Tag Archives: Jesus’ love

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 585 – Jesus Works on the Sabbath!

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

10/06/16 – 585 – Jesus Works on the Sabbath!

In the story we just completed Jesus publicly declared for the first time that He was the promised Messiah – but not for the last time. I think it’s also critical to note that he did not just make the claim, He proved it over and over by His miraculous works and sinless life. In fact, in many ways I would be hard pressed to say which was more important.

What I mean by that is that at least some of His works can at least be mimicked by magicians, and there were/are plenty of ‘faith healers’ both then and now. But no matter how well they craft their illusions, not one can claim a life without sin. If you doubt me just Google the name of your favorite TV faith healer.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is where our new story begins:

John 5:1-9

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. NIV

The pool at Bethesda was a beautiful place. It was surrounded not only by the collonades (fancy columns), but with a large area around it paved with stone so there’s not just a big muddy area around it. It was likely a ritual bath, or mikvah. It’s ruins were discovered sometime in the 1800’s in what is now the Muslim held area of Jerusalem. There is one other such bath mentioned in scripture both in Isaiah and in John 9:6-9. This was the pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed a blind man.

Interestingly, both of these pools were also similar in that people held a common superstition about them. The belief was that an angel would come to agitate (stir) the water, and “when the waters were stirred” the first person to enter the water would be healed of whatever physical ailment they had.

This is what the paralytic was talking about when he said he had no one to help him. Every day, there would be a crowd of people around the pool waiting for the water to swirl or bubble. What exactly caused this? We don’t know for certain, but these were spring fed pools, and there were gas deposits below ground as well. This man was simply too slow to be the first one in, so his life had become one of simply lying as close as he could to the pool each day, hoping in the superstition and living on the few coins people might have tossed him as they walked past.

I can’t help but think of so many people today who put their hope in things other than God. People who live on welfare or other low income, yet spend a ton every month on lottery tickets hoping they’ll strike it rich. It seems like people will do just about anything to have all their problems solved in one fell swoop, when the reality is there is a God Who would help them through if they would just let Him do it His way rather than theirs. But then, His way may not be to give you the winning Powerball ticket.

Let’s pray today that the Holy Spirit would help us to open our hearts and minds, to see if and where we are placing our trust and hope in things other than Christ. Let’s ask Him to help us to focus all our hope on Him.

By the way, did you notice anything missing in today’s passage? Gold star for you if you did!

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 584 – Jesus Declares Himself the Messiah

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

10/03/16 – 582 – Jesus Declares Himself the Messiah

We’re going to step back again to yesterday and revisit the passage we read then.

John 4:21-30

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. NIV

You may recall we began to discuss why a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. The people were only seeing Jesus as the son of Joseph the carpenter. There may have been jealousy on their part that He had actually become a rabbi! Either way, they didn’t like it. And they certainly didn’t like having it thrown in their faces.

They obviously didn’t care for Jesus’ answer either. He pretty much told them that because of their resistance and stubbornness, God was not going to save them. He pointed out similar situations in the past in which the people had rejected the prophets sent by God, and in so doing rejected God also.

Because of this, even though there was obviously a pressing need, God did not send anyone else to help them. In fact, Jesus pointed out that the only person who got help wasn’t even a Jew – it was Nathan the Syrian who sought out the prophet to find healing for his leprosy! That went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

The crowd drove Jesus out of the synagogue and all to the edge of town, intending to kill Him by throwing him off a cliff. But once again He showed His power by simply walking through the angry mob and disappearing, leaving the people to scratch their heads and wonder what happened.

I think that one of the main things we need to learn from this story is that when God decides to use someone to do His work here on earth, we’d better not ignore that person! It doesn’t matter if we grew up next door to that person, because God can use anyone He wants to, for any purpose.

It is up to us to assess, not to accept blindly anything anyone says using God’s name. There are and will be many false teachers and prophets, and we know that. But in the meantime, let’s pray for the wisdom and discretion to recognize those men and women that are truly sent by god for whatever reason.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 582 – Jesus Declares Himself the Messiah

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/30/16 – 582 – Jesus Declares Himself the Messiah

Not that anyone should have notice, but I’ve been trying my very best to keep these stories about Jesus in chronological order. That is, in the order they happened, as best as we can determine. This one slipped by me a little bit though, it seems to have taken place just after the wedding at Cana and before He went to Samaria and met the woman at the well.

In the ruins of the town of Capernaum, where this story took place, just a few yards from the house belonging to Peter’s mother-in-law, stands the foundation and several walls of a synagogue built in the Byzantine period about 400 years later. However, it was built on the same model, and on the exact spot where the original stood. It’s just about 4 feet higher than the one in our story.

Still, when you stand where Jesus stood, and read these words of scripture, it’s almost as though you’re hearing them from Christ’s own lips. There is a power like no other that seems to flow from the floor into your body, into your soul. The presence of the Holy Spirit is never more real than when you read these words:

 Luke 4:16-22

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Here’s the picture. The synagogue would have been filled with people ready to worship. There were gallery benches all around (like bleachers), and on balconies. A large ‘center court’ for standing room only. (Maybe we should have that in our modern churches. Get there late, and you have to stand in the middle, hmmm.) There was a small seat toward one side for the rabbi to sit while he taught.

An attendant would have already chosen the appropriate scroll from a rack near the door, and the rabbi would take it from him. Out of pure joy for the privilege and honor of being the one to read it, the rabbi would often wave it above his head and dance down the aisle, through the crowd, to his seat. Which means folks, that Jesus danced in church! (Shhhhh. It’s OK, as long as we don’t tell the Baptists! Just kidding about the Baptists.)

By the time the teacher spoke, everyone wanted to hear what he had to say! But they didn’t expect this. This passage is a direct prophesy from God, written in the book of Isaiah some 700 years earlier, yet there was Jesus saying it was fulfilled by Him and no one else!

To them, he was just Jesus, Joseph the carpenter’s kid. They had watched Him grow up, or had grown up with Him. They had not yet witnessed many of His miracles as proof, and their memories were that of a normal kid playing normal kid games and helping His dad & mother. (I know – what’s normal about that, right?)

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow, but for today let’s pray that God would grant us the discretion to know when He is speaking to us, no matter what form He chooses to take.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 581 – Jesus & the Leader’s Son

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/29/16 – 581 – Jesus & the Leader’s Son

After Jesus’ two days with the Samaritans He moved on, continuing His journey back to Galilee. Galilee was not well respected by the Jews, in fact it was commonly called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’.

John 4:43-45

After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there. NIV

 (This refers back to a passage in John 2:

John 2:23-25

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. NIV)

In other words, many Galileans believed in Him, but He knew them too well to believe in them! He knew that when the chips were down, they would leave Him hanging. So why did He return to them? Why set Himself up for more failure? Maybe for that very reason – because they who think they are in a good place in their faith but are not, need Him more than ever.

Verses 46-54

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

 48 “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

 50 Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

 The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”

 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

 54 This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee. NIV

This is one of several times that Jesus healed from a distance, without ever even seeing the person He healed. We don’t know who this “royal official” was, or even what kind of royalty he was (Jew or Gentile). We know he traveled about 20 miles from Capernaum to Cana to get jesus to come, and we know he believed Jesus when he said “You may go. Your son will live”, because he left immediately at about 7 PM instead of waiting till morning when traveling was safest.

His faith was confirmed when he found that his son was not merely improving, but completely healed at the same time that Jesus had said it to Him! I guess we really have to commend this person when we see that he believed in Jesus even though he had not seen the miraculous works performed. In verse 48 the Lord confirmed for us that this culture was a ‘show me’ culture, they wanted to see to believe, only then would they give their confidence.

How often did Christ teach us that same lesson – that those who believe even though thy have NOT seen are much more blessed. He knows how much more difficult that is for us. Then again, He surrounds us with miracles each and every day, so that not one of us can say, “I’ve never seen one.” I know I’ve said it before, but pull out a picture book of the anatomy of the human hand, then tell me how that happened by accident.

Let’s make our prayer today one of gratitude. Thank God for all He has done and the miracles He continues to do for us to watch and enjoy, and believe.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 580 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/28/16 – 580 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Once again I find I owe an apology for being sporadic in delivering these devotions to you. I really am trying to get them back to a daily basis. Please bear with me as I work through my obstacles and get things back on track. Thanks. Oh, by the way, a few prayers would be nice too. Anyway…

We left Jesus and the disciples waiting at the well while the Samaritans came from town to see and hear Him, following the woman’s testimony that He was the Messiah. Remember the reason He was alone with the woman in the first place was that His disciples had gone into town to get food.

John 4:31-38

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

 (Just like the Samaritan woman, the disciples were still thinking in terms of the physical, not the spiritual.)

 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

This is one of those ‘hard sayings of the Bible’ that people talk about. It’s hard not so much because it’s difficult to understand, but because it’s difficult to accept. At least it is for us, in this contemporary culture of entitlement.

Not only are we taught that we deserve to reap what we worked for, we are also taught that we deserve what we did not work for, and not in a good way as Jesus was saying. Notice He said ‘One sows and another reaps’. Nowadays we don’t want to sow or reap – we just want the benefits handed to us. We certainly don’t want to do the hard work and have someone else ‘get the credit’ for what we have done.

Which is strange when you think about what Jesus is talking about, which is witnessing. We say that we are not the ones who change hearts, only the Holy Spirit can do that. That’s true. Yet we still seem to want ‘credit’ for the number of people that are in heaven because we brought them! So what is Jesus really saying in this passage? That it is all of us, working together as God leads us that will make for a great harvest, which in turn will nourish us! “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” It’s not about you or me.

Verses 39-41

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. NIV

I love the last verse – what it says, and what it does not say. For those two days, they were listening. How often when He preached to the Jews, were they arguing instead?

Let’s make our prayer today a prayer for humility, that we might listen like the Samaritans, and be humble enough to work as God directs – whether reaping or sowing – even if we never see the fruit of our labor until we are with Him in heaven.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 579 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/26/16 – 579 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Why was the woman so easily convinced that Jesus was a prophet? One reason was what He said to her a few verses earlier:

John 4:16-18

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

 17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

 Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” NIV

There is the simple ‘wow’ factor here. How could this complete stranger have known about her past if He were not a prophet or clairvoyant of some kind? But He was talking like a rabbi, not a seer. Does God still work like this in anyone’s life today?

I believe He does – except that when it happens, even we Christians don’t always give Him the credit He deserves. We just say we were ‘convicted’, and/or get mad at the preacher. Unbelievers chalk it up to some kind of parlor trick or even their own guilty conscience. But this woman, not a Jew but a Samaritan, was a believer.

John 4:25-30

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. NIV

This is one extremely significant passage, especially verse 26. Why? It is the only place in scripture that Jesus directly, in so many words tells us that He is the Messiah. Think about that for a while.

Finally the disciples returned, and were surprised – which is no surprise to us! The only thing that is a little surprising is that for once they kept quiet, choosing not to put feet in mouths.

The fact that the woman left her water jar is important as well. Put yourself in her place for a moment. You live in a desert; your only source of water is the community well. In order to survive, you must be able to carry and keep a supply of water for yourself and your family. Your only vessel with which to do that is a clay jar. The local Pier 1 is still under construction, so it’s not like you can run down there and just buy another one. She would not have left behind something so important unless she

  1. felt it was safe and
  2. was really excited and in a hurry

The excitement of a new believer is often contagious. I can picture her running back to town to tell everyone and get back before this great man has a chance to disappear! She probably made sure that a few key people knew about it and the word was spreading before she turned around and went back to the well herself.

What a powerful lesson she teaches us on witnessing! Why is it that we have such a hard time sharing our faith, especially here in the US? In so many parts of the world, sharing the Christian faith will get you tortured and killed. Here the worst that might happen is that someone might claim to be ‘offended’, or be insulting.

But do you know what? Those people need to know Jesus too. They at least need the chance to see His love at work – in you. So many persecutors have been saved because the people they were persecuting simply acted like Christ as best they could, then allowed Him to work through them.

I’d say that’s a good prayer for today, wouldn’t you? Wherever you are at in conflict with another, whether at work, home, or church, become Christ to them. Forgive them. Treat them like the lost children that they are. Do everything you can to bring them home. If you cannot, let the Holy Spirit work through you. How, you ask? Simply surrender.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 578 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/24/16 – 577 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

This is where we left Jesus and his new student yesterday:

John 4:23-24

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Even after she heard Jesus talk about the living water that took away thirst forever, the Samaritan woman was thinking in material terms. She took the word ‘water’ to mean the liquid that she had to draw from the community well every day. Jesus’ response was to steer her thinking toward the spiritual.

The current way of the culture was for the Jews to look down on the Samaritans as somehow being a lesser people – a people of mixed (and therefore contaminated) blood. The only proper place to worship Yahweh was at the temple in Jerusalem. This was not just a tradition, it came straight from Moses:

Deuteronomy 12:11-14

Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

 The problem was that the temple was off limits to Samaritans. Probably for that reason, the Samaritans came to believe that they should worship on what was probably Mount Gerizem, the mountain where it was believed that Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac.

I wonder what she thought when Jesus basically told her ‘pretty soon it won’t matter’. In fact – the time has already come! “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

Before she has a chance to ask, He gave the answer to the big question – why? “God is spirit.”

 Why is it that when we think of ourselves as being created in the image of God, we so often think (again) of a physical image, as though God were a physical humanoid being with 2 arms, 2 legs, a torso and a head? If God is a spirit, wouldn’t it make more sense that we are created in His spiritual image rather than a physical one? And if that is true, doesn’t it also follow that our spirit would be the part of our being that is truly important?

What Jesus was saying is that it’s time to stop focusing on the physical, the material world and start fixing our gaze on the spiritual realms – the kingdom of God. And the ‘truth’ part? Simple.

There is just no way to fake it. We cannot sneak into heaven, or get in on a technicality. We cannot simply pay lip service to a God who knows our heart, and expect Him to be satisfied. Either we truly love Him, or we don’t. Either we mean what we say and do in worship of Him, or we don’t.

Let’s pray today that when God examines our hearts, He will find it pleasing and pure, and our love for Him true.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 577 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/23/16 – 577 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

So Jesus offered the Samaritan woman something she had never heard of – a kind of water that quenched one’s thirst forever! Maybe it was the way He was dressed, or the way His Spirit came through, but she seemed to have no trouble accepting His word that such a thing was possible. Yesterday we said that maybe her acceptance of Him came so easily because of the way He accepted her. There’s some food for thought, isn’t it? Especially if we put it in the context of reaching out to someone who doesn’t know Christ.

Still, she had a rather simplistic interpretation of what the Lord was saying. She was obviously not thinking yet in spiritual terms, but material.

John 4:15

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus was a great teacher. He would show her, but in a way that she would never forget.

Verses 16-20

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

 17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

 Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

So much happened in such a short exchange! First, Jesus gave her a chance to walk away. She could easily have said ‘Sure, I’ll get him and be right back’, and just never returned. Had she done that, she would have been no different from many of those we know today. You know, the ones we invite to church and always promise to come, but always seem to have a last-minute excuse? I know that none of us would ever…

To her credit, she did nothing like that. She faced the truth squarely, and used the opportunity to ask this prophet what was to her a very important question. Or maybe, as some commentators have said, she just wanted to change the subject! Still, Jesus used her question to teach us all a great lesson.

 Verses 21-24

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” NIV

This lesson deserves more space and time than we have room for today, so we’ll pick up here tomorrow. In the meantime, Let’s pray for the Spirit to help us to open our minds and hearts to a complete understanding of what it means to worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 576 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/21/16 – 576 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Yesterday we read about Jesus breaking the ice (and along with it a couple of strong social taboos) by asking a <gasp> Samaritan woman for a drink of water! Let’s pick up by re-reading the last few verses:

John 4:7-9

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) NIV

You’d think we’d learn, wouldn’t you? After all, Jesus gave us this and so many other examples. To me, the saddest thing is not even that people thought like that before Jesus came to earth, but that by and large we have never changed.

I would daresay that if we picked about any culture at any time in the last 2000 years, we would find a culture, or at least a group of people within it, that looked with prejudice upon another. I’m not sure why this is, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was related to the very source of our sin nature – that same self-centeredness that caused Adam and Eve to feel that they were justified in their desire to be like the God Who created them.

It seems to me that if we want to feel better about ourselves, we have 2 basic choices. We can

  1. Become better people or
  2. Do our best to keep other people down, so we look like we’re better without actually having to do the hard work

Unfortunately, all too often we seem to pick option 2. Too bad it doesn’t work. If anything, it just succeeds in keeping everyone from becoming the people that we were meant to be.

Then Jesus really goes beyond the boundaries of accepted behavior. He actually has an entire conversation with her – and offers her a chance at eternal life!

Verses 10-15

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” NIV

Isn’t it amazing how this simple Samaritan woman was so willing to accept Jesus’ word? She couldn’t have been completely ignorant, as she knew enough about her heritage to ask about Jacob. Yet she believed Him when so many of His fellow Jews refused to – even when faced with undeniable evidence (like miracles). Hmmm. I wonder if her acceptance of Him could have had anything to do with His acceptance of her.

Let’s pray today that the Holy Spirit would convict us – give us that tap on the shoulder when our thoughts or speech turn toward the condescending, or prejudice against others simply because they are different. Ask Him to help us to become the person that we were created to be – the image of God Himself. The image of love.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 575 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/20/16 – 575 – Jesus & the Woman at the Well

Once again I find I owe you all an apology for missing the last couple of days. I have no excuses that I can share here, other than to say that life just got kind of overwhelming again, to the point where when I woke early to write as I normally do, I was simply too tired to stay awake or finish a thought, let alone an entire article. But God is working, so I’m giving it my best. I would appreciate your prayers, though. Anyway…

Have you ever thought about which Bible stories are your favorites? Do you prefer stories from the Old Testament or the New? Stories about Jesus or the old ‘heroes of the faith’ like Abraham and Moses? Mysteries or love stories? Do you like stories of Jesus’ miracles more, or maybe prophesies?

I find I like the ones that hold the surprises, especially where Jesus is concerned. And He had plenty. But my absolute favorites are the ones that had the Jews standing on their heads – so to speak. Why? Because we Christians can be so much like them. We so often get to thinking that we’re the only ones going to heaven – that we Nazarenes (or Baptists or Catholics or Lutherans or whatever) have found the ‘secret’, and we’re the only ones that are going to get in.

But then along came Jesus, doing unheard-of things. Crazy stuff, like talking to a Samaritan woman at a well, and telling her she could actually be saved. Then preaching the same thing to a crowd of her friends! He’d do other wild stuff too, like sending His disciples to preach and minister to the gentiles while at the same time telling some of the Jews that they were NOT going to be saved. This was not what He was supposed to say! What was He thinkin’?

John 4:1-9

The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) NIV

Samaritans were a mixed bag. They were the progeny those Jewish men who had disobeyed God and married outsiders. Because they were considered to be ‘children of sin’, most self-respecting Jews would have nothing to do with them.

But like I said, Jesus was different. He simply didn’t go along with the crowd – unless they were right, And that wasn’t very often. Let’s pray today for that same softened spirit of discernment, wisdom and love when it comes to our dealings with other people – people who are not like us.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 574 – Jesus & Nicodemus

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/17/16 – 574 – Jesus & Nicodemus

You may remember yesterday, we ended with Jesus chastising Nicodemus for not knowing the things he should have as a teacher when He spoke about being ‘born again”. He went on:

John 3:11-21

11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Notice that little verse in the middle of all that? Verse 3:16. The verse to beat all verses. The one most loved, and (I think) most often quoted. It’s that little verse that tells us why. Why we were created, why we were saved. Just because He loved us so much. Let’s read it one more time, eh?

 John 3:16

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But then, doesn’t the rest of the passage speak volumes also? In spite of the fact that many people will deny knowledge that whatever they are doing is wrong, Jesus is saying that people know when they are doing wrong – that’s why they try to hide it.

Living a life of sin is very tiring, Trust me, I speak from experience. Not only do you have to remember all the lies you told to cover up your actions, you have to remember what you said to who!Let’s make it our prayer today that God would help us bring all our sins out into the light where wecan deal with them and be rid of them.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 573 – Jesus & Nicodemus

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/16/16 – 573 – Jesus & Nicodemus

There’s one big word we toss around in Christian circles that most of us like just fine when it’s directed at someone else – but not when it’s pointed at us. That word is ‘accountability’. People back in Jesus time didn’t like it either – especially when it was Jesus who was using it. In any of its forms.

The concept Jesus used was actually pretty simple. If you say you know what you’re talking about, you’d better know what you’re talking about. The Pharisees were a group we hear about often in the New Testament. Why? Because they were supposed to be the guys who knew the scriptures.

They were the community leaders. They were the ones who stood up in public and prayed loudly to thank God that He had not made them like other men (sinners), women or dogs. They were the ones that were always asking Jesus ‘trick’ questions, trying to get Him to trip up. One of these Pharisees was a man named Nicodemus a real big shot…

John 3:1-10

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

 And, that was usually how things turned out when someone tried to trip up Jesus using the Bible. I truly wish that we could see the look on Nicodemus’ face, hear the tone of his voice as he asked these questions. Was he seriously trying to understand? Was he sneering, asking more for the benefit of the people around them, thinking that Jesus would wind up looking foolish?

Jesus certainly didn’t wasn’t pulling any punches. He held Nicodemus accountable right there in front of everyone for not only already knowing but understanding these things!

To his credit, Nicodemus may have been really seeking to learn. He came to Jesus “at night”. He also turned out not to be such a bad guy later on, but we’ll get to the that tomorrow. For today, let’s pray that God would always hold us accountable for what we’re supposed to know, because it is the only way we can come to reach our full potential as His disciples.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 572 – Jesus and the Wedding at Cana

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/15/16 – 572 – Jesus and the Wedding at Cana

I guess I’m a bit dense sometimes. This is another of those stories that I thought I knew, but really had been glossing over some pretty big details. This is the story of Jesus’ first miracle (that we know of, anyway). For example, I missed the fact that Jesus had already begun calling his disciples when this occurred. John mentions 6 of them in Chapter One, and verse 2 below tells us that they were all invited to this event.

Why is this important? Simply because to me, the picture of a rabbi leading a half dozen disciples performing a miracle would be somehow more powerful, more credible than an anecdote about a young Jesus and His mom. It would have been more closely studied and examined by His students if no one else. Besides, we all know how important wedding pictures are, right?

John 2:1-12

 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.                                                                                                                                                                     

Another detail I hadn’t ever really noticd was the sheer amount if wine we’re talking about here – somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons!          Why do you suppose that would be important? Well, it would be one thing to produce a bottle of wine from your robes or somewhere. But to change that much water – filled by so many witnesses – without the help of others, is saying something clearly as well. Even though Jesus protested, He did what He was asked, in a way that left no reasonable doubt as to what had happened.

One thing I found curious was that Jesus protested, saying “My hour has not yet come.” Yet He went ahead and did what His mother asked. I wonder if that was really the main reason He did it, That is, just because it was Mary who asked Him. I don’t think anyone else could have persuaded Him if He was not ready to reveal Himself. I kind of wonder if He would have done it for anyone else, and what the original plan was to reveal Himself as the Messiah.

This is a very brief story, as are many of the New Testament pieces, yet there are still many questions to be asked and lessons to be learned from it. I believe one is that Jesus is flexible in many ways. It is us – His followers – who become so rigid, so set in our ways, that we’re unwilling to sing a new song or pray a new kind of prayer. Or sometimes, even sit in a different pew.

Let’s pray today that God would make us flexible as well. Strong in our faith, but not so rigid that we’ll break if someone asks us to bend a little.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 570 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/13/16 – 570 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Have you noticed that I named this story ‘Jesus Calls His First Disciples’? Have you asked yourself why? Like many of you, I grew up thinking that Jesus had only twelve. But really, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus had many, many disciples. He had 12 that He called to become apostles, which is different.

Remember we said a disciple is like a learner – a student – only very dedicated? An apostle is more of a messenger. A disciple can and should witness for his/her rabbi, telling people what they have been taught, but an apostle has a special appointment to carry the message. One can be a disciple without necessarily becoming an apostle, but I really don’t think anyone can be an apostle without first being a disciple – a disciple who not only knows but believes in the message they carry.

The scriptures mention a crowd of people following Jesus around in several places, but clearly calls these people disciples in John 6. In this scene, Jesus had just finished telling the crowd that only those who ate His flesh and drank His blood would have eternal life.

As was often the case, the people tried to take what He said literally, and of course it made no sense. So they did what any good disciple would do. Questioned the teacher until they understood Him, right? Hardly.

John 6:52

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So, Jesus said it again – trying to get them to understand that He was like the manna from heaven that God supplied during the Israelites 40 years in the desert. He also tried to make them understand that while manna took care of the physical body, He was sent to nourish the souls of men. They still weren’t getting it.

John 6:60-70a

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?

Notice in verses 66 the phrase “many of His disciples left”?   We know the ‘many’ were NOT part of the 12 as they were referred to separately in verses 67 & 70.

The big question then: why is this important? Because it tells us one simple thing – that we too can be disciples of Jesus Christ Himself! We don’t need to wait for a personal invitation like many of them did. We already have one! The sooner we answer the sooner we can begin, and the sooner we begin the more we can grow to be like Him.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 571 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/14/16 – 571 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Yesterday we talked about the fact that Jesus had many more than 12 disciples, but only the 12 that He called to be apostles. These men He endowed with special power and authority to act in His name.

Matthew 10:1-4

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.                                                                                                                                                          

But Jesus didn’t simply send these men out without instruction, guidance or purpose.

Verses 5-8

 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

He went on to give much more instruction – they were to take nothing with them as their work had value and people should support them. He told them that if a person, household or town didn’t want to listen to them, they should ‘shake the dust off their feet’ and move on.

This instruction is one that’s often forgotten today, and can be taken by some to be very radical and even cold, uncaring. As Christians, we are often taught never to give up trying to ‘win souls’. But I’ve found that some people are really good at using a carrot & stick routine, always keeping you convinced that they are just one step away from accepting Christ.

But you know what? They have no intention of ever accepting Him. What’s really happening is that they are draining you of time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere – and it’s intentional. Here’s the thing. They have the same freedom to choose as you and I. They know about Christ, and instead of choosing to follow Him they are choosing to allow themselves to be used as a disruption to prevent the Word from reaching others.

Jesus didn’t stop with these 12 men. He gave His instructions, and He prayed for them. Before He ascende into heaven after His resurrection, He prayed for them also. And then He prayed for… us.

John 17:20-23

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 That is – if you are one of His own. A disciple.

If you are, pray today that His Spirit would help you to crow to be more like your Rabbi. If not, why not make today the day you accept His call? I know it sounds hard – it demands your entire life. And why not? His life was also demanded so that we could be saved. But I promise – you’ll never be sorry for the new life you will live will be unbelievably better than the life you leave behind, because in this new life you’ll never be alone. He will always be with you.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 569 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/12/16 – 569 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Saturday I said that we don’t have specifics about Jesus calling the rest of the men we think of as the original 12 disciples, and that is true. However, there is one man whose name stands out among the others, and without his help, Jesus’ story on earth would not have been complete. So, we really have to take a look at him before we move on, I think. That man was called Judas Iscariat. Judas was the treasurer of the group, the money man. He carried the money box and made sure the bills were paid. But there was a problem, one which should make us sit up and really take notice, as too many of us are prone to fall into the same trap! That is, even though he was with Jesus 24/7 for 3 years it didn’t affect him spiritually. Not one lick.

Why? Because he wasn’t in it for the right reasons. He didn’t really want to change. Like James and John, he saw Jesus as a means to power. The Messiah the Jews were expecting never came. Instead of a conquering king on a huge white stallion, they got a suffering servant on a donkey colt. Another fairly obvious reason that Judas was in it was for the money. Oh, there wasn’t a lot during the earthly ministry, but he was certainly looking for the big pay-off at the end.

That’s why he was so upset when Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil from her alabaster jar. He said he wanted to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor, but the truth was really that he just wanted to sell it and skim the profits for himself. When things got tough, he didn’t wait to be approached. He went to the chief priests and struck a deal, intending to salvage something for his 3-year investment – rather than walk away empty-handed or worse.

Why should Judas be so all-fired important to us? After all, we wouldn’t betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, would we? Or would we? How many of us have walked away from Him for a chance at overtime, soccer club for our kids or a new relationship? How many professed ‘Christians’ these days have become involved with unbelievers (couched nicely these days as ‘non-churchgoers’), and traded our relationship with God for the earthly one?

In fact, how many of us have walked away simply because things got rough, someone got sick, or times were bad? Jesus knows we will fail, but gives us a chance anyway. In John 6, there is talk about many of Jesus’ disciples leaving Him after He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to be a part of the kingdom.

John 6:70

 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

So why would he allow this, knowing how it would end? I can think of 2 reasons. First, the prophesies in scripture had to be fulfilled.

Ps 41:9

Even my close friend,

    someone I trusted,

one who shared my bread,

    has turned against me.

John 13:18

 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’

The second reason is one I cite fairly often. He always gives us as many chances as possible to repent and turn back to him. I know there are those that disagree, but here it is. If God’s grace knows no bounds, then even Judas could have been forgiven!

This is a wonderful thing for us though, isn’t it? Why? Because there really is so much of Judas in all of us! Jesus knows this, and chooses us anyway. He knows us, and gives us another chance anyway.

Never forget that at the heart of our sin nature lies self-centeredness. When we allow what we want to trump what Jesus wants for us, sin wins. It’s that simple. Our will versus His.

Whose will you allow to win today? How important are those 30 pieces of silver? Or that overtime? Or soccer? Or that new relationship? It’s up to you to decide. Do it before it’s too late, and make that decision your prayer today – along with a prayer of gratitude for giving you another chance to make it!

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 568

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/11/16 – 568

Well, I certainly hope you picked up from yesterday’s devotion that whatever we are faced with, we have a choice as to how we will react. In other words, we are not held accountable for our emotions, but for our actions! Sp where do our emotions come into play?

Simply put, they can make things really difficult for us – or really easy. Behavior that follows an emotion is usually pretty easy – but rarely is it deeply satisfying. But… if we keep on doing the right things according to what God tells us, we’ll eventually come to a place where our emotions follow our actions instead of the other way around. I would argue that these emotions are more firmly grounded in truth, in what is right, and therefore will be deeper and more satisfying in the long run.

For example, do you really want to find true love? Start by learning what it is to love and be loved by Christ. Then, and only then, will you know what to look for in another person. See what I mean?

In the same way, do you really want to find true friendship, or brotherhood among people? The first place to look is within the church. Why? Because we in His body are supposed to be different. Are we? Not always. Is it possible to find a good, loyal friend outside of the fellowship of Christ? Possible, but (I maintain) not as likely.

Now, I know that last statement is controversial. It’s been argued in many forms for years, and I don’t think that non-believers and Christians will ever agree on the answer. However, I base my statement on scripture.

John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 As you read this remember – love is a verb.

So ask yourself this question – what should church look like when you walk in this morning? Maybe a better question is this – what would it look like if you were invisible? Would the conversations be the same as they are when you’re standing there? Would the smiles still be there, or would those disappear as soon as you did? Here’s another question.

Good or bad, how much have you done to help build the culture of the church into what it is today? What can you do to strengthen it? What can you do to help repair what’s broken? Let me give you a hint. It doesn’t begin with following your emotions – they are like leaves on the wind! Begin with obedience and commitment to God alone, your emotions will follow. Not only that, but they’ll become much steadier and deeper than you could ever have imagined. And by the way, so will you relationshships.

Today as you prepare for worship, start with the basics. Ask God to prepare your heart and mind to receive His Spirit. Be obedient, whether He asks you to kneel, lift your hands, pray, or whatever. Just do what He tells you, then see if your emotions don’t   follow along.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 567 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/10/16 – 567 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

We really don’t see individual stories of the rest of Jsus’ first disciples being called, other than this:

Mark 3:13-19

 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 16 So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Now there are 3 extremely important things to be learned from this passage. Can you guess what they are? No? OK, I’ll tell you on Monday.

Just kidding.

The first is that simple, innocuous opening phrase Z  “He went up the mountain”. Why is this so important? Because we know what Jesus did in those times when he went up on a mountain to be alone. Those were not just times of prayer, but times of His most intense, personal prayer to God.

Jesus seemed to do this habitually whenever He faced a big decision or a very stressful situation. What’s more, he would stay and pray, apparently, until He was through – until the situation was settled in His heart.              How important was the selection of the 12? These men (mostly teenagers at the time) were to be used by God to change the world – literally! Kind of important to get it right, don’t you think?

The second thing is mistake we often make. We talk about Jesus having 12 disciples.   The reality is that He had many more than that – and still does today. These 12 men we’re studying now were disciples who were chosen by Jesus to become apostles, and speak speak in His name. The difference is huge. A disciple is a student, a learner. An apostle is a messenger or spokesperson.

The last thing is really a question – why would Jesus, knowing what would happen, choose Judas anyway? Isn’t that like the President putting a known Russian spy on his cabinet? I’ve often thought about this, and can actually think of 3 reasons that Jesus may have done it.

  1. Simple obedience: Just like when He was praying in the garden (Matt 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
  1. Fulfillment of the scripture (God’s plan) (Matt 26:53-54 “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
  1. Hope. As a father, there were many times that I pretty much knew what my children were going to do in a given situation, yet I still hoped and prayed that they would not. I believe that it’s the same with our heavenly Father. He knows our hearts, and knows what w will probably do – but still has hope (and enough faith in us) that He keeps the door open for us to make the right choices.

Let’s make that our prayer today. What decisions are you faced with? How about a nice surprise for your Father – surprise Him by doing what He wants you to do instead of what you want to do?

 

 

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 566 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/09/16 – 566 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ call to Matthew (Levi) the tax collector. Now we don’t know exactly how far along in His ministry he was when He did this (someone forgot to time/date stamp the calendar files), but we do know that word was getting around, and a LOT of people were already watching Jesus. Did you notice the first 2 phrases in yesterday’s passage?

Mark 2:13-14

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

This was not the first time Jesus preached in public, and He was drawing some crowds – large enough, apparently, that they had to move it outside into a sizeable open area. The place Mark is speaking of is a beautiful hill outside Capernaum, a wide, gentle, grassy slope – almost a natural auditorium. Anyway, when someone begins to draw that much attention, there are always others that start to get nervous. What Jesus did next was just as shocking to the community and its religious leaders as the call itself – maybe more so:

Verses 15-17

 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Want to know what my favorite part of that passage is? The part where the Pharisees are talking about “tax collectors and sinners” in the third person – as if they don’t fall into that group! But honestly, how often do we look at others in the same way?

Oh, we can admit we’re sinners, but in the same breath look down on the addict standing at the exit ramp with the cardboard sign. We balk at opening our homes to people who visit our church because they are poorly dressed , or came from the wrong place, or just because we don’t know them – so we assume the worst. Better safe than sorry, right?

So apparently Jesus agreed that the Pharisees were good, right? Did He not call them (spiritually) “healthy”? Hmmm…

Honestly, I don’t think so, because that’s obviously not true. The original Greek word used means ‘strong’ or ‘able’. So, I believe that Jesus possibly meant 2 things. One was that these religious leaders had the ability to understand the scriptures and follow God, which would mean that their disobedience was a matter of choice. They simply didn’t want to change – they only wanted to get rid of the one person Who was making them feel convicted and look bad.

The other is that these men thought they were spiritually strong even though their lives did not reflect that. It was then as it is now – you can’t teach the willfully ignorant. Either way, Jesus chose to invest in people who knew they were lost, knew they needed help, and were at least willing to listen to what He had to say over a hot meal.

I’m pretty sure all of them didn’t believe Him, much less accept Him as Messiah. But they weren’t listening only to find ways to trap Him with His own words either. So, what does this all mean for us?

The same as usual. If we are to follow the example of our rabbi, we must first recognize that we are among the group at Matthew’s table, not above them. We must actually invest our time, our lives in those who are willing to listen to the good news about Jesus. The setting of a meal around a table denotes intimacy, relationship – family. Relationships that go deeper than just handing out tracts on a street corner or shaking hands during ‘Friendship Time’ at church.

Are you up for a challenge today? Ask God whom He would have you invite to your table this Sunday after church (or soonest possible). Then the hard part – you have to actually do it.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 565 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/08/16 – 565 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

One of the things that has caused a bit of confusion over time is the use of different names for some of the people in scripture. For example, in yesterday’s devotion we talked about the disciple Nathaniel, who seems to disappear after being called, only to be replaced by a new guy named Bartholomew. The truth is, he didn’t go anywhere. ‘Nathaniel’ was usually a first name and Bartholomew a surname (last name). So, when the New Testament was written in Greek, the Aramaic name Nathaniel bar Talmai (meaning Nathaniel son of Talmai) became Nathaniel Bartholomew. Later writers simply referred to him by his surname.

Sometimes names changed when there were significant life changes. We saw this when Abram entered into a covenant with Jehovah and became Abraham. Sometimes we just don’t know the reason for a person being referenced by two names, but we can know from the circumstances that we’re talking about the same person.

This is the case with the next disciple Jesus called. We know and love him as Matthew, the former tax collector. But the first time we meet him, it’s by the name of Levi.

Mark 2:13-17

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

I think that most people know that tax collectors were not well liked in Jewish society to say the least. I will offer that as proof that some things really don’t change. However, as much as none of us really loves the IRS today, people like Matthew were pretty much hated by everyone. And I do mean hated.

To understand why, one has to remember that the Israelites lived under the iron hand of the Romans. One of the methods they used to keep peace in the nations they conquered was to use indigenous people to do a lot of the government work for them. These people ranged from puppet kings like Herod to tax collectors like Matthew.

The assumption was that these locals knew the people, knew their habits and could better find and collect taxes on assets that the people might otherwise be able to hide. So, they found men that were willing to betray their own neighbors and use them.

The return was that anything collected in excess of what was demanded by the Romans was theirs to keep, and these collectors had all the weight and protection of the Roman Empire to help them. Needless to say (but I will anyway), the job didn’t exactly draw men of highest moral character. So, when Jesus called him to actually become a disciple, it did more than just raise some eyebrows.

What happened next is something we still talk about today. We still talk about it but sadly, we too often forget about it. Stay tuned – we aren’t finished yet.

We’ve been talking about how Jesus called those who had been rejected by other rabbis as not being ‘good enough’. Yet here He goes far beyond, calling a man that no one would have considered worthy of bothering with, worthy of redemption. Worthy of grace. Do you think Jesus was trying to tell us something?

Let’s pray today that we get His message.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 564 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/07/16 – 564 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Yesterday we talked about what it meant to be called to be a disciple. It’s much more than simply studying the rabbi’s teachings, it means to become as much like that rabbi as possible. Many rabbis purposely made this as difficult as possible, I believe simply as a way to make themselves appear better, smarter or more spiritual than anyone else. In other words, making the clear statement that only the best and brightest can even hope to be anything like me, because that’s just how good I am!

Then along comes Jesus. The Son of God. I can’t think of anyone who could possibly be more special, yet who does he call to be His disciples? The rejects, the ones who have long since been weeded out and sent home. The ones that no other rabbi would even consider as being ‘good enough’ to be like him. Yet here was Jesus, saying exactly that. “Come, follow me. I will teach you to be like me.”

“Yes, I think you are good enough.”

The first 4 men He called were 2 sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, and John & James. We know they had been rejected because they were all working as fishermen when Jesus found them, rather than still studying in school. They all followed, because in that society they had just been given a great honor – one for which they had long since lost hope.

John 1:43-50

 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

 So Jesus had now called disciple #5, Philip. But then the pattern changes, did you notice? Jesus wasn’t the one who went to Nathaniel directly. Instead, this is our first example (I think), of a disciple calling someone else to discipleship. It was Philip who went and told his friend Who he had found, what had happened, and invited him to join them.

Of course it would be the rabbi’s decision to take on anyone, which makes it so impressive to me that Philip had enough faith in Jesus as the Messiah that he felt he could make this invitation, and have Jesus stand by it! Of course, it wasn’t Jesus but Nathaniel who voiced his doubt – until He actually met Jesus.

Verses 47-51

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

I have a feeling that most of us are a lot like Nathaniel. When we first hear about Jesus, we just aren’t sure. Even when we accept Him for who He is, we often have doubts in our own ability to be a true disciple – to be like Him. We say things like “No one’s perfect” or “only Jesus is without sin”, even using His holiness as an excuse for our failures. Yet His call for us is “Be holy as I am holy”

Apparently our rabbi thinks we can do it. That we can be like Him. Where we are weak He sends His Spirit to help us. All we have to do is let Him. So there really are no excuses. The only condition is this: it’s an all-or-nothing deal. We are either His disciples, or not. No part-time. No on-demand.

His offer is on the table – always has been. Your ability to do it is not in question – you can. So what’s left is your willingness. And that is what your talk with Him today is all about.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 563 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/06/16 – 563 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Matt 4:18-22

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Have you ever asked yourself why these men, who were probably in their late teens, would have simply walked away from their jobs when a stranger called? Did Jesus have a magical power over them? And why would Zebedee be OK with his sons walking out on him and the family business? I always pictured him shaking his fist at them and yelling “You two better get back here!”

Well, Jesus never forced Himself on anyone – including us, nor tricked us into following Him. Which is more than we can say for Satan. So the only explanation is that following a rabbi who was willing to teach them was pretty much the greatest honor they could ever imagine. And it was.

In the educational system of the day, boys began their education by memorizing the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible). They began at the age of 5-6, and should have had that completed by age 10 or so. Just like us <wink>. Only the very best students would be selected to go on, and memorize the rest of the Bible (our Old Testament) by about the age of 14-15.

At that point only the cream of that crop might be chosen by rabbis to become their disciples. The rest would be deemed ‘not good enough’ and sent home to learn the family trade. Which is probably why Peter & Andrew, James & John were working in fishing boats when Jesus called them. They were washouts.

You see, it was the job of a disciple (student, but in a much deeper sense than we think of it) to learn everything that could be learned about their rabbi (teacher) and to become as much like him as possible. Somewhere along the way some rabbi (teacher) had decided that these guys were just not good enough to do it.

Honestly, I’ve had teachers like that in college. I recall 2 in particular who used to boast about what great teachers they must be, because no one ever got an ‘A’ in their class. In other words, they weren’t really interested in teaching, but in having people around that they could keep to a level just a little lower than where they felt their own was.

Many rabbis were like this. Their teachings were purposely made difficult and confusing. My guess is that many potentially great disciples were sent home after being told ‘You aren’t good enough to be like me!’ I wonder how many just gave up – discouraged.

But then here comes this new rabbi who does a radical thing – He calls His disciples from out of the ‘rejects’! From the guys who years before were sent home from school as not being smart enough, devoted enough or whatever to study under a rabbi. He goes straight to these guys and He says “I think you are good enough to be like me!

Of course they dropped everything and followed. Of course Zebedee let them (he was probably jumping for joy). Jesus had given them a second chance – called them to the greatest honor imaginable for a Jewish boy – to be the disciple of a rabbi!

And now, He does the same for us. We who are told over and over that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t make a difference, that we can’t do it, need only to look up. Jesus Himself is standing right there in front of you, reaching out to you and saying “Come. Follow me. I think you’re good enough. I think you can do it.”

Our prayer for today? Easy – just answer Him.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 562 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/05/16 – 562 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples

Have you ever noticed how the language we use can be a pretty good gauge of how we are viewed in the culture? If you don’t believe me, try to picture a grandparent (me, for instance) telling my granddaughter that her ‘new threads are really far out. Groovy, even. For real!’

It works the same way for us Christians too, and why not? After all, we’re human. We want to be relevant to the culture around us in order to reach people for Christ, right? So it just makes sense that some of our language should change, just like our music, worship styles and so on. If we didn’t, we’d never progress, never fit in, never reach the unreached. Let’s face it, not too many people are going to walk past a church, hear someone rockin’ a psalm just the way King David did it, and say “Love that beat – I just have to check that out!” (Can you put a whammy bar on a harp?)

The problem is, I firmly believe, it’s not always language that follows the culture. Sometimes it’s the other way around. For instance, words like tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness – which are all wonderful things – are now being twisted and their ‘new’ definitions used in many situations to dictate to people, organizations and yes, even churches to what extent they may practice their own beliefs. But that’s a long discussion for another day. My point is this: unless we’re very careful, we can easily end up weakening our very foundations simply by softening and weakening the language we use.

In recent years, there’s another term that has fallen out of favor with many ‘contemporaries’ in the church – you know, the cool kids. The word is disciple. That word was replaced long ago in many cases by the more generic ‘Christian’. Now, unless I’ve missed something, I believe the preferred term is ‘Christ-follower’.

Most people I’ve spoken to about this don’t seem to think there’s really a difference. If here is, the consensus seems to be that the word ‘disciple’ just sounds old-school and demanding. You can catch more flies with honey, right? I would agree, except that we’re not called to catch flies. We are called to make disciples.

Matt 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Over the next several days, we will follow Jesus as He calls His first 12 disciples. Not followers. Not Jesus-ers (Christ was not His last name, it is a title). We will learn from His example, and we’ll learn what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus ChristLet’s pray today that His Spirit would help us to open our eyes and hearts, to allow us to see Jesus in what is possibly a brand new light for some of us – as our rabbi (teacher).

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 561

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/04/16 – 561

Here we are at Sunday again, hopefully preparing our hearts (and the rest of us) for worship. As you know, this is the day we usually take a break and examine something to do with worship, the church etc. Interestingly enough, I heard a discussion this past week that included the position that Jesus never talked about worship or the church because Christian church didn’t exist until after He returned to heaven!

This isn’t an uncommon argument, sadly, but it is far off track. As far as I can tell, corporate (group) worship existed at least as far back as the exodus from Egypt, and probably much earlier as family groups. I’m pretty sure Noah’s family was doing some prayer and worship together on the ark! I know I would have been.

It’s true those people weren’t worshipping Jesus of Nazareth because He wasn’t around yet, but they certainly did worship Jehovah. Mostly. But we’ll get to that in a minute. As a matter of fact, Jesus did talk about worship in several recorded places. The first one you read in yesterday’s devotion:

Luke 4:5-8

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Remember when Jesus quoted scripture, He was pretty much talking about our Old Testament. But in using this simple reference, He shows us the significance that He placed on worship of the true God, and no other – even more than food! He was at the beginning of His earthly ministry, being tempted by Satan, with no help except the Word and the God Who gave it. But because He was faithful, God was also. Another time Jesus mentioned worship was in Matthew.

Matt 15:7-9

 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Here the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by accusing Him of allowing His disciples to break tradition by eating bread without a ceremonial washing of their hands. Jesus pointed out that they were doing much worse – using a man-made tradition to keep from helping their parents as commanded by God, yet they worshipped God publically, proclaiming their holiness to the world. Jesus was pretty clear – their worship was meaningless – empty words. God wants our love, not our words. The last passage for today is this:

John 4:21-24

 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Jesus was explaining to a Samaritan woman who was trying to figure out where people had to go to worship, that location wasn’t the important thing. What would matter, whether one was a Jew, Samaritan or Gentile, was that they recognized that God is a spiritual being (as opposed to a statue or idol), and the only true worship of Him must also come from the spirits inside of us.

It is what’s in our hearts that makes our worship acceptable to God. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why the writers of the New Testament focus so much on cleansing your heart, your mind, your life of any and all unrighteousness. You canNOT willingly live in sin (any sin) and expect it not to affect your soul – and therefore your relationship with God.

Make the decision today to remove anything from your life that you know isn’t pleasing to God. Of course it won’t be easy. Worthwhile things seldom are. But He’ll help you. So will others. Make that your prayer and promise today. Then go and worship – “in the Spirit and in truth.”

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 560 – Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups

09/03/16 – 560 – Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert

At some point (it would seem not long after Jesus’ baptism), John the Baptist was thrown in Herod’s jail because he refused to endorse Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife , among other things. Herod was kind of a nut. He didn’t take kindly to people disagreeing with him, but was afraid of what the people might do if he just killed John, since they all believed he was a prophet. So to prison he went.

Jesus, in the meantime, underwent some very hard and special preparation before beginning His formal ministry here on earth.

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

 Notice how Satan always seems to show up when we’re at our weakest point?

 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.”

 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you

    to guard you carefully;

11 they will lift you up in their hands,             

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Notice the one other huge lesson in there for us? Jsus was able to resist the devil not because he was the all powerful Messiah, Son of God. He did nothing magical. He was able to resist Him purely from citing and knowing the scriptures! He didn’t even have to know chapter and verse – He just had to know what it said and what it meant.

After 3 attempts, Satan knew he was wasting his time, so he left, but with plans to come back at “an opportune time”. Scary. What have those times been for you? Has he ever showed up? I know he has for me, unless I was prepared! Satan doesn’t like to lose. He’ll skirt the battle and leave to fight another day if he doesn’t think he has a chance of winning.

This story is barely mentioned by Mark, not mentioned at all by John, but told at length by Matthew and Luke. That’s OK. We might ask ourselves why Jesus didn’t take the easy way out – after all, who would it have hurt? The answer is – it would have hurt countless people as it would have undermined the integrity of His ministry on earth. For all the accusations made against Him, no one could ever find even one wrong that was legitimate.

Another reason could simply be as an example to us. To show us that we can stand strong in the face of adversity, take the unpopular position and carry through simply because it ‘s the right decision. Today let’s pray that the Holy Spirit living in us would transform us into people of integrity and strendth – no matter what the cost.