Criminals in the Kingdom

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two criminals. They were two different men with different attitudes, and two different outcomes. Their story, however, leads me to one conclusion: someday, there will be Criminals in the Kingdom of God.

criminals

Men Suffering From the Same Condition

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB)

This is another snapshot of an eyewitness report about Jesus, from another unlikely place. After he was unjustly tried and condemned, Jesus was taken to Golgotha, where he was crucified between two other men, both criminals who apparently had qualified for capital punishment. (Matthew calls them “robbers” but since theft did not warrant such a severe penalty, scholars say they must have been insurrectionists or repeat offenders. Luke calls them “criminals”.)

Two Criminals, Two Approaches

One of them taunted Jesus skeptically and challenged him to save them from crucifixion, while the other observed his behavior and declared that Jesus was guiltless. Three crosses: one man in the middle, two opposite opinions on either side. It’s a telling reminder that two people can see the exact same thing and disagree about what it means. One criminal looked at Jesus and exercised skepticism, demanding proof and instant gratification. “Save yourself and us!” He saw opportunity to make a getaway, but that was it. He was in effect demanding that God approach him on his own terms.

The other criminal was also hanging on a cross, and was in the same condition as the skeptic. He didn’t have long to live, and here he was being crucified next to the “King of the Jews”. However, he somehow exercised faith and saw Jesus as he truly was, able to wield authority: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He never read Hebrews 11:6, but he applied it anyway. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Hmmm… I wonder where those two guys are today. Come to think of it, where are YOU are today? Are you skeptical? Do you need instant gratification? Do you sometimes look at how difficult your circumstances are and shake your fist at God? Or do you say, “Lord, remember me”? No matter how tough things get, don’t lose faith. The King established his kingdom, and he has promised us a place in it. Therefore, remember Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” As one hopeful criminal to another, I’ll see you in the Kingdom someday!

Criminals in the Kingdom

When Christ was being crucified,
There were two thieves on either side.
One mocked him, but the other cried,
“Remember me in Paradise!”
Jesus heard his dying plea
While paying for his penalty,
And told him, “Son, you soon will be
In paradise today with me.”
If into heaven he was let–
A sinful man with much regret–
Because the King forgave his debt,
Then perhaps we’ll make it to heaven yet!
The only way to heaven is to bring
Our sin before the gracious, loving King.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Gratitude: Is It Something you Expect? Is It Something You HAVE?

Why do some people show gratitude, while others don’t?

“As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood in the distance and cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them he said, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:12-16, NIV)

A Surprising Story

gratitude

Ten lepers, who were outcast and marginalized men who could not mix with healthy people, were out on the outskirts of a village. They asked Jesus for mercy, and he gave them instructions that would both heal them and prepare them for reentry into everyday life. Once the priests saw they were free from leprosy, they could once again mingle with friends and family, hug their kids, and have a chance to live normal lives.

“Doctor” Luke points out that only the unclean and socially unacceptable Samaritan gave credit to God for his healing. The nine other formerly leprous men went on their way, probably too excited about going back to society to stop and say thank you. It may be that they felt entitled somehow, finally getting what they deserved after years of presumable injustice. It certainly is surprising that there wasn’t more gratitude expressed, but people can be a little self-absorbed…

So What Do We Make of This?

Two things here: Not everyone who meets Jesus is grateful, even when they experience healing because of Him. Sometimes we get so busy living our lives or even going to church that we forget how much we have to be grateful for. (How about this: DON’T FORGET! Regardless of where we are in life, it is good to have an attitude of gratitude!)

Secondly, some of the people you help along the way will not thank you for it. Jesus healed all ten, even though he was aware of their heart attitudes before he acted. Gratitude doesn’t always manifest itself the way we think it should, but remember: we shouldn’t do good just so that someone says, “Thank you”.

Our motivation for helping others is often wrong. We do good things in order to receive recognition, or to feel good about ourselves. Paul said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Why?

Like Paul, we should perform acts of kindness for the Lord’s sake, not for men’s approval. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he taught that our devotion to God should not be a matter of public pride, but something best kept between Him and us. Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18 all point to the same outcome: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Acts of kindness should be done for our Father with an expectation of gratitude, or regard for human response. Go out and commit some today.

Be Grateful

People are amazing. Sometimes, helping them exposes
That some will offer thanks, while others just turn up their noses…
Some will smile with thankfulness that bubbles up inside,
While others turn aside from their entitlement, or pride.
I pray that I may never be the one with such an attitude–
For health, for all I see, Lord, help me worship you with gratitude!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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A Sentence that wasn’t a Sentence: Pilate’s Backhanded Compliment to Jesus

One of the most unusual testimonies about who Jesus was is expressed in a short sentence that wasn’t a sentence: “I find no fault in this man.” Consider the reactions of Pontius Pilate and his wife:

“While he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19 NASB)

So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:3-4 NASB)

sentence

Surprising Testimony

Not all of the testimony in Jesus’ favor came from friends, or people he healed… You’d expect those folks to say that Jesus was somebody special, but why would someone from outside this inner circle say good things about him? These two Romans, who had no real personal concern about Jewish claims or religious arguments, encountered Jesus and evaluated him based on face value.

Pontius Pilate’s wife called Jesus a “righteous man”, and Pilate himself found no fault in him. Instead of finding an arrogant upstart or a shrewd political operator, Pilate found a humble, quiet man who refused to pontificate or even dispute the scurrilous claims against him. Jesus’ simple affirmation of the truth and his quiet dignity unsettled Pilate so much that he washed his hands of Jesus’ blood in front of everyone. Ironic that he wanted no part of Jesus’ death, but still sent him to the cross…

Which Sentence?

Here at the end of Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, Pilate uttered a sentence without ever actually pronouncing a sentence on the defendant. I’ve often wondered if, years later, retired and sitting on his porch in Italy, Pilate thought about Jesus and reflected about the things he said. “My kingdom is not of this world.” “I bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” “You have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above…” (John 18:36, 37; 19:11)

Did his wife ever say, “I told you so! I told you not to have anything to do with that rabbi!”? Did he ever experience anxiety over the role he played in sending Jesus to his death? He encountered the Son of God face to face and then still became culpable in his crucifixion. Can you imagine? But if you stop and think about it, isn’t that what many do today? Technically, isn’t that what we ALL have done? Since Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for sin, doesn’t that mean that all of us sinners participated in sending him to the cross? Don’t end up retired somewhere thinking, “Wow, I knew there was something different about Jesus. I should have treated him a little differently.” You’ll regret it.

A Most Uneasy Retirement

In an assignment far from home, caught between the Jews and Rome,
As politics and eternity swirled
in events that surely changed his world,
Pontius Pilate tried to choose, when any way he went, he’d lose…
Pilate tried to wash his hands of the Jewish King, this innocent man.
Events began he couldn’t halt, and so he said, “I find no fault!”
He knew the sentence wasn’t fair, but left his sentence hanging there
To add to Christ’s validity, recorded for posterity,
And echoed through eternity…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Curiosity Killed the Cat. Be Careful that it Doesn’t Have the Same Effect on You

As his ministry expanded, Jesus did some things that made folks curious. Because of their curiosity about who Jesus was, large crowds began to follow him. They were probably hoping to see a sign, or perhaps to get a free meal…

curiosity

When he challenged them to make a commitment, their curiosity wasn’t enough to keep them around. John described this reaction from the large crowds that were following Jesus. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. [John then brought the narrative closer to home.] “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 NIV)

Adoring Crowds or Accountable Commitment?

Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Many took it as a sign that he was the Messiah. And lots of curiosity-seekers hung around hoping for another free meal. Jesus then challenged all of them by teaching about the bread come down from heaven, and compared himself to manna.

Now, manna was God’s miraculous provision for Israel in the wilderness. They could connect the dots, and this would have been a claim that disturbed many of them. Each time they questioned him, he turned the conversation up a notch. He wasn’t there to satisfy their curiosity, He was on a mission. If you read through John 6, you can see the progression. When they asked Jesus how he got there, he challenged their motives for seeking him. When they asked him to show them a sign, Jesus claimed to be the bread come down from heaven.

curiosity

Hard Sayings Create Hard Choices

When they murmured among themselves, He said that he had come to be a sacrifice, and that salvation was only possible by partaking of his body and blood. To the Hebrew mind and sensibilities, this concept was forbidden and revolting. It was akin to cannibalism at best and heresy at worst. As Jesus began to teach more explicitly about who he was, many of his followers took offense. This wasn’t the kind of bread they were looking for! The curiosity seekers left, which was perhaps to be expected, but so did a number of disciples, people who were more familiar with Jesus and closer to his inner circle.

After they left, Jesus turned to the twelve and offered them a chance to leave as well. At that point, they all had a choice. They could simply move on, or they could move beyond curiosity to commitment. Peter’s somewhat bold personal testimony about Jesus is important. First, it indicated his belief that this man was not just a carpenter from Galilee. Peter saw and heard Jesus every day. He ate and lived with him. And yet, Peter called Jesus “the Holy One of God.” To me, that’s very explicit evidence from an eyewitness about who Jesus was.

Second, it is the statement that shows why a group of fishermen left everything behind to follow Jesus. These ordinary citizens and even a tax collector became transformed men. Their dogged faith would one day spread like wildfire. They gave their testimonies and even their lives to follow Jesus. The disciples couldn’t have possibly foreseen that one day their actions would topple the existing world order and replace it with mere Christianity.

You can ignore the evidence and forget all about Jesus, if you want to. But to whom shall you go?

Are You Curious About Evidence?

It calls us with temptation, and it killed the cat, they say.
But sometimes curiosity can lead us all astray.
As far as selfish seeking, it can be a tempting witch
Who casts a spell that makes us hunger just to scratch that itch!
Be careful that your constant search for instant gratification
Does not preclude your taking part in your beatification...
Jesus told the twelve they had to make a choice because
Commitment to his mission showed them more of who he was.
If you look hard at what he did, I'm sure that you will see
That Jesus was much greater than a curiosity...

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Resurrection: is It Quantity or Quality of Life That’s More Important?

Lazarus died, and his sister Martha was upset that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him. She made a bold request: Then said Martha unto Jesus, “Lord, if thou had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” Jesus saith unto her, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever lives and believeth in me shall never die. Believe thou this?” She saith unto him, “Yes, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:21-27 KJV)

(Sometimes I just have to keep some King James Version in here because I like rocking it old school. It’s what I grew up on as a Christian, and I still love its lyrical anachronisms…but I digress.)

The Devastating Delay

When Mary and Martha sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick, Jesus waited two days before coming to them in Bethany. In the meantime, Lazarus died. It’s not hard to imagine the scene at their home as the sisters waited anxiously for Jesus to come heal their brother, only to watch him slip away. They thought they had things under control, but their plans didn’t work out. It had to be emotionally devastating.

Ever been there? Things didn’t work out like you planned, and God didn’t do what you expected Him to? Lazarus had just died, and his sister Martha was distraught. (Her tone is even a little accusative, like “why did you take so long?” Have YOU ever asked God, “WHY?” Have you ever accused God of failure?) Martha let Jesus know he could have done better.

Even so, she expresses her confidence that Jesus has such a connection to God that he can do something miraculous, perhaps even a resurrection from the dead. Jesus comforts her with the statement that her brother will someday rise again. She believes in a traditional Jewish way, that Lazarus will experience resurrection at the last day. (Resurrection was a hot topic of debate between Sadducees and Pharisees—the Pharisees believed in it, but the Sadducees did not, which I’ve always heard is why they were Sad, you see…)

Expectations Delayed are not Necessarily Expectations Denied

Jesus challenges her traditional faith and asks her if she believes in HIM. Now, her brother is dead, and she has no way of knowing, like we all do, that Lazarus will come back to life. But she looks Jesus in the eye and gives testimony to who He is. “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

resurrection

You know the rest of the story. Lazarus came back to life after three days in the grave. He experienced new birth, new life, and a new beginning. It’s important to note that Lazarus’ resurrection was not eternal. He still lived a normal life and then died. But do you think perhaps that he appreciated life a little more the second time around? That he hugged a little harder and enjoyed his friends and family a little more? Experiencing resurrection–being brought from death into life–should do that, shouldn’t it? In that sense, EVERY believer is Lazarus, able to find joy in the resurrection that changes the quality of their lives…

In this case, Jesus changed the quality of Lazarus’ life and provided a solution outside of Martha’s control. Her lack of faith was keeping her from seeing the things that are possible with God. What is your traditional faith holding you back from? What have you lost that you wish you could have back? Why wait for pie in the sky when you die by-and-by? Eternal life is not a quantity of life, it is a QUALITY of life, and it has already been given to you. Look Jesus in the eye and let him know what you want. Something dear to you that you thought was lost might just come forth and live again. It might be time for a new beginning.

Eternal Musing

Will we be spending endless time just sitting on a cloud?
Will we employ eternity to sing our hymns out loud?
Or will we find that life is life with nothing now to bind it,
Just filled with God’s eternal growth around it and behind it?
For us to learn God’s heart and mind, the riches of His love,
I think eternity itself will not be long enough…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Proof: Some People Need to See It Before They’ll Believe in God

In today’s marketing consumer-driven world, people who sell products run focus groups and test markets to make sure they have all the proof before they go to market. Then they invest resources on the outcome. When they believe they have a winner, only then do they put their faith into their ad or product. So does faith come from proof? Or does true faith come BEFORE the proof is evident? Apparently faith back in Bible times was not as sophisticated as it is in our modern marketing world. Here are three examples of how that is so:

Some KJV Examples

“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean…” (Matthew 8:2, KJV)

“(And) The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed…” (Matthew 8:8, KJV)

“And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:28-29 KJV)

proof

Matthew 8 records three very different testimonies about Jesus. There is a leper asking to be cleansed; a Roman centurion who asks that a servant of his be healed; and two men possessed with demons who recognized Jesus and who identify him as the Son of God. These testimonies revolve around life-changing healing events, which certainly deserve our attention.

Put the Horse Before the Cart

Even though they are eyewitness accounts from people who come from very different elements of class and culture, all of them are notable for the same reason. Do you see what it is? Read the three verses again and see if you catch it. In each case, they affirm their utter belief that Jesus can do something miraculous BEFORE he has acted on their behalf. He had not yet healed the leper; the centurion’s servant was still at home sick; and the possessed men cry out about who Jesus was from the midst of their affliction.

It’s not, “Wow, Lord, thanks for what you did. NOW I believe.” It’s, “Lord, I believe, (Or, in the case of the possessed men, “I acknowledge who you are”) so I know you are going to do something amazing.” Over and over, curiosity seekers and Pharisees asked Jesus to “show me a sign”, and skeptics would hold back their faith, waiting for Jesus to prove who he was. People still do it today. But these people came to Jesus believing in him and confident that he could solve their problems. Then he did it.

Maybe we’ve got this faith thing backwards, and we are supposed to believe in Jesus not because of what he’s already done, but because of what he is about to do. Would your life change if you approached him the same way? “Lord, I believe. If you would just take me as I am, I know you can do something amazing.” Why not try it? It’s worked before.

Proof

“Show me proof of God”, they said, “Just show a little sign.
If there is a Creator, where oh where is the design?
You say that in the Bible I can find the Gospel truth:
I’ll believe in Jesus when you show a little proof!”
Faith dependent on results is just not faith at all;
Faith believes when evidence is really very small.
A miracle may help you see that Jesus is the one,
But faith believes in miracles before they’re ever done.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Eyewitness without Eyes: we didn’t see THAT Coming

We are looking at various eyewitness accounts about Jesus recorded in the Bible. If you want something more current, there is a great website called “I Am Second” that offers hundreds of personal eyewitness testimonies from people TODAY about what it’s like to encounter Jesus and to put him first in your life. It’s filled with people from every walk of life, including both celebrities and everyday people. They tell their stories simply and in the first person narrative, saying “this is what happened to me”. If you watch a few of them some of the first-hand reactions to Jesus are surprising, but they are compelling in both their content and presentation.

An Unexpected Reaction

In the Gospels there are also some great snapshots of eyewitness reactions to Jesus of Nazareth, including this one, which provides testimony from a place you’d least expect it: “Then he [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:31-34, NIV)

eyewitness

The eyewitness in this passage is not one of the people in the synagogue, even though they were amazed at his teaching, and it’s not Luke, who recorded it later for posterity. It’s not even the poor man who was possessed… For a clue as to its identity, read verse 34 again.

This eyewitness appears on the scene from almost out of nowhere with a startling affirmation about who Jesus was. It’s not surprising that people were amazed at his teaching. He spoke with authority. As a result what Jesus said contained so much truth that even the small portions of it we possess are still amazing to us today, twenty-one centuries later. (Small portions, you ask? Don’t forget that John ends his Gospel with this: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25)

“Out of this World” Recognition

What’s significant about this passage is the fact that He was recognized by the spirit who possessed a man in the Capernaum synagogue. This spirit called him by name and identified him as “the Holy One of God!” Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36 that He came to usher in a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one. If that statement was true, I guess it makes sense that a spirit would recognize a spiritual king and know about who he was. You may not acknowledge a spirit world, but I’ll tell you this: the spirit world acknowledges you.

How often have you seen evil in our world that seems beyond human comprehension? (Think: Holocaust, mass murderers, senseless shootings…) If there is no evil spirit at work, why are there those who worship Satan or practice dark rituals? Second, there is evidence of evil taking place somewhere every day. I don’t think most of us even begin to know about places that Satan and his minions touch our world, but I bet you’ve seen evidence of it. Surely we can look around our world and see inhumanity because that’s exactly what it is. Humans act “inhuman”, motivated by forces beyond themselves. Consequently they achieve levels of evil that the average person doesn’t even think of.

I’m sure that onlookers in the synagogue at Capernaum had to be asking themselves, “Who was this man who taught with authority and was known by name to even the spirit world?” Do you ever wonder about that yourself? It’s a great question—read a few snapshots about Jesus this week and answer it for yourself.

Moving Time

I made my home here years ago, so cozy and secure;
I found myself a helpless host whose motives were impure,
Who followed my suggestions, stepping deeper into sin
So smoothly that he didn’t hesitate to let me in!
Capernaum has really been a great place to reside.
The coastal vibe is nice, and there are places we can hide.
The synagogue gives handouts, and they think my host is crazy–
Though truth be told, he’s really just inhabited, and lazy…
Wait! Who is THAT?! He hurts my eyes! My heart is seized with fear!
The Holy One of God?! What is HE doing way out here??
I’ve never felt a spiritual force so powerful and big;
I guess I’m gonna have to go and find another gig…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sight Doesn’t Necessarily Guarantee that You Can See

Jesus restored the sight of a man who had been born blind. The man didn’t really know much about his benefactor, but he rejoiced in his healing! The Pharisees were not so happy. They saw Jesus as an outsider, and were outraged that a marginal blind man would give him credit. Why do you suppose they saw things so differently?

“A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:24-25 NIV) In this event in John 9, Jesus heals a man who had been blind since birth. The common supposition around the temple would have been that he was born in sin, or that his parents committed some heinous sin that made them deserving of such a tragedy.

sight

Assumptions of the Worst Kind…

In the Hebrew culture, these poor parents would have lived not only with the burden of their son’s blindness but with also with condescension and judgment from the religious community. That’s what prompted the disciples’ question in verse two: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This unfortunate couple had been hearing those behind-the-back questions for years, and they lived in debilitating shame.

Jesus says the man’s loss of sight didn’t happen because he or his parents sinned, which was actually a very refreshing intellectual possibility: the parents were not being punished; bad things could happen to good people. He says much the same thing in Luke 13 when he is asked about some recent tragic events. God does not arbitrarily punish sinners with tragedy, and it is not only sinners who experience affliction.

A Non-Traditional Approach

In Luke’s story, Jesus does not attribute the man’s condition to sin or judgment. Instead he points out that our proper response to tragedy is not titillation or even relief but rather repentance, and here he says that God can be glorified even out of bad circumstances.
This is a fascinating story because so many people see a miracle take place right before their eyes, and no one expresses any JOY. The neighbors argue about whether it’s really the same man or not. Shouldn’t they have rejoiced with him?

The legalistic leaders in the Temple, the Pharisees, are more concerned with whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath than the amazing fact that he healed a man who had been blind from birth. The man’s own parents were so intimidated by the Pharisees (and so used to being ashamed) that they were afraid to get involved, and sent the Pharisees back to question their son. Shouldn’t they have been excited for their son’s new vision and new opportunities? Instead, they stepped back and remained in the shadows, unwilling to proclaim God’s goodness.

Haters Gonna Hate

The man born blind was then interrogated by the Pharisees, who were hoping to use his testimony not to glorify God but only to prove that Jesus had broken the law. In verse 29, the haughty Pharisees are spiteful: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” In verse 30, the blind man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.”

The Pharisees, who claimed a monopoly on knowing God, could not account for this miracle. The blind man, who used simple logic based on experience, could not account for the Pharisees’ inability to see the truth. In this case, we have a blind man who gains both sight and insight; and we have religious leaders who can see the man but not the truth. They were so concerned about being right that they ignored a miracle right before their eyes… When they challenged the man, his simple statement of truth dismantled their agenda. He accepted Jesus as he was, at face value, and gained his sight. The Pharisees denied who Jesus was, and saw him through a distorted lens of religion and culture. They remained blind. Guess what? That still happens today…

I once Was Blind, But Now I See

For years I went to synagogue and listened to them preach.
They spoke of being righteous. From the Scripture they would teach
About eternal judgment, and the consequence of sin:
They made me feel unworthy from the state that I was in.
If being blind weren’t bad enough, I still could clearly see
The condescending looks they gave my parents, and to me.
I still attended synagogue, and worshipped with them there,
And still petitioned Yahweh with my one, persistent prayer!
Today my prayer was answered! Yes!! A man restored my sight!
The Pharisees seem more concerned with whether he was right
For healing on the Sabbath. Well, I’m not a Pharisee,
But I know this: The Lord is good, and somehow, I can SEE!
Maybe Jesus broke a Sabbath rule, or maybe five–
But I don’t care– I’ll follow him as long as I’m alive…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

True Story: John Said his Best Friend was Full of Grace and Truth: Was He Lying?

This is a true story about lies… If your life depended upon knowing the truth, would you be happy with a lie? We generally don’t want to lead lives based on a lie, or feel that it’s healthy to engage in falsehood. (Probably since people who live lives based on falsehood used to be called delusional, and locked away. Today they just go into journalism or Congress…)

Quite A Compliment

The Gospel of John takes great care to remind us that truth is important, and he even tells us where to find it. John says that we beheld the glory of God’s promised Messiah born as a baby in Bethlehem, and that he was “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) I am willing to compliment a friend, and it’s good to say something nice about someone, but I can’t really recall ever saying, “Old Charlie is a good guy. He’s full of grace and truth!”

I’ve known people who were graceful, and I’ve known folks who were honest, but I’ve never described someone I knew really well as the repository of veracity. Usually when we say, “He’s full of it”, we are NOT talking about grace and truth…

John Probably Would Have Known…

Is it possible to say anything more descriptive and astounding about someone? John had observed Jesus at close range for at least 3 years, and certainly knew him well enough to be aware of any flaws he had to contradict this statement. Perhaps John is here echoing the claim Jesus made which was recorded in chapter 14: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” Jesus said, “I am the truth”, and John BELIEVED him.

Today, in an era when “objective” journalists (who were once bastions of truth and objectivity) publish sensational stories and suppositions without checking facts, or present part of a story as all of the story, someone who personifies the Truth is rare indeed. In our culture, spin is more common than fact. Partial fact and opinion has replace substantiated facts and truth.

Marketing is Full of It

To accentuate that point, consider that we actually spend most of our lives simmering in falsehood. Advertising agencies present stories and scenarios that will subtly convince you to believe whatever they claim about their products (even if those claims have no basis in reality). In an era where truth is watered down, twisted, and manipulated, truth is an endangered species. Think about this: almost every commercial message you hear tells a story that either makes claims that are not true, or creates a virtual myth-like environment in an attempt to alter what you think about reality. Christmas shoppers can avoid black Friday crowds and “save thousands” by buying a car.

story

Shaving commercials show guys lathered up like Santa with a shaving cream beard. Actually, only about 1/3 of that amount of shaving cream is needed to actually shave. So, the commercials are subtly trying to implant a false idea of how much cream a guy should use on every shave. (Same thing happens with pictures of toothpaste slathered on top of the toothbrush!) In the commercial story, if a guy uses a certain cologne, women go nuts over him. Of course we know that in reality a good smelling nerd is still a nerd.

In the ads, beer drinkers are all hot, slim young people for whom life is a party (and Alpine climbers live in the cooler to bring up some cold ones from the pristine mountain waters.) I know a few beer drinkers whose actual profile is somewhat different, and up in the mountains you can’t even drink the stream water because you might get infected with Giardia, a particularly stubborn and nasty little parasite…

Assaulted From All Sides

It’s not just advertising that twists the truth. Messages on social media are full of outright balderdash presented as fact. Many posts contain partial and biased stories which pretend to be the whole truth. Based on the amount of exposure we have to advertising and social media, it is highly probable that you hear WAY more lies every day than you hear truth. Even if you don’t believe the story they are throwing at you 100%, the ads are designed to move your needle just a little bit over towards their version of reality.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, said “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Ironically, that’s still true. In a world filled with subtlety and spin, be careful that your needle isn’t moved too far by falsehood. I’d say this: find truth in your world; read it, listen to it, cultivate it, and rejoice in it. If Jesus was the truth, as he claimed to be, he is worth far more of your time than all of the newscasts, Facebook posts and commercial messages you will ever hear. According to John, Jesus was also full of grace. Would the world be a better place if there was a little more grace in it? Could YOU ever use a little more grace? Well here’s the deal: I’m willing to bet that if you seek the truth, you will also find grace.

True Story

The truth about lies is they’re hard to see,
Bombarding us from everywhere,
Reshaping our reality with subtle falsehoods that we share…
Lies come at us from every place–
From ads that do more than they seem–
Convincing us to load our face with 3 shaves worth of shaving cream.
We’re surrounded by these lies from cradle through impetuous youth
While subtle Falsehood in disguise disparages important Truth.
Grab hold of Truth! Don’t let it go,
And don’t let Falsehood take its place.
Beauty may be Truth, but know
That more importantly, Truth is Grace.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Woman Whose Day Didn’t Turn Out Like She Planned

There was once a somewhat bold and saucy Samaritan woman who lived on the outer edges of social convention. As a result, perhaps, she went to the well at midday to draw water and ran into a strange man, resulting in one of the most surprising conversations in history… John puts it like this:

“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:27-29 NIV)

More Unusual Than You Think

Why does John point out that the disciples were so surprised? Today, it may be common for conversations to occur like that. But Jesus’ conversation with the woman by the well in Samaria is one of his most interesting and intriguing encounters in history. It is a passage full of surprises.

woman claim

By even having this conversation, Jesus breaks all kinds of social barriers and engages in a conversation that ends up changing the lives of an entire village. Because Samaria was considered apostate, devout Jews would often journey far out of their way to avoid going through there. Jesus walked through Samaria and even stopped to rest. Stepping outside of accepted social convention, He talked to a lowly woman, which was forbidden for a Rabbi. Not only that, but she was a SAMARITAN woman.

To top it all off, the woman had a morally questionable background (which apparently Jesus already knew), because she had had several husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. She went out to the well at midday rather than in the morning (ostensibly to avoid the other women who would be getting water); so she was probably not very popular with other women in the village.

But the Thing That REALLY Stands Out…

The disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking to this woman for all of these reasons. And in the aftermath of the conversation, there is an additional surprising and interesting detail in these verses that I had never noticed before; did you catch it? The woman left her water jar! She was so excited about her conversation with Jesus that she totally forgot why she had gone to the well in the first place. Water is incredibly important in the trans-Jordan area, and water jars aren’t cheap; but she was so motivated by what had just happened that she just took off for the village and left it all behind.

When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, He crossed cultural boundaries and broke down social barriers. He surprised her by knowing details about her life, things for which she had been judged and scorned; yet he showed her no condescension or scorn. She responded to this remarkable man not only because of what he told her, but HOW he told her as well.

On that fateful afternoon, she couldn’t help it– she left everything, went back to her village and told everyone what she had discovered about this man! Yeah, the disciples were surprised to find him talking to a woman; but the woman was surprised even more. She snuck out to the well at midday to avoid judgment and awkward conversations, and was instead surprised by wisdom, acceptance, and love. If you have been avoiding God because of guilt or judgment, have your own conversation with Jesus. He might just surprise you, too.

The Woman at the Well

The scarlet woman snuck out to the well,
Because the other women put her down;
They’d all decided she was going to hell,
And no one even wanted her around;
Until a stranger asked her for a drink,
And told her every thing she’d ever done;
Surprised, she didn’t know just what to think,
But wondered, somehow, if he was the One…
He wasn’t prejudiced like all the rest,
And she could only look at him and nod;
He seemed to call her out to be her best,
And introduced her to the Living God.
You and I have both been there,
Struck by hatred, hopelessness and lies;
Until we looked and found an answered prayer–
Until we looked in Jesus’ eyes.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Come and See: But Don’t just take MY word for it! See For Yourself

Come and See: Observing something yourself can be the most powerful testimony there is. After all, when you are an eyewitness, you can draw your own conclusions. As we discussed yesterday, it was the advice Jesus gave to John’s disciples, who were checking Jesus out based on John’s recommendation. It’s easy to be skeptical of sales pitches and belief systems, but we are more readily swayed by evidence. (Except for magic shows, seeing is believing, right?)

Backwater Towns Never Make History

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida (located on the NE shore of the Sea of Galilee). Undoubtedly Philip was familiar with the two brothers; perhaps he fished with them or knew them because they grew up together in a small town. After Philip was introduced to Jesus, he went to tell one of his good friends about it: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1:44-46 NIV)

Nazareth was the backwoods part of Galilee, not really noteworthy of anything and certainly not part of the prophetic story that heralded the Messiah. (Part of why not only Nathanael but the Pharisees disregarded Jesus in John 7:52, since their “superior” grasp of scripture enabled them to know that Galilee was not mentioned as the Messiah’s place of origin…)  By assuming they already knew all the answers, the Pharisees looked condescendingly on others and on current events. They were locked into a religious bigotry that excluded others.

Most of the Pharisees never got over their prejudice, and continued to see Jesus as a rube from the country whose credentials were suspect; Nathanael at least went and met Jesus himself to find out what Philip was talking about. Philip’s eyewitness testimony was simple, and very similar to what Jesus said to John’s disciples: “Come and see”. It’s also what Thomas did when he had doubts…

come and see

Quick Knowledge Test

Two things stand out about this. One, don’t be so sure you know something that you miss the truth. John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Go to the source, oh readers of questionable social media and network news! You’ll be surprised how often something is misrepresented in second-hand accounts, or distorted by your presuppositions and assumptions. If you think you know Jesus of Nazareth based on what others (like me) have said about him, then you probably don’t. Quick: What were his three best parables? What three conversations did he have that broke all barriers down and revolutionized religion? What would you say are the top three commandments he laid down? If you don’t know what HE said about these things, you probably don’t. Know. Him.  Come; see for yourself.

Second, Philip described Jesus as “the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote”. Philip knew the Scriptures, and he connected the dots. He had looked into the Scriptures to see EVIDENCE of prophecy and the references about who the Messiah would be. Even when Nathanael objected, Philip encouraged him to come and see for himself. He saw something in Jesus that prompted him to tell his friends about him, and to persist over their objections. Whom do you know that would benefit from an introduction to the man from Galilee? Help them connect the dots this year. Invite them to come and see. And by the way, I’m inviting you.

Come For Yourself; See For Yourself

Everyone is skeptical when salesmen try to sell,
Pushing just a little as they try to weave a spell;
They will overcome objections, use a trial close,
Until we finally tell them, “NO. I don’t want one of those.”
It can be the same with Jesus: people try to tell us,
But we already “know” the things we think they’re trying to sell us;
So here’s the deal: Go take your Bible down from off that shelf,
And Read the book of John. Go spend some time with him yourself.
Walk down a dusty Galilean road with him awhile;
Read a parable or two, and try to see his smile.
See him bless the children as they played around his knees,
Listen to his words as he confronts the Pharisees:
If you don’t like the stuff he taught, then you can disregard him;
Just please don’t let a bad sales pitch allow you to discard him!
Instead of preachers, books, or movies, or even guys like me:
I challenge you to read it for yourself, to Come and See.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Come, and See: the Obvious Choice that was not so Obvious

When Jesus arrived on the scene, his cousin John was preaching to large crowds who gathered to hear him outside of Jerusalem. “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come”, he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” (John 1:35-39 NIV)

come

Maybe the Best Preacher Ever

John the Baptist became well-known during his ministry, so much so that Scribes and Pharisees would come out to the country from Jerusalem to question him, and a group of disciples gathered around him. In spite of his humble circumstances, and through no desire of his own, he became a celebrity. He was a dynamic preacher calling the children of Israel to repent and embrace the Kingdom of heaven.

John testified eloquently about the arrival of God’s son, and his followers had come to him from all over as he preached to large crowds. His disciples were dedicated men who were seeking the Kingdom of God, and they followed John for months if not years, watching and waiting for the Messiah to come. It may seem logical that John’s disciples would leave him when Jesus arrived, but that had to be far more difficult than it might seem on the surface of things.

John was famous, an established prophet, a rising star in the eyes of the Hebrew world. He preached with power and conviction, and his conduct was impeccable. He drew big crowds, and he had the attention of everyone who worshipped the Lord.

A New Kid in Town

When Jesus showed up on the scene, he was unknown, a young carpenter from Galilee without much street cred. There had been no miracles. No one had heard of him, and there were no crowds following him around. All of that came later. To most folks, He was just a guy from Nazareth until John pointed him out.

Knowing “the rest of the story”, it only makes sense to us that John’s followers would gravitate to the Messiah, but in the first days after Jesus’ arrival, who knew? It couldn’t have been obvious or intuitive to anyone. Religious leaders came from Jerusalem, not Galilee, and Rabbis had formal training in the Temple Courts, being apprenticed for years until they were ready to step out and lead a group of men…

Even later on, many of the disciples weren’t exactly sure who Jesus was, and they didn’t know in advance what would come from this Rabbi, so this early in the game I’m sure they were hoping for an obvious sign that they were making the right play. When Jesus showed up, John’s disciples had to make a choice, and they had to leave a successful ministry for an unknown start-up.

A Difficult Choice

After John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus, two of John’s followers approached Jesus. In this well-known response, Jesus didn’t give them a list of his accomplishments, he didn’t pontificate or try to impress, he merely said, “Come, and you will see”. That is his invitation not only to them but to all mankind, and to every one of us: Come check me out. Watch what I DO. See if I’m legit or not.

Have you ever really, REALLY taken a look at who Jesus was and what he did? If you haven’t yet spent a day at his place hanging out, then perhaps you haven’t seen him the way he intended you to. Over the next few days in this blog we will spend a little time looking at Jesus and hanging out with him. Come, and see.

Hold That Thought and Watch This

We Christians think we have to sell
the Bible’s thoughts on heaven and hell
So sinners one and all can learn
That surely they must “turn or burn”.
We share the gospel when we can–
The Four Spiritual laws, the fall of man,
The Roman Road, salvation’s plan
Spelled out in an effective tract
Which we can share with grace and tact.
And yet there is no better way
Than what the Savior had to say
When John’s disciples asked if He
Was who they thought. His words can be
A template: He said, “Come and see,
And if you want to know: “Watch me.”
They did. The rest is history.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread