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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

John 21

Why are we humans so prone to compare ourselves to other people? We compare ourselves to others in so many areas, including physical appearance, the size and luxury of our homes and cars, intelligence, education, and spirituality. Come to think of it, we are always tempted to compare ourselves to others in just about every area of our lives. When we compare ourselves favorably to others we feel good about ourselves. When we compare ourselves unfavorably to others we feel defeated, depressed and disappointed. Even St. Peter struggled with comparing himself to someone else.

In John 21:18-21 there is this remarkable conversation between Jesus and Peter in which Jesus informs Peter that the latter will be crucified (“stretch out your hands”) and led to a place Peter would “not want to go.” In other words, Peter is told that following Jesus will mean persecution and martyrdom. But Peter has just affirmed his love for Christ three times and can’t back out of following Jesus now. But this doesn’t stop him from comparing himself to someone else, namely John.

After Peter’s future is revealed by Jesus, the fisherman turned apostle asks about the Apostle John, “Lord, what about him?” Peter was hoping, I think, that Jesus’ plan for John was not more appealing than his plan for Peter-martyrdom is not all that appealing, afterall. Peter was comparing himself to John, and Jesus has a bit of fun toying with Peter, saying “if I want John to remain around until I return, what do you care?”. Then, Jesus gets to the point with Peter saying, “you follow me.” What Jesus is saying to Peter is “stop worrying about what others are doing and just concern yourself with following me.”

So, let’s stop comparing ourselves to others, worrying about what others are doing or not doing, focusing on whether or not others are following Jesus, and let’s simply take up our own cross and follow Jesus, without looking back or around to see what others are doing. The next time we're tempted to compare ourselves to others, let's listen for Jesus speaking to our hearts, "YOU FOLLOW ME."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

John 20

If the bible were a myth, especially the story about Jesus’ resurrection, John would not tell us that Mary was the first eye witness to the resurrection (20:1-18). In that culture, women were not considered to be credible witnesses to an event. They were considered inferior to men. Yet, God chooses a woman named Mary Magdalene to be the first witness to the greatest, most life-altering event in the history of the word- the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact that John’s Gospel notes that Mary was the first witness, for a culture that would not have accepted her witness, is one of the many compelling proofs that the bible is genuine and written as historical fact and not mythic fiction.

God is constantly surprising us with who he picks to serve his purposes. It’s odd that he would choose Mary to spread the word that she saw the risen Jesus. If I were God, I would make sure Jesus appeared to somebody far more important like Pilate or Ceasar or the High Priest. But Mary? Come on!

But God has a track record of selecting the most unlikely people to serve his purposes in this world. If he can use a former alcoholic, high school drop-out, nobody like me to serve his purposes, he can use anyone. What is God wanting to do through your life? You may deem yourself unworthy of service to God and, in some way, we are all unworthy. The good news is that he loves us and invites us to partner with him to redeem the world, despite our unworthiness. His love, not our adequacies, makes us worthy.

I suspect that God will call you and me, like he called Mary, to embody and proclaim the news that Jesus Christ is alive and well, and that he is the most lovingly powerful force in all the world!

Monday, September 14, 2009

John 19

On my good days, it’s easy to think about other peoples’ needs. When life is “coming up roses” for me, I want to be kind and considerate to others. I figure, God has been so good to me perhaps I’ll just spread a little of that love to others. However, I do have those dark days, when life is challenging, disappointing, and painful. In those moments I tend to get way too caught up in my own issues, my own quest for relief; I become self-absorbed. When I’m having those self-absorbed, feel bad for Lenny days, it’s too easy for me to stop caring about the needs of others around me. So what if “what’s her name” can’t pay her bills, my life is falling apart. I have enough problems of my own to worry about anyone else.

Jesus, thankfully, does not stop caring for others despite what’s going on in his own life. While he is hanging up on the cross, brutally nailed there for crimes he did not commit, he considers what life will be like for his widowed mother once he is gone from this world. So, with his last few breaths Jesus devises a plan to make sure his mother will be well cared for by John the Apostle in verses 25-27. Here is Jesus with blood gashing out from multiple places in his body and all he could think about was the financial and emotional strain on Mary once he is dead. Jesus is amazing!

I am challenged today to care for the needs of others, even when I feel as if my own needs or wants are not met. Even when the chips are down for me, I want to be used by God to turn the chips up for others in need. It seems to me that one of the marks of Christian maturity is consistently caring for and helping others even and especially when you are dealing with your own unmet needs and disappointments.

Friday, September 11, 2009

John 18

In this chapter Jesus is rejected by just about everyone around him. First, he is betrayed by Judas, who brings the Jewish police to arrest Jesus. Then, Jesus is rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, who strike him in the face and look for an excuse to execute him. Then, worst of all, Peter denies that he even knows Jesus. Finally, when Pilate asks the crowd which prisoner they want released to them they request that a murderer named Barabbas be set free and Jesus crucified. Jesus is abandoned by everyone around him, the priests, his apostles, and the crowd of Jews he came to die for. Ironically enough, the only one who seems the least bit sensitive to Jesus is a non-Jew, a pagan named Pilate. The most unlikely person to get it at all was the only one who seemed to get it, at least to some extent.

I have found that sometimes those closest to religion, can “miss the boat” the easiest. My sermon this coming weekend is all about how religion can become an obstacle in our relationship with God. It really was the religious expectations of the Jewish people, including the apostles, which caused them to abandon and reject Jesus on his dying day. And, if we’re honest, we have to admit that we often do the same thing. When Jesus does not meet our religious expectations, we tend to abandon and reject him and his will. We do this by allowing what we want to become more important than his will. This is a slippery slope that leads further and further from God.

When Jesus disappoints my religious expectations, I will still submit to him. I will faithfully wait things out and see what happens. If the apostles would have simply trusted Jesus and maintained their faith, they would have seen that Jesus was intending to go well beyond their expectations. They were expecting a political-warrior Messiah who would conquer Rome. Instead, God went one better and gave the world a Messiah who would defeat the greatest enemy of all- death and sin! Thank God for not always meeting, but exceeding our expectations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

John 17

One of the things I like most about our church, the Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church, is our increasing diversity and pervasive unity. In the past couple of years God has brought to us a wonderful, beautiful cross-section of His human creation. Our church is made up of African Americans, Latinos, Koreans, Caribbeans, Caucasians, young, old, middle-aged, long-time Christians, new believers, and seekers. Although diversity of people often means a diversity of preferences, traditions, and convictions, we are becoming one big, happy, and united family under the most important characteristic that defines us- our common love for Christ!

This is so important because our Christian unity, according to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23, is the most influential tool we have to communicate the unity between the Father and the Son, the divinity of Christ. We can hand out all the tracts in the world. We could go door to door all day and everyday telling people how much God loves them. But if we at SWC cannot love each other, despite our differences, nothing we tell people about Christ’s love is going to make that much difference. The good news is we are becoming, more and more, a family who loves each other and seeks to share that love with those who have yet to come into the family to experience the Father’s love.

Jesus’ prayer reveals his deep desire for our unity in the church. But let me ask a couple of questions which I hope you will respond to:
· How is unity developed in the life of a local church?
· What is the difference between unity and conformity?
· Why is unity in the church so closely related to our witness in the world?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

John 16

Jesus promises the disciples that he will not abandon them. He will not be with them in the flesh but he will send the Holy Spirit (vv.5-7). In other words, Jesus will not leave them as orphans. He will also not abandon them to grief and pain (vv.20,33). Jesus is preparing his closest companions for his physical departure from earth. He is pledging that even though it may appear he has left them, if they hang in there they will experience the joy, power and victory of the presence of Christ through the Holy spirit now and the Second coming of Christ at the end of the age. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit comes and Jesus makes good on his promise. He hasn’t abandoned them afterall!

This is very comforting, but there is something heartbreaking going on in this chapter. While Jesus promises to be with us even in the midst of our grief, he predicts that those closest to him will actually abandon him when he needs them most (v.32). The Christ who kept his promise not to abandon us is abandoned by us when he needed our companionship the most. This is heart-breaking.

How many times have I abandoned Christ when he needed my committed companionship the most? How often have I received the gift of his love for me when I needed it but withheld my loving obedience to him when he required it? Why are we humans so quick to abandon the one who gave his life because he refused to abandon us? The abandonment he experienced on the cross was the price he paid for not abandoning us. What a friend we have in Jesus! If only we could reciprocate every now and then!

Monday, September 7, 2009

John 15

I am challenged by v. 5. In this in passage Jesus describes himself as the vine and us as the branches. He then says that those who keep connected to him, the vine, will live fruitful lives and that without him we can do nothing fruitful. Many of us who seek to follow Christ want to live fruitful lives. But the only way for us to do this is not merely to rely on our gifts and strength, but upon the power of Christ. If our service is simply flowing out of our own power and not out of our connection to Christ the vine, nothing we do will matter because nothing we do without him will be all that fruitful. A life live disconnected from Christ won’t be real fruitful; a life lived in tandem with Christ will be fruitful.

It’s so easy for me, and I think us, to attempt to serve Christ without being all that connected to him. Today, I will focus on abiding in him so that fruit abounds. As a branch, as long as I’m connected to Christ I don’t even have to try to bear fruit, it will just come naturally. All I have to do is prioritize my intimacy with him. While reading Scripture, praying, and worshiping are all great ways to abide in Christ the vine, the best way to abide in him is to lovingly obey him even and especially when the temptation to disobey him arises. This will inevitably lead to fruitful living.

How do you abide in Christ?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

John 13 & 14

John 13
In the beginning of this chapter we get a model for Christian service and leadership. Jesus demonstrates that the greatest in the kingdom of God are not the ones who are served, as was the case in that culture and ours, but the ones who do the serving. Because Jesus knew his identity in light of the Father’s love (v.3), he was able to serve others. John points out that it was Jesus’ confidence in the Father’s love for Him that enabled Him to serve others so humbly. You see, when a person is secure in his relationship with God he can serve others wholeheartedly and humbly without concern of rejection, humiliation or a lack of appreciation.

I have learned in my own ministry that I can serve most humbly and sacrificially when I’m finding my deepest satisfaction in my relationship with God. It’s only when I put God on the back-burner and forget that my ultimate identity is in Him and not in what I do for Him, that my ego rises up within me. When everything in my life becomes a force focused on love for God and for others, it doesn’t matter what people think of me because I am secure in Him. Today, I will be secure enough in my identity as God’s son that I will serve others humbly and unconditionally.

John 14
Jesus promises that he will one day send the Holy Spirit who will guide us in all truth by reminding us what Jesus said and did. Jesus says that if we love him we will obey him when the Holy Spirit prompts us. This is so basic to Christian faith that we often overlook it. Faith in Christ is not merely about believing the right thing or espousing the correct doctrines. These are important for obvious reasons, but even more basic to Christian faith is obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he leads us to live how Jesus lived. It seems so obvious to me that mature faith is not evidenced by what a person knows about God but by whether or not a person obeys God when prompted by the Holy Spirit to do so. The level of our love for Christ is determined by the frequency with which we obey him.

Sometimes I will disobey God and apologize with something like, “Lord, I’ so sorry, but you know that I really do love you.” While Jesus forgives me, I can almost picture him thinking, “okay, Len, but if you really do love me won’t you then obey me.” If your spouse asks you 1000 times to please help with the household chores and you refuse to lift a finger to help at all, what is the logical conclusion your spouse will come to? You don’t care, right? Eventually, your spouse will begin to wonder whether or not you’re really making any effort to love. Jesus feels the same. If we live with a low level of obedience and make little to no improvements in areas the Holy Spirit is prompting us to change, then Jesus can’t help but conclude that our love for Him is minimal because it is word-based, not obedience-based.

Friday, September 4, 2009

John 12

All humans learn how to be selfish from birth and, if we don’t do anything intentional about it, it persists and even worsens until the day we die. This is why the words of Jesus in vv.23-26 challenge us to the core. Jesus uses his pending physical death on the cross to talk about another kind of death. As far as I can tell, Jesus says that if someone is going to follow him as a disciple we must be willing to die. This is why he says, “whoever serves me must follow me” (v.26). Jesus is not suggesting that we are to follow him by doing on the cross physically but by picking up our cross daily. He is calling us to a death he died way before he went to the cross. Jesus, before the cross even came, was already dead to self-centered, egotistical, narcissistic living. He laid down his life by living a life of totally abandoned love for God and for people. His decisions were not centered around what he wanted or needed, but glorifying the Father and serving people. We may be tempted to say, “well that was good for Jesus but I’m not him.” True, but he says “follow me,” which means walk as I walk, live as I live.

Many of us realize that Jesus’ words are quite true when he says “if you love your life you’ll lose it but if you lose your life you’ll find it.” My most fulfilling moments in life have come when I was sacrificially and wholeheartedly loving and serving God and people. However, I am constantly tempted toward self-centered living. Even our relationship with God and service in his name can easily become more about us than it is about him. Lord, save us!

Here’s a question for you to consider and, hopefully, post a response to: How has God helped you die to self-centered living? What people, what Scripture, what prayer patterns, etc. have helped you follow Jesus to the cross where ego and selfishness is crucified?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

John 11

Have you ever been disappointed by God’s slowness in responding to your needs, your crisis, your desires? In verses 21 and 32 Martha and Mary both vent their disappointment that Jesus was not on the scene soon enough to save their brother Lazarus from death. “Lord, if you were here,” they said, “our brother would not have died.” Of course, these are not only words of disappointment but words of belief, since they assumed that Jesus could do something to heal their brother and spare him from death. What they didn’t figure is that Jesus could still do the miracle they had hoped for even though it didn’t fit into their time table or expectations. In other words, God’s timetable operates outside the bounds of our timetables. Don’t forget that upon hearing the news that Lazarus was severely ill, Jesus waited a few days before even going to him. He did this because he was looking to do a greater miracle than Mary and Martha had anticipated. They hoped Jesus would cure a sick man but he went one better by raising a dead man!

Perhaps Christ is wanting to do an even greater miracle than we anticipate. And sometimes the greater miracle seems longer in coming than the smaller miracle we hope for. We may want the miracle of getting a lucrative job that will help us maintain our lifestyle but maybe God is doing the even greater miracle of helping us downscale and be content with less. We may want to meet the guy or girl of our dreams but maybe God is wanting to do an even greater miracle by giving us peace and contentment with him alone. We may want our sickness to go away but maybe the greater miracle comes when he gives us joy and a profound sense of his presence even in the midst of the storm of sickness. Today, I am willing to wait for the miracle God wants to do in my life- in his time, in his way!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

John 10

In this chapter Jesus compares himself to a good shepherd. While Jesus is the ultimate shepherd and “overseer of our souls,” as a pastoral shepherd myself I want to imitate his model of shepherding. This, of course, sets the bar quite high in several ways when it comes to my shepherding of his flock, the church. In verses 11-13 Jesus says that the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life to protect and preserve the sheep under his care. He does not abandon the sheep when he sees trouble coming, but stands in between his sheep and the looming trouble. The typical hired shepherd cares more about his own self-preservation than the protection of the sheep. It’s just a job to him and not a vocation through which he lays down his life, his rights.

To be honest, there have been several times when trouble has come against a church I was pastoring and I wanted to jump ship. I wanted to leave ministry or at least leave that group of sheep. There have been a few times during my first few years at SWC when I was tempted to quit my shepherding role not because God was calling me away but because there were problems I didn’t want to face with courage, commitment, and sacrifice. By the grace of God, I stuck it out and I’m so glad I did. Whenever I am tempted to make pastoral ministry more about me and my natural desire for comfort, convenience, and safety, I am hit in the face by Jesus’ challenging words- “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). And, as you know, Jesus laid down his life, literally, for us sheep! The question that challenges me is, will I do the same for the sheep under my care?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

John 9

A blind man sees Jesus more accurately than the Pharisees. That is the irony of this chapter. In Jesus’ day, blindness and any illness was considered a spiritual disease. That is, the one who was physically sick was believed to have spiritually sinned. This was a popular but erroneous belief of that day. Jesus challenged the belief and at the end of the story, it is the blind man who has not only physical but even spiritual vision that is more insightful than that of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The problem the Pharisees had was overconfidence in their own theological opinions. The blind man was humble enough to recognize something special about Jesus that made him worship Him (v.38). The Pharisees were to proud to even give Jesus a chance.

Pride has a way of blinding even good, religious people from seeing spiritual truth. This frightens me. On most days I’m humble enough to recognize that maybe I haven’t figured out everything there is to know about God. But there are occasions when I put God in a box and because of my opinions, hunches, and preferences, may be blind to God and His work even when it’s right in front of my face. Today, I want to be open enough to see God show up in new ways and do new works in my life and in the world.

Questions to consider??? When have you opened your eyes to see God do something you hadn't seen him do before? When was the last time you humbled yourself by submitting your opinion/preference to the Word and Will of God?