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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jesus Talks About the Mysteries of His Death

Jesus Talks about the Mysteries of His Death


Jesus knew that his death was near and He was dreading the pain and suffering that He would soon have to endure.  Shortly before Jesus’ death, a group of Greeks found Philip and told him that they wanted to see Jesus.  (John 12:22)  Philip ran and got Andrew and they both found Jesus and told him that these Greeks wanted to see Him.  When Jesus heard this He answered by talking about his death.   This is His answer:  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….” (John 12: 23)  Why would Jesus answer that the time is near for Him to die when He hears that a group of Greeks want to meet Him?  Are these two events linked together somehow?


Some Bible scholars believe that what Jesus was saying was, “These Greeks coming to meet Me are a sign that the hour of my death is near.”  Jesus foresees that his death will drastically change the world spiritually.  The conversion of so many of the Gentiles (the Greeks are Gentiles) soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection was part of those changes. And perhaps these Greeks wanting to see Him just before His death was the very beginning of something new.  These were the first Greeks being drawn to Jesus, with many more to follow.  The Age of Law was coming to a close and Jesus death was ushering in the Age of Grace!


Up until this time Israel was the only nation in the ancient world that knew God’s Word and the Jews were the only people looking for their Messiah or Savior.  Many of the other nations were idol worshippers, who sacrificed their children to their gods in exchange for good crops, etc.  Some worshipped the sun god and none of the Gentile nations were looking for a savior.  But that all changed with Jesus’ death and resurrection!


 One of the mysteries of Jesus’ death is that now people from every nation would be drawn to the Savior.  Jesus says: “If I (Jesus) be lifted up (crucified on a cross) I will draw all people unto Myself.”  (John 12:32)  After Jesus’ death and resurrection a spiritual door was opened wide to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and billions of Gentiles down through the centuries have been drawn to Him and Christianity has spread around the world.


Another comment Jesus made about His death was this: “Now is the judgment of this world: now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”(John 12:31)  Jesus’ death broke the power of sin.  Scripture says that the physical world of nature reacted when Jesus was dying.  That the sun was darkened during the last hours of Jesus’ death.  And at the moment when Jesus said “It is finished” and breathed His last breath and died, there was an earthquake and rocks crashed to the ground and the veil of the temple was torn in half.  (Matthew 27:5)  God’s presence was alive in the temple in the Holy of Holies and the veil hung in front of the Holy of Holies, keeping the sinful person away from the presence of a Holy God.  Now after Jesus’ death, the follower’s sins were taken away and there was no more separation between God and the person coming to Him through Jesus.  He was covered in Jesus’ righteousness.  No more need to keep man at a distance from his God.  Christ has reconciled the world to God. The cross would seem to be Satan’s triumph but in fact, it was his defeat.  Out of the Jesus’ death would flow the greatest good ever to come to the world.   


When Jesus said that He (the Son of Man) would soon be “glorified”, He was talking about his death. We don’t think of Jesus as being “glorified” when He was dying. But it was through His dying that He saves us from our sins and ushers us into eternal life.  He continued talking about the mysteries of his death and this is what He said: “Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24)  


Christ is saying that His death is necessary.  A seed will remain a seed – nice and intact – if it remains above ground, dry and protected!  It must be planted in the ground where invisible forces inside the seed melt away the protective shell and break the insides of the seed apart.  The seed will never sprout and grow and multiply into roots and shoots and branches and leaves and fruit unless it “dies” or is broken apart and is no longer a seed.  And that is the same with Jesus and his death.  And with us too as we follow in His footsteps.


 Jesus would never have been the living quickening Head of the Church if He had not come down from heaven and died on the cross and accomplished our salvation.  He must first pour out His soul in death in order to reach out across the earth with the living roots and branches and trunk of eternal life and the leaves and fruits of healing and salvation for all in every nation who would partake.


Jesus went on talking to Philip and Andrew and perhaps to the Greeks nearby.  He said: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:25)   I believe Jesus is telling us not to hold onto the things of this world very tightly. This world is not our home, we are just passing through.  We are children of another world now.  If we collect a lot of baggage here on earth – our reputation, the control we have over others, money- then it may become harder to put God first – to follow Him as we struggle on under the extra weight.  Christ calls us to travel light.   


 We are never forced to follow Jesus, but we are gently wooed and drawn by Jesus to follow after Him. It’s our decision whether we accept His invitation or reject it.  Jesus said: “Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there will my servants be also.  Whoever serves Me, the Father will honor.”  (John 12:26)


And when we follow Jesus, He leads us in His footsteps – to the cross and to the grave and on to victory and eternal life.  He tells us that “because He lives, we shall live also.”  (John 14:19)  Just as the seed sprouts into a fruitful plant when it breaks apart in the ground and “dies”, we also will sprout and grow and bear much fruit.   Scripture tells us: “So when your perishable body shall be covered with an imperishable body, and your corruptible body shall put on an incorruptible body, then the saying will come to pass that Death is swallowed up in Victory.”  (1 Corinthians 15:54)   We can’t even begin to imagine what that will be like!  




Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dealing with Criticism

Dealing with Criticism


If you believe in Jesus, the joy of the Lord is inside of you. God gives us His joy to counteract troubles along life’s way. Joy is one of the gifts the Holy Spirit brings along for us when He comes into our lives. And we need to learn to unwrap this joy gift and take it out and use it to win over the depression we may feel when we are judged or criticized unfairly. 


Many years ago we were judged and ostracized by a large group.  This group of Christians that my husband and I considered “family” gradually one by one quit speaking to us. With our world collapsing, we tried to ask what the problem was, but no one would tell. What had we done to offend?  Could we clear up a misunderstanding?  Everyone seemed to know something that we didn’t know and no one would tell us what it was.  We seemed to be up against a stone wall of silence.


Time passed and we never learned why we had been rejected.  Never learned what these people who had been our friends were saying about us.  Never could figure out what we had done to be disrespected! The painful incident left us in a fog, feeling like something must be wrong with us that we were unaware of.    


 My husband was big enough to put those trying times behind him and move on.  But since the question of why it happened was never answered in my mind, I never completely let it go.  There was always a piece of the puzzle missing.  If I could find that missing piece, or find the reason we were treated so badly, then I could have “closure” and move on, so I reasoned. Years passed and the other day I started thinking about it again and trying again to figure out why.  But then right away a Bible verse popped into my mind.    


I sensed that the Lord was speaking to me through this Scripture verse.  And here it is: “Do not remember the former things: neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs forth: do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness and give you rivers in the desert.”  (Isaiah 42:9)  And another passage from Paul: “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  (Philippians 3:13)   I believe the Lord was telling me to give my unanswered questions to Him and forget them and forget our past problem and go out and enjoy today.  To live in the present.   


We will all face criticisms and judgments – stone walls that we can’t get around no matter how hard we try.  Satan wants to mire us down in guilt.  Keep telling us there is something wrong with us.  Scripture says that Satan is our accuser. (Revelations 12:10)   But God promises to be with us and make us what we need to be to accomplish good things.  Scripture says: “”Cast all your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you.  Be self- controlled and alert for your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings as you are.”  (1 Peter 5:7-9)  


God’s plan for us is for us to enjoy life. But sometimes we will have work to do to make that happen. Deal with the first phases of depression at the onset!  Pray and give every problem to God.  God has given us the gift of joy and we must not let the devil steal our joy.  We can bask in Christ’s love and recognize our great worth in Him and not allow others to drag us down and make us feel worthless.  They will be there to try so we need to be ready.  Otherwise we can be pulled into the undertow of false shame and worthlessness.  Even when we have made a mistake, let’s not beat ourselves up for something that God has forgiven us for.  (Acts 10:15)


We can be humble enough to accept constructive criticism but not give our power away to people whose criticism is unfounded.  Be extra careful and guard our hearts when we are with hurtful people.  Refuse to accept their put downs and refuse to play their game by returning put downs.  Sometimes we will be criticized because we don’t agree with another person on an issue.  If we can’t agree to disagree and we can’t change our minds, then we may have to pay the price of being criticized or rejected by the other person.  There is often a price to pay for sticking with our convictions.  


  Jesus sometimes didn’t say anything when he was asked insulting questions.   Scripture says: “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap decay and ruin but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  (Galatians 6:8)  I think the Lord is telling us here not to return criticism for criticism.  Not to play the world’s game but follow the leading of the Spirit. – not always easy.  As Scripture says: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)  


When we are attacked we should pray and not hold on to anger.  Forgive and forget so that we can continue a loving and joyful life.  Joy is infectious so we can spread it around. God will do a new thing in our lives but we must save our energies for that.  God always has something fresh.  Scripture says: “His compassions and mercies never fail.  They are new every morning.”  (Lamentations 3:22-23)  God is always giving us new gifts!  New strength and new mercies for each new day!  We can be joyful about that!


God instructs us to be filled with joy and to rejoice.  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  (Philippians 4:4)  There is power in rejoicing.  Once when Paul and Silas were in prison they started praying and praising and singing to God and suddenly there was an earthquake and the foundations of the prison were shaken so that the prison doors flew open.”  (Acts 16:25-26)  The same power that opened prison doors for Paul and Silas is there for us today.  When we feel imprisoned with disappointment we can rejoice in God and praise Him.  The Lord fights our battles for us when we trust and praise Him. (2 Chronicles 20:17-22) 


Scripture tells us that we have a river of life flowing out of us!  Jesus said: “Whoever believes in Me, out of him/her will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:38)   We have joy and peace inside us and faith and love, longsuffering and gentleness and self-control!  Let’s not keep this life giving water locked up inside by a dam of resentment or anger.  Clear the bad feelings out with forgiveness and get this life giving river flowing again!


And last but not least, if we have done all we can to create peace then let us stop worrying about the person who seems to hate us and wait for God to take care of things.  He is capable of taking care of everything.  There will be victory in the end, we have that assurance.  Scripture says: “Why are you cast down, O my inner self?  And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me?  Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  (Psalm 42:5)  It doesn’t get any better than that! 


Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, Straight Talk. 


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Are You Open to the Holy Spirits' Guidance?

Are You Open to the Holy Spirits’ Guidance?


Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his followers.   As He was going back up to heaven He promised that He would not leave them as orphans but would give them (and us) His Spirit.  And He did.  Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit into each follower’s life caused a great change in His followers. The abrupt transition of Jesus’ disciples and followers from disillusioned and defeated men and women at Jesus’ crucifixion to triumphant and jubilant men and women after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit has been considered an enigma of the Church and a historical phenomenon!  Those looking on could not understand!


When Jesus was crucified the disciples all ran away leaving Jesus alone and denied even knowing Him.  But after the resurrection and Jesus’ victory over death, these frightened men were no longer afraid to follow Jesus even if it meant to the death. And then when they were given the Holy Spirit they were transformed and changed into men and women who were on fire for Christ.  They went out boldly and enthusiastically preaching the gospel and healing the sick and feeding the hungry and loving one another without holding anything back.  And nearly all of the twelve disciples who had once run away from Jesus in his hour of need eventually willingly died as martyrs for their faith in Him. 


After the Holy Spirit swept in like the wind and fell as tongues of fire onto each of the followers of Jesus in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2) the lives of these men and women were never the same again!  One of the first things Jesus’ followers did after receiving the Holy Spirit was to come together and become the Church.  And the main hallmark of that first early Church was love. 


These first followers of Jesus loved one another and were family to one another.  Scripture says: “All of the believers were together and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:44-47)   


Thousands of people in Jerusalem became Christians and joined this very first Christian Church because everyone could see the great love that these followers of Christ had for each other and the way they took care of one another and how they also cared for the poor. Miracles and healings followed them wherever they went. If Christ’s Church could put away all of their criticisms and love like that today, how many souls would be drawn to Christ we can only imagine!


The Spirit gives the ability to preach and teach to some of Christ’s followers and to others the power to heal and do miraculous deeds, and speak in tongues.  If everyone was given the gift of preaching and no one was given the gift to help out or do the bookkeeping or manage the affairs of the church or visit the sick or lead the praise and music or build and maintain the building, we would not be able to function.  With differing gifts we can all fit together and form the Church!   And the Holy Spirit is behind it all!


So one of the first things God did through the Holy Spirit was to put all of these individual followers of Christ into one body which we call the “Church”.  Scripture records: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free – all have been made to drink into one Spirit.”  (1 Corinthians 12:13)  The Holy Spirit baptizes each one of us into the body of Christ.  It is a mystery how He puts us all together into one family making us brothers and sisters in Christ. 


Scripture says that the Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift or two as He sees fit so that we can do good works in the body of Christ.  Some receive the gift of teaching and some prophecy and others healing or the word of knowledge.  “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”  (1 Corinthians 12:11)  What gift or gifts has He given you?   If you lack some ability you can ask and God will give you what you need to make a good life. The Spirit is also there to comfort you, teach you, lead you, and work miracles through you.  It’s exciting to live life in the Spirit.


Of course we need to be open to the leading of the Spirit in our lives and not push Him away.  He will give you nudges and guide you where you should be going.  Recently our local news station reported an incident that I believe illustrates this point about the Holy Spirit nudging people.  First we see the faces of two of the firemen on the local news as they describe what happened through their tears. 


The story goes like this. Two weeks ago we had a winter storm here in Texas and a young mother with her baby girl is driving at night through the snow storm over a bridge when her car careens off the road and rolls down into the raging river below. The car lands upside down in the dark icy waters trapping the mother and baby in the car under frigid waters in the raging storm.  No one sees the car plunge into the river so it remains there all night long.


It is sleeting the next morning but someone finally sees the car in the river and calls emergency. Firemen arrive on the scene and find that the car is almost completely submerged under the freezing waters.  It is dangerous to even reach the car but several firemen make it.  They pull the lifeless body of the young woman out of the car and not seeing anyone else inside, they leave.  An icy river is rushing through the inside of the car and no one could survive long under those circumstances.


 But as they are leaving the scene one of the fireman hears a voice inside his head crying out, “Help me! Help me!”  And he feels an urge to go back to the car one more time. The other firemen argue that it is dangerous and difficult to swim through the freezing waters again to the submerged car.  And anyway they have already checked it out and didn’t see anyone else.   But then a second fireman hears the voice inside his head crying, “Help me!  Help me!” 


The firemen swim back through the icy waters and this time they see the baby girl in the back of the submerged car in her car seat, hanging upside down just inches above the rushing icy waters.  She is barely alive but her tiny eyes open as the men unhook her from her car seat and gently carry her to safety.  The baby had been hanging upside down over the rushing water for twelve hours before the firemen showed up.  She was rushed to a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas and is making a full recovery now.  The firemen cried as they told this story! 


Where did the nudge the fireman got come from?  And whose voice did the firemen hear crying out, “Help me! Help me!”?   I believe it was the nudge and voice of the Holy Spirit guiding them back to the baby girl.  More than several times in my life I have been strongly nudged to do something or pray for someone and I feel that these nudges have been from the Holy Spirit.  And I believe that I would have been used more to do God’s work if I had been more open to listen for the Spirit’s voice. 


You and I have been guided and nudged throughout our lives by the voice of the Holy Spirit who is with us if we are believers. Let us be more open to listening for the Spirit’s still small voice in our lives guiding us and teaching us and empowering us to do God’s work.  Let us be ready for whatever the Spirit sends our way.  If we will open ourselves to His guidance, like those first followers of Christ did, our lives will never be the same again!   















Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where There Is Injury, Let Me Sow Pardon

Where There Is Injury, Let Me Sow Pardon


You may have heard the Prayer of St. Francis which starts out this way: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon.”  The words of this famous prayer sound good - but they are not easy to follow. 

God calls on his children (us) to forgive – to return hatred with love and to respond to injury by pardoning.  To turn the other cheek. None of us will be able to obey God’s command to forgive on our own!  When there is serious injury we are not strong enough by ourselves to forgive all the way.  God is asking more of us than we are capable of doing!

So what can we do?  Scripture says that God will not leave us alone to work things out by ourselves.  Not when it comes to forgiveness or any other job we need to do. God gives us a Helper – the Holy Spirit - to move us along!  The Holy Spirit gives us the strength and the love and the joy to be able to obey this command to forgive!  That is – if we will let Him!  He doesn’t force us to follow the Lord and we can grieve Him when we ignore Him in our lives.  (Ephesians 4:30)  But the Holy Spirit is here with us to give us the unction and the power to do anything that we need to do!  - Anything!


When Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to all believers He said: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Holy Spirit of Truth … He is with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. “(John 14:16, 17b, 18)   Jesus promises that we don’t have to go through life figuring things out by ourselves.  He will not leave us as orphans. (without family and support) We are baptized into God’s family through the Holy Spirit.  And God will give us the Holy Spirit to guide us along the way and open doors and give us the power to follow Christ and whisper truths into our ears!


 What a blessing it is to have this wonderful Holy Spirit in our lives!  And how does having the Spirit in our lives change things?  If we let the Spirit into all of the areas of our life it will be quite different than if we hold Him away at arms’ length. Jesus compares our life in the Spirit to the “wind” since you can hear the sound of the wind but you can’t always tell where it is coming from.  (John 3:5-8)  I think Jesus is saying here that our life in the Spirit is a marvelous mystery.  And we get hints in Scripture as to how exciting this mystery of life in the Spirit can be.  One such Scripture hints that the Spirit brings us gifts of clothing and maybe jewelry to wear.  Gifts that will change the way we look – and will change us!


A passage in Scripture (Colossians 3:12-17) states that we have been given spiritual “clothes”.  And we are asked to put these clothes on!  “…Dearly beloved, dress yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience and love” (Colossians 3:12)   The many pieces of spiritual “clothing” sound like they are the same as the many fruits of the Spirit that the Holy Spirit brings when He comes into our lives.  Scripture says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. “ (Galatians 5:22-23a)


 You get the feeling that when you put a piece of clothing on, it magically influences you!  When you take “kindness” out of the closet and pull it over your head and cover your body with it, you find yourself becoming kinder.  And when you wrap the shawl of “gentleness” around your shoulders, you seem to morph into a gentler person.  We put kindness on by being willing to open ourselves to kindness – by praying for help in being a kinder person – by trying to be kind.  And the Spirit magically does the rest for us!  And we put the other clothing items on the same way.   You become what you put on!  It’s a mystery how it all happens because it’s a “Spirit” thing!


The passage in Colossians instructs us to put on each piece of clothing that we have been given: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  And then we are instructed to put “love” over all of these to bind them all together.  “And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. “ (Colossians 4:14)  We have been miraculously given all of these clothes to wear as we face the joys and trials of life.  And of course we need to wear spiritual clothing when we face the trial of forgiving someone who has injured or hurt us!  Being covered in the Spirit’s coat of love will surely be a help when we are facing someone who has injured us or insulted us or rejected us.  Someone God is asking us to forgive.


What do I wear when I show up for Injury?  Sometimes I wear the clothing the Spirit has given me when I meet the person who has hurt me.  But I have some of my own clothing in my closet as well.  Sometimes I push the Spirit’s clothing aside and wear my own.  I have been known to wear a grudge when I have been hurt.  My “grudge” shirt is made of armor with chains and guns and ugly messages dropping out from the pockets causing even further hurt and injury.  There is no pardoning when I’m wearing this get up.   


I have another outfit I often like to wear to Injury and it is my “self-righteous” dress with a tinge of “martyr” around the edges.   A regal elegant dress with words woven into the pure lily white cloth.  The words say, “Look at all I have done for you, and this is the way you are treating poor me!”  Or “I am so good and you are so bad!”  I always feel better than the other person when I wear this fancy dress and there is no pardoning.  


 And then another outfit in my closet is my “guilt and shame” outfit.  This shirt has Velcro fasteners that are uncomfortable and a chainmail back that creaks and clanks and rubs blisters on my back when I wear it.  The message, “You are guilty” flashes in yellow on the front of the shirt and “Shame on You” neon lights shine out from the back.  Misery drips around on the ground under me wherever I go wearing my “guilt and shame” shirt and there is no pardoning when I show up wearing this.


But when I leave my own outfits in the closet and pick the clothing the Spirit has for me, it is all different!  Then I show up for Injury in a light weight, free flowing comfortable dress that gently flows in the breeze.  And I seem free to be able to flow to places I couldn’t go before, like the wind I can rise with wings to heights in this dress, free and easy and even with loving and forgiving feelings in my heart.  Then when I show up for Injury in the Spirit’s clothes, the person who I am upset with and I can find a path and work our way to pardon and to peace.  


What do you wear when you show up for Injury?   All these outfits are hanging in your closet too?  


 Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Reverend Tim Bruster’s sermon on March 1, 2015 at the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth, TX.