Enduring Love

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When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19 (ESV

In this final chapter of my book, I share more about my own story. It breaks down into four phases of my short 36 years of life. Some phases are longer than others. Some are more enjoyable to share. Others shed a dark shadow on years of my life. My story is one of redemption and grace. I am far from perfect, and still have my battles, but I have experienced God’s love and mercy and it is forever changing me.

In John 21, Jesus is speaking with Peter. Peter is no man of perfection or superstar disciple. In fact, Peter’s journey is not all that different from ours. He was an ordinary man with a common profession. Peter, also called Simon Peter, was a fisherman along with his brother and father (Mark 4:18-19). He did not have years of theological studies prior to following Jesus, but when Christ called him, he went. Later in the story, Peter will be standing before the council, in trouble for preaching the name of Jesus. The men of the council observe two things: his lack of schooling and he’d been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Peter’s desire to walk with Jesus was all he needed to become a powerful witness for the gospel and that’s all we need too. That’s because the Holy Spirit turns ordinary people into emboldened disciples that can change the world.

This chapter details the life of Peter that we know from scripture and historical records. It all centers on that one conversation from John chapter 21. It’s a conversation that Jesus wants to have with each and every one of us. Come see how Jesus wants to draw you in with His love for you and invite you into a mission, a journey, a life’s purpose, that will fulfill your deepest needs.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28 (ESV)

Get your copy online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble and join others who have been questioned by Christ!

Peace in Christ

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Rested, Satisfied, and Forgiven

Life sure can be hard sometimes. There’s always something that we could spend our time worrying about, whether its finances, health issues, poor choices by those we love, relationship struggles, and on and on it goes. Let’s face it, the cup can always be half empty if we let it. At the same time, however, the half-empty cup is always half full.

A few days ago I was having a glass-half-empty moment, for about 3 hours, before my mind was able to reconsider how I was looking at everything. It turned out to be as simple as looking at my situation from the opposite perspective and all the heaviness began to give way to that nice peaceful easy feeling (you know like the Eagles started singing about back in the 70s). Actually, I’m talking more about the feeling that Jesus talked about thousands of years ago.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus is the author of that peaceful easy feeling. He’s not just the glass is half full, He’s my cup is overflowing with goodness. My problem, and you all can probably relate, is that I have expectations of how things will go. When those expectations blow up in my face I can quickly drift towards the negative. When my expectations aren’t founded on Biblical realities, my perspective can easily be out of alignment with where God wants me to be. Far too many of our expectations are based on uncontrollable elements of life and therefore, we are clinically psychotic. We torture ourselves mentally, and by extension, physically and emotionally because we put so much stock into how things that are way beyond our control, will turn out. We either focus on what we want to have, don’t have, or may no longer have instead of holding on to what we can never lose – a loving God.

Jesus essentially says to us: “I call you only to do those things you were created to do, and you will find therefore that my yoke is easy. I put on you the burden of following me, but I have already paid the price so that when you fail you will be forgiven. I’ve taken off you the burdens that other people have. I’ve removed the burden of earning your own salvation through your striving and effort. I’ve removed the burden of guilt or shame for past failures. I’ve taken off the burden of having to prove yourself worthy of love. I am therefore the only Lord and master who, if you find me, will satisfy you, and, if you fail me, will forgive you.”

Expcerpt from Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller

 

Which Cross is Mine?

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Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

JAPAN: IBARAGI KUN

After they all had been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to die, twenty-six Christians were marched to the place where crudely made crosses stood. Almost three months earlier, they had been arrested in Kyoto, Japan, and charged with following Christ. One of the convicts was named Ibaragi Kun.

Seeing how young Kun was, an official took him aside and urged him to recant his faith to save his life. Looking the official in the eye, Kun said confidently, “Sir, it would be far better if you yourself became a Christian. Then you could go to heaven with me.” The officer stared, startled by the young man’s faith. Finally, Ibaragi asked, “Sir, which cross is mine?” The bewildered official pointed to the smallest of the twenty-six crosses. Young Kun ran to the cross, knelt before it, and embraced it. When the soldiers began to nail his hands and feet to the cross, he did not cry out in pain. He courageously accepted the path God had laid out for him. The crucifixion of the twenty-six Christians on November 23, 1596, was the beginning of a period of intense persecution of Christians in Japan. Over the next seventy years, as many as one million Japanese Christians would be killed for their faith. Many would embrace their own crosses to follow the example of Ibaragi Kun, a very mature twelve-year-old boy.

Spiritual maturity is not measured by a birth certificate. Chronological age has little to do with conviction. Rather, spiritual maturity is measured one day at a time. We measure our maturity by how well we daily apply our faith. Contrary to popular belief, spiritual maturity is not how much we know about the Bible. Many people are very familiar with the Bible, yet they remain strangers to spiritual maturity. Obedience to the Bible’s commands is the mark of maturity. One question will help us know how well we are growing spiritually. We must ask ourselves each day, “How much more do we look like Jesus today than we did yesterday?” Our answer is a true reflection of our growth.

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Acts 5:40-42 ESV

Reflection:

  1. Do I avoid sharing my faith so as to avoid conflict with others?
  2. Have I ever let age or experiences prevent me from sharing my faith?
  3. Is there someone specific that I am being prompted by the Lord to reach out to?
  4. Would I choose Jesus over my life?

Much of the post originated from Voice of the Martyrs Ministry. For more about them click here.

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General of God’s Army

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Between 1405 and 1385 BC the book of Joshua was written. It is the first book to follow the Torah. Contained in these pages are stories of conquest and victory over evil. There are also moments of fear and disobedience. There are tragic events, death, and new life. The nation of Israel still struggled to follow their redeeming God in pure obedience, as we all do. But overall, it is a story of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises.

The victories in this book do not belong to Joshua and the nation of Israel…they belong to God. Multiple times (Deuteronomy 1:30 and 31:8) in the book right before Joshua, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel letting them know that it was the Lord Himself that would be fighting for the people and that He would be leading the charge into the promised land. God wanted Israel to know that they were not alone in this fight because this fight seemed insurmountable. Without God, it would have been. There were many evil empires who were strong and deeply entrenched in the land. And Israel needed to purify the land through force of arms. They faced obstacle far greater than themselves. To anyone who is without faith, it would have been folly to even try.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.

Joshua 1:1-5 ESV

God was sure to remind the new leader of Israel that he was not alone. When God has called us to something, He will always be in it, with us, and for us. While none of us have ever tried to conquer hundreds of miles of territory from wicked nations, we have all faced tragedies, hardships, and obstacles that have been far too much for us to bear alone. But God has never abandoned us, especially in our darkest and most difficult moments of life. For Joshua and the people of Israel, this would be the greatest test of their lives. Some pass and others do not. But those who do, get to experience the glory of a faithful God.

The central figure of this book is not who you’d suspect. The book is named after Joshua, the leader of God’s people, but he is not the main character. He’s not even the highest ranking commander in this military campaign to regain and redeem the land. The lead protagonist doesn’t even make His entry until chapter five.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 5:13-15 ESV

A few things about this character. One, he is in charge. Two, Joshua reveres him. And three, his presence is holy. I want to point out how each of these qualities points to the Messiah. First of all, the commander of the Lord’s army is used multiple times in connection with the person of Jesus. This insignia of headship is important when it comes to recognizing who the Messiah is. Check out these passages and how they relate to the figure and story of Joshua chapter five.

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

Matthew 26:33 ESV

On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus reminded His disciples of His ability to command none other than an army of angels. A standard legion consists of anywhere from 3000 to 6000 men. So in this statement, Jesus lets us know that he could call down up to 72,000 angels at His will. Guaranteed He could call them all down if He so chose.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

In John’s vision of the time to come, Jesus again makes an appearance, not as a gentle and lowly servant, but as a conquering general. With Him were the armies of heaven. Far greater in magnitude than twelve legions. This passage in revelations is highly regarded as the parallel passage to the events of Joshua’s day. Reasons for that are pretty numerous. A couple being that they contain the same main character and the same purpose to rid the land of evil. In Joshua’s day, it was isolated to the land of Canaan. In the end, it will be the entire Planet Earth that gets renewed and cleansed. And it is God who accomplishes both.

For the final comparison, I’d like to draw off of what the Commander of the Lord’s army tells Joshua. He tells him to take off his shoes for the place where he stands is holy. There is only one Figure in all of the Bible who can create holy space…God Himself. As we’ve already talked about in previous posts, God is the Messiah. He’s the one who goes before. He’s the one who rescues. The words of the Commander are exactly like the ones God Himself spoke back in Exodus chapter three.

Then he [God] said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:5 ESV [my emphasis]

The Messiah is holy. His presence should make us tremble and rejoice. He is the definition of perfection, unlike anything else we’ve ever known. When we come before Him, it should be with extreme reverence and awe.  And the fact that He loves us like He does should leave us even more awestruck.

Be at peace brothers and sisters. You have a Savior who goes before you. Find yourself facing insurmountable odds? Your Messiah commands legions of Angels. Nothing is impossible with Him in your life.

God bless

Fear vs. Love

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Fear is one of the most basic human motivations. It drives stock markets and fuels wars. Its unruly energies can be used for great harm or channeled for great good. Professional boxers are often told fear is their friend. Fear can make them better fighters. It keeps them alert. It sensitizes their determination. In the same way, God can use our fears and make us better fighters for his cause. Whenever we are afraid, we have the potential to do the impossible. Why? That which is impossible in our own strength is made possible with God’s help. Fear makes us more likely to forsake our own resources and rely on God instead. In this way, extreme fear can lead to extreme faith.

The following is a story shared from Voice of the Martyrs.

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?

Psalm 27:1

LAOS: The unwritten code of the police was clear: If you catch the Khmu or other tribesmen converting to Christianity, arrest them. If you catch anyone evangelizing the tribesmen, kill him.

After “Lu” had been shackled at the hands and feet and shamefully marched through the village, the Communist police threw him in a pit. “We will let you go,” they said, “when one hundred Christians in your village renounce their conversion to Christianity.” But they were unable to find believers willing to turn their backs on Christ. Then tragedy struck the police. One officer’s son broke both legs in an accident. His other son became critically ill. The officer who had beaten and harassed new Christians suddenly died of a heart attack. Other officials fearfully pulled “Lu” from the pit and allowed him to return home. Government authorities were too frightened to take action against the Christians in the village after seeing what happened to their leader. Seeing God’s show of power, more Khmu became believers. Where there had been one hundred Christians, now there were seven hundred. They even sent Christians out to tell other villages about Jesus. While the Laotian authorities were controlled by their fear, the Christians in Southeast Asia overcame theirs.

For some people living in post-modern nations, sharing the gospel may result in losing friends, not being invited places, being written up at work, being overlooked, and perhaps being ridiculed and given a nasty label. But it won’t result in death and imprisonment. Yet, fear still grips the believer. Fear of rejection. Fear of being different. Fear of what people will say. When we compare this with Lu’s story in Laos, it’s embarrassing that anyone would allow these minor inconveniences to prevent them from spreading the greatest news the world has ever heard. Fear is strong. But not as strong as love.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18 ESV

Believer, we no longer need to fear anything. Not sickness, not persecution, not ridicule, not rejection, and not even death. Because we are perfectly loved and that love is our view of those who need to know Jesus. No matter how they respond, they need to know Jesus just as much as we did. We can’t keep this great love to ourselves, not even from those who reject it. Never forget that your courage and love could change someone’s life forever.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

Be brave brothers and sisters, and go change the world!

 

 

Rest is a Mindset

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It doesn’t take a nap to rest. We don’t have to be stationary to be revived. Some of my greatest moments of rest are while I’m working out, or washing windows while plugged into a sweet podcast, reading a good book, or The Good Book. I can rest while helping others or running a class of 30 high school kids or playing with my own children. Truth is, we can rest anywhere. Rest has nothing to do with activity, and everything to do with thought. While physical rest is important, mental rest is what our bodies thrive on.

Focus on Others

Perhaps the greatest drain on our lives is worrying about things, anything, everything. Most of the time we are worried about ourselves.

 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:4 ESV

Focus on Heaven

Life from the perspective of eternity radically changes a lot. Temporary circumstances don’t carry quite as much weight when we realize that our life never really ends. Every soul is eternal. Life spans aren’t an average of 75 years, they’re forever. Even our most difficult trials are but a blink of an eye in light of the glory to come.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2 ESV

Focus on Mission

For the follower of Jesus, we have one mission, to love and lead. Jesus demonstrated what sincere godly love looks like. Then he asked us to do the same and to lead others into a relationship with Him.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31 ESV

Focus on Identity

In Christ, we’re all a new creation. We have received acceptance and unconditional love. We all screw up but that can never change who we are…we are His. A lot of stress comes from trying to prove ourselves or earn love and acceptance from family, friends, or coworkers. But we already have love and acceptance from a far greater source.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Brothers and sisters, may you find rest in what He’s done, Who He is, and who you now are. You are free, loved, and accepted. You have a purpose and value. There is meaning to your life, a life that lasts forever.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

The Curse of the Tree

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How could a tree ever be cursed? Trees are beautiful and majestic and just another amazing part of God’s creation that points to His creative and loving nature. Well, towards the end of the book of Deuteronomy we find a somewhat miscellaneous law about criminals being hung on a tree and being cursed by God.

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 ESV

Three things can be taken from these two verses that are distinct indicators that Yeshua is the Messiah.

#1 The Accusation
During His life and ministry, Jesus made several statements about His divinity and oneness with God. Of course, that’s who the Messiah would have to be. That’s why God gave so many prophecies indicating that He would be the one to come to us, to save us, to redeem us. He and the Messiah are one. But many of the Jews didn’t realize that. They were shrouded in spiritual darkness, blinded by their own ignorance and pride. So many Jews sought to kill the Messiah for basically identifying Himself as the Messiah. They accused Him of blasphemy which was punishable by death.

I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”  The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

John 10:30-33 ESV

#2 The Punishment
Despite the innocence of Jesus, the angry mob lashed out and called for His death. It was the Roman authorities who sentenced Him, it was the people. The head of Roman leadership in the area, Pilate, knew Jesus was innocent. But he bent to the will of the hateful and misunderstanding crowd. Jesus sentence was to be hung on a tree…to be crucified.

Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought this man to me and said that he was misleading the people. Now, I have examined him here in your presence, and I have not found him guilty of any of the crimes you accuse him of. Nor did Herod find him guilty, for he sent him back to us. There is nothing this man has done to deserve death. So I will have him whipped and let him go.” The whole crowd cried out, “Kill him! Set Barabbas free for us!” (Barabbas had been put in prison for a riot that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, so he appealed to the crowd again. But they shouted back, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Luke 23:13-21 GNT

#3 The Burial
According to the law, no man hung on a tree can be left there overnight. Jesus did not remain on the cross but was taken by a handful of people to buried in a rich man’s tomb. This was an exception because the Romans did not obey Jewish law. The bodies of those who were crucified were often thrown in piles and seldom buried right away. But Jesus was special.
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
John 19:38-42 NIV
Let’s face the facts, none of us are perfect. No one in history, other than Jesus, has ever followed the law of God perfectly. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all blasphemed at some point, either by thought or action. By extension, we are all cursed before God due to our pride and self-centeredness. We all deserve the tree. Yeshua did not. Yeshua chose the tree so that we wouldn’t have to hang there ourselves.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Galatians 3:10-14 ESV
Be at peace brothers and sisters. The curse has been lifted. Glory, not the tree, is our destination!