Betrayal and Amazing Grace

April 18th, 2014

“On the same night that [Jesus] was betrayed.” 1 Corinthians 11:23 NKJV.

It is as wrong to underestimate His grace as to overestimate our faith.

My thoughts and comments today are about “betrayal and amazing grace.”

Betrayal is a terrible thing. It isn’t accidental; it’s deliberate, intentionally hurting another. When it occurs, the pain is immediate and can be enduring. The reactions vary – stunned disbelief, destruction of trust, emotional pain, grief, anger, self-pity, and eventually estrangement. Be careful; betrayal is often sown in the seed of offences, harbored and unforgiven. Forgiveness is the only true remedy.

The history of man is cluttered with betrayal, beginning with Adam and Eve. Abel experienced betrayal by Cain; Jacob betrayed Esau; Joseph was betrayed by his brothers; Job felt betrayed by his friends; Absalom and Ahithophel betrayed David; David betrayed Uriah; Haman betrayed Mordecai; Demas betrayed Paul. The best and worse among us are capable of unthinkable betrayal.

The wondrous story of the Resurrection cannot be told apart from the undercurrent of betrayal. I have been intrigued by this cryptic verse, “The Lord Jesus on the same night He was betrayed took bread and said, ‘This is My body broken for you . .’” 1 Corinthians 11:23-33 NKJV. The juxtaposition of dark betrayal alongside this intimately sacred moment seems unthinkable. But Jesus was neither surprised nor stunned. “[Jesus] had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”­ Read John 2:23-25 NKJV.

Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. For thirty pieces of silver, he identified Jesus with a kiss in Gethsemane. Jesus knew Peter would deny Him. In spite of his protests, he would do just that. Jesus knew all the disciples would forsake him. After His arrest, they all would flee in fear and self-preservation. Yet for this Passover, Jesus gathered these very disciples with a sense of strong urgency saying, “With fervent desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Luke 22:15-16 NKJV.

This was the Passover the Exodus from Egypt foretold generations earlier. This was no casual evening. His earthly ministry and the future success of the Kingdom of God would now rest on their devotion and efforts. And He knew the shattering effect His suffering and death would have on their confidence. John later described Jesus’ intent on this fateful night, “. . Having loved His own . . He now showed them the full extent of His love.” John 13:1 NIV. They had to be persuaded of an unfailing love.

It is as wrong to underestimate His grace as to overestimate your faith. Jesus knew their frailties, as He does ours. Amazing grace. Jesus still loved them – and you, and me. He desired for them, as for us, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” Read Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV. As in Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son (Luke 15), “[Jesus] came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 NIV. Not only to save, but even to seek. He would seek for Judas at that Passover Meal, for Peter at a fireside on the shore of Galilee, and for the disciples, and Thomas, in an upper room where the risen Savior showed them His pierced hands and wounded side.

This Good Friday and Easter is not about Judas, Peter, or the disciples; it is about you and me. Today, and every day, Jesus offers amazing grace – second chances, renewed vows, and new beginnings.

My prayer for you today is for a joyous and glorious celebration of His Resurrection.

Wonderful Expectations

April 16th, 2014

“We live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3 NLT

The resurrection shouts truth with clarity and certainty over every question, doubt, or fear.

My thoughts and  comments today are about “wonderful expectations.”

You probably try not to think much about death, until something happens along the way that does not allow that luxury to continue. Most don’t like to talk about death, or even think about it. It is more pleasant to ignore that undesired eventuality as much and as long as you can. But you are mortal; no matter how you suppress and disguise that fact. No one lives forever. And death is that unavoidable reality; you just don’t know how or when. “No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.” Psalm 89:48 NLT. Now that sounds grim, doesn’t it?

Death is grim, and unpleasant, exactly because it is unnatural to us. “That by His death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14-16 NIV. You were created to be eternal, as your Creator is. Sin introduced death, not God. See Romans 5:12-19 NIV. The dread of death causes despair because sin causes death. That was true at man’s origin, and it is true now. See Genesis 2:15-17 NLT.

But then came Easter morning! Day’s earlier, harsh realities replaced dreams and hopes the followers of Jesus held, challenging everything they believed about faith and the future. Despair shoved hope aside. They stumbled ”back home,” back to life as it had been; to pick up what little seemed left – broken, bewildered, and discouraged.

Things they thought possible before felt impossible now. Things sure to them days before now posed troubling questions. You will face times when life is hard and you feel like turning around. You ask yourself, “What’s the use?” Something will seem to have erased your future, but little do you know what God is about to do.

That’s why Easter is such a hope-filled time. Christ’s resurrection validates His power over death – that Jesus is the Lord of life, the conqueror of death. “But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was not possible for death to keep its hold on Him.” Acts 2:24 NIV. Resurrection is the demonstration of God’s power, conquering your worst and last enemy; everything else you may ever face is minor for God. In Christ, We live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3 NLT. Your life can be filled with hope not despair, enjoying life not fearing death. It is yours to choose.

Easter is more than a fact of history; Easter is the truth of a current event, more relevant to your well-being than today’s headlines. Easter makes sense of everything that has not made any sense at all. The empty Garden tomb made sense of the agony of Gethsemane and the cruelty of Calvary. The Resurrection introduced possibilities beyond anything His followers had previously imagined when standing in the darkening shadow of the cross that day. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection made every impossibility before become a glorious possibility now.

His Resurrection shouts truth with clarity and certainty over every question, doubt, or fear. Easter can do the same for you today. Jesus’ Resurrection guarantees yours. Jesus was clear, “Because I live you also will live.” John 14:19 NIV. Death is not the last word. Life is the final word spoken over you – life now and life everlasting. Meanwhile, God “. . has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV.

My prayer for you today is that you live with wonderful expectation of a glorious resurrection.

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Lies, Exaggerations, and Truth

April 14th, 2014

He is Risen pix

 

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:20 NIV.

If you will not believe God’s Word and it turns out to be true, you will have lost everything.

My thoughts and comments today are about “lies, exaggerations, and truth.”

You have heard it said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The world is a confusing mix of lies, exaggerations, and truth. Lies are a deliberate attempt to deceive. Exaggerations are a bit of truth stretched to incredulity. Something is either all true or it is not truth at all. Easter asks you to believe the unbelievable because the literal, bodily Resurrection of Jesus is the incontrovertible proof.

People stand stunned and grieving at gravesides, hoping there is something more beyond that false finality, but fearful to believe. In the disquiet of their soul a nagging question lingers, “What if this is true?” Let’s be practical, “If you believe God’s Word and it turns out to be untrue, you have lost nothing; if you will not believe God’s Word and it turns out to be true, you will have lost everything!”

Be very clear. God never made promises that were not true. The Apostle Paul reasoned, “True, some . . were unfaithful; but just because they broke their promises, does that mean that God will break His promises? Of course not! Though everyone else in the world is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will be proven right in what He says; He will win His case in court.’” Romans 3:3-4 NLT.

Easter is about an empty cross, an empty tomb, and empty grave clothes – but not an empty promise. The Resurrection of Jesus assures you God’s promises are real. The Apostle Peter courageously preached, “God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” Acts 2:25. Neither the cross, the tomb, nor the grave clothes could hold Jesus; they are each empty as proof of God’s power for your life.

(1)The empty cross promises forgiven sin. The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Jesus embraced the cross so you could be forgiven of sin. “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith: Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2-3.

(2)The empty tomb promises eternal life. When the Christ-followers believed the Resurrection, they chose to die rather than deny truth. Paul reasoned, “If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead . .” See 1 Corinthians 15:16-20 NIV. If faith in Christ does not include the Resurrection – His and yours – faith is futile.

(3)The empty grave clothes promise a living Savior. See Luke 24:9-12 NKJV. As the angels said to the bewildered women that first Easter dawn, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; He is risen!” Luke 24:5-6 NKJV. Christ is risen indeed.

My prayer for you today is that you know the hope of Resurrection is true – no lie, no exaggeration.

Breaking Points

April 11th, 2014

“We should trust not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:9 NKJV.

A breaking point may actually become your breakthrough.

My thoughts and comments today are about “breaking points.”

Breaking points are times when you come up empty – no further resources, no fresh ideas, no better options, and you are left with nothing in reserve, financially, mentally, emotionally, or physically. At the end of yourself, you will meet God there. You are not alone. The prophet Elijah was at a breaking point – in fear for his life, fleeing from an angry monarch, drained physically, feeling alone and abandoned, and wishing to die. Read 1 Kings 19:1-20 NIV. Elijah was empty and exhausted – disappointed with people, discouraged by threats to his safety, and depressed about the future. That’s what a breaking point looks like – until you meet God there. Let’s consider some practical truths for such moments.

Quitting is not an option. If you think giving up is a viable option, you will eventually find an excuse to do so. My dear friend, Kenny, often reminded me and others, When you find yourself at the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hold on tightly till help comes. The Bible says, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:35-36 NKJV. Perseverance is a virtue. “Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us . . do this by keeping your eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish . . so that you do not become weary and give up.” Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT.

Don’t pick up what is not yours to carry. Over-involvement in too many things or assuming too much responsibility for too many people soon becomes an unbearable burden. Keep the load light, and remember, As your days so shall your strength be.  Deuteronomy 33:25 NKJV. Jesus will give you wisdom and daily strength if you, “[Cast] all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NKJV.

A breaking point may become a breakthrough. Paul found the renewed strength and assurance he needed, when at his own breaking point God said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” Read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT. That discovery is life changing when embraced in faith. Read Hebrews 11:32-35 NLT. In God, your breaking point may be preparing you for a breakthrough. When you can’t be strong, let God be strong in you.

With a future dire and uncertain, Paul affirmed this practical, liberating truth, “We were burdened above measure, beyond strength, so that we despaired even of life. We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should trust not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in Whom we trust He will still deliver us.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NKJV. Think about your Heavenly Father as, “God who raises the dead.” If God can do what is impossible, the most extreme circumstance can still be alive with hope. “What is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 NLT.

My prayer for you today is that you are always preparing yourself for a breakthrough.

Thoughts and Destinations

April 9th, 2014

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 NKJV.

Thoughts without discipline and direction produce regrets unforeseen.

My thoughts and comments today are about “thoughts and destinations.”

Your mind is a powerful force. Thoughts are the origin of attitudes, desires, beliefs, and behavior. The noblest acts of self-sacrifice, as well as self-centeredness, begin and mature in the mind. The mind is fertile ground for whatever is sown there. “For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7 NASV. Years earlier, I read a simple but powerful statement, “Sow a thought, and reap an action. Sow an action, and reap a habit. Sow a habit, and reap a destiny.” Never start a journey in your thoughts that you don’t want to reach as your destination. Decisions and direction result from your deliberations.

Great achievements begin with a simple, compelling idea, just as unthinkable behavior can begin with unguarded thoughts. God’s indictment of Noah’s generation was severe but accurate, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great . . and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Read Genesis 6:5-8 NKJV. “Every intent of [their] thoughts . . was only evil continually.” Wicked men allowed God nothing He could redeem. Bad behavior and evil lives had its origin in their evil thoughts. Thoughts without discipline and direction produce regrets unforeseen. Noah was different and He found grace. Read Isaiah 55:7-9 NIV.

But there is reason for encouragement. The Bible offers an effective solution, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . He humbled Himself and became obedient . .” Read Philippians 2:2-11 NKJV. You will not achieve the mind of Christ by your best efforts. However, you can receive the mind of Christ by your sincere welcome. For this reason, Paul assured your victory, “[You] have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV.

In the Philippians verses, I see these spiritual elements of the mind of Christ you are to replicate: Godly submission, absolute selflessness, humble service, and willing sacrifice, from which come the promise of God’s recognition and reward. From Jesus, you can learn the joy of yielding your rights and embracing responsibilities. You have the Godly potential to become all that you were created to be. The process is not passive; it’s proactive. Read Colossians 3:1-3 NIV/Galatians 5:19-25 NLT.

The mind is not self-governing; your thought life must be righteously managed. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ . . 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV. Recognize, then cast down and capture every thought process that misdirects you spiritually – such as self-pity, remorse, anger, unforgiveness, disobedience, or such like. Read Romans 8:5-6 NIV.

Here is God’s answer; it’s simple and effective but not easy. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV. See Ephesians 4:23-24 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is for an uncluttered mind and thoughts obedient to Christ.