WORSHIP | WORD | WITNESS
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
God's Desire For All People
What causes you to do something for someone else?
Take this simple test. Place a check by each statement that reflects your motivation.
You probably have chosen the answers that reflect an "I want to" attitude, rather than an "I have to" obligation.
Here is another test.
What would motivate you to tell a person about Christ and His message of salvation?
All of these reasons are excellent, and each one can be found in the Bible. Yet it often seems so difficult for us to tell someone about our faith in the Lord. Why? The answer may be seen in a statement Christ made in Luke 6:45: "For out of the overflow of [a person's] heart his mouth speaks."
What fills your heart? What subjects fill your conversations? Your heart represents the innermost center of your being. It is the source of your personality and emotions. What is in your heart will be on your lips and will determine your actions.
"I am trying to know God's heart."
Have you ever heard anyone say that? I haven't.
Of course, God does not have a physical heart. The term is only a figure of speech referring to His divine and eternal purposes. It would be wonderful to know the Lord's specific intentions for people, including yourself, wouldn't it?
If God were to allow you to enter the glory of His presence and inform you of His desire for all human beings, what would you do with that information? your heart probably would burst with the news.
Here is something to get excited about. God actually is looking for people to know His heart. He promised to give leaders to ancient Israel--leaders who would represent His love and commitment to the people.
"I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding" (Jeremiah 3:15). The Lord is searching for such people today.
Over a thousand years after King David of Israel lived, the apostle Paul said this about him:
"[God] made David their King. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised." (Acts 13:22-23)
What a stunning tribute! The Lord wanted you and me to know the inner motivations of a man who lived three thousand years ago and what God accomplished through his influence. Would you like Christ to say the same thing about you? He can if you do the same things to please Him that David did.
from Dick Purnell's "Knowing God's Heart, Sharing His Joy"
That he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:20-23
Can anything good come from my pain?
The Bible says not to be discouraged when you have a disruptive moment. That is often a difficult truth to embrace in the midst of a painful event. God's Word assures us, though, that problems and pain can be like a teacher in our life, instructing us in the ways of maturity. For our suffering "yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11). Pain can be our teacher!
Even as we confront illness, pain, and injury, we need to be biblical Christians claiming God's promises and living with His presence and purposes in mind. When experiencing adversity, it helps to remember that the biblical heroes of old weren't immunized against pain in life; Scripture is filled with accounts of their suffering. Job lived a life of integrity, and yet he lost his family, is wealth, the admiration of his wife, and his health. Peter's mother-in-law occupied a sickbed. Samuel became feeble. King David anguished over the condition of his newborn son. Every biblical character called by God experienced problems in life--so pain is not exclusive to us.
Even the Son of Man suffered violent, life-ending injuries and excruciating pain at the hands of His enemies in order to carry out God's will for His life (Philippians 2:8-10).
When we encounter pain, the question should not be, Why is this happening to me? or, What am I going to do? Instead, we should pray, Lord, what do you want to teach me in this disruptive moment? I am Your ready and willing student -- teach me everything You know I need. I don't want to waste this suffering. I want to walk through it and come out on the other side having learned everything I can so that it will be an occasion for God to be glorified.
from David Jeremiah's "Answers to Questions About Adversity"
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
Welcome problems as perspective-lifters. My children tend to sleepwalk through their days until they bump into an obstacle that stymies them. If you encounter a problem with no immediate solution, your response to that situation will take you either up or down. You can lash out at the difficulty, resenting it and feeling sorry for yourself. This will take you down into a pit of self-pity. Alternatively, the problem can be a ladder, enabling you to climb up and see your life from My perspective. Viewed from above, the obstacle that frustrated you is only a light and momentary trouble. Once your perspective has been heightened, you can look away from the problem altogether. Turn toward Me, and see the Light of My Presence shining upon you.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
from Sarah Young's Jesus Calling - Enjoying Peace in His Presence
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5: 6-7
THE HOPE OF THE CENTURIES
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
The promised coming of Christ has been the great hope of believers down through the centuries. The ancient Nicene Creed affirms, "He shall come again with glory."
Charles Wesley wrote 7,000 hymns; 5,000 mentioned the coming of Christ. As the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned Queen Elizabeth II, he stated, "I give thee, O Sovereign Lady, this crown to wear until He who reserves the right to wear it shall return."
But until that time, our world remains in the grip of violence and despair. One noted columnist summed it up this way: "For us all, the world is disorderly and dangerous; ungoverned, and apparently ungovernable." Someday, however, the King will return. Someday the heavens will shout, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15).
from Billy Graham's Hope for Each Day Devotional
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
The grass may look greener on the other side, but it still has to be mowed.
A stonecutter once delivered a slab of stone to a merchant. Seeing all his wonderful goods, he said, "I wish I was a merchant and had such things." In the twinkling of an eye, his wish was granted. Then one day he saw a parade pass his store window. He saw a prince pass by in splendor and he said, "I wish I was a prince." And immediately he became a prince... until the day the hot sun beat down upon him and he said, "I wish I was the sun, greater than any man." And he became the sun and was happy... until a cloud came between him and the earth. He said, "That cloud over-shadows me. I wish I was a cloud." Again his wish was granted. He rained down on the earth to his heart's content until he came to a mountain, which wouldn't let him pass. He said, "That mountain is greater than I, I wish I was a mountain." Instantly, he became a mountain and he thought, Now I am the greatest of all.
But one day, a little man climbed up the mountain and with a hammer and a chisel began to tap away at it. The mountain, unable to stop him, said, "That little man is greater than I, I wish I was a man who cut stone." Once again his wish was granted and he became a stonecutter. He lived a long and useful life and everyone marveled at how happy he was.
from "God's Little Devotional Book"
When I give you no special guidance, stay where you are. Concentrate on doing your everyday tasks in awareness of My Presence with you. The Joy of My Presence will shine on you, as you do everything for Me. Thus you invite Me into every aspect of your life. Through collaborating with Me in all things, you allow My Life to merge with yours. This is the secret not only of joyful living but also of victorious living. I designed you to depend on Me moment by moment, recognizing that apart from Me you can do nothing.
Be thankful for quiet days, when nothing special seems to be happening. Instead of being bored by the lack of action, use times of routine to seek My Face. Although this is an invisible transaction, it speaks volumes in spiritual realms. Moreover, you are richly blessed when you walk trustingly with Me through the routines of your day.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!
from Sarah Young's Jesus Calling - Enjoying Peace in His Presence
THE FINAL WEEK
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50
It’s early in the final week. The props and players for Friday’s drama are in position. Five-inch spikes are in the bin. A crossbeam leans against a shed wall. The players are nearing the stage—Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas, Judas, the centurions.
Players and props. Only this is no play; it’s a divine plan. A plan begun before Adam felt heaven’s breath, and now all heaven waits and watches. All eyes are on one figure—the Nazarene.
Commonly clad. Uncommonly focused. Leaving Jericho and walking toward Jerusalem. He doesn’t chatter or pause. He’s on his final journey.
Even the angels are silent. They know this is no ordinary walk or week. For hinged on this week is the door of eternity.
He knew the end was near. He knew the finality of Friday.
Let’s walk with him. Let’s see how Jesus spent his final days.
Enter the holy week and observe.
Feel his passion. Sense his power. Hear his promise that death has no power.
Let’s follow Jesus on his final journey. For by observing his, we may learn how to make ours.
THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 20:17-19
The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was just fourteen miles. A half day’s journey. Jesus is at the front of his band of disciples. A young soldier marching into battle.
As Jesus states his mission, forget any suggestion that he was trapped and made a miscalculation. Ignore any speculation that the cross was a last-ditch attempt to salvage a dying mission.
These words tell us that Jesus died . . . on purpose. No surprise. No hesitation. No faltering.
The way Jesus marched to his death leaves no doubt: he had come to earth for this moment. The journey to the cross had begun long before leaving Jericho. As the echo of the crunching of the fruit was still sounding in the garden of Eden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary.
Jesus stepped toward Jerusalem with the promise of God in his heart. The divinity of Christ assured the humanity of Christ, and Jesus spoke loud enough for the pits of hell to vibrate: “And the third day He will rise again.”
Is there a Jerusalem in your horizon? Are you on a brief journey from painful encounters? Are you only steps away from the walls of your own heartache?
Learn a lesson from your master. The next time you find yourself on a Jericho road marching toward Jerusalem, put the promises of God on your lips. When the blackness of oppression settles around you, draw courage from the Word of God. ’Tis wise to march into Jerusalem with the promise of God in your heart.
IN THE GARDEN
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14: 32-36
Go with me for a moment to witness what was perhaps the foggiest night in history. The scene is very simple; you’ll recognize it quickly. A grove of twisted olive trees. Ground cluttered with large rocks. A low stone fence. A dark, dark night.
Now, look into the picture. Look closely through the shadowy foliage. See that solitary figure? Flat on the ground. Face stained with dirt and tears. Fists pounding the hard earth. Eyes wide with a stupor of fear. Hair matted with salty sweat. Is that blood on his forehead?
That’s Jesus. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe you’ve seen the classic portrait of Christ in the Garden. Kneeling beside a big rock. Snow-white robe. Hands peacefully folded in prayer. A look of serenity on his face. A halo over his head.
The painter didn’t use the gospel of Mark as a pattern. When Mark wrote about that painful night, he used phrases such as these: “Horror and dismay came over him,” “My heart is ready to break with grief,” and “He went forward a little, [and] threw himself on the ground” (14:32–42 NEB).
Mark used black paint to describe this scene. We see an agonizing, straining, and struggling Jesus. We see a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3 NASB). We see a man struggling with fear, wrestling with commitments, and yearning for relief.
We see Jesus in the fog of a broken heart.
The next time the fog finds you, remember Jesus in the Garden. The next time you think that no one understands or cares, reread the fourteenth chapter of Mark and pay a visit to Gethsemane. And the next time you wonder if God really perceives the pain that prevails on this dusty planet, listen to him pleading among the twisted trees.
The next time you are called to suffer, pay attention.
It may be the closest you’ll ever get to God. Watch closely. It could very well be that the hand that extends itself to lead you out of the fog is a pierced one.
CLOSE TO THE CROSS BUT FAR FROM CHRIST
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, Mark 19: 23-24
There was some dice-throwing that went on at the foot of the cross.
Imagine the scene. The soldiers are huddled in a circle, their eyes turned downward. The criminal above them is forgotten. Casting lots for the possessions of Christ.
Here are common soldiers witnessing the world’s most uncommon event, and they don’t even know it. As far as they’re concerned, he is just another criminal. The cross is forgotten.
It makes me think of us. The religious. Those who claim heritage at the cross. I’m thinking of all of us. Every believer in the land. The stuffy. The loose. The strict. The simple. Upper church. Lower church. “Spirit-filled.” Evangelical. Mystical. Literal. Cynical. Robes. Collars. Three-piece suits. Bornagainers. Ameners.
I’m thinking we aren’t so unlike these soldiers. (I’m sorry to say.)
We, too, play games at the foot of the cross. We compete for members. We scramble for status. We deal out our judgments and condemnations. Competition. Selfishness. Personal gain. It’s all there.So close to the cross, yet so far from the blood.
We are so close to the world’s most uncommon event, but we act like common crapshooters huddled in bickering groups and fighting over silly opinions.
We major in the trivial, constantly finding fault with others. We split into little huddles and then, God forbid, we split again. Another name. Another doctrine. Another “error.” Another denomination.
Another poker game.
So close to the cross but so far from the Christ.
“May they all be one,” Jesus prayed.
One. Not one in groups of two thousand. But one in One. One church. One faith. One Lord. Not Baptist, not Methodist, not Adventist. Just Christians. No denominations. No hierarchies. No traditions. Just Christ.
FATHER, FORGIVE THEM
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12: 1-3
Of all the scenes around the cross, this one angers me the most. What kind of people would mock a dying man? Who would be so base as to pour the salt of scorn upon open wounds?
The words thrown that day were meant to wound. And there is nothing more painful than words meant to hurt.
If you have suffered or are suffering because of someone else’s words, you’ll be glad to know that there is a balm for this laceration. Meditate on these words: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV).
Jesus did not retaliate or bite back. He did not say, “I’ll get you!” “Come on up here and say that to my face!” “Just wait until after the resurrection, buddy!” No, these statements were not found on Christ’s lips.
He simply left the judging to God. He did not take on the task of seeking revenge. He demanded no apology. He hired no bounty hunters and sent out no posse. He, to the astounding contrary, spoke on their defense. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
And when you think about it, they hadn’t the faintest idea what they were doing. They were a stir-crazy mob, mad at something they couldn’t see, so they took it out on, of all people, God. But they didn’t know what they were doing.
Yes, the dialogue that Friday morning was bitter. The verbal stones were meant to sting. How Jesus, with a body racked with pain, eyes blinded by his own blood, and lungs yearning for air, could speak on behalf of some heartless thugs is beyond my comprehension. Never, never have I seen such love. If ever a person deserved a shot at revenge, Jesus did. But he didn’t take it. Instead he died for them. How could he do it? I don’t know. But I do know that all of a sudden my wounds seem very painless. My grudges and hard feelings are suddenly childish.
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t see Christ’s love as much in the people he tolerated as in the pain he endured.
THE TEMPLE CURTAIN IS TORN
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39
The curtain of the Temple was hung before the Holy of Holies, which was part of the Temple no one could enter. Jewish worshipers could enter the outer court, but only the priests could enter the Holy Place. And no one, except the high priest on one day a year, entered the Holy of Holies. No one. Why? Because the shekinah glory—the glory of God—was present there.
No one but the high priest entered the Holy of Holies. No one. To do so meant death. In no uncertain terms, the curtain declared: “This far and no farther!”
What did fifteen hundred years of a curtain-draped Holy of Holies communicate? Simple. God is holy . . . separate from us and unapproachable. Even Moses was told, “You cannot see my face, because no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20 NCV). God is holy, and we are sinners, and there is a distance between us.
But Jesus hasn’t left us with an unapproachable God. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV). When Jesus’ flesh was torn on the cross, the curtain was torn in two.
It was as if the hands of heaven had been gripping the veil, waiting for this moment. One instant it was whole; the next it was ripped in two from top to bottom. No delay. No hesitation.
We are welcome to enter into God’s presence—any day, any time. God has removed the barrier that separates us from him. The barrier of sin? Down. No more curtain.
But we have a tendency to put the barrier back up with the curtain of our heart. Sometimes, no, oftentimes, we allow our mistakes and guilty conscience to keep us from God.
Don’t allow a veil of guilt to keep you from your Father. Trust the cross. The curtain is down, the door is open, and you are welcome in God’s presence.
AN UNEXPECTED PARTY
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Matthew 28: 1-9
From Max Lucado's On Calvary's Hill