Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Leader Who Had a Hard Time Listening

1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.a ”
4“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spiritb gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘Youc must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”d
9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.e 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,f 15that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3)

Thoughts: There is much debate about this passage and Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a leader in the Sanhedrin.  He was well educated, respected, and wealthy.  Nicodemus tried to stand up for Jesus at his arrest, and boldly took Jesus' body for burial along with Joseph of Arimathea helping to treat the body with care.  So Nicodemus became a listener to Jesus.
      Nicodemus came at night to Jesus as it is recorded in this passage.  He may have been curious, or trying to trap Jesus, or he could have been genuinely beginning an inquiry.  I think the latter.   He came at night without an entourage or soldiers.  He came saying that Jesus was a great teacher and seemed to believe in the miracles of Jesus.  The miracles piqued interest and laid credence to the uniqueness of Jesus.  Jesus' words in verse 11 point out that Nicodemus at this time was not a believer or fully accepting the testimony of Jesus. 
Jesus' words to the learned man were important.  They were not another lesson in ethics- like the Sermon on the Mount.  It was not a discussion on the fine points of the Law or Philosophy or politics.  Nicodemus' problem was not intellect but belief.  To believe the testimony of Jesus is to be born again.  This is not a literal second physical birth, but a spiritual re-birth.  It is when everything in life becomes new- including how we look at the Law, Philosophy, politics, and education.  I am convinced that the Law, Philosophy, politics and education are all important, but they are limited in what they can do for both human behavior, and in the face of death and our own failures (sin).  Nicodemus needed the power of the one lifted up on the cross to forgive him, and he needed to believe in him in order to have the life beyond the Law, Philosophy, politics, and education.  Today, the crisis we face is a crisis of belief and trust in God.  When people are transformed, the world becomes transformed- and yes, for the better.  Being born again means that we stop going our way- and we are born into a new way of life- the way of eternal life.  

Prayer: Lord, transform me into the person I need to be.  Let me live as your new creation- leaving the old behind.  Give me ears to hear and a heart to respond and be born again.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Jesus and Mary Listening

1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4“Woman,a why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.b
7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.  (John 2)

Thoughts: There is much about listening in this first recorded miracle of Jesus.  Jesus listens to Mary, though he seems to say it is a bit risky for him to do this now.  His mother saw the need and pointed it to Jesus- listening to the providence of the situation.  Mary told the servants to listen to Jesus- "do whatever he tells you."  If they did not listen, the miracle would not have occurred.  Listening is always a precursor to a miracle.  Naaman had to listen to Elisha and come to Israel to be cured- though he didn't want to do so.  Listening means humbling ourselves before another.  Humbling ourselves to pay attention to God is a good thing for us.  Listening to Jesus changes ordinary water into wine.  Listening to Jesus changes our ordinary lives into rich full ones with purpose that honor Him.  

Prayer: Lord, enrich my life by enabling and helping me to listen to your great voice.  

Couples renewing vows at Cana church 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rejection at Nazareth

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”f
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
24“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosyg in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.  (Luke 4)

Thoughts: So sadly, the people of Nazareth refused to hear the good news.  Perhaps they were blinded by the fact that Jesus grew up before their eyes.  Perhaps they were furious because Jesus knew he was getting a cold shoulder reception from his hometown.  The people did not just passively not listen.  They actively were angry at Jesus and tried to drive him out.
     There are today people who do not want to listen to Jesus because he rubs him the wrong way.  But they go a step forward and actively oppose Jesus and Christians.  Some however, actively oppose Jesus.  Last year was the most violent year against Christians in history (according to Open Doors).   To think that his own people would be so against Christ who came to simply heal and help is amazing.  The cross was a tragic act of history, and the martyrdom of Christians today follows in that same vein.  The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.  Christ was not destroyed by his rejection in Nazareth, but his rejection let him spread good news to Capernaum and Galilee.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to have listening ears.  Help me to always be willing to face my cross and to stand with those who are facing the cross of persecution.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Devil Didn't Listen

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempteda by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’b ”
5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’c ”
9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’d ”
12Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’e ”
13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Thoughts: It is interesting that Jesus' weapon against the devil was the Bible itself (from Deuteronomy).  The Living Word quoted the written word as a powerful weapon.  He did this as an example for us.  No doubt Jesus told this story to his disciples as no one else was around to witness it.  The devil did not argue with the quotations.  But stopped each temptation when confronted with the written word of God.
     The devil does not obey or heed the Word.  But the devil did listen, stop the temptation, and in effect flee from Jesus because of the written word quoted.
     The temptations here had to do with 1) Not believing God would provide physically; 2) Not trusting that God alone should be worshiped; 3) Trying to prove/test God.  

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to know your Word well enough to quote it and use it as Jesus did.
Help me to resist the devil that he may flee from me.  Help me to stand up against evil and temptation when I see it.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Some Listen Skeptically- Nathanael

43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip 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.”
46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50Jesus said, “You believeh because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “Very truly I tell you,iyouj will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’k the Son of Man.” (John 1)

Thoughts: Perhaps you have read this passage a hundred times.  But each time you approach some new angle allows you to understand deeper and a bit better.  This time I encourage you to read this passage think of how people listen and respond to Christ.
      Philip responded well and he invited Nathanael well.  His invitation was to "come and see."  That should be our invitation as well. 
    But Nathanael was very skeptical.  He scoffed at Philip- "How can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  So many today are like Nathanael.  They have a little religious exposure.  They are not really opposed to the idea of a Savior, but they are skeptical.  He had hardened his heart against hearing anything from the back country town of Nazareth.  Perhaps he knew someone who did bad things and came from Nazareth.  Perhaps he had a bad experience in Nazareth himself.  We purposefully do not know- for it does not matter.  It does not matter why people are skeptical of Jesus and of His great message.  Their skepticism is unwarranted.
           Nathanael changed his mind as he encountered Jesus himself.  Jesus said he saw him ahead of time. But Jesus said that is not much of a miracle to breakthrough all the hardness of skepticism and doubt of Nathanael.  Jesus is God.  He shows that in many ways.  Perhaps if we will "come and see" He will show us we ought to believe.  

Prayer: Lord, take away my hardness of heart, and let me experience your heart.  


Monday, January 25, 2016

The Disciples listen

18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.
21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Mt. 4)

Thoughts: I want to focus on how the disciples listened to this call to follow Jesus.  They followed at once.  They did not weigh things, they did not become indecisive, they did not hesitate- they followed at once.  They left their nets.  They were willing to give up their money and their livliehood to follow Christ,  Who wouldn't?  He is worth more than all our money and food.  It is because they left that history has never been the same and that we are here today.  Listening to God's call to follow remains important and we should listen to Him.  Sometimes listening means dropping what we are doing.  Following Jesus always bears fruit- whether we see it or not.  Sometimes that fruit involves other people being inspired just by our faith and commitment.  

Prayer: Lord, give me ears to hear, and a willingness to drop my nets and follow you.

The author at the Sea of Galilee. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Disciples Listen and Follow

35The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39“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.
40Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ). (John 1) 

Thoughts: Tradition says Andrew and John were regular disciples of John the Baptist.  Both were fishermen from Capernaum, Galilee where Jesus later centered his ministry.  John pointed to Jesus saying that he was THE LAMB OF GOD.  This was tantamount to calling him the Messiah.  The reference was to Jesus as the Passover Lamb whose blood protected from the angel of death.  When John and Andrew heard this they followed Jesus- but following the Lamb whose death would atone also meant they were following Him from the beginning facing danger.  Jesus invited them to come and see and they followed Him.
     Andrew was excited about his new call and invited his brother Simon Peter to join him.  This invitation changed the leadership of the disciples and the church.  Always, to be a disciple means to listen and then try to follow and imitate our Lord.
        Jesus calls US to follow Him by asking us to "come and see."    We are called to come and experience for ourselves the truth of Jesus as the Messiah.  Listening to the call means to come and see for ourselves- experiencing Jesus as the Savior of the world and our Savior. 

Prayer: Lord, when you bid me come and see, help me to come to you and experience anew your hope and salvation.  


Saturday, January 23, 2016

False Hearing

Matthew 24:24- For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. [Jesus]2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves.

From Jeremiah 28
1In the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, said to me in the house of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people: 2“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachina son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ”
5Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord6He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. 7Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: 8From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. 9But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”
10Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, 11and he said before all the people, “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.’ ” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way.
12After the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13“Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron. 14This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.’ ”
15Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.16Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’ ”
17In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died.

Thoughts: There will always be people who put out a false message to obscure the true message of God.  Jesus said there would be. Peter and the rest of scripture (even Moses Dt. 13:1-4) agree.  Jeremiah was a great prophet who lived to see his prophecy of Babylonian exile fulfilled and after his death his exact 70 year exile prophecy fulfilled (from the time the Temple was destroyed until the new foundation was laid).  Yet as good a prophet as Jeremiah was, he was not believed.  People would rather believe those who affirm their own comfort in the midst of their sin and who give them hope without any repentance.  That is what Hannaniah was doing.  He was basically saying, "We are God's chosen people- nothing bad will happen to us, and God will even restore to us our king without any sorrow."  There are false prophets in the church today who speak against God's written Word and affirm our own ideology and hopes.  History is littered with false prophets.
  John Matthys (1534) and John Beukels both believed they received special words from God that allowed for polygamy, a refutation of scripture, and harshness toward their critics in Munster.  Beukels also prophesied that they would defeat their enemies- which did not happen.  Vernon Howell changed his name to David Koresh who took over the Branch Davidians who believed in special prophetic revelations.  He claimed a harm of women and prophesied the end of the world in 1993.  In a shootout with American federal authorities he was killed.  Sun Myung Moon in Korea, TB Joshua in Nigeria, and many others.  We should not be surprised at false prophets- which is why Jesus said, "I tell you this ahead of time" [so it should not surprise us]  Mt. 24:24,25.  Whenever there is good there are always poor imitations.  Think of money and counterfeit money.  Think of brand name watches like Rolex or Coach/Kate Spade hand bags.  This doesn't mean money in itself, or rolexes or certain goods are in themselves evil.  So there will be false prophets trying (for whatever reason- self aggrandizement or greed or ego) to say they have a word from God that everyone needs to hear to help them.  No Word from God should be false, go against what God has already said, or steer people away from God Himself to false gods (cf. Dt. 13:1-4; 20:18-22; 1 Kings 18).  I believe God can speak today through scripture and perhaps rarely through a person called to speak up for God.  Yet, all words of people should be tested by scripture.  The main thing we should hear is what God has already said, and the principles laid out in scripture.  We must know such things in order to test those who would say new things to see if they are true.  As John said, "Test the spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).  The other side is to realize that just because there are abuses of love, does not mean we should not stop loving.  Just because some ruin their lives does not mean life is not worth living.  Just because some have false or even harmful beliefs does not mean there is no reason to believe.  Just because some live meaningless lives does not mean there is no meaning.  

Prayer:  Lord, through the noise, the distractions, the falseness in life, help me to hear and heed your voice speaking to my soul and life.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Testifying To What He Has Heard

29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.”h
31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.  (John 3)

Thoughts: John testifies to what he has heard.  He has heard and understood that Jesus is the Messiah.  Earlier John had said, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of ht =e wolr.  The best man rejoices with the groom.  John has seen and understood that Jesus is to be elevated.  John's message was pure and true because he clearly heard God's call upon his life and the life of his people. John's call to repent comes from a hear that is humble.  He is able to give up his pride to glorify God and to allow Jesus' messiahship. We too are able to listen to God best when we humble ourselves before Him. 

Prayer: Lord, give me ears to hear and hearts to respond. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

listening to a Baby- Elizabeth

5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1)

Thouhgts: Elizabeth was righteous.  What made her righteous is that she listened to God and tried to serve Him.  When Mary came with Jesus inside her, the baby inside Elizabeth jumped in deference to May's baby.  Elizabeth knew how special this was. John would bow and rejoice in Christ.  Both Elizabeth and Mary had miraculous births.  The birth itself is cloaked in mystery.  Yet Elizabeth listened to her baby.  In a miraculous sign, John lept to praise Jesus in the womb.  

Prayer: Lord, let me listen to others praising your name.