Monday, June 17—Saturday, June 22

This week we’re looking at some post-Pentecost passages from the Book of Acts. After the birthdate of the church—that day when the Holy Spirit made our flesh the Body of Christ (Acts 2)—those early believers had to learn how to live this new life. We can learn a great deal from their experiences.

 

Monday, June 17

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13

Consider: In the middle of Paul’s letter to a very troubled and divided church, he said, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). What follows is the great, majestic and practical wisdom of 1 Corinthians 13. The “most excellent way” that Paul is pointing to is love. Not sentimental love, but agape-lay-down-your-lives-for-one-another love.

In recent years, segments of the North American church (perhaps small segments that are amplified through social media) have been hurling words like “heresy” and “heretic” at other believers. I’ve been deeply saddened to see well-meaning people become so worried about doctrinal matters that they forget to love their sisters and brothers with whom they disagree on some points of doctrine. In their zeal for truth they have neglected the greatest truth. A few years ago, I encountered some words, written several decades ago, that spoke to this problem. In reference to 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, our brother, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said…

‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels…’ This is a possibility with which we had not reckoned: that even our holiest words can become unholy, godless, common, if they do not have heart, if they do not have love…

‘And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and knowledge…’ If I knew why I must travel this path and why others must travel that path, if I could perceive even here and now the dark ways of God—would that not be blessedness?

Perception, knowledge, and truth without love are nothing. They are not truth, for truth is God, and God is love. Therefore, truth without love is a lie.”

Pray: “Lord, I submit myself to you to be taught by you. Daily, hourly—even minute by minute—teach me how to walk in ‘the most excellent way.’ Without you it is impossible. With you all things are possible.”

 

Tuesday, June 18

Read: Acts 3:1-10

Consider: What do you want? What do you need? Sometimes those are easy questions to answer. There are times when we know that we need money, or peace of mind, or healing, or a change in our circumstances. There are times when we are painfully aware of our need for wisdom and guidance.

But there are other times when what we are asking for may not be what God wants to give us. So was the case of the man that Peter and John encountered on their way to the temple for worship. The man was certain, straight-forward, when it came to his need — “he asked them for money” (3:3).

When he went to sit outside the temple gate called Beautiful, he was simply hoping to collect a small sum of money in order to feed himself. It never occurred to him (how could it?) that something much greater was coming his way. Even if he could have conceived of gaining something he never had, he would not have dared to desire it or expect it. But that is precisely what God gave him—something more. He ended his day “walking and jumping, and praising God” (3:8).

Could it be that in the days ahead God wants to do more than we imagined? Perhaps a change in our circumstances is not always the lead item on his list for us. Perhaps what he wants to do to us and in us is much more important to him.

We can only pray according to our knowledge and according to the discernment he gives us. But don’t be surprised if God surpasses your greatest expectations. Don’t be surprised if your prayers are answered in ways you never expected and in a manner that exceeds your perceptions of what you need.

Pray: Thank the Lord that he has said, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Thank him for his plans for you.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory…” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

Wednesday, June 19

Read: Acts 3:1-8

Consider: What have you got? That may be a more difficult question to answer than the one we asked yesterday. God has given us so many things—talents, abilities, passions, time, energy, creativity and a variety of resources. But so often it is easier to see what we don’t have than it is to recognize what God has given us. We think we don’t have enough time. We think we’re not smart enough or skilled enough. We think that our abilities and our resources never match our challenges.

Peter was quick to say what he did not have — “Silver or gold I do not have…” Thankfully, he didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “but what I have I give you.” And what he had was amazing. Call it power, call it faith, call it what you will. But it is obvious that Peter had the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and in the life of the community of which he was a part. You have the same things.

I’ve never grabbed the hands of people who could not walk, pulled them to their feet and watched them dance. I’ve never displayed power that filled people with “wonder and amazement” (3:10). At least I never have on my own. But I’ve been privileged to be part of a body of believers that has been amazed at what Christ can do through us to touch hurting people. To watch God work through his people is humbling and amazing.

What have you got? A lot more than you think.

Pray: “Lord, you have made me part of the Body of Christ. As I draw closer to the body, use me—but more importantly, use us—to do all that you want to do. Thank you for all that you have given us.”

 

Thursday, June 20

Read: Acts 2:42-47

Consider: Luke ended his account of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) by telling us that “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Immediately following those words is a brief description of the life those three thousand began to share—and sharing was at the center of that life.

The New Testament word is “koinonia” and a form of it is used twice in that passage.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (2:42)

“All the believers were together and had everything in common (koina).” (2:44)

The Greek word for “fellowship” comes from a root word meaning “common.” And that is how the earliest believers chose to live. They chose to share life and have “everything in common.”

There was no time to form an organization, elect officers, create bylaws and implement a structure. There were no speeches and no one making decisions about how they should structure their lives. But organically they chose to live life together. How did that happen?

I believe it happened under the leadership and anointing of the Holy Spirit. God’s desire was that the church would be the Body of Christ. A body can only survive in interdependency. To be filled with the Holy Spirit meant that they would live their lives in concert with one another. It only made sense.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the Body of Christ. Ask him to help you, in this day of individualism, to see more clearly his desire for his body. Ask him to show you your part in making the body strong and in helping it become all that God wants it to be.

 

Friday, June 21

Read: Acts 2:42-47

Consider: Six simple verses describe what three thousand people did under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—they lived in community, they lived in fellowship and they lived a common life. And what was the result?

“The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (2:47)

It was an example, in flesh and blood, of what happens when God’s people incarnate Jesus. When we become the hands and feet of Christ, we cannot be a closed society. Rather, we open the Jesus message up to the world. They don’t just hear about Jesus. They see Jesus at work. And in seeing Jesus work through his people, they see love that transcends our differences. Those who have been shut out are invited in. Those who have been shunned are embraced. Those who feel unloved see that they have ultimate worth.

In laying down their lives for one another, those early believers truly became “witnesses” in Jerusalem (1:8). Their individual lives and their life together bore witness to the presence and love of God. Everyone was invited to the table.

Pray: “Lord, I want you to be incarnated—en-fleshed—in me. I want your Spirit to live in me, teaching me how to be part of your body. My part may seem small, but I know it is vital. Show me how to incarnate your love for this world as part of the beautiful Body of Christ. And thank you for including me in this high calling.”

 

Saturday, June 22

Read: Acts 4:32-37

Consider: In today’s reading, and in the passage that we’ve read over the past two days (Acts 2:42-47), we find some amazing descriptions of those early days in the church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (2:44)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (4:32)

But perhaps what is most amazing is…

“There were no needy persons among them.” (4:34)

Most of those early believers were very poor. In turning to Christ, some had lost their source of income as employers and family members rejected them. Also, there was a large number of widows among the Jerusalem believers (6:1)—widows who had no financial resources of their own. Yet, somehow, this body of believers cared for one another to such an extent that Luke reported that all their material needs were being met. How was that possible? What sparked that level of generosity?

The secret is found in 4:32 — “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” This conviction was a foundational truth that informed their lives and empowered them in the practical, day-by-day life of love. God owns all things. My house, my car, my clothes, my financial resources—even the air that I breathe—are all on loan from God. He is the owner. So, I’m tasked with the responsibility to use his resources in a manner that honors him, brings dignity to all his people, and protects his creation.

If we see this as a burden, we’re missing the point. This kind of humility and abandonment to love brings liberation beyond what most people ever imagine. Whenever I lose sight of my proper relationship to the material world, I consider Paul’s description of believers as those “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Pray: Meditate on the idea of owning nothing but possessing everything. Then thank the Lord for all the beautiful things he has placed in your life. Ask him to guide you in honoring him with how you handle the time, the resources and the passions he has entrusted to you.

Mystery and Trinity

As we leave the season known as Eastertide, we expand our praise as we allow God to expand us. This is the week between Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday. Throughout the season of Easter, we celebrated the risen Christ. On Pentecost, we remembered that God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit—dwells in us. And this coming Sunday, we will stand in awe of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Monday, June 10

Read: Ephesians 3:1-11

Consider: As we read the New Testament letters attributed to Paul, we find various kinds of insight. Sometimes Paul wrote to the churches with very practical instruction about how to worship and how to live in harmony with one another. Other times he taught great theological truths with which we articulate the beauty of the gospel—the good news. But there is more. While many Christians see Paul the teacher and Paul the pastor, they miss something central in his life and ministry. They miss Paul the mystic.

Now don’t be intimidated by the word, “mystic.” That word carries a lot of baggage in our day. People often think that mystics are Eastern gurus who sit on mountain tops, chanting from the lotus position. Or they think of mystics as people who are trying to escape the real world—people who have little practical life-sense. Sometimes they see mystics as people who thrive on emotion and are intellectually lazy. Or sometimes mystics are viewed as people who chase after signs and wonders.

I’m not using “mystic” in any of those ways. Rather, I see in Paul one who is not afraid to embrace “the mystery of Christ” (3:4).

“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ…” (3:2-4)

Listen to the words Paul used—mystery, revelation, insight. These are words that transcend what we can capture with our intellect alone. When something is revealed to us, it is given to us. We don’t apprehend it with skill or effort. We receive it.

So, Paul calls us to receive and embrace what can only be given to us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t listen to our emotions, our biases or our self-will. But as we dwell in scripture and in community with the Body of Christ, we can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can embrace the mystery.

Pray: “Lord, help me to grow in my desire and capacity to listen to your voice.”

 

Tuesday, June 11

Read: Ephesians 3:14-19

Consider: Yesterday we looked at Paul’s use of the word “mystery” to describe what God had revealed to him and what God would reveal to us. I love how Paul then gave us insight as to what mystery is. He did so by speaking about our capacity to “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19).

Now if we don’t embrace mystery, that sentence makes no sense whatsoever. How can you know what is impossible to know?

Our concept of knowledge is often confined to what we can handle with our minds—what we can figure out with our gift of reasoning. We often draw sharp distinctions between knowing and feeling and doing. But in the New Testament, “knowing” is much more expansive than simply wrapping our brains around something. And with this broad understanding of “knowledge,” we are told that we can “know” God. So, this invitation to know him points to something more than what we can grasp in our heads or communicate with our words.

Paul was a gifted theologian who had immersed himself in the scriptures. He knew so much! And yet, from the perspective of a brilliant mind, he passionately exclaimed, “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). He was speaking about a knowledge that “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).

To know God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we’ll have to use our physical senses and the spiritual capacity that was given to us when God made us in his image. The Bible often talks about seeing God and hearing his voice. And God has made that possible for you and me.

Pray: “Lord, open my eyes and my ears. Enliven my physical and spiritual senses. I want to see you, to hear you and to know you this very day.”

 

Wednesday, June 12

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6

Consider: Over the past two days we’ve peered into the “mystery” that Paul proclaimed (3:2-4, 19). His words point us to life that cannot be confined to physical senses or to reason. God gave us our physical senses and he gave us amazing minds with the power to categorize, define, understand and communicate. They are gifts beyond imagination. But he has given us so much more. By creating us in his image, he gave us the capacity to know God with a knowledge that transcends the way we know anything or anyone else.

His words about mystery and knowledge in the third chapter of Ephesians reach a poetic climax when he proclaims…

“…one body and one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:4-6)

Wow! He had to give us a running start for that. He had to lead us to understand that we can “know” that which “surpasses knowledge” (3:19) before he could describe the God beyond limits.

That description of God — “over all and through all and in all” — has become powerfully important to my understanding of God (as incomplete as my understanding is).

I love to run and walk outside. When I slow down to a walk, I take that opportunity to drink in the sights around me. In those times, I cannot look at nature without realizing that God is there—over all, through all, in all. And then I see a God who is so close to me that he can only be described as being in me and though me.

Of course, we cannot grasp that with our intellectual powers. That truth does not become real to us in a manner that we can explain. But we can know it. We can know what cannot be known—the “mystery of Christ” (3:4).

Pray: Meditate on Paul’s description of God as the “Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Meditate. Look with spiritual eyes and listen with spiritual ears. Don’t evaluate. Don’t try to engage that truth on a logical level. It can’t be done. Engage that truth by listening to the One who lives in you.

 

Thursday, June 13

Read: Colossians 2:6-10

Consider: We spent the first part of this week challenging ourselves to embrace mystery. We did that to prepare ourselves to consider the very essence of God. For us, the word that describes God is “Trinity.”

The “three-ness” of God and the truth that “the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4) cannot be harmonized through logic. We must see. We must to see God in his various manifestations. We must know God in the ways that he chooses to reveal himself to us.

Paul wrote that in Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9). What did he mean by “deity”?

It’s an interesting word in the language in which Paul wrote. It literally means “God-head” or, as it is sometimes translated, “God-hood.”

We could think of it in the same manner that we think of words like “manhood” or “womanhood” or “personhood.” When we use those words, we’re not talking about one person, but the essence of what it means to be a person. So, Paul is saying that “God-hood”—the very essence of God—was alive in bodily form when Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth. And Christ is still the fullness of God.

It may not be the case for everyone, but for me, the starting point in grasping the Trinity is Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the very essence of God. He is the part of God that took on our humanity. We were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and God joined himself to us to reveal that image to us in Christ.

As we try to grasp the essence of God, we can begin by looking to Jesus.

Pray: “Lord, thank you for putting on our humanity and showing us who you are. You are too great for me to comprehend, and yet, I can embrace you. Thank you for making it possible for me to see you and hear your voice.”

 

Friday, June 14

Read: Genesis 1:1-2

Consider: I’ve heard people say that the Trinity is not found in the Bible. Well, perhaps that particular word is not found in our English translations, but God as Father, Son and Spirit is seen and known from Genesis to Revelation.

“In the beginning God…” Those four words stretch our minds and spirits to new dimensions. It’s hard for us to imagine eternity as existence that has no end. But for me, it’s even more difficult to comprehend eternity that had no beginning. But God is eternal—with no end and no beginning. He was. And he is. Even before the beginnings of our cosmos. The opening words of Genesis are not about the beginning of God. They are proclaiming the beginning of the creation in which you and I dwell.

Just as the first sentence of the Bible centers on God, the second sentence tells us about the “Spirit of God.” And just as the Genesis writer describes the Creator and the Spirit, in the New Testament our brother, John, tells us that the Son “was with God in the beginning” and that he, in fact, “was God.” He called the Son “the Word” and taught us that…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

Why is this so important? Because as we get a glimpse of the dynamic, communal God—the God who is Father, Son and Spirit—we can interact with him in every facet and on every level of our lives. He is not one dimensional. And since we were created in his image (Genesis 1:27), neither are we. There is more to us than we see. And he who is fully God wants to help us be fully human.

Pray: As you pray today, take a moment to give specific praise to the Father, then to the Son and then to the Holy Spirit.

 

Saturday, June 15

Read: Matthew 3:13-17

Consider: At Jesus’ baptism we see the Trinity. The Son of God chose to become the Son of Man. He humbled himself by descending into the waters of baptism as he would later descend into the grave. The Spirit of God” (3:16) descended to the humbled Son. And a voice came from heaven that could only be the voice of the Father, for it said, “This is my Son” (3:17).

Some have described the Trinity as a community. This community experiences unhindered love that constantly flows between and among the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Richard Rohr likes to call this “the divine dance.”

Now that may seem strange or abstract to us. But if we allow ourselves to believe that God has invited us into the dance, we may begin to understand.

Remember, Jesus said that the Spirit would live in us (John 14:17) and that “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). The Spirit in us. Christ in the Father. The Father in Christ. Christ in us. Us in Christ.

When we actually hear the words of Jesus, we can begin to grasp an amazing insight about the Trinity. God intends the unhindered and constant flow of love among the Father and the Son and the Spirit to include us. We really are invited to the dance!

Pray: “Lord, I cannot comprehend what it means to be ‘in Christ’—inside of God. At least I can’t understand it with my intellect. So, help me to grasp it in my life. Teach me how to be aware of the constant flow of your love and your presence in me and through me. Today I submit myself to your unfathomable love.”

 

Sunday, June 16 — Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday. Today Christians around the world—through song, scripture, sacrament and preaching—will try to get a fresh glimpse of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Spend some time today meditating on the beauty of your relationship with each “person” of the Trinity. Then spend some time thanking and praising the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Eastertide — Week 7

This is the seventh and final week of Eastertide. Fifty days of focusing on the truth, power and joy of Christ’s resurrection prepare us for Pentecost Sunday—the day we celebrate the reality that we are now the Body of Christ.

 

Monday, June 3

Read: John 15:18-21

Consider: In preparing his disciples for the days to come, Jesus told them a hard truth. He wanted them to understand what they were about to experience…

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (15:20)

Jesus was frank that this persecution would be prompted by the world’s utter contempt — “hate” — for him and for them.

We struggle today to understand how these words apply to us. We are not shedding blood because we follow Jesus. We are not being imprisoned or watching our children go hungry because of our faith. So, many times American Christians begin to see persecution where it really doesn’t exist. Some Christians think they’re persecuted if people disagree with them or the government doesn’t place Christianity above other religions. Worse still, sometimes Christians cry “persecution” when they are simply receiving normal responses to their own obnoxious behavior. Peter warned us about that. He told us to rejoice in persecution, but he reminded us that there is nothing to rejoice about if we bring suffering on ourselves through sinful or obnoxious behavior (1 Peter 4).

So, what does it mean to be hated by the world? For us it means that the ethic of love—the essence of Jesus’ teachings and commands—is not the way of the world. When we love God, love our sisters and brothers, love our enemies and lay down our lives for that love, the world is convicted. The love of God that is manifested in his people is an affront to them.

(I must be honest, though. Many times, the ones who most hate seeing Christians love their enemies are other Christians who have taken on the values of our culture. Over the years I’ve received more negative responses from Christians who think I talk too much about love and acceptance than I have ever gotten from those who identify as atheists or agnostics.)

Jesus’ words on persecution were preceded by his command to “Love each other as I have loved you” and to do so by laying down our lives (John 15:12-17). Before Peter talked about the persecution to come, he encouraged us to never “repay evil with evil” and to “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 3:9, 4:8). It appears that Jesus and Peter were telling us to rejoice when we are ridiculed for loving like Jesus loves.

We may not be thrown into prison, but the purity of Jesus’ love is offensive to our world that sees coercion, force, power and violence as the means to victory. So, when we practice that love and strive to be like Jesus, we fall out of favor with our culture and with religious people who have been seduced by power and condemnation.

Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly encourage us to rejoice in this. When people think we love too much or forgive too much, when we find ourselves out of step with those who call for hatred, vitriol and retribution, we must realize that we have been given the beautiful opportunity to show the face of Christ to our world. Rejoice!

Pray: “Lord, help me to put aside my agendas and my need to be right. Rather than proclaiming how ‘right’ I am, help me be ‘righteous’ in that I strive to love like you love. And I will rejoice in the results, no matter how much pain there may be in the process.”

 

Tuesday, June 4

Read: John 16:5-7

Consider: Jesus continually stretched his disciples into new ways of seeing and thinking. His parables would often make them scratch their heads and wonder what this “kingdom of heaven” was all about. And, at times, his words were simply unbelievable. That must have been the state of his disciples—disbelief—when he told them, “It is for your good that I am going away” (16:7).

They had spent three years trying to learn what it meant to be like Jesus. They were trying to figure out how to walk with him and know him more intimately. And now it sounded like he was saying that their journey together had come to an end.

Of course, Jesus was not talking about an end, but a beginning. He was telling them that his departure in the flesh would mean the presence of his Spirit with them and in them (14:17). What could be greater than Christ living in us?

I’m sure that after Jesus left them (in the flesh) there were many times when they missed him. Like us, after we have lost someone we love, they must have longed to hear his voice again, to feel his arm around their shoulders, to see his face and to hear his laughter. They missed him and yet he was with them and in them.

That was a good position for them. And it is for us. We can long to see Jesus more clearly even while we see him and experience him in the present. We can grow in intimacy with him while we hunger to know him more.

It is good that Jesus is not with us in the flesh at this moment, because his Spirit is with us and in us. Someday we will have both—his indwelling Spirit and interaction with him in our resurrected bodies. So, for now, we rejoice and bask in his presence while we yearn for more.

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your presence. Throughout this day I long to see you in everything I do and in everyone I meet. May your presence be increasingly real to me as I walk with you on this amazing journey. Please increase my hunger for you.” 

 

Wednesday, June 5

Read: John 16:25-33

Consider: Jesus spoke these words hours before his arrest and crucifixion. “You will leave me all alone” he said. But that was not a statement of despair. He continued, “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (16:32).

He had been explaining to them the reality of the Holy Spirit and the promise of his Spirit’s presence with them and in them. And throughout that evening he had been weaving a tapestry of truth that is almost too great to comprehend.

He had been teaching them that he is in the Father and the Father is in him, and that he is in us and we are in him (14:20). That’s staggering! Christ in us (meaning God in us) and us in Christ (meaning us in God). Or as Paul would later say it, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

Jesus told them that great persecution was on the way, but that they would be victorious if they “remained” in him (15:4-12).

This concept of being “in Christ” is not simply beautiful poetic language. This is the reality of the work of Christ. The One who came in the flesh—the God-man—is the One who has the power to dwell where he wishes. And he wishes for his Spirit to dwell in us and for us to dwell in him.

No wonder he concluded this amazing teaching by saying…

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (16:33)

Pray: Thank the Lord for the reality of his presence in your life. Ask him to continually expand your understanding—today and for the rest of your journey—as to what it means for Christ to live in you and what it means for you to remain in him. (Remember, this understanding involves more than our intellect. We must understand in our spirits.) Allow this truth to fill this day with joy as you foster an intentional awareness of his presence.

 

Thursday, June 6

Read: Acts 2:1-13

Consider: As we read Luke’s account of Pentecost, the first image he gives us is that of the wind.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (2:1-2)

The wind, its characteristics, and its movement are used throughout the New Testament to describe the Spirit of God. Jesus used this imagery as he explained spiritual birth…

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

In fact, in the original language of the New Testament, there is one word—pneuma—that is translated “spirit,” “wind” and “breath.” Jesus personified the breath of God when, on one occasion, he “breathed on them (his disciples) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).

What are we to make of this? How is God’s Spirit like the wind? While there are various aspects of wind we could look at, one is obvious. Wind moves. In fact, movement is the essence of wind. If it didn’t move, it wouldn’t be wind.

God’s Spirit is dynamic. The Spirit of Christ moves in you and in me. The Holy Spirit moves in the community of faith—the Body of Christ—and is active, alive and moving in our world. Which means the Holy Spirit is not a “thing” that we possess. The Holy Spirit is God himself, living and moving in us. We are vessels and vehicles of the ever-moving God who is continually changing us, and through us, changing the world.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want to look for a static relationship with you. I don’t want my religion to be simply a system of beliefs. I want to know the dynamic of your Spirit living and moving in me, in your people and in your world. I give myself to you. Move in me and through me.”

 

Friday, June 7

Read: Acts 2:1-4

Consider: Fire is the second image of Pentecost. Luke wrote that…

“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (2:3)

Our scriptures associate fire with purity—as in a refiner’s fire. The Old Testament prophets used this image.

“For he will be like a refiner's fire…. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have people who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord…” (Malachi 3:2-4)

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)

When we invite the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we must also submit ourselves to God’s refining fire. He doesn’t want to give power without purity. So, the wind of the Spirit coming into our lives is accompanied by the purification that the Lord wants to accomplish in each one of us individually, and in his people collectively.

I often encounter Christians who yearn to see miracles and healings—demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit. But the power we must long for is the power to live pure lives. You and I cannot live victorious lives of integrity—holy lives—without the power of the Holy Spirit. So, the first power we must yearn for is the power of the Holy Spirit to purify our hearts.

Be patient with yourself. God’s purifying work is not accomplished in a day. Throughout our lives he removes the dross—the junk—that sabotages our journeys with him. If we submit to his work in us, we can watch our motives, our aspirations, and the desires of our hearts change so that we may be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). This process is often painful. As Richard Rohr likes to say, change comes from great pain or great love. And we will encounter both.

Rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s people. And rejoice that it includes you.

Pray: Here is a portion of a prayer we sing from time to time…

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
— Brian Doerksen

 

Saturday, June 8

Read: Acts 2:1-12

Consider: The third image of Pentecost was the proclamation of the good news in the language of “every nation under heaven” (2:5).

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” (2:5-6)

This was not a gift of unknown tongues. The disciples were speaking known languages that are listed in 2:9-11. Rather, this was a sign showing us that the gift is for everyone in every nation.

It also shows us that a natural result of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is the proclamation of good news. As you read through the book of Acts, you’ll find that the disciples did not have to be coaxed or coerced into sharing the Jesus story. In fact, they said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:20).

I need to ask myself, “How does my life proclaim good news today?” I may not do it like Peter did when he stood up to explain the coming of the Holy Spirit to the masses (2:14-40). I may never be able to adequately verbalize it. But if my life is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit—if this wind is moving through my life—it will proclaim good news that is new and fresh to those with whom I come in contact.

Pray: “Lord, make my life a proclamation. May people see in me the work of your Spirit. May my life speak the language that my family, friends and acquaintances need to hear—the language of your love. Thank you for your presence.”

 

Sunday, June 9 — Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday—the day that Christians around the world celebrate the birth of the Church. On the day of Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 2:1-41), God sent his Spirit into his people forming us into a new body—the Body of Christ.

Go to church today celebrating and thanking God for the Body of Christ. In the days ahead, seek to understand how you should love the Body and how you can strengthen the Body through your faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Thank God that the Church of Jesus Christ has carried this message for two-thousand years and has passed it on to you.

Eastertide — Week 6

This is the Sixth Week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, May 27

Read: John 15:1-4

Consider: Seventy times in his New Testament letters Paul spoke about being “in Christ.” It was one of his favorite—and most powerful—ways of communicating what it means to be a Christian.

We often use the term “Christ follower” to describe what a disciple is. That’s a good designation. I like it. But I also know that it can’t go far enough in describing our journey with Christ. This life exceeds following the teachings of Christ. It even goes beyond following Jesus’ example—which is vital to real Christianity. To be “in Christ” is to take the journey to a new level. We don’t simply walk beside him. We dwell in him. And he dwells in us.

Of course, this concept was so important to Paul because it was exactly what Jesus taught.

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

Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (15:4)

This way of thinking takes us beyond the normal use of language. If we try to reduce these statements to their literal meaning, or even their cognitive meaning, we come up short. That’s because truth cannot always be contained in words.

The passage we read today is part of Jesus’ explanation of what the coming of the Holy Spirit would mean for the disciples. He was assuring them that they would not be orphaned (14:18), that they had nothing to fear (14:1, 27), and that his intimacy with them would intensify—becoming deeper and richer—even though he was physically leaving them (16:7).

So, we are left with the amazing opportunity to stretch our faith and believe what we cannot fully understand. No wonder Jesus said that we must worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Some truth cannot be accessed by the mind alone. It can only be known in our spirits and by the leading of his Spirit.

Pray: “Lord, I cannot fully comprehend it with my intellect, so teach me what it means to ‘remain’ in you. My task is not to figure out what it means for the years ahead, but to embrace its meaning for this day—even this moment. And I know I must learn it in my spirit from your Spirit. Thank you for the gift of your presence.”

 

Tuesday, May 28

Read: John 15:5-8

Consider: I’m an activist at heart. I’ve always wanted to engage in the work of Christ. My prayer has been, “Lord, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. You just give me the word, because I’m ready to go!”

Since my emphasis has always been on doing, I like active verbs. I want to hear Jesus tell me to go, to serve, to work, to create, to change, to grow, to…well…you get the idea. So, when Jesus tells me to “remain” in him (15:4), it can be hard for me to process. “Remain” is not an active verb, but a passive one. And to me, my faith can’t be passive. It’s got to be active.

Which means I have some growing up to do.

Yes, Christ calls me to do, but first he calls me to be. That’s because I can do a lot of things without being who he wants me to be.

Sometimes doing is easier. We can measure what we accomplish. We can take pride in what we’ve done. We can find self-worth in knowing that we did something for Jesus. But when we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that measuring ourselves, taking pride in what we’ve done, and constantly pursuing self-worth will destroy us.

Jesus did have a mission for his disciples. But before he sent them out—before he focused them on doing his will—he taught them how to be what he called them to be. He told them that their task was to “remain” in him.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want my work to be motivated by my need for affirmation. I don’t want my service for you to be motivated by duty or guilt. I don’t want to chase my own needs when I’m called to serve you by serving others. I want the work that you do in me to be what spills out of my life into the lives of my family and those you place in my path. So, please teach me how to remain in you.”

 

Wednesday, May 29

Read: John 15:9-17

Consider: Before Jesus told his disciples to “love each other” (15:12, 17), he instructed them to “remain” in his love (15:9). There’s that word again, the one that we saw yesterday—remain. “Remain in me…remain in my love…”

Active verbs are easier to follow. “Remaining” feels like sitting still. It feels like postponing the work to which we’re called to do.

Some of Paul’s New Testament letters were written from prison. One of the letters that we call “Prison Epistles” is a letter written to the Ephesian believers. Within that letter he wrote these words…

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

Did you catch that? Paul is saying, “I’m living the call that I have received and right now my call is to sit in prison. What’s your call?”

To be honest, if I was in prison or physically disabled or seeing limited action for some other reason, I would probably be lamenting that I can’t do the will of God. I would be asking God why he chose to put me on a shelf, why he didn’t want to use me. But Paul saw it differently when he found himself in a very passive state—one that demanded him to simply “remain” in Christ. And Paul’s calling to “remain” gave birth to the Prison Letters that God has used down through history.

Love is active. When Christ loves through us, he disrupts our lives and takes us to new levels of sacrifice and humility. But if our activism is simply that—our activism, our will and ego will dominate our lives and we’ll miss the opportunity to be the presence of Christ in this world.

I need to learn to “remain” in his love so I can learn how to love like he loves. I want to learn to be what he wants me to be so that I can do what he wants me to do.

Pray: “Lord, please slow me down. My mind and my heart are so busy trying to do your will that sometimes I’m in danger of missing out on what you want to do in me. Teach me how to remain in you and remain in your love.”

 

Thursday, May 30

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6

Consider: Yesterday we looked at Paul’s task of “remaining” in Christ and in Christ’s love as he sat in prison. At that point in time, it was his calling from God. He was charged with being, even when he was limited in his doing. And from that place, he challenged us to “live a life worthy of the calling” that we have received (4:1).

What is our calling? What are we supposed to be? Discovering that is a journey that spans our lives on earth, but Paul did give us a starting point. As we continue to read his words, we see that among the things that God calls us to do, the most basic call is to love and cherish one another.

“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.” (4:2-3)

During Eastertide we often think about what our responses would have been if we had seen Jesus after his resurrection. Would we have believed the reports of his resurrection before we saw him? Would we have run to him and embraced him when he appeared? Would we have been so stunned that we simply didn’t know how to respond?

I’m guessing that after our original reactions, we would have been filled with joy, gratitude and awe. We would have wanted to be in the presence of the resurrected body of Jesus and to love him because of how he loved us.

Sometimes we forget that we still have that opportunity. The New Testament is very clear in teaching us that we are now the Body of Christ. His Spirit lives in us and through us. Just as we would have stood in awe of him then, we can stand in awe of him now—now as he lives in us.

Let’s never forget to love, cherish and protect what God has created, what Jesus has redeemed, and what the Holy Spirit has filled.

“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.” (4:4-6)

Pray: “Forgive me, Father, for the many times I have not seen you in your people—your body. You are in us and among us, but sometimes I’m so blinded by me that I can’t see you. I give myself to you by giving myself to your body—the manifestation of your presence on earth today.”

 

Friday, May 31

Read: Acts 17:16-32

Consider: Paul was a brilliant scholar and linguist. His knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, his logical mind and his mental toughness gave him the potential to be a very influential rabbi. As he shared in one of his letters, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age…and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).

Because of his intelligence, he was respected and listened to by other intellectuals. That is, until he talked about the resurrection. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens were open to this scholar—this Hebrew philosopher. After all, they lived in a culture that worshipped multiple gods, so they were willing to listen to something new, especially when Paul told them that he wanted to talk about what they called “An Unknown God” (17:23). But their minds slammed shut “when they heard about the resurrection of the dead.” They “sneered” at the very thought of it (17:32).

Why would they be willing to believe the outrageous stories of their gods and goddesses and then laugh at the thought that the Unknown God could raise the dead? Well, there were a number of reasons, but what stands out to me is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a new starting point that brings change with it, not just a slight change in our outlook, but a sea change—a transformation of all that is real.

Let’s be honest. Most people are frightened by change, especially when it points to an unknown future. Even the women who found the empty tomb experienced fear at the good news—they “hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy” (Matthew 28:8).

But sometimes our hunger for change will overcome our fear. Even among the Greek philosophers, there were some who wanted to know more about this God who would die for us, and by so doing, would conquer death. And some placed their faith in the Risen One (17:32-34).

Pray: Thank the Lord that you were told the good news of the resurrection. Ask him to help you have the courage to change. Ask him to open your mind about the future he has for you as you follow him without reservation. And thank him that he went before you to conquer the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

 

Saturday, June 1

Read: Acts 1:1-11

Consider: Luke ended his gospel with a simple account of Jesus’ departure. Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city until they had “been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Then…

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)

Luke then opened his second book—The Book of Acts—right where he left off in his previous work. But this time he gave us more detail about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit.

In his gospel, Luke taught us that God came in the flesh, lived in the flesh, died in the flesh, rose in the flesh, and ascended to heaven in the flesh. Then, in the Book of Acts, Luke unfolded the story of this new Body of Christ—the church—that turned the world upside down.

But before Luke shared the early acts of those apostles, there was one more “in the flesh” that Luke wanted us to grasp.

“He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11)

He will come back “in the same way” that he left. What does that mean? I interpret it to mean “in the flesh.”

Down through the centuries, Christians have held on to the hope of the bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth. We believe in the first resurrection and we believe in the final resurrection. That means new bodies and a new earth. When Christ returns, he will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

In the meantime, we have that newness of life right now. Resurrection happened two-thousand years ago. It will happen again at the fullness of time. But it also happens today when we allow him to give us new life.

Pray: Tomorrow is Ascension Sunday—the day that Christians around the world celebrate the truths we read today from Luke and Acts. Allow this weekend to remind you of the promise that Christ will complete his work in his cosmos and in you. Thank him that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Eastertide — Week 5

Jesus’ final words that Matthew recorded for us include the directive to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). In this Fifth Week of Eastertide we’re looking at the life and calling of a disciple—first century disciples and twenty-first century disciples.

 

Monday, May 20

Read: Mark 1:9-15

Consider: Even though Mark’s gospel is the second one in the New Testament, it was the first one of the four gospels to be written. So, when we read Jesus’ words in Mark 1:15, we are seeing the first words of Jesus that were recorded and handed down to us. And that first statement speaks volumes. Jesus said, “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. From it we get words like “chronology” and “chronometer.” 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 movement of the clock and the calendar—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 it. And what is this great event that has happened at the appointed time? Jesus explained exactly what he meant. He said…

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” (1:15)

This change was so huge that Jesus described it as a new kingdom—a new reign of God 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 accompanied Jesus’ announcement was the very call that John had proclaimed to prepare for the Christ. It was the call to change.

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent…” (1:15).

The word—repent—literally means to change your mind. In first century parlance, the reference to the mind encompassed our thinking, our will, our spirit—our lives. In other words, the call to repent was a call for radical change.

As history reached the appointed time, Jesus called us to our appointed time—a time for a massive shift in our lives. He called us to change. 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 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 21

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, were they aware 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 was 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. Help me to be attentive to your voice as you call me to follow.”

*See yesterday’s TAWG for the significance of kairos.

 

Wednesday, May 22

Read: Mark 8:31-37

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 going to be a rewarding life but also a costly one. If fact, it would cost them everything. Jesus didn’t mince words about this or try to finesse the impact of the call. 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 must 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 23

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 there was something they must do. He said…

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

What commands? Where do we find the list? The scriptures the disciples knew (our Old Testament) are full of commands. Which ones are valid today? 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, and which ones do not. 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 a concept of love that is based on emotional attachment or even a mystical experience. 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. I hope that today people will see Christ in me.”

 

Friday, May 24

Read: John 14:18-21

Consider: Most of us are trying hard to do the right things. Very hard. Our minds are filled with so many things we want to do—along with the things we want to avoid—so that we may 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 items and keeping notes as to whether we’re praying enough, saying the right things, having the right attitudes and avoiding all the bad stuff.

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 must accomplish with our own strength, with our own willpower. 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. And, if things go bad, I know you’ll carry me.”

 

Saturday, May 25

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 several 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 four times (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7).

Depending on the English version you read, you may see 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.

Eastertide — Week 4

This is the Fourth Week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, May 13

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 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 really would 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. Ask him to help you live in such a manner that his prayer will be fulfilled—his prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth (Matthew 6:10).

 

Tuesday, May 14

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 must keep moving—we must keep in step with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We must continue to learn, grow and change, for how can we make followers of others unless we are following and keeping in step with Christ 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, to make you the disciple he wants you to be.

 

Wednesday, May 15

Read: Hebrews 10:23-25

Consider: As we read the New Testament letters, we keep running into the word, allélōn. The English translation is “one another.”

“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)

Of course, these and the many other instances of “one another” are, in some measure, a restating of Jesus’ call to “love one another.” (John 13:34). These are communal words. You can’t keep any of the “one another” commands of the New Testament if you are not sharing life with other image-bearers of God.

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 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 our view of evangelism is much too narrow. It is seen as simply helping people make a decision to follow Christ. But it is so much more. To “evangelize” is to spread good news. But that is not a matter of making statements or issuing proclamations. Christ wants to make our lives good news.

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, leader and savior, Jesus Christ.

So, the writer says, “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 us, and therefore, empower us to make disciples. Then ask him what “one another” you can fulfill this very day. As we go through this day with hearts and eyes wide open, we’ll see the opportunities he has for us, and we’ll step into them with joy.

 

Thursday, May 16

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 live, move and function in 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 one body part can do anything without the rest of the body is delusional.

When I was a young theological student, I didn’t understand this. I had dreams of doing Christ’s work, but I was wary of the church. I thought I needed to keep an independent attitude so that the hierarchy and structures of the church wouldn’t slow me down or limit my dreams. But I came to see the foolishness and arrogance of that mindset. I came to see that to dwell in Christ is to dwell in his body. And that realization has changed my life in a manner for which I will always be grateful.

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. And do something today to strengthen the body. If you’re not sure what that should be, simply ask the Lord to reveal it to you.

 

Friday, May 17

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 we read the next few verses, we discover a two-fold calling. Central to it is the call 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, 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).

To work in concert with one another—to be interdependent parts of the whole—is scary stuff. Most of us have our hands full learning to trust God and learning to trust ourselves. To give ourselves to God by giving ourselves to one another is not natural for us. Sure, we want community and fellowship, but we want to control it and keep it manageable. But a hand or foot or liver or lung cannot control the body. Christ—the “head of the body” (Colossians 1:18)—is in control. When we give up the myth that we are in control, we begin to learn to trust God by learning to trust one another.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the privilege of being part of the Body of Christ. As you prayed yesterday, ask him what you can do today to strengthen the bonds of his beautiful body.

 

Saturday, May 18

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, which is conveyed poetically, on agápe — 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. Of course, Paul was not describing sentimentality or love that costs nothing. He was helping us understand that we are called to love like Jesus loves.

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

Pray: Thank God that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), then rose again to give her life. Ask the Lord to help you increase your love for his body. Pray for direction in how you can treasure, cherish, love and embrace Christ by treasuring, cherishing, loving and embracing his body.

Eastertide — Week 3

This is the third week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, May 6

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). The words that followed were strange. It was not that the disciples had never heard these expressions, but they were surprised because they never expected them to come from Jesus or to be said in this context.

In those days, families built their houses as 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 assignment 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 we are. Living in a world of chaos, confusion, disappointment, doubt and pain, we have a firm place to stand. That place in which we dwell is 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 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, more importantly, with my spirit—I allow you to ease my troubled heart.”

 

Tuesday, May 7

Read: John 14:5-11

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 labels on 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 a lifetime to fully comprehend—is in Jesus’ simple, amazing statement…

“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 8

Read: John 14:12-14

Consider: Of all the things that Jesus taught 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” meant that he was 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 collectively 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. Not through one part of the body, but through the body as a whole.

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 own, personal successes. 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. Your perfect will for me is fulfilled by your Spirit’s presence in me and by my presence in your body. Thank you.”

 

Thursday, May 9

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. This was so thrilling and yet it was so different from their previous life with him. Before his death and resurrection, they travelled together, ate together, and shared every aspect of their lives with Jesus. 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 new and different journey?

So, for a brief time, Peter and the others returned to an old, familiar routine. Fishing. And they began to re-live the old frustrations—the long hours on the boat, the fatigue, the aching of body and spirit when the nets keep coming up empty. 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. 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 10

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 conveys the love between 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 when 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). Jesus knew that Peter’s courage would be greater than Peter could imagine.

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 11

Read: John 21:20-25

Consider: As we’ve seen this week, those days after Jesus’ resurrection were a very confusing time for the disciples. John focused particularly on how 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. We stand on the shoulders of men and women who were given the courage to go beyond their fears and followed Christ no matter what it would cost.

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.”

Eastertide — Week 2

This is the second week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, April 29

Read: John 20:19-24

Consider: “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”—when they could see the truth standing in front of them (20:20). He was alive! It had happened just as Mary of Magdala told them. May had told the truth, but her word was not enough for them. They didn’t believe her. But now they believed, because now they saw what 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 he appeared to them or not. 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 psalmist spoke of 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 those 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, a matter of semantics. But there is a difference, as we will see this week. We must all 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 this day to see what you have done rather than demanding more.”

 

Tuesday, April 30

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. His words were clear — “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 must 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 already made the decision not to act in faith. He had already decided not to survey his heart and see what God was doing there. He had decided not to search the scriptures and what they said about the Messiah and how he would deliver us. He decided 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 the decision not to believe.

As I said yesterday regarding the other disciples, I don’t want to be too hard on Thomas. He had endured so much. But, without realizing it, his words were arrogant in their demands. He was saying, “Here’s how Jesus has to work in order for me to follow him.”

That is the kind of arrogance that causes us to keep God at arm’s length. It causes us to postpone intimacy with Christ. But the humility to listen is what always draws us near to him, even when we are struggling with doubts.

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 place my faith in you before I have all the answers.”

 

Wednesday, May 1

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 surrounding 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? If they give mental assent to the Jesus story, they call themselves “believers” and are satisfied that they have fulfilled God’s intention for their lives.

But that is not what John means by 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 live our lives in 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, May 2

Read: John 20:24-29

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

Thomas then did something no one had done before. He called Jesus, “God.” Later, when John wrote this 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 irrefutable 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.

As Anne Lamott has said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

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, May 3

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. 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, May 4

Read: Philippians 3:10-14

Consider: This week we’ve looked at two contrasting ways of knowing. First, there was Thomas, who demanded evidence. He said, “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, and reveled in “the mystery” (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 felt the need to be right and to have Christ all figured out. He had 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 intimately 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, but 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: Let’s make Paul’s prayer our 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)

Eastertide — Week 1

Easter is not an event that we celebrate one day of the year. It’s a season. “Eastertide” lasts fifty days—from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. (But really, Christians have fifty-two Easters every year. The reason we gather on the first day of each week is to celebrate what happened on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death.) So, we begin Eastertide by focusing on that great and marvelous mystery that we call the resurrection.

 

Monday, April 22

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Consider: Paul’s description of himself in 1 Corinthians 15:8 has been translated in various ways. The NIV uses the phrase, “one abnormally born,” while the NASB reads, “one untimely born” (15:8). Paul seemed to be saying that even though he did not see Jesus in the flesh, and was not one of the twelve disciples, he nevertheless viewed himself as an apostle.

In the decades following Christ’s time on earth, those who had seen him, walked with him and ministered with him were called apostles. But Paul also took that designation as can be seen in the opening words of his letters.

Perhaps Paul’s “untimely born” comment simply meant that his birth placed him in the wrong place at the wrong time to be considered an apostle by others. Perhaps it was that his new birth took place too late for him to interact with the Nazarene as Peter and Andrew had. Regardless, Paul knew that he had seen Jesus. He knew he had a personal encounter with the risen Christ.

“…he was raised on the third day…and…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time…then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8)

“He appeared to me also”—what a powerful statement! I love Paul’s attitude. We do not hear him lament that he did not get to go to the empty tomb. We do not hear him wish that he had been behind the closed doors when Jesus appeared to the disciples. Rather, we hear him rejoice at his encounter with the risen Christ. And to him, that encounter was no less meaningful than the experiences of those who saw Jesus in the flesh.

In the days to come, we’ll remember those people who saw Jesus after his horrendous crucifixion. And we may be tempted to think that those are the people who could really embrace the resurrection. But, like Paul, we who were born too late, are not really late at all. With Paul, each one of us can proclaim, with joy and amazement, that “he appeared to me also.”

Pray: Thank the Lord that his presence is not dependent on time or place. He is with you right now. Praise him that today you can see and know our risen Lord!

 

Tuesday, April 23

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-22

Consider: At the outset of Paul’s teaching on the resurrection, he gives us a remarkable fact. Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (15: 6). Apparently, Jesus did some preaching after his resurrection.

Somehow, through biblically themed movies or other stories about Christ’s passion, we tend to get the impression that after his resurrection, Jesus was only seen by his disciples, and that they only saw him for a few moments. But the picture we get from the New Testament is much different. Jesus was seen by hundreds of people. They saw him, heard him, touched him and believed him.

Later in Paul’s life, he found himself on trial before King Agrippa. At that hearing Paul shared his story. He told about how he persecuted the Nazarenes until he encountered Christ on the Damascus Road. And then Paul discussed that thing that he was called to proclaim—the resurrection.

“At this point Festus (one of the rulers at the hearing with the king) interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’ (Acts 26:24)

This was not the only time that Paul’s sanity was questioned. When you go around proclaiming that a dead man came to life, people don’t want to take you seriously. But Paul knew that evidence had leaked out. He knew that hundreds had seen Jesus. I love his response…

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:25-26)

There was a lot of spin going on after Jesus’ resurrection. The chief priests and elders paid a hefty sum of money to the soldiers who were at the tomb. They bribed them to say that the disciples had come during the night and stolen Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:12-13). The Gnostics would later say that the resurrection was not a real, physical event because Jesus was not truly a man. Others claimed that Jesus never actually died. He was simply wounded on the cross and later gained back his strength and health. But throughout all the spin, Paul was convinced that even unbelievers were grappling with this thing, “because it was not done in a corner.”

All of us—believers and unbelievers—are confronted with the resurrection. But it’s not simply a matter of whether we believe it happened. The resurrection presents a host of questions. How does it shape our view of God and creation? What does it say about death? What does it mean day by day, as each one of us live through joy and sorrow, courage and fear, loss and gain?

Of course, answers do not come fast or easy. Our lives are given to us by Christ’s resurrection, so we spend our lives discovering his life in us and our lives in him.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the resurrection that resonated down through history. Praise him that history—including your own history—is still being written by that amazing event.

 

Wednesday, April 24

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Consider: There are so many questions that swirl around the resurrection—that is, the resurrection that is yet to come. Different images are used throughout the Bible. We all want to know what heaven is and what life will be like after we die.

The Bible speaks about a restored creation—a new earth and new bodies. Paul talked about those new bodies. He called them “heavenly bodies” or a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:40, 44).

People have often misconstrued Paul’s words — “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” — to mean that we will ultimately be disembodied spirits living in a mysterious, non-physical realm. No, Christianity doesn’t teach the escape of the soul to a hidden place. We believe in the resurrection of the dead.

And Paul’s words, along with those of the other New Testament writers, affirm that Jesus will return. He’s not snatching us away to heaven. He’s coming back to again bring heaven to earth, for, heaven is the presence of Christ.

Paul is very specific that Christ’s resurrection makes our resurrection a reality…

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Because resurrection has taken place, and because it will take place, we always have hope.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Pray: Thank the Lord that, because of the resurrection that has taken place and the resurrection that is yet to come, you never have to live a moment of your life without hope.

 

Thursday, April 25

Read: John 20:19-21

Consider: It is difficult for us to imagine the emotional journey taken by Jesus’ disciples in the final days and hours of Christ’s life. If any of us had witnessed a crucifixion—even the crucifixion of a complete stranger—we would have been deeply traumatized. But these men had seen their leader, mentor and brother—their hope—mercilessly tortured and executed.

It seems natural, then, that Jesus’ first words to them following his resurrection were…

“Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

I think that sometimes we look for peace, freedom, joy and hope as if they were individual “things” to be grasped. There are times of great stress in our lives when we yearn for peace. There are times when we crave freedom and joy. But to isolate them as distinct needs is the wrong approach. I believe they come in a bundle. Perhaps a better way to say it is that they are inseparable.

Jesus gave them words of peace as his presence gave them hope. They could be freed from fear because he was with them. And all of this was the result of his love for them. We should not look for hope and peace as though they were commodities that Jesus dispenses. We should simply look to him.

“He himself is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:14)

“…Christ Jesus our hope…” (1 Timothy 1:1)

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

All we really need to find is the risen Lord.

Pray: “Lord, it is so easy for me to grasp at peace or joy rather than practicing your presence throughout my day. Teach me how to live in a constant awareness that you are with me. As I experience you, I will thank you for what you bring — ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness’ (Galatians 5:22). But I will remember this day that, though you bring beautiful gifts, you are the gift.”

 

Friday, April 26

Read: John 20:19-22

Consider: There was something strange and beautiful that took place when Jesus appeared to his disciples behind those closed doors. He “breathed on them” and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22).

That Greek verb that John used — “breathed on them” — is found only once in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. (That translation is called the Septuagint and is the translation of the Old Testament that Jesus’ disciples knew.) We find it in Genesis 2:7 where…

“…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Remember, Christ was not only present at creation, he was one with the Father, making him the Creator. Here is what John and Paul said about Christ the Creator…

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3)

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

And so, Christ breathed into Adam—that is, he breathed into humankind—the Spirit of God. I believe this is the meaning of being created in the image of God. And then, after his resurrection, he did again, this time to his disciples who were cowering in fear, behind locked doors.

By this act Jesus shows us that resurrection is a second creation—the new creation. We are a new creation in Christ and someday we will see all of creation raised up when he proclaims…

“I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

Pray: “Lord, your word says that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I thank you that today I can walk in newness of life. The resurrection—the new creation—is a reality in me and I plan to live this day in the light of that reality.”

 

Saturday, April 27

Read: Luke 24:36-48

Consider: Christianity is not based on a concept. Many religions are. They have a central teaching that is not connected to time or space. For example, the ancient Greek philosophers (who worshipped multiple gods) spoke about the ascendancy of the mind or the spirit. They saw the body as being something to be transcended. These are conceptual religious teachings.

But the faith of Christianity is not based on an idea. Our faith is based on an event. The life, death and resurrection of God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, is the basis of who we are, what we do, and how we live. That is why we work so hard to remember.

We celebrate Advent and Christmas every year so that we can remember that God became a man.

We live the reality of Lent, Good Friday and Easter every year so that we can remember that Christ suffered, died and rose again.

We break the bread and take the cup to remember that Christ’s body was broken, and his blood was shed on our behalf.

We baptize believers to remember that we are buried and raised with him.

That is why Christians can join hands even though we may disagree over many concepts and ideas. We can transcend theological and political differences. We can span the gulf between cultures and races. We can do this because our trust is not in our own wisdom or our ability to comprehend abstract philosophies. We don’t manufacture an intricate belief system and try to align others to it. Rather, “we preach Christ crucified” and resurrected (1 Corinthians 1:23).

That is why it was so important to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to simply tell us what had happened. They didn’t tell us their opinions on the origins of the universe. They led us to the maker of the universe who made a way for us to know him and live in him. They are like Andrew, one of the first disciples. When Andrew met Jesus, he ran to his brother, Simon, and said, “We have found the Christ” (John 1:41).

Pray: Thank the Lord that you heard the Jesus story. For it is in following him that we find God and discover life.

Holy Week

This week—Holy Week, or sometimes called Passion Week—we’ll look at the events of each day between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday as recorded in Mark’s gospel. You’ll do more scripture reading this week than usual. Most of the passages are longer than the meditations.

The accounts of Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are long, but since they are narratives, they read quickly (and on the audio versions, I’ve shortened the readings). Tuesday has a lot of content and teaching, so you may want to mark that passage—Mark 11:20-13:37—and linger there later when you have plenty of time. This week it will be good to get an overview of all that transpired in those final days and to see the impact on our world and in our lives.

 

Monday, April 15

Read: Mark 11:12-19

Consider: It was the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He came into the city on a colt—mocking the displays of power the Roman officials used when they came into town. Instead of raised swords, palm branches were lifted high. Instead of homage paid to Caesar, the crowd shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (11:9). Jesus was proclaiming a new kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom.

This new kingdom would redefine everything, including strength. Strength would no longer be found in coercion, but in love—self-giving love.

Along with a new view of power, came a new view of God and how we interact with him. Religious observances would be turned upside down. And that’s exactly what happened when Jesus entered the Temple. He overturned the tables of the money changers who were robbing the people as they exchanged common currency for Temple currency. He scattered the assets of those who were selling animals to sacrifice. The religious leaders thought he was desecrating the Temple, but he was showing that their use of it revealed a total perversion of the faith. Religion—just like government—was being used to oppress people rather than to liberate them.

They had built a religious system wherein you paid for your righteousness. But that’s not what Jesus desired for his people. He entered the place of worship as though it was his Father’s house. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he said…

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” (11:17).

All nations! Christ would move worship of Yahweh beyond the confines of Judaism so that the original promise to Abraham would come true, that “all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 18:18).

Christ himself is that blessing that was promised. Because of what Jesus was about to do, the very life of God is available to all. If we miss that point, we’ll miss the good news. And Jesus was emphatic that the good news was for everyone — “all nations” and all people. Including you and me.

For Christians, this week will include a lot of extra activities. Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday observances, vigils, and, of course, Easter celebrations will mark this amazing week. But in these “temple” events, it is important that we do not reduce them to mere religious exercises. Our faith is not a duty. It is the liberation of the world.

Pray: Thank the Lord that “whoever places faith in him, shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 

Tuesday, April 16

Read: Mark 11:20-13:37

Consider: Within this passage lies the essence of the gospel. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to follow in his footsteps? The answer came in response to a question that was asked of Jesus — “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (12:28).

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this…‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (12:29-31)

Once in Matthew’s gospel Jesus shared this truth and followed it by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). That phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” was another way of saying “the entire word of God.” It was a phrase they used to describe their Bible (what we call the Old Testament). In other words, Jesus was saying that you can sum up all the commandments of the Bible in these two mandates—love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. If we keep those two commandments, we are fulfilling God’s intent for our lives and our world.

It’s strange that, for many Christians, this takes a back seat. They put so much emphasis on correct doctrines and right beliefs, that they miss the point. If our beliefs allow us to despise others, we’re not walking with Jesus. We may be talking about him, but we’re not allowing his life to flow through us.

One of the men who heard Jesus answer that question—who heard Jesus explain what is most important—would later write these words…

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

Pray: “Lord, I can’t love like you love without the presence of your Spirit in my life. I open myself to you. I want your Spirit to live in me and to teach me—day by day and step by step—how to love.”

 

Wednesday, April 17

Read: Mark 14:1-11

Consider: This simple act, by a woman we know little about, is recorded in Mark’s gospel as something of great importance. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (14:9).

Along the journey to Jerusalem Jesus had been telling his followers about his impending death and resurrection. They had not been ready to accept it. In fact, they rejected it. At one point “Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things” (Mark 8:32). But here we have a woman who had somehow grasped what Jesus was about to do. Jesus said, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (14:8).

Some have called this woman the first Christian. She was the first one to accept Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross.

What does it mean for you and me today to accept the cross? How do we live out Jesus’ death and resurrection?

We must learn from this woman’s gesture and from Peter’s misunderstanding, that the ways of Jesus are not like our ways. Will we be like the disciples who tried to get Jesus to act according to their values? Or will we hear what Jesus has been trying to tell us along the journey to Jerusalem? The Kingdom of Heaven comes by way of self-giving love—by way of the cross.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the cross. Ask him to help you understand it at a deeper level throughout this special week. Pray that you might grasp it in your spirit, rather than trying to know it by your intellect alone. Ask him to help you have the spirit of this woman about whom Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing” (14:6).

 

Thursday, April 18 — Maundy Thursday*

Read: Mark 14:12-72

Consider: In Jesus’ time of greatest spiritual and emotional agony, he fell to the ground and cried out, “Abba Father” (14:36). The New Testament was written in Greek, but here Mark makes a special note of an Aramaic word that Jesus used—Abba. This is a very special term. It is a word for “Father,” but it goes far beyond that word. It is a term of endearment and intimacy. Young Hebrew children use it in the same way that English speaking children use the term, “daddy.” It is about loving and trusting the one who is closest to you.

How would it impact our lives if, at our times of greatest pain, we had complete trust in Abba? It would empower us to say to him what Jesus said — “I want your will to be done, not mine” (14:36).

Pray: Thank your Heavenly Father that you can trust his love, even when you can’t understand his ways. Ask him to help you trust him more. Today you may want to start a practice of addressing him from time to time as “Abba.”

*A note about Maundy ThursdayMaundy is a form of the Latin word, mandatum, which means “mandate” or “command.” We call this day Maundy Thursday, because on that evening, before his arrest, Jesus gave us his mandate…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

 

Friday, April 19 — Good Friday

Read: Mark 15:1-47

Consider: All four of our gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—describe Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate, and Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In John’s account, we hear Jesus reply, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

It’s important for us to understand what Jesus was saying to Pilate. Many have thought that “not of this world” meant that Jesus’ kingdom is only spiritual in nature and is not concerned with the physical world in which we live. Many have taken this as an admonition to live only for a world to come and to ignore the great needs all around us. But in the original language of the New Testament, the word that is often translated “of” (ek), can also mean “from,” as it should be interpreted here. Jesus was saying that his kingdom did not originate here, but that it was brought here for a purpose. He then went on to say, “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

Remember, Jesus taught us to pray that we—and the world—might recognize its coming…

“Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)

What a strange story. God became a man. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). And through that act, followed by his resurrection, he chose to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. We now live in that kingdom and walk in the values of the King who brought it.

Take some time today—Good Friday—to meditate on the price that Jesus paid for you and me to live with him this very day.

Pray: Thank God that heaven and earth met in Jesus. Thank him that Jesus came to us, bringing heaven—the presence of God—with him. Today we stand in his presence because of what Jesus did on that Friday. Today we live by the values and the hope of the new kingdom.

 

Saturday, April 20

Read: Hebrews 9:1-14 and 10:19-23

Consider: In Mark’s gospel, Saturday is silent. We go from the sealing of the tomb on Friday (15:46-47) to the events of Sunday morning (beginning at 16:1). So, let’s reflect on an important statement that we encountered in yesterday’s scripture reading.

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37-38)

The curtain of the temple separated us from “the Most Holy Place”—God’s presence. Mark tells us that now, through his death, Jesus has torn the curtain—that thing which represented our inability to approach God. And now, we not only have access to God, but we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

If you see a barrier between you and God, it is an illusion—an illusion of your own making. If there is a wall, it has been built by you, because, through the cross and the empty tomb, the curtain has been ripped and the walls demolished.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Pray: “Lord, today I enter your presence. I do it with gratitude as I try to comprehend the great price you paid. I do it with confidence, but also with humility, knowing that I don’t deserve what you have done for me. Lord, may I never take for granted the fact that I can live in your presence, that you hear my prayers, and that you are always with me. May I always avail myself of this great gift. Help me to be continually aware of your presence. Thank you for the gift of eternal life that I can experience right now.”

 

Sunday, April 21 — Easter Sunday

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24:1-8)