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“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.'” John 5:19

I happened to be watching a funeral ceremony for a noted person this past weekend.  I found it ironic that this person, of late, was known for being a champion of civility and compromise when necessary.  It was also true the person was known for sticking to their values in the face of opposition from friends and foe alike.  Yet as the casket was leaving the church, perhaps giving the final impression of this person; Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” was playing.  I found that ironic.

However, I did not find it unusual for our age.  Much are the celebrated stories of self made people and the people who did it, accomplished it on their own.  So much are these stories celebrated that I believe they have risen to the level of modern day mythology.  Mythology defined as a group of stories that are associated with a particular time in history.  There are many stories about the idea that started in a dorm room, a technology that started in a garage or basement and/or a business that started on a dining room table top. Now please understand, myth does not necessarily mean completely untrue.  Those ideas, technologies and businesses exist.  Additionally, there were individuals who played a singularly significant role in formulating, inventing, promoting and shepherding those ideas, technologies and businesses to success.  However,  the role of the individual has been trumpeted and extolled to such a great extent, that the “go-it-alone”, “I know best”, “I’ll break all rules and ask forgiveness upon success”, theme and mantras and the limelight and fame that goes with them have become the holy grail or golden fleece pinnacles of our modern day consciousness.

So why does this matter; what impact does it have?  Lately I’ve witnessed and experienced far reaching and system wide impacts.  For I’ve worked with leaders at some significantly high levels who both believe that their successes, achievements and promotions are a direct result of almost solely their individual efforts. Consequently this provides them a unique talent to run everything from meetings to entire organizations as “my” meeting, “my” team and/or “my” organization.  While they would never articulate that they are infallible or perfect, the only ideas that can be entertained are those ideas that align with their worldview and most all other personal and professional characteristics are judged acceptable based on their perception and reasoning.  The outcome, I’ve witnessed to this approach is more fractured teams, frustrated individuals and sub-optimal outcomes.

Okay, I could now launch into some business lesson or course on the power of teamwork and the positive attributes of a good team player but this post concerns something more pressing than that.  This post concerns our very lives for all eternity.

If anyone in history could lay claim exclusively to the term “self-made man”, it would be Jesus Christ.  Scripture tells us Jesus was right there at the beginning with God, that He is God and all things were created through Him by God.  Having no earthly farther and conceived by God, being God on earth, it could be argued He was truly “self-made”. Yet Jesus was never about claiming glory for Himself.  Consider this, Jesus never claimed that what He was teaching, the miracles He accomplished or the plan He was following was of His making.  Jesus was very clear that all of what He was doing came from the Father, based upon what the Father wanted done.  Okay, so there was someone above Him but at least on earth, Jesus demanded the best of all things and servitude from all.  One wonders if we can imagine the self made titans of today, getting down on their hands and knees and washing and drying their employees feet, even the feet of a person He knew was going to betray Him?  If or when attacked, would they stand out in front, shielding and protecting their followers from any harm?  And yes, Jesus did proclaim that He was the way; but He was not the end or the pinnacle to the way.  He is the way to the Father.

Thus if Jesus Christ is not to claim the title of self made man or instead of adopting the “My Way” song for His theme song, instead proclaim that it is all about and sing the praises of the Father; who are we to believe that self made is the way to go.  Dear Sisters and Brothers whether we use the term made or created, we must understand there is a Maker or Creator.  We were not made/created to go it alone in anything. Understand what Jesus is warning us about.  It’s not that if we go it alone, if we reject Him and follow ourselves or each other, that we’ll lose out on somethings, we won’t go as far as we could have, we might be successful but have fewer or lesser successes.  No, Jesus Christ is clear, apart from Me, you can do NOTHING!   NO   THING!

However, it’s not all negative.  Jesus Christ declares; you want to do great things, even greater than I’ve done; then believe in Me.  Believe that I’ve come from and have returned to the Father and you will receive untold blessings from the power the Father longs to share with you and show through you.

Finally “self-made” is short term, no matter what.  There is no salvation through the self.  There is no eternal life through the self.  A worldly self made life is an eternally self made loss.  Please, embrace the reality of being Jesus Christ made, thus Father approved. In that way the great things we will indeed accomplish through Christ, will bring honor, glory and praise to the Father and blessings to His creation.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, from the very beginning it has not been about One but about the Father, Son and Spirit.  We are awed, humbled and eternally grateful that You, in Your Mercy and Grace, have decided to share Yourself with us, Your Creation.  You have promised the Holy Spirit to be in us, to guide us, correct us and sustain us.  You have given us Your Son Jesus Christ as a perfect sacrifice in our place to be our Salvation.  Forgive us Father, when we are tempted to and sometimes turn away from You to chase the worldly concept of “self-made”, hoping to bring praise and glory solely to us.  Show us and lead us back to You where we know that through Jesus Christ, in You, that is the only way we will ever achieve anything.  That in living lives abiding in Christ, we may carry out Your Perfect plan and bring glory, honor and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Now, behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.”  Luke 24:13

“Simon Peter, Thomas, called the twin, Nathanael of Cana, the sons of Zebedee and two others of His disciples were together.   Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing’. They said to him, ‘We are going with you'”.  John 21:2,3

Post Easter life?  I’m posting this in late September, about 6 months away from when we last celebrated Easter.  What’s up with that?  Of course if you consider it, really consider it; while we celebrate and commemorate Easter ever year it’s by many estimates approximately 1,986 years since the actual Easter events took place.  Where am I going with this?

On one level, let’s say the historical, 30,000 foot level, there can be little dispute of the impact of Easter and what happened afterward.  Not only is the the personal salvation of all who believe in Jesus Christ as the One True Son of God, who died and rose again from the dead, who believe and call upon His name for our salvation a blessed outcome.  There was also the spreading of His Word and the starting of faith communities that have become powerful, powerful churches, a process that continues down through this very day.

Yet I think we need to reflect on a different level, in my case about the 6 foot 3 inch level or whatever height you happen to be.  What about the personal, life altering, faith affirming, joy living, devil defeating impact of Easter?  What about our post Easter life?

In turning to scripture for an example, we might think that all who followed Jesus, upon hearing that He had risen, immediately went out with the mission of spreading His gospel.  Yet scripture tells us something different.

In one instance two followers, who although not of the 11 remaining disciples were still close enough to the disciples to have heard about Jesus having risen from the dead about the same time as the disciples,  decided to leave Jerusalem on that very day.  We’re not sure what business they had in Emmaus, but 7 miles is a significant journey on foot.  And while yes, they were discussing the happenings of the past weeks, one gets the sense they were talking about in terms of a tragic memory versus an event that was motivating them to action.  They were going on their way.

Okay, but obviously the disciples handled it differently.  Obviously upon hearing that Jesus Christ had risen and seeing the empty tomb; they made immediate and profound plans of action.  Well scripture does tell us that they did meet together in an upper room.  Though again we’re told this was out of fear of what might happen to them.  In an another instance in John; many of the group decide to go fishing.  Not going fishing to be “fishers of men”; but going fishing to be fishers of fish…..for dinner.

Okay now Doug, you’re forgetting one critical thing, you might be saying to me; you’re forgetting Pentecost.  No, not really.  I realize that Pentecost had not happened yet and I absolutely agree about the power that filled them when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them in grace and blessing.  In fact, it is an important aspect to my thesis here.

You see when Jesus Christ was praying after the “Last Supper” and before He was arrested in the garden; He not only prayed for Himself and then His disciples, but then He prayed for you and I too.  He prayed for all us who would hear about Jesus Christ and believe.  He prayed that we would be One in Him, just like the disciples.  Pentecost happened.  The Holy Spirit came and the Word spread.

So now back to the 6 foot 3 inch level.  Often there is a glow to Post Easter and Post Christmas for that matter.  Especially with Easter and its location in Spring, we see the renewal of the earth and it speaks; nay, it shouts to us of the old becoming new, of God’s promise of abundant life and salvation, of a promise of rejuvenation and restoration.  But then the months drag on; Spring becomes Summer and Summer, Fall.  And if we’re not careful, Easter becomes a memory, a pleasant one, but a memory all the same.

Why?  The world and the prince of this world tries to intervene.  The enemy throws worldly life at us; there are careers to be focused on, children to be raised, bills to pay, vacations to take.  There are things to buy and things to fix.  Alas, even in our houses or worship, the year progresses.  There is the current budget to fret over and next year’s budget to plan for.  We have to fill all those upcoming committee vacancies and hopefully come up with a “bless their socks off, Christmas pageant.

Are we walking to Emmaus?  Are we going fishing?  What I love, so totally love is Jesus Christ’s response in these two situations.  He doesn’t get angry and berate them for not being focused on Him with grand plans for spreading the kingdom.  He doesn’t threaten them with eternal damnation if they don’t get their act together!  Instead, He feeds them.  In both the two men walking to Emmaus and the disciples fishing; Jesus Christ, Creator come to Earth, God, sits down and feeds them.  Jesus Christ not only feeds them physically, taking care of their physical needs; but feeds them spiritually as well.

Jesus Christ longs to fellowship and feed us as well.  He knows that we have the grace filled blessing of the Spirit within us.  Because of His experience on this earth, He also blessedly knows the temptations we face, the struggles that we hold to ourselves instead of sharing with Him.  He knows how hungry, how famished we are; even if we do not.

Easter matters.  Easter matters in Fall, just as much as it does in Spring.  Easter is love.  Easter is an expression of love, grace and salvation which surpasses all understanding which we dare not turn away from.  Jesus Christ died for You and I that we might have life.  Let us turn to, let us fellowship with, let us feast upon the salvation, the grace, the love which is truly meant to be our Post Easter Life.  In the Name of Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we can not praise enough, proclaim enough, be thankful enough for Your Plan of Salvation that transpired at Easter.  Forgive us when we neglect any effort, any attempt to try.  Turn us back through the Holy Spirit to focus on abundant life You have in store by abiding in Jesus Christ.  Let it be that we strive to lead lives that tell a distraught and downtrodden world that Easter matters, that their salvation is at hand.  That through our lives, the Spirit would beckon those whom You are calling to follow You.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.  Amen

 

“….the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word……And those who were of  the circumcision…..were astonished…..because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.”  Acts 10:45

“Then Peter answered: ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  Act 10:47

I am saved!  I am forgiven!  I’m going to glory!  I don’t dance!  I do dance, to the Lord!  I don’t do this or that!  I pray!  I pray to the Saints! I don’t pray to the Saints! I…….I………I’M SPECIAL!!!!!  Aren’t I?

Peter had every reason to feel special.  And he and those who traveled with him, had a behavior about what was special and what was not.  Peter was a Jew; not only by birth but by the covenant of circumcision.  Jesus was a Jew.  And while the Risen Jesus Christ had told them to go and preach to all the world; Jesus himself, during his time on earth had stayed, taught and preached mainly to the Jewish people.

For the most part, the early church in Jerusalem was made up primarily of Jews.  When the church was being persecuted and many disciples were dispersed, they went to Jewish Synagogues in the outlying towns.  That’s where Saul (later to become Paul) was going to was the Jewish Synagogue in Damascus to arrest the disciples who were spreading the Gospel there.

Special.  Special people with special food.  Peter’s awakening to Our Heavenly Father’s grander plan starts with a vision that he has.  God shows Peter a great sheet filled with unclean animals which devout Jews were not to eat.  Peter was hungry and the voice of God came to Peter and instructed him to kill and eat from the sheet.  Peter at first refuses saying he will not eat anything unclean.  Yet God responds telling Peter that whatever God has cleansed is no longer unclean.  Peter would soon learn that God was talking about more than just food.

For there was a man named Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  Normally a man like that would have been the sworn enemy, a vile and disgusting, low life less than human person to a Jew.  To even meet with that person or go into his house would make a Jew unclean.  Except Cornelius was different.  Unbeknownst to Cornelius, by the Grace of God, through the Holy Spirit, Cornelius had heard about God, prayed to God, gave alms to God.  I say unbeknownst to Cornelius because the salvation through Jesus Christ had not been preached to him.  So God told Cornelius to send for Peter and Peter would instruct him on what to do.

So here we go; Peter going to meet with a gentile; a Roman Centurion at that.  This can’t go well.  But God had told Peter before hand to go to Cornelius.  And what Peter found in Cornelius was a devout and humble man.  A man who, along with his entire household, revered and feared God.  So Peter gladly preached the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Son of God, all mankind’s Savior.  When Peter completed his preaching an amazing thing happened.  The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his family and they began speaking in tongues.  This greatly perplexed the Jews who had traveled with Peter because they thought the Holy Spirit would only come to those who were of the first covenant, circumcision.  So both Peter and those with him saw the Power of God to save all who believed on Him and were born again, baptized in the Spirit and professing Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

We live in a world today where people strive to differentiate themselves in someway to show that they are special.  Maybe it is by a degree that they have, an obstacle they have overcome, a position or title they’ve obtained, an amount of wealth they have acquired and on and on; to be special is to be worthy.  It is one thing to say you are special but truly you should have some way; show some deed, some measure of why you have earned the distinction of special.

According to a 2012 article in the Washington Times, 84% of the world says they follow some religion but only 1/3 say they are Christian.  So right there we might start to think there is something special or unique about us.  Yet the world tells me, if I’m going to claim that I’m special, I must show that I’ve done something to earn that title.  And should I buy into that theory, then I can be justifiably proud of claiming to be a disciple of Christ.  And I can look down upon all the others who are not as special.

But God knows different.  By His mysterious and all encompassing Grace, while I was yet a sinner, God came to me.  Completely destroyed in my sin, Jesus Christ lifted me up and said: I died for you that you may live in fellowship with Me in My Father’s Kingdom.  The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon me that He might dwell in me so that I might gain a level of understanding.

Special? You bet.  But not of my doing, not of your achievement.  So let us live out our special nature, in humility, in joyous praise to Him, in total love to Him and to all of His creation.  Not calling any person common or unclean.  Knowing that God’s Special Nature can and will come to those whom He chooses.  That we are chosen, out of His Divine Mercy, is something very special indeed!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that we are not worthy of the Gift of Salvation that you have bestowed upon us.  We praise Your Most Holy Name for the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when we try to lift ourselves up as worthy of this gift and perhaps look down upon others who have not received it.  Help us to see all of your human creation as someone to love that they might see through that love, the Love you have for them.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from where it goes…”  John 3:8

“Are you a teacher of Israel and do not know these things?”  John 3:9

I am fascinated by weather; kind of a weather geek.  While I do not have a meteorological degree, I have worked in an Air Force weather station and know a little of isobars and pressure gradients, occluded fronts and cloud patterns.  So the other day I’m sitting outside and I felt a very nice breeze blowing.  And for some reason it occurred to me how little I knew about this breeze.  It was moving from the north to the south and was about five knots but besides that I didn’t know why it was blowing.  I didn’t know how far from the north it had traveled and how much further to the south it would continue.  Yes, I could feel it and I could hear its passing, but how much did I truly understand about this particular breeze; even with my greater than average meteorological knowledge?

Nicodemus is a man of understanding in his land.  He is a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews.  Who’s Who in the Bible tells us that the Pharisees were the most powerful religious group among the Jews during Jesus time.  They were known for their observance of the Mosaic Law, although Jesus often rebuked them for being proud in their in outward “living” of the law but being spiritually dead to the law by lacking faith and understanding in God’s purpose for the law.

Nicodemus has questions.  So he came to Jesus.  Why Jesus?  Because Nicodemus had heard Jesus speak, he had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed and he starts off the encounter by telling Jesus that he knows that Jesus is a Rabbi (a teacher) come from God.  While Nicodemus has questions, he also believes in his depth of spiritual understanding and it is this that gets tested in Jesus’ response to Nicodemus.

For Jesus starts out with the foundational underlying truth:  “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:3)  Nicodemus, in all of his wisdom and understanding, doesn’t understand or even try to understand what Jesus is talking about.  For he starts to refute Jesus by taking His words literally.  He questions how someone can reenter their mother’s womb to be “reborn”.  That is when Jesus uses the example of the wind, a very literal worldly experience to illustrate that if Nicodemus could not understand something as mundane and daily as the working of the wind, how could he possibly understand the holy and miraculous working of the spirit.

Okay, fair enough you say, but how does that effect me?  Great question.  You see brothers and sisters, in believing in Jesus Christ, most feel and can even point to, a time and place where they were born again.  A time and place where they made that fundamental profession of faith that has led to a grand awakening of blessings and faith.

But their can be a challenge/danger concerning how we think we understand how that conversion, the process of being born again works.  For instance let’s say that as I ponder my rebirth and I say “I know and understand how it came about.  Here’s what happened:

  1. I heard someone preaching the Word of God; Jesus Christ the Son and salvation through Him
  2. I believed on what I heard
  3. I asked Jesus to come into my life
  4. I was born again

Some might say, hey that’s how it happened for me too.  So what about my friend down the street whom I know who is not a believer?  I happen to know that he has heard the word preached as I have.  But he has not believed as I have.  He has not asked Jesus to come into his life.  He is not born again.  That must make me a person of greater understanding doesn’t it?  I am wiser aren’t I?  Bottom line, I am a better person aren’t I? I have the right to look down on him or her?  Hmmmmmmmm.

Is my understanding really accurate?  Was I responsible that the person I heard preach decided to take up that profession or that he was preaching that particular day?  Was it I who reached up to God first or God who reached down to me first? Why me God?  Why did You allow my spirit to be touched by Your Holy Spirit?  Isn’t the truth that I was (and am) a sinner like the rest? Hmmmmmmm.

If we are not careful, we will allow our “understanding” to lead us astray.  We may come to the conclusion that we are somehow responsible and deserving of our own salvation.  That it is not about His Grace but our greatness that has brought us to becoming born again.

But if I don’t have my understanding to fall back on; what is their?  Faith.  Faith that surpasses all understanding.  You see dear brothers and sisters; I do believe that God is my Heavenly Father.  I do believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Holy Son, my Redeemer, my Savior.  I do believe that I have been born again.  I do not understand the particulars of how it came about for me.  I do not understand why I was given the grace to believe in God’s Word and Promise.  I have no personal pride or boast in my conversion for, in faith, I believe it was all in and through God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  But I am more thankful for God’s gift of salvation than I can ever express.  The same way I am very thankful for that morning breeze.

Our most Gracious Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that Your Wisdom, Your Perfect Actions, Your Merciful Grace toward us is far beyond our ability to understand.  Yet Dear Father, we humbly bow before You on our knees, praising Your Holy Name for Your Blessings poured out upon us.  Forgive us Merciful Father, we pray, when we rely on our own limited understanding and boast in our knowledge, our salvation as a reward for our own self-righteousness.  Give to us a right spirit of humility that we would accurately see our salvation as Your Gracious Gift.  So in response to that gift, we would live lives in praise and honor to Your most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

 

“I have come into this world that I should bear witness to the truth…”  John 18:37

“Pilot said to Him, ‘What is truth?”  John 18:38

“You have no power against Me unless it had been given you from above…..” John 19:11

Let me be crystal clear about the title here; this is not two truths.  There is only one truth at play here, but there are two versions.  To me this exchange sums up the basic struggle that has existed, exists today and will exist until Jesus Christ comes again.

We have Pilot, who with his question, is providing the world’s version of the truth.  Jesus Christ has stated, in no uncertain terms, that He is a King.  And as that King, He is baring witness to the Truth.  Pilot doesn’t accept that.  We can tell by his question:  “What is truth?”  In his question, Pilot is inferring that truth is not a singular nor absolute thing.  There is the possibility of multiple truths.  By Pilot’s behavior we know that he sees this truth.  He is in charge.  Whether Jesus is a king is irrelevant because Pilot has all the power.  Pilot has Jesus’ life in his hands and there is nothing that Jesus, nor his followers or all of Jerusalem could do about it.  Pilot was Rome and Rome was all powerful.  From Pilot’s perspective, maybe he would release Jesus because he found no guilt in him.  Maybe he would release Jesus just to make the Jewish leadership mad and show who’s in charge.  Maybe he would turn Jesus over to be crucified.  Whatever the outcome, it was all up to Pilot.

We have Jesus Christ, who has and speaks the actual truth.  Jesus is a king.  He will tell Pilot that His Kingdom is not of this world.  Yet Jesus will also infer to Pilot that Jesus’ power as King and His Kingdom is far superior to Pilot’s.  For even though Pilot was a representative of Rome and even with all the power of Rome, they could do nothing to Jesus had not that ability been given to him by a higher power.  This, Jesus informs Pilot.

Sisters and brothers, this world bombards us with many versions of “truth”.  The prince of this world, the enemy Satan, hopes to confuse and lead us astray by providing lie after lie as the truth.  He will wrap his lies in the veil of human logic and imperfect understanding so that it seems plausible, seems true.  In this cacophony of competing deceits and obfuscations, where can we turn to find the One Real Truth?  God has not left us alone.  God has not abandoned us to try to discern on our own, His Truth.  God has given us many great resources by which we can find and keep hold of His Truth.  Two of those greatest resources are His Word, the Bible and the Holy Spirit, who testifies in Truth to our spirits.

Yet here’s the thing.  Any or all resources are only as helpful as our desire to use them.  We will find no Truth in the Bible left on the shelf unopened.  Prayer is the most powerful way to connect to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to come into our being to teach and clarify many Great Truths.  If Truth is truly what we are seeking, we must make time for regular study of the Word and make prayer an utmost priority.

The irony is that truth is not always obvious and the “obvious” truth is often a lie.  Pilot held on to his version of the truth.  There is no indication that Pilot’s version of the truth was changed even when confronted with the fact of Jesus resurrection.  There appeared to be a different version of the truth of Jesus being not in the tomb involving sleeping guards and body snatching followers.  Most certainly, at least for a day or so, the Jewish leadership believed their version of the truth that they had utterly quashed the influence of Jesus.  Yet, try as they might, their version of invincibility, could not stop the truth of the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ; His life, death and resurrection.  Their version of the truth could not silence the preaching of his disciples and the spread of His message around the entire known world. Jesus Christ, through His resurrection and ascension into heaven, validated His Truth.

Following lies as truth, even if they make sense to us, will lead us astray.  Jesus Christ provided us with The Truth.  And what was and is a fundamental tenant of that Truth?  That Our Heavenly Father, Our Creator God, the All Powerful Alpha and Omega, loves us so very much that He is willing to sacrifice His own Precious Son, to bring about our salvation.  Additionally, that Jesus Christ loves both His Father as well as us so greatly that He would willingly follow His Father’s plan and die for us.  Finally, that the Love of Jesus and our Heavenly Father is freely given, as well as for all time.  That is The Only Truth.  And it is well worth believing in.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that we are not always good at discerning the truth.  We are so very grateful that You have given us Your Word as well as the Holy Spirit to help us to understand Your Truth.  Forgive us when we look to our own logic and understanding in attempting to uncover the truth.  Strengthen us through the understanding of Your Word and the testimony of the Holy Spirit as to The Truth.  That in living Truth filled lives, we will give praise to Your Most Holy Name. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” John 18:24

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God”  Romans 8:28

There was a show who’s main character’s famous line was: “I love it when a plan comes together”.  Well Annas, Caiaphas, the leadership, the High Council must have been thinking that very thing.  Also, recently, the phrase: “We got him”, has been used to announce that a very evil person has been captured or killed.  Again you can hear that phrase being passed in hushed voices among the crowd of leaders with congratulatory pats on the back.

Their plan, the plan of the Jewish leadership, seemed to be working to perfection.  Find a traitor in Jesus’ ranks; check, we have Judas.  Get Pilot to okay the arresting of Jesus; check, he gave a whole detachment for the purpose.  Arrest Jesus in an out of the way place where there won’t be any crowds to come to His defense; check, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Now all that was left was to have a controlled trial with paid off witnesses.  Convince Pilot that it was in Rome’s best interest to kill this man.  Yep quite a plan they had and it sure seemed to be working.  Even Jesus seemed to be cooperating by mainly keeping quiet.

People scheme.  They work so hard planning nefarious deeds, thinking themselves clever and wily in their use of deceit and subterfuge.  Men believe themselves to be smarter than all others but themselves and as they put their plan into action, with seeming early successes, they become convinced of their ultimate triumph.  Their evil will prevail.  They will not get caught.  They work unseen. They are unstoppable.

Unstoppable? Unseen?  Triumphant evil?  Not Hardly.  The schemers don’t understand that they were thwarted before they used one brain cell to devise their plan.  They can’t comprehend that the evil they are devising is fitting into the Greater Good that God has had planned all along.  They have no inkling of the reckoning that is in store for them when God’s plan comes to fruition.

For you see, we needed a Savior.  If we were going to be able to inter into a perfect, everlasting relationship with God, it would have to be God’s Will that made it happen.  We sin and try as we might (often times forgetting to even try) we have not the power within ourselves to stop, let alone atone for the past sins that we have.  We needed a plan; a perfect plan.  We needed a plan that would give us the Power to be cleansed from sin once and for all.  We needed a plan that would allow us to walk reprieved into the presence of Almighty God because someone had atoned for our sins for us.  That atonement would need to be performed by the shedding of blood; the death of the perfect Lamb.  God had the only person in mind; Jesus Christ his Only Son.

So Jesus is arrested, tried, convicted, crucified and buried.  Game over.  Evil won.  But wait a second.  What this?  Resurrected? That can’t be!  “Stop preaching Him! Stop healing in His Name!”, the leaders shout.  One of their fiercest warriors, Saul, turns traitor and goes to the other side; changing his name to Paul and starts boldly preaching and starting churches.  This can’t be happening, the Jewish leaders cry out.  We won!  We were smart!  It was all going so well!

So what are we to take from this? We can take great comfort indeed.  For today is no different.  Evil people devise evil plans.  The prince of this world schemes for ways to stop the church or at the very least drive a wedge between God and His people.  They think they are winning.  They believe they have won.  But here’s the thing; Christ won upon His death and resurrection.  Christ’s victory was assured when He came to earth as a little child.  God’s plan was never in jeopardy of not succeeding; then or now!  

Take heart dear brother and sisters. God has a perfect plan for each of us.  And in the fulfilling of that plan, He will cause some earthly evil plans to never start; but He will also allow some evil plans to happen because He will turn them around and turn them into blessings for us.  Through thwarting those evil plans; He will show His Ultimate Power to the world as well as show His commitment and mercy to His people.  No evil devised against you or I will stand as long as we call upon the Name of Our Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s ultimate Power to bring the circumstances of all things to be blessings to His People, may it be that we will plan to live lives that praise His Most Glorious Name.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, the world strives hard against You as well as Your People.  We pray for Your protection from the world and the evil it devises.  We call upon Your Name to thwart the plans of the enemy and bring there schemes to naught.  We ask that You would turn their plans against them ultimately showing Your Power in this world.  Finally, we sincerely thank you, Merciful Father, that You saw fit to devise a plan for our salvation.  We praise Jesus Christ for being a willing participant in the plan knowing that it would lead to His death.  Thank you for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ’s resurrection which once and for all defeated death and the prince of this world.  Praise be always to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops and officers…..came with lanterns, torches and weapons.”  John 18:3

“Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?”  John 18:4

There is an imminent threat.  There are people massing against you.  You have others who believe as you do.  It is at those times that we hear such platitudes as:  “All for one and one for all” or “We must all stand together or we will hang separately” or “There is strength in numbers” or “If you are for me you will stand with me” among many others.  From my military days I completely understand the power there is in superior numbers.  However, no matter how superior the numbers are, should conflict actually happen, there will be losses.  Depending on the number of losses is whether they are considered “acceptable” or not.

Jesus had some numbers; there were eleven others besides himself.  The world, in the guise of Judas Iscariot, is coming against Jesus.  None of the gospels give us a definitive number but experts says that a “detachment” of Roman soldiers would have been approximately 600, although they probably would not have sent the entire detachment.  There was also members of the Jewish religious leaders and their police who were also there.  So the number could have been in the hundreds.  They have torches.  They have several types of weapons.

This would have been the time for Jesus to call to His small band to assemble.  Jesus would then give a rousing speech to incite a passionate defense on the part of His men.  Jesus did neither.  Instead, He alone stepped out in front.  Jesus walked away from His small band of brothers to face the threat alone.  It is true that once the soldiers start to move against Jesus, Peter, one of His disciples, takes up his sword in defense of Jesus and strikes the High Priest’s ear.  Yet Jesus tells Peter to stop; to put away his sword.

Here’s the irony, it might not have seemed it; but Jesus, even then, was in charge; in complete control.  Jesus knew He needed to be arrested.  Jesus knew that He had a legion of angels desperate to come down to His defense to utterly annihilate this puny, impudent, Satan following rag tag group.  Jesus knew that these men, so confident in themselves and their strength, had no ounce of power over The One True Son of God.  Yet two things were the most important to Him.  First, Jesus wanted to carry out the plan of His Heavenly Father.  A plan of salvation for us all.  Second, Jesus did not want to lose one of His beloved disciples except the one who purposefully walked away; Judas.  So Jesus stepped forward; making sure that all the hate, all the fear, all the desire for destruction would be aimed solely at Him.

So brothers and sisters here’s the thing.  The world is coming at us.  The world is attacking us with numbers, popular worldly opinions and even from within our own ranks.  We are outnumbered.  Even if we attempt to come together within groups like churches and try to stand on the powers of our own laws and our own sense of sensibilities; we will lose.  There is only one way to victory and only One victorious in Himself:  Jesus Christ.  And know this; Jesus still does not want to lose one who is given to Him.  Jesus Christ is more than ready; Head of His legions of angels, to again stand out in front.

And we should take the greatest comfort and have the utmost confidence that as Jesus Christ saved each of those eleven; the same Jesus Christ will stand in front and in between the world and us; granting each of us victory as well.  How do I know?  He took my nails.  Rather then see me (and you) separated from Almighty God because of our sins within this world; He stood out in front to pay my punishment.

Attacks will come; some we know about, some, by heavenly blessing, we will never have knowledge of.  Jesus Christ stands ready to blunt every assault, turn back every attacker.  May it be that we will humble ourselves to call on Him.  May it be that we will never attempt to enter into battle without Him.  May it truly be that we understand, in all His Glory, what it means to have Jesus Christ as our Savior.  A Savior who has been, is and always will be, in every attack against us, out in front; completely victorious.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we praise You and thank You with all of our being that You saw fit to provide us with a Savior in Your Son Jesus Christ.  Thank You, Dear Father, that He is ceaseless and tireless in defending us against the attacks of this world and the prince of this world.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when we go off to battle on our own, seeking our own glory instead of calling on the name of Jesus Christ.  May it be that as we follow Jesus Christ in victory after victory, that we may come to live lives that praise Your Most Holy Name.  In Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“…Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders….”  Mark 14:43

Now when He said:  I am He, they drew back and fell to the ground”  John 18:5

I was in the military, the Air Force, for a while and part of my job was to understand and plan for battles.  To think about things such as concentration of force, and overwhelming of resistance by focused superiority of weapons and numbers.  And while I feel that I served for a noble and just cause, it is still unnerving, that amount of energy, thought and planning that can go into the destruction of our fellow man.  So from a human sense, the above referenced arrest of Jesus, makes no sense.

Judas and the group that was with him, held every advantage.  First, they were a numerically superior force.  For Jesus had only eleven men with him compared to the multitude that came with Judas.  Secondly, Judas’ group had superior weapons.  They had swords and clubs.  In the gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus’ group had just two swords.  Judas group was better trained.  In the gospel of John, we are told that at least a part of the multitude was a detachment of troops.  The gospels do not tell us the professions of all the disciples but we know five of them are fishermen.  A fisherman of that day might have built some considerable strength but that would not equate to training with a sword.  Finally, they had authority on their side.  This was not some mob of the street.  This multitude was gathered at the request of and were carrying out the orders of the chief priests, scribes and elders.  Only the Romans had a greater earthly authority.  Jesus claimed no earthly authority or kingship.

So the arrest should have been an amazingly simple process.  Judas identifies and then the overwhelming superior strength of Judas’ support easily captures and removes Jesus.  It even starts out that way.  Judas indeed comes up and identifies, betrays Jesus by giving Him a kiss.  Now the troops should have stepped in and done their duty.  This is when things go wrong.  For some seemingly unexplainable reason, they freeze.  Jesus has to prompt their action by asking:  “Whom are you seeking?”  They answer “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Now it should be that they already know this because Judas has already pointed Him out.  Yet for some reason they need to hear it from Jesus himself.  “I am He.”  Jesus answers.  And here is where the most incredible thing happens.  When Jesus says this, it is not as if all the sudden His disciples rush the multitude.  It is not as if suddenly the sky is split by the sound of earth shattering thunder, followed by legions of angels coming to His defense.  However, at those three simple words:  “I am He”  the multitude are gripped by fear, fall back and fall to the ground.  Seemingly, it is only when Jesus gives them permission to take Him by telling them:  “this is your hour…..but the scriptures must be fulfilled……therefore if you seek me, let these go their way…., that the multitude gains the courage to take Jesus.

The world may not understand it but you and I do.  Though they did not acknowledge it, consciously even believe it, each of those members of the multitude, spiritually knew they were in the presence of the Son of God.  The power in His declaration that I am He went far beyond just the momentary announcement that He was the one they had come for.  I am He is the declaration that He is the I AM.  He is the one Son of God and as such God.  No wonder they fell back.  To be in the presence of that kind of power would scare anyone, even though they don’t understand it or even believe in it.  No wonder they could not move until he spoke to them in such a way as to say:  do what you must do.

So what are we to carry from that interaction to today?  Earthly power is distributed in many different forms.  Sometimes we measure power by the sheer muscular size of the person or people,  Sometimes we measure power by the title that a person has:  CEO, President, General, Manager, Husband, Wife, Father or Mother.  Sometimes we say those with letters behind their names are powerful:  MD, PhD, MS, EIEIO (couldn’t resist the last one).  And there are so many other ways we grant or measure power:  age, country, race, gender, volume of voice, tendency for anger, weapons possessed, just to name a few.  Sometimes, if we are the ones with any of the above listed characteristics, we try to wield our earthly power as if we are the ones who are in or should be in control.  However, sometimes the opposite is true.  We find ourselves cowering in fear of someone whom we believe to have earthly power over us and give in to their demands.

Jesus needed no earthly trappings of power.  Jesus knew He was and is the very definition of power.  Jesus could have used His power to uterly destroy that mob and any other who would come against Him.  How did He decide to use His power?  Jesus Christ decided to use His power to carry out the loving plan of His Father.  Jesus Christ used His power to lay down His life for us and become the Powerfully Perfect Sacrifice for all of us who were powerless to do so.  In His Power He rose again, defeating all evil powers for ever.  That is a power that is so beyond my comprehension that it is awesomely frightening to behold.  Yet because that Power is rooted in love, it is a power that I so want to be able to tap into, knowing that His power will far exceed any other power out there.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that there is no power that we have which can compare to Your Power.  We praise You, most Merciful Father, that You wield Your Power in Perfect Love, Mercy and Justice.  We thank You, Holy Father, for the Power in the Resurrection, that cleanses us of our sins.  And we pray that we would be drawn to Your Perfect Power, living a life of true worship, honoring Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

“But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich”  Luke 18:23

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord……..I give half my goods to the poor and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold.”  Luke 19:8

The tales of two men and their encounters with Jesus.  I am no scholar but I don’t think it is a coincidence that they are so very close together in the Gospel of Luke.  Less than a chapter separate these two encounters.

These two men have some similarities.  The gospel tells us they are both rich.  These men also actively seek Jesus out.  Jesus interacts with both of them.  However, that is where the similarities end.  And, I believe, we have much to learn from their enteractions with Jesus and the ultimate outcomes of those interactions.  Both of these encounters are well known and often thought of and spoken about in Christian gatherings and church services.  Zacchaues’ encounter even has a children’s Christian song written about it.  Yet let’s take a moment to look at these together instead of two separate, unrelated incidents.

In both incidents, the men seek out Jesus.  In the first, the rich young man (we never know his name) seeks Jesus out as a good teacher.  Either through actually listening to Him, or through His reputation, the rich man sees Jesus as one who, not only has knowledge, but also, and maybe because He has knowledge, also has virtue.  The rich man seeks Jesus out because he has a specific question.  Zacchaues desire is different.  The scripture tells us, Zacchaues is not only a rich man but has come by his riches by being a chief tax collector.  A person filling this position would not have been known for being very religious or even generally upstanding.  Jesus is passing through town and Zacchaues had obviously heard about this man.  He was not actually seeking an audience with Jesus but just wanted to literally see him, catch a visual glimpse.  He is curious.  He is also very short.  Zacchaues can’t see over the crowd and doesn’t try to push his way to the front of the crowd.  No, Zacchaues decides to fulfill his curiosity by climbing a tree where he can get an unobscured view of Jesus.  That’s all he wanted was to see Jesus.  It would seem after seeing him, Zacchaues would go back to being the person he was.

Jesus, decides to interact with both men.  He starts out by correcting the first man, but still carries on a conversation.  The man asks his question about receiving eternal life.  Jesus answers Him.  The man makes a statement in response and Jesus decides to clarify the man’s statement and then makes and incredible offer.  In the case with Zacchaues, the interaction starts very differently.  Remember, Zacchaues was not planning to actually interact with Jesus at all.  He just wanted to see him.  It was Jesus who saw Zacchaues up in the tree and reached out to him.  Jesus tells Zacchaues to come down for Jesus must stay at his home.  Here is where the two men start to diverge greatly.  The first man, after Jesus’ initial question, gave no sense of appreciation for Jesus talking with him, there is no sense of joy in being in Jesus presence.  Seemingly the first man has a desire for justification and perhaps even equality with Jesus, the “good teacher.”  When Jesus tells him that he needs to keep the commandments and the rich man says that he has kept them from his youth, he is expecting for Jesus to tell him that he is good and has obtained eternal life.  In Zacchaues case, his reaction to Jesus is initially quite different.  Zacchaues discovers that he is going to have an uninvited house guest; and most probably more than just one.  There is going to be a need for food and meal preparation, where is he going to put all these guests and what about the plans he already had for the evening.  Zacchaues might have been rather put off or upset about this intrustion into his life.  But scripture tells us that Zacchaues came down from the tree in haste and received Him joyfully.  In Zacchaues mind, Jesus was someone to be honored and Jesus was honoring and blessing him by choosing his house as one to spend time in.

Yet as different as the meetings were, it was the further interaction of the men with Jesus where the true and stark differences appear.  Remember, in the first rich man’s case, the man had come with a question.  Jesus is very plain in His answer.  Jesus doesn’t argue with whether the man has actually kept the commandments or not, He completely, thoroughly answers the question and then gives an incredible invitation.  The man lacked only one thing!  Jesus tells him what that one thing is and then invites him to come with Him and be His follower.  The first man had his answer.  The first man was also being asked by God Almighty, the Author of the eternal life he was seeking, to follow Him.  But the first man didn’t see Jesus as anything more than a man.  A man who had just shattered his hopes and dreams with his answer.  We don’t have a record of what was discussed in Zacchaues’s house; but, by the outcome we know it was transformingly powerful.

And the differences in the final outcomes for the men couldn’t be more opposite.  The first rich man, becomes sorrowful, rejects Jesus invitation, turns and walks away.  That first man was in the presence of the Salvation he was so desperately searching for and did not see it.  Jesus then offers His so oft repeated statement about the difficulty of the rich to enter the kingdom.  Zacchaues, on the other hand, knows that this is not just a man, even a good man who is in his house today.  Even in his joy, Zacchaues is convicted in his heart and knows he must change.  Note, when Zacchaues stands and addresses Jesus, loud enough for all to hear, he starts out by calling Jesus, Lord.  Zacchaues then goes on to proclaim how he has been changed by being in the presence of Jesus.   He will give away half of his riches and give back fourfold to anyone he had cheated.  In Jesus response, it might be interesting to note that He doesn’t tell Zacchaues that giving away only half of his riches is not good enough.   No, Jesus proclaims that today salvation has come to Zacchaues’ house.  Zacchaues had gotten the message.

Brothers and sisters, whether rich or not, we must look at ourselves as we seek an encounter with Jesus Christ.  First, when we come into His presence, are we filled with Joy at just being there?  When we ask our questions, bring our petitions to Him, are we open to and yearning for His answer whatever it may be?  Or are we only hoping that we will hear an affirmation of what we really think should happen?  Are we prepared to go forth, after out encounter, in the way Jesus Christ has called us to go?  Or are we going to turn away and search somewhere else for the answer we will accept?  One thing Zacchaues does show, while difficult a rich man can come to salvation.  I think if we were able to ask him, Zacchaues would say that he was immeasurably richer after meeting Jesus, no matter what the world would measure, than before.  May we find it in ourselves to have a Zacchaues kind of encounter with Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious and Merciful Savior, Jesus Christ, we long to have an encounter with You.  Bless us with Your presence we pray Dear Lord and give us peace and understanding.  Help us, Dear Jesus, to be joyful in You and long to hear Your answers and plans for our lives whatever they may be.  Give us the spirit of determination to carry out what You would have us do, that in so doing we might live a life that Glorifies the name of Our Heavenly Father.  In Your Most Precious Name we pray.  Amen

 

“and He will answer and say to you, I do not know you, where you come from, then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in Your presence and You taught in our streets.  But He will say “I tell you I do not know you…..depart from Me.”  Luke 13:25-27

It is one of the basic questions of life, both this terrestrial life and our eternal life, if salvation is from God’s Grace, what do I need to do?  It often sparks a debate over, do I work to earn salvation, or does salvation come to me as a gift?  The bible seems unequivocally clear, salvation is a gift of grace; lest I have a reason to boast.  If I indeed, can “do” enough to earn salvation, did Jesus need die for me?  I truly have no reason to boast, and yes, I can not approach the throne of God, except for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Sooooo, I can just kick back, live how I want to live and count on that Grace being there whenever I need it.  Let the partying begin!  I can’t wait to eat and drink!  And look wow, there is a church on every corner!  What a saved place I live in!

Not so fast.  Jesus Christ is crystal clear.  He needs to know you and I.  Think about it; you can’t introduce someone you have never met.  Think about this the next time you go out to eat; do you know everyone, there in that restaurant who is eating in the same place?  And ask yourself this; you may go to a lecture or you may read an article by a learned person, but does that person know anything about you?  In the United States, there are some that say we have  an, or live in a Judeo/Christian tradition or culture.  So when it comes to my salvation, what does that culture mean?  Truly, extremely little.  In a practical sense, it may mean that I have easier access to Christian Churches and doctrines which can facilitate my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that is a good thing.  I do truly feel and pray for those who are in an environment where the mere mention of Jesus Christ can bring drastic penalty, even death.  And I do pray an acknowledgement of praise and thanksgiving, that I leave in a culture who, for the most part, embraces my right to follow Jesus Christ.  Yet Jesus Christ is very clear;  that I live in this culture, gives me no claim, in the least, to the salvation that comes from actually following Jesus Christ.

So what is required?  Again Jesus Christ answers, I need to know you; we need to have a relationship.  Yes, I believe that God, as creator, knows all of His creation.  Jesus Christ, knows that I exist.  That is not the knowledge that Christ is talking about.  While, I know that a person is standing on the corner as I drive by, I know nothing about them.  I would be hard pressed to actually introduce that person to anyone.  To know them I have to meet them, and they have to meet me.  As I approach them, if they turn and walk away, I still don’t know them.  So for Jesus to know us, we have to enter into a relationship with Him.  To claim salvation, we have to know that it, 1) exists, 2)by whom the salvation comes, and extremely important 3) that we need salvation.  Upon that revelation, a relationship develops.  As the relationship deepens, I feel the immeasurable love, mercy and blessings that come from that relationship.  The same way that, on earth, medicine can bring about healing and that often that healing leads to improved life and behavior, the relationship with Christ leads to an improved life and different behavior.  That relationship, allows Christ to know us and then, we are told, Christ longs to introduce us, in our redeemed state, to God Almighty.  And, through and because of our relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Heavenly Father will welcome us home.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we long for a relationship.  We want to do more than just have some vague knowledge that You exist as we eat and drink.  We want to acknowledge more than the fact that You are preached somewhere around us.  We strive, Dear Father for a personal relationship with You.  We do faithfully acknowledge, that relationship comes through Our Savior Jesus Christ.  May it be, Almighty God, that we will enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  That through that relationship, we may humbly come to you.  And in that coming to you, we will live a life on this earth that praises your name and leads others to want that relationship, as well as having an eternal relationship with You.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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