Category Archives: Devotion

Getting the Bride Ready for Jesus

The Church – the collection of all faithful followers of Jesus – is pledged in marriage to the very Son of God, and one day, perhaps very soon, we will experience the fulfillment of that promise (see Revelation 21). But since it is a promise, is there anything for us to do while we are waiting?
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A normal bride would be busy planning the wedding, to be sure. But in addition to all of the details of sending invitations, choosing colors, and selecting venues, she would be doing her best to make herself beautiful for her husband to be (and all those witnessing her at the wedding). It’s not uncommon for a bride to go on a diet, spend time at the gym, try to find just the right hairstyle, find a person skilled to help her with her makeup, and of course be sure to have the perfect dress, along with shoes and jewelry to complete the look.

How can the church make Herself beautiful? I think that Isaiah 62 gives us some ideas. In an extended metaphor, the prophet is speaking from God’s perspective about Jerusalem. But what is Jerusalem in this metaphor? We see in Revelation 21 that the new Jerusalem represents the Church. And in Isaiah 62, especially verses 4 and 5, we see Jerusalem being promised as a bride to God. We can therefore use this passage in Isaiah to help us understand what the Lord wants to happen leading up to the great wedding.
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Luke Tells it to Us Straight (Luke 1:1,3-4)

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us… it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” — Luke 1:1,3-4 (ESV)

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When I first came to believe in Jesus, it came mostly through talking and listening to God. Because it came that way, for a few short months I came to believe that I discovered something no one else had. And it scared me to death! What a responsibility it was to have such an important message, and to think that the burden was on me alone to try to communicate it to the rest of the world! Fortunately for me, I discovered that other people believed similarly to me, so I didn’t have to bear the burden alone.

What I was soon to discover was that even more important than having others who believed similarly to me, there was an even stronger foundation I would want to lean on. That foundation is that those beliefs that we carry are recorded in a book called The Bible. And within the Bible, perhaps the most important part of all is the four Gospels which focus on the life of Jesus. Can you imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t rely on the accuracy of anything you heard about Jesus?

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Finding the Unexpected in Jesus’ Ancestry (Matthew 1:3-6)

“Judah [was] the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” — Matthew 1:3-6 (NIV)

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I generally find genealogies boring. I don’t like reading long lists of anything, actually. But in this genealogy of Jesus, and in particular focusing on these four verses, I see things that just grab my attention. I see memories of scandal, ethnic diversity mixed in with the Jewish identity, and women being highlighted in what is typically a male-oriented affair of bloodlines, with the mention of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother).

Why did Matthew, who was writing primarily to Jewish people, include these? It’s not clear. Maybe he wanted to remind them that in the midst of all the promises of the Messiah coming to the Jewish people as a descendant of David, there were reasons to both be humble and to extend this gift from God beyond the confines of the people of Israel.

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Following Jesus Requires Coloring Outside the Lines (John 4:35)

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” — John 4:35 (ESV)

straw-165106_640I’m sure a Samaritan village would not have looked like a harvest field to a bunch of good Jewish guys like the disciples! Even Jesus told them that he himself was called to reach Israel, and in fact told them to only preach to Jewish people when he sent them out two-by-two to practice. Yet here, Jesus is clearly saying that this Samaritan village is ripe for harvest — and by implication, they were going to harvest that field.

Life with Jesus involves coloring outside the lines! Rules were meant to be broken and boundaries were meant to be crossed — as long as one is following the heart of God. And the heart of God is for people to be saved and set free — to be able to enter into the glorious freedom of knowing God intimately and to worship freely.

Following Jesus often requires changing plans on a moment’s notice. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Galilee. This was at best a place to change planes, but not to have an extended layover. Yet Jesus noted how thirsty the people were and how receptive they were to him, and in such a place ripe for the picking, he knew the Father’s heart was for him to change plans and be about the Father’s business.

We must learn to sense both the Father’s heart and the spiritual ripeness of places, and be able to adjust based on what we see and hear. This is how amazing and miraculous things happen — but it requires laying down or at least postponing what it is we think we are doing for God-laden opportunities before us.

Spiritual Bodies vs. Imperishable Bodies (1 Cor 15)

“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ… The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:20,23,52-53 (ESV)

sky-299961_640_cropThere is much confusion among followers of Jesus as to what happens to us after we die. Much of 1 Corinthians 15 is concerned with that topic, and unfortunately, it is probably this section that makes us most confused!

Most of us expect to be in heaven right away after we die, and these verses make it sound like we will not be, that we will have to wait until Christ returns (“at his coming” and “the trumpet will sound” tell us this is about Christ returning to earth).

However, other passages make it sound like we should expect to be with Jesus right away (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21,23; Hebrews 12:23; Revelations 6:9; Luke 23:43). The way to understand this is that we will indeed be with Jesus in heaven right away when we die, but at that time we will be spiritual beings. When Christ returns, we will put on imperishable bodies, which is what this particular chapter is talking about — the time at which we will get imperishable bodies similar to what Jesus received when He ascended.

Changed People Change People (John 4:29,39)

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” — John 4:29,39 (ESV)

happy-286228_640_woman_India_cropI see repeated a theme throughout the stories of people who met Jesus, that those who were the biggest losers — the ones with the most demons, the ones with the most sins, the ones who were despised and rejected by others — it is those who, when they find hope and freedom in Jesus, become the biggest lovers of Jesus, the best witnesses for him, those who untiringly give all they have in gratitude.

This is the story we see played out here in these two verses. The woman is so taken by the words of Jesus that she has to go and tell others. Keep in mind that she was likely a social outcast, indicated by her visit to the well in the heat of the day, when no one else was around. You wouldn’t expect an outcast to have influence, unless there was something discernibly different about that person that would cause others to take notice. Maybe it was simply her subject matter. Maybe no one ever heard her say anything about God before — or maybe only negative things — and now she can’t keep quiet about God and the man at the well.

Note that some of the people didn’t even need to see Jesus for themselves. This woman’s testimony was so powerful that they believed in Jesus because of it. People want to share amazing blessings with others, but this woman perhaps was also expressing her gratitude for Jesus touching her life by sharing the love she received with others.

But for someone to believe in the Messiah, it takes more than a good sales pitch — people respond to what seems genuine to them, and there is no bigger testimony to something being genuine than your life being noticeably changed. Changed people change people. Firstly, because whatever caused the change in their life becomes their primary motivator for life. And secondly, because a visible change is the ultimate stamp of credibility.

We can be changed like that, but it entails understanding what we were without Jesus, then realizing what we are with Jesus, and finally letting that bubble up in gratitude and praise.

God is a God of the Underdog (Deut 1:16-17)

Deuteronomy 1:16-17 “Judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike.” (ESV)

animal-239867_640_puppies_cropGod is a God of the underdog. He cares very much for those that society typically cares very little about. Here, Moses, speaking on behalf of God, says that even the immigrant living in the land is to receive the same justice as the one who has lived there for generations. And the ones that are poor and not so educated or articulate ought to have equal chance of getting justice as the rich and powerful.

I am happy to be living in a country with a system built on this kind of foundation. However, in practice, the achievement of the objective of the small and great being equal under the law sometimes falls short. Money can buy all sorts of things, including better lawyers and influence public opinion through use of advertisements and other media — not to mention buying influence with politicians through surprisingly legal campaign contributions.

To apply this verse to my life, I first of all try not to show favoritism when I am in the position of judging. Secondly, I always try to support making rules that will give the powerless a chance for justice against the powerful. Achieving a perfect system is impossible, but trying to establish a system after God’s own heart — one that cares for the weakest and most vulnerable — is a worthy thing for His followers to do.

What Happens if You Choose Not to Live Righteously?

“Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” Ephesians 5:3-7 (NIV1984)

costume-15839_640_crop_devilThe Apostle Paul seems to be saying in theses verses that faith is not enough to be saved — that we also have to turn from sin and live righteously. Many of us have had it drilled into us that we are saved (from future punishment and condemnation by God) if we believe in Jesus and love Him. Even Paul wrote three chapters earlier that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV1984). So how do we resolve the tension in these two ideas?

I think the answer lies in what we mean by the word “faith” (or a closely related word, “believe”). James wrote on this extensively. In James 2:14, he writes, “What good is it… if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (NIV). Then he points out in verse 19 that even demons believe in God.

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Jesus Claims to be the Messiah (John 4:25-26)

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” — John 4:25-26 (ESV)

well_at_cathedral-164322_640As Jesus and a Samaritan woman that he met at the town well discuss things about God, she speaks of her belief that one day the Messiah will come into the world. This is interesting of itself, because it is clear in other passages that the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah, but here we see that at least one Samaritan (a mixed race people that had Jewish influence from centuries before) also believed that the Messiah would come.

There were multiple expectations for the Messiah at the time, but they included that he would be a king, would save people from their oppression, would be holy, and would be sent from God. In the words of the Samaritan woman, her expectation of the Messiah included him being a great prophet. She mentioned that aspect of the Messiah, probably not because the idea had entered her mind that Jesus was the Messiah, but as a conversation extender, since Jesus was clearly a prophet, having just revealed to her that she had already had five husbands, and was living with another guy — and that it was interesting to note that he shared a gift that the Messiah would have.

Now what is really startling here is that Jesus comes right out and tells her that he is the Messiah that she (and presumably the other Samaritan’s) had been waiting for. Around Jewish people, Jesus was a lot more careful what he would say about himself. But not here: he just comes right out and says it.

A lot of people today think that it is accurate to consider Jesus to be a great teacher or perhaps a great prophet. But in this particular passage, we see that it would be wrong to think of Jesus only in that way. Jesus himself claimed to be more than that — he claimed to be the Messiah, someone sent from God to be a king, to set people free.

Given that he was crucified without becoming a king on this earth and without setting people free, except for the ones that were healed by his prayer, he was clearly wrong… Unless the claims of his followers about him are correct: that he rose from the dead; that he remained in bodily form on the earth for several weeks; that he ascended to heaven; and that he rules and reigns from there.

Because if the claim that Jesus made about himself being the Messiah is not true, then we must think of Jesus — as C.S. Lewis has eloquently written — as a deluded person, or a liar, but in any case not as a great prophet or teacher or holy man. It is left, then, is for each person to decide. Which is he to you?

How Will You Discover What Pleases God?

“Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8b-10 (NIV1984)

candleEven if this were not in the Bible, it still sounds like a really good idea for someone who claims to love God to “find out what pleases the Lord”. If you agree with me (and the Apostle Paul, who originally suggested it) that this is a good idea, let me ask you, “What is your strategy for finding out what pleases the Lord?”

This short passage suggests that if we find out what pleases the Lord, we will be enabled to “live as children of the light”. That is, we will be able to grow to be like God in holiness and righteousness. That would also require us to put into practice what we discover about pleasing God. But we cannot put into practice something unless we first figure out what it is we should be doing.

I can only think of four ways to find out what pleases the Lord.

1) Learn from the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (NLT). It sounds to me like reading and learning from the Bible would be a good component of any successful strategy.

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