Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011 … The Resurrection’s Final Victory

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 54 – 55, 57 … When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." [from Isaiah 25: 8] 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" [from Hosea 13: 14] … 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

My Journal for Today: This is the last day in my April devotional series, taken from MacArthur’s Strength for Today, on the pertinence and power of the RESURRECTION of Christ in the life of the Christian.

It is true that many in this world run from their own mortality … from death; but in this “resurrection chapter” of his letter to the Church, the Apostle Paul, helps all Christians to be thankful that death no longer has any “sting” for the believer in and follower of The Christ. And Paul, using quotes from the Old Testament prophets, uses an apt word picture, taken from the OT Prophet Hosea, to help us see this truth about death.

When a bee stings someone, it leaves its stinger in its victim; and the bee dies. Well, death left its stinger in Jesus, Who took all the venom out of death on the cross, allowing His beloved Bride, the Church, to face physical death with the prospects and sweetness of eternal life before us – with no sting. We can also read this doctrine clearly and strongly taught in Romans 6: 9

SCRIPTURE: Rom. 6: 9 ... For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him.

Death no longer had mastery over Christ as He rose in His resurrection; and it no longer has any sting over believers, as His victory in resurrection will allow us to be raised again to be with Him forever.

And so, it’s no wonder that Paul exhorts all Christians by his own expression of thankfulness in 1st Cor. 15: 57 to praise God for His redeeming work on the cross, which has taken all the sting out of death and provides us with eternal hope that we could never attain on our own. Can I sense a “HALLELUJAH!” from any believers who is reading this? If you were sitting here with me, you’d certainly get one from this old warrior.

And furthermore, in his devotional for this date, MacArthur cites Rev. 21: 4 with the resounding glory we will realize in heaven, where there will be no pain.

SCRIPTURE:Rev. 21: 4 He [Jesus] will wipe every tear from their eyes [the eyes of the faithful]. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

That is what Christ’s resurrection has done to prepare a place for me with Him for eternity … for any and all who believe on Him; and I can only pray that any who are reading this have joined me in believing the truth of Christ’s resurrection. And I also pray that you have received His saving grace by your faith in what He did on the cross and by being raised again to take away our sins.

Here’s to celebrating Christ’s final victory in the resurrection!!

My Prayer Today: O Lord, I pray that all who read here will find the joy of heaven, eternal in Your resurrection. Amen

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011 … New Bodies: I’m for That!

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 49 … And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.

My Journal for Today: My Dad died a few years ago; and in the last few years of his life, he was quite debilitated, living in a nursing care facility. Most of the time, with all his maladies, he had to have been miserable [at least from the way we all saw him live]. Yet all who came to see him where he resided in the Nursing Home, were taken by the “grace” he exhibited, always having something nice to say to that person. I can remember a few times when I flew up to spend a few days with him, we’d have times when we’d watch sports on TV together; but he seemed to be most at peace when I read to him from a passage which was initiated by today’s verse. It was 1st Cor. 15: 49 – 57; and I’d like to reproduce it here for your edification [and my remembrance of my Dad] …

SCRIPTURE: 1st Cor. 15: 49-57 ... And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven. 50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." [from Isaiah 25: 8] … 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" [the latter quote from Hosea 13: 14] 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As my Dad sat in his chair in his room, wracked with pain from osteoarthritis, short of breath from emphysema, bothered by swallowing problems having had a jaw resection, and being quite weak from all his collective maladies, he used to say to me, “I sure like the idea of getting a new body in heaven.” And I could see the peace on his face from that prospect. Well, he may not have that new body quite yet in our timing, the rapture not having occurred in our time clock; but in God’s timing, my Dad being with the Lord now in that intermediate heaven where, upon death saints go to be with the Lord before He comes again for His church, my Dad certainly doesn’t have to worry about that old decrepit body of his.

Today’s passage, along with the promise found through Paul in Phil. 3: 21 certainly give all believers great hope, as those passages did my father, with the wondrous picture of the new image and body will have in heaven. Think about it! All who are born again in Christ will be reconstituted to become like the One Who revealed Himself to so many others after His resurrection … like the Messiah Who will come again one day (likely soon, I believe) to reclaim His wonderful Bride, the Church, for glory (see Acts 1: 11).

I often think about what Jesus was like when he appeared to others post-resurrection. He could disappear and reappear at will … to whomever and wherever and whenever He wanted. He could walk through walls. How cool is that?!! And when He needed to, He was recognizable to His loved ones, even carrying – I believe at His own choice – the scars from His time on the cross to convince doubters, like Thomas, of Who He really was; … and I personally believe, though I have no Biblical support, our glorified, resurrected, perfected, and completed body will be able to take on more than one physical form. However, it will always be visible and recognizable to all we knew and loved us in this life. And though our bodies will not likely look like that of Jesus (His will be so perfect and full of glorified light He will stand out above all in Heaven), our newly glorified bodies will have the completed elements that Christ has already formed for us and knows us as in His presence.

Our new life in heaven is going to be all too awesome, … for sure!! And having just had a hip-replacement with all the pain connected with its rehab, this prospect of a new body in heaven certainly has great appeal for this old sinner/saint.

My Prayer Today: The hope of newness, Lord, is in You. Amen

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011 … The Resurrection: Motive for Sanctification

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 33 - 34 … 33 Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

My Journal for Today: Perhaps as you grew up you heard your parents say, as I did, something like this: ” If you run with a bad crowd, you become a bad person.” In fact my parents were very vigilant to see that I ran with the “good guys,” so that I didn’t become one of the group of kids we used to call “the hoods,” who drove fast cars and did bad stuff. But I don’t think that my parents realized that their parental vigilance about my friends was a biblical principle.

But it certainly was; and it’s discussed in today’s passage. However, as we bring this up, the group identification principle of 1st Cor. 15: 33 doesn’t preclude any person from doing ungodly things on his/her own. Even though I was identified as one of “the good boys” growing up, I let my own mind wander into some pretty ungodly behavior as I moved farther and farther away from a relationship with Christ in my own world of habitual sexual sin. And truthfully, it is this latter relationship, in the context of today’s teaching, which becomes a powerful guideline of Christian discipleship.

If we, as individuals, have a deep/abiding personal relationship with Christ, believing in the truth of the Gospel, which we’ve been exploring this month, and we tie that with close association with other like-minded Christians, Paul’s exhortation today will likely produce a cohesive group of believers where Christ’s love and His power can work through the group more effectively and with more power. And that is how individual belief and collective discipleship can produce God’s power working in the lives of believers to use God’s grace to overcome their own deceitful hearts, and the forces of Satan in the world.

This month we’ve been looking at how Christ’s resurrection and the belief thereunto lead to salvation. But in today’s verse we see how that belief takes the next step, resurrection belief moving the church toward sanctification. We remember Christ’s admonition for individual disciples [from Luke 9: 23], … for believers to deny self, take up their crosses daily, and follow Him. Well, the application of individual believers, collectively following Christ in the fellowship of believers, allows the church to become the collective agent of Proverbs 13: 20

SCRIPTURE: Prov. 13:20 ... He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

We also know that “…as a man thinks in his heart, so is he [Prov. 23: 7 – NKJV];” … and this movement from Godly thought to Godly action works most effectively for God’s kingdom when thinking/believing individuals come together to think and believe AND ACT together. And Paul recognized what was going on in the hedonistic and godless culture where Christianity had been planted in Corinth; and he knew that it would be very difficult for these Corinthian believers to thrive in their discipleship and in Christlikeness if they were fragmented and separated. Hence, we read Paul’s admonition in today’s passage.

We, who believe in Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Gospel message, do need to come together as is exhorted by the Author of Hebrews …

SCRIPTURE: Heb. 10: 24 - 25 … And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Together, as believers in Christ’s resurrection, we in the church can do so much more for His gospel and His kingdom than we can as “lone ranger” Christians. In Battle Plan Ministry, where I’ve been called to lead, we advocate this “group-think” >>> “group action” principle in discipleship to promote freedom from sexual sin. Christian men (or women) standing together, well grounded in God’s word, and being accountable to one another is one of the most salient battle plans a group of Christians can have to help them all walk in a worthy manner (see Eph. 4: 1 - 2) and to do battle for Christ in the world (see Eph. 6: 13 – 18). I pray that you are in a battle cohort with other like-minded Christian soldiers, fighting together side-by-side and back-to-back against the forces of evil in the world, thinking together and growing together into Christlikeness. Always remember the instruction of Prov. 27: 17 that “iron sharpens iron!”

Everyday I thank God for the cohorts of accountability and strength which surround me, … at church, in Battle Plan Ministry, in my family, and in prayer to help keep me standing upright and walking with my Lord.

My Prayer Today: Help me to become like You, Lord, by working with other Christians. Amen

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011 … The Resurrection: Motive for Service

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 32 … If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." [a quote from Isaiah 22: 13]

My Journal for Today: This month my devotions and journaling in this place have been dwelling in the meditations and study of 1st Corinthians 15, where I’ve been looking at the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon the hearts and lives of Christians. The Apostle Paul in this chapter has made it very clear that there would have been no way he would have been motivated to risk his life over and over for Christ if it were not for the hope of his own (i.e., Paul’s) resurrection, which had become a reality in the faith Paul had invested in the outcome of Christ’s resurrection.

What Paul went through to spread the Gospel message (please go back and read 2nd Cor. 11: 24 – 29) could only be explained by the motivation he had as a result of his encounter and relationship with Christ as well as Paul’s desire to share what Christ had done for him on the cross and the hope that anyone could have eternally by receiving the good news of the Gospel. Otherwise, reading of Paul’s life-changing testimony and his change from Christian killer to Christian zealot would not make any sense at all, would it?

And, my dear one, I really identify with this because prior to my encounter with God on the road to my job on April 13, 1983, which changed my outlook on life forever, I was also one of those “devil’s advocates,” somewhat like Paul, doing all I could to rip the faith from Christians. I may not have tried to kill them; but I certainly tried to do all I could back then to kill their faith. And now here I sit over a quarter of a century later, an ordained Minister of the Gospel, trying to give witness to how motivated I am everyday – like this morning – to spend quality time with my God and then to be a personal witness in my life to the life changing power of the resurrection.

Go back and read the “Hall of Faith” in Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews or the many stories of the Old Testament patriarchs of the faith, all of whom were driven by their faith and hope, either in the coming Messiah or the reality of the resurrection of Yeshua, The True Messiah, which became the driving force behind the Disciples who were enacting what was written in Acts 1: 8 and/or Matthew 28: 19 – 20, Christ’s commandments to spread the truth of His resurrection, i.e., the Gospel message.

It has often been said, in defense of the truth of the resurrection and of the Christian Gospel message, these disciples simply would not have died, the way they did as martyrs, for a lie; and that is also true for yours truly. I simply would not make myself a living sacrifice [see Rom. 12: 1], giving all of my life unto Christ, if my mind could not support my heart in the matter of the resurrection. I have looked at the facts; and they are replete to support the truth that Christ died for my sins; and God raised His Son, my Savior and Lord – The Messiah – from the dead to allow me to come to Him and one day be resurrected to live with God for eternity.

I pray that you have come, in faith, as well; but if it takes a hearty examination of the facts, you do it! Because the outcome will be as it was for a long list of brilliant men, who took up the challenge to examine the data, men who then were drawn to The Truth, Who is Jesus. If you, like C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, or Charles Colson, who were skeptics, but who were willing to look at the facts as they were, really look at all the evidence, you too will come, as have I, along with these former atheists, to the realization that Christ died for your sins and was raised from the dead so that YOU and me could accept Him in faith, to be filled with His resurrection power, and be with Him in eternity.

My Prayer Today: I will live for You, my Lord, because You died and were raised … for me! Amen

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011 … The Resurrection: Motive for Salvation

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthian 15: 29 … Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

My Journal for Today: The fact of Christ’s resurrection – and it is a fact! – and the hope that is connected thereunto, becomes a powerful witness that often opens hearts/minds to be able to really hear the reality of the gospel and receive Christ in faith as Lord and Savior.

It has been said that a funeral is one of the best venues to share the truth of the gospel, highlighting Christ’s resurrection, because unbelievers, who are present, become focused on the realized finality of death. A non-Christian at a funeral can see death right in front of their eyes; and hearing the gospel preached in that context can open hearts which have theretofore been blocked from grasping what Christ had done on the cross for these lost ones. And if one can recognize their own sinfulness and their own mortality … and if they can see the hope presented by Christ’s resurrection, the witness of Christ from the cross, or from believers who will join Jesus in death to live forever, this becomes a powerful hope that can defeat the image seen in the finality of physical death, giving hope through the reality of the resurrection and the truth of God’s grace in salvation.

John MacArthur in his devotional for this date in Strength for Today, having seen many come to salvation at the death of believing loved ones, gives testimony to the power of the resurrection in the context of physical death or the mortality of our human condition. That was my prayer for my “lost” sister at the memorial service for our Dad a few years ago. At that service I read portions of a letter written to me by Dad when he was 72 years old. He had come to a place where he could see the need for receiving God’s saving grace and praying to receive Christ as his Savior. At his funeral I told of our mother receiving Christ just six hours before she died. Both of them, late in their lives, came to realize that their hope for eternity could only rest in Jesus Christ, Who would bring them to their home in heaven. I’d like to be able to say that this witness influenced my sister to receive Christ; however, to this date I see no evidence of that.

Knowing that is a great comfort to me … that I will be with our parents in heaven. But at the same time, it is frustrating to see my sister still resisting this truth. So, as I write this, I still diligently pray that my sister can come to that place that our parents did before their physical deaths and be able to ask for the saving grace that is only offered by the resurrection of Christ. I also pray, as I write this, that any who read this, who have not done so, will recognize this grace and will receive Christ as your Savior and Lord.

If you’ve been resisting this, like I was as a non-believer almost three decades ago, it’s time to pray and confess. Pray and tell God that you are a sinner who needs a Savior; and ask Jesus to save you. Thank Him for dying for your sins; and ask Him to be the Lord of your life. Believing that and proclaiming it openly and honestly to another is all that it takes for you to spend eternity in heaven with the One Who was raised from the dead to bring you there. [see John 3: 16 and Romans 10: 9 – 13]

My Prayer Today: Your resurrection is our eternal hope, Lord! Amen

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011 … Resurrection – So What?

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthian 15: 19a … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

My Journal for Today: In his devotional for this date in Strength for Today, John MacArthur teaches about the hope we have in Christ’s death and resurrection to secure our faith by using a word picture from a Greek concept of the “archegos.” According to MacArthur, the “archegos” was the strongest swimmer on any Greek fishing boat, who was charged with the responsibility to swim to shore, carrying a line, if the boat was in trouble, which the “archegos” would then affix the line to a solid rock or tree, securing the boat’s safety. MacArthur says that Jesus is the Christian’s “archegos,” securing our boat of hope by going ahead, through the resurrection, to tie our rope of faith to the rock of His saving grace, … or better yet, to the tree where He died that we might live.

I’m very taken by MacArthur’s word picture; because without Christ going ahead of us from His grave (perhaps as depicted in Deut. 31: 8 and the prophesy of Psalm 22), this exercise of mine this morning to journal my way in God’s word or even to have any faith in Jesus Christ at all would be meaningless and a total waste of time. All the Bible study in the world or listening to sermons or giving our tithe to the church or witnessing my faith to others … all of it would be purposeless without Christ’s resurrection.

However, because Christ now is risen and His tomb lies empty in that rock somewhere near Jerusalem, I will live forever (see John 14: 19). And because He was raised and ever lives, my sins are justified (see Romans 4: 24 – 25); and my anchor of faith is tethered to the rock of my salvation forever, … my “Archegos.”

My Prayer Today: Again, Lord, I cry deep from within … “HALLELUJAH! Amen

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2008 … Resurrection – A Belief that Matters

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthian 15: 12 … But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

My Journal for Today: We must remember, when looking at this passage today, that many in the Greek culture, to whom Paul was addressing this epistle, had trouble believing in Christ’s bodily resurrection because of Greek dualism, which taught that anything in the physical realm was evil. Therefore, a bodily resurrection would be repugnant to such seekers after faith in Corinth. So, in today’s verse, Paul proclaimed (i.e., “preached”) from the standpoint of personal eye-witness testimony, essentially saying that no one could counter his own claim of seeing Jesus as the risen Christ. Paul knew it was true and he literally staked his life on it (as we know from his historical martyrdom).

In point of fact, if one cannot – or will not – believe that Christ was dead and now lives, there would be no hope for that one to rise again to be eternally with Christ after his/her own death. All of Christianity rests on this doctrine of belief in the “gospel truth” as we know it. So, as you would have observed, if you’ve been reading my devotionals this month, the “resurrection” is the baseline, foundational doctrine of Christianity. If one pulls out that pin from the structure of our faith and discards it, faith in Christ comes crashing down as meaningless.

However, Christ did die; and praise His Name, He did rise again … as history in the Bible records over 500 witnesses gave testimony [see 1st Cor. 15: 6]. A brilliant former Christian hater like Saul of Tarsus could not have believed in the risen Christ and changed the way he did to become the Apostle Paul unless the evidence was incontrovertible, as he witnesses in today’s verse. And we can rest our faith – as do I – on the biblical and historical evidence we have available. Truth from the past and as the very word of God proclaims, as did Paul in today’s passage, that Christ is risen!

I may never have seen the risen Christ as did His disciples, those 500+ witnesses, and the Apostle Paul, but no one can say to me that I haven’t seen the effects of life transformation that has taken place in the life of one who, like Paul, used to be a Christian hater and, also who, like Paul, has become one who lives (and would die) to share the Lord with others. And I think of men, far more intellectual than I, … former atheist thinkers like former scientist and now Christian apologist, Josh McDowell, British author, C.S. Lewis, and lawyer/journalist, Lee Strobel, … all brilliant men who decided to examine the historical data and came to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did – IN FACT – die and was raised from the dead. And like yours truly, they all finally and inexorably put their faith in the doctrine of the resurrection; and they all, like me, saw their lives become transformed by that belief.

Christ does live in my witness; and my faith in Him allows Him to live in me! And if you’re reading this, I pray that you just said, “Amen, Bill !!!”

My Prayer Today: HALLELUJAH! HE LIVES!! Amen

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23, 2011 … A Special Testimony

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 3 - 8 … [see underlined verse in context] 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 … and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

My Journal for Today: Paul’s eye-witness testimony to seeing the risen Christ allows Paul to be set apart as unto the office of “Apostle.” Prior to today’s highlight verse 8, in the context of 1st Cor. 15: 3 – 7, Paul writes of many other eye-witnesses to Jesus after His resurrection and before He ascended into heaven. However, Paul’s testimony of post-resurrection contact with Jesus was/is unique. His witness of Christ’s bodily appearance was the only such post-ascension contact recorded in the NT; and the event totally and radically transformed the former Saul of Tarsus, yielding the Apostle Paul, who would become Christendom’s preeminent outreach missionary to the Gentiles of the first century. Paul’s experience was a metamorphosis of character and witness which most certainly confirms his claim to the office of Apostleship.

As one can read in biblical and historical accounts, Paul first gave witness in his testimony to his former sinful life as a persecutor of Christians. Next, we all can read of him being transformed from a selfish Christian-hater into a selfless purveyor of God’s love, … one who was willing to endure horrible agony in his witness and ministry for Christ (read about Paul’s trials in 2nd Cor. 11). And finally Paul was totally changed, from one who wanted Christians killed into one who zealously desired to see all non-believers, even Gentiles, come to salvation in Christ (see Rom. 1: 16).

And may I say as humbly as I can, I identify with Paul’s metamorphosis. I, too, had a “Damascus Road” experience in my life where God brought me down from my anti-Christian attitude. No, Christ didn’t appear bodily to me as He did for Paul. Hence, I certainly have no claim to the office of “Apostle.” However, God’s Spirit and His prevenient grace did bring me down from my lofty perch of pridefulness to a humble place where I could respond to the life-transforming power of His Spirit. And like Paul, I was changed from persecutor to promoter of the Gospel. I, too, found the truth and reality of Paul’s writing in Rom. 12: 1 – 2…

: Romans 12: 1-2
... Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 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.

Paul’s life and witness, as does mine, provides strong evidence for the life-changing power of Christ’s resurrection. And I can only pray that any who read this have surrendered to His saving grace as well as having experienced the fruit of God’s Spirit through His sanctifying grace. Tomorrow, this year, is the day we celebrate the risen Lord, Easter. I pray it will be the true day for you to celebrate having God’s resurrection power changing your life as promised in Phil. 1: 6.

Celebrate with me the truth >>> HE IS RISEN … HE IS RISEN INDEED!!!

My Prayer Today: I am one, Lord, who was changed by Your grace; and I praise Your Holy Name! Amen

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22, 2011 … The Church Testifies to the Resurrection

Passage of the Day: 1st Corinthians 15: 1 … (underlined in context)] Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

My Journal for Today: My entry today, though prompted by John MacArthur’s poignant devotional for today in Strength for Today, is a very personal and pertinent one for me.

I believe one of the most powerful and provocative questions a Christian can ask a non-believer is this: “How do you explain the historical fact and the long-term impact of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?” Really, for a skeptic to reject Christ, he/she has to be able to explain away the fact/reality of a living Christ and One Who arose from the dead, … as well as why so many intelligent people have come to believe that through the ages.

Unfortunately during many years of my searching for spiritual strength and truth as a self-labeled “agnostic,” no one ever asked me that question. Here I was, searching into all of the “isms” of my day, … Buddhism, Taoism, New Ageism … and finding nothing which satisfied my soul! If someone had asked me the question above as a young, pride-filled man, challenging me to look at the facts, like many other former atheists had done, … much more brilliant men than I, … men like C.S. Lewis, Josh MacDowell, and Lee Strobel, I believe I could have been saved a lot of agony and foolhardiness earlier in my life. But, of course, God knew what He was doing; and what I needed to experience to be able to see truth; and in His time and in His way, he opened my “eyes” to the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

Now I recognize that even though thinking precedes doing, one is not saved through the mind. Being “converted” from self to Savior takes a heart decision; and, somewhat like the Apostle Paul, I had my heart confrontation on a road one day in 1983, where I heard a testimony (on tape) of young man who had become a quadriplegic but one who had found spiritual strength in Christ, the spiritual strength I had been seeking so unsuccessfully in the “isms” of my day. God used my head, i.e., my reasoning powers, to get to my heart; and I made that heart decision based upon my mental understanding of a set of wild circumstance which occurred on the morning of April 13, 1983. So, you can’t tell Bill Berry that God can’t use the head to get to the heart. The Lord certainly did with me.

The Apostle Paul in today’s passage, focusing on 1st Cor. 15: 1, was writing to a tough group of readers, the Corinthians, … former intellectuals and idolaters, who had been enmeshed in a deeply immoral culture (sound familiar – maybe a lot like here and now?!). But Paul in this entry verse to one of the most powerful presentations of the gospel in all of the New Testament [i.e., 1st Cor. 15], attests to the belief of the Christians in Corinth. And John MacArthur, in Strength for Today, points out that The Church over the centuries has continued to testify to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. And we who believe today, now knowing the truth of the resurrection, should (no, “MUST!”) praise our Lord for what He did in being raised to save us all – i.e., all who believe He did so.

Today I happen to be writing this devotional entry in a year where this date is “GOOD FRIDAY,” that day where we Christians remember Christ’s horrible death on the cross. Yes, and as horrible as that Friday once was for our Lord on that cross, we can – from our historical perspective and the truth of the Bible reflect on the day of His resurrection, which lay ahead. And, as the title to a wonderful sermon Tony Campolo once reported that his African-American Pastor had given at a Good Friday service in his church, let me record on this day … It’s Friday; … But Sunday’s comin! [* see note below]

And so, if you are reading this as a believer who has any non-believers in your life, … maybe relatives, friends, or co-workers, … ask them the challenging question I opened with above: …“How do you explain the historical fact and the long-term impact of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?”

Their answer could well shape their eternal future.

My Prayer Today: I believe, Lord! Amen

* Readers who wish to see Tony Campolo reflecting on his Pastor’s now famous sermon can go to You Tube and put “Tony Campolo” in the You Tube search engine. You’ll find several excerpts of Campolo’s famous speech there.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011 … The Centrality of the Resurrection

Passage of the Day: Matthew 28: 5 – 6 … 5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.

My Journal for Today: In these verses, we read of the fulcrum upon which all of human history rests … the redemption of our past and the hope of our future, all resting in one fact … that “HE IS RISEN!” As John MacArthur puts it in [b][i]Strength for Today[/i], “The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the culmination of redemptive history and the essential basis of the Christian faith.”[/b] The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Spirit, recognized this fact when he wrote the following in [b]1st Cor. 15: 13 – 14[/b]…

SCRIPTURE: 1st Cor. 15: 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

In the Old Testament (i.e., the Old Covenant), it was faith in the coming Messiah that led those prophets and saints into heaven, as with Abraham (Heb. 11: 19) or Daniel (Dan. 12: 1-5). However, now, in the New Covenant we must have faith in the risen Messiah, as the Lord, Jesus, preached and prophesied it (see Mark 8: 31).

Therefore, again, under the New Covenant, the resurrection of Jesus, which was given witness by over 500 people [see 1st Cor. 15: 6], led eleven of the remaining Apostles, as well as the Apostle Paul, to be martyred for their faith and their desire to spread the message of Jesus’ resurrection and the good news which was wrapped up in that event.

And finally, after the resurrection, as our Lord ascended into heaven to be re-glorified unto His place on God’s throne, He charged us all of His disciples to spread this resurrection good news. It was His GREAT COMMISSION; and if one memorizes and internalizes any of God’s word, this one passage ought to be right at the top of the list …

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 28: 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

What more need be said in devotion to this truth? He is risen; … He is risen indeed!

My Prayer Today: Yes, Lord, … that is my desire – for all to see You as risen. Amen

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011 … Compassionate Loyalty

Passage of the Day: Matthew 27: 55 … Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for His needs.

My Journal for Today: In this passage we read of women, who follow Christ loyally as He had commanded in Luke 9: 23. Yes, these were true “disciples,” living out Christ’s commands in that passage, offering their special gifts/services for their Savior, … women who deserved special recognition in God’s word, which was provided by God’s Spirit through the Gospel author, Matthew in today’s highlight passage. Most certainly they will have Christ’s recognition in Heaven; but in today’s verse we see the women who followed Jesus (in the background as he traveled in His earthly ministry) receiving singular recognition as they followed their Lord all the way to the cross.

And by the way, it’s interesting to note that the women followers of Jesus didn’t bolt and run in fear as did His close male disciples. To some degree this is still evident today in the preponderance of female service and involvement in most Christian churches in America – the women serving Christ faithfully and the men, with some exceptions, of course, exhibiting a “bolt and run” attitude when confronted with the truth of Christ’s rigorous commands toward discipleship/ministry/mission (see Acts 1: 8, Matt. 28: 19-20, and again – Luke 9: 23).

The women who faithfully serve God’s will and in His work have their role models in these women of Matt. 27, who, though crushed in despair, still ministered to their Lord’s needs, even in light of His hanging on the tree at Golgotha. We read about three of them further in John 19: 25 – 27 … women who loved their Lord and of Christ’s love for them …

SCRIPTURE: John 19: 25-27 Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

In today’s church, as I alluded above, we see the counterparts of these loyal and compassionate warriors, … women who, in today’s church, quietly and faithfully follow Jesus even through incredibly rough circumstances. They pray for others diligently. They work quietly with little or no up-front recognition, using their gifts for God’s glory. And they share their faith, through Christlike action, even when they are not sharing the Gospel verbally (which many of them do very effectively as well). More often and often more effectively than Christian men, I believe, the Sisters of God’s family are more faithful in their witness and true to Christ’s Great Commission (see Matt. 28: 19 – 20) than are today’s Christian men.

As an Elder in our church, I am blessed to be able to see this in action. As a blessed husband of one of these “faithful warriors,” I see this every day. In so many ways, my wife and the women of our church are faithful as surrendered servants in God’s kingdom. We are also blessed in our church to have many men who are servant-leaders for Christ; but more men need to be more active in God’s kingdom; and they, the men, are outnumbered as core members of our church – probably 3 to 1.

The women of my church, however, live both sides of the model given to us by Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, close friends of our Lord during His earthly ministry – giving faithful service and devoted worship as their personal ministry and witness, tirelessly using their gifts for the betterment of God’s kingdom and for His glory. If you’re a man and reading this, I would hope that this convicts you, as it does me, and directs you to be more faithful and to take the servant-leader role in God’s kingdom very seriously in your local church home.

But … Hail God’s powerful and dutiful women!! And I am blessed to married to one who embodies all that today’s passage captures.

My Prayer Today: Thank you, Lord, for Your servant, Elly Berry, whom You gave to me to be my helpmeet. Amen

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19, 2011 … A Soldiers’ Saving Response

Passage of the Day: Matthew 27: 54 … When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely He was the Son of God!"

Also in Mark 15: 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

And in Luke 23: 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man."

My Journal for Today: In this passage, recorded in three of the synoptic Gospels (see above), we read of the power of God through the life of Jesus to overcome any set of circumstances and even personal/cultural traditions to draw the lost to Himself.

In this scenario, we see a Roman Centurion, who didn’t likely have an understanding of Jewish beliefs or traditions; nor, before this fateful day, did he care for this man, Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Centurion was charged to crucify there on Golgotha. And prior to that horrible day, this soldier certainly didn’t believe that this man was the “Son of God” or the “King of the Jews” as the sign on the cross mockingly declared above Jesus’ head that day.

But then, on this fateful and God-ordained day … the Centurion became a witness to the God-Man being put to death on the cross; and he heard Jesus say things like, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And as a dreadful night-like darkness descended over that place in midday as well as the earth shaking, God opened the eyes of the Centurion to see that this man, in Luke’s version, was “a righteous man,” not a criminal. Mark and Matthew reported the man to say, “Surely this man was the Son of God;” and in that moment (according to Rom. 10: 13), that Roman soldier very likely could have become a saved man forever. We don’t really know his heart; but we can hope for his soul; because anyone, according to the truth I just cited, who sees himself as a sinner in need of a Savior and repents, believing and declaring Jesus is his Lord, will be saved.

Something like that happened to me on April 13, 1983, when God took the blinders off of my eyes. Like the Centurion, up to that day, I had been anti-Christian. Like the centurion, I had a position of some influence in my culture; and in a very real, emotional sense, I set about “crucifying” Christians wherever and whenever I could. Yet, as God did on Golgotha, He used a special pre-ordained set of circumstances to bring me to a place where I could see and hear the truth about the power of Christ to be my Savior and Lord. And on that day in April of 1983, I was led to declare that Jesus had to be the Man Whom He claimed to be. And like I hope was the Roman soldier, I, too, was saved from my self forever.

I really believe that I will see this Centurion in heaven one day. And I pray that all who read this will be with us there as well!

My Prayer Today: Thank you, Lord, for the grace that saves even blinded soldiers. Amen

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 … God’s Sovereign Departure

Passage of the Day: Matthew 27: 46 … About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"— which means, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" [Ps. 22:1]

My Journal for Today: This is a hard saying from Jesus on the cross. My studies reveal that Martin Luther worked diligently for years but had trouble grasping what Jesus said in today’s passage, … our Lord feeling so abandoned on the cross. And so, who am I to be trying to explain this? … Well, the answer lies in the fact that I have the same Holy Spirit to help me lay hold of God’s word just as did Martin Luther. I also have the advantage of centuries of brilliant theologians like Luther and other, more current Bible scholars, …men like John MacArthur in my devotional book, to help me. But the main issue still resides in my willingness to humbly seek after God’s, i.e., the Holy Spirit’s, ministry of enlightenment. So, if I pray for God’s mind and wisdom, He is willing to provide it to me (see James 1: 5, 6). So here goes [but you check me out in the Spirit of 1st John 4: 1 or 1st Thes. 5: 17].

We do know that God cannot abide sin (see Habakkuk 1: 13); and it is truth that Jesus became the sin of all mankind on that cross. And so, a Father-God, Who is perfectly Holy, could not be – in that moment where Jesus hung on the cross having taken on the sins of all mankind – in the presence of sin. Therefore, God, the Father, had to turn His back on His own Son. The horror of that for God, the Son, is unimaginable for me; and it’s heart wrenching to read our Lord lamenting what He had dreaded so heavily earlier during His passion, e.g., when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before being arrested.

But this should tell us how much sin is a curse [see also Gal. 3: 13] as we come into the presence of God; and for Christ becoming the propitiation for our sin on the cross had to be anathema in the presence of His Holy Father. That’s the way it is when we let sin come between God and our own souls (see 1st John 1: 10). God doesn’t hate us (personally) when we sin. To the contrary, He loves us – perfectly! But, He hates our sin; and the only way for us to maintain the intimacy of fellowship with our Lord is for us to be cleansed by the very blood which Christ was shedding on that cross as He spoke the lament we read in today’s verse [again, see that wondrous promise of 1st John 1: 9, which you should have memorized cold by now!].

Gratefully, as in that verse, God has provided a way for this cleansing to take place through confession; and, in that regard, this verse becomes one of the most hopeful passages in all of the New Testament for me (and probably for you, too). And then by repenting – truly repenting – and walking to follow Christ (see Luke 9: 23, which you should also have in memory), we can maintain the closeness that Christ lost by shouldering our sin … the intimacy the God-Man regained when He ascended and was re-glorified by His Father.

My Prayer Today: Lord, hold me close to You! Amen

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17, 2011 … Supernatural Darkness

Passage of the Day: Matthew 27: 45 … [During Christ’s crucifixion] From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.

My Journal for Today: John MacArthur in his devotional for this date from Strength for Today helped me learn about this darkness that enveloped the countryside at mid-day during Christ’s crucifixion. The darkness referred to in today’s verse has been historically confirmed to have taken place worldwide at the very moment of time mentioned in this scripture. Most certainly it could not have been caused by a parallel-occurring solar eclipse. That is astronomical and scientific fact.

MacArthur posits, and I agree, that this darkness was like that reported repeatedly put forth by Jesus in the book of Matthew (see Matt. 8: 12; 22: 13; 25: 30), … a darkness where there will be “…weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is the outer darkness associated with God’s judgment; and MacArthur indicates that this was the darkness in Matt. 27: 45, a darkness which shadowed the world, indicating the spiritual time when God’s wrath was visited upon Jesus, as our Lord took upon His shoulders the sinfulness of mankind.

This was time of the “cup” which Christ dreaded so much as he shed drops of blood, sweat, and tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was the moment when God, the Father, turned His back on His Son because the Son had taken upon Him the sins of all mankind. This was the darkest moment in the history of mankind – literally and spiritually. It was the time when the Lamb of God was slain; and MacArthur says that the darkness on that day was “… a graphic portrayal of the cross as the focal point of God’s wrath, a place of His immense judgment … a place of horrible spiritual darkness.”

And yet, three days later, in the event that all believers associate with the Light of the World, Christ was risen; and now we associate sin with darkness (as in today’s verse) and light with God’s holiness and purity … and of course, with Christ Himself. To be in the light is to be in Christ. To be in the darkness is to be under the influence of Satan, sin, and self.

In the ministry which I’ve been called and ordained to lead, BattlePlan Ministry, which helps men come out of the darkness of sexual sin into the light of purity and victory in Christ, the men often, upon confessing some episode of sin to their fellow BPM warriors in our men’s discipleship meetings, refer to actually “feeling” the light of Christ when they are cleansed of the darkness of sin, i.e., experiencing the light which comes from cleansing confession (see 1st John 1: 9 and/or 2nd Cor. 5: 17).

So, may we ever be in pursuit of God’s light and doing all we can to avoid the darkness of our sin nature.

My Prayer Today: Lord, I go to Your light! Amen

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16, 2011 … Christlike Compassion

Passage of the Day: John 19: 26 … 26 When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Dear woman, here is your son [John],"…

My Journal for Today: Yesterday in my devotional journal I wrote how Jesus, in the midst of horrible agony and strain on the cross, stress which certainly is beyond our comprehension, was still able to focus on the spiritual needs of the thieves who hung there beside Him on Golgotha. And now, in today’s verse and from Dr. MacArthur’s devotional in Strength for Today, we read of our Lord, hanging there on that tree, speaking of His concern for the temporal needs of His mother, Mary.

I must admit that this is very convicting for me. Usually when circumstances make it difficult for me physically or emotionally, I have to admit that I lose my focus on the needs of others and I become very selfish. My wife could relate that when I get sick or have physical pain, I get very wrapped up in my suffering and often a “pity party” ensues; and the last thing I end up thinking about would be the needs of those around me. And yet, in the most dire emotional and physical pain imaginable, Jesus tenderly and unselfishly reaches out to see that the needs of His mother will be protected. What a model of selflessness we have in our Lord.

And though this model may be almost impossible for this humble Christian to reenact … or even imagine for that matter … it is still one to which I can (no, I must!) aspire. It may seem like “mission impossible;” but I believe the truth of Matt 17: 20, which says that, with my faith, nothing is impossible for God. And I also have the teaching of Paul, exhorting me onward from 1st Cor. 10: 13, which tells me that no matter what the challenge (i.e., test, trial, temptation, or tribulation) God is faithful to provide a way for me to endure and also from Paul [in 2nd Cor. 12: 9] that I have the strength from God’s very sufficient grace to do what it takes reach out and help others … yes, even when I would rather think of myself first.

May we all, therefore, recognize His truth … that God, the Holy Spirit, will continue throughout our lives to shape us into the Christlikeness we may have trouble envisioning for ourselves (but take the time to mediate on Phil. 1: 6 and Eph. 3: 20). God can and will do for our character much more in reshaping us into Christ’s image than we can ever imagine. But we must have faith that God can, and will, reform our character of compassion into that exhibited even by Christ on the cross.

My Prayer Today: O Lord, may I be ready, when tested, to be able to be compassionate to others. Amen

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15, 2011 … Reaching Out to Others

Passage of the Day: Luke 23: 43 … 43 And Jesus said to him [the repentant thief on the cross], “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

My Journal for Today: This incident, captured by Luke in today’s passage, is very personal for me, which I will explain below.

First, let me say that what happened as the life of Jesus, the Christ, moved inexorably toward His death on that cross, hanging between two thieves who were also convicted to die; and Christ’s word here to one of those convicted criminals is a remarkable example of God’s prevenient and saving grace. I know, in faith and from God’s word, Christ would have equally wanted both of these thieves to be in heaven with Him as they all would die mortally that day. Certainly, both of the convicted and crucified thieves saw the same pitiful, weakened figure hanging between them with a sign over His head that proclaimed, “King of the Jews!” However, only one of the two responded to God’s prevenient calling of grace, which was available to both of them that day. Only one of the men repented and acknowledged his sin and proclaimed the truth that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Only one of the thieves was converted by God’s saving grace that day; and only one of those men are with Jesus today, awaiting His second coming and their total glorification in the New Jerusalem.

However, in that remarkable, telling moment, Jesus told the repentant thief that he would be with Him in heaven THAT VERY DAY! This encounter, probably as much as any of God’s word from the New Testament, assures me that the spirits of both of my parents, who believed/received Christ very late in their lives, are now with Jesus in heaven. And it tells me that it’s never too late, no matter the past/personal circumstances of one’s life, to heed and respond to God’s calling for salvation. It was that calling to me when I was 39 years old that led me, most certainly “a repentant thief,” to receive God’s saving grace. And it was God’s prevenient grace, being received by my father at age 76 and then my Mom, just six hours before she died, that will allow me to see them in heaven in God’s timing.

What about you? Have you surrendered, as did the thief on the cross, to the calling on your heart by Christ? If you haven’t, NOW is the time to declare that you are a sinner … that you need a Savior … and that Christ is Your Savior and Lord. God’s word promises (see Rom. 10: 9 – 13 - linked) that if you – or ANYONE - declares this before God, as did the one thief, you will be saved for eternity to be with Christ. But if you don’t/can’t before you die, you will languish forever separated from God in hell. No more need be said.

My Prayer Today: Lord, may all who read this heed your call. Amen

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011 … Forgiving Others

Passage of the Day: Luke 23: 34 … 34 Then Jesus said [from the cross], “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

My Journal for Today: I don’t know about you; but when I read this statement from our Lord, the God-Man, dying on the cross, I think I’m probably more like Peter when the heat is on, running like a scared rabbit at the threat of death. It’s very hard for me to identify with the degree of sacrifice exhibited by My Lord, Jesus, on the cross. And some may say, “Well, He was God as well as man.” And that’s true; but Stephen (see Acts 7: 59 - 60) was just a man, a man with a sin nature like me; and yet, he exhibited the same degree of self-sacrifice and forgiveness when he was stoned to death unjustly as did Jesus on the cross. Remember the young teenager, Cassie Bernall, whom I’ve mentioned in my journal entries this month, highllighting how she died at Columbine High School by simply saying that she was a Christian to a deranged young teenager who held a gun at her head. So, obviously it’s possible for mankind to emulate Christlike strength and forgiveness … yes, even, while we are in the midst of dire or threatening circumstances.

But just think about what Jesus was all about as He hung there on the cross, dying by horrible physical pain and even worse, the spiritual pain of separation from His Heavenly Father. And yet, He showed the love of His father, forgiving those who crucified Him (and as we know, that includes you and me!). As He hung there, He was actually more concerned for the spiritual well being of His enemies than for Himself.

And therein lies probably the toughest challenge I have ever found in my pursuit of Christlikeness; and, though I’ve never been put in a position of having stand for Christ in a life-threatening instance or to forgive someone who was about to take my life, I would hope and pray that I could be like Stephen or maybe Cassie Bernall; and in my humanity, I could make the choice and genuinely forgive those who persecute me – even to the point of death for Christ.

Of course, I’d rather not ever be put in those circumstances; but I think we all need to ask ourselves, especially as we contemplate this in the light of Easter, which is often celebrated during this time of year, … “Do we have Christ in our hearts when we have to pick up His cross daily; or do we fall pray to our humanity as did Peter when he ran?” Tough question; but now is the time to be making the commitments and build up the discipline to be able to forgive our persecutors as did our Lord.

My Prayer Today: Lord, I feel so inadequate; but I know that Your grace is sufficient to give me strength to cover my weakness! Amen

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13, 2011 … Peter’s Repentence

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 74 - 75 … [see underlined] 74 Then he [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

My Journal for Today: Wow! This is a passage with which I have deep personal empathy and identity.

Peter’s response to the recognition of His thrice denial of Christ, which is recounted in today’s passage, as well as in Luke 22: 61, … especially after a long series of self-driven behavior (see Matt. 26: 35, 40 – 41, 51 – 52, and 69 – 70), shows the long-suffering patience our Lord has for believers who fail Him, even repeatedly (and are you, like me, saying “Amen” right now?).

And I love the passage in John 21: 15 – 19 [please look that one up and meditate on its significance], which probably best illustrates Christ’s infinite patience, love, and grace as He helps Peter be restored into fellowship with his Lord, along with a charge to move forward in his (Peter’s) relationship with Christ. Jesus patiently and lovingly, in the John 21 passage, brings this fallen warrior into a healed and restored fellowship with his Lord with the charge from the Good Shepherd to go and feed His sheep [which is a charge to fulfill Peter’s calling in ministry]. Could there be a more poignant and powerful description of just how much the Good Shepherd loves His sheep and is willing to do all it takes to keep them close to Himself so that they (we) can grow and thrive?

This is a living example of the truth of 1st John 1: 7, 9; and it should give hope to all of us who claim Christ as our Savior. When we’re willing to return to the Good Shepherd, with dirt on us from our encounters with sin in our nature, He is fully willing to cleanse us completely and to allow us to be restored of strength and direction. That was the lesson from the parable of the “prodigal,” wasn’t it? Well, somewhere along the path of our discipleship as Christians all of us have failed our Lord, by commission or omission. But we still, from that moment forward by confession/repentance, can be like Peter in the John 21 passage [have you taken it in – fully? … please do!]. We can receive God’s grace and walk in repentance with His Spirit giving us His direction and power. We can deny self, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (see my oft cited passage: Luke 9: 23).

But as with Peter, it takes our recognition of our sin or separation from the Shepherd … AND our willingness to return to Him in repentance so that Christ can (and will) be able to impart His blessing and fill us with His grace. Only with this enabling grace can we fulfill the admonition of Paul in Phil. 3: 13 – 14 … to move forward toward the prize which awaits us in glory, shining God’s light for others to see our Lord’s love from the darkness (see Matt. 5: 16).

Where are you, my friend? Have you been in the darkness? Do you need to come into the light, … to repent and be restored today? If so, go back, … run into the arms of your Abba Father and be restored by the Good Shepherd, who will say to you what he said to Peter, … “Go, and feed my sheep.” And with the cleansing of character that comes from repentance and renewal, you will be able to do just that, … shining Christ’s light though your gifts and good works for God’s glory.

My Prayer Today: I am restored in/through You, Lord! Amen

Special Blogger's Note: It’s a special day for yours truly – my “re-birthday.” It was 28 years ago TODAY that I was, like Peter, allowed to repent and be restored from an angry agnostic who had lived in habitual sexual sin for over two decades and was seeking spiritual strength and renewal into my now life, almost three decades later, as an ordained Minister of the Gospel. Perhaps you can see why I identify with Peter so much. And any of us, as lost souls or backslidden believers, in need of repentance and renewal can run to our Prodigal Father, and receive the restoring love He has waiting for us. If you need that love, I pray that you will come to the Good Shepherd, our Abba Father, running into the open arms of the loving and merciful Good Shepherd and hear Him say, "I love you; ... now go and feed my sheep."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2008 … The Unjust Condemnation

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 65 – 66 … 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered.

My Journal for Today: Sad, sad, sad! An angry, selfish “mob,” whipped into a frenzy by the Sanhedrin, the Hebrew religious and judicial leaders, … attempting to eliminate the One Whom they could not recognize as the Son of God. As I’ve said earlier, … it’s not that much different today with many worldly forces trying to “kill off” the Name of “Jesus” and “God” from the pubic consciousness. And it’s so sad because the truth of the words John, the Baptist in John 3: 36

SCRIPTURE: John 3: 36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Oh how God would rather bring these “enemies” into a binding and lasting relationship with Himself; but by their anger and rejection, they bring down the very wrath of God on themselves.

Jesus was innocent then; and He is innocent now; and yet the crowd cries out, then and now, that He is “deserving [i.e., worthy] of death.” Oh the ironic horror that awaits those who surrender to this mob mentality. They cried then and they cry now for Christ’s elimination; and not believing in Him as Savior and receiving Him as Lord condemns them to a forever separated from the very God they reject … condemned into the very fires of hell itself. And to think that a little over a quarter of a century ago, I was one of those who chose to reject “God” in my life; but praise the Lord, His grace overcame my ignorance and stupidity. And my Lord, the Hound of Heaven, sought me out for brokenness so that I could come to see and receive Christ as my Savior and Lord. And here I sit, in my quiet place, seeking to know my God and my Savior as intimately as I can.

Yes, … some would say, “I just don’t believe in hell!” And to such I would respond, “You don’t have to understand or believe in gravity for it to be real; but if you fall from a 30 foot ladder, you will be convicted by the truth of the law of gravity.” One can reject hell, … out of misunderstanding or ignorance or simply, denial; but it’s reality will be there for those who are not willing to believe in it or it’s antidote … the blood of Christ, shed on the cross. Jesus is the Son of God whether you believe it or not. But I pray you do; and I pray you have accepted Him as your Savior and Lord. For one day we will all know the difference between heaven and hell … FOR SURE !!!

My Prayer Today: Your truth, Lord, is my assurance! Amen

Special Blogger's Note: It’s a special day for yours truly – my “re-birthday.” It was 28 years ago TODAY that I was, like Peter, allowed to repent and be restored from an angry agnostic who had lived in habitual sexual sin for over two decades and was seeking spiritual strength and renewal into my now life, almost three decades later, as an ordained Minister of the Gospel. Perhaps you can see why I identify with Peter so much. And any of us, as lost souls or backslidden believers, in need of repentance and renewal can run to our Prodigal Father, and receive the restoring love He has waiting for us. If you need that love, I pray that you will come to the Good Shepherd, our Abba Father, running into the open arms of the loving and merciful Good Shepherd and hear Him say, "I love you; ... now go and feed my sheep."

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11, 2011 … The Unjust Conspiracy

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 59 … The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death.

My Journal for Today: The hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders involved in this travesty of justice exposed in Matthew 26 reached its zenith as the Sanhedrin completely perverted the Mosaic system of justice which their Covenant had sworn them to uphold (see Deut. 16: 19 - 20). Mark’s gospel account of this scene (see Mark 14: 57 – 59) even notes that the bogus witnesses who were called to testify against Jesus were not able to be consistent, which would have been required for Jesus’ conviction under Hebrew law. Therefore, this was an outright and blatant – AND illegal – attempt to eradicate Jesus of Nazareth from the social/political scene. But these players on God’s stage of life, in their faithlessness, were blinded to the reality that the very hand of God had them all in His script of the drama of the ages.

And today I must say that I can see many of the same “faces” at play in our world, pushing forth a worldly agenda to eliminate the Name of “God,” especially “Jesus Christ,” from every vestige of the public arena. Time and time again, with utter disregard for the Spirit of law and justice – even at times the letter of the law – these forces are figuratively “hell-bent” on the eradication of any public display of Judeo-Christian thought. We even see proponents of this thought movement proposing that the use of the Bible should be outlawed as “hate speech” when it comes against such a politically correct agenda as the “gay movement.” It has happened in Sweden already; it is happening in Canada; and it it’s definitely on the move in this country.

I fully expect to see this Sanhedrin-like movement here in this country to intensify in the near future; and we may see Christians in America being vilified, if not jailed, for expressing their beliefs and standing for truth as did Christ in the public arena. And the closer we get to Christ’s return, the more we will see this antagonism develop.

My Prayer Today: As Your last word says, Lord, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Amen

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10, 2011 … They ALL Failed the Test

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 56b 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then ALL the disciples deserted him and fled.

My Journal for Today: Above I capitalized the word “ALL” for emphasis. That word “all” in that passage is the Greek word “pas,” which is used almost 1300 times in the New Testament; and it means just what it says. It means “each and every one” of Jesus’ disciples cut and ran. If this had been test of their Christlikeness or a measurement of the maturity of their discipleship, how would these men have done on the test?

I capitalized that word “ALL” for emphasis so that we can see that ALL of Jesus’ closest disciples fled when the pressure was on. ALL of them, fearing for their lives as Jesus was arrested, cut and ran. And these were men who had walked with their declared “Messiah” for three years. They had seen Him perform all of those miracles recorded in the Gospel accounts … turning water into wine … walking on water … calming a raging sea with a wave of his hand … feeding the multitudes with a few fishes and loaves, … healing all those people; … and even witnessing Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. And three of their number had seen Jesus transformed on the Mount of Transfiguration. And yet, ALL – not some of them, … but ALL - of the remaining disciples fled when their “Messiah,” the One they had declared to be the Son of God, was taken away by the soldiers. I don’t know about you; but personally, the facts surrounding this event are hard for me to grasp.

Oh, it’s so easy to ask, “How could they do this?!!” But I wonder if I would not have been the same cowering disciple as these men were given that test of my discipleship. Earlier I referred to Cassie Bernall’s simple faith with a gun to her head at Columbine High School. She didn’t run or deny her Lord as did Peter and the other inner-circle Disciples. No … like Jesus, Cassie Bernall died for her faith. Wow, … I would hope and pray that I could be like Cassie, especially since, like her, I have the benefit of the biblical account of our Lord dying on the cross for my sins; and I have declared in faith, here in this safe place, that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Actually, to be fair to the disciples who ran that day, sometime later, after they witnessed the cross and the resurrection and the ascension, they all died, save John, the death of martyrs for their faith. These men were not cowards down deep in their hearts; but they were very human; and as we know from the truth of Jeremiah 17: 9, we humans have hearts which are wicked and deceitful to the core of our being. We ALL have in us the capability of failing the test of loyalty to our Savior when the consequences are dire and our very lives are threatened.

When the real testing comes, we must ask ourselves if we can live up to Paul’s exhortations to stand in the gap when the times get tough (see Eph. 5: 15 – 16 below) ...

SCRIPTURE: Eph 5: 1515 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

So, … can we stand with Christ … or rather, can we walk with Him and follow Him … wherever He leads us? [see Luke 9: 23] Can we walk worthily in His steps, calling ourselves “Christian?” [see Eph. 4: 1] Well, of course, it’s not easy. And we may pass the ultimate test of discipleship, as did Cassie Bernall, even when we’re called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for our Lord. Go ahead … ask the big test question on God’s pop-quiz of followership here in this safe place.

The question looms large; ... will we pass the test? Will we stand for our Savior and deny self? Will we stand for purity and against sin in a culture which beckons us to fall into line with Satan rather than the Savior? ... Will we?!!

But we know, in our faith, that it’s worth it to stay the course … not to “cut and run;” … but to fight the fight … to witness for our Lord no matter the circumstances. Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson from that of group of Jesus’ disciples who got the ultimate lesson in fear versus faith. Only with God’s strength can we prevail (and I hope you all know, believe, and live the truths found in Rom 8: 31, Phil. 4: 13, 2nd Tim. 1: 7, and 2nd Cor. 12: 9). Because, if we do live - with belief - these truths, we will pass the test.

My Prayer Today: Help me, Lord, to be faithful when it counts. Amen

Saturday, April 09, 2011

April 9, 2011 … Taking Up the Sword In Vain

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 51 - 52 - 53 … 51 With that, one of Jesus' companions [Peter] reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

My Journal for Today: Admit it. ... If someone struck out or attacked your best Christian friend or maybe your Pastor or mentor, most of us would be right there with Peter, picking up the “sword” to strike back in anger/revenge. We’re really no different than Peter, are we? His reaction was very human, … a knee-jerk response, … his Rabbi and friend was being arrested unjustly. And I’m sure by then Peter also realized that one of the close band of disciples, Judas, had betrayed their Master with that horrible kiss. The frustration had to have been overwhelming; but even in the heat of that moment, Jesus used it as a teachable moment; and in today’s verse of emphasis (Matt. 26: 52), we read of Jesus constraining His followers, especially Peter, and giving them a Kingdom lesson in attitude management.

Earlier in the Garden, Jesus had taught the disciples a lesson of selling their purses to buy swords (see Luke 22: 35 – 38); and apparently Peter took Jesus too literally. If you read and study that instruction, you will note that Jesus was referring to the “sword” of the Spirit, … not physical weapons … about preparing for spiritual warfare, not physical conflict. In fact the Apostle Paul later gives all believers the truth about weapons of spiritual warfare, which are not of the flesh (see 2nd Cor. 10: 3 - 4). We must remember that we don’t need to take up fleshly arms to defend God, as was done in the “Crusades.” Jesus, in today’s passage, is telling Peter, and all of us, that He could call upon legions of angels if He so desired (see also Matt. 26: 53). Paul said it aptly in Romans 8: 31, … “If God be for us, who can be against us!”

Yes, the kind of warfare that we need to wage daily as Christians is that spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 6: 10 – 13; and we must, as God instructs us, be wearing God’s full armor (Eph. 6: 13 - 18), including being able to use God’s Spirit Sword (i.e., His word) to do battle with those who will attack us as the mob came for Jesus.

My Prayer Today: Help me, Lord, to be ready this day and hereafter to wage war in Your Name … and … in Your way. Amen

Friday, April 08, 2011

April 8, 2011 … Judas, the Traitor

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 48 – 50 … 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest Him." 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. 50Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."

My Journal for Today: Today, as we focus on the powerful drama of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night after the Passion Passover, we see Judas of Iscariot “doing his thing,” … that dirty deed which identified Jesus as THE ONE to the soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus. And Judas, who had turned from follower to “fouler,” became the arch type for any and all who let their selfish agenda prevail in their lives over that of the Savior.

Judas had a preconceived notion – a selfish stereotype – of what THE Messiah should be. He envisioned his messiah to be a powerful leader, … one who would free God’s people from the oppression of the Romans. Maybe he remembered and envisioned the qualities of Moses and Joshua all rolled into one great Hebrew leader; and that’s the person he had thought Jesus would become. Quite possibly, and even likely, Judas also saw himself being elevated in stature politically and personally through his allegiance with Jesus, as The Messiah, since he, Judas, had been the one who had banked on Jesus becoming the Jewish Messiah.

However, as the events of time and the confrontation with Jesus in the Upper Room had transpired (see John, … chapters 13 – 16), Jesus had become the Messiah of humility, submission, and a slavery-type of servitude; and this was not what Judas Iscariot had given three years of his life following Jesus to see unfold. So, Judas took his personal agenda of power/greed to the Sanhedrin and the Jewish priesthood, who contracted with Judas to identify Jesus as they would come to arrest and have this man crucified. And tragically in today’s verse, we even see Jesus humbly and compassionately referring to Judas as “friend” as our Lord acknowledges Judas’ part in the Passion drama of the ages.

As I said above, Judas becomes the arch type of any declared, but nominal “christians” [with a small “c”], who use the label of “Christian” to gain favor or selfish gain from a world, hostile to all whom Jesus came into the world to save. And anyone who has an agenda for power and control in the world, who calls himself a “Christian,” might as well be kissing the cheek of the Savior, and selling Him out to those who might put Him on the cross. And like Judas, that type of turncoat attitude makes one vulnerable to demonic possession and/or satanic oppression, even domination, by that same advocate for evil who gained control over Judas, leading this misguided man to his own demise … at his own hand.

Above [see graphic], as I was pondering thoughts about how declared “christians” might become a type of Judas, thoughts of that famous Pogo Cartoon by Walt Kelly came to my mind; and I was able to find a 1972 version online which Kelly used to illustrate a book. And as you see, Kelly depicted Pogo (representing mankind) looking into a mirror of truth and seeing “the enemy,” … himself. And you probably know the now famous quote: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

We must ask ourselves, as Christians: … “Are we selling out our Lord by any attitude or desire for personal power/control in today’s word?” If we are, shame on us as Judases, who use Christ’s Name in vain by our selfishness. And we have looked into the mirror of truth [i.e., God’s word]; and the one we see as the enemy is US.

My Prayer Today: Lord, give me discernment to recognize the enemy and to reject his onslaught so that I don’t become a Judas for my own Savior. Amen

Thursday, April 07, 2011

April 7, 2011 … The Sinful Captors

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 47 … 47 While He [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

My Journal for Today: In his devotional book Strength for Today, John MacArthur, for this date, correctly observes that the mob who came after Jesus, including the Jewish soldiers from Herod’s court, were a prophetic life-picture of what the world – even today – would do to the Person and Name of “Jesus Christ.” How many times is it in the news today for worldly influences to attempt to “kill off” or erase any influence Jesus might have in our culture? There is a “mob” today who, if they could, would eliminate the name of “God” and/or “Jesus” from every vestige of our culture.

The mob coming after Jesus at the time of His Passion hid behind the guise and charade of legal justification, perpetrating a totally illegal, certainly sinful, mob-engineered act of murder. It was an organized “hit” with the purposefully intent to rid the world of the Man Who claimed to be “God.” And our unbelieving, flesh-driven world today would still like to eradicate Christ from any degree of influence over their lives. Christ comes in and demands allegiance to His word and His life; and He commands the world to believe and follow Him; and, just as in Christ’s day, the world politic did not want to relinquish power or control. And so, that world, as we read in today’s verse, was coming to kill Jesus, the self-proclaimed “Son of God.”

Cassie Bernall, at Columbine High School in 1999, when asked, with a gun to her head, if she was a Christian, said quietly and simply, without hesitation, “Yes.” And the young man who challenged her faith, couldn’t hear that and shot her dead. And now we have to ask ourselves as “disciples” of this same Jesus, … “Are we going to cut and run as did His disciples after the Gethsemane encounter? Or will we stand in and for His Name as did Cassie Bernall? Will we being willing, even onto death, to say, “I am His!”

Do we believe what Jesus said in His word? As MacArthur said, “… believers (i.e., Christians) are called to stand apart from any unbelieving crowd and defend the Name of Jesus Christ.”

But I ask myself (and you) … “Do we believe?” … AND … “Are we ready to stand for that belief, even in the face of death?!”

My Prayer Today: I stand with You, Lord; … give me the strength! Amen

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

April 6, 2008 … Jesus’ Admonition In Gethsemane

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 40 – 41 … 40 Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour?" He asked Peter. 41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

PARALLEL SCRIPTURE: Mark 14: 37 - 38 Then He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," He said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

PARALLEL SCRIPTURE: Luke 22: 45 - 46 When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 "Why are you sleeping?" He asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

My Journal for Today: Today I have supplied not only the text from Matt. 26 concerning the failure of Jesus’ three comrades, but also the parallel versions of this incident in Mark 14 and Luke 22. In these passages (note: these were written by men who were not at the scene) we read of the obvious disappointment of Christ when He found the men, His inner circle of chosen disciples, sleeping at their charged post. And in this moment of confrontation, Jesus gives a warning to His disciples (and by God’s Spirit to all believers) about our vigilance and the avoidance of temptation.

I think we can all identify and empathize with the very human weakness and failure of Peter, James, and John to remain vigilant in prayer as Jesus had asked them to be. They were confused, frustrated, and tired men; and any one of these conditions can make any believer vulnerable to the temptation of our mortal, sin-ridden heart (again, always remembering Jer. 17: 9). In today’s life and culture, I certainly have trouble focusing on the discipline of vigilance and prayer in my devotional and/or worship life. How many times do we arrive at church on Sunday morning or for our daily devotional with our minds/hearts going in 40 directions because of all the events and demands that have occurred before we settle into corporate or personal worship? And because of it, the temptation to relent to the “tyranny of the urgent,” we can only have half-hearted worship with our Lord.

Just a couple of days ago (go back to my devotional journal entry for April 4) I wrote of my personal confession for having missed a prayer meeting at our church for which I had been committed to participate because I simply overslept. Like Jesus’ three companions – His friends – I fell prey to my own inept desires and temptations; and I failed to stand watch and pray the way I had desired to do. I think we’re all vulnerable to our flesh in this way; and that’s why this passage today has such personal relevance for me.

The Apostle Paul, using his own past failures to help believers identify with such failures, recognized our tendency to let our flesh dominate our vigilance when he penned Romans 7: 14 – 23 [please take the time to seek out, read, and meditate on this passage]. However, in verses 24 – 25 of Romans 7, as well as all of Romans 8, Paul triumphantly declares where Christians can ALWAYS find the strength and power to be vigilant and to become overcomers as was our Lord (read John 16: 33 and then 2nd Cor. 12: 9).

SCRIPTURE: John 16: 33 [Jesus] "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."

SCRIPTURE: 2nd Cor. 12: 9 But He [Jesus] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”

Yes, the same Holy Spirit, my indwelling Lord, the Third Person of the Trinity, Who allowed Jesus to be vigilant and strong, … to be the Overcomer of the world, … is the same Spirit Who resides in my heart (and yours, if you have received His saving and enabling grace). And all I have to do, as Paul wrote about in Romans 8, is to recognize and receive God’s grace, which, in turn, will allow my weak flesh and deceit-ridden heart to be able to deny self, and as Jesus also charge His disciples in Luke 9: 23, … to take up my Lord’s cross [yes, even where I am today], and to follow Him in prayer or into spiritual warfare, … allowing me to do what He challenged his three Disciples to do, … and that is to “watch and pray.” And as we read passages like 1st Cor. 10: 13 and Phil. 3: 13 – 14, we realize that we can do just that!

My Prayer Today: Praise You, Lord! Pour out Your grace, dear Jesus, especially when I wane in the flesh. Amen

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

April 5, 2011 … Supplication Before the Father

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 39 … Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will."

My Journal for Today: Reading the parallel accounts of this episode in the Passion of Christ (besides Matt. 26: 36 – 46, see Mark 14: 32 – 42 and Luke 22: 39 – 46), one is taken (or at least I am) by the very human side of the God-man, Jesus, Who understandably, being fully God and completely aware of what was about to transpire, prayed so intensely in the Garden for “this cup” of horror to be lifted from Him. And then to come out during His prayer vigil in Gethsemane to find his close inner circle of friends had ignored His request to “watch and pray” with Him; … well, even though our Lord had divine compassion for His disciples, in his humanity, it had to have been disappointing to our Lord.

Most certainly the men had to have been fatigued and fearful; and perhaps they simply were overwhelmed with Jesus’ charge to be vigilant with Him in prayer as He went, merely a stone’s throw away from them, to pray Himself. But I have a different take on this, especially since not one of these three close confidants was able to do what Jesus did … and that is to pray intensely about what Jesus had told them was his last night on this earth. I believe that the Holy Spirit came upon them with the spiritual “drug” of sleep to later show them, from their own experience, how easy it is, in our humanity, to lose our vigilance in the face of Jesus’ charge to discipleship (as in Luke 9: 23), … i.e., to deny self, take up His cross, and follow Him.

And they must’ve learned their lesson from this and Jesus’ deeply intense battle in the Garden, because Matthew, Mark, and Luke, none of these authors of the three synoptic gospels were there in the garden and were able to write the parallel accounts of this episode from first-hand account. So, today’s hightlight passage, which spells out this account of Jesus’ supplication to His father, so spelled out with great clarity, most likely came from the descriptions from the accounts of these inner-circle witnesses, James, John, and Peter, the ones who had “blown it” by failing to watch and pray. And as we read these accounts, we, as believers, have the same advantage that the writers of these Gospel accounts had. The gospel writers were Spirit-inspired in their hearts/minds to write these accounts; and we have the same Holy Spirit in our hearts/minds to be able to read and be impacted by God’s transmission of this important encounter in the Garden before Jesus went to the cross.

Therefore, with the presence and the power of God’s Spirit in my heart, to some degree, I can empathize with the humanity of Christ which led Him to pray so intensely so as to have the cup of terror lifted from Him. And I can fully identify with the lack of vigilance of the three close friends of Jesus, who were not able to stand with Him in prayer for any concentrated period of time. How many times have I been unable to “watch and pray” for a concentrated period of time when I desire to deny myself and follow my Savior in prayer? Perhaps you’ve had the same challenge. If you read my confession from my journal entry yesterday, I had just such an episode of failing vigilance to watch/pray. So, I’m really tuned in to the humanity of the three disciples who “blew it.” Perhaps you do too.

That’s why I think that we all need to take the Apostle Paul’s lessons in 2nd Cor. 12: 9 to heart. There he had learned that in his own flesh, he was too weak to meet the challenges of the flesh and especially the onslaught of the enemy’s temptations. Paul had internalized that his (and, by extension, our) only hope to remain strong is to seek and receive the available strength provided by God’s Spirit through His grace, which is offered to any believer humble enough to receive it and use it in their lives. Jesus, in His supplication before God, the Father in the garden did it; and as I mature and grow in my relationship with my Lord, I pray, as I do below, that I can develop that humility to consume as much of God’s grace as will allow me to “watch and pray” with my Lord.

My Prayer Today: Lord, I follow you to the high ground of prayer in battle today. I may have blown it yesterday; but today I receive Your grace to be there for Your purpose. Give me the grace to remain alert … with You. Amen

Monday, April 04, 2011

April 4, 2011 … Jesus’ Struggle in Gethsemane

Passage of the Day: Matthew 26: 37- 38 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then He said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me."

My Journal for Today: Today’s passage takes us to Christ’s time at Gethsemane, where I believe, as depicted in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of The Christ, Jesus had one final spiritual battle with His arch enemy, Satan. However, unlike the encounter reported in the wilderness in Matthew 4 or Luke 4, Jesus did not have his full ministry and life ahead of Him. No, this time, His walk on this earth and His ministry were almost completely behind Him, … except what lay before Him on the cross at Golgotha. This time in the garden, battling His flesh and Satan, was to be one of His fiercest battles yet; and the way He dealt with this spiritual encounter is a model for all of us.

In Matt. 4 and Luke 4, we read of how our Lord used God’s word, the Sword of the Spirit, to slash away at the ploys and temptations of Satan. But here, in the Gethsemane encounter, we read how Christ took what I call “the high ground” in battle; and that is prayer. And Christ’s attitude in taking the high ground was one of total submission to His Father. The high ground is always the best place to be in battle; because there we can see the enemy more easily and we can hold the advantage of Godly perspective, rather than relying on the internal, lower, perspective of our own selves. But when we come to that high place on the spiritual battlefields of life, totally surrendered to God, He will lead us in the battles.

I just love the scriptural picture of taking the high ground of prayer in battle in Exodus 17, verses 8 – 13, where Moses had to lead God’s people in battle the Amalekites. Read this and take note of the submissive posture of Moses as he took the high ground for the battle …

SCRIPTURE: Exod. 17: 8 - 13 ... 8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Somewhat like Moses, needing the support of other believers Aaron and Hur, Jesus, in today’s passage, also asked His friends, Peter, James, and John to wait and pray with Him there in the Garden. And it’s always a good strategy in spiritual battle to have a cohort of warriors to stand with you as you head to the high ground of prayer. However, we know from this passage in Matt. 26 that Jesus’ friends were not up to the task; and they failed our Lord by falling asleep on their watch. The surrendered will of these warriors was just not where it needed to be to help Jesus in this time of trial. With Moses, however, in the passage from Exod. 17, Aaron and Hur were up to the task; and they provided the vigilance and support needed for Moses to be in submission to God’s will; and the victory was God’s. But, interestingly enough, though it looked bad for Peter, James, and John in their faithlessness and lack of vigilance, God’s will also prevailed in the end with Jesus, Who was in total surrender to the will of God, the Father, establishing God’s eternal victory on the cross, and our Lord’s prayer in the garden, from the highest ground possible, was fully adequate to defeat Satan as the Christ marched to the cross.

I believe Jesus, in His relationship with believers is constantly asking us to stand watch in prayer with Him. That was the essence of Paul’s exhortation (from God’s Spirit) in 1Thes. 5: 17 … to live in an attitude of prayer continually. Yes, our prayer vigilance is continually needed as we wear God’s full armor and we wield His Spirit Sword in battle. We read in Eph. 6: 13 – 18 of wearing God’s full armor and carrying His Spirit Sword into battle, first and foremost in prayer (see v. 18). This requires us to be surrendered to God’s will and humble to receive His grace so that we can have the strength of will required to take the high ground and be vigilant to hold it with our prayer. Jesus has warned us, as He did His three close friends and relatives, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." [reading ahead to Matt. 26: 41] And I don’t know about you; but I don’t want to fail my Savior, let alone myself, my family, and my brothers/sisters in Christ. So, I strive to be on watch and vigilant as I follow Jesus in battle.

And I pray that I can (that we all can) stand in prayer on the high ground and be vigilant enough to watch for the enemy as we battle him daily. The irony for me is that today I have been an absolute failure (see my confession below); and my first prayer, upon awaking this morning, was to claim God’s promise of 1st John 1: 9 [I’m sure you know that one by now], confessing my slothful sin and asking for cleansing and restoration as I know our Lord can/will do when we pray humbly for restoration. Jesus did it for Peter when he failed; and I know He’ll do it for me.

A Hypocrite’s Note: What an irony of stinging conviction! I’m posting this self-convicting message today as a complete hypocrite. This very morning I had made a commitment to join a number of my church brothers/sisters in a prayer vigil which began on April first, called ”21 Days of Prayer.” This prayer emphasis was to bring a cohort of prayer warriors to gather early in the mornings at our church for the 21 Days prior to Easter to pray for our God to bring His power to bear on a lot of the challenges we face in spiritual warfare in our church, our community, and our culture. But this morning I woke up, not setting my alarm to be at our designated church prayer vigil, and like Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, I was a no-show, falling asleep on His charge to watch and pray. And right now I’m feeling a bit like James, John, and Peter must’ve felt, getting the stinging rebuke of their Messiah. If I were Aaron or Hur, I would have failed my brother, Moses, and the battle Joshua was to fight would have been lost. So let me register my prayer of contrition today.

My Prayer Today: Lord, forgive me for my failure to stand on the high ground of prayer with my brothers and sisters in Christ this morning. But Lord, take me that high-ground right now; and help me to hold it – for You – the rest of today and the remaining length of this prayer vigil at our Church. Help me, Lord, to be in continual prayer to be ever vigilant. Amen