Spiritual Life Comes From The Holy Spirit

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John 7:37 – 44

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

40 When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” 43 So the crowd was divided about him. 44 Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him.

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In this short passage, four things jump right out and ask us to look into them more closely.  What is this Festival that Jesus was at, and how important is it to what he says?  What is it that Jesus is actually offering to people who come to Him?  Why did the people think that Jesus might be the great Prophet they had been waiting for?  And why are they confused about Jesus’ identity?

Let’s start with this day of celebration in Jerusalem.  This was the annual Festival of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths.  This was the time when the Jews would remember the years of wandering in the desert and had to live in tents until they finally crossed the Jordan River and could live in houses.  At this Festival, thousands of Jews would come to Jerusalem and pitch a tent, or a covered booth, and remember God’s protection and provision to them in the past.

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On the very last day of the Festival, there was to be extra rejoicing as the end of the week commemorated their forefathers entry into the promised land of Canaan, the land which “flowed with milk and honey”.  At this climactic moment, Jesus stood up and boldly proclaimed, “Come to me whoever is thirsty.”  And to whoever would put their trust in Him, He promised them, “rivers of living water”.

Think about the picture of the ancient Israelites who wandered the barren deserts for forty years.  Their greatest need was to find water.  They found out very quickly that they had to trust God to supply their daily needs.  The most dramatic example of this is when God told Moses to “strike the rock, and water shall flow from it.” (Read Exodus 17:1-7)

What Jesus was saying to the people was that just like God Himself through Moses provided natural water to sustain their bodies in the desert, so now Jesus was by analogy saying that He was like God and could provide sustaining water to the people there in Jerusalem.  But not just natural water, but spiritual water that could refresh the hearts and souls of those who would put their trust in Him.

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No wonder the people began to say, “This must be the great Prophet,” which alludes to Deuteronomy 18:18 where God promised Moses that another great Prophet like him would one day come to help the people of Israel.  Some people went even further and declared that Jesus must be the Messiah, the specially anointed One whom God would send to save Israel.

And yet, when the people are so close to the truth about who Jesus was, and is, they became confused.  They had been taught that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem of Judea.  They had heard that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.  They could not reconcile the rumours with their teachings.  What is sad is that both of these statements were true, for Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem, but then raised up in Nazareth.

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I believe that the situation today is not much different from that day long ago.  So many people are still wandering around in spiritually dry waste lands.  Many seek to fill this spiritual void in their lives, but they are looking in the wrong places.  Jesus is still standing before us all and saying, “Come to Me, and I will quench your spiritual thirst.”

When Jesus died on the cross, He opened the flood gates of God’s compassion and forgiveness for our sins.  That is, to whomever will accept Jesus as the One who paid the penalty for sin for them.  And when Jesus was raised from the dead and returned to Heaven, He was then able to release the power and the life of the Holy Spirit into all of our lives.

That is what is meant above about the Spirit not having been given yet.  While Jesus was on earth, He ministered directly to those who were immediately there before Him.  Remember that God is really three Persons-in-One, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And God chose to limit His involvement with mankind as one Person at a time.  We all had to wait for Christ to ascend before the Holy Spirit could descend and empower and fill each one of God’s children.

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Consider what has been said here and ask yourself this: “Is my life spiritually dead and dry?”  Then I invite you to turn to Jesus who can forgive you of your sins and release the power of the Holy Spirit into your life.  And don’t be like some of those Jews who thought they knew who Jesus was and where He came from.  Read the Bible and find out for yourself.  God bless you on your journey for Truth and Life.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 2

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Our First Week in France – Pt. 1

In last week’s article, we caught a glimpse of the heart of a missionary wife and mother, just before they headed overseas to France where they all would concentrate on learning French.  This was an important step for them to become much more proficient in French before they would go next to West Africa and minister there where most people are bilingual in French, the official language.

In the first two weeks that this missionary family spent in a small rural town in France, all of them had some interesting and often demanding experiences.  I’m sure that the leaders and experienced field personnel from our mission were careful to teach them what kind of things to expect when they would get to Africa, and to be prepared for the culture shock that would happen once they got there.

What they may not have been prepared for was the initial stages of being enamoured by the differences they found in France, followed by shock and frustration that comes when they realized that that was not their home.  Familiar activities that would normally be quite easy, could suddenly become very difficult and frustrating when they didn’t work the same way.  Then add to that the language barriers, which can get anyone discouraged and frustrated.

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Thankfully, God built most of us to be somewhat in awe, filled with excitement when we first get to our new environment.  This is called the “Honeymoon Stage”, where everything is just so fascinating because things are both different and interesting from what we are used to.  God also has designed us to be flexible and learn how to adapt quickly to new situations that occur in new environments.

That is what I would like to do now, in this article and one more, is to see the interesting differences of life in another country seen through the eyes of a new missionary family.  The wife kept a kind of journal, which she would then email back to her family and friends over here.  She has given me permission to put out excerpts from her notes.  I hope you will find some of the things she writes as interesting to you as they were to me when I first read it.

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Let’s get started, and I think the easiest way to do this is to focus in on some of the main topics which she wrote about:

Traveling & Jet Lag

Our flight was uneventful and we were actually able to get a little sleep in preparation for our 8am arrival in Paris.  Since we had 6 hrs between flight and train, we didn’t feel at all rushed even with the transportation strike.  And the luggage carts are free at Charles de Gaul!  We blessed our French professor many times yesterday!  The kids did great too!

[Note:  most missionaries now will tell you the best flight you can have is an “uneventful one”.]

Many, many trains were cancelled because of the strikes, but ours went right on!  Thanks for praying because it truly was a miracle – the folks in Mours St Eusebe (our town) were told it was supposed to be cancelled.

[Note:  when a missionary first arrives in a non-Western, developing country, we’ve heard enough stories to know to expect things not to go smoothly, especially in the area of transportation and logistics.  But note how this family arrived right in the middle of a transportation strike in France.  So no matter where we travel as missionaries, we always need to keep up our prayer support to cover us for whatever lies ahead.]

On Day 1, she wrote, “After a brief time up around 2:30 this morning, we slept until noon!  Jet lag must be gotten through. 

On Day 2, she wrote, “The whole family was up at inappropriate times last night from jet lag.  Tonight we will try Tylenol PM.  We did get up at 8am though.

And on Day 5, “Have had a rough couple of days/nights.  Jet lag isn’t our favorite.  We were up at seven-ish this morning though so hopefully we can make it through the whole day awake.

And for Day 6, “The girls are the first ones to sleep completely through the night!  Progress has been made!  Our son got up for some decongestant last night but was able to go right back to sleep.  The two of us are still struggling but will get there.

[Then, after Day 6, jet lag and poor sleep is not mentioned very much again.  One conclusion: tough times (like no sleep) can hit us hard, but they only last (usually) a short time.  Trust God to carry you through tough times, and know that better days lie ahead.]

Be Careful At First

We will plunge into our new community and language learning this afternoon.  One thing we were advised was to just tell our neighbors we are here to learn French and not to mention being missionaries right away.  He said people will put you in a category that might hinder the relationship if you tell them right away that you are an evangelical Christian. 

A few days later:

On the way to Bingo, a lady was parking her car near our house.  Since it was raining, I offered to share my umbrella.  We chatted about many things.  Of course, our work in Africa came up.  I tried real hard to dodge the “what will you do” question in accordance with the advice given to us.  But she wheedled it out of me.  She said she was Catholic when she was young but now she was nothing because (here she paused for a long while and I inserted, “La vie est difficile? (Life is difficult)” to which she nodded her head yes). 

[I would agree that we should be cautious at first in new situations with new people.  But we must also be sensitive to the hurts and needs of others so that at any time we might be there to offer words of hope and encouragement.]

Tune in next week for Part 3.

God Opens Doors and God Closes Doors – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 16

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 8: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
THE RIGHT DOORS OPEN

Question #1: What blocked doors have you encountered in your life?  As you look back on them, how might God have been protecting you by blocking your path?

I have no doubt that God was watching over me to help place before me the right woman to marry.  There had been three other women I had given serious thought to about marrying, but a number of circumstances and differences in personalities were revealed to me to stop me from making a poor decision.  The funny thing is that Jill had been in front of me all along.

You see, while I was away from home doing mission work, my parents had taken Jill in as a room-and-board person.  When I came home from the mission field, I ended up in our dusty downstairs bedroom.  (We still laugh about that.)  I tried and failed to date these other young women, until Jill asked me one day, “I thought you were interested in me once.”  With our passion for missions, and then focused interest in each other, it wasn’t long before we became husband and wife.

The other event that certainly had to be from God, was how Jill and I ended up being with our current mission Pioneer Bible Translators.  After attending a month long recruitment retreat led by Wycliffe Bible translators, it was clear we were not ready to go overseas yet.  Two years later when we had our finances and other issues taken care of, we applied again, but heard no answer.

God led us next to Illinois so I could do further work on Greek and Hebrew.  That is where we first learned about PBT.  We saw this as God’s direction, so we wrote to Wycliffe to have our personnel file sent from them to PBT.  The women we had worked with said yes she could do that, but asked why we had not accepted their invitation from Wycliffe.  Somehow that letter never found us as we moved.  We were approved by both missions, but God had wanted us to be with PBT.

Question #2: On the other hand, has God opened a door in your life?  Explain what happened and how you could see his hand at work.

Twice, while I was with Teen Missions, I saw God’s hand move and do the impossible for me.  To go on my first TMI team (to build a church in Dominican Republic), I had to have all my support of about $1,400.  But by the beginning of May I was still quite short and it was getting close to the deadline for the final payment.

I looked to the Lord and pleaded with Him to allow me to go to Brazil and serve Him there.  Incredibly, a final check came in for me and it was almost the exact amount of money I would need to pay for the whole summer, and even lasted into the Fall.  I knew that I was called by God to serve Him that year in Brazil.

The second event with Teen Missions happened less than a year later.  I had received a letter from their mission office asking me to join a newly formed Staff Travel Team to minister to churches and advertise in churches about Teen Missions in hopes of recruiting some more young people to come on a summer mission trip.

When I got to the airport, the Customs Officer came to the conclusion that I must be hiding the truth and that once I was let into the United States, I would try to work for pay, which is not allowed   Two supervisors argued about me and I tried to calmly reassure them that I would not be taking a job while in the States.

The supervisors finally left and the Officer wondered what to do with me.  Finally, he said he couldn’t see that I would be a threat, and even though it was going against his supervisors’ opinions, he still decided to approve my US entry visa.  I ran to the plane as they were literally shutting the door.  It was a “God-thing” for sure, and it was a reminder to me all year long that I knew I was where God wanted me.

Questions #5: What blocked doors are you facing right now?  Pray for one another that God would blast them open in his perfect timing.

A door that has been closed to us for many years, but still is within our hearts to do is to actually make the move over to PNG and live back there again.  We have not heard God say “Yes” to us, but He also has not said “NO” either.  It has been assumed by others, and by us I think, that it would be too difficult for us to live in this under-developed country with the health needs that I have.

But I think we need to look at this carefully and consider which is more powerful: the discouragement and sense of defeat which Satan can throw at us because my health has been seriously compromised with this muscle disease, or the power of God and the stripes that Jesus took on our behalf to free us from spiritual death and the diseases of this world.

We leave this decision in God’s hands, but we ask you all to pray for us to have wisdom in this matter.

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Could Jesus Be The Messiah?

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John 7:25 – 36

25 Some of the people who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? 27 But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from.”

28 While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. 29 But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” 30 Then the leaders tried to arrest him; but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.

31 Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”

32 When the Pharisees heard that the crowds were whispering such things, they and the leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus. 33 But Jesus told them, “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. 34 You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going.”

35 The Jewish leaders were puzzled by this statement. “Where is he planning to go?” they asked. “Is he thinking of leaving the country and going to the Jews in other lands? Maybe he will even teach the Greeks! 36 What does he mean when he says, ‘You will search for me but not find me,’ and ‘You cannot go where I am going’?”

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This passage in John 7 is a continuation of the confusion among the Jewish people with regards to who Jesus is, as well as the rising confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. In verse 20 of this chapter, the people appear to be shocked when Jesus suggested that there were people who wanted to kill Him.  But now we see in verse 25 that many in the crowd have heard and believe that this threat to kill Jesus is real.

The fact that the religious leaders were not arresting Jesus gave second thoughts to the people. Since the leaders were not moving against Jesus, that perhaps meant that they in fact had condoned Jesus’ actions.  This carried the implication that perhaps Jesus could be the great Messiah, the One who would come to save the people from their enemies and rebuild the Jewish Kingdom on earth.

Some people though, who were quite aware of Jesus’ origin and His family, knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, raised up in Nazareth and was known simply as “the son of the carpenter”.  That made Jesus look too ordinary for them.  How then could Jesus be the Messiah?  Others though, who had seen His miracles, felt that only One sent from God could perform such miracles and they believed He was the Messiah

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The Jewish leaders though would not listen to any of this.  They saw Jesus as a threat to the rules and regulations of their religious ways of life and they did in fact want to arrest Jesus and ultimately to kill Him.  What is fascinating to read is that twice in this passage, and again later, we will see the leaders try to have Jesus arrested, but they are unable to do it.

In John’s gospel, in the first eight chapters, twice Jesus said the words, “My time has not yet come,” (2:4; 7:8) and John commented twice saying, “His time had not yet come,” (7:30; 8:20)  There could be a number of things that Jesus (or John) is referring to when He says this.  It could refer to Him revealing His true nature or His time to die on the cross.  But it most likely means in this context, it was not time yet for Him to be arrested.  He still had some important things to teach as we will see in the next few chapters.

Jesus’ next words really confused the Jewish leaders when He said they will not be able to go where He was going.  Undoubtedly this does refer to the time after His resurrection when Jesus would return to His Father in Heaven.  The leaders think Jesus will slip away to some other geographical area.  They don’t realize the spiritual implications that they would not follow Him to heaven when they would die.

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Let’s consider what this passage has to say to us now today.  What do you think about who Jesus is, what He taught while on earth, and where He went to be after His death and resurrection?  Are you as confused and offended as some of the people were when you hear the story of how Jesus came to earth, born to a poor family inside of a stinky animal shelter?  Do you think that God is supposed to reveal Himself suddenly with divine miraculous powers rather than show up among us in the form of a man?

Is it possible that you may be so religious (like the Jewish leaders) that the form of how you are supposed to worship God is more important that the Person whom we are to worship?  Are you certain that after this life you will be accepted into God’s presence to live in Heaven forever?  Have you based that hope on the things that you have done to earn God’s favor?  Or are you trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross?  Keep these questions in mind as we move forward in John’s gospel.

If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 1

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Leaving Loved Ones Behind

As you listen to the stories from missionaries, it is easy at times to think, “Wow, what adventures they have had.”  We must remember though, that missionaries are also just ordinary people like you and me.  And for those who are going overseas for the first time, especially when they go with children, it can be quite a scary enterprise for them at first.

In these next articles, I want to take excerpts from what one couple wrote about their experiences and feelings just before they left the United States, and what happened for them in their first week of cross-cultural living and learning.  One thing to note, this family went to France first to do language learning before heading to West Africa to serve with Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Let’s listen in on the thoughts of the wife just before they headed to France:

Me: God, I’m scared. I’ve never been scared like this before now. What’s up?

God: What are you scared of, little one? Are you afraid to go?

Me: No, it’s not that. Ok, well, yes a little bit but mainly it’s just that things are going to change here at home while I’m gone. I know some of the folks I’m saying goodbye to…well, it’s probably going to be the last time, God.

God: Yes, that’s true.

Me: And the rest, Lord. Will they come to know you? Will they hold Your word dear, Lord? Will they persevere through the really tough times? Will they continue being faithful to You? These concerns are why I’m afraid, Lord.

God: “I am”, Child.

Me: I know, God.

God: I am God, Child.

Me: Ok, Lord.

God: I love you. I love them, too. Okay?

Me: Ok, Lord.

Me: Hey, God?

God: Yes?

Me: Thanks. But I’m still going to miss them.

God: I know. I made your breaking heart. I love you, dear one. And don’t forget about your secret weapon.

Me (chuckling): What’s that?

God: From anywhere in the world, in any circumstance, you can always pray to me about them. I love it when you pray!

Me: Ok, God. Right now could you make my husband quit snoring so I can sleep?

God (chuckling): When would you take the time to pray if I didn’t wake you up at night?

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Isn’t it interesting that the concern that lay the heaviest on this mother’s heart before taking her family overseas, which included young children, was for those whom they would be leaving behind in the States.  I know she must have had some concerns for her family’s welfare and what lay ahead, but her greatest fear concerned what would happen to those left behind.

I’ve talked to other missionaries over the years about how hard it has been to be away from their home country, and quite a few have mentioned the idea of how difficult it is to have to say goodbye to family members and relatives.  But for some, it is not themselves that they are most concerned about, but rather people like the parents and grandparents.  We do forget sometimes about the emotional cost there can be for those who let their children and grandchildren go off to the mission field.

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I think perhaps this emotional and geographical separation for me and my family was not quite as difficult for all involved when we first went to Papua New Guinea in 1997.  Jill and I had been on a number of short-term mission trips to various countries already, and we had been training for mission work for a very long time.  In some ways, I think our friends and families rejoiced along with us when we were finally able to head over to PNG for our first three-year term.

That does not mean that the pain of separation never happened to us.  In that first year term, we learned of the death of a very close elderly friend who had befriended our young boys like a grandmother.  Before we left Canada, she handed each of our boys a large envelope.  In it were tiny wrapped presents which they could open, one for each day of the first few weeks that we were gone after leaving Canada.  That meant a lot to us.  We were sad that the boys would not see her again.

Then we heard the news of the death of one of Jill’s most special uncles.  He and his wife had truly been the patriarch and the matriarch of the clan of families that made up Jill’s side of our family.  What a loss that was to us.  And finally, we got the news that my father was diagnosed with throat cancer and would probably not have long to live.  We made arrangements for me to go see dad for two weeks.  He died just as I rejoined my family in PNG, but they never got to say goodbye to him.

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This is one of the realities of missionary life.  Even with the advancement of telecommunications and rapid airline travel, we still find as missionaries that we get caught on the other side of the world when critical events happen to those whom we love back home.  So what do we do about that?

Praise God that we do now have the technology to get email, just about anywhere in the world.  And the explosion of cell towers around the world means that we can talk with family and friends almost at the push of a button.  But the most important thing, as portrayed in the humorous dialog above, is knowing that God loves our loved ones even more than we do.  And so we trust Him to watch over them.  And I rest assured that He can do a better job of that than we ever could.  So, thank you God.  Amen.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

God Opens Doors and God Closes Doors – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 15

What does it mean to say, “God opens doors and God closes doors”?  This sounds like a highly cryptic and spiritual saying.  In practical life, this means that when we get blocked from doing something, it is very possible that it is God who has shut out that opportunity, no matter how hard we want it and how hard we try to get it.  We can’t obtain or achieve something we wanted.  And that frustrates us.  A lot!

But then there are times when everything seems to just go perfectly.  Every piece of a complex puzzle will fit right into place, and just at the right time, often at the very last opportunity it still comes through for us.  We are glad for that.  But do we ever stop to wonder and ask, “Is God behind all of this and that is why the path to this was successful?”  In spiritual terms, did God open all the right doors at just the right time to make this all happen and pull together so well?

These questions are important ones to ask, for it can shed light on our lives in a way we may not have considered or had forgotten.   That God can and does interact with us, His creation.  What does draw our attention usually is when things don’t go well for us.  Max Lucado points out some examples for us on page 122 of his book*.  He says:

You try one door after another, yet no one responds to your résumé. No university accepts your application.  No doctor has a solution for your illness. No buyers look at your house.

     

Another important question is to ask if this idea is Scripturally sound?  Does God interact with humanity and does He do so in an individual way, guiding and leading individuals to specific goals?  It seems to me that the obvious answer in the Bible is “Yes!  He does!”  Throughout the early books, God is seen to have interacted within the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, the many prophets, and more. God continually offered  instructions and guidance to help the nation of Israel to grow and to flourish.

One of the greatest examples in the New Testament is how God specifically guided Paul and his small band of missionary friends.  They prayed to God to show them where they should go, and God would reveal that or impress that upon them and all went quite well.  But there was one period of time that totally stumped Paul and probably got him quite irritated and maybe even frustrated with God.  In Acts chapter 16, Paul and his team kept trying to enter into a new section of Asia, but somehow God blocked that at every turn, and they didn’t go that way.

While wrestling with these disappointments, Paul suddenly then had a vision of a man who was standing in Macedonia (a Roman province in the country of Greece) who was calling Paul to come there to help them.  Paul understood that to be God’s leading and the next day his team crossed the narrow strait which separates Asia from Europe, and he began to teach about Christ and the Kingdom of God.  The message hit home.  A woman responded in faith, was baptized and became the first European convert to Christianity.  The closed door to Asia led Paul to bring the Gospel to Europe.  And the world history has never been the same.

     

Now some may say that all these are stories that belong to history and the ancient peoples contained within the Bible.  And yet, if one was to ask Christians around the world today, he may be surprised to hear the testimonies by the thousands that clearly point to an outside benevolent being (namely, God) who was not only there, but He is very active in their day-to-day activities.  Max Lucado shares a story with us in Chapter 16 of what happened when he and his congregation tried to go ahead with a building expansion project for their church.

The people had prayed and believed that God would have them go forward.  But then a number of obstacles kept hitting them so that the money they raised was never enough to go forward with.  Prices on all materials kept getting pushed higher and higher so that they found it would be too difficult to purchase the material.  In the midst of all this, Lucado was diagnosed with a serious heart condition.  Then later that year, the recession hit North America which spread world-wide.  Wow!  The church expansion ideas were put on the shelf.  But think of what it would have been like if they had tried to push through the door that God had closed on them and which never opened to go ahead with the building project.

Lucado wrote this on pp 124-135:

It was a classic God’s story/our story contrast.  From our perspective we saw setbacks.  God, however, saw an opportunity to keep us out of dangerous debt and bolster our leadership team with a new senior minister.  A plan to protect us from a budget-busting mortgage and to grant us fresh leadership.  God closed the wrong doors so he could lead us through the right one.

I don’t know where you are at on all of this.  If you don’t believe in God, then you will have trouble with all I have written and suggested.  But even some Christians who read this may have difficulty believing that God interacts with us in our daily lives.  I challenge you to really go out there and listen to the thousands of stories of people who can testify that if it had not been for God opening or closing some door in their life, then they would have been so much worse off.

And consider Lucado’s last words on page 131, “And this is what God is trying to teach us.  Your blocked door doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you.  Quite the opposite.  It is proof that He does.

     

* [God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

God Looks On The Inside

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John 7:14 – 24

14 Then, midway through the festival, Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach. 15 The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked.

16 So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. 17 Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. 18 Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. 19 Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

20 The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. 22 But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) 23 For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? 24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

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In the section of John chapter 7 just before this passage, we saw that Jesus was trying to keep a low key profile.  As some would say today, it looked like he was trying to “fly under the radar”.  It must have been difficult for him seeing as the annual “Feast of Tabernacles” was meant to be a joyous time for all Jews, and especially in Jerusalem.

And then suddenly during the middle of the week of celebration, we see Jesus marching straight up to the Temple and beginning to teach.  I wonder what was going on in his mind.  Could it be that he saw the shallowness and superficiality of the faith of many of his countrymen and he wanted them to come to know his Father like he did?  Or more probably, he could no longer stand the hypocrisy and the abuse of religious power that the Jewish leaders exercised over the people and Jesus finally had to speak up against this.

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The encounter that followed was very dramatic.  Jesus taught with great boldness concerning God and His Kingdom and the people were amazed at this.  They saw that his message was full of spiritual power, but they had always been led to believe that a person had to go through the Rabbinical schools (their form of theological seminaries) to have such power and authority to teach and preach like Jesus did.

But Jesus points out that religious pedigrees and positions are things that are important to men, but not to God.  What is really important is to lead people back into a living relationship with God.  Even if it means pointing out the sin in one’s life that is keeping that person away from God.  Jesus knew that his teachings struck at the hearts of those selfish hypocrites of his day, and he calls them out to the table by stating that they even have it in their heart to kill Jesus, and thus kill his message that would convict them.

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The truth is laid bare when Jesus revealed their hypocrisy over actions done on the Sabbath.  They claimed that no one could do any work of any kind on the Jewish day of rest.  And yet they had the command of God for circumcision, which was older than the Law, that they said allowed them to break the Sabbath rest.  In other words they used one law to break another law.  And they felt quite justified in their rigid legalism.

On the other hand, Jesus did a tremendous act of compassion by healing a lame man on the Sabbath.  But rather then praise Jesus for his action, they accused him of breaking a religious law.  To God, this is so absurd!  To allow a religious rule to overshadow meeting the needs of hurting people goes against the very nature of God.

Jesus pointed out what the real issue was when he said, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”  Whenever we put the focus on conformity to external behavior (which is what legalism is all about), we lose sight of what is really important, the true condition of the person’s heart.  It is not difficult for a person to do “all the right things” and still be miles away from God in his heart.  But if a person’s heart is pure and open and receptive to God and His grace, then all his external actions will match the inner beauty of his heart.

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And that brings us to some important application here.  Let us be very slow to judge and condemn another person simply on the external behaviors that we might see.  We must instead take the time to get to know that person and what is going on in the inside of him or her.  We do not need to promote conformity to rules to be the basis of thinking that person is right with God.  We need to help nurture a person’s relationship with God.  That is a heart issue.

In closing, let me remind us all that Jesus gave a stern warning to us in his analogy that we might have a plank sticking out of our eye (metaphorically speaking) while we judge someone else’s sin (which he compared to as a speck of dust in their eyes).  Let us clean up our own heart before we think we can help clean up someone else’s heart.

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