Thursday, October 29, 2020

John 5

 Key verse: John 5:21

Big idea: The new birth is a sign of the resurrection to come.

John 5 is all about authority. Who is Jesus? How does He dare to redefine the Sabbath and even claim equality with God? The Lord explains that His authority is not something He has usurped, but is rightfully His own. John the Baptist has testified of His significance, and His miraculous works further demonstrate that He is no ordinary man. But the most substantial thing which Jesus did was something which was uniquely the prerogative of God. At the last day, God is the One who will raise the dead and give them new life. Yet Jesus claims to be giving people life too. 

He gives life to broken bodies and will go on to raise the dead, but the specific form of life which Jesus was giving now was spiritual. The spiritually lost and condemned are forgiven by Jesus, on the merit of His coming sacrifice. They are given new life in their hearts, where the death of sin is broken and replaced by the vibrant energy of the Living God. Bringing life where there was none is the unique role of God alone, and by doing so, Jesus demonstrated who He is. We can live with the assurance that what the Son begins will not go unfinished. If we are given new life in our hearts, God will raise our bodies also. The day is coming when all those in the tombs will hear His voice and be summoned back to life again. The same authority which can transform our hearts can break the power of death itself. 

The transformation of our hearts gives us some hint of what our final resurrection will be like. After being saved, I am still me. I have certain likes and dislikes, certain strengths and weakness, and a general personality. When I am saved, those things are not all wiped away. But there is a sense in which I am also a new creation. I am the same and different. When Jesus calls us up from death, we will be ourselves, yet glorified. Our bodies are both our old ones raised up and yet new. What Jesus' power and authority can do for us by faith will one day be finished by sight. 

Discussion idea: How does the doctrine of a future resurrection cause us to live differently than a purely spiritual health?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank You for always finishing what You start. Thank you for redeeming my soul and for the certain knowledge that you will heal my body too. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

John 4

Key verse: John 4:23

Big idea: The sacrifices were the sign of the spiritual worship to come.

It is always interesting to me to see the way that children process through play. If our daughter gets in trouble, her baby doll is likely to be punished in the next few days for doing something similar. Our son speaks in high pitched "baby" voices to little things, even when he is not saying any actual words. Both of my kids love their little play kitchen. One of them will stand in their playhouse and "cook" while the other swings and places an "order." These are all shadows of adult things, and will eventually be replaced by the real thing. In a sense, the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was a toy copy of the real worship that would come. 

When Jesus sat by a well with a Samaritan woman, He told her that the day was coming - and was now here - when worship would not be centered on a Temple or a mountain, but be in Spirit and in truth. The sacrifice of animals pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. All of the ritual washings and restrictions pointed toward the holiness of God. The dietary and clothing restrictions showed the separation of God's people. Most importantly, approaching the center of the Temple prefigured the day when we would be able to approach God Himself. Everything pointed forward to the reality which we get to experience in truth.

Discussion idea: Why did God give pictures of the ultimate worship before revealing the whole thing?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you focus on the reality and not be distracted by forms or methods. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

John 3

 Key verse: John 3:14

Big idea: The sign of God's salvation is the cross. 

John 3 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, and with good reason. Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Senate (the Sanhedrin), came to Jesus under the cover of darkness and Jesus told Him what it took to enter the Kingdom of God. You must, Jesus explained, be born again. There is no substitute for becoming a new creation, where we are a part of God's family and citizens of His realm. Birth is an interesting metaphor because it is so passive. We did not work our way up to being born or do anything to deserve it, we were simply brought into the world. No single analogy captures ever facet of salvation, but this metaphor is uniquely powerful in showing how salvation is a fresh start, inexplicable in its timing and irrevocable in its results. 

Jesus does not explain much about how salvation works. It is a mystery, like the changing currents of the wind. The only explanation He gives of the mechanism is that salvation comes when we believe and is like when Moses lifted up a bronze serpent in the wilderness, and those who looked on it were healed of their snake bites. In the same way, those who look on Jesus when He is lifted up will be born again into His Kingdom, healed of the serpent's sting. The sign of God's salvation, the place we look for our redemption, is the cross where Jesus was lifted up. His death brings us life and His suffering brings us peace. There is no greater sign of love.

Discussion idea: During Hezekiah's reign, the serpent was destroyed because people had begun using it as an idol. How can we mistake the things which should point us to Jesus with Jesus?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Son and the simple promise that if I look I will live. Help me to keep Him before me all the time, and trust Him alone. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

John 2

Key verse: John 2:19
Big idea: The ultimate sign is the resurrection. 

I once had a conversation with someone where I asked what evidence they would need to believe in God. They told me that if God personally sent them a message, then they would believe. Personally, I was skeptical and told him so. "If you heard a voice, you would assume it was a hallucination." He admitted I was right. I do not remember the specifics of how the conversation went after that (except that it was unfruitful), but I wonder if he might have suggested that other people also needed to see God at the same time he did, or perhaps hear the message. Where do we draw the line of sufficient evidence? 

Jesus did not say that the evidence of who He was would be the turning of water into wine or the healing of a blind man. Instead, He told them, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again." They did not understand, or they would have killed Him on the spot. Any blasphemy they might have thought He was committing by saying He could build the Temple so quickly was nothing compared what He was really claiming: to be the place where Heaven and Earth met, the place that people could find peace with God, and the place of true worship. What evidence did He offer for such a claim? That when they destroyed that Temple, He would build it again in three days. They could kill Him, but they could never stop Him.

Discussion idea: Why is the resurrection a better sign than any other? Here is a debate about the evidence for the resurrection which may be interesting:

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to trust you. Not simply blindly, but recognizing that You have already given the ultimate proof. If you conquered death, no problem I face can compare. If you gave your life, nothing could be beyond your love.

Friday, October 23, 2020

John 1

(I am grateful to Bro John Raines for picking today and yesterday up so Colleen and I could take a 3 day “weekend”)

Key Verse: John 1:14

Big Idea: The sign of God’s character is His Son.

Have you ever noticed how your view of something changes perspective once you have been able to experience it up close? Many people have seen Niagara Falls on television or in the movies. You may have even read about the dare devils who attempted to “ride” the falls in a barrel, only to lose their life. However, there is no way to truly experience the reality of the sound and the power of Niagara except in person. But, up close and in person you can feel the power of the roar of the falls and are overcome by the magnitude and power of the water falling over the falls every second.

When I read verse 14 about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among the disciples, the beholding of the glory and that He was full of grace and truth, it helps me to realize that short of God becoming flesh, temporarily experiencing the limited finiteness of His creation, that we (His creation) may have never truly understood the character of God in regard to His grace. It is through Christ, God in the flesh, that we can see the embodiment of God’s grace. The ultimate sacrifice given for us on our account, due to our sin, on the cruel cross of Calvary. 

God in the flesh, Christ, demonstrating the character of God toward us in a visible, tangible example of grace and truth through His sacrifice. This demonstration of grace should help us to fully appreciate the price paid, not only for our sin, but for the sin of the world.

Discussion idea: What are some things you have experienced up close that changed the perception you had from a distance? What are some other examples from scripture that demonstrate the character of God through Christ?

Prayer focus: God help me to desire to draw closer to You in order to experience the reality of Your character demonstrated through Christ.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

2 Peter 3

 Key Verse: 2 Peter 3:9

Big Idea: Jesus’ promise to return is true, even if it seems delayed.

When I was a little boy, my dad delivered propane (Bro. John here). This meant many early mornings and late nights, especially during the winter since most homes depended on propane for heating and cooking. In addition, there were many Christmas morning when my dad would have to leave early in the morning because folks would call our home needing a delivery of propane. As a child, I struggled with trying to wait for my dad to get home for us to open our Christmas presents. He desperately wanted to be there with us, so my mom would do her best to have us wait, but it always seemed like it took forever for him to get home.

What I failed to completely grasp as an inpatient little boy, that although it seemed like an unnecessary delay, my dad was doing what was necessary to take care of people in need. My concept of time was limited to my own desires because I was unable to see the needs of others. In many respects, the same is true of believers today. We look at all the things happening in our world and wonder why Jesus delays His return. In our limited view, we believe the time is right, but we fail to see things from our Heavenly Father’s view. People are in need; there are many lost that our Father is trying to reach. He does not desire for any to perish but wants all to come to repentance.

So, while we may think that the return of Christ is delayed, the truth is Christ will return when the time is right. If we can only see the need that God sees, our perspective of delay may just be altered to see the lost in need of salvation. 

Discussion idea: Do you feel that our limited view affects our thoughts on the physical world? How about the spiritual world? What ways can we seek to see the world through God’s eyes, instead of being limited to our own wants and desires?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help us see the need of Salvation for the lost in respect to the return of Christ.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

2 Peter 2

 Key verse:  2 Peter 2:19

Big idea: The difference in true and false teachers is seen in their fruit. 

This spring, I lost track of some of the seeds in my garden. I did not know what kind of plants the various seedlings were, and was left with only one option: wait. When some plants started bearing okra, some tomatoes and some cucumbers, I found out what kind of plants I had. A plant’s nature is inevitably revealed by its fruit. This is not always true in our ordinary life; some of the best coaches in any sport were mediocre players. Or someone might be a good professor of medicine and a poor doctor. It is possible to know about something and not be able to do it well. 

But biblical knowledge is different. Head knowledge and obedience are not neatly separable things, because the proclamation of the Christian message is not just about information but transformation. That transformation requires the blessing of God and the presence of His Holy Spirit, so a true teacher will be marked by the lives which they live. Someone who claims to bring some new insight, yet who is in bondage to sin in their own lives, reveals their nature. Indeed, Peter warns us that these false prophets offer freedom to their audience - freedom to do what they want, when they want, how they want - while the liar's own life shows that they are just peddling another kind of slavery. Like a dog returning to its vomit or a washed pig to the mud, these false teacher's superficial change reveals that they were never transformed in the first place.

We should be cautious in today's world of internet, TV, and radio pastors of buying into whoever has the slickest presentation or who says what we most want to hear. The personal life of a Christian authenticates and verifies their message, which is why the local church is so important. 

Discussion idea: What are some messages that offer freedom and deliver slavery? 

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to live worthy of the calling you have given me, to proclaim your message with word and works alike.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

2 Peter 1

 Key verse: 2 Peter 1:10

Big idea: A truly changed heart produces a changed life.

Imagine that you are walking through Walmart and a slightly crazed man walks up to you. "Hello, friend. I am Dr. Zerubbabel Locoman. I have developed a transformation ray, capable of turning a person into a bird!" He pulls out what looks eerily like a water gun and squirts you with something that feels suspiciously like water. You are slightly worried at his wild laughter and cries of "Fly, my little friend, fly!" Yet, when you reach around and touch your shoulders, you do not find any wings. You still have skin of your usual shade instead of feathers, and the thought of eating worms is still several ranks below a slice of cheesecake. What conclusion would you draw? Probably that you have not been changed into a bird, and are the same person you were before you made Dr. Locoman's acquaintance. You, brilliant scientist that you are, have discerned that something that has truly been changed will be different. 

There is a clear analog in spiritual life: If we have truly been changed by placing our faith in Jesus, that faith will grow and bear fruit. Peter describes it as a process of adding new graces to those we already have, showing that our transformation is not immediate, but is gradual. If we suppress our natural growth, we will lose sight of where we have been and what God has done in our lives, robbing us of assurance and joy. But if we diligently work out the salvation which God had begun within us, we will walk forward with confidence. When we have been truly changed on the inside, it is only natural that we will be changed on the outside.

Discussion idea: What are some dangers of expecting everyone to grow on the same schedule? How does a late bloomer differ from someone who never has any fruit at all?

Prayer focus: Go through the list at the beginning of the chapter. Where are you weak? What comes immediately before that? Ask God to help you see opportunities to strengthen in that area, and to give you the assurance that your weakness does not nullify His faithfulness. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

1 Peter 5

 Key verse: 1 Peter 5:10

Big idea: Our exile is temporary.

Driving to Laneville to church camp, you can usually make it from Alvin to Pearland before the first kid asks: "Are we there yet?" Maybe the first one is joking, but there always seem to be a few kids who think of 610 as the edge of the known universe. It is hard to explain to an 8 or 9-year-old kid how long four hours is. Is it 8 episodes of their favorite TV show? The length from breakfast to lunch? 64 times through "Let It Go"? You might put it a number of different ways to try and help them connect the time to something they understand. However you go about it, the point is simply to convince them that they will not be strapped into a vehicle watching cows go by forever. There will be an end, and the week at camp will be worth the relatively brief trip. 

Right now, we live in a world of exile. We are in hostile territory, and we have to be alert! But being vigilant is exhausting. Are we destined to live in a constant struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil forever? Peter says no, this trip is short compared to the time we will spend at the destination. We, like all of God's family, suffer for "a while" "in the world." But that suffering is replaced by "eternal glory," where He receives "glory and dominion for ever and ever." In comparison to eternity, our suffering is just a bus ride. So buckle up.

Discussion idea: One of the challenges for talking to kids about lengths of time is finding a comparable reference frame. Does that connect with our struggles in comparing our temporary suffering with the eternal hope before us?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to stand firm for a little while, knowing that His rest is ahead.

Friday, October 16, 2020

1 Peter 4

Key verse: 1 Peter 4:1
Big idea: Suffering reminds us of our exile.

As a mother eagle knows that her eaglets are growing closer to the time where they will need to live on their own, he gradually begins to make the nest less comfortable for them. Removing some feathers here, making things a little rougher there. Slowly, her child becomes less and less at home in the place which they will not be able to stay. She allows them to go through discomfort not because she does not love them, but because she does. This mother eagle does not design for her babies to remain children forever, but for them to grow, fly, and do the things for which they were designed.

Similarly. In our Christian lives sometimes if things go too easily (if we experience too much material comfort or if things are consistently going our way), we get complacent. When get comfortable in the warm cozy nest of our life and we forget to look outside! We lose sight of where God has called us to go. And so like an eagle, ee are made uncomfortable by God. First Peter 4 describes this by explaining that the one who has suffered in the flesh is through with sin. Once we have seen the outcome of the sins of the flesh, that bait loses its appeal for us. 

When we have truly known that all sin can lead to is death, the bait loses its charm. When we see that our death has already been overcome by the suffering of Christ, we have discovered the power for a new kind of life. Sometimes, though, the suffering which God allows us to endure is often not corrective, as if he is punishing us for something that we've done wrong already. Instead, some suffering is formative, where God uses the discipline in our life to make us into the people he would have us to be. It may be that there is no way for a free human to be conformed to the image of Christ without suffering. Certainly, Jesus Himself did not complete his course without much suffering; we should be surprised if we are treated differently than our master.
Discussion idea: A fairly new song asks what if "the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?" Do you think that has been true in your own life?
Prayer focus: Ask God to teach you to rejoice in suffering because it points to Him.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

1 Peter 3

Key verse: 1 Peter 3:14

Big idea: Our exile may mean temporary suffering but eternal reward. 

Sometimes I get ads for various stock tip websites. They called Netflix or Amazon when they were cheap and now, for a low monthly fee, they will give you their next big tip. The obvious question is if they are so good at picking stocks, why do they need to make money selling their picks? Shouldn't they have all the money they could possibly want from their expert trading? But after you push past that question, you can't help but notice the disclaimer: "Past results are no guarantee of future performance." That is a good life principle. How many one-hit wonders, washed up actors, and has-been politicians have never returned to their old heights? How many people are stuck reliving their glory days? Past success does not predict the future. 

The Bible frequently features reversals, where someone's beginning and end do not align. Lazarus and the rich man is a well known one, where comfort in life becomes suffering in death, and suffering in death becomes the seat of honor beside Abraham in death. It is not the only one by far. Jesus made it a general principle that whoever seeks to save his life will lose it while whoever loses his life for His sake will find it. In that sense, we should not be surprised if living in this world, as exiles waiting for the return of the King, we suffer. Inevitably, sometimes the new life God has given us in the old wineskin of the world system causes leaks. 

We should not bring about our suffering for sin - we are not looking for trouble. But if we suffer for doing the right thing, and suffer with integrity, then our suffering can point people to Jesus. Then our suffering now leads to rewards for eternity. Our past pain is no guarantee of future pleasure. Indeed, it is a hint that we are not made for this world, but a better one where our hearts will be satisfied in the satisfier. 

Discussion idea: Have you ever known someone whose pain pointed people to Jesus? How? What can you learn from them?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you see your suffering in light of eternity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

1 Peter 2

 Key verse: 1 Peter 2:11

Big idea: We live in the world, but not for the world. 

If you invite me over to your house for chicken fried steak, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and hot cornbread (with butter, no sugar), then I will be a good guest in your house. I will not throw trash on the floor or punch holes in the sheetrock. But please do not expect me to dust the baseboards or repaint the spare bedroom. When we are somewhere that is not our home, we want to be good guests, but want to remember that it is someone else's home, not ours. 

As Christians, the world is like that. We are exiles, so we should not fix our hearts on the things that distract us from eternity. "I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles," Peter wrote, reminding us of the tension that we live with. On one hand, we are strangers and pilgrims, so we should not be enticed by fleshly lusts. But on the other, we should keep our lifestyle pure before the world, so that we can serve as a witness. We must live well in the world, fulfilling our civic duties, showing honor and respect, and setting an example for the people around us. These are not things we do to try and make the world a better place; ultimately only the return of Jesus will do that in a way that matters. Instead, these are things we do as strangers to not make a mess while we are here, and to win an audience with those around us to point them to Christ. 

Discussion idea: How might a Christian who is too concerned with this life behave? What about one who is not concerned enough?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see my life as a tool for your glory, not my comfort. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

1 Peter 1

 Key verse: 1 Peter 1:1

Big idea: We live as exiles in the world. 

Home is a small word for a big idea. You may go on a trip and sleep in nicer beds than the one that is in your bedroom, but there is still something better about coming home and being in your bed. Home is where we are at peace and can rest in belonging. It is the place where we are safe from the conflicts and pains of life. Home is where we want to get back to when we are away. We have expressions like, "Don't get too at home," that warns us about getting attached somewhere we will not be able to stay. I think that is something of what Peter means when he addresses his readers as "strangers," as the King James puts it. The word means "foreigner," or "exile." It refers to someone living in a country that is not his or her own. 

Peter's audience live in various places: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. But they are not at home there. The problem is worse than that! They are not Jewish exiles in Pontus or some lost Frenchman who wandered into Asia minor. They are citizens of a new world, born into the Kingdom of God, living in this old world only for a season. We who are God's children are exiles, living in a place where we do not belong for a little while, until our King mounts His great rescue mission. So don't get too at home.

Discussion idea: What are some concrete signs that a Christian is becoming "at home" in the world? What are some things that an exile mentality does?

Prayer focus: Ask God to remind you who you are and not to lost sight of that ultimate significance.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Mark 16

 Key verse: Mark 16:7

Big idea: The Son of God is faithful to His Word, even when we do not understand.

Mark 16, the triumphant conclusion to the gospel, begins with the women going to the tomb, expecting a corpse and finding an angel. This heavenly messenger told them not to be afraid because, "he is risen, he is not here!" But it is a part of the next verse that stands out the most to me. They are to carry a message to the apostles, and Peter in particular. Go to Galilee and "there ye shall see him as he said unto you." There seems to be a gentle rebuke implied by this. If they had heard what He said in Mark 14:28, they would have been at the tomb with bated breath, waiting for death to be broken. They would have already called the La Quinta in Galilee and made arrangements for their reunion with their Master! But they did not hear. Peter in particular is singled out because He was too busy claiming he would never deny Jesus to find out what would come next. 

Yet God was still faithful to His Word. He did what He said He would do even if no one believed Him or even understood Him. What an encouraging truth! God's faithfulness does not depend on my faith. The outcome is not determined by my intellect. He is solid although I am shifting. The same Jesus who could be trusted to keep His word even if death intervened is that same Jesus that overwhelms our weakness. When we are weak, He is strong. 

Discussion idea: Why did Jesus tell them that He would go before them into Galilee even though He knew they would not believe? Have you ever had a similar experience, where you learned something you would only apply later?

Prayer focus: Praise God for His faithfulness, despite our weakness. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Mark 15

 Key verse: Mark 15:35

Big idea: The Son of God laid down His life willingly. 

Mark 15 is a painful chapter to read if we slow down enough to experience it frame by frame. Jesus handed over, His life traded for that of a murderer by corrupt leaders on an ego trip. A governor without scruples, willing to do the right thing until it was hard. The Son of God and Lord of Lords mocked, 'worshipped' in derision, and nailed to a cross to slowly suffer and die. Yet, not that slowly. In fact, Jesus died quickly enough that Pilate was surprised that he was already dead when His body was requested for burial. Jesus did not cling to life until the bitter end. He finished the work which He came for and then voluntarily gave up His life. 

Jesus could have stopped the whole horrible affair at any moment. He could have called down an army of angels. At His word, the whole universe could have been dissolved. Each of those who mistreated Him could have been turned to salt like Lot's wife, consumed with fire like those who tried to capture Elijah, or swallowed up in the ground like the enemies of Moses. The same God who did all of those things was now the one bleeding and scorned. But He let it continue. When the final moment came, the eternal immortal God, who did not need to ever die by nature or justice, chose to give His life up. He laid it down willingly so that we could live. 

I do not have any practical application, discussion idea or prayer focus for you today. Just a challenge to read through Mark 15 out loud, slowly, and to thank God for the cross.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Mark 14

 Key verse: Mark 14:3

Big idea: Humility and sacrifice are the offerings fit for the Son of God. 

It is hard to buy gifts for my Dad. He does not want much, and what he does, he already has. What do you get someone like that? We probably all have that kind of person in our lives. You want to show love and appreciation but cannot find the vessel to do it. It was even sillier when I was a kid, and my Mom would take us to the store to pick out something to get for Dad with the money he made. If that can be true of people, how much more is it true of God? Everything we have, He gave us. He needs nothing and has everything already. If there were something He did not have, He could simply speak and it would come into being. You cannot buy a nice Swiss watch for the one who aligned the orbit of the planets in perfect harmony with the word of his power!

So what does the Son of God want from us? Only everything. A woman (we know it was Mary from John 12:3) took a precious bottle of perfume, worth a year's wages, and poured it over Jesus. Some scolded her, saying that this was a tremendous waste. Jesus loved the poor; surely this gift could have been better employed by being sold and given to them. But Jesus took a different point of view. She did a good work for Him out of love, which would not be forgotten. Although she did not understand it all, she was setting His body apart for burial, something they would not have time to do later that week. The point was not the value of the perfume that she poured - that is nothing to God. It was her humility to decide that Jesus was worthy of the best and her lavish sacrifice to pour it all out for Him.

We cannot give God anything He needs but there is one thing He wants: our hearts. If we resolve to give Him our best, no matter the cost, He will delight in that gift. When we give Him things, we give Him what is already His. When we give Him ourselves, we recognize that even though it is not enough, He deserves nothing less.

Discussion idea: What are some modern equivalents to saying the perfume should have been sold and given to the poor? 

Prayer focus: Pray for a heart like Mary's, that gives Jesus all that we have and all that we are with total abandon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Mark 13

 Key verse: Mark 13:25

Big idea: Every eye will see the Son of God. 

Sometimes, in a conversation about faith, someone will say something like: "That's good for you, but no one can really ever know for sure. It is just about what you choose to believe." They believe that Christianity is subjective and might work for you but not for someone else. But Mark 13, describing Christ's return (theologians call it parousia - the Greek word for "appearing"), does not talk about a private emotional experience. It talks about the day when faith ends and gives way to sight. On that day, there will be no more wondering about what is true. There will be no more room for debate. Every eye will see Him as He comes in the clouds with power and glory. 

This is an important philosophical point, I think. If Christianity is true, it is not a private thing that can be true for me only. If it is true only personally, then it is false! Christianity claims that there will be a final, public declaration as the final event of history as we know it, after which everything will be radically different. Either that will really happen or not. Of course, when that moment comes, it will be too late for those who have joined the rebellion against the Lord!

But this is not the first time that Christianity is made public. The first time that Jesus came, the world was also faced with a brute historical fact. Either Jesus' tomb was empty on the third day or it was not. If there is a body of Jesus somewhere in the world, then Christianity is false. But if Jesus rose again, it validates everything He claimed. Although His resurrection was not seen by the whole world, it was witnessed by hundreds. There is sufficient evidence for people now to trust if the will, but there is coming a day where God will remove all doubt. We will all see Him but what will He see when He looks at us? Will He find faith?

Discussion idea: Why does Jesus regularly emphasize the public nature of His second coming? 

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you live your faith publicly today.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Mark 12

 Key verse: Mark 12:24

Big idea: The Son of God goes beyond all of our expectations. 

If you could teach a dog to speak and asked it what it thought a perfect heaven would be like, it would probably talk about soft grass for its feet, big bones for its teeth, and hair that never gets a burr. Or imagine a baby's idea of paradise: being swaddled all the time, carried from place to place, with a never ending supply of 98 degree milk. Our ideas of Heaven, without being corrected by the Bible, are usually "like now, but better." We assume that our current life is the best God could come up with and that eternity will be Extreme Makeover: Universe Edition. The same studs and foundation with new paint and more modern furniture.

This assumption is not a modern problem. The Sadducees tried to set Jesus up by asking Him a question about who a woman that had been married seven times would be married to in the Resurrection. They did not believe in an afterlife and were trying to prove that the idea was absurd. But Jesus cut them straight to the heart (paraphrased): "Isn't the reason that you are so wrong? You do not know the Bible or the power of God!" The point of this stinging rebuke was that they assumed that resurrected life in the new heavens and new earth would be basically life like now: marriage, work, and play. But God is so much more powerful than that. His plan is to give us something beyond what we could ever dream of! 

If this is true of eternity, it is also true now. We err when we pray and ask God to modify the edges of our situation. Sometimes we want God to tame our temptations a little bit or slightly edge us toward more comfort. But what if God wants you to follow in Abraham's footsteps and leave behind everything you have ever known for a place He will show you? What if He does not want to slightly improve your involvement in some sin but to fundamentally free you from it? What if we stopped assuming that God peaked sometime yesteryear and believed that we have not yet seen a glimpse of what He can do? We would pray more boldly, work with more fervor and expectation, and live in the constant expectation of worship.

Discussion idea: What is an area where you have limited what you think God can or will do by your past experience? How can a bolder faith challenge those assumptions?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you see beyond what has been and trust Him to go beyond anything you could ask or think. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Mark 11

 Key verse: Mark 11:10

Big idea: The Son of God is the Son of David. 

Fittingly, this week we begin with the triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and will end on Friday with the crucifixion. We will not be experiencing the final week of Christ's life in "real-time" because even though the gospel devotes a massive portion of its contents to a single week, even these 5 chapters are biased toward the last 24 hours. This final trip to Jerusalem is why Mark is writing and why Jesus came. There are no accidents in God's universe, certainly not here in the final days before history's climax. Jesus needs to go into Jerusalem, even though He knows that this will lead to His death. He has arranged every detail, down to the owner of the colt that knows He is coming for the animal. 

But this is no ordinary animal for riding like you and I might choose between two cars at an airport. This is an announcement. If George Washington had put on a crown and taken a scepter at his inauguration, it would not have been any more clear (or audacious) than what Jesus was doing. Zechariah 9:9 says: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Should, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; Lowly, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass." No one road into Jerusalem on a colt by accident, least of all a Man from the tribe of Judah! Jesus was announcing that He was King. But He knew that they would reject Him and that claiming to be King would guarantee that He would be the ultimate Sacrifice.

In the Old Testament, we continually feel a tension between the idea that God intends for David's descendants to reign over Israel and that they have no king but God. But in Jesus, this mystery is finally solved. The Son of God has become the Son of David. This is how David called His own descendant Lord (Matthew 22:43-45). God Himself does rule and David's heir rules because God became a man from the line of David. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the people cried out "hosanna," it is because they wanted a Savior-King, who would rescue them from their enemies. But their King did not come to win victory for them by killing; He came to do it by dying. The two hopes of the Old Testament, the coming of the Lord and of David's Son, come together in the perfect love and power of the Cross.

Discussion idea: Sometimes people talk about someone who is assertive and loud as "strong." Who is stronger, Jesus riding humbly on a donkey to His death or Herod, crushing his enemies? Why?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see that everything I could ever hope for is found in you.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Mark 10

Key verse: Mark 10:29

Big idea: True wealth comes from the Son of God.

If your house was on fire and you could only take one thing out, what would it be? Think for a minute about it before you move forward. One of the clearest ways to find out what we value is to see what we would fear losing. It will set our priorities because we will act in ways to protect the things we fear losing and will invest less time and energy in the things that are 'acceptable losses.' Unfortunately, our instincts about what is most valuable break down sometimes. We are tempted to be more concerned with losing the things that we must lose - money, health, influence - than we are with losing the things that are truly precious. 

Peter told Jesus that they had left behind everything to follow Him. In Peter's case, this was basically literal. He left his nets still full of fish and turned his back on the family business to fish for men with Jesus. Jesus' response was that by leaving things behind for Him, they had not really left anything behind at all. They would be rewarded with far more than they lost and the things they would gain, whether they ever saw a return on their investment in this life, would be repaid by God Himself.

Those who seem to have much may really have nothing, while those who seem to have lost it all may really have everything. The first will be last and the last will be first. If we know that this is true, we ought to realize that the material things which we prioritize are really worthless and that the only things which really matter come from Jesus.

Discussion idea: Jim Elliot famously wrote "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." What does that mean? What things in your life could you give up which you could not keep anyway?

Prayer focus: Ask God to realign your priorities. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mark 9

 Key verse: Mark 9:24

Big idea: Our faith is nurtured by the Son of God.

Imagine the father Jesus meets in this chapter. He had been so excited to find out his wife had become pregnant. Thrilled to hold his infant boy. But how many dreams seemed ruined when the boy, as a child, became possessed by a demon? The monster threw him into flame and water to try and kill him and so many hopes seemed lost. He must have tried many doctors and priests, looking for deliverance in vain. What hope could he have left? Then he about a Man who was unlike any other, that was doing things no one else had ever done. When he went to bring his son to this Man, he was not even there. Another disappointment. But His disciples had performed many miracles and cast out many demons too! Yet, they could not help his boy. With his window of hope getting thinner and thinner, he waited a little longer until Jesus came down the mountain and when this desperate father's child was brought to Him, the demon took control. Once again, things seemed to get worse, not better. Finally, as he cried out to Jesus for help, he gave one of the most memorable sentences in the whole Bible: "I believe, help thou mine unbelief." 

It sounds like a contradiction. Can belief and unbelief really exist in the same heart? Clearly what is hard for our brains to understand is obvious to our hearts. We can have an ember of faith and find out that it is enough. God takes the spark of belief that we have and gives it fuel. How did Jesus answer this man's cry? The child came to Him and Jesus commanded the demon to leave him. Jesus had the power to make the demon leave instantly without a reaction, but instead He allowed the demon to send the boy to the ground as if he were dead on its way out. One more heart-wrenching moment for a father who had been through so much. Why? He was answering the father's prayer. He took the little bit of faith and helped the unbelief. 

Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we can really learn to trust. As long as there is some slice of our hearts that thinks we can rely on ourselves, we will never fully experience trust in God. So "help my unbelief" can be a painful prayer. Are we really willing to have God take us to the school of faith, where we learn to trust Him alone? I wonder how many of us are really prepared to let God break our hearts if it means He will put them back together again. 

Discussion idea: Does faith always need to be tested to grow? Why or why not?

Prayer focus: I believe, help thou mine unbelief.