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Miracle

The Resurrection

The Resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn’t. So what difference would it make if it did or didn’t happen? What if it never happened and the entire Christian movement — from the very beginning — is based on hopeful wishes of Jesus’ Disciples? Would that make much difference?

Paul thinks the Resurrection is a pretty big deal. In today’s Bible reading, he goes so far as to say that if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t actually happen, then Jesus is dead. If Jesus is dead, then Christians are liars for claiming He’s alive when He’s dead. He says that if the Resurrection didn’t happen, then we don’t have forgiveness of sin, and our faith is useless. (1 Corinthians 15:17) Useless!

Paul says that the Christian movement didn’t just arise out of a vacuum. He says that Jesus’ death and His Resurrection were grounded in the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Christian movement wasn’t a new religion invented in the middle of the First Century. Instead, it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It wasn’t just a sectarian branch of Judaism. It was the fulfillment of Judaism! All of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Jesus!

Application

Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe! Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be transformed from strangers and enemies of God to being sons and daughters of God. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be adopted by the most loving Father anyone ever hoped of having. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I have hope for an eternity with God in heaven. And because of the Resurrection, you and I have been given all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

Spend a few minutes contemplating the magnitude of the reality of the Resurrection. Then spend a few minutes today praising God for the miracle of the Resurrection.

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Sparrow

Jesus says a lot about priorities in today’s Bible reading. Most importantly, He talks about people who are consumed by worry. He says, don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to wear. (Luke 12:29) Instead, rest in the knowledge that God knows everything about you and He will take care of you. So often, we worry simply because we forget this basic truth.

Jesus says that God cares for sparrows and His kids are worth far more than sparrows. He says that God clothes the flowers more elegantly than Solomon clothed himself.

I’m staggered by the reality that, looking at the size of the universe — so big that some of what we think are stars are actually galaxies of thousands of stars — how a God Who spoke all of this into existence, a God who keeps everything in motion, a God who is in control of every atom in the universe could care for such an insignificant piece of His creation. In fact, not only does He know me, He has numbered every hair on my head. (Luke 12:7)

How could that be?

For God to number the hairs on the head of a single individual on the third rock from a small star in the Milky Way Galaxy, how truly awesome is this God? How absolutely mind-blowing is this God? How unlike us is this God? And yet He has done just that!

Application

In light of the awesomeness of God, Jesus tells us to keep our priorities straight: Focus on God and His kingdom instead of worrying about all of those insignificant things that will last an insignificant amount of time on the infinite timeline of eternity. He says that wherever we put our treasures, our heart will be fixed on it.

Where are your treasures? Where do you spend your money? Your time? Your emotional energy? Where are your deepest concerns? How do these things line up with and relate to God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness?

Spend a few minutes today thinking about the vast expanse of the universe. If you’re able to look up at the sky tonight and observe the stars, try counting them. Then again, don’t bother because you can’t! A God who merely spoke everything into being from absolutely nothing has made Himself available … to you.

Call out to Him today. Thank Him for being there. Thank Him that He didn’t just create and then walk away. Thank Him that He is there, that He is not silent, that He is not distant, and that He is only a prayer away.

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.

— Jim Elliott —

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Jesus often withdraws to deserted places to pray.
Image source: Lumo Project

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ secret to overcoming temptation. In today’s Bible reading, we see the secret to Jesus’ life overall.

Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all fishing stories! You’re retiring at the top of your game. From now on, you’ll fish for the souls of men. Immediately, they drop everything and follow Him.

Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!

As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds Himself being greeted by large crowds of sick people, desperately asking Him to heal them. And He does.

Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)

One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.

Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.

Application

Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,

The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. [1]

Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!

So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?

Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.

Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.

Often.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

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Zechariah breaks into spontaneous praise
Image credit: LumoProject

We begin reading Luke’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading. Unlike John and Matthew, Dr. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus. He had to interview people and learn a lot about Jesus before he could write his Gospel. Dr. Luke spent considerable time traveling with Paul and he records these adventures in his second book, Acts.

Luke begins his gospel addressing Theophilus. He is only mentioned here and the beginning of Acts. His name means lover of God. Some have suggested that Theophilus may have financed the writing of the Gospel and the Acts. But that is speculation.

Luke tells us about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were cousins. Zechariah and Elizabeth were along in years and had not had any children. Dr. Luke gives us the impression that Elizabeth, like Sarai in the Old Testament, was postmenopausal. Both Sarai and Elizabeth experienced a miraculous conception. But if these women experienced a miraculous conception, Mary’s was extra-special! Dr. Luke tells us that Mary was not just a young woman kind of virgin, but she was a virgin kind of virgin; she had never had relations with a man.

Both Zechariah and Mary asked Gabriel a question. The question sounds similar, but they were very different. “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18 (CSB) Mary asks, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” Luke 1:34 (CSB)

Zechariah asked, How can I know this is true? and Mary asked, How is this possible? Both Zechariah and Mary accepted their role in God’s plan. Zechariah had to pay for his question with nine months of silence.

Can you imagine Zechariah’s experience with the angel in the Most Holy Place in the Temple and then not be able to tell anyone about it for nine months? I’m sure he had a lot of time to reflect on the nature of his desire to be absolutely sure that Gabriel was telling the truth.

One additional point I want to draw from Luke 1. Elizabeth is five months pregnant when Mary visits and tells her that she’s pregnant, too. Upon learning that Mary is pregnant, Elizabeth, feels John kick (remember that Gabriel said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born (Luke 1:15). Elizabeth is midway through her second trimester and feels John’s reaction as he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Note: The first person to celebrate the announcement of Jesus’ conception is a pre-born baby! Given today’s political climate and the never-ending debate over abortion (including second and third-trimester abortions), I think it’s very important to highlight this encounter.

Finally, note that Mary and Zechariah burst into praise as they remember their encounter with Gabriel.

Application

Zechariah and Mary had their encounters with God’s “messenger” (that’s what “angel” means) and they couldn’t help but break into praise.

Spontaneous praise should be a normal response
to hearing God’s message.

When was the last time you heard a message from God and you couldn’t help but burst into spontaneous praise? Maybe you need to look back over Luke 1 and let God speak to you.

As with Elizabeth, God knows your situation. He cares. And He’s big enough to do something about your situation. He may bring a miracle. He may use some type of therapy. Or He may do something else that He sees as being better than that.

Remember that you can trust God to work together all things so that you would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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anxiety

My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.

Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)

Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.

But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)

Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!

Application

I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.

Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.

It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.

Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on this passage. You might want to check it out. Someone you know may need these words of encouragement.

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