Do We Really Know Jesus?

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”” – Luke 15:8-10.  

How well do you know Jesus? We think we know Jesus. We’re involved in church. We participate in a small group. We have a daily quiet time. We can list many things Jesus did, and we can recite any number of Bible verses. But do we really know Jesus because there is a difference between head-based, knowledge of who God is versus a heart-based, life-changing faith that comes from walking with God.

In Jesus’ day, the pharisees were know-it-alls. They knew the Bible, the religious rules, and even the proper prayers. They believed they knew God. Then Jesus showed up and started breaking all these religious, manmade rules and traditions. Jesus even spent time with thieves, prostitutes, and tax collectors – society’s outcasts. The pharisees didn’t believe in spending time with known sinners.  

When confronted by these religious leaders, Jesus responded with a story: A woman lost one of only ten coins. In a desperate search, she combed through her home from top to bottom in search of this valuable coin. Finally, when she found it, she called her friends and neighbors over for a celebratory feast because what was once lost was found. 

This parable illustrates the fundamental truth that throughout our lives, God has pursued us. So great is God’s desire for a restored relationship with us that the One, true God, the King of kings and Lord of lords came down off His throne to die an unjustified and sacrificial death. We don’t deserve it, nor can we fathom His grace and love.

I hope the reality of that truth has sunk in fully. Do you fully grasp the depth of God’s love that He is pursuing us? You were the coin that was so valuable God worked and searched until he had it back in His possession. You are of such value to the only One who truly decides the worth of things that He pursued you. Don’t let that truth pass you by today. Instead, make it the foundation for every decision, thought, and action in your life.

Pursuing goes both ways. We need to pursue God in the same way He pursues us. No part of our lives should be off-limits to God. In Psalm 27:8 David says, “My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” God is calling out to you, saying, “come talk to me.”  Psalm 34:10 promises us that “…but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.” God will always respond to your pursuit because He wants a relationship with you.  He’s already promised that to you. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Take a few minutes and think of a time when you were lost or when you lost something or someone. Describe the feelings of lost. Describe the feelings of being found.
  1. What can we do this week to better pursue God?  

A Man On A Mission

“Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.” – Acts 16:4-5

God had a mission for Jeremiah. It was not a fun mission. Nor was it a mission that would garner him any fame and fortune. God told Jeremiah to go to his brothers and sisters in Israel and demand they repent and return to God.

Jeremiah knew it would make a lot of people angry. He figured that he might be killed by an irate mob. Therefore, he made many excuses to God for why he wasn’t the right man for the job. “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth!” (Jeremiah 1:6-9) Even though Jeremiah was making excuses why he couldn’t serve the Lord, God didn’t give up on him. He encouraged him by saying, “I will be with you and will protect you.”

It’s natural for the Christian today to do the same thing. We come up with clever excuses why we shouldn’t follow the mission the Lord has given us to “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15) We say to ourselves and God, “I don’t know enough about the Bible. What will they think of me? I don’t want them talking behind my back. I might lose my job! Let somebody else do it.”

Fear will inhibit our ability to fulfill our mission. God immediately saw the fear in Jeremiah’s heart and said, “don’t be afraid of the people.” The Bible teaches that “fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” (Proverbs 9:10) On the other hand, faith will overcome your fears. God will be with you if you are obedient to His calling.  

God never calls us to do something for Him that He doesn’t empower us to do if we are willing to do the work and time. Take the time to get to know God in an intimate way. As your relationship with Him grows, so will your mission for Him. Your purpose on earth is to shine God’s love to a lost, dying world.  Open your ears and your heart to the Lord and be excited about your new future serving Him in truth and spirit.

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the story of Jeremiah? 
  2. What can we do this week to fulfill our mission?

What Is Transcendence?

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21. 

Have you ever wished to be a part of something far bigger than your own small existence? Have you wanted to invest yourself in something truly worthwhile? As Christians, we all long to live transcendent lives.  

But we live in a culture that has institutionalized self-focus and personal entitlement. Often times that means we need to be rescued from ourselves. Things like debt, addiction, etc. are the results of an inward focus for meaning in our lives.  But God wants so much more for us. He wants us to live transcendent lives. 

Living a transcendent life means that what you think, desire, say, and do is driven by something bigger than personal wants, needs, and feelings. God’s purpose for our lives is to transcend our self-oriented existence and to be part of something bigger than our definition of happiness. Transcendence begins by determining a purpose for our lives. At the most basic level, transcendence means I am choosing what I’m choosing, doing what I’m doing, and saying what I am saying, not for my purposes, but for the sake of God’s eternal agenda for this world.  In other words, it means living for the glory of God and for furthering His kingdom.  

To accomplish that, we need to be aware that we tend to shrink our life down to the size of our own wants, needs, and feelings. The immediate, mundane details of life can tempt us to settle for less than God’s glory by leading our focus away from God’s kingdom and God’s glory toward our own kingdoms. Living for God’s gloy does not mean abandoning the immediate, mundane details of life, but rather living where He has placed us in the immediate, mundane details of life. It is in this way that our lives will have purpose.

In a “reach for the stars, be anything you can be” culture, the idea that pursuing any dream could ruin my life seems foreign. The more I think about it, though, the more I see that living outside God’s purpose – no matter how good the intent – is a recipe for failure.  

Yet, when we give up our dreams for something greater – for Someone greater than ourselves – we begin to see we can trust God no matter what. We find comfort in the incredible peace that comes with knowing that even if life here includes sorrow or dreams unfulfilled, there is a God that transcends not only all that’s missing in this life, but also all the good this life has to offer.

God is inviting us to set aside all the busyness, distractions and pleasures that we have become accustomed to, and instead live the transcendent life He has planned for us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does living a transcendent life mean to you? 
  2. How is it possible to live a “Christian life” while settling for “below and less” instead of living for “above and more”?

Life on Mission

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.””- Matthew 9:36-38.  

Sometime in your life, you are going to ask the question, what am I here for? You will wonder what your mission is. It is not always an easy thing to figure out. Rick Warren asks the question, “Why doesn’t God take you to heaven the minute you become a believer?” Why doesn’t He? I mean there’s no reason not to be in heaven, right? We all want to be there, it’s going to be perfect. Heaven is perfect. What do we still have on earth? There are only two things Rick says that you can’t do in heaven that you can do on earth. Sin and tell people the good news about Jesus. Everybody’s going to know Jesus then and there won’t be any sin. Then he asks a rhetorical question, “What do you think God left you here to do? Why are you alive?” To be on mission with God, that’s why you’re alive. 

You are saved from something for something. You’re saved from something for something, the mission. Every day you have to ask yourself two questions, what business are we in and how’s business? Really, it’s that simple. What business are we in and how’s business? God has something that He’s prepared in advance for you to do. Being on mission with God, finding your purpose in doing what God wants you to do is going to be the most rewarding thing that you’ve ever done.

Our mission is to love God. This is to be the driving purpose in life. No matter where life takes us or what obstacles we face, we are to love the “…Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind… ” (Luke 10:27) We are to worship God. Worship can be broken into two parts: daily personal worship and corporate worship with other believers. Both are vitally important for growing in our relationship with Christ. Both help us understand and pursue God’s call for our lives – our life’s mission. We are to share the Gospel. When we love and worship God, we are better able to share Christ with others. This can mean starting a faith conversation with a neighbor or family member. It can mean sharing part of your faith journey or testimony with a co-worker. It can even mean deciding to take part in a short-term mission trip. Finally, we are to walk with new believers. “Discipling” is the term for how Jesus walked with, taught, and encouraged His disciples. As we share the Gospel with others and take part in the same mission that Jesus’ own disciples embarked upon, we, too, are called to disciple new believers in how to walk with Jesus. This means teaching new believers how to live out God’s written Word in their everyday life.

We need to be open to opportunities that God gives us. God is going to open some doors. He’s going to nudge you a little bit. He’s going to say that person right there that neighbor, that guy in that cubicle, that person right there that’s your mission. Be open to it because God knows what’s going on and God is going to prepare the way.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a mission, a vision for your life? 
  2. How can defining that mission in life dramatically improve your chances of getting where you want it to go? 
  3. How do you see your everyday life as a part of God’s mission to bless the world? In what ways can this truth be something you are constantly aware of?

Some Final Thoughts On Easter

“As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:17-19.

Easter is another season of the year that presents an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the life of Christ. Easter also represents an opportunity to remember the heavy price that Jesus paid in order for us to have a relationship with God.   

Jesus was betrayed by one of the disciples, publicly humiliated and mocked, beaten beyond recognition, and hung on a cross to die. He gave His body for us and poured out His blood as a sacrifice for us. As a result, we can experience, love, peace, hope, joy, forgiveness, and eternal life. At least those are the words that come to mind first. 

But that is not the complete list. If I attempted to add all the words that come to mind when I think of the resurrection, there may not be enough room in this devotional server to contain them all. Because of Jesus, I know that Someone understands, that Someone always cares. Because He is alive we have love, peace, hope, joy, forgiveness, and eternal life.   

Easter symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.

Easter also helps me appreciate how much Jesus loved people and got involved in their lives; He ate with them, drank with them, laughed with them, and cried with them. He was compassionate. He provided for, healed and encouraged. He literally touched a man with leprosy and allowed a woman of the night to anoint His feet in public. He wasn’t concerned with what the people thought about Him, His primary concern was doing the mission of His Father in Heaven.

Take a few moments this week and every week and reflect on Easter and the impact of Jesus dying and rising again on your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Easter change everything for you? How does Easter give meaning to all of our days?
  2. The proper response to Easter is not warm and fuzzies, but awe. Agree or disagree?
  3. How would Christianity be different if there was no resurrection?

Where Is Your Life?

“You [God] have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You” – St Augustine

 USA Today conducted a survey that asked people an interesting question: What would you ask God or some other supreme being if you could ask one question? After the results were in, the number one question people would ask is: what is my purpose in life? The results are both predictable and thought provoking. Most of us have thought about what our purpose is at one time or another. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

 Each of us must wrestle with this question because we are always looking to someone or something for life.  By “life,” I mean more than just our physical existence; I mean that which brings vitality to our spirit. The truth? The resounding message of the Bible says “Jesus is Life.”  

Jesus gives an open invitation to come to Him as the source of satisfying, overflowing, eternal life. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.” (Ephesians 2:1). When we turn to Jesus, we experience life according to His original design: a life lived in fellowship with God. Intimacy with the Father, Son, and Spirit is the essence of abundant life: “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:3). And life is abundant, not because of material prosperity or minimal suffering, but because we have been reconciled to God. 

Here’s the problem: While we are free to enjoy the blessings of life, we must keep them from becoming the center of our life. Each day, we are bombarded by messages telling us that life is found everywhere except in Jesus. We are all searching for life, and there are only two places to look. You can look to the Creator for life or you can search for life in what He created.

The meaning of life, according to the Christian faith, is ultimately found in Jesus Christ. In Him, the questions about identity, origin, meaning, purpose, and destiny are answered with profound hope. We are the beloved children of God, created by our Heavenly Father to reflect His glory, walk in His love, and do His will in our lives. 

Life on earth is a journey of our transformation to become more like Jesus, who has delivered us from evil, sin, and death, until the glorious day when we spend eternity with Him.

Take a hard look at your thoughts, the motivations of your heart, and how you spend your time and resources.  Follow the trail and it will reveal the truth of what life really is to you. Is it the Creator or His creation?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does living for God mean to you? 
  2. How does living for God change our daily lives? 

A Different Perspective On Easter

“For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:4-11. 

Easter is a truly special day for Christians. But when you read Romans 6, you get a better understanding of what Easter means to every one of us who follows Jesus. These verses give us a fresh perspective on what Easter should mean to us as we commemorate Christ’s resurrection last Sunday. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been saved by grace through faith and we have eternal life but we also have freedom from the power of sin. For we were buried with Christ by baptism (verse 4), we are no longer slaves to sin (verse 6) and now live a new life by the power of his resurrection (also verse 4).   

Jesus is alive, He won the victory of sin and death.  And He’s still the same today. He never changes. He made a way for us to live free. No other truth in history has the ability to change our lives and affect our future like this. 

Christ’s death on the cross and the power of His resurrection provides a bridge, a way to God. It gives us an opportunity to have a personal relationship with the very God who made us and loves us more than we could imagine. Without the cross, there is no way to cross over to the other side of a relationship with Him. Any attempt will fail. He is the only way. The cross and the resurrection provide an opportunity for forgiveness of sin. Through the price that Jesus paid on Calvary, we have the chance to be forgiven of our own sin. This was incredible love and an amazing sacrifice. As a result, we have freedom from the shackles of sin. Freedom from shame. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from hopelessness. Freedom from despair. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from darkness and eternal separation from God.

And it provides a new life. We are not only forgiven and set free, but we have a whole new life and destiny through Christ. We are changed, from the inside. He renews our minds. He changes our hearts and desires. He gives us fresh purpose for every day set before us and gives us the strength to live that purpose.  

When Jesus died on the cross and was buried, it didn’t stop there. The final picture of all that the cross provides lies in the powerful resurrection of our Lord. He won. He didn’t stay dead. His power broke through, and that same power is alive within us today. As believers, God gives us the power of the Holy Spirit, living and moving through us each day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Easter mean to you? 
  2. How does one go about making Easter a frame of mind every day of the year? 

The Woman Caught In Adultery

“They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.” – John 8:6-8. 

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus quietly returned to Jerusalem. Once there, He went into the temple and began to teach. The people were impressed; the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were not impressed at all, in fact, they were angry. They decided to trick the Lord. Somehow (the Bible does not explain how) they knew of a woman who was at that very moment in time committing the act of adultery. The scripture reads:

They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:4) There was no right answer. You see in Jesus’ day, corporal punishment of a crime was Rome’s job. So, if Jesus said “stone her” He would have been ignoring the Romans which was not a good move.  But if Jesus had said not to stone her, it would have seemed as though He was flagrantly disregarding the Law.  Jesus was not buying into their scheme.

Rather than speak His answer, Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground, using his finger. Then He stood and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He stopped and wrote on the ground again. The accusers dispersed.

We don’t know what Jesus wrote, but let’s just imagine that He wrote their names. “If any one of you….” Then, let’s imagine that when He knelt down again to resume writing, He began to finger-pen a list of sins…their sins. “…is without sin…”

When her accusers were no longer there, Jesus spoke to her for the first time. Whether they were alone or if His disciples were standing close-by, it must have felt as though there were no other people in the world, much less at the temple. The woman was standing, Jesus was still kneeling. And then He stood and turned to her. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” (John 8:10)

“No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

The Lord certainly did condemn the sin, but not the person. It is a lesson in mercy. Have you ever believed the lie that your sin makes you unlovable to God? If so, remember the story of the woman caught in adultery. When you read this story remember that God is often different than we expect, much kinder in fact. Today you can meet this generous, kind, merciful Savior that loves you and died for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the story of the woman caught in adultery? 
  2. How is this story a depiction of the gospel? 

The Wonder Of Easter

 

“Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”- Matthew 28:5-7.  

Imagine what the disciples were thinking after the crucifixion. If you could put yourself in their shoes, you would probably be feeling a combination of disappointment and confusion. They had given up everything to follow Jesus. He said He was the Messiah. But He was crucified, died and was buried. What now?

As Mary Magdalene and the other women approached Jesus’ tomb on the third day they experienced the surprise of their lives: He was gone. Then two angels appeared and asked “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead” (Luke 24:5-6) Moments later Mary sees the proof. Jesus appears to her and Jesus tells her to go tell the disciples what she has seen.

Later that day as the disciples are huddled together with doors locked because of fear of the Jews, Jesus appeared to them and said “Peace be with you.” I wonder what the disciple’s initial thoughts were, maybe “Have I been in this house too long?” But then Jesus shows them His hands and His side. Can you imagine? Being there with Jesus and seeing the holes in His hands where they had been pierced with nails three days earlier and the wound in His side.

Thomas wasn’t there that day so it was hard for him to believe what the other disciples were telling him. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe until he touched Jesus’ wounds. A week later, Jesus asked Thomas to put his finger in his wounds to be reassured his Savior was the real deal.

Do we believe that Jesus is the real deal? That He was crucified, died, was buried and then was raised to life after three days? Anyone who can predict his death, die, and then come back to life three days later and appear to multiple people who have written multiple accounts of the experience which have survived thousands of years seems like someone I can fully trust.

We celebrate Easter once a year, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we truly remembered the meaning of Easter each day?  Jesus came to this earth in the form of a man, died for us, and three days later, conquered death and rose again. He has given us the opportunity to be forgiven for our sins and given the gift of eternal life. This is a gift, not because it is a right of ours, but because His grace washed away all our unworthiness and shortcomings. It is a true gift from the very same Creator who made us, and such a gift has a divine purpose.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do to remember Easter every day rather than once a year?  

Good Friday

“By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.” – Luke 23:44-46.

Today is called Good Friday. You have to wonder why Good Friday is called Good Friday. It would seem strange and counterintuitive to call a day set aside to commemorate the torturous death of the sinless Son of God “good.” On the surface, there was nothing good about that day. 

We have all had bad days including some that are very bad. However, I don’t think any of us have had a day like Jesus had on Good Friday. There is nothing good about being betrayed and abandoned by those closest to you. There is no good in enduring whippings that by the time Jesus hangs on the cross, His flesh is so ripped and mangled, His wounds revealed bone. Few would have survived the original beatings. Fewer still could have made the walk from the place of original torture to the cross. It’s difficult to visualize Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world, bleeding profusely and being mocked by the crowd as He walked toward Calvary. It is even harder to think that Jesus allowed nails to be driven into His wrists and on top of His feet. On the surface, it is hard to see or to spin Good Friday as a good day. But the fact of the matter is, it was a good day, a very good day. 

On the cross, Jesus became the bridge when there was no bridge. Good Friday is celebrated because deep down, we know the darkness within ourselves. We’re aware of the sins we’ve committed, and we know just how dark our actions and thoughts can be. As we think about the things that have stained our hands, we know deep down, the things we’ve done are worthy of punishment. Especially when we understand God’s holy standards. That is why we need a Savior—and Scripture identifies Him as Jesus Christ: “while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” (Titus 2:13–14).  

Good Friday was a really good day for humankind. God demonstrated His love for us through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. God demonstrates His own love for us. 1 Peter 3:18 tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”

Through Jesus’ sacrificial act, the cross is a symbol of hope and life for those who believe in Him.  And that is very good. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the cross of Christ reveal the power of God? How does the cross of Christ reveal the wisdom of God?
  2. What impact has the story of Jesus’ crucifixion had on your life? What impact would you like it to have?  
  3. How might we maintain a cross-centered focus in our lives this week?