministry opportunities.  Help us to live consistently in BOTH planes, just as Jesus did, so that we too can do everything You call us to do today.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 9, 2015

John 5:41-47 (NIV):  “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

A person’s response to Jesus is a perfect indicator of their real heart attitude toward God.  If they receive Jesus, it is an indicator that they have received and follow God, because they recognize Him and His presence in Jesus.  If they reject Jesus, it is because they really don’t know God; they have no real relationship with Him, and so nothing in Jesus and His teachings resonate in their hearts.

The shocking thing is that these men who were rejecting Jesus were not only men who professed to know God and His words deeply, they were the religious leaders and religious teachers of God’s people!  But instead of seeking God’s glory, they had fallen into the trap of doing things in order to exalt themselves, and to receive praise from men.  They rejected the teachings of the one who came in God’s name, but followed closely those of teachers and rabbis who came in their own names, gathering followers to exalt themselves.  They patted each other on the back for their supposed insights and profundities, while missing the very Son of God standing before them, hating Him for His ability to teach, to do miracles, and to gather followers.  They were even plotting to take His life!

Jesus’ point about Moses was that these same men were scholars of the law, and claimed to be great followers of Moses.  But in all of their study and dissecting of the laws that came through Moses from God, they completely skipped over the parts that spoke about God’s promised Redeemer, who He was, what He would accomplish, and how He would do it.  From Genesis 3:15 that indicated that the deliverer who would crush the head of the serpent would be the seed of a woman, not of a man; to the foretelling that He would come from the tribe of Judah; through the pictures painted of Him and His work in the Passover lamb and the lifting up of the bronze serpent; the pictures of the Messiah were there, even in the five books of Moses.  But these “leaders” had no spiritual eyes to see that these prophesies were coming true right then and there.  All they could see in their blinded state was that this man was threatening their positions and their authority.

Father, You tell us in Your word that the things that come from the Spirit of God are Spiritually discerned, and that they won’t be accepted by those who do not have Your Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14).  We can really see that in operation in these teachers of the law.  Help us, Lord, to always remember our dependence on You in being able to see and understand Your truths.  Help us to seek Your direction before we ever open our Bibles, so that You can open our eyes to see the wonderful things that You have written there. (Psalm 119:18)  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 7, 2015

John 5:31-40 (NIV):  “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.  There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.  Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved.  John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

In Jewish law, no single witness was considered sufficient to establish a fact.  And, for a fact as significant as whether someone was the Messiah, that person’s own testimony was not necessarily considered to be one of the “two or more witnesses” needed to corroborate something as true.  But Jesus had the required two witnesses, even though His accusers had disregarded one, and were deaf and blind to the other.

Jesus’ first witness was John the Baptist.  John had been sent to baptize, and to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah.  He testified that Jesus was the One whose coming had been foretold, and who had existed before Him, even though He had been born after him (John 1:15).  And he clearly testified that Jesus was both the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and that He was the very Son of God (John 1:29-34).

But Jesus had another witness – one whose word could never be doubted:  God Himself.  God testified about Jesus’ identity in three different ways:

  • The miracles and teachings that He had empowered Jesus to do.  It had been long centuries since the people had seen any miracles at all.  But here came Jesus, doing undeniable miracles:  healing the sick, sometimes dozens at a time; casting out demons with a word; even raising the dead.  Elijah and Elisha had been empowered to do miracles long before Jesus’ day, but Jesus often did more miracles in a single day than both of these did in their combined lifetimes!  The miracles, including the most recent, healing a 38-year invalid, should have been enough to persuade these Jewish leaders about who Jesus was, but they blew past the reality of the miracles to argue about the philosophy of them – how and when Jesus chose to heal.
  • God’s word to the hearts of people.  Many had heard the voice of God identifying Jesus as the Messiah, such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-28), and even Simon Peter (Mark 8:27-30).  These were ones who had eyes to see, and who had not allowed themselves to become so blinded by their current worldview that they couldn’t see what was right in front of them.  The teachers of the law wrote off the people who believed in Jesus as ignorant (cf. John 7:45-49).  But in reality, they were merely responsive to God’s voice speaking the truth to their hearts.
  • The Scriptures.  Laced all throughout the very Scriptures that these Jewish leaders pored over so assiduously were the prophecies that clearly painted who the Messiah would be and what He would do – a pattern fulfilled to the letter by Jesus.  But these leaders were blinded to the real meaning of these verses by their worldview, which acted as filtering lenses as they read the Scriptures.  Using their worldview as unconscious filters, and resisting the light that God was trying to bring to them, they saw some things quite clearly, while being completely blind to other things.  If they had been willing to set aside the teachings of their rabbis for a moment, and allow God to show them what He had caused to be clearly written in the very words that they believed would give them eternal life, they would have been able to see Jesus for who He truly was, and would have been the first to offer Him their allegiance.

It is not that Jesus’ testimony had to stand alone at all.  There were many witnesses, God among them.  (And, of courses, as a witness God CAN stand alone!)  The point was, the Jewish leaders and teachers were so blinded by their worldview and philosophy that they were unwilling to receive as reliable ANY witness that seemed to go against what they already believed to be true.

 Father, even as Your people we are not immune to this same kind of blindness. Your word is truth always.  But we can end up reading it in ways that twist it to support our own ideas and agendas, so that Your voice in it gets lost in the roar of our own opinions.  Open our eyes, Lord.  Unstop our ears, and unseal our minds and thoughts, so that we can hear You clearly.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 5, 2015

John 5:27-30 (NIV):  “And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.  By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

Jesus often said things that sounded very judgmental, and sometimes quite harsh.  For example, He called the Pharisees and teachers of the law hypocrites and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27-28), offending them greatly.

But Jesus’ judgments were always true, and just, and right.  That was because He never made any judgments on His own, but judged as He heard from the Father.  The Father communicated to Him what was true about these people, and allowed Him to see beyond the holy façade that these religious leader put on.  So when He spoke, even when His words of judgment seemed harsh, they were always 100% true.

In this passage, Jesus looked forward to the end of this world, seeing the time of the great judgment, when all will stand before the throne of God (cf. Revelation 20:11-15).  Each person will be judged on the basis of what they had done, which is the clearest indicator of what is truly in one’s heart.  On that day, all of the corruption of those religious leaders, people who made themselves look so good on the outside while plotting murder on the inside, will be laid bare for all to see.  There will be no ability to hide.  No smoke screen will be effective.  No plea bargaining will be allowed.

On that day, Jesus will call everyone from wherever their graves are – on land, or even in the depths of the sea (Revelation 20:13), and they will all have to stand before the throne of God.  Those who have received Jesus and who have demonstrated it by living lives of obedience will be ushered into eternal life.  Those who have rejected Jesus and whose lives bear witness to that rejection by evil acts will be sentenced to eternal separation from God.

One last point:  Jesus could be trusted to always judge correctly because He had no self-interest to promote or preserve.  His judgments could always be trusted to be absolutely true and accurate because there was nothing in Him that could be swayed by argument, bribes, or even pity.  Every judgment that He made was motivated purely by the motive of seeking God’s will, and God’s will alone.

Father, it is always an awe-inspiring thing to contemplate the final judgment.  And it is also amazing to think that we can get a glimpse of what that judgment will be like by seeing how Jesus dealt with the teachers of the law and Pharisees.  There was no compromising with them, no hesitancy, no half-measures, and never a softening or pulling away because of misplaced compassion.   The truth was always stated clearly and completely.  Help us, Lord, to never be content with hiding our bad hearts behind a good mask, hoping to look good enough to pass muster with You.  Instead, help us to be perfectly honest with ourselves about ANY wicked ways in our heart (cf. Psalm 139:23-24), so that we can truly repent of them, and be able to stand at the judgment unashamed.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 3, 2015

John 5:24-26 (NIV):  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”

Here Jesus claims, in no uncertain terms, to be the hinge pin of eternal life.  Many teach today that it doesn’t matter what a person believes, as long as they are sincere.  If they are sincere, then God receives their worship as if it were directed to Him.  But that is clearly NOT what Jesus taught.

In this teaching, Jesus tells us that eternal life is dependent on hearing (that is, receiving and acting on) HIS words, and believing the One who had sent Him, the Father.  Jesus is the source of all spiritual life for us, which translates into eternal life, because HE has life in Himself, just as the Father has, and He will give that life to those who truly follow Him.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)  No amount of sincere belief in a different way will bring eternal life to a person, because only on Savior has real life to give.

Notice also that the time for this eternal life to be given “is coming and has now come.”  This eternal life was not something for the future; it was something that people could experience immediately.  Some interpret this as referring to Jesus’ ability to raise people from the dead, especially Lazarus, who heard Jesus voice and lived (cf. John 11:38-44).  But Jesus was referring once again to the spiritually dead of Israel, the ones Ezekiel had been shown in his vision of the valley of dry bones.

Jesus was even then, by His presence, His actions, and His words, calling out to everyone who was lost, dead in their sins.  The Jewish leaders were just as dead as the “tax collectors and sinners” that they despised, but they didn’t realize it.  They heard Jesus’ words, but they never really heard what He was saying, and so remained dead.  The sinners, on the other hand, hungrily listened to Jesus’ words, received them eagerly, believed in the Father, and were not only forgiven, but made spiritually alive.  In the end, they would be the ones who would not be condemned, but would instead be received into God’s kingdom.

Father, there really is a big difference between reading Jesus’ words today and really hearing what He has to say to us.  And it is interesting that so many who claim to be spiritually alive cannot seem to hear Jesus’ words, and thus show themselves to be truly dead instead.  But those who hunger for real life and who turn to Jesus in faith, immediately receive what they are hungry for.  They are transformed, made truly alive, and given the ability both to hear and to understand.  What an amazing miracle to watch this new, genuine, eternal life infuse a person’s life!  Thank You, Lord, for doing this for so many, including me.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 1, 2015

John 5:20-23 (NIV):  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.  Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

When the Jewish leaders heard Jesus’ call God His Father, and believed that in so doing  He was claiming to be equal with God (verse 18), they were actually right.  Although humbled at the moment through becoming a man, the leaders were in fact trying to face down the eternal Son of God.

Jesus pointed out three areas of overlap between Himself and God:

  • The Father raises the dead and gives them life, and the Son gives life to whomever He wants.  This life-giving is on two levels.  Both God and Jesus raised the physically dead to life on several occasions – a miracle without equal.  But they both also gave spiritual life to those who were dead in their sins, separated from God, the source of all life.  This was illustrated to Ezekiel in his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and was fulfilled not in the return of the exiles from Babylon, but on the day of Pentecost, when God’s Spirit blew through the assembled believers, filling them and giving them real spiritual life, which quickly spread to an additional 3,000 Jewish people (cf. Acts 2).  All of that fulfillment was enabled by the sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  Together He and the Father bring dead things to life.
  • The Father is the Judge, but He has given authority to judge to Jesus.  Those leaders didn’t like feeling that Jesus was judging them, but they were in fact facing their eternal judge, and he was finding them sorely lacking.  Jesus’ very presence was a judgment on people.  When He showed up someplace and began to speak, the people responded to Him in ways that showed the real state of their hearts – either craving and receiving His words, or rebelling against what He said, rejecting Him, and thus showing their rejection of the God who had sent Him.
  • Jesus and the Father are one, so the one who rejects Jesus and His words rejects the Father as well.  Many in Jesus’ day rejected Him, believing that by doing so they were defending God, staying true to Him.  But by rejecting Jesus, God’s final and most complete revelation of Himself, they actually rejected God and all that He had revealed of Himself previously.  By rejecting the fulfillment of the covenant, they rejected its foundation.  By rejecting the fruit as bad, they ended up rejecting the whole tree.

If Jesus had merely been a talker or a teacher, there might have been room for doubt about His claims to be the Son of God.  But Jesus did far more than just talk.  Even in this case, He had done and amazing miracle, healing instantly and completely a man who had been incapacitated for 38 years.  But, despite the outward trappings of their religion, these “leaders” had no spiritual life at all.  They were walking corpses, dressed in fine gowns to appear alive.  The saddest thing is that the One who was standing right on front of them, the One whom they were persecuting, the One they were arguing with over the relevance of the rules that they had made up, was the One who could give them real life!

Father, even today so many people look at the man, Jesus, and miss the eternal Son of God right in front of them.  They ignore the miracles (including the resurrection, which these Jewish leaders hadn’t even encountered at this stage), and they take issue with His teachings, deciding on the basis of their own thinking whether to accept or reject them.  O blind generation!  O walking dead-men!  Do you not see that the One before You is the glorious, eternal Son of God, the One who came to earth, not to teach us pithy sayings, but to give us life through the laying down of His own life?  The proper response is not intellectual wrestling, but worship. It is not weighing His words to determine if we think there might be validity to them, but whole-hearted acceptance of this man, and Who He is.  Help us, Lord, all of us who go by the name of Jesus, to so present Him to the people around us by our words and our actions, that they can see His life in us, can experience His miracles in our testimony, and can then turn to You and be saved.  Amen.

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