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Saturday
May202017

Monday, May 22 — Saturday, May 27

Monday, May 22

Read: Mark 1:9-15

Consider: In Mark 1:15 we hear the first words of Jesus in the first gospel to be written—“The time has come.”

There are two words used for “time” in the original language of the New Testament. One is familiar to us—chronos. We get words like chronology and chronometer from that one. The other Greek word for time is kairos, which has a very specific meaning. It speaks about an appointed time or an ordained time. The kairos is much different from the simple progression of the clock—the chronological progression of time. The kairos speaks about the moment appointed by God.

John the Baptizer prepared the way. Jesus was baptized. He was led into the desert where he was tempted. And then he emerged, saying, “The kairos has come”—literally translated, “The time has been fulfilled.”

With that statement came the most massive shift of history. That shift was greater than anything that had happened in the Old Testament. In fact, the events of the Old Testament were preparation for this great shift. And what is this great event that has happened at the appointed time?

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.”

This change was so huge that Jesus described it as a new kingdom—a new reign on earth. The empires of this world could not (and cannot) offer hope. But new life for each of us and for our world has come. And what accompanies Jesus’ announcement is the very thing that John had prepared—a call to change

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent (change)…”

As history reached the appointed time, Jesus called us to our appointed time—a time for a massive shift in our lives. This change prepares us to be part of the new kingdom that is advancing.  And Jesus called that “good news” (1:15).

Pray: Praise the Lord for his new kingdom. Praise him that the world now has hope. And thank him that he invited you to be part of the kairos—the moment in time when he makes all things new. In our hopeless world, ask him to help you grasp and be captured by the “good news” in a new and different way.

 

Tuesday, May 23

Read: Mark 1:14-20

Consider: The kairos—the appointed time that Jesus proclaimed—would become the appointed time for Simon, Andrew, James and John. The moment Jesus said, “Come, follow me” (1:17, 20), their lives, their futures, their destinies and their eternities changed. Nothing would ever be the same.

Of course, they had no idea of the changes in store. When Simon and Andrew left their fishing equipment, did they know they were leaving the family business for good? When James and John walked away from their father, did they know that the course of their lives had been permanently altered?

Fast forward three years and these four men have seen and experienced things they never could have imagined. Their experiences shaped them into men they never knew they could be. Their understanding of God, the world, themselves and their purpose were transformed on this journey.

There is a common statement that we often hear and use—“If I only knew then what I know now…” Sometimes it’s followed by something like, “I never would have…” But other times it’s followed by, “I would have done it sooner!”

There is no way we can know where God will lead us and what he will make of us. There is no way to know how our lives will be transformed. We are just as naïve as four men who “At once…left their nets and followed him” (1:18). But our naïveté is seasoned with trust. We are willing to be led into the unknown because we believe in and have faith in what Jesus is up to in this new kingdom. So we don’t wait to say, “If only.” Today we leave our nets at the water’s edge and follow him to the place that only he knows.

Pray: “Lord, give me a child-like trust in you. Thank you that you have a future for me that is beyond my comprehension. Please increase my faith and give me courage to follow wherever you lead. And help me to be attentive to your voice as you call me to follow.”

 

Wednesday, May 24

Read: Mark 8:31-38

Consider: When Jesus first called his disciples they had no idea what was in store for them. They were stepping into a new kingdom with new priorities, new values and new realities. They certainly did not know what it would mean to follow Jesus. Still, they made the decision to embark on this journey.

At several points along the way, they saw that this was a rewarding life but also a costly one. If fact, it would cost them everything. This is precisely what Jesus told them when he said…

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (8:34).

Sometimes we hear people refer to the cross as a burden that has to be shouldered. You’ve heard it said, “Well, this is my cross to bear.” But that really isn’t the meaning of a Roman cross. Yes, Jesus bore the cross from the city gates to Golgotha, but that was only the beginning. The cross was an instrument—and later a symbol—of torture and death. So when Jesus calls us to the cross, he’s calling us to give up everything. He continued…

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (8:35)

When Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, he was asking them for all that they had and all that they were. He was asking for their future. He was asking for their lives.

What does that mean for us today? How do I give up my life for Jesus and his good news? Unlike those first disciples, Jesus probably isn’t calling me to an itinerant ministry that takes me from town to town and village to village. Yet he still calls me to give him everything and to follow him to new places.

That’s our challenge. We need to walk close enough to Jesus, so that in an ever-increasing manner we understand his call on our lives.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t simply want to mouth words of commitment. I really want to give myself to you without reservation. Teach me what that looks like. Teach me how to live that commitment even today. And thank you for your patience. I haven’t got this all figured out, but I know you will walk with me and patiently guide me as I submit myself to you.”

 

Thursday, May 25

Read: John 14:15-17

Consider: What does it mean to be a Jesus follower? What does it mean to obey the commands of Christ? This is an important question, because in Jesus’ final hours with his disciples he made them a promise that was linked to a command. As he addressed the days that were ahead, he told them that the promise of the Father would be fulfilled in them. But first he said…

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (14:15)

What commands? Where do we begin the list? The scriptures that Jesus quoted—our Old Testament—is full of commands. Which ones are valid today? In other words, which laws are still applicable to us as Christ followers? Some Christians point to the Ten Commandments. Some look to instructions that Paul gave to the first century churches in the letters he wrote. Some take all the laws of the Bible and try to decipher which ones have meaning for us now that Christ has come. But Jesus wasn’t speaking about those commands. He was referring to what he had said just moments earlier…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (13:34-35)

This is what a disciple is. This is the definition of a Jesus follower. “By this” Jesus said, they would be recognized as true disciples of Christ.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t speaking about “love” based on emotions or “love” based on the feelings we wish to have. He was describing something much deeper when he called us to love “as I have loved you.” That’s a love beyond our capabilities. But it is not beyond what the Holy Spirit can do in us and through us.

So we see a perfect circle. If we obey his command to love, he promised us “another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17). And when we are filled with this Spirit, we are empowered to love as Christ loves.”

Pray: “Lord, I need you to teach me how to love and I need your Spirit to empower me to love. But I know that first I must make the choice to love. I choose to give myself to you so that, through me, your love may be a reality. I want to fulfill your command to love as you love.”

 

Friday, May 26

Read: John 14:18-21

Consider: Most of us are trying hard to do the right things. Very hard. Our minds are filled with the many things we want to do in order to honor God with our lives. But sometimes we run into a major hurdle. We begin to see God as though he was keeping score. It’s like he’s carrying a clipboard with him all the time, checking off whether or not we’re praying enough, saying the right things, having the right attitudes and avoiding all the wrong things.

This is toxic, because we begin to see God as our judge rather than our Father. We begin to feel like living right is something we have to accomplish on our own strength, with our own power. Even though we may never verbalize it in this way, we’re trying to keep the judge happy when we know it really isn’t possible.

That’s not what Jesus taught. As he was preparing to leave his disciples, he said…

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (14:18)

You’re not on your own. This isn’t a test you have to pass that the professor will grade at the end of the term. This is a journey together with the One who loves you more than you can comprehend—the Father who would never orphan you!

As a loving father takes a long walk with his daughter, he directs her, laughs with her, plays with her, wipes the dirt away after a fall, takes care of the wounds along the way, and, at times, carries her when she’s just too tired to take another step.

Jesus said that if sinful, frail humans act that way toward their children, how much more will our Father care for us (Matthew 7:11)!

Pray: “Lord, with the presence of your Spirit, I’m never alone. I don’t live as an abandoned one who is trying to earn my way back. I am a child of God, walking in the peace and joy that comes from your presence. Thank you for walking with me today.”

 

Saturday, May 27

Read: John 14:25-27

Consider: Translation is tricky. Sometimes one language will have a word with deep, rich meaning that is difficult to find in other languages. Our Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with a few chapters in Aramaic) and our New Testament was written in Greek. Over the centuries they have been translated into hundreds of languages. God has blessed the translation of his word, but it hasn’t been easy. Godly people have labored and prayed to make the Bible available to everyone. We believe the Holy Spirit has guided them. And yet, no translation is perfect because no human language is perfect.

So sometimes we find a word that needs to be translated by a number of words. Such is the case with the Greek word used in today’s reading to describe the Holy Spirit—parakletos. In the conversation we’re looking at, Jesus used that word three times (14:16, 14:26, 15:26).

Depending on the English version you used today, you may have read that word translated as “Comforter” or “Counselor” or “Advocate” or “Intercessor” or something similar. Which one is the right translation? They all are!

That term comes from two words: para—“beside” and kaleo—“to speak.” The Holy Spirit stands beside us (and, as Jesus said, in us), speaking peace, comfort, guidance and counsel. And his Spirit speaks for us—advocates for us when we have no words—and intercedes for us to the Father.

I would encourage you today to take some time to dwell on this. Ask yourself which word is the most meaningful for you at this point in your journey. Do you need a comforter today or a counselor? Do you need an advocate or an intercessor? Let the aspect of the Holy Spirit that you need this hour become real to you.

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you see his Spirit in a new manner today. And don’t forget to express your gratitude for the One who stands beside you.

Saturday
May132017

Monday, May 15 — Saturday, May 20

Monday, May 15

Read: Matthew 28:16-20

Consider: Matthew’s last account of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples is a familiar one to most of us. It has come to be known as “The Great Commission.” We see it as Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, and therefore, his vital instructions to us.

But there is one phrase in this passage that is very puzzling to me.

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (28:17)

Some doubted? These were “The Twelve” (minus Judas). These were the ones who walked with Jesus before and after his resurrection. They saw him in the flesh. They touched the wounds of the risen Christ. He explained to them what had happened and why it happened. He opened up the scriptures to them and showed them the prophecies that spoke about his coming, his death and his resurrection. How could they possibly doubt? What was it that they needed in order to believe?

Perhaps, rather than asking why they doubted, it would be more appropriate to question what it was that they doubted. Did they doubt that the resurrection had taken place, or did they doubt that it would really usher in the new kingdom of heaven on earth? Did they doubt the work Jesus had done, or did they doubt their ability to continue his work? Did they doubt what he had taught, or did they doubt their capacity to be his voice to those who had yet to hear? Did they doubt his healing touch, or did they doubt their own hands? What did they doubt?

What do we doubt? Most Christians would say they are convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. But do we really believe that God’s kingdom will be realized in this world because of that resurrection? And do we really believe that God will use us advance that kingdom—to see his will accomplished on earth?

Those are not easy things to believe. So, like those disciples who had seen so much, we might also approach his final words with a question. Really? Can we really be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ?

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you believe in his resurrection plan for this world. Ask him to help you believe that he can and will use us in the fulfillment of the “Great Commission” that he has given us.

 

Tuesday, May 16

Read: Matthew 4:18-22

Consider: Yesterday we read Jesus’ Great Commission to us—his call to go and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). But before we set about the task of making those disciples, it might be good to ask what Jesus meant by that term.

The word “disciple” encompasses the total life of the believer, so it’s difficult to put a precise definition on the term. But we do know that to be a disciple is to be a student of your leader and mentor. That means the disciple is always learning and growing. And to grow is to change. So the disciple is always changing.

To be a disciple also means to be a follower of Jesus. We cannot follow in one place. So the disciple is always moving—always entering new territory and seeing new things on this journey with our leader. The “eyes” and “ears” of the disciple—their spiritual receptors—gather new insights that bring the truth to life in an ever-increasing way. Discipleship is never static. It’s always dynamic.

Notice that Jesus did not command us to “make believers.” I fear that many think the task of the church is simply to convince others that Jesus’ way is the right way. They seek to create those who are convinced rather than those who follow.

No, Jesus did not say “make believers.” He told us to “make disciples”—people who would follow, learn, grow and change. That means that you and I have to keep moving with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That means we must continue to learn and grow, for how can we make disciples of others unless we are giving our all to being disciples ourselves?

Pray: Praise the Lord that he has invited you to join the journey—he has invited you to follow him. Now invite him to stretch you, grow you and change you in any manner he wishes, in order to make you the disciple he wants you to be.

 

Wednesday, May 17

Read: Hebrews 10:23-25

Consider: There are many “one anothers” in the New Testament…

“forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13)

“live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16)

“offer hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9)

“encourage one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

and many more.

All of them, in some measure, call us to “love one another.” These are communal words. You can’t keep any of the “one another” commands of the New Testament if you are not living in community with others.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). He’s calling us to make one another better disciples. This is part of the Great Commission that we’ve been considering this week.

It is clear from the New Testament that in order to fulfill the Great Commission—in order to make disciples—we must do it in community. Often Christians see the Great Commission as a call to evangelism. It is. But too often the view of evangelism is too narrow. It is seen as simply helping people make a decision to follow Christ. It is that, but it is also so much more. Real disciple-making means walking with one another as we follow Christ. Together we learn to follow, together we grow, together we are conformed to the image of our mentor and leader, Jesus Christ.

“Let us not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). Let us not give up living in community. For it is in that environment that disciples are made.

Pray: Thank God for the community of faith—the Body of Christ. Ask him how you can help to strengthen that community, and therefore, empower it to make more and better disciples.

 

Thursday, May 18

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Consider: For the last three days we’ve been looking at Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). In the original language of the New Testament it is very clear that Jesus was speaking to his disciples collectively. In other words, he was not saying to you or me—as an individual—that one of us alone can make a disciple. The “you” is plural. He was telling his disciples—and telling us—that together, as a body, collectively, we are called to make disciples.

Later in the New Testament we read Paul’s words about the body, this amazing organism that is utterly dependent on the interactions of the various body parts. Without the parts working in interdependency, there would be no life. So the call to make disciples is the call to the body. Therefore, my personal call is to discover how God wants to use me in his body—how I, as a body part, get to contribute to the work of Jesus Christ.

Of special interest is Paul’s statement…

“But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

You are not an accident or an afterthought. You are a part of the Body of Christ. And you are gifted in such a way that God can use you mightily. But that can only happen in concert with the other body parts. In the body your potential is amazing. God can use you in ways you never imagined. But to think that a body part can do anything without the rest of the body is delusional.

Pray: Thank God for the Body of Christ—the manifestation of Christ on earth. Ask him to guide your understanding as to how you are to function and serve within his great body.

 

Friday, May 19

Read: Ephesians 4:1-16

Consider: From his imprisonment Paul said…

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (4:1)

What is this calling? As you read the next few verses, you will discover a two-fold calling. One is to love and cherish the Body of Christ.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:2-6)

This is followed by the call to use our individual gifts—the gifts God has given us—in the body so as to…

“…prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:12-13)

This beautiful, effective, world-transforming body flourishes, says Paul, “as each part does its work” (4:16).

Pray: Thank the Lord for the privilege of being part of the Body of Christ.

 

Saturday, May 20

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Consider: For many years I studied spiritual gifts. I wanted to understand how Christ uses his body so that I could help guide myself and others in doing the work that the church is called to do. In my study and in my experience, I discovered that many people isolate the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians when trying to learn about the body and the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes in the body. But, of course, when Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, he didn’t write in chapters. It was a letter to people he loved. So we cannot understand his teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, without reading chapter 13. Paul connected these thoughts by saying…

“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (12:31)

What follows is one of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of truth that was ever written. It is Paul’s great discourse on agape—love.

Paul’s message is clear. What we should desire above all—above any gift that God may give us—is a heart and life full of love.

The Body of Christ is too precious for us to offer it anything less.

Pray: Thank God for the Body of Christ. Ask him to help you increase your love for his body. Pray for direction in how you can cherish and strengthen the body.

Saturday
May062017

Monday, May 8 — Saturday, May 13

Monday, May 8

Read: John 14:1-6

Consider: Today’s scripture reading locates us in those hours between Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples and the moment of his arrest. In this most peculiar and terrifying time, Jesus said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14:1). He followed that with some strange words. Actually they were expressions that were familiar to his disciples, but they never expected them to come out of Jesus’ mouth.

In those days families built their houses in clusters. A house, called an insula, grew as the family grew. They would add rooms. The house would become a cluster of rooms where the whole extended family lived.

There would come a time in a young man’s life when he was going to take a wife and his job was to build on to his father’s house. The rooms he would add would be the place where he could take his wife. It was a very formal thing. After the marriage had been arranged, they would sign a contract of betrothal. Then it was the young man’s job to prepare the living space for his bride. He would tell her, “I am going to my father’s house. There I will add on the rooms. I am going to prepare a place for you so that where I am you will also be. And I am going to come back and take you to live with me there.”

Jesus said to his disciples…

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (14:2-3)

The disciples must have been confused. Why would Jesus use engagement and marriage language to tell them about their future?

Our New Testament speaks of us—the church—as the bride of Christ. It is a way of saying that nothing is more beautiful and precious to him than us. In the midst of chaos, confusion, disappointment, doubt and pain, we have a constant—the love of Christ. His love is the reason he looks at us and says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Pray: “Lord, sometimes my greatest reality is the pain and difficulty of life. Help me today to reorient my thinking. I want my greatest reality today to be the knowledge (regardless of my emotional state) that you love me more than I can imagine. As I try to grasp that with my mind and my spirit, my troubled heart will change.”

 

Tuesday, May 9

Read: John 14:6-11

Consider: Sometimes our mental categories get in the way. We can’t help it. It’s the way we think. We categorize, define, describe and put words to concepts in an effort to better understand them. The problem is, Jesus sometimes talks to us in language that defies our definitions and categories. And when we try to reduce his language to our points of reference, we miss what he has to say.

“Lord…how can we know the way?”

“I am the way…”

“Lord, show us the Father…”

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

These words were not easy for the disciples to grasp. But then Jesus went further. He used the language of location—“in”—to describe his relationship with the Father.

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” (14:10a, 11)

But if that was hard to grasp, listen to where Jesus went with that…

“…you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (14:20)

The belief that we can be “in Christ” is dominant in the writings of Paul. He uses en Christo around seventy times.

“He’s trying to describe this larger life in which we are participating. He speaks of belonging to Christ, of being possessed by Christ, captured by Christ, apprehended by Christ. He says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13). Paul speaks of being clothed by Christ. He tells us to put on Christ. He says he suffers with Christ, he’s crucified with Christ, he dies with Christ, he’s buried with Christ. He’s raised up with Christ, he lives with Christ…” — Richard Rohr

All of that—which takes us a lifetime to fully comprehend—is in the simple statement that Jesus made…

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (14:20)

Pray: “Lord, to know that you are in me and I am in you is to see life from a new perspective. I open myself to you this day so that you can teach me to grasp this truth in my spirit and live it every moment.”

 

Wednesday, May 10

Read: John 14:12-14

Consider: Out of everything that Jesus told his disciples that night, these words may have been the most baffling—to the point of being incomprehensible. They had witnessed so much. While walking with Jesus they had seen the sick healed, the blind receive sight, the bread multiplied and people raised from the dead. And now Jesus looked them in the eyes and said…

“…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” (14:12)

They probably got stuck right there. What? How? Is that possible?

Jesus went on. The next phrase explains what he was saying—“because I am going to the Father” (14:12).

Jesus then went into detail, explaining this remarkable promise. His going to the Father means that he is sending his Spirit—the Holy Spirit—to be with them and in them. While walking this earth Jesus inhabited a body. After leaving them, his Spirit would come to inhabit their bodies—including your body and my body! His people—the Body of Christ—would then go on to do the works of Jesus Christ on this earth. The work that Jesus began has been done, is being done and will be done through us.

It is hard to imagine the honor and privilege bestowed on us that we should be the agents of Christ’s kingdom on this earth. We’re humbled by that. And that humility helps us to grasp his promise that “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (14:14). This is not a matter of asking God for our success. It is asking him to do the work of Christ through us so that the “Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13). 

Pray: “Lord, I’m humbled beyond words to know that you want to use me. My purpose comes from you and is fulfilled through your body—the church of Jesus Christ. My wholeness and holiness is in the presence of your Spirit in me and my presence in your body. Thank you.”

 

Thursday, May 11

Read: John 21:1-14

Consider: How do we respond to the resurrection? If that’s a difficult question for us, imagine how confusing it was for Jesus’ first disciples. He had appeared to them twice, but he didn’t stay with them. He would be with them for a very brief time and then leave them. This was so thrilling and yet it was so different from their previous life with him. Before his death and resurrection they travelled with him, ate with him, shared every aspect of their lives with him. Now he was back, but it wasn’t the same.

So what do you do? Well, you do what you know how to do. Peter said, “I’m going out to fish” (21:3). It’s difficult to know exactly what Peter had in mind. Was he simply saying that they needed food and they had time that day to fish? Or was he stating that he was returning to his previous life—the life he knew before Jesus met him on the shore and called him away from his nets to a different way of life?

So, for a brief time, Peter and the others returned to an old, familiar routine. Fishing. And they remembered the old frustrations. Long hours out on the boat, tired, worn out and not catching anything. I’m sure those hours were filled with questions. In their hearts they were wondering if this is what life would be from this point on. They may have wondered if they were ever going to see Jesus again. Did they feel satisfaction with going back to the old normal, or did it seem empty after all that had been shown to them?

And there he was again! Once Peter realized it was Jesus, he couldn’t even wait for the boat to go the final hundred yards back to shore. He jumped in, which is what Peter usually did. He was always all in.

I think Peter was relieved. I think he was filled with joy. Because once you “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) there is no going back.

Pray: “Lord, I know the new life is not the same as the old life. I am a new creation. When I’m tempted to look back, remind me of the resurrection life I now live. And help me to see it for all that it truly is.”

 

Friday, May 12

Read: John 21:15-19

Consider: Three times Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus. At the lowest moment of Peter’s life, he failed. He failed miserably. But we know that in Christ, failure is not the final word. And Jesus gave Peter the wonderful opportunity to affirm his love for Christ—three times!

Jesus didn’t need this. He had already forgiven Peter. But he knew that Peter needed it. You see, Peter was still struggling. He didn’t yet trust himself. He didn’t know if he loved Jesus enough to stand with him in the face of severe trial.

The first two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, John conveys it with the Greek word, agape, which denoted a self-giving, Christ-like love. “Simon,” Jesus asked, “Do you agapas me?”

But Peter wasn’t ready to use that word. He replied with a different word for love—phileo. This word is about the love between family and friends, not a lay-down-your-life, Christ-like love. Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I philo you.” Three times Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, but not in the manner that he wished he could.

Our walk with Christ is just that—a walk, a journey. Jesus didn’t seem to be troubled at Peter’s fear and hesitancy. But each time he asked Peter about his love, he told him to give himself fully to the life and care of Jesus’ people. Peter was not being called to simply speak up for Jesus as he failed to do when he denied him. Peter was being called to love Jesus by laying down his own life.

Jesus knew that Peter would do that very thing. At that very moment Jesus foretold “the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (21:19).

But for now, to a weak, struggling fisherman, Jesus repeated the very first words he ever said to Peter—“Follow me” (Matthew 4:19 and John 21:19).

Pray: “Lord, I love you. But sometimes I don’t think I love you enough. Thank you for your patience with me as I journey with you. I know my faith, commitment and love for you will grow higher and deeper. But, for now—from where I am—I choose to simply walk as close to you as I can. I choose to follow you.”

 

Saturday, May 13

Read: John 21:20-25

Consider: As we’ve seen over the last couple of days, this was a very confusing time for the disciples. John focuses in a particular way on the manner in which Simon Peter was trying to make sense of it all. Jesus pressed Peter. He did it with great patience, but he knew that Peter needed to deal with his fears and failures. As Jesus called Peter to a lay-down-your-life commitment, Peter said what we feel so many times. Pointing to John, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” (21:21).

Perhaps Peter thought that Jesus was asking for more from him than from the others. Maybe he was afraid that it was just too much. I can picture Jesus placing is hand on Peter’s shoulder, lovingly looking him in the eyes and softly asking, “What is that to you? You must follow me” (21:22).

Our life in Christ is a shared life. Peter and John would be forever bound to each other, just as we are bound to one another. And yet our shared life proceeds from our individual relationships with Jesus Christ. Our commitment to one another is based on our commitment to him. So we don’t ask, “What about him?” or “What about her?” We ask, “What about me and how can I empower us.”

Peter came to understand this. And because the Spirit of Christ filled him on Pentecost, he did lay down his life for Jesus and for us.

Pray: “Lord, I may not feel prepared now for the rigors that will be demanded of me in the future. But I will follow you with the confidence that your Spirit will empower me for all that you call me to be and to do.”

Saturday
Apr292017

Monday, May 1 — Saturday, May 6

Monday, May 1

Read: Matthew 5:43-45

Consider: How would you feel about someone who challenged your religion and your values? Not someone who merely said that they disagree with you and your interpretation of faith, but someone who said, “You’ve got it all wrong! What you were taught is not right!”

If you’re like me, I’m guessing you wouldn’t immediately welcome those words with an open mind. But that’s exactly what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Six times in that sermon Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

Again and again and again—six times. To some people, it must have felt like an assault. It must have felt as though Jesus was dismantling their religion and their faith. But one of the things that Jesus’ teaching shows us is that sometimes the past has to be dismantled so the new can be built.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17). But before they could understand the fulfillment of God’s will, Jesus had to help them see their misunderstandings of the law of the Lord.

Has Jesus ever had to dismantle something in your life before he began to build? Take some time to meditate on that question. Ask the Lord to help you see how he has changed you and how he is making you into something new. Tell him he is welcome to do any other dismantling that needs to be done.

Pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

 

Tuesday, May 2

Read: Romans 8:1-2

Consider: Jesus said…

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

Most of us can keep from committing murder on our own power. The law is powerful enough to keep us from doing that. But what about hate? Well, the law can’t keep us from hating. It will take more. We may be able to abstain from adultery on our own strength. The consequences of that action may be powerful enough to keep us from doing that. But what about lust? It will take much more to keep us from that.

Yet, Jesus called us to a higher ethic than merely law-keeping. The intent of the law—love—was his aim for us. But we can’t love on our own. We’re not strong enough to give the kind of sacrificial love that God calls us to give. And the law is of no help to us in learning how to love. Before the law, we merely stand condemned. But something changed when Christ came.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (8:1-4)

The law of love—the high ethic of the Sermon on the Mount—seems impossible. You can’t will it, you can’t legislate it, you can’t force it. It takes a power beyond our own effort and our own understanding.

But something happened with Jesus’ death and resurrection. A new day came. Now we praise God that in Christ “the righteous requirements of the law”—namely, love—can be “fully met in us” (Romans 8:4).

Pray: Thank God that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Could there be any better news than that?

 

Wednesday, May 3

Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Consider: The term, “New Testament,” means “new covenant.” We often use this term when we take the sacrament of Holy Communion. We quote Jesus, when he took the cup and said…

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20)

What we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount over the past two days can only make sense in light of the new covenant. The law is no longer something on the outside that constrains us. There is a new law. It is not external to us, for as the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (31:33). This inside-out law empowers us to love in the manner that Christ calls us to love.

When I have the honor of serving the sacrament to our congregation, I always remind us that, in Christ, everything has changed. This new covenant in Christ’s blood says that God now interacts with man in a whole new way. God said, “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers” (Jeremiah 31:32). No, this new thing written on our hearts and minds helps us to love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The old laws could never do that.

This truly is what Jesus called the fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:17).

Pray: Thank God that “what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son” (Romans 8:3). Praise him for the new covenant that changed everything.

 

Thursday, May 4

Read: Luke 24:1-16

Consider: It’s a strange statement—“they were kept from recognizing him” (24:16). My first thought is to ask, how could they not know who he was? Luke described this pair as two of Jesus’ followers. In the words that follow we’ll see that they were intimately aware of all that had transpired with Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion. They must have been part of the group who Jesus knew best, for they had already heard about the empty tomb (which was causing them great confusion and turmoil).

Perhaps it was the angle of the sun in those evening hours. Maybe they didn’t get a good look at his face. He might have come up behind them when he encountered them on the road. With their faces downcast, they may never have looked him in the eyes. But, of course, we know the real reason they didn’t recognize him. He was the last person on earth they expected to see. They weren’t looking for him because, in their minds, he was dead. But he was right beside them and they didn’t know it.

What is keeping me from recognizing him today? He’s walking right beside me. But sometimes the turmoil and confusion of life keeps me from looking him in the eye and thanking him that he is alive and moving in my life.

Thomas Merton said, “The Christian life—and especially the contemplative life—is a continual discovery of Christ in new and unexpected places.”

I intend to look for him everywhere today. I want to see him in nature. I want to see him in words of affirmation and encouragement. I want to see him in handshakes and embraces. I want to see him in pain—in those who are carrying heavy crosses. I want to see him in the faces of those who are most vulnerable—the poor, the very young, the old, the oppressed. Because everywhere I see him today, I’ll see new life.

Pray: “Lord, scripture tells me that you are ‘over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:6). Yet, it is easy for me to miss your presence and to see everything except you. I want to see you today in everyone that I encounter and in all that I experience. Help me to do that.”

 

Friday, May 5

Read: Luke 24:13-31

Consider: Yesterday we saw ourselves in those two disciples who didn’t recognize Jesus as he walked with them on the Road to Emmaus. But a beautiful thing happened when they sat down to eat. They recognized him when he broke the bread. They were so amazed, excited and filled with joy that they ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven what had happened. They specifically told the other disciples that “Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (24:35).

They had seen him break bread before—at the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand and countless other times. As they witnessed his familiar way of offering thanks as he broke the bread, their eyes were opened.

But there is more to this moment. Luke does not want us to miss the deeper significance. Three days earlier Jesus had given new meaning to the breaking of bread. When he broke the unleavened bread of Passover in the presence of his disciples, he said, “This is my body” (Mark 14:22).

The breaking of bread now means something different to you and me. It means that God came to us and was broken for us. He suffered and enters into our suffering. But not our suffering alone. Christ is present in all of the suffering of the world. And we need to learn to see him there always.

So today when you encounter a hurting person, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. When you read about a terrorist attack in Europe or the Middle East, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. When you pray for your loved one who is sick, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. And when your heart is about to break, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Pray: Thank Jesus the Christ for his presence in his world and in your life. Thank him that he was broken and can enter into our brokenness. Ask him to help you see him in the brokenness of your life and the lives around you.

 

Saturday, May 6

Read: Luke 24:27-32

Consider: We often say that Jesus is on every page of the Bible. It’s our way of saying that the Old Testament—the First Covenant—is not a separate religion. The faith of the Hebrews is based on the promise given to Abraham that “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Paul would later make it clear to us that the “offspring” or “seed” that God was referring to was Christ (Galatians 3:16). God brought the nation of Israel into existence to bring us the Christ—the Messiah.

So we see Jesus in the history of Israel, the prophets and the psalms. The New Testament writers refer to Jesus as the new Moses in order for us to understand the liberation that Jesus brings.

I’ve been studying the Bible for decades and I still cannot fully comprehend the richness of the interaction between the two covenants—the Old and New Testaments. So, I’ll be honest. I’m pretty envious of those two disciples who encountered Jesus on the Road to Emmaus because “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (24:27).

Wow! No wonder they later exclaimed to each other…

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (24:32)

Our hearts would have been burning as well. And they still can.

My concept of the burning heart was forever changed when, several years ago, I read this from A. W. Tozer…

“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”

Tozer was describing the person who has experienced God and wants to know him—burns to know him—more. That person who is close to God and yearns for greater intimacy. That person who is hungry and thirsty for God.

That hunger is a gift from God. We don’t manufacture it. But we ask for it. We ask God to increase our hunger and thirst for him. This is not to be confused with desiring the things he can give us. We do not bring a list of gift requests to him. For the children of the burning heart, Christ is our gift.

Pray: “Lord, give me the heart of the psalmist who said, ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God’ (Psalm 42:1). I’m not hungry enough for you, but I’m hungry to be hungry. I want to be a child of the burning heart.”

Saturday
Apr222017

Monday, April 24 — Saturday, April 29

Monday, April 24

Read: John 20:19-24

Consider: “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”—when they could see the truth standing there before them (20:20). He was alive! It had happened just as Mary of Magdala had told them. She had told them the truth, though her word had not been sufficient evidence for them. They didn’t believe her. But now they believed, because what they saw could not be denied.

This raises an issue that they had to face and one that we must face as well. They didn’t believe based on what was true. They believed based on the evidence that they saw—evidence that they demanded. In other words, Jesus was alive whether or not he had appeared to them. In fact, he didn’t appear to all of them. John tells us that Thomas was not with his fellow disciples when Jesus came to them (20:24).

Jesus had told them what would happen. On multiple occasions, in plain language, he said…

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

The prophets had foretold it, the Psalms spoke about it, Jesus explained it before the fact, and still they did not believe. They didn’t embrace truth. They embraced their need for evidence.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on the disciples. After all, they had overwhelming evidence that Jesus was dead. Add to that the emotional devastation that they had endured. So let’s go easy on them. But what I want is for us to see ourselves in them. Do we long for truth or do we long for evidence?

That may sound like word games, simple semantics. But there is a difference, as we will see this week. We all have to determine if we will believe, why we will believe and what it means for us to believe.

Pray: “Lord, you have revealed yourself to me in so many ways. There is no way I can doubt your goodness and your love. Still, I’m often tempted to wonder if you really are at work in my life. Rather than seeing what you have already given to me, I am often inclined to ask you to—or even demand that you—act in certain ways. You have assured me of your care and then proven it to me. I thank you. And I humbly ask you to help me see what you have done rather than demanding more.”

 

Tuesday, April 25

Read: John 20:24-25

Consider: Of the eleven disciples that remained, Thomas was the most vocal and specific when it came to his demands for evidence—“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (20:25).

Thomas points us to an important truth. Belief is a choice.

Most people think they have to be convinced, as if being convinced is a passive thing over which they have no control. They want overwhelming evidence so that they don’t have to make a decision. It will be made for them. That’s where Thomas stood. He was firmly maintaining that overwhelming evidence—the kind that takes no choice—was what he needed and demanded.

What he didn’t see was that he had already chosen. He had made a decision not to act in faith. He had made a decision not to survey his heart and see what God was doing there. He had made a decision not to search the scriptures and what they said about the Messiah and how he would deliver us. He had made a decision to distrust the experience of the ten people on earth who were closest to him and were passionately trying to tell him good news. He had made a decision not to believe.

As I said yesterday, I don’t want to be too hard on these men who had endured so much. But we hear arrogance in Thomas’ words. He, in essence was saying, “Here’s how Jesus has to work in order for me to follow him.”

That is the kind of arrogance that always estranges us from God. And the humility to listen is what always draws us near to him.

Pray: “Today, Lord, I choose. I choose to listen rather than demand. I choose to see you in the manner you reveal yourself to me instead of telling you how to work in my life. I choose to see you when your presence is not overwhelming. I choose to believe.”

 

Wednesday, April 26

Read: John 20:30-31

Consider: Before we finish John’s account of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, let’s fast forward to John’s words about why he recorded the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. 

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

It’s important for us to understand what John was saying. He didn’t say, “I wrote this to prove to you…” or even, “I wrote this to convince you…” No, he said he wrote “that you may believe.”

What does it mean to believe? In our day, people associate belief with credibility. Do you find the story credible? Do you believe its veracity? Do you think it’s accurate?

But that is not the manner in which John is using the concept of belief. To John, and to all the writers of our New Testament, and especially to Jesus, to believe something was to place your faith in it. So to believe in Jesus is to place your life in his hands. John said that he wrote about these things so that we would place our faith in the Christ—the Messiah—and in doing so, we would “have life” in him.

Yesterday we considered the fact that belief is a choice. Seldom is a person overwhelmed by evidence. We choose to place our faith in Christ based on the evidence we already have, or we choose, as Thomas did, to wait for more evidence. Of course, the irony is that when we wait for evidence it seldom arrives. But when we place our life in Christ’s life, our days are filled with the evidence of his presence, his care and his love.

Believing is seeing.

Pray: “Lord, with all the insight you have given me and all that you still have to show me, I place my life in your hands. I don’t need proof. I don’t even need more evidence. I simply need you to empower my faith and teach me to listen.”

 

Thursday, April 27

Read: John 20:24-29

Consider: Let’s get back to Thomas’ encounter with Jesus. Thomas demanded a sign. And God gave him the very sign he demanded. Thomas wanted to be overwhelmed by the evidence and Jesus did that very thing—Jesus gave him evidence that could not be denied.

Thomas then did something no one had done before. He called Jesus “God.” Later, as John wrote his gospel, he would teach us that Jesus is God (1:1), but as far as we know, Thomas was the first one to say it. And you can tell by the manner in which John relates the scene that Thomas was truly overwhelmed. But that was not what Jesus had desired for Thomas. He had desired that Thomas would believe for different reasons. He said to Thomas…

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (20:29)

“Blessed indeed are ‘those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!’ Those who ask not for miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but who find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but who know that everything coming from God must remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring.” — Romano Guardini

I love the way Guardini speaks about “a certain ultimate suspense.” That requires faith. On this side of eternity, I will never see the physical, risen Christ. I will not, as Thomas did, touch the nail scars in his hands or see the result of the spear that was thrust in his side. I will not have “proof,” so I must have faith. And because of the faith that I can exercise, Jesus said that I am blessed—blessed in a manner that Thomas and the others did not experience on that day.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of daring faith. It is a gift from you. And it is a gift that I promise to nurture and to build upon as I walk with you.”

 

Friday, April 28

Read: Colossians 2:1-9

Consider: When you read Paul’s New Testament letters, there is a word that you’ll run into from time to time—“mystery.” As he wrote to the Colossian believers, he used that word in a very specific manner. He said the “mystery of God” is “Christ” (2:2).

For many years I almost totally disregarded that word when I read Paul’s writings. I felt that the mystery had already been revealed to us, so it was no longer a mystery. There was something that I didn’t like about mystery. I wanted to be sure, to be certain, to know I was right. So I wanted to put mystery in the past and insight into the present. I felt like certainty was the hallmark of spiritual maturity. So I tried to be certain and to teach others to be certain as well.

As I look back, I now see that I was wrong. I actually had it backwards. I’ve learned that spiritual maturity can only come when we embrace the mystery, not when we try to solve it.

I think sometimes we pursue certainty because we want our faith to be validated and we want that to happen now. But that is not how mature faith works. Our faith is never fully completed. It is not stamped as valid at a certain point on our journey. Faith is dynamic. It is validated over time, challenged, stretched to new proportions, validated some more, challenged some more, then stretched some more.

If, as Paul said, Christ is the mystery, then I can embrace the mystery of God as it gradually unfolds before me. I can love Christ without fully comprehending him. He is not something to be figured out, he is someone to embrace.

Our need for certainty can rob us. It can keep us from the joy of the unfolding journey into the mystery that is Christ.

Pray: “Lord, keep me from worshipping certainty and help me to embrace the mystery. You are the gift—the mystery that unfolds before me as I love you and give myself to you. I don’t want to reduce you to a thing that I need to understand. I want to walk with you and allow you to show me how to love. Your love is what I want to know in an ever-increasing manner. So stretch my faith to new proportions as I embrace the Christ—the mystery of God.”

 

Saturday, April 29

Read: Philippians 3:10-14

Consider: This week we’ve looked at two contrasting ways of knowing. We saw Thomas who demanded evidence—“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). And then we looked at Paul—a man who had never seen Jesus in the flesh. Unlike Thomas, he didn’t get to sit on the hillside as Jesus taught the crowds. He didn’t get to watch as the multitudes were fed with only five loaves and two fish. He didn’t get to see Lazarus raised from the dead. He didn’t get to touch Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. And yet, Paul embraced Christ, who he called “the mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2).

And as Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, we hear and feel his passion as he exclaims, “I want to know Christ” (3:10). This “knowing” that Paul speaks of is a far cry from the proof that Thomas demanded.

Thomas was at the beginning of his journey when he made his demand. He was still immature in his faith. Thomas grew and became a great man of faith, laying down his life for Christ. When we read Paul’s words, we hear the heart of a more mature believer. He no longer feels the need to be right and to have Christ figured out. He has a burning desire to be one with Christ. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he had been walking with Jesus for years. We would call him a believer, a disciple, an apostle and someone who knew the Lord. And still the cry of his heart was, “I want to know Christ.”

This is how we embrace the mystery. It is not certainty we desire, it is relationship we pursue. And as we give ourselves to Christ, our confidence grows and our love flourishes. Ironically, our certainty grows as well. But it is not born of concepts and ideas. Our certainty is in the One we know will never forsake us—the One who will always love us and walk with us on this journey.

That is why Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Pray: “Lord, help me to make Paul’s prayer my prayer—‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3:10-11).”