November 16: The Restart Button

John 8:1-11 

Michael Tait and The Newsboys recently sang a wonderful Christian song called “Restart”. They sang, “I was lost, falling apart, but You came along, and You hit the restart.” It is about recharging, regrouping and starting over.

Have you ever hit the restart button? The information age started in the 1970’s with the introduction of the personal computer. Subsequent technology introduced the ability to transfer information freely and quickly. The computer includes a restart button. But we also may need to hit the restart button in our personal lives just like the woman we read about today in John 8.

Who can throw the first stone? “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone”  (John 8:5). Is death by stoning what they wanted for this woman?

Early one morning, Jesus sat down to teach on a mountain above Jerusalem. The religious leaders of the time led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:4).

These teachers of the law kept badgering Jesus. They wanted to get Him to say something incriminating so they could bring charges against Him. So Jesus knelt down and wrote in the dirt with His finger. We don’t know what he wrote. Was it “Restart”? “Forgive”? Then Jesus stood up and spoke. “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” 

What a perspective Jesus offered with that statement! The humiliated woman was likely hoping for forgiveness. Jesus implied that her accusers were also sinners, along with everyone else. If you’re not a sinner – if you never make mistakes – then go ahead and throw the first stone. And sure enough, nobody did. One by one they dropped their stones and walked away.

Imagine the hope this gave the woman. Her only real hope was in Jesus Christ, the one who knelt down, wrote in the sand and showed her accusers the state of their own hearts. Jesus gave her hope for forgiveness. He offered Hope to be able to look ahead and sin no more. Only in Jesus could this woman find hope for a positive future and a restart.

By asking God for forgiveness, we can do the same thing. Hit the restart. Just like with her, our only real hope is in Jesus Christ.

tw

November 15: Eternal Hope

Read John 5:1-15

To what extent did the man at the Pool of Bethesda experience real hope? That is a good question. The answer is unclear.

This is one of the few biblical accounts where Jesus seemed to have initiated the healing. Most often, sick people came to or were brought to Him in the hope of healing. One woman was bold enough to even seek healing without asking. She just touched Christ’s clothing (Mark 5:25-34). But we don’t read about such initiative with this man. Had he not heard about Jesus, and did he, therefore, not know to ask for healing?

The Lord’s initial question to him seems like a “no brainer.” “Do you want to get well?” Well, clearly, he had positioned himself at the Pool of Bethesda where healings were occasionally expected. But this man never experienced it. In fact, you can hear the hopelessness in his voice in verse 7. He essentially says, “No one is here to help” and “I am too slow.”

But Jesus did what was seemingly impossible. To a man marked by 38 years of handicap, He spoke words of confident healing. The man stood, picked up his mat, and carried it away. His dream of nearly four decades had become a reality.

But experiencing hope in the face of the temporal needs of our lives is only one dimension of hope. Did the man experience lasting hope? Eternal hope? Real hope?

This story in John’s gospel depicts the rising opposition to Jesus. And, interestingly enough, the healed man seems to have contributed to that opposition. Rather than demonstrating a grateful heart that sought to protect the Savior, the man actually took the initiative to rat out his Healer (v. 15).

But that is not the only reason to question whether the man experienced real, eternal hope. Even Christ’s words in verse 14 seem to point to the idea that his former handicap had been the result of his own personal sin. In fact, unless the man repented, he could expect something worse. Was the “something worse” temporal or eternal punishment?

There is, you see, a certain emptiness with experiencing the very thing you have always hoped for in this life, if this life is all you have to hope for. Real hope has an eternal dimension to it that is only found in following Jesus.

sbk

November 14: Nicodemus

Read John 3:1-21

It’s been a rough year. My St. Louis Cardinals put together a very lack luster year that was capped off by missing the playoffs. Over the years, the Cardinals have been known for their elite play, regularly making the playoffs and even winning the World Series. While some people are reading way too far into this year, I’m chalking it up as just a down year.

There are other teams that are in the same division as the Cardinals that as a Cardinals fan, I’m not supposed to get along with or root for under any circumstances. On the weekends, I work at Jimmy John’s for a man that is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. My best friend is a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. When all three of us are together, it’s a good ol’ time. While the Cardinals and Pirates had down years, the Cubs have been blitzing through the standings. They finished the year with the best record in baseball, and are currently competing against the Cleveland Indians for the World Series.

Historically, I’m not supposed to like the Cubs. Some old time Cardinals fans would go so far as to say that they don’t deserve a title or one reason or another. Personally, I would like to see a National League Central team win the series, sorry grandpa.

John 3 contains this same principle. During Jesus’ ministry, there were people that didn’t get along with Jesus in the slightest. With everything He said, they were always trying to twist His words in order to build a legal case against Him. Historically, the religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) didn’t like Jesus. Under no circumstances were they to be seen talking to Him, much less sympathizing with His teachings.

Jesus knew this. He knew that Nicodemus would be chastised for simply inquiring of Him; Jesus was an enemy of the state. However, Jesus knew that although many thought we didn’t deserve hope, Jesus offered it to him anyway. Nicodemus’ life was changed because Jesus didn’t allow cultural standards get in the way of the gospel.

We all have “those people”; people that we don’t deem necessary for anything uplifting. However, Jesus was a great example of showing kindness and offering them hope even if they have done or said things to you. It is very important to know that no one is outside the realm of salvation; it doesn’t matter what they have said, what they have done, or who they are. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of THE WORLD. One hundred percent of humanity’s sins are forgiven and hold held against them. Why then are we holding it against them?

Who are you going to show hope to that doesn’t necessarily deserve it? If you really think about it, we don’t deserve forgiveness and hope for salvation, but Jesus offered it to us anyway.

jdl

November 13: Hope beyond Hope

Read Luke 24:1-53

You have probably heard some great stories of rescue through resuscitation.  Some people that flat lined were brought back by CPR.  In other instances, a defibrillator jump started life all over again.  Time is critical when that happens.  I have heard of a few extreme cases where someone was brought back after an extended time in cold water, but typically, we are talking seconds or minutes.

In contrast, three days seem impossible…even laughable!

It’s true, the reports had trickled in that first Easter morning.  A stone rolled away.  An empty tomb.  An angelic encounter.  Grave clothes left behind.  But still, it all seemed so unbelievable…illogical…scientifically impossible.

Two men had even given up.  They had packed their bags and started on a seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They were leaving hope behind, perhaps moving on with life.  To them, Jesus had seemed like a powerful prophet, who had done some pretty impressive things.  But their hopes that He was Israel’s redeemer had been dashed by His untimely and unfortunate death at the hands of His enemies.  Now, three days later, they were moving on in disappointment.  Three days was a long time…too long.

But their eyes had been blinded…blinded to the fact that a crucifixion was necessary in order to truly redeem and rescue…blinded by the natural human thought that the resurrection was just a pipedream…blinded by the idea that three days is not too long…and blinded in their ability to recognize that Jesus Himself was walking with them.

Blind, that is, until He broke the bread.

Suddenly, their fatigue melted into renewed strength.  Suddenly, they understood why their hearts warmed and even skipped a beat as He spoke with them.  He was alive!  And even though they had been ready to call it a day, they raced back over the same seven mile stretch of road they had just covered.  This was news that had to be shared.  The crucifixion had been a necessity, and the resurrection was a reality.  They were eyewitnesses.  They went back to announce that the rescue was complete. Their crushing disappointment had been transformed to exhilarating hope that had to be shared.

The truth of the resurrection offers to us the same hope. In what way do you need to allow the living Savior to bring hope to you today?

sbk

November 11: Hope for the Lost

Read Luke 15:1-32

To what lengths would you go for the sake of money? Years ago, we accidentally threw a bank envelope with five $100 bill in it into the trash. Yes, it made it all the way to the garbage truck and to the transfer station where the city’s trash was collected. Finally, realizing it, we called ahead and they dumped the whole load in a separate pile for me to go through bag by bag. Indeed, after two hours of smelly searching, I found the envelope and went home and celebrated.

To what lengths would you go to in order to find lost money? Or what about your livestock or a family pet? Perhaps even more sacrificial, to what lengths have you gone to for the sake of a family member?

These were the kinds of examples Jesus used to illustrate His willingness to search for and rescue lost people. He broke the mold of the expected and the permitted in His day. He did what other self-respecting religious leaders refused to do. He spent time with tax collectors and sinners. In case you missed it, it was this reality that set the backdrop for the three stories of lost things found in this chapter.

Truth be told, these tax gatherers and sinners were viewed as hopeless and untouchable. The scribes and Pharisees apparently gave them a wide berth as they intentionally avoided them. These religious leaders never asked the question of whether they were reachable. For them, that was never a consideration. Maybe they assumed that they were too far gone or that they could never change or that they were beyond their perceived limits of God’s grace. Whatever the reasons, they seemed to label the tax collectors and sinners as “hopeless” and Christ, because of His efforts, as “foolish.”

But Jesus ignored the labels and offered them hope! He sought them out and welcomed them in. He compared His efforts to the logic of a shepherd crossing the countryside in search of a lost sheep. His efforts were like that of a woman who went on a desperate search for lost money, or of a man watching for his rebellious son to return.

To what length will we go for the sake of those hopelessly lost? In our answer, you and I must never forget that someone set out in search for a hopeless soul like us!

sbk

November 10: Jairus

Read Luke 8:40-56

I was raised in a Christian household. I have always been told there is nothing God cannot do. Sure, when I was little that was easy to believe. However when you grow up and get a few years of life under your belt, you come to realize that truth isn’t the easiest to believe. You come to encounter different events in your life that you deem as impossible situations.

It could be yourself needing to get through a very difficult time of life. You may have so much on your plate at one time that you don’t believe you will ever experience peace again. Maybe there is someone that is very close to you that is choosing to live a life apart from God. There is nothing you would rather see in this world than that person choosing to give up control of their lives and following God.

The people around the time of Jesus were no strangers for seeing the impossible done in their lives. Jesus had a track record for turning water into wine, healing people with the touch of his hands or the sound of his voice. People were so caught back through all of this because it wasn’t anything they had ever seen before.

Luke 8 contains a similar story. Jesus and His disciples had just returned to Capernaum from ministry elsewhere. The people were overjoyed to see Him back in their region. As people were pressing in around Jesus, a man named Jairus approached Jesus and asked to come to his house and heal his daughter who was dying. Now Jairus was an official of the synagogue. These were traditionally people who did not like Jesus or agree with His teachings and miracles. Soon after, a worker from Jairus’ house comes and informs him that his daughter had died.

There is no saying how traumatic this experience must have been for Jairus. Jesus then says something shocking, “Believe.” Jesus was telling Jairus that if he were to believe in Jesus’ provision for him, his daughter would be made well. As Jesus entered into the house, he cast out the people. They began to laugh at him because the daughter was very much dead, there was no way she could be raised. However, the simple words, “Child, arise” from Jesus was enough to raise the girl to life, to the amazement of the people around.

I have found that it is better not to doubt the power of God. It doesn’t matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, if we have faith in the provision of God, He will offer hope of deliverance. No matter how impossible the feat, God can get you through the storm and He can soften any heart.

Will you believe?

jdl

November 9: Faith, Hope, and Outcomes

Read Luke 7:1-10

The hope experienced by the Roman centurion and his slave becomes even more obvious when it is placed against the backdrop of realities within the text you just read. Let’s explore some seeming points of irony that are clear from the text.

  1. He was a man who knew the tender balance of authority and compassion. While soldiers would respond to commands he gave, he cared deeply for a slave in his home. That is not a given among people in authority. They can care more about tasks than people.
  2. He was “worthy” and “unworthy” at the same time. The Jewish leaders knew him and his reputation. They deemed him worthy of Christ’s coming to heal the slave. While those leaders deemed him as “worthy,” he saw himself as “unworthy.” At the outset, he expressed unworthiness in not going personally to request the miracle. And in the end, he saw himself as unworthy of having Jesus grace his household with His presence. The centurion’s humble assessment of himself is model for all.
  3. He was born foreign to faith and yet grew to great faith. Although he was not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he loved the nation of Israel. He built the synagogue in Capernaum. He had good relationships with the Jewish leaders. Ultimately, his faith recognized that Christ did not have to touch the man to heal him. The Lord would not have to be physically present. He could just speak the word from a distance. Jesus described the man’s faith as superior to that of the native Israelites of the day.

Compassion, humility, and godly confidence all played together in unleashing God’s grace in the healing of a slave. The centurion’s hope was realized.

So, is that a formula for all healing? Are those the ingredients for answered prayer of all types? Not always. Let me cite two examples that remind us that we cannot force the hand of God…even with godly lives and great faith…to a specific response we want from Him. Do you remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12)? God chose to give him sustaining grace rather than healing relief. Do you remember the men thrown into the fiery furnace (Dan. 3)? They were confident that God could rescue them, but even if He chose not to, they would not compromise their commitment to Him.

Our hope in God is never misplaced even if we don’t experience our desired outcome!

sbk

November 8: Why Do You Do What You Do

Read Luke 5:18-26 and Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

Why do you do what you do?” It’s a question Joe the Janitor asks of a high school basketball coach in the book Lead for God’s Sake. It is a question for all of us.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke we find reminders that Jesus had the power to heal such diseases.

We see one such reminder in Luke 5. A paralyzed man and his friends hoped for a miracle. This man’s friends brought him to Jesus to be healed. There were so many people in the house where He was, though, they had to make another plan. So they went up on the roof and lowered him in through the ceiling tiles right in the middle of the crowd. Right in front of Jesus. And it worked. Jesus forgave their sins and then healed this paralyzed man. The man who had no control over his movement found healing from Jesus Christ, the only real hope. The Son of God healed a hopeful man. 

But what about the selfless guys who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus? They needed hope too. These men had to be persistent and focused. They possessed real hope in Jesus, the hope that He could give their friend what he needed.

Some miracles in life are not as obvious as they are in this parable. Many different examples exist. An alcoholic finds hope in Jesus who gives her strength to recover. A life changes from evil to good. A broken relationship is healed. A person prayerfully decides to donate a vital organ to someone in need. The miracle of those who step up and hope on behalf of another is no small matter.

Doesn’t that speak to us today? Are we persistent and focused on the real hope that Jesus brings as we lead and serve? God may or may not use what we do for something remarkable. Still, our real hope can lead to the hope or encouragement of another person.

We can’t let unexpected setbacks distract us. These friends didn’t let a crowd take their focus or steal their hope. We must stay persistent, focused and full of real hope that we can make a difference for God’s kingdom.

Why do YOU do what you do?

tw

November 7: Peter’s Hope

Read Matthew 14:22-36

Have you ever thought about how someone could walk on water? In the original languages of the Bible, the word walk is translated in different ways. In the New Testament it is mostly refers to the whole manner of one’s life or to the observance of laws or customs. It makes sense, then, to say your walk means how you live your life.

As you walk through life, keep your eyes on Jesus.

There are two lifestyles. Don’t walk in darkness — a lifestyle of wickedness and error. Instead, walk in the light of God Himself — a lifestyle full of of what is good, true and holy. We can shine like the stars in the heavens.

“Jesus said to Peter, come ahead. Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me’” (Matthew 14: 29-30 MSG)!

So Peter had the hope of being like Jesus. He actually walked on the water. Then he took his eyes off of Jesus. And sunk. 

Peter is a good example of someone who had a lifestyle of hope.  

For example, on Resurrection morning, he and John ran to Jesus’ tomb after they heard Mary’s report of the moved stone. His hope made him run. Later on that day, Peter laid eyes on the Risen Lord Himself.

Arguably the most prominent of the twelve disciples, Peter was an outstanding leader in the early days of the Christian church. Throughout his life, Peter had the hope of wanting to live like Jesus, and it showed in the way he lived. He wanted to be noble, pure and exemplary.

In the middle of the sea in the middle of a big wind, Peter wanted to go further and be like Jesus, so he stepped out on the sea. Peter kept his eyes on Jesus. If he could keep his eyes on Jesus he could walk on water.

This is real hope. Keep your eyes, mind and life centered on Jesus. Walk in fellowship with God. Let your prayers and worship of God be filled with humility. Take time for people. Look for opportunities to serve.  

This is the lifestyle, the walk, with Jesus that offers real hope. Your life, words, thoughts and actions. Focus on Jesus and how He lived, spoke, thought and acted. Then humbly trust Him to lead your life and you will find real hope.

TW 

November 6: Hope…in what?

Read Mark 12:41-44 and 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Today’s reading included words like “rich” and “poor.” Those are comparative words, aren’t they? If you were to place yourself on a continuum of wealth, you would likely not place yourself at either of those two extremes. That means that you are “poor” in comparison to some and “rich” when compared to others.

Likewise, “generous” is a difficult term. Compared to other gifts, my gift placed in an offering plate on Sunday may seem like their entire week’s income. For others, that same gift may seem like pocket change.

If we examine the gifts in Mark 12 purely based on their comparative size without knowing other details, we draw conclusions contrary to those of Christ’s. Clearly, the “rich,” with their large gifts, were more “generous” than the “poor” widow with her two copper coins.

But that’s where Jesus used another point of comparison. Rather than comparing gifts at face value, He compared “gift given” to the “amount kept.” That’s where the woman’s gift is described as “more” than those of the other contributors that day. Her two copper coins given were measured in comparison to her own resulting empty pockets left as a result. She had given “all she had to live on.”

Is that what God expects of all? Well, not if I read 1Timothy 6 properly. God does to some people sometimes provide extra resources that allow for “enjoyment.” But, whether any of us have little excess or lots of discretionary funds, whether your life is comparable to the “rich people” or the “poor widow,” all of us can find ways to be generous.” In some ways, our generosity is a reflection of our true treasure. What is it we value most? To what have we attached our hope?

The widow had one thing in place that the apostle Paul exhorts all of us to pursue. She had not put her hope in wealth. Instead, she put her hope in God…and her generosity reflected that.

Comparisons aside, let’s examine the foundation of our giving. To what have you attached your hope? What is your greatest treasure in life? In all likelihood, your bank account will give you a good barometer reading. Are there things that need to change?

sbk