Category Archives: Red Letter

Keeping It Simple

(Stock Photo by Cottonbro)

When Jesus had said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud, and applied it to the man’s eyes.  Then He told him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came back seeing. (John 9:6-7)

I’ve been thinking of the blind man in this red letter passage.  I picture this guy who’d been without sight his whole life, sitting there, minding his business, and all of a sudden, he hears this rabbi and his followers come up to him.  Maybe he knows it’s a rabbi, maybe he doesn’t.  But he hears the man spit.  And then he feels a gentle touch, and the unexpected wet gritty feel of something being smeared on his eyelids.  He hears a voice that tells him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”

It’s very significant to me that the blind man obeyed the voice.  You know, a blind person hears more than the rest of us, because they’re not distracted by what they see.  This blind man could only respond to the content of the words, and the tone of the voice.  There wasn’t much to the words, so there had to be something in the tone that caused him to obey.  From what we know about Jesus, I think the voice was gentle and warm.  It was also firm and authoritative without being bossy or condescending.  I think the blind man heard compassion, and good will.  He heard confidence, that this was what absolutely he needed to do.

Do you remember when you first heard the voice of Jesus?  Of course, you probably didn’t hear a physical voice.  But I remember a time when I was 20, and I had just gotten baptized, and then engaged, and my fiancée and I were looking for a house to buy.  We found one that was close to a church, and I felt a distinct calling to give myself to Jesus and the church in a bigger way. It was such a compelling wonderful feeling, to have that calling.

I think the blind man responded to a calling, even though he didn’t know who Jesus was at that point.  It’s interesting, because Jesus usually healed someone based on their faith.  But in this case, the blind man didn’t have faith.  Later, Jesus went back to find him, and asked him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The man replied, “Who is he?”

The blind man didn’t have faith.  But he was willing and open.  He could keep it simple. Here’s the crazy thing about what Jesus’s statement to him.  It was just seven words long.  I think I would have used many more words, explaining that God was working, giving context.  Maybe there’s more that Jesus said, that isn’t recorded.  But the book of John records many long speeches given by Jesus.  That there isn’t a speech here, means he probably didn’t give one.  He just told the man to go wash.

It reminds me very much of the story of Elisha when he told Naaman to cure his leprosy by going and washing in the Jordan River. (II Kings 5) Elisha probably could have just prayed, and the leprosy would be gone.  But he wanted to see if Naaman was open and willing.  He wanted to see if Naaman could keep it simple, set aside his pride, and just follow the instructions.

I wonder if we make it harder for people sometimes, by using many words.  Maybe we need to be like Jesus in this, and just give them the Word, and see if they are going to obey.

Maybe we need to leave room for the calling.

Maybe they need to hear the tone of the calling.  For the blind man it was the tone of voice.  To the people we reach out to, it could be them seeing our life, how we care about them, and how firmly we believe.

What is Jesus very simply telling us to do today?  To follow him?  To make disciples?  To love others as he loves us?  To not worry?

How do we hear his calling?  Do we close our eyes to everything around us, so we can focus on listening?

How will we respond?  Are we open and willing?

Here’s one last application I want to make with this.  I’ve been reading this great book called, “Men and Like Waffles — Women are Like Spaghetti.”  The authors explain in the book how men are like waffles, because waffles have a series of boxes in them, and men like to deal with life one box at a time.  Woman are like spaghetti, because, to them, everything is connected to something else, and it gets get long and complicated.

I sometimes think that my husband should be more like me.  When I look at an issue, I look at every factor connected to it.  I think that you need to consider every nuance before making a decision.  And that’s certainly good.

But maybe there’s a reason that God made men to be more simple and direct in their decision making.  Yes, they should consider the extenuating factors.  But they can quickly decide what needs to be done, and do it.

So sisters, maybe there’s something we need to learn from men here!  Sometimes Jesus wants us to be able to be simple and direct, to quickly decide what needs to be done, and just do it!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and Christmas is just around the corner.  I have several balls in the air.  I am telling you, I tend to make every one of them very complicated! Even now, as I write this, my mind is on how this person is doing, and that thing that needs to be done!

“Go, wash in the pool of Saloam.” May Jesus’s words be a challenge to all of us to keep it simple.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, even if you are social distancing.  Enjoy your blessings.  Be present. Focus on the wonderful moments you have.

Sending love to you all.

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Filed under John, Red Letter

When God Allows Adversity

 “Now as Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth, and His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)

I love this red letter verse.  It says that God allowed something undesirable to take place so that he could work in that situation and be glorified.

This concept fits in wonderfully with what God has been teaching me lately.   I’ve been thinking and praying about how to build my life coaching business.  One of the main questions I’ve been asking myself is, “In twenty years, what will I look back on and be glad that I did, and not regret?”

And the answer I’ve found is that I want to go on adventures with God, following wherever he leads me, and letting him use me for his purposes.  That will be thrilling and fulfilling!

But it will also mean laying my life at his feet every day, and being totally open to doing whatever comes up.  It will mean shaking off the stodginess, praying bold prayers, and expecting God to work in amazing ways.  We’re reading Kit Cummings, “Forty Days of Prayer” right now as a church, and that’s helping me to see how stale I’ve been in my faith.

Yet, it will be worth it.  To me, it’s immensely gratifying to feel led by God to do something, and to see him working.  I don’t want to have significant achievements for the sake of my own ambition.  Whatever I do, I want to do it with God. Then it’s so much more meaningful.

And that’s the same kind of thinking that we find in today’s red letter verse.  Jesus could see God behind the scenes.  He felt led to the blind man, and knew that God was going to work and be glorified.

Oh, to live this out more and more!

There’s just one question for me — what about when God doesn’t seem to be working? What was it like for the blind man?  Did he wonder why God allowed him to be blind?  Did it make him feel like God didn’t care for him as much as others?  Did he feel ashamed and forgotten?  Year after year, he couldn’t see.  He had no hope of improvement.

We’ve all been in situations that are undesirable, and have maybe even wondered why God allowed us to continue that way for so long.  We’ve all felt like there was no hope for change, the obstacles were just too great.

Why does God allow us to go through long periods of pain and heartache, when things aren’t working out, and look like they never will?  Jesus’s answer was that God allows us to go through challenges so that he can be seen and glorified.  God can be glorified as he changes our impossible situation, as he did with the blind man. Or he can be glorified as he gives us the fortitude to persevere through our challenges, as Paul had when he experienced his thorn in the flesh, and realized that God’s grace is sufficient (II Cor 12:9), and “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Phil 4:13)

How different would it be if we looked at our challenges as opportunities for God to be glorified?  I love that Paul said, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Phil 1:20

Maybe facing these adversities is part of the adventure.  In believing that the challenges were opportunities, Jesus wasn’t intimidated or paralyzed by them.  He faced them, knowing that God was active, and at his side.  He and God were going on a quest together, advancing the Kingdom.  He saw each obstacle as the next battle he needed to face, and he expected that he and God would fight it together and have a victory.

I definitely want to have this mindset more.  I want to see the challenges I face as part of the adventure, and have joyful anticipation that God and I will fight through them and he will be glorified.

Here’s one adventure God’s taken me on lately.  In February, our church lost its ministry leaders.  In March, we entered full blown pandemic, and started worshipping from home.  I really wondered how the church would survive, but it’s been amazing.  We’ve had virtual speakers on Sundays we never would have had without us being on zoom.  Our women, who live in cities 50 miles in one direction and 50 miles in another, are unified in ways they wouldn’t have been, because we now get together virtually and see each other on Thursday nights.  Our married group has been getting together regularly.  We’re studying the Bible with all kinds of people in all kinds of places on zoom. It’s been tough, but God is being glorified in amazing ways.

Marrieds Fellowship

Recent baptism

One of our virtual speakers for church, Milton Drake.

So I can see that right now, yet, when I face the next health challenge, relationship challenge, or other other life challenges, my inner voices still say, “It’s not going to work, it’s going to stink.”

May I learn more and more to hear Jesus say, “Take my hand and I’ll lead you through this adventure.”

“This happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him.”

Twenty years from now, I’ll be so glad that I didn’t get bogged down in fear, comfort-seeking, or self pity, but instead opened myself up to go on adventures with God.

I’ll know that I’ve been a part of something bigger than myself.

I’ll know that I’ve been able to watch the Lord of the universe work wonders.

It will be hard to fight against having “blind from birth” thinking.  Yet if I can break through to Jesus’s way of looking at things, it will be immensely gratifying.

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Filed under Faith, John, Red Letter

The Power of the Truth

At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

Jesus replied, If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:52-58)

I’m in a great small group right now.  Some friends and I are reading the best selling book, “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and helping one another use the principles in the book for personal and spiritual growth.

One point the book makes that’s surprising to me is that the truth is a boundary. The authors say,  “Knowing the truth about God and his property puts limits on you and shows you his boundaries.  Realizing the truth of his unchangeable reality helps you define yourself in relation to him.  When he says that you will reap what you sow (Gal 6:9), for example, you either define yourself in relation to that reality, or continue to get injured if you try to go against it.”

Putting this into simpler terms, truths shape our actions.  The truths that God is good, loving and merciful, but also has words he expects us to live by, have an impact on what we decide to do.  We will say yay or nay to behavior, based on these truths.

So that makes it very significant that Jesus defined the truth about himself so clearly in today’s red letter passage.  He said that he has always been around, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”   He used, “I AM” to describe himself, the same phrase that God used in Exodus 3:14,  when he said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

Thus, as the Jews were wriggling, trying to refute him at every turn, Jesus finally pulled out the big guns. He told them he had the same divinity as God.

And they had to decide what they would do with this truth.  They could start becoming real followers of Jesus, or they could keep trying to find reasons that they wouldn’t have to change.

I can relate to how intimidating it might have felt to become a follower of Jesus at that time.  He required so much.  It wasn’t enough to believe in him.  You had to “hold” to his teachings. (John 8:31) And his teachings were hard, and difficult to understand, like the time he told them they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. (John 6:53)

For me, it’s easy to worship and adore God.  He made the whole universe, which is filled with so much amazing beauty.  He controls everything.  But it’s harder for me to regard Jesus in the same way.  I see the man who walked on earth and always did everything perfectly.  I think that he would look at me and say that I fall far short of his example.

But here’s the thing.  Jesus didn’t go around condemning everyone who didn’t act as he did.  It was more like he asked them to walk with him and learn from him how to act.

Jesus was the “I AM,” He had the same divinity as God.  But he wasn’t unapproachable.  Instead, he invited people to come close to him.

Today, let’s remember that we don’t just have to imitate Jesus.  We can walk with him, and he will teach us to be like him.

He’s absolutely amazing, divine, the I AM.  But he’s also kind, gentle and welcoming.

These are the truths about Jesus that can shape our actions, if we will embrace them.

And as we reflect these truths in our lives, that will shape the actions of others.

Jack Frederick lives in Atlanta, but he helps a lot with our church, and often drives two hours to come spend time with us.  He habitually calls and prays with our members. He frequently brings a young man, Justin, with cerebral palsy with him.   His example of sacrificial love inspires us to do the same.

Jack, at one of our outdoor services, with our members, Markeya Thomas.

Ben Acosta was our speaker at church this past Sunday.  His wire, Joann, sat next to him and also provided much good input.  The Acostas now live in the Washington DC area, and came to us virtually.  When they lived in Alabama, they were a part of our church, and led a wonderful house church in the town of Enterprise, two hours away.  It was the most warm, family-like group.  Ben and Joann talked to us about unity, and gave many examples of it from their time as a part of the “Wiregrass House Church.”  Their lives inspire us as well.

Members of the Wiregrass Housechurch

That was Jesus’s plan, wasn’t it?  He came to be the truth.  This shaped the lives of his followers, and they in turn shaped others’ lives, and this continued to spread.

Jesus said Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing his day.  This would be the day when God’s promises to the patriarch would finally be fulfilled in totality.  His descendants would be as numerous as the sands on the shore.  All nations would be blessed through him.  That is what happens when the truth of Jesus spreads.

As Christians, like Jesus, we know the Father.  We know his word and his will.  We know the truth.  It’s just up to us to decide every day if we will act on it or try to find reasons we don’t have to act on it, as the Jews in this passage did.

May we embrace it, and be a part of the grand plan that was set in motion ages ago and is finally coming into fruition.  It’s not beyond us.  We can do it, because we have the big guns — the truth that Jesus is the I AM.

Me with Justin Soriano

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Filed under John, Red Letter

The Context of Obedience

Ken and me on a hike.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”  John 8:51

This is a great verse to break down.

First, Jesus stressed that he was telling them the truth.  He did this often.  But he said it so people would pay attention and give great weight to his words.  It’s a call to attention for us as well.

Second, Jesus stressed the importance of obeying his words.  This statement brought his conversation with the Jews full circle.  It started in John 8:31 , when he told the Jews who “believed” him, “If you hold to my teachings, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   Finally, after a lot of discussion, Jesus brought back up the point that his followers must implement his teachings, and not just believe.

Third, Jesus said that following him would actually result in eternal life.  This was such a radical statement.  I think we don’t appreciate how wild it would have been for a rabbi to say to his followers that if they really followed his teachings, they would never die.  It would have sounded completely crazy and implausible.  Who could have the power to say such a thing?  And that’s that point.  Jesus was trying to tell them who he was.  Jesus was more than a teacher, or even a prophet.  He could lead them to eternal life.  He could set them free from sin.

What I think is interesting, is that Jesus tied obedience to receiving these things.  “If you hold to my teachings. . . the truth will set you free.”  “Whoever obeys my word will never see death.”  But it makes sense, because he was (and is) the Son, not just a teacher or a prophet.  The only way to treat the Son would be with honor and obedience.  In my last blog, I wrote about how Jesus only sought to honor the Father.  Here, Jesus expected his followers to honor him.  He expected obedience and deep respect, as he gave to the Father.  He was telling them that they needed to be complete followers, not just believers.

Yet there’s one other point I want to make about obedience and eternal life.  And that’s that Jesus didn’t just want them to acquiesce to his commands.  It wasn’t just transactional, where they would obey, and he would give them eternal life.  His heart’s desire was for them to be with him and cherished forever.  His last prayer on earth was, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:75).  And his most famous words are, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

My husband and I have  had a great time over the last few days.  On Saturday, we went exploring, hiking and then treated ourselves to some incredible ice cream.  On Monday, it was his 60th birthday.  I cooked him a special dinner.  I gave him a funny card, and some presents I thought he would like.  We watched our favorite vloggers (Kara and Nate!) and had a very nice evening together.

I invest in my relationship with my husband.  I make him a priority.  I give to him and intentionally spend quality time with him.  And there’s a huge benefit.  We have a wonderful marriage.  You could say it’s transactional, but it’s so much more than that.

And that’s what I think Jesus was trying to get his followers to see.  They were to show allegiance to him.  They would receive huge benefits.  But it was so much more than that.  There was heart behind it.  He wanted to be family.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”  John 8:51

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves, based on today’s red letter passage:

  • Do we regard Jesus’s words as real truth?
  • Do we make obedience important, even vital?
  • Do we see Jesus as the one who can bring us eternal life?
  • Do we see that obedience is necessary to receive eternal life?
  • Do we honor Jesus, and make him a priority?
  • Do we intentionally invest in our relationship with him?
  • Do we see that his heart is to love us, bless us, and be with us forever?

Jesus stressed that he spoke the truth, and we very much need these truths:

That Jesus is totally amazing in who he is.

That Jesus is totally amazing in what he has the power to do.

That Jesus is totally amazing in what he wants to do for us.

Our part and our response to this is obedience.  But because of all of this amazingness, obedience is far from being a burden.  It’s a privilege.  It’s the way we roll.  It’s the way we love him.

May we take these thoughts with us as we walk through our day.

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, John, Obedience, Red Letter

The One Who Seeks Our Glory

Honoring God in worship this past Sunday.

The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.”  (John 8:48-50)

This red letter passage brings up a couple of questions.  Why would the Jews accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan?  One reason could be that Jesus traveled through Samaria (John 4), a region that was considered unholy. Respectable Jews didn’t go there.  That Jesus did go there could have made the Jews suspicious that the Samaritans were his homies.

Why did the Jews say Jesus had a demon?  From other passages in the Bible, we know that those who had an evil spirit in them could have supernatural powers.  For instance, in Acts 16, there was a slave girl with a “spirit of divination” who could tell the future, and Paul cast this spirit out of the girl.  So it makes sense that some Jews could have attributed Jesus’s ability to do miracles to a demon, not God.  It might even be that Samaria was known for having people with supernatural powers.  Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 18) was a Samaritan, and he astounded everyone with his magical acts.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the Jews considered the reprobate Samaritans to have citizens who consorted with demons.

But regardless of why they saw him as they did, there’s no doubt that the Jews flat accused Jesus of being evil.  They put him on a par with the worst things in their culture — Samaritans and demons.

What we’re looking at in today’s study is Jesus’s reply.  He said his focus was on honoring God.  His use of the word “honor” had heavy implications.  It wasn’t just giving props.  The same word was used in the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”  In the Jewish law, you were to obey your parents in childhood, and always treat them with deep respect.  If you cursed your mother or father, the penalty was death. So when Jesus said he honored his heavenly Father, it meant that he obeyed and deeply respected him.

Our dictionary today defines honor as, “regarding with great esteem.”   That definition applies to Jesus as well.  He treated God like he was of prime importance.  Really, as we look at all of the ways Jesus acted towards God, we can see that, for him, everything he did was all about God.

We see such a purity of heart in the way Jesus honored God.  Jesus said earlier in John 7:18, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”  And then he said in today’s reading, “I do not seek my own glory.” 

Isn’t it ironic that Jesus, in pureness of heart, gave honor where honor was due, yet the Jews accused him of being impure?  No wonder Jesus told them, “You dishonor me.”  It was a huge insult to his integrity, indeed, to his very identity.

Today, our challenge is to imitate the heart of Jesus towards God.  We can do that by obeying his word, deeply respecting him, making him the most important thing in our life, and making everything we do about him.

Our challenge is also to resist the temptation to seek our own glory, look for attention, star in the conversation, or get recognition for achievement.

I’ve been really working on this.  If someone is talking, and it’s burning in me to say my piece, I’m trying to let the others have their say first.  And if I don’t get a turn, I thank God that I can be humbled.

As I pray in the mornings for my daily bread, I ask God to meet my need for productivity and affirmation.  I know that if I don’t look to him to meet this need, I’ll seek to meet it on my own.  Because in my human nature, I want to be large and in charge.  I want to be admired.  I’m so afraid of being inadequate, or failing.

I believe God wants to meet this need!  Jesus said, “But there is one who seeks it (my glory),” and I don’t think this applied to just him.  At other times, he maintained, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matt 23:12, Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14) And that means I can trust God to take care of my inner need for significance.

The thing is, Jesus went on to finish his statement, “But there is one who seeks it,” with “and he is the judge.”  Jesus wanted to make sure that his listeners knew there was a Judge, with a capital “J.”  Knowing that puts honor and glory into perspective.  As Jesus said in Luke 12:4-5, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.”

If we seek to honor ourselves, or gain honor from others, we gain nothing in the end.  But if we seek to honor God, we gain everything, because we gain eternity.

Let’s look at some descriptions of the glory that God wants us to gain.

  •  The right to eat from the tree of life. Rev 2:7
  • The hidden manna. . .  a white stone inscribed with a new name, known only to the one who receives it. Rev. 2:17
  •  Authority over the nations.  Rev 2:26
  • Our name never blotted out from the book of life. Rev 3:5
  • Becoming a pillar in the temple of God, which he will never again leave .  Rev 3:12
  • The right to sit with Jesus on his throne. Rev 3:21
  • The inheritance of all things, and he will be our God, and we will be his child.  Rev 21:7

So let’s remember that, just like in Jesus’s time, there will always be haters in the world.  Sometimes, we’ll get no love.

Our response can be the same as Jesus: to have laser focus on the honor of God.

And our comfort is that our God, whose glory is as infinite as the universe, has a heart just as big. He seeks to give us a glory that’s far more than we could ever get on earth.

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Filed under Holiness, John, Red Letter

When We Need the Truth

It was good to get out of the house a couple of days ago, and run an errand, and visit a friend.  It nourished my heart. I’ve experienced pockets of moodiness lately.  I’m not completely sure why.  But I think one reason is that I’ve been putting my hope in the wrong things.

Today’s red letter passage, as I’ve studied it out and meditated on it, has been very helpful.  It’s John 8:45-47.

“But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you can prove Me guilty of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:45-47)

Jesus spoke the truth, with a capital “T.”  The way he would state something was, “Truly, I say to you.”  Maybe you’re like me, and you’re so used to this that you take it for granted.  Yet, as I think about it, it’s amazing.  I counted 33 times in the book of Matthew, and 50 times in the book of John, where Jesus said, “Truly.”   And in the book of John, Jesus usually said it twice, “Truly, truly,” as if to emphasize that what he was saying was the real deal.

Do we really appreciate what it means that Jesus spoke the truth with a capital “T?”  The Jews certainly didn’t.

Today, the idea of truth gets murky.  The public forums have become a hotbed of hostile debate over what’s true, and what you should value and believe.  There are conservatives and liberals, both saying that they’re right and the other party is wrong.  There are issues like Black Lives Matter, abortion,  LGBT rights, and gun control, where proponents of a view insist that they are promoting the truth.

So if I put the truth of Bible scriptures out there, won’t it just become another topic for debate? That’s not what I want.  It’s a real problem that the current climate has reduced the scriptures to talking points, something everyone takes a position on.  People take the Bible with a grain of salt, as they do news stories and social media posts.  There’s this air of skepticism.  Everything becomes subjective.

Yet, Jesus made it absolutely crystal clear that he spoke the objective truth, not the subjective.  What should that mean for us?

It means that we need to read for ourselves ALL of the words that Jesus spoke, so we can know what it is that he claimed to be truths.

It means that we need to ask ourselves, “Do I believe these words?”  Jesus said that those who belong to God hear the truths and believe them.  So if we’re having trouble believing, we may be having trouble with our allegiance.   It’s not uncommon to start thinking like the world, without even realizing it.  We’re surrounded by it.  It’s going to permeate our minds. As we read the Bible, we may need to shake all of the world’s voices out of our heads, and listen to it as to the very voice of God, the Son and the Spirit.

It means that, if we believe the words, we need to decide what we’re going to do with it.  Will we keep it?  Will we hold to the teachings, as Jesus told those who believed in him to do?

It’s so important to follow the Truth.  The words Jesus spoke weren’t arbitrary.  Their purpose is to tell us how to live our life.  They’re the instruction manual. They’re meant to keep us from bloodshed and harm.

Think about it.  If people had really kept Jesus’s words, would there have been the Crusades?  Would there have been the horrors of Nazi Germany? Would there have been slavery?

If people really kept Jesus’s words, would we have as much pain today?  Would there be the emotional damage we experience as a result of all kinds of abuse, neglect and just plain selfishness?

Keeping the Truth makes life work.  And the Truth isn’t just the words we need to obey.  It’s the words we need to take to heart, like “Whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.”  (John 6:36)  Or, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”  (John 10:10)  Or, “In this world you will have many troubles.  But take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

There’s so much power in Jesus’s words.  Will we allow ourselves to get fuzzy about them, or see clearly that he spoke the truth with a capital “T?”

Here’s one practical application.  With the election coming up, we’re barraged daily with messages.  Someone I know, Fenton Gardner, reposted the statement below, and I thought it was spot on.  It reminds us to hold to the Truth, and not let the world infiltrate our thinking.

Fenton listed these scriptures to accompany each of these points:

  • YHWH is God. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
  • The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the gospel. (Mark 1:1)
  • Jesus is the Messiah. (Matthew 16:16)
  • The church/body of Christ is the church. (Romans 16:16, Colossians 1:18)
  • Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
  • The return of Jesus and being resurrected from the dead is our hope. (Titus 2:13)
  • Becoming fishers of men and making disciples of all nations is our mission. (Mark 1:17, Matthew 28:19-20)

In this time of turmoil,  our country does need good leaders who will implement positive changes.  But let’s not forget that what it needs most is the Truth.

Part of the reason I’ve been out of sorts lately is because I’ve let myself slide into looking for hope in the wrong places.  It’s so easy for this to happen, without even realizing it.  We look to politics, to the latest podcast or book, to health regimens, to fashion and beauty products, to home remodels, to projects, to career accomplishments, or to gaining followers on social media.  And these things can be great, but they can also take over our hearts.  They scratch an itch, and we want more.  After awhile, we feel grumpy and unsatisfied.

The itch can only be satisfied in the Truth.  That’s what we must look to. That’s where we belong.

Jesus spoke amazing, nourishing, clarity-bringing, life-fixing words.  But we sometimes take them for granted.  Sometimes we let their significance get cloudy.

Today, throughout the day, I’m going to remember and write down Jesus’s words,and keep them before me.  May we all take a fresh look at Jesus’s words, and then decide to believe them and live them out.

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The Power of Acknowledging the Past

My brother and I at my high school graduation.

Jesus replied . . . “I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared.

“No, Jesus replied, for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.”

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”

Jesus told them, If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  (John 8:38-44)

Man, this must have felt so insulting.  I’m trying to imagine someone coming to me in my younger days and saying, “You think you’re all tight with God, but I see the Devil all over you.”  I would have been very hurt and upset.

The Jews must have been completely rocked.  In their minds, they were keeping the law and honoring God.  And instead of commending them,  Jesus told them that their father was the devil and they had broken the 10 commandments.

It’s very sobering to think that Jesus would have said the same to us before we became Christians.  Because we also were children of the devil.

It took me awhile to see and admit this.  I remember telling myself when I was studying the Bible, “My sins aren’t so bad.  I mean, I just do what everyone does, kick up my heels a little.  I’m basically a good girl.  I’m not as bad as others.”

But how was I different than the Jews that Jesus condemned?  I lied at times, so I was a liar.  I loved to do many things that God calls evil, like getting high, or reading smutty books, or being immoral.  I didn’t kill anyone, but I had animosity towards people, so according to Matthew 5, I was still in the doghouse.  Plus, Jesus had to die because of my sins, so in a sense, I was culpable for his death.

There’s a real sting and shame in knowing that I once belonged to the Devil.  But that acknowledgement is also good and necessary.  Because when we know what we were, and contrast that with what we are now, we can have an endless source of gratitude.

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. . . . But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that he made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins –it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:1-5, abridged)

I’ve been praying with an online group that prays for brothers and sisters all over the world who are struggling with Covid 19.  Each session, the group also thanks God for every person who was healed, a list that’s become several hundred names long.  Sometimes I find myself wishing that we didn’t have to always express gratitude for each healed person.  It takes so long.  Couldn’t last week’s thanks be enough?  Or could we thank God in general for all of the answered prayers?

But if I had been one of those people who had been in ICU for days, on the razor’s edge of death, wouldn’t it have felt like the most amazing thing ever to be healed and out of the hospital?  Wouldn’t I want to thank God every day that I was alive?

Medical staff celebrates as Covid 19 patient who was on ventilator is discharged.

That’s how we should feel that we once belonged to the Devil, but now we belong to God, that we once were dead in our sins, but now we are alive with Christ.  It’s an amazing miracle.  It’s humbling.  We were on the razor’s edge of Hell, and Jesus brought us back from the brink.

A week ago, my friend Christina came over, and as we visited, she told me how she survived Hurricane Katrina.  She was living in the 9th Ward when the levy gave way, and one of her family members happened to have a neighbor with a 3 story house.  She and others in her family waded through waist deep rising waters to this neighbor’s house and lived 4-5 days on the 3rd story until they were evacuated by helicopter.  If they hadn’t have had that neighbor to stay with, it’s very possible that they would have perished, as many around them with 1 or 2 story houses did.

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Residents of the 9th Ward in Katrina flooding.

Christina could have died, but she didn’t.  Not only does she have life, but it’s life changing to realize how close she came to losing it.

So as we read back over Jesus’s words to the Jews, may it be life changing for us to realize how close it could have been, and what a gift it is that we were snatched out of the jaws of death, and given eternal life.

Here are three takeaways from today’s red letter passage:

  1. That Jesus sees those in sin as children of the Devil, belonging to him.
  2.  That we also at one point were in sin, and were children of the Devil.  (Romans 3:23)
  3. That the Jews were an example of the wrong kind of heart.  They resisted Jesus’s teaching about sin.  We should acknowledge this and the full implications of it.
  4. That acknowledging where we were, contrasted with where we are now, can and be a source of unending gratitude.

It’s funny.  The older I get, the more clearly I see the sins of my youth.  (Not to say I don’t sin now!)  I have compassion on my younger self,  but also know I made some pretty foolish choices.  And I had a stubborn prideful streak that got me in more trouble.  Wow.  By the grace of God, I was placed on the most wonderful trajectory.  I am so glad that I didn’t fumble and bump through the years by myself.  How empty I would be now, instead of full and overflowing!  May this spur me to praise God always, through every storm.

“However, you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not God’s people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10  GWT)

My senior prom.

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Filed under Forgiveness, Gratitude, John, Red Letter, Sin

The Assurance of Transformation

Jesus replied,“Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36)

Do you ever feel like you’re inadequate as a Christian?  I know I do.  I just studied with a friend of mine, and as she got close to baptism, I got anxious.

“What’s wrong?” I asked myself.  “I should be excited.”

But then I realized that I felt uneasy because I thought I would mess it up, that I wasn’t enough to make someone a good Christian.

Of course, I needed to remember that it was about God, not me.  But we probably all feel at times that we don’t have it in us to be what we should be.

That’s why today’s red-letter verse is so cool.  Let me break it down for you.  Jesus told the Jews that they were slaves to sin.  Earlier in the conversation, they protested, saying, “But we are the descendants of Abraham, and we have never been anybody’s slaves.”  In essence, they were saying that were children of God’s promise to Abraham, and as such, they were God’s chosen people.  So they couldn’t be slaves!

Jesus made it plain that being one of God’s chosen people wasn’t enough.  He also made it plain in verse 31 that just believing in him wasn’t enough.  He described a stark contrast between his listener’s situation and his. They were not “permanent members of the family”.  He was.

There’s the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”  Haven’t you seen that to be true?  In Jesus’s day, people had servants who worked for them and were considered a part of their household.  Yet the servants never had the rights that the family had. Today, it’s still true that family members have rights that others don’t. For instance, if one family member passes away and they don’t have a will, the judge will give their possessions to other family members.

So there was only one way for a bonded servant who was a part of a household to be set free.  A family member had to release them.  That’s what Jesus was saying: “If the Son sets you free . . . “

But Jesus was being metaphorical.  He wasn’t talking about an actual slave in a household being freed.  He was talking about someone who was a slave to sin being freed. And being freed was more than no longer being under sin’s power. It meant that they no longer belonged to the devil.  Because that was their status.  Jesus said in verse 44, “You belong to your father, the devil.”

Thus, when Jesus said they would be “free indeed,” he underscored the amazing nature of the freedom he was offering.  They could be transformed from being slaves of the devil to becoming actual children of God.

So this is where the cool application for us today comes in.  I love the idea of being transformed!  I believe that we undergo a transformation when we’re baptized and born of the water and the Spirit.  But what’s super encouraging to me is that this passage shows me that there’s also transformative power in the Word.  Just before this, Jesus said, You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)  There’s something about the process of being faithful to the Word that liberates us.

I think it’s the same sort of thing that’s in John 15:5, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.  Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing.”

We’re transformed when we stay plugged into the source.

So, yes, we will have times when we feel inadequate. But we can also have the calm assurance that we will get there, if we stay with the program – and that means His program, not our slant on it.

We’re saved.  We’re God’s children.  We’re “free indeed.”  Yet part of this is also being continually shaped to become more like Christ, “destined from the beginning to be molded into the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29 AMPC)

And knowing that calms our anxious hearts.

When we were studying the Bible, my friend expressed insecurities.  A magical breakthrough verse for her was, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion.” (Phil 1:6)

That’s what today’s red letter passage means to me.  Jesus is the transformation king.  He brings us what we need, so we can be what we need to be.  As the Son, he’s the ONE who can get us there.

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Filed under John, Peace, Red Letter

Belonging

Who are You?” they asked.

“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. I have much to say about you and much to judge. But the One who sent Me is truthful, and what I have heard from Him, I tell the world.”

They did not understand that He was telling them about the Father.  So Jesus said, When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me. He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him.”

As Jesus spoke these things, many believed in Him.  (John 8:25-30)

This coming weekend, we have a special family get together planned. All of my children and their significant others, and my grandchildren will be together.

It’s something I look forward to more than anything else.  I miss my children keenly.  I love my current life, and it’s deeply fulfilling.  Yet my heart longs for that time when the children were at home, and we were a solid unit.  There was a very deep sense of identity, that we were a family together then.

Now, we ‘re scattered. And we’re still a family.  But that cohesive identity of us as a unit isn’t the same.  We each have our own lives.  I miss being one with my children, and it feels like an arm or leg has been cut off.

Some of it has to do with a sense of belonging.  Our family is who we are.  It’s where we belong.

And that’s what I’m thinking about as I read today’s red letter passage.  Jesus had a very strong sense of belonging with his Father.  His overarching identity was as his Father’s son.  He did nothing without his Father.  He spoke nothing but what his Father taught him  He was completely connected with God.

Do we have this very strong sense of belonging with God?  Is that our identity?

We have to realize that we don’t belong to the world.  Trying to fit into it will only leave us frazzled and empty.

We don’t belong to others.  Trying to please them is a never ending treadmill.

We don’t even belong to ourselves.  I tell you, I can be a hard master.  I can tell myself that I’m never good enough.

The only place we really belong is with God.

“Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”  (I Peter 2:25)

That’s what Jesus felt.  He only wanted to please God. God was his Father.  He didn’t obey him just for the sake of obedience.  He loved his father with all of his heart, and was completely devoted to him.

I really want to understand this better.  Because I can’t just feel comfortable and safe with God sometimes.  Surely he isn’t pleased with me.  Surely I should be doing more, doing better.

Brene Brown wrote, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

How can I increase my self acceptance?  The best way has to be by believing that God accepts me.

There’s a really touching children’s book by Max Lucado called “You Are Special.”  It’s about small wood people called Wemmicks,  carved by a wood carver named Eli.   At one point Eli reassures one of the wood people, Punchinello, who sees himself as flawed because that’s how others see him, “What they think doesn’t matter.  All that matters is what I think.  And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello asks, “Why do I matter to you?”  And Eli replies, “Because you’re mine.  That’s why you matter to me.”

The book illustrates what God feels about us.  God reassures us, “You’re special.  You’re mine.  That’s why you matter to me.”

We are His, wonderfully created.  And so we can accept ourselves.

We don’t belong because we do all of the right things.  We do the right things because we belong.

So as I spend time with my family this weekend, may that wonderful feeling of belonging that I have with them remind me of the feeling I can have with I’m with God.  He is home.

I’m going to be honest.  I’m not there yet all of the time.  But I want to get there more.

Here are a few practical ways to see God more as the place we belong:

  1. Study out the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32)
  2. Meditate on Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
  3. Pray the Lord’s prayer, remembering that it starts with calling God, “Father,” or more literally, “Daddy.”
  4. Pray that the Spirit will teach us. “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4:6. Also Romans 8:15)
  5. Repent daily of belonging to the world, to others, or to ourselves.
  6. Stay connected to God and Jesus.  Remain in him.  Walk in the Spirit.
  7. Practice the Greatest Commandment.  Love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind.

It’s this last one that I want to focus on in closing.  I’ve realized that I am not going to feel like I belong to God, unless my heart belongs to him.  I know that should be a no brainer, but there are so many times I try to convince myself that he loves me and accepts me, like these are the requirements for me to then believe in him and love him. When I just blindly pour myself out in love to him, it all comes together.

This devotion is what Jesus had.  The context of today’s red letter passage is that Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, and the Pharisees were challenging him.  He made the claim that he was the light of the world, and they tried to undermine his testimony.  Yet, what’s so cool is that, even with the Pharisees throwing up a screen, many of the people believed in Jesus as he spoke.

Why did they believe in him? I believe it’s because he was single-minded.  He was so visibly all about God.

Jesus projected a pure heart towards God.  His identity was like a flood light.  It attracted others to him.

The more we belong to God, the more we will be the same way.

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Filed under John, Love, Red Letter

From Pressure to Contentment

Again He said to them, I am going away, and you will look for Me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

So the Jews began to ask, “Will He kill Himself, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

Then He told them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. That is why I told you that you would die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:21-24)

I’ve been trying to be consistant with reading through my Chronological Bible, but it’s not going very well!  Nevertheless, I was looking in it recently at the story of Joshua, and that reminds me so much of what Jesus is referring to in this red letter passage.  In Joshua 3:14-17, the company of Israelites came to the Jordan River, which was swelled at flood stage.  The priests with the ark stepped into the river, the water quit flowing, and the whole group of Israelites were able to cross over to take the Promise Land.

And that reminded me of a song we sing at church.  Some of the verses go like this:

Jordan River, I’m bound to cross. (Repeat 2x) 

I’ve got one more river to cross.

My mother she’ll be awaiting, but she can’t help me across.   (Repeat 2x)

I’ve got one more river to cross.

My Jesus he’ll be a waiting, and he can help me across. (Repeat 2x)

I’ve got one more river to cross.

The only thing is, that the song isn’t really about physically crossing the Jordan River.  It’s about dying, and being able to get to the other side.  Wow, that’s a little morbid.  But we’re encouraged as we sing it, because although no person can get us to heaven, Jesus can!  Just like the Israelites couldn’t get to the other side of the Jordan without the help of God working through his priests, we can’t get to the other side of life without our high priest, Jesus.

And that’s what Jesus was telling the Pharisees.  They were all puffed up about their righteousness, and that they knew everything, and always crossed every “t” when it came to the law. But all of that couldn’t keep them from dying in their sins.  It couldn’t get them to the other side of life.  Only belief in Jesus could do that.

What’s the practical application for us?

I think we need to look at how we can put our faith in doing the right thing, instead of  putting it in Jesus.  This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t do the right thing.  But it’s not the doing the right thing that’s going to get us anywhere.  It’s the trust in Jesus.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.  I hate to admit it, but many days, I wake up in a bad mood.  And I’ve realized that I’m in that mood because I feel so much pressure to do the right thing and make things happen that day.  Over the years, I’ve tried to remind myself over and over, “Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” (Ps 127:1)  I know that I can spin my wheels all day, and get nowhere, unless I’m looking to work in tandem with God.  But still, I wake up putting that pressure on myself.

It was wild that, at our women’s small group meeting this past week, many of the women said they were feeling the same kind of pressure to be perfect, or please people.  One woman quoted John 10:10, about how Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Isn’t that totally true?  Satan is trying to steal our joy, by making us focus on our performance, instead of Jesus.

Another talked about how it says in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of God or men?” and how she’s learning to serve an audience of one.  There again, if we give into the temptation to please people, we find ourselves losing our joy.

I absolutely loved the message preached yesterday by Jaylen Parks about what he learned during his last four years of college.  He shared how, at one point, he was feeling down in the dumps because he couldn’t do the things that he thought would make him “happy.”  But then he read Psalms 73, the whole passage, because it’s all so awesome.  It says, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Jaylen concluded that happiness is fleeting, but contentment is what we really need.  And contentment can only be found in God.  It’s the same with Jesus.  He gave us so many teachings like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,(Matt 11:28) and “My peace I give you.”  (John 14:27)

Here’s what’s earth shaking to me.  We need Jesus to get us to the other side of life.  We can’t get there any other way.  But we also need him to get to the other side of every day, every endeavor, and every challenge.  Our labor will be empty without him.  As he maintained, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Today, let’s go to Jesus as the one who can help us across — across the river of death to eternal life, and across the river of challenge to the abundant life that includes true productivity and contentment.

Peaceful times with family and friends.

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Filed under John, Joy, Red Letter