Monday, October 31, 2016

Day 187: John 16:16-24 & Psalm 66 - When Will Our Sorrow Turn to Joy?

Today's Reading: John 16:16-24 & Psalm 66

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When Will Our Sorrow Turn to Joy?

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. - John 16:20, ESV

When will our sorrow turn to joy? We live in a fallen world of immorality and God-hating. We long to know God, but our hearts are often cold and God often seems a million miles away. The world either patronizes, mocks or condemns our faith, thinking we are either children, fools or madmen. We watch our culture spiral in its death-grip of toxicity, embracing that which kills and rejecting that which gives life. 

When will our sorrow turn to joy? "Life is not long, but it's hard," says one of my favorite Andrew Peterson songs. We struggle with sin and long to be holy, but we fall and are overcome with shame again and again. We know we are saved by the righteousness of Jesus, but we long for that righteousness to penetrate our own hearts more deeply and truly. Our faith falters. Our prayers are weak. Our doubts rise. We run back to the cross. 

Jesus told us that we would weep and lament, and we have seen how true His words were. Those three days the disciples spent in hiding and mourning feel like a parable for our lives at times. But Jesus also said that our sorrow would be turned to joy. Jesus also said that our longing would be fulfilled, that the mocking of the world would be turned on its head. Jesus also said that no one would be able to take our joy from us. But when will our sorrow be turned to joy? Only when we see Him.

Only when our eyes behold what our hearts have long desired will sorrow suddenly turn to joy. Notice that Jesus says, "Your sorrow will be turned into joy." The very sorrow of the disciples in watching their Lord hang shamefully and painfully on the cross was itself turned into joy by the resurrection. In the face of the risen Jesus, they saw the love that took Him to the cross. In the hands and feet and side of their risen Lord, they saw the scars of their salvation, and what had made them so sorrowful filled them with joy.

Like the disciples in the Upper Room on that first Lord's Day morning, we will see the risen Jesus face-to-face. And like the disciples, we will see our sorrow turn into joy. My favorite writers have captured this well: 

In the last book of the Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee (the greatest literary hero of all time), asks Gandalf, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” When Jesus comes again, we will see the reality of Gandalf's reply to Sam: "A great shadow has departed." We will no longer walk in the valley of the shadow of death, and so all of the sad things will come untrue. 

C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, writes, "[Some] say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

In the meantime, we pray and God hears and graciously answers. We long and God gives us enough glimpses of glory and relief from the sorrow to encourage our hearts and keep us walking, one step at a time. But our hearts can never be complete until we are at home with Him. Once we see that, the journey becomes less marred by our disappointments and more filled with anticipation of His glory!

Prayer Based on Psalm 66:

Let the whole earth shout for joy to You, O God!
    Let us sing the glory of Your name,
    and give to You glorious praise!
Let us say to You, “How awesome are Your deeds!
    So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You.
All the earth worships You
    and sings praises to You;
    they sing praises to Your name.”

We can see what You have done:
    You are awesome in Your deeds toward the children of man.
You turned the sea into dry land;
    Your people passed through the river on foot.
Your turned Your Son into an offering for our sin,
    Taking our shame and guilt and swallowing it all on the cross.
There do we rejoice in You,
    who rule by Your might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
    let not the rebellious exalt themselves.

Let all the people bless Your name, God;
    let the sound of Your praise be heard,
You who have kept our soul among the living
    and have not let our feet slip.

For You, O God, have tested us;
    You have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
    You laid a crushing burden on our backs;
You let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
Yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance.

I will come into Your house with an offering of thanksgiving on my lips;
    I will perform my vows to You,
that which my lips uttered
    and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to You the living sacrifice of my life,
    as my reasonable worship in response to Your powerful mercy! 

Let all who fear You come and hear,
    and I will tell them what You have done for my soul.
I cried to You with my mouth,
    and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    You, O Lord, would not have listened.
But truly You, my God, have listened;
    You have attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be You, O God,
    because You have not rejected my prayer
    or removed Your steadfast love from me!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Day 186: John 16:5-15 & Psalm 63 - How is it to our Advantage that Jesus Has Gone Away?

Today's Reading: John 16:5-15 & Psalm 63

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How is it to our Advantage that Jesus Has Gone Away?

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away . . ." 
- John 16:5-7, ESV

Wouldn't it be so amazing to walk and talk with Jesus? I have often thought how wonderful it would be to be the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, getting an personal, in-depth Bible study lesson from Jesus. How amazing that would be! Yet Jesus told His disciples, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away." Why?

Well, He tells them why right away: "for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you." The Helper is the Holy Spirit. He came in power at Pentecost and remains in all believers as our Helper. So, why is it better to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus physically present with us?

1. The Holy Spirit is able to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit prepares unbelievers for the Gospel by bringing conviction of sin, a desire for true righteousness and a fearful expectation of coming judgment. When people know they are sinners, that they need to be righteous, and that they will be judged, they are ready to receive and rest upon Jesus for salvation. Only the Holy Spirit can do that work inside someone, and He does it in everyone who truly comes to faith in Christ.

2. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. Jesus told His disciples that they were not ready to hear some of what He had to tell them. The Holy Spirit made them ready. The Holy Spirit is our patient, faithful, life-long teacher. He leads us into all truth, speaking what the Father and the Son want to reveal to us.

3. The Holy Spirit is able to work internally and universally. When Jesus was hear physically, His teaching ministry was located to audible words spoken to one limited group of people at a time. Even His closest disciples did not understand so much of what they had heard Him say again and again. The Holy Spirit can write God's word on our hearts and can do so all over the world, all at the same time.

It would be wonderful to walk with Jesus. One day, we will be with Him face-to-face. But until we're with Him in glory and sin has been completely removed, the internal guide, conviction and instruction of the Holy Spirit is better for us and for he whole church.

Prayer Based on Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek You;
    my soul thirsts for You;
my flesh faints for You,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary,
    beholding Your power and glory.
Because Your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
    in Your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied with You alone, as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips,
when I remember You upon my bed,
    and meditate on You in the watches of the night;
for You have been my help,
    and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
    Your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life,
  Satan and his minions,
    shall go down into the depths of hell;
 they shall be given over to the power of Your eternal judgment;
    condemned forever by Your righteous wrath.
But I will rejoice in You, my God;
    all who have sword allegiance to You shall exult when You come to judge!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Day 185: John 15:18 - 16:4 & Psalm 62 - Why Does the World Persecute Christians?

Today's Reading: John 15:18 - 16:4 & Psalm 62

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Why Does the World Persecute Christians? 

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. - John 15:18-19, ESV

Apparently, Dr. Eric Walsh is one of the latest victims of our culture's increasing intolerance for the Christian perspective. He was fired from a position with the Georgia Department of Health over sermons he preached on the weekends at his Seventh-Day Adventist church. Last year, Atlanta's fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, was fired from his position for publishing a Christian book. African-American Christians in public service are being fired for outspoken Christian positions on social issues in Georgia. 

Over the past few years, our culture has shifted from the language of tolerance regarding homosexual behavior and same-sex partnerships to an approach of absolute intolerance toward the Christian perspectuve on sexuality. If you agree with what God's word teaches in matters of sexual behavior, you can lose your job. You will almost certainly be called hateful names and probably have your life and safety threatened, too. 

These examples of persecution are mild compared to what many of our brothers and sisters around the world and throughout history have had to face. From the seizure of property to the burning of homes and from imprisonment to torture and death, faithful Christians often face angry and violent opposition from the world simply for believing in Christ and teaching God's word. Why?

Jesus said that no servant is above his master and that the world hates Christian because it hates Christ. But why would the world hate Christ, who came to heal, deliver and save? Because the darkness hates the light. The world was exposed for the fraudulent and evil system it really is by Jesus' perfect righteousness and holy purity. He spoke the truth and lived righteously, and for that He had to die. 

The hatred of the world does not need to cause us to fear. We have every reason for hope and peace in the face of opposition because God gives us His Holy Spirit, who testifies to us and through us. We can also rejoice in knowing that we are following in the footsteps of our Savior, and those footsteps lead to glory in the end. So let's keep following Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, testifying to His truth, come what may! 

Prayer Based on Psalm 62:

For You alone, O God, my soul waits in silence;
    from You comes my salvation.
You alone are my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will the world attack innocent men and women
    to batter them,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust them down from their position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse.

For You alone, O my God, my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from You.
You only are my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On You, my God, rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge.

Let Your people trust in You at all times, O Lord,
    pouring out our hearts before You;
    You are a refuge for us.

Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.

Once You, my God, have spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to You,
    and that to You, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For You will render to a man
    according to his work.
Have mercy on me, according to the perfect work of Jesus, my righteousness. Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Day 184: John 15:1-17 & Psalm 61 - How Do We Abide in Jesus?

Today's Reading: John 15:1-17 & Psalm 61

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How Do We Abide in Jesus?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
 - John 15:4-5, ESV

For several years, I was the Headmaster for a classical Christian school. Our Upper School was renting space in a local Baptist church that had a community feeding program on Monday nights. Different churches would take turns using their kitchen to cook up dinner for needy families. Sometimes, on Tuesday morning when I unlocked the doors of the building, I would smell the distinct odor of gas. Apparently, some of the church groups thought they needed the blow out the pilot lights on the stove when the left on Monday night. Some things are so important that we need to make sure we really understand them!.

Jesus makes it clear in John 15 that abiding in Him is one such vitally important concept to understand. He says that we cannot bear spiritual fruit unless we abide in Him, for apart from Him we can do nothing. Jesus talks about abiding in Him three times in two verses, so obviously it's a vitally important concept, but what does it mean?

To abide in Jesus means to remain, to stay or to dwell in Him. But how do we do that. Jesus gives this to us as a command: "Abide in me." So, how do we keep that comand?

Abiding in Jesus ties together much of what John has been teaching in His Gospel: 

  • In John 1:12, he told us that "to those who received him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." 
  • Jesus said, in John 6:40, "everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life."
  • In John 10, Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."  (v. 28)

So, when we receive Jesus and believe in His name, we become children of God. When we believe in the Son of God, we have eternal life. If we are the sheep of God, we will hear the voice of Jesus and follow Him. Abiding in Jesus is simply the continual living out of these things: receiving Him, believing in His name, believeing in Him, hearing His voice, following Him. 

So, how do we abide in Jesus? We trust in Jesus. We listen to Jesus. We follow Jesus. 

We trust in Jesus and not ourselves, confessing our need and helplessness and believing in Him. He is the Son of God and the Savior of sinners. More than that, He is our Savior, who has bought us and who keeps us. 

We listen to Jesus and not the world or our flesh or the devil. This means we spend time in His word, because His sheep know that they hear the sound of His voice in His word. So we spend time listening to Jesus in the Bible.

Finally, we follow Jesus, doing what He says, going where He goes, confessing our sin and returning to Him when we stray. A sheep follows the shepherd. A branch remains connected to the vine. So, too, we are Jesus' disciples only if we actually follow Him. Otherwise it's all just theory.

The bad news is that we cannot abide in Jesus by our own strength, but the good news is that the Holy Spirit causes us to abide in Him and He in us. The even better news is that the Holy Spirit causes us to bear fruit as He keeps us in Jesus. Praise God!

Prayer Based on Psalm 61:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to You
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I, the rock that is Jesus Your Son,
for You have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in Your tent forever!
    Let me take refuge under the shelter of Your wings!
For You, O God, have heard my vows;
    You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.

You have prolonged the life of King Jesus;
    so that His years endure to all generations!
He has been enthroned forever before God;
    and He appoints steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over His people!

So will I ever sing praises to Your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Day 183: John 14:15-31 & Psalm 57 - Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?

Today's Reading: John 14:15-31 & Psalm 57

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Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
 - John 14:15-17, ESV

The Holy Spirit is definitely the most mis-understood member of the Trinity. Pentecostals and charismatics have separated themselves from the rest of Christianity over differing understandings of what it means to receive the Holy Spirit or to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Average Christians seem to have a decent understanding of God the Father and Jesus Christ, but sometmes the Holy Spirit gets treated as "the Force," a nebulous, impersonal power of some sort. 

Well, Jesus taught more than anyone about the Holy Spirit, and He did not call the Spirit an impersonal force, but "another Helper" - a Comforter, a Counselor, an Advocate. This is a very personal ministry, and when Jesus calls the Spirit "another Helper," He is saying that the Holy Spirit is another one to come alongside and comfort, teach, guide and intercede, like Jesus Himself does - only the Holy Spirit does His ministry within us, while Jesus' ministry of advocacy and intercession is at the Father's right hand. Also, in order for the Holy Spirit to be "another Helper" given by the Father, just like Jesus, He, too, must be fully God.   

So, what does the Holy Spirit do as our Helper given by the Father? Well, Jesus highlights several things in today's passage:

1. He dwells with us and is in us (v. 17). The Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of God with and in believers. God is not just "up there" in heaven; because of the Holy Spirit, God abides in His children. 

2. He teaches us all things (v. 26). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and our Great Teacher. He illumines our minds to understand the truths of God, teaching us what we need to know to trust and follow the Lord. We shouldn't misunderstand Jesus here. "All things" doesn't mean everything in the world, but it means all things that we need for salvation.

3. The Holy Spirit enabled the Apostles to be able to write the New Testament accurately (v. 26). By bringing to the Apostles' remembrance all that Jesus had spoken, the Holy Spirit ensured that the Gospels would be written accurately.

We need the Holy Spirit. From elsewhere in Scripture, we know it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, grants us repentance, calls us to Christ, assures us of salvation, intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words and causes us to call God our Father. His ministry in us is nothing less than the application and realization of our redemption in Christ. So thank God for His Holy Spirit!

Prayer Based on Psalm 57:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to You, O God Most High,
    to You, my God, 
for You fulfill all of Your purpose for me.
You will send from heaven and save me;
    You will put to shame 
him who tramples on me.
You know my enemies 

and how tempted I am to believe lies 
and run after my own destruction.
You will send out Your steadfast love 
and Your faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions - the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking to devour;
    I lie down amid fiery beasts—the world and its destructing ways, my flesh and its deceptive lusts.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! 
   Let your glory be over all the earth!
My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
    Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!    Let your glory be over all the earth!     

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Day 182: John 14:1-14 & Psalm 52 - Do You Know How to Get to God's House and How to Live There Forever?

Today's Reading: John 14:1-14 & Psalm 52

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Do You Know How to Get to God's House and How to Live There Forever?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6, ESV

Do you know how to get to New York City? Do you know where it is? Do you have directions? Do you have a car that will get you there? Do you have enough money for gas and tolls? How about money for parking after you get there? If you're missing any of these things, you won't have everything you need to get to New York City.

Now, do you know how to get to God's house? Do you know what it takes to live there forever? 

In John 14, Jesus is telling His disciples of the hope of heaven: "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (v. 2) But the disciples don't seem to understand. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (v. 5)

So Jesus makes it very clear: I am the way, the truth, and the life. But what does Jesus mean by this statement? How is He each of these three things and why do we need Him to be all three in order for us to have a certain hope of heaven?

Jesus is the way. He is our access and our passage to God the Father. This is why He said, "No one comes to the Father except through me." 

Jesus is the truth. This lines up with what John said about Jesus in John 1: Jesus is the Word. The way is only reliable if it is a true and faithful way. Jesus is the way and the truth and that means that He never errs, never wavers, never fails. We can trust Jesus the Way because He is the truth.

Jesus is the life. We need not only access and passage to heaven, but we need eternal life if we're to live in God's house with God forever. Jesus is not only the true and reliable access and passage to the Father's house, but He is the life we need to live with God forever.

To get to God's house, you need Jesus and all you need is Jesus. He alone will get you to God reliably and give you His life so you can live with God forever. So, do you have the way, the truth, and the life living in you?

Prayer Based on Psalm 52:

Heavenly Father, why do men boast of evil,
    denying Your righteous and sovereign rule?
Your steadfast love endures all the day.
    The tongues of the wicked plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, these workers of deceit,
        love evil more than good,
            and lying more than speaking what is right
                because they are deceived by the father of lies.
They love all words that devour,
    and my deceitful tongue often leads me to want to join them in lies.

Forgive me, O my Father!

Mighty God, You will break all lies forever with Your truth;
    You will snatch and tear the wicked from their security;
    You will uproot Your enemies from the land of the living.
The righteous shall see and fear,
    and shall laugh at them, saying,
“See the people who would not make
    God their refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of their riches
    and sought refuge in the lies and sins that led to their own destruction!”

Father, as I meditate on this Psalm, my heart breaks for my country, our culture and the rising generation. Have mercy while there is still time! 

But I am like a green olive tree
    in Your house, O God.
I trust in Your steadfast love
   forever and ever.
I will thank You forever,
    because You have done it.
I will wait for Your name, for it is good,
    in the presence of the godly.

Hear me and strengthen my trust in You, Father, in Jesus' name, Amen!   

Friday, October 21, 2016

Day 181: John 13:36-38 & Psalm 51 - Why Don't We Really Like It When Jesus Tells Us What to Do?

Today's Reading: John 13:36-38 & Psalm 51

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Why Don't We Really Like It When Jesus Tells Us What to Do?

Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” - John 13:36-37, ESV

Have you ever been shocked by how readily Peter corrects and counters the words of Jesus? He calls Him "Lord," but Peter tells Jesus that He will not have to go to the cross. He tries to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Here, he now is questioning Jesus as to why Peter can't follow Him now, even though Peter has no real idea where Jesus is going.

Let's not be too quick to condemn Peter, though. We're just like him. How often to we dislike, distrust or flat out disobey what Jesus tells us to do? God asks us to tithe and we give God whatever money is left over from our bills and our spening on our personal pleasures. God asks us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy and we grumble about getting up in the morning to go to church, then we forget about God the rest of the day. God asks us to honor marriage and to protect the purity of the marriage bed, and we defile marriage with various forms of unfaithfulness and a divorce rate that is nearly as high in the church as it is in the world. 

Well, perhaps you feel pretty good about how you're doing in these areas. Maybe you think, "I tithe. I honor the Lord's Day. I am faithful to me spouse. What's wrong with these other Christians?" Or perhaps, you know you're not doing well in these areas and you're thinking, "This is such a legalistic and narrow-minded and arrogant standard!" In both of these cases, have we forgotten that Jesus did indeed say, "Judge not, that you not be judged." Or have we forgotten the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? Let's not be too quick to condemn Peter or each other!

Instead, let's take a deep breath, pray and examine our own hearts before the Lord. If we know our own hearts, can we confess to the Lord that we do indeed resist Him when He tells us what is true and what we must do? Can we confess that we often say, "Lord, but . . ."?  

Why do we do this?

The reason why we as believers don't like it when Jesus tells us what to do is the same reason why non-believers deny God or deny Christ: We want to be in charge of our own lives. We want to be our own masters, and yet we confess Christ Jesus as Lord. So, an inherent conflict emerges again and again: Either Jesus will rule our lives or we will rule our own lives. It cannot be both. 

I can't speak for you, but I know that I've always regretted it when I've told the Lord that I will do things my way. When I've turned aside from the way He walks and calls me to walk to go my own way, I alway end up in trouble and facing regret and shame. I need to see the root issue and confess my self-entitiled heart.

Jesus was absolutely correct in His prediction of Peter's actions. He was right when He told Peter that he could not follow Him now. Jesus is always right. That's part of why He's the Lord and we're not. So let's own up to the foolishness of our own hearts, and let's confess that to the Lord and ask for the grace to submit to His gracious Lordship. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that You are justified in your words
    and blameless in Your judgment.
Behold, I have been sinful from the very beginning of my life,
    even from conception and borth, I have been wayward.
Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being,
    and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with the blood of Your Son, Jesus, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
    and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
    and sinners will return to You.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare Your praise.
For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    You will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
Christ has already offered the pergfect sacrifrice for my sins,
   And I cannot atone for my iniquity.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Do good to Your people in Your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Your kingdom, secure in Your word and Your Son;
then will You delight in right sacrifices,
    the living sacrifices of Your people's whole lives,
    the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips giving thanks to Your name.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 180: John 13:21-35 & Psalm 47 - How Will the World Recognize the Disciples of Jesus?

Today's Reading: John 13:21-35 & Psalm 47

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How Will the World Recognize the Disciples of Jesus?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - John 13:34-35, ESV

If you're around my age, reading the title of this devotional and the Scripture passage above will cue music in your mind: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they'lll know we are Christians by our love." 

Sadly, we see many people in the world who wear the name of Christian and who show very little love. In our own lives, we are painfully aware of how often we fall far short of Jesus' perfect love standard. So, how can we understand this teaching of Jesus without sliding into a self-righteous bout of judgmentalism or a self-pitying/self-condemning guilt trip?

First of all, let's notice that Jesus says, "just as I have loved you." The key to being able to love like Jesus begins with being loved by Jesus. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first loved us." We need to understand the free, full, forgiving, cleansing, reconciling love of Jesus for us, despite our sin, our shame, our guilt and our faithlessness. 

For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:6-8, ESV

Secondly, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us. More than anything else, this means that we are committed to each other and willing to sacrifice for each, not based on deservedness but based on need. In other words, when I look at my brother or sister in Christ, my love mindset should be focused on his or her need and how I can meet it, not on his own her merits and whether or not they are sufficient to deserve my compassion or my action. 

We spend far too much time judging and condemning each other in our minds, often for things that are not even biblical standards - politics, school choices, clothing, personality traits, etc. I'm convinced that one of the main fuels driving such judgmentalism is our own sense of shame and inadequacy. Because we feel unworthy, we love dragging others down with us. Thus, we must return to "as I have loved you."

Bottom line: We can never give what we have not received, and we can never give more than we've received. We need to let Jesus love people through us with His love, a love that meets needs and does what needs to be done because it needs to be done. When we are loved by Jesus and let Him love others through us, we show the world clearly what Jesus' love looks like.  

Prayer Based on Psalm 47:

Lord, let all peoples clap their hands!
    Let them shout to You with loud songs of joy!
For You, Lord, the Most High, are to be feared,
    as You are the great King over all the earth.

You alone have subdued our enemies under us,
    and nations under the feet of Jesus.
You chose our inheritance for us,
    kept in heaven by Christ our King!

You, O Lord Jesus, have gone up with a shout of victory,
    with the sound of a trumpet,
         You have been welcomed and seated in the heavenly places.

Let us sing praises to You, O God!
    Let us sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For You, O God, are the King of all the earth;
    let us sing Your praises with a psalm!

You reign over the nations;
    You sit on Your holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
    as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to You, O God;

    You are highly exalted!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Day 179: John 13:1-20 & Psalm 46 - Why Did Jesus Wash His Disciples' Feet?

Today's reading: John 13:1-20 & Psalm 46

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Why Did Jesus Wash His Disciples' Feet?

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him,“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 
- John 13:6-8, ESV

Why would the Lord of the Universe stoop to the position of a lowly household slave and wash His disciples' feet? What was He hoping to teach or demonstrate or accomplish in this unusually humiliating act? 

First of all, we do need to see how humbling this act was for Jesus to do. Peter was fully justified in being scandalized by His Lord's behavior. The disciples had gathered for the Passover meal and not one of them volunteered the wash the feet of the company. This work was below the dignity of a disciple; only the lowest household slave should be asked to do this necessary work. 

John the Baptist had demonstrated his own humility and the greatness of Christ when he said, "Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." (John 1:26-27) John declared that Jesus was so much greater than he was that John was not worthy to do the work of a household slave for Him. The honor of being able to wash the feet of the Savior was too high an honor for John to imagine being able to do. Yet here was the Lord Himself taking this position of most humble service to His unworthy disciples.

So, why did He do it?

1. It needed to be done. Before the disciples could recline at table to enjoy their meal, lying on pillows around a low table, their dirsty feet- caked with mud and animal droppings from the streets- had to be cleaned. Jesus was showing them that love means doing what needs to be done, even if it seems below you or "not your job" to do it.

2. Jesus wanted to show the disciples that they needed cleansing. This wasn't just about washing feet. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that they needed cleansing and they needed Jesus to cleanse them. When He said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” He wasn't talking about feet.

3. Jesus wanted to show that His cleansing of His people would only come through His being stripped and humiliated. When He washed His disciples' feet, Jesus stripped off His outer garments and tied a towel around His waist. This was a foreshadowing of what he would endure the next day, when He would be stripped and beated and humiliated publicly in order to cleanse His people.

4. Jesus was demonstrating how to love and how to lead. In Jesus' kingdom, love is never cheap and leadership can never be self-promoting. He was setting an example for His disciples. The kingdom model of Jesus is one of lowering yourself for the sake of others. 

Our Lord was willing not only to wash the filthy feet of His selfish and sometimes clueless disciples, but He was willing to go to the cross for you and for me. He was willing to stoop to the lowest possible depth in order to raise us with Himself to the highest height. He did it because it needed to be done and because He loved us that much. Washing feet was a sign of that love and lesson for us to learn, about how to love one another like Jesus. Will we learn the lesson? 

Prayer Based on Psalm 46:

Lord God, You are our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river, even Your Holy Spirit,
whose streams make glad the city of God,
    Your church, the holy habitation of the Most High.
You are in the midst of us;
by Your gracious presence, we shall not be moved;
    You, our God, will help us when morning dawns,
at just the right time.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    You utters Your voice, the earth melts.
You, O Lord of hosts, Commander of the armies of heaven,
are always with us;
    You, the God of Jacob, are our fortress.

When Jesus returns again and ushers in Your glorious kingdom on earth,
we will behold the works of the Lord.
You will make wars cease to the end of the earth;
    You will break the bow and shatter the spear;
    You will burn the chariots with fire.
All the weapons of the world will be worthless before You and You will speak:
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

O Lord of hosts, Commander of the armies of heaven, You are always with us;
    You, God of Jacob, are our fortress.
We rest secure only in You!
In Jesus' name, Amen.