Death Valley, California
The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.
These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)
… Read the rest
Do people have free will, or are their choices somehow determined? Yes.
Each of us has only one basic choice: will we trust and obey God, or will we not? Trusting God is called faith. Failing to trust God is called sin. Rejection of God entirely is called unrighteousness. Everyone, consciously or not, makes that choice–not once, not even daily, but continuously. Probably no one makes the same choice every time it is presented. Probably our conscious, deliberate choices and our unconscious choices do not consistently coincide. But we all make the choice for or against God one way or another all the time.… Read the rest
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,which you heard me speak about.” — Acts 1:4
God’s ways are not our ways. The last recorded words of Jesus in any of the synoptic gospels are some form of the Great Commission. John’s version comes in the next to last chapter, but Jesus’ final comments there prepare the disciples to get to work.
In other words, all the gospels end with Jesus saying, “Go” to bewildered and reluctant disciples. The book of Acts opens with him saying, “Wait” to a team that felt ready to get started.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced a promise from God that seems so vivid that we’re bound to see it manifest in the next fifteen minutes.… Read the rest
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?'” — John 21:15 (NIV)
Shane Stanford, whose The Seven Next Words of Christ (Abingdon Press, 2006) provided the framework for this series of devotions, considered the entire 21st chapter of John as a single word. There is a certain symmetry to seven last words balanced by seven next words. Besides, according to the number symbolism in biblical times, seven is the number of completion. Still, I think Jesus’ interview with Peter is too important to combine it with anything else.… Read the rest
“He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered him. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” — John 21:5-6 (NIV)
Jesus seldom does the same thing twice, yet this was the second time he told his disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Nearly every sermon I have ever heard on either passage points out that commercial fishing was and is done from the left side of the boat.… Read the rest
“Therefore go make disciples of all nations. . .” — Matthew 28:19a
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” — Mark 16:15
“You are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24:48
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” — John 20:21 (All quotations NIV)
Whether “all the world” means going across the ocean, across the country, or across the street, many people find this commandment, in whatever form, the scariest thing Jesus ever said. Learning to lead a holy life is hard enough, but go talk to someone else about it?… Read the rest
“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” — Luke 24:36 (NIV)
“A week later his disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” — John 20:26 (NIV)
Have you ever been reluctant to encounter a friend because you owe him money? Or has a friend avoided you for the same reason? If you have not experienced either case, you surely know someone who has. Something very much like that explains this fourth next word of Jesus.… Read the rest
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Luke 24:17 (NIV)
After Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, he turned up on the road to Emmaus, where he met two men not otherwise mentioned in Scripture. They had been following Jesus and had hoped he was the promised Messiah. Even though they had indirectly heard about the women’s report, they walked in discouragement.
So Jesus asked them what they were talking about–not as an idle question, but as a means of getting them to open up so he could minister to them. I find two noteworthy statements close by.… Read the rest
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly, Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They cam to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'” — Matthew 28:8-10 (NIV)
Matthew’s account of the first resurrection appearance is very different from John’s. We need not try to harmonize them or make them fit together, as they each have a different message for us to learn.
“Do not be afraid” is probably one of the most frequent commands in the whole Bible.… Read the rest
“Woman, who is it you looking for?” — John 20:15a (NIV)
Everyone knows about the seven last words of Christ on the cross. Many churches probably offered musical settings of them some time during Holy Week. Of course, as I wrote in the immediately previous post, Jesus violated everyone’s expectations by his resurrection from the dead. And then he had more to say. Easter Sunday has passed, but not Easter season. It’s a great time to look at the next words of Christ after the cross.
[I recently came across a book by Shane Stanford, The Seven Next Words of Christ: Finding Hope in the Resurrection Sayings (Abingdon Press, ©2006), and acknowledge my debt to it.]
We probably can’t reconcile the four surviving accounts of what happened on that chaotic Easter morning, but all agree that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ.… Read the rest