Genesis 28:16 (When He Shows Up)

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monopoly car

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Genesis 28:16)

Relate: There were about six of us sitting around the table playing Monopoly. Now, lets be honest, there have been plenty of times with plenty of people sitting around a game of Monopoly that were far from godly. I remember playing at my apartment with a few cousins when two of us ganged up on the third cousin’s fiance trying to force her into bankruptcy. Our engaged cousin got so angry at us he stood up and flipped the table before storming off into his room. Another time, in Bible college, a guy jumped over a bed to physically attack me he got so mad. Oh wait, that was playing Risk. Nevermind. Among some family I still have to try and live down a reputation of cheating it was so prevalent when I played this game (Monopoly, not Risk, or perhaps both… and a few other games as well). So lets just say that my Monopoly playing is not always so wholesome.

Getting back to the first sentence, this game was different. We were playing along but the conversation was only half on the game itself. Even more it was going deeper and deeper into the subject of money in relation to God. What does the church, and the Bible have to do with tithing? Why have certain people made vows of poverty and is there any spiritual benefit in doing so, etc. Monopoly got us talking about money which got us talking about God and, after a while, we realized nobody had taken a turn in a good long while, nobody could remember whose turn it was and frankly, nobody cared. God had invaded our game and all of us, four Christians and two non-christians, were having church. Surely the Lord was in this place and none of us were even aware of it.

React: Have you ever had one of those moments? Have you ever been walking down the street when something, the wind… a butterfly… it could even be pigeon poop, whatever, opens up a spiritual truth, or an epiphany, or simply felt you had to burst out in praise? It can happen. Anytime. Anywhere. You can just be going on about your day when suddenly God shows up. He invades your life. For Jacob, he was on the run for his life. It would be like taking a nap at a bus terminal when suddenly the hallway doesn’t lead to the restrooms but rather to the pearly gates. Angels are walking back and forth down that hall and God Himself is at the far end and says, “You’re running now but you’ll come back. The whole time you’re gone, you aren’t gone from me. I’ll be right with you. I will protect you. I’ve got you, Jake. I’ve got you.”

I know, there are hundreds of people who are reading this. For some, the message is simply to be aware. Keep your eyes open for those epiphanies. Stay ready for those moments when God invades the random with His presence. He loves to do it. That was what I intended on writing about today. But there are a few of you, maybe just one, that I feel God is telling you something more. You feel like a failure. You feel like you’ve run from your family, your responsibilities, maybe even God. I don’t know. But He does, and what He told Jacob that evening He is saying to you. “I’m still with you. I’ve never left. You might have run but I am bringing you back. I’ve got this, just trust me. I’ve got this.”

Respond: 

God, invade our moments. Show up in those random times when we had no idea. Come into our lives in ways unexpected and unlooked for. We long for You. Let us see Your glory in the wind on the grass. Let us hear Your voice on the snow blowing down when all we want to do is get out of the cold. Let us recognize Your face in the stranger we bump into while buying groceries. Help us to feel Your hand in those lonely solitary moments when no one can see our tears. Where ever we are at, speak to each us in a way that is extremely unique and intensely personal. Speak to us. Let us know that You are still here. You are still in control. You’ve got this.

John 18:38-40 (The Cross And The Sword)

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cross and the sword

What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.) (John 18:38-40)

Relate: When we hear the name “Jesus” we think of a very specific person. For different people His name might mean different things, one might call Him a prophet, another a rabbi, a third a revolutionary while I call Him the one and only Son of God. No matter what our views on Him might be, we are each referring to a very specific person. Funny thing is, the name “Jesus” was actually an incredibly common name in His own time. That most famous of historians, Josephus, actually records nineteen people with that name in two of his four books. Of those nineteen, four of them were even high priests.

The rest is at: http://tworiversblog.com/2014/12/27/john-1838-40-the-cross-and-the-sword/

John 18:36 (Kingdoms Clash)

from The River Walk b –  3 comments

kingdom

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Relate: In his book Simply Jesus, NT Wright talks about a clash between Rome, the Jewish people, and Jesus and His followers. Wright uses the concept of a perfect storm comprised of three “winds”. The first of these winds or storms is that of Roman rule. From Augustus on, Rome talked about the good news (the “gospel”, the evangelion) of peace on earth brought about by the force of Rome’s conquering armies. It is a peace brought about by the sword and, to a large degree, it was true. By bringing equality to the petty kingdoms of the Mediterranean world all under the ever marching boot of the Roman legions, the world was a safer, less complicated place. At least, it was as long as one recognized where authority lay and to whom allegiance was due.

The second storm was that of Jewish hopes and expectations. There was a growing frenzy among Jewish nationalists as longing became hope became expectation for a new “exodus”. Those who could recognize the signs of the times knew the Messiah was coming and they were fully ready for him to overthrow Roman rule and usher Israel into it’s rightful place at the center of the world. They had the timing right but the methodology all wrong. Within three decades after Christ’s crucifixion the conflict of these first two storms will lead to the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the diaspora of the Jews.

The third storm is what NT Wright calls “the wind of God”. When Jesus came He did not come in the way that either Rome or Jerusalem would recognize as a king. Jesus came “embodying, incarnating the return of Israel’s God to His people in power and glory.” The kingdom He ushered in was nothing like one that either culture could truly understand. In fact, His kingdom was so countercultural that both Rome and Jerusalem would work together to destroy it. At least, they would try.

React: Jesus did come to make war, but it was simply not the type of war that the Romans or Jews could recognize. In fact, compared to the clash of kingdoms that was taking place in the spiritual realm, Pilate and the priests were nothing but a sideshow. They were irrelevant. The true conflict was that between the evil that has held each and every one of us in bondage and the liberating good that He brought to set us free. We are all subjects of one kingdom or another. Either we are slaves to sin or servants of the One true King. Which one holds our allegiance?

Respond: 

God, let Your Kingdom come. Reign in my heart and in my world. I understand that when You do, as You do, it is not according to my expectations or in the way I have hoped. You are still full of surprises. Give my the humility to allow You to move as You would. Give me the awareness to recognize where and how You are moving. Align my heart, mind, words and actions to Your rule.

John 18:28-30 (He Normally Couldn’t Care Less)

from The River Walk

Couldn't Care Less

Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”

“We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted. (John 18:28-30)

Relate: Because Pilate didn’t care the religious leaders thought they could pull a fast one over on him in the murder of Jesus. They fully expected, based on past experience that he wouldn’t even be bothered to know whose death warrant he was signing.

You see, when Pilate was first assigned to be the procurator of Judea, he felt the title beneath him and the location a backwater. In his role he basically had two responsibilities: 1) to “procure” the taxes and 2) to keep the peace. This second task he wasn’t very good at. He cared nothing for the religion and culture of the people he was appointed to lead and this, more than once got him into trouble. Historians like Josephus and Philo write of multiple times where early on Pilate seemed to go out of his way to upset the sensibilities of his subjects. He did what he was going to do with no care or concern for the impact it would have and this frequently resulted in the Jewish people protesting and rioting. Petitions and riots alike were met with brutality and death.

Read more at: http://tworiversblog.com/2014/12/15/john-1828-30-he-normally-couldnt-care-less/

John 10:11 (The Good Shepherd)

from The River Walk b – 2 comments

Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Relate: I don’t know much about shepherding. Most of what I’ve been taught about sheep and their care has come in the form of sermon illustrations and it isn’t something I’ve really done much fact checking or research on my own. What I do know is that sheep stink. There was a sheep farm near my school that my bus had to pass way back in the day. Anytime there wasn’t enough wind to blow the stink away it was horrible. I mean, seriously, horrible. You would almost thing they were permanently torturing skunks on that farm the way the smell would always stick around.

Some things I have heard in sermons about sheep: They’re dumb. I’ve heard a story about 1,500 sheep all walking of a cliff, one right after the other. Apparently the lead sheep, whatever he’s called walked off to plunge to his death and the rest must have thought it looked like fun and joined him. Apparently, the forerunners sacrificed themselves as their deaths broke the falls of the ones coming after and only the first few hundred ended up dying.

Sheep are also defenseless. They have no camouflage or disguise to protect them from predators. They have no defensive capabilities to fight back, and sheep are quite slow. Pretty much any predator coming at them will be much faster, both in short bursts and over the long haul. Sheep can’t even make themselves scary looking to convince a would be predator to go for something else. When a predator shows up, sheep just flock and panic. They just clump up and run around scared hoping the wolf or bear or whatever will pick off one of the other sheep instead.

Sheep also have no sense of direction. They have no geolocators like some type of birds. They won’t retrace their paths like some other animals. They simply wander off. You could put a sheep in the most idyllic setting, it doesn’t matter. Without constant supervision, each and every one of those sheep will end up wandering off and getting themselves in trouble… like walking off a cliff.

The sheep farm I passed on my way to school was a completely fenced in, enclosed environment. In this respect it is far different from the shepherding required in Jesus’ day. There are no predators. There is no need for constant supervision and protection. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw anyone out there among those sheep. They probably couldn’t endure the smell any more than I could riding by. It creates a much different picture than a teenage David armed only with a sling and a staff running to confront a lion or a bear who decided to make a meal of a sheep or two. A young man like that, placing his own life and safety directly between the dumb, defenseless, directionless, and infinitely malodorous sheep.

React: A sheep like me. If I were to list out some of the stupid things I’ve done in my past… this devotional would get incredibly long quite quickly. I’m also quite defenseless on my own. Not physically. I’ve held my own in a fight or two growing up. But spiritually, when it comes to sin issues, the only possible way I can win is by turning to my Savior and screaming, “Help!” I’m also prone to wander. Over and over again I am dependant on God’s correcting rod to keep me on the path He has called me to. Without it, I am certain to wander off the next cliff I see. Why on earth would Jesus to die for someone like me? The only answer is because He is good. And for that truth, I am eternally grateful.

Respond: 

God, You are so good. I am so grateful. Over and over again I demonstrate how undeserving I am. But over and over again You lavish Your love and Your grace on me again. It is You who keeps my feet from wandering. It is You who protects me from the dangers I never even see. It is You who guides me and leads me to good places. You are my wisdom. God, You are so good.

John 17:20-21 (One)

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one

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
(John 17:20-21)

Read: Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1 – 2:47

Relate: “I’m praying for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” That’s us. That’s me. If you are a follower of Jesus then that is you. If you aren’t yet… then that will soon be you. I’d love to say a lot more on that but it would be a rabbit trail. Just let me say briefly that if you are reading this but have not yet chosen to surrender your life to Christ, I am praying for you. Daily. And I am grateful that, for whatever reason you have chosen to read my blog.

Back to the subject at hand… Jesus was praying for us. Either directly or indirectly, every person who is a follower of Christ is so because of the words, the teachings and writings, of the apostles. Because of their words, we believe. Because we believe through their message, we are part of those that Jesus is praying for. How cool is that? Two thousand years later and we, the millions of us who are followers of Christ, are included in Jesus’ last corporate prayer.

So what does He pray for us? “That they will all be one, just as [the Father] and [Jesus] are one.” Oh… Ouch.

I guess Jesus knew exactly where we would need the most prayer, didn’t He? We are a fractured, splintered group, aren’t we? Martin Luther King Jr said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” That was fifty years ago. It’s still true. Racially, culturally, socio-economically, doctrinally… we are a horrifically divided group.

React: The sad truth is that most of the time, most of us don’t even see this as a problem. Ignoring what Jesus prayed, we place a greater premium on doctrinal purity than we do on unity. We pride ourselves on our independence, our “doctrinal distinctives”, or our “non-denominationalism”. We go to our (almost) all white, or all black, or all hispanic church and are completely comfortable with the monoculturalism even though we live in communities that are far more blended. What can we do to change this? How can we break down the cultural and racial barriers that we might truly become one church even as we meet in many locations? How can we take part in becoming part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer? How can we become one?

Respond: 

God, for my unwillingness to get a little uncomfortable for the sake of unity, forgive me. For my ignorance and apathy in not trying to extend a hand to those outside my social and cultural circles, forgive me. For my pride and arrogance in believing that I have doctrinal superiority, God forgive me. Help me to be a minister of reconciliation. Help me to actively pray, and work, and live for a unified church. Help us to be one.

John 16:5-7 (Advocate)

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advocate (1)

But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you. (John 16:5-7)

Relate: One of my favorite verses has always been out of Job. In the midst of his suffering-turned-argument, he cried out, “Even now my witness is in heaven, my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears tears to God.” Even though Job is speaking of one person, there is a trinitarian appeal of the three offices being referred to. It is the witness (the Father) who sees everything and knows the truth. It is the intercessor (the Son) who holds our hand and walks with us through the trial. (And ultimately volunteers to take our punishment) It is the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) who takes up our case.

Trinitarian or not, the nuts and bolts of the issue is that Job longed for an advocate, but not just any lawyer. He wanted an advocate from on high. He wanted someone taking up his case who has never lost and could never lose. He got it. Jesus promised us the same. He promised that when He left us, He would send the Advocate in His place. That Advocate has come, and everyone who has surrendered their life to Christ has that Advocate dwelling with them. In Greek the word is Parakletos. It comes from two words: para – close beside and kaleo – to make a call. Basically, it is a legal reference for the one calling the shots on our behalf. He is our legal representation.

React: So the question is: if the Holy Spirit is an ever victorious Advocate, are we following His counsel? I recently saw Gone Girl (horrible movie) in which Nick comes to the realization that, even though he is completely innocent (of murder), he needs a really good lawyer or he’s going to face the death penalty. Within seconds of meeting the infamous Tanner Bolt, the defense lawyer is giving him marching orders. “This is what you need to do…” As situations continue to change and evolve, the lawyer continues to call the shots as to how Nick can stay ahead of the game. That is what the Holy Spirit, as an Advocate, is doing for us. But are we listening? Are we heeding His counsel? Am I?

Respond: 

God, help me to listen. Help me to heed Your leading and direction. No matter where that leading might take me, no matter how difficult of undesirable that counsel might be at times, give me the courage to follow through. I know You have my best interests at heart. I know that Your wisdom and guidance is always, always perfect. Help me to follow.