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Finding Jesus

While having dinner with a pastor in Orlando, I asked how he came to know Jesus. He said his father left Puerto Rico for Orlando over twenty years ago looking for work. After a couple of days, he saw a tent in an auto dealer’s parking lot. He entered and discovered a church service occurring. He experienced Jesus, decided to follow Him, and went back to Puerto Rico to tell his family. Afterwards they moved to Orlando and started attending church. Today his mom visits people in prison, his dad counsels people in faith-based financial planning, and all the children are involved in ministry throughout Florida.

A genuine experience with Jesus changes everything. Unwholesome things do not appeal as they once did. And like the Samaritan woman at a well, salvation causes a person to tell family and friends about Jesus.

Photo Credit: iko (cc)

Photo Credit: iko (cc)

John 4:27

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

Jesus and Women

No rabbi would have entered into a conversation with a woman. One of their sayings was, “A man shall not talk with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife, and especially not with another woman, on account of what men may say.” Yet out of respect the disciples do not even question Him.

Jesus interacted with women on several occasions. He frequently mentioned men and women in His parables. He even elevated their position on more than one occasion (Luke 18:1-8). Jesus was continually modeling to the disciples the equality of genders in the Kingdom of God.

John 4:28-30

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Worship in Witness

The Samaritan woman came to a well to fetch water but found Jesus. She left her water jar behind and told others about Him. Her sincerity generated curiosity, motivating others to come and meet Him.

A Change of Plans

A real encounter with Jesus changes the trajectory of a person’s day and ultimately their entire life.

The challenge

Pursue a genuine encounter with Jesus. Be open to a change of plans. Bring others to Him.

How has Jesus changed the direction of your life? Share your comments below.

The Mission of Jesus Part 3

Jesus, the local boy, came to Nazareth as an itinerant rabbi and was given an opportunity to have his say. His audience, full of proud Nazarenes, understood Isaiah 61 to mean foreign neighbors would serve them and make them wealthy. With everyone listening intently Jesus read this familiar and deeply beloved passage. Yet to their shock and amazement he stops reading at the very point when judgment and servitude is pronounced on the Gentiles.

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The crowd witnessed against him, not for him, and was offended at how he took a text of judgment and turned it into an affirmation of mercy. Why would Jesus omit the verses they considered critical to the text? Stunned, they wait for further comments.

He continues,

Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ And he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27)

The Faith of a Widow

The widow in Sidon refers to 1 Kings 17:1-16. In the eight century BC the prophet Elijah denounced King Ahab for worshiping Baal and announced a famine before fleeing. As the famine set in Elijah goes to a small village called Zarephath near Sidon (Lebanon). He notices a widow gathering sticks to bake a final loaf of bread for her only son. With no other family to care for them and the food supply exhausted, she was making this her final act before giving in to death.

The prophet told her, “Give me the food!” How could he ask a desperate woman for her last morsel of food and expect her starving son to stand by watching?

According to her worldview, every god’s power was limited to their territory. Yahweh, of the land of Israel, could only help those living in Israel. Sidon was Baal’s country, and only Baal had power there. The widow assumed the God of Israel was powerless in her district.

Was this one reason why Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? He wanted them to have home court advantage. He was proving to Israel that Yahweh could defeat Baal on his own turf. Yahweh was God over the whole earth.

Even Jonah thought he could flee from Yahweh by escaping the land of Israel on a ship. Wrong!

Naaman, the visiting Prime Minister from Damascus, took soil from Israel with him so he could pray to Israel’s God while living in Damascus. Naaman did not expect God to hear him unless he stood on some soil from the land. His solution was taking dirt to Damascus. This was not necessary. God is Lord of all.

In an age holding such beliefs, how could Elijah expect a starving widow to trust a prophet from Israel whose god, in her view, was powerless to help anyone in the region of Sidon?

The woman took an astounding leap of faith into the unknown. She obeyed the prophet and gave him the bread. She is rewarded with a jar of oil with an unlimited supply. Her radical faith in the God of Israel was sustained by a divine supply of oil, the food possibly coming from trading this valuable resource. Her story is a model of faith.

The Faith of a Syrian

Jesus’ second story is recorded in 2 Kings 5:1-15. Naaman, a royal official, was suddenly struck with leprosy. He follows the advice of his wife’s maid and travels to Israel for a cure. After visiting the king he heads to the home of Elisha. Naaman was a powerful man expecting extraordinary courtesy everywhere he went. To his surprise Elisha sends a servant with his instructions. Major insult! The servant tells Naaman to dip in the Jordan seven times.

Naaman was used to the melted snows of Mount Herman that flowed through his hometown, crystal clear cool water. Those in Damascus enjoyed the finest source of ever-flowing water in the Middle East. How could he be expected to get dirty in a muddy stream? Naaman leaves upset yet one of his servants encourages him to follow the prophet’s counsel. He dips seven times in the Jordan river and is healed.

Jesus presented a second Gentile whose remarkable faith was rewarded. To the members of the synagogue Jesus was saying: “If you want to receive the benefits of the new golden age of the Messiah, you must imitate the faith of a Gentile woman and man. I am not asking you to merely tolerate or accept them. You must see such people as demonstrating great faith and acknowledge they can instruct you in the nature of authentic faith.”

A Mission to Go Out and Attract In

Jesus edited the Isaiah text and showed a delicate balance between going out and attracting in. The Anointed One is sent to proclaim the captives free, illustrated by Elijah leaving Israel and helping a woman in Sidon. The Messiah will also attract people to come as Elisha attracted Naaman to Israel.

3 Qualities of Faith

In both of these stories faith is lived out in three areas: intellectual assent, obedience, and trust. The widow of Zarephath ascends intellectually to a place of knowing Yahweh can help her in Baal country. She trusts the God of Israel for tomorrow by obeying the prophet and giving him bread. She combines intellectual assent, obedience and trust.

Similarly, by traveling to Israel Naaman the Syrian validated that the God of Israel could help him. He eventually obeyed the prophet’s counsel and washed in the Jordan river. Without trusting the God of Israel for his future he would not have done so.

Jesus & Women

Another significant factor has to do with gender. The first story concerns a woman, the second a man. Jesus did not take stories of faith from Abraham, Moses or David. He selected stories involving a woman and a man, inaugurating a new fellowship in which men and women share equally. Jesus was revolutionary with regards to gender equality. Read the Gospels carefully and you will see Him doing this over and over. Jesus is presented in the temple to both Anna and Simeon. Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and calls Zachaeus out of a sycamore tree in Jericho. Consistently in His ministry He supports both Jew and Gentile, men and women.

Jesus gave evidence of mercy from those outside the covenant community. He was saying,

You really want redemption to come? It is not going to be by sitting around wondering when enemies are going to get what is coming to them? It will happen when you start showing mercy to those around you, to everyone created in God’s image.”

The congregation at Nazareth became angry. Our passage concludes,

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” (Luke 4:28-30)

Jesus disagreed with their political and economic goals and the people became furious. They drove him out of town to throw him off a cliff and stone him, yet he walked through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus rejected the narrow nationalism of his day. Scripture about judgment was transformed into a message of grace and his listeners got upset. They became angry when Jesus suggested redemption is not dependent upon location or ancestry but being willing to show mercy, set the oppressed free, show compassion, even if persecuted.

Jesus reveals two very important things:

  1. Faith has three major components.
    1. Intellectual assent! An ongoing understanding of who God is.
    2. A daily walk of trust! Maintaining faith throughout life, no matter what happens.
    3. Obedience! Doing and fulfilling the commands of Jesus.
  2. To follow Him you must engage in the following:
    • Proclamation! Sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
    • Justice advocacy! Bringing liberty to those oppressed.
    • Compassion! Meeting the felt needs of others.

The story is a snapshot of Jesus ministry. He proclaimed a message bringing interested listeners to a hostile response and violent behavior. Jesus’ life would end when an interested crowd turned hostile and violent, crying “Crucify Him!” In a few short years He would be placed on a cross and three days later walk out of a garden, the resurrected Savior.

The challenge

Will you live a life of faith, one of intellectual assent, trust and obedience? Will you engage yourself in the mission of Jesus, proclaiming the good news of His life, death, and resurrection? Will you engage in justice advocacy for those oppressed by doing acts of compassion that meet the needs of others?

How can you continue the mission of Jesus? Share your comments below.

The Mission of Jesus Part 2

Why did the people of Nazareth want to throw Jesus from a cliff? As we continue to explore the mission of Jesus our text in Luke gives us some clues.

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Luke 4:17-22

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son”

The Sermon

And Jesus reads from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. He reads the messianic text to people thinking the Messiah was coming from their town. He then sits down and gives a very short sermon, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. The sermon was actually the person reading the text.

What Jesus read is slightly different then Isaiah 61. Isaiah 61:2 reads, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God. Jesus removes the day of vengeance of our God and adds a line from Isaiah 58, “to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to set the oppressed free. By inserting this phrase, his audience knew He has now made reference to the larger understanding of Isaiah 58, which declares, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…your righteousness shall go before you.

Jesus was saying,

You’re living in a land of foreign occupation, an oppressed land. Yet if you want redemption this is what you must do: Redemption will come when you show charity to the less fortunate, not when God brings vengeance upon your oppressors.”

Spoke well of Jesus or against Him?

Luke 4:22 is often translated, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” This may not clearly represent the situation. Why would they say such wonderful things but want to drive Him off a cliff moments later?

The NKJV translates the verse, “So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. This is more accurate. They bore witness neither favorably or unfavorably. The Greek can be positive or negative, depending on the context.

Most translators prefer, “spoke well of him,” the NKJV stays neutral with “bore witness to Him.”

Kenneth Bailey, a New Testament scholar from the Middle East, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other ancient languages believes the Greek would be more accurate translated, “And all witnessed against him, and were amazed at the words of mercy that came out of his mouth; and they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”

Too often the last phrase is interpreted to mean how can the unlearned son of a carpenter read? Yet the Bible gives clues Jesus does not fit this description.

Jesus is reading Isaiah, what does this reveal? Literate! More than just read, He takes and deletes portions of Isaiah 61 and inserts information from Isaiah 58. Genius!

The Genius Jesus

Ray Vander Laan, a proponent of studying God’s word in the original Jewish context, addresses Jesus’ level of education. In the first century all youth in Galilee went to school. Boys were taught the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The goal was for every boy to have memorized the first five books of the Bible by the age of 12. If a boy accomplished this he would continue his education. One way parents declared their 12-year old boy had done this was to take him to his first Passover, not meaning the actual first one. Children accompanied their parents from birth. A first Passover refers to the first time a son is old enough in faith to kill the lamb for their family.

“Now Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” (Luke 2:41-42) He memorized the first 5 books of the Bible.

People sometimes think, “Well, Jesus is God. Of course he knew.” Too often His human nature is dismissed. Jesus had to memorize like all the other youth and we have an example to follow. Believers should value memorizing of Scripture.

Not many boys went to the next level. Imagine memorizing the first 5 books of the Bible. Those, like Jesus, who accomplished this would continue studying from ages 12 to 15 while learning the family trade. The focus became learning the rest of the Old Testament, memorizing the Psalms and Prophets. Jesus studied Scripture while developing carpenter skills, wood and stone craftsmanship.

Most boys were finished at 15. The next level required dedication, commitment, knowledge and ability. Many were unable to give the necessary time. They needed a natural ability to skillfully learn, similar to playing basketball for the NBA.

I was a good basketball player, making the high school team. The coaches could only select 15 from a junior and senior class of over 900 students. My team made it to the Elite 8 State Finals. We went up against some great players. Kevin Garnett, current NBA player for the Nets, played on a team at the time. I cannot play basketball like Kevin Garnett. Likewise, only a few students in Galilee had the ability to go to the next level of study. Jesus did!

How is this known? The advanced students studied the rest of the Old Testament with a teacher in authority, a special title. This limited number of instructors went through the process of memorizing the Old Testament, learning from another teacher in authority. The study continued from age 15 to 30.

At this 30 years of age two teachers in authority would either decree a graduate student as someone with authority or as someone not having the necessary skills. If not conferred they continued in the family business.

The Authority of Jesus

Jesus underwent the process to become a teacher with authority. He memorized the first 5 books of the Bible, went to the temple for his first Passover, learned the rest of the Old Testament, studied with one of these special teachers, then at age 30 completed His training and became designated as a teacher with authority.

What two special teachers granted Jesus this special title? Does the Bible tell us? Approaching the Jordan River John the Baptizer addressed the messianic authority of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In other words, as a teacher with authority he attested his authority.

Who was the second person to attest the authority of Jesus? Heaven is ripped open and God became the second witness to the teaching authority of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased.” He is the only religious teacher in history receiving authority from God. When He speaks, God speaks.

What is Jesus saying?

The phrase “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” means they were asking, “Didn’t he grow up here? Doesn’t he know how we feel and how we understand this text? Doesn’t he understand the Messiah will come from our town and bring vengeance to our enemies? What does he mean redemption will come when we show charity to those around us? Are we not waiting for God to crush our occupiers and enemies?”

They saw Jesus as a hometown boy who understood their town’s messianic expectations. The good news Jesus shares and the merciful verses he reads were their stumbling block. Jesus had removed vengeance on the Gentiles from the equation. They were amazed, surprised, disappointed and upset at His words of mercy.

The people of Nazareth loved the promises in Isaiah 61 only as they understood them, as a town resettling after the Babylonian exile. Isaiah wrote, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.

Nazareth was founded to rebuild a former devastation. The citizens intended to possess a double portion. Gentiles would serve them and the wealth of foreign neighbors would flow to them. With the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one of God, hard work would be done by foreigners. The people of Nazareth would become wealthy thanks to their labor.

Instead Jesus proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus. He is the anointed One of God. He announces the dawning of the Messianic age as an event taking place before their eyes in him.

Jesus came to proclaim good news, to show compassion (recover of sight to the blind), and for justice advocacy (liberty to the captives and oppressed).”

Next week, we’ll look at the rest of Jesus’ message in the synagogue before the townspeople attempt to kill him.

The challenge

Proclaim good news, show compassion, and act as a justice advocate for those around you. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the mission He came to fulfill.

How can you proclaim the good news of Jesus to your neighbor? What acts of compassion have you shown lately? Share your comments below.

The Mission of Jesus Part 1

What was the mission of Jesus? Why did He come to earth? A passage from the gospel of Luke helps us understand this. I will be taking the next several weeks to unpack this important scripture.

jesus.001

But before I do, let me ask you, who is God? Or maybe what is God? You might say that:

  • God is holy
  • God is powerful
  • God is omnipotent
  • God is love
  • God is wise

He can be described both abstractly and concretely.

  • God is a shepherd
  • God is a rock
  • God is living water
  • God is bread
  • God is a nursing mother
  • God is a father

These words not only create images but smells, touch and even taste. Scripture does not emphasize thinking about the goodness of God but rather “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

When examining the life of Jesus people describe him as “powerful, wise and gentle,” yet in concrete terms Jesus was born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, and had the heavens and angels announce his birth. A manger is a place for water, not hay. Animals were brought out to graze. Food was not brought into a stable.

The word Bethlehem (bet lehem) means house of bread or place of bread. In Arabic the meaning is house of meat. I love this dual meaning with Arab brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which means “branch or shoot”, referencing the messianic words of Isaiah 11 which states, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.

Connecting the western and eastern understanding, Jesus is:

  • the Light of the world came into the world and announced by starlight.
  • the Bread of life and Lamb of God was born in the city of bread and meat.
  • the Living Water was placed in a water trough.
  • and, the Shoot from Jesse’s stump grew up in branch-town.

Jesus gave his inaugural address boldly and shockingly in branch-town, declaring His spirit-led messianic mission.

Luke 4:14-16

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.”

The town of Nazareth

Understanding the synagogue service requires some history regarding Nazareth, a town of about 200-250 people founded by returnees from Babylon in about 150 B.C. The people named the community Nazareth, deciding they were the ones where the Messiah would come. They named the town neser (branch), referencing the messianic words of Isaiah 11:1. They were saying, “We are Nazareth. We are Jesse’s family and the messiah is going to be from here.” Yet everyone looked down on them. Remember the often quoted saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In other words, “What right do they have to claim the Messiah?”

The setting of Jesus speaking in Nazareth

The gospel of Luke is a sequential gospel, placing things in chronological order. This helps provide a proper context for the passage.

According to Luke, Jesus is baptized and spends 40 days in the wilderness preparing for ministry. After this He, “returns in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. Jesus ministers throughout the Galilee region. This suggests he was a member of the synagogues in a number of communities, including Nazareth and Capernaum.

Luke 8 gives the story of Jairus, the synagogue ruler of Capernaum. The man had various responsibilities. He was the custodian of the building and the master of ceremonies for weekly services. He had the responsibility to schedule synagogue speakers and record the Scripture read and discussed. A list was posted on the wall for the community. A portion from the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, was read along with a section from the prophets.

The Scripture reading was selected far in advance. Similar to Liturgical churches today they created something like a Scripture calendar, detailing what whould be emphasized each week. In Jesus’ day some believe the Scripture passage may have been selected as far as 200 years in advance, evidence points to at least 3 years. This has huge implications to the particular passage Jesus read on that particular day. God is not a God of coincidence. He arranged this moment years before it occurred.

Jesus, one of their own, did some wonderful things in Capernaum and was scheduled to speak in the Nazareth synagogue. The place may have been packed with townspeople. The speaking list posted Jesus as the selected teacher.

Citizens believed the Messiah would come from their community. Jesus healed people, cast out demons, and did amazing things in the region. They came to the synagogue wondering if one of their own was who they were waiting for, if this was the one they should be expecting.

Next week, we’ll look at the message Jesus shared…

The challenge

Grow in your understanding of God. He is holy and powerful our Shepherd and the Rock.

What does God mean to you? Share your comments below.

Rockets Over Jerusalem

A few minutes ago our evening was again interrupted by the sound of sirens warning of incoming missiles from Gaza. Two nights ago, our anniversary date was cut short as we sat in the stairwell of a hotel in Tel Aviv, along with several Israeli’s, amidst the same glaring noise. Shortly after we decided to return home to be with our 3 kids in Jerusalem.

peace

Living in Conflict

Our family is often asked how or why we choose to live in a place of seemingly continual unrest. What we have found is that you can experience joy in the midst of conflict. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

People naturally want to live peacefully. However, Jesus is not saying blessed are those living in peace, but blessed are peacemakers. Peacemakers actually live in the midst of conflict. In other words, blessed are those living in conflict and bringing peace. Godly joy is readily found in the worst conflicts.

C.T. Studd grew up the son of a wealthy Englishman. He felt compelled to fulfill Matthew 19:21, sold what he had and gave to the poor. He spent his life in China, India, and Africa. In a poem he wrote is the line,

Some wish to live within the sound of chapel bells; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”

Studd discovered joy in the midst of conflict.

Taking Sides

America loves sports and Americans love to root for their favorite sports team. The World Cup displays people around the globe doing the same for national soccer (football) teams. The problem is that same mentality affects our view of people in the world. It’s easy to watch the news of middle east strife and put on display our competitive athletic nature rooting for blue and white or black, red, and green. To put on a kippa or Palestinian scarf and take sides in a conflict that takes lives on both sides of the line. But that’s not the Jesus way.

Defining Peace

Jesus lived at a time described as the “Pax Romana,” or Roman peace. Rome established and maintained peace through military might. Jesus, however, is referring to a peace (shalom) that makes a person whole, not the absence of war.

Peace is described as a state of mind, inward soundness, and well-being. When people tell me they are praying for the peace of Jerusalem I like to remind them to be praying for the well-being of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants – Jews, Palestinians, Armenians, Secular Israelis, Druze, Samaritans, Russians, Europeans…all who walk its streets and call it home.

The Peacemaker

Jesus was a peace-making Jew who cared for Jew and Gentile alike. He understood that the sun rises and rain falls on all mankind (Matthew 5:45). Paul describes Jesus as our peace, restoring relationships and bringing unity. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…and he came and preached peace to you who were far off (Gentile) and peace to those who were near (Jew)” (Ephesians 2).

The coming of Jesus brings the possibility of peace.”

Mourning for this Land

Several weeks ago three young Israelis, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar, were kidnapped and murdered near Hebron. A few days after their bodies were discovered, a young Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped not far from where we live and burned alive in the Jerusalem forest. Our family mourned for these sons of Israel and this son of Palestine. We prayed for the families and asked God to bring shalom to this land.

Jesus also shared, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This mourning is both personal and global. A mourning over the state of the whole world as you see the moral mess and unhappiness and suffering of mankind. Mourning with an understanding that the wrongdoer is sick, in need of healing.

We mourn when rockets are fired from Gaza because the wrongdoer is in need of healing. He terrorizes residents of Tel Aviv and others throughout the land, who are forced to hide out in bomb shelters and stairwells. We met some of them. We mourn when bombs are dropped on Gaza and lives are lost. I watched a video of a toddler being dug out of rubble. A child, barely able to walk, growing up in a profoundly hostile world. This land needs peace.

The World’s Great Need

The great need of the world today is for a number of peacemakers. If only we were all peacemakers there would be no problems, there would be no troubles. So what does a peacemaker look like? What do they do?

  • The peacemaker has only one concern, and it is the glory of God amongst men and women.
  • Peacemakers are ready to humble themselves and ready to do anything and everything in order that the glory of God may be promoted.
  • Peacemakers are prepared to suffer in order to bring it to pass. They are even prepared to suffer wrong and injustice in order that peace may be produced and God’s glory magnified.
  • Peacemakers do not simply sit in a study and theoretically work out this principle. It is in practice that a person proves whether they are a peacemaker or not. {1}

Godliness

God has made peace. He has humbled Himself in His Son to produce it. That is why the peacemakers are ‘children of God.’ What they do is to repeat what God has done. Peacemakers have an element of godliness about them, lovingly restoring right relationships. God considers peacemakers as one of His own, like a proud dad making the claim, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”

Loving God and Neighbor

As people with Israeli and Palestinian friends, we are occasionally asked, “So whose side are you on?” As a family who serves Jesus with a heart to follow in His footsteps and fulfill His command to love God and people – all people, we are on neither side.

Joshua 5:13-14 gives guidance, “While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, ‘Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ He said, ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’”

We are for all peoples and nations, to the glory of God!”

The Challenge & Prayer

May you have a heart to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants, may you mourn over the state of the world, may you forge a growing desire to be a peacemaker in this world, and may shalom be experienced in this land and beyond its shores.

{1} Copyright 1959-60 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids. 1976.

True Worship

Jerusalem is a city of religion. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism consider the city sacred. Pilgrims come from around the world to journey where Jesus, Mohammed, and Abraham walked. They seek spiritual experiences in religious locations.

While speaking with a Samaritan woman Jesus reveals genuine worship is not dependent on places or things. God actively seeks true worshippers, those willing to worship “in spirit and truth,” those with a sincere and honest approach to God. Are you a true worshiper?

worshipJohn 4:20

“So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

A holy mountain

The Samaritan woman tried to move the conversation away from her many husbands to an even more controversial topic: Which mountain is holy?

There was a bitter division between Jews and Samaritans over rival claims about the genuine place of worship, Jerusalem or Gerizim? Samaritans read only the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Old Testament — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Within these books Mount Gerizim is given importance. Abraham and Jacob set up altars on the mountain and later, after Israel took possession of the land, it became the hillside of blessing.

Jews, however, included other Scripture that helped define Jerusalem as their holy place (2 Chron. 6:6, 7:12; Ps. 78:68).

John 4:21-24

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The nature of worship

Jesus did not wish to be drawn into the debate. Location does not matter. His concern is the nature of worship. Worship inaugurated by Jesus is not tied to any place considered sacred.

Worship is an issue of “spirit and truth.”

God is actively seeking true worshipers – those who maintain a complete sincerity in their approach to God. True worshipers do so in spirit, as defined by emotion, intellect and will. They also worship in truth, through their speech, actions, and thoughts. God is ceaselessly active as the life-giving Spirit and is worthy of all worship.

But how does one worship? In the sanctuary God has prepared, the arena of life, He makes a person’s whole life worship. Faith communities come together weekly to engage a person’s emotions, intellect and will, but worship of God extends far beyond this brief corporate encounter. Genuine worship is spiritual. It is not dependent on places and things. A person’s daily work, words, actions, thoughts…their whole life is worship.

John 4:25-26

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

The Messiah revealed

The woman does not dispute Jesus’ comment and understands the Messiah will fulfill all that was spoken.

On this occasion Jesus admits being the Messiah. He safely uses the term in a region away from Jewish political circles. His confession is a beautiful invitation to “come unto Me.”

More than the Messiah

Jesus was more than a Jew or Samaritan could comprehend at the time.

He is the Answer to the undeniable sin problem.”

The challenge

Genuinely worship God in spirit and truth! Sincerely come to Him and dedicate your life to His will. He is worthy of worship.

What does being a true worshiper mean to you? Share your comments below.

Experiencing Jesus

Many decide to follow Jesus because they incorrectly think He will give them a trouble free life. They desire to experience life without pain. The abundant life Jesus promises does not mean no difficulties. Rather, Jesus becomes the rock people build their life upon. Without Him life is built on shifting sand.

Jesus wants you to know the real blessing of abiding in Him.

Photo: Valley where Jesus met the Samaritan woman

Photo: Valley where Jesus met the Samaritan woman

John 4:15

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

Personal Convenience

The woman took the words of Jesus literally, similar to Nicodemus taking the discussion about new birth literally.

The woman’s concern at this point was personal convenience. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid frequent trips to a well and the regular hassle of drawing water?

Many want Jesus in their life as a matter of personal convenience. They hope Jesus will reduce the hassle of life, making inconvenience and trouble go away. This is not what Jesus offers.

John 4:16-18

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

Jesus confronts sin and offers wholeness

Jesus decides to bring the woman’s situation into the open. In only a few words she attempts to quickly stop the dangerous subject. Jesus’ reply is humbling, showing He knows all about her relational issues. Jesus cuts to the core of the problem.

Things left in the dark are not resolved until brought into the light.”

Jesus wants to see this woman fully restored, not possible until light is brought upon her unwholesome lifestyle choices.

John 4:19

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.”

The Messiah

Samaritans acknowledged no prophet after Moses other than one mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him.” This coming prophet was considered the Messiah. For the woman to speak of Jesus as a prophet was to assign him this special designation.

The challenge

Step into the light and seek God’s forgiveness. Desire to experience the full measure of divine grace. Come to Jesus – the Rock of Ages.

How has Jesus made Himself known to you? Share your comments below.

Eternal Satisfaction

After graduating from college, Shellie and I were married, I started my teaching career, and we moved into a one-bedroom apartment. We were on our own, with respectable work, a home, and cars to get around. We found some fulfillment in our work, but were yearning for something more. We knew Jesus promised an abundant life and we were convinced we had yet to experience “life to the full.”

In John chapter 4, Jesus meets a woman at a well and introduces her to life eternally.

To experience an eternally satisfying life, a person must encounter Christ.”

satisfaction

Photo credit: bartb_pt (cc)

John 4:4-8

He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

Obeying God

From a practical standpoint, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria. Most Jews avoided travel through Samaria, but it seems Jesus had to travel this way in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

Upon meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus makes a request in order to get connected with her. He establishes common ground, a need for water, to begin sharing the gospel with her.

John 4:9

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

In need of water

The woman at the well recognized the vast difference between herself and Jesus, but He established a simple commonality – thirst. Jesus and the woman shared common human aspirations and needs.

John 4:10

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

Living water

Jesus quickly transitioned to spiritual matters, referring to the new life He gives, a life connected with the activity of the Spirit. He used the analogy of living water to raise interest and left the woman wanting to know more.

John 4:11-12

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Greater than Jacob?

By all appearances, it seems the woman thinks there is nothing extraordinary about Jesus as He engages her in spiritual conversation.

John 4:13-14

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

Abundant life

The living water that Jesus gives will bring permanent satisfaction. A vigorous stream bursting forth into an abundant, everlasting life in the Spirit that motivates believers into action.

Life bringing forth more life.”

The challenge

Seek the abundant life only Jesus can bring. Everything else only temporarily satisfies, but Jesus brings permanent satisfaction.

How have you experienced an abundant life in Jesus? Share your comments below.

In God’s Time

After graduating from college, Shellie and I had a desire to teach overseas. We began exploring different opportunities but in the end took teaching jobs in the Chicago area. One of the things we learned following Jesus is to trust His timing. During Jesus’ ministry, He always waited for the right time.

time

Photo credit: ToniVC (cc)

John 4:1

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John.

Curious

The Pharisees had taken an interest in John the Baptist (John 1:19). Yet now Jesus was baptizing more than John. They became equally curious about Him.

John 4:2

(though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did).

Under God’s authority

Jesus himself did not do the baptizing but the disciples did under His authority. The value of baptism is not found in the baptizer but in the One whose name the rite is administered, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

John 4:3

So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

The right time

Jesus withdrew from Judea and set out for Galilee before a confrontation could occur with religious leaders. The timing was not right.

God’s time

When it comes to the work of God, His will and His way is not only involved but also His time.”

According to God’s will and way Jesus would die on the cross. Just as important was the timing. Jesus needed time to train His disciples so they could carry on the work after His resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Leaving America

After teaching in Chicagoland a number of years, Shellie and I began working with an international school in Khartoum, Sudan. We trusted God’s timing and He led us to a great school that we were able to lead for a few years. Our experience in Africa changed us forever, moving us from a routine to radical life, dedicated to God’s glory among the nations.

In pursuing the will and way of God, trust in His timing as well.

The challenge

Pursue God’s will, way, and timing for everything. Allow Him to order your steps and make your path straight.

How has God’s timing made a difference in your life? Share your comments below.

God’s Wrath

Hinduism has many variations. Yet a common theme is the need to make offerings to appease the anger of the spirit world. Hindus practice a religion involving worship and sacrifice to prevent gods from being angry. John reveals unless a person chooses a meaningful relationship with the true God, they remain under divine wrath. The death of Jesus on the cross settles the issue. Have you put your trust in Him?

wrath

Photo credit: gleasonmj (cc)

John 3:31

He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else.

Above all

Jesus is above all, is absolutely preeminent. The message of John the Baptist is critical and timely but he and his assignment were only temporal.

John 3:32-33

He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true.

God is true

The world, as a whole, is not interested in the truth Jesus came to bring. Anyone willing to place their faith in Jesus accepts what God has said. Their eyes become open to the reality that God is true.

John 3:34-35

For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands.

In God’s hands

To receive Jesus is to receive the words of God. God gave Jesus the gift of life. As a person comes to Him, they can receive the Spirit of life in bountiful measure and the assurance of everlasting life.

John 3:36

And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.

A new life

When people put their trust in Jesus they enter new life.”

On the other hand, disobedience incurs wrath, divine judgment. God’s holy nature is actively against everything evil. Anyone who continues in unbelief and disobedience has nothing to look forward to other than judgment.

The challenge

The only way to avoid God’s wrath is surrendering your life to Jesus. Know that God is true, receive new life in Christ and ask Him to fill you with the fullness of the Spirit.

What are some practical ways you can trust God more? Share your comments below.