Grace better than violence!

“I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.” (Nehemiah 13:25)
Nehemiah resorts to violence to smarten the people up.
But does it work; does physical discipline root out bad behaviour?
Violence cannot cure the heart; nor can it establish God’s kingdom.
Not even Jesus could fix the temple through forcefully cleansing it.
Through Jesus, God shows us what it takes to overcome evil.
Jesus uses grace, mercy, love, self-denial, compassion to beat evil.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
In the end, Jesus was consumed by His zeal for God (John 2:17).
By His being ‘beaten’, He broke the grip of sin, violence and death.
He turned the tables on Satan by NOT responding to evil with more evil.
Jesus models the revolution of grace He speaks of in Matthew 5-7.
THIS is how we are saved, and to THIS we are called!
As a Jesus follower, am I committed to pursuing the kingdom THIS way?
This is how God’s kingdom comes: by grace, not violence!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, the kind of leadership I need to provide is not a strong hand, but a servant’s hand. Help me not to beat Your followers, but to bless them with grace towards You!

The sound of rejoicing!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Nehemiah 11-12
“The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. (Nehemiah 12:43)
Have you ever heard the “sound of rejoicing” like this?
When’s the last time you experienced the sound of believers rejoicing?
Not just an amplified sound system, not just a large group singing.
I’m thinking of a truly joy-filled, full throttle praising?
When the joy in the Lord within cannot be contained.
True joy is not something that we can fake or make happen.
It is the result of the Spirit impressing God’s love and grace in my heart.
To have the “sound of rejoicing”, we need to experience joy within.
It won’t help to argue about worship styles, songs, instruments, etc.
Joy is the fruit of knowing God and Jesus within, and then any style will do.
Joyful worship starts inside of me, it can’t be found in a liturgy.
How has the greatness or goodness of God caused my heart to move this week?
Is my heart stirring with gratitude, or my eyes with tears?
I sense the Lord asking me, ‘am I experiencing the joy of the Lord within?’
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I’m not content with worship music, songs or instruments. Inflame such a joy within my heart that any music, song or instrument will do!

Is this how I am known?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Mark 15:42-47
“Joseph… who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.” (Mark 15:43)
Mark describes this Joseph as one waiting for the kingdom of God.
Many Jews trusted that God would one day restore His people as a mighty kingdom.
Joseph had hoped Jesus was the one, but now his hopes are dashed.
He is burying his hopes with the body of Jesus, maybe questioning his kingdom hope.
Will God’s kingdom ever come, will the Empire ever be beaten?
What happens when our hope in Jesus is undermined by our messed up world.
When evil seems to succeed, when those who hope in Jesus seem to struggle.
Can I really believe that God’s better world is coming, through Jesus?
That good with triumph, that injustice, sin and suffering will end?
After centuries of waiting, am I starting to lose my hope?
No, Jesus beats sin and death, He has taken back Adam’s throne from Satan.
As Jesus followers, we bury evil with grace, we build the kingdom with love.
Not just waiting for the kingdom, we are living it by faith in Jesus!
Am I known as one that is waiting for – living for – the kingdom of God?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, may how I live reflect the hope that love and goodness triumph in You. May people experience Your better world, Your better way, through me!

Me, a righteous son?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Mark 15:38-41
“Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
This non Jewish soldier sees something God-like in Jesus.
We assume he means that Jesus is divine, but is this what he’s saying?
Consider Luke’s version, “Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47)
My sense is that these phrases mean the same thing.
The phrase ‘son of God’ means one like God, with God’s character.
The same phrase is used of Adam in Jesus’ genealogy. (Luke 3:38)
In other words, this phrase describes humanity as we ought to be.
We were created to be “like God” as His image-bearers (children).
We were made to live, to love, to be like Jesus, like Adam, like God!
Jesus deserved this title of rightouesness, but what about me?
Jesus becomes a faithful Adam for me, to beat Satan and sin for me.
Jesus reclaims Adam’s throne for me, and restores me to God.
Now by grace God looks at me and says, “Surely this man is a son of God!”
I am God’s child, and so are you… because Jesus made it possible for us!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, thanks to You I am accepted as God’s righteous son. Help me with Your Spirit to reflect Your God-like character, and so be the me You saved me to be!

Breathe in me, Breathe of God!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Mark 15:33-37
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” (Mark 15:37)
These words make me think when God first created humans.
“God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7)
Right now I am breathing the breath of God, the breath of life.
I do this every day, and take it for granted that I’m still breathing.
I’ve also been with a few who breathed their last breath, it was eery.
How much more eery when Jesus breathed His last breath with a loud cry.
As I imagine it, I get the shivers.
Jesus, the incarnation of God, fully surrenders what was rightfully His.
He empties Himself of divinity, including the Breath of Life (Philippians 2:6-8).
Today’s reading is humbling, yet inspiring (in-breathing) for me.
As a Jesus follower, I see in this moment the heartbeat of God.
God’s sacrifice for me reveals the depth of love, and the meaning of life.
The breath of God made me to live in love like this, like God!
To devote my breath in loving God by inspiring (in-breathing) others with love!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, every breath I take I take in You. May my life reflect the huge gift that it is, and be used to extend life to others.

He has His reasons

THE STORY OF JESUS: Mark 15:27-32
“Let this Messiah come down now… that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:32?)
I have heard people say these very words.
‘Where is this Jesus you believe in, let Him show Himself!’
When our Messiah does not perform as demanded, they refuse to believe.
Like Thomas after the resurrection, ‘Unless I see, I will not believe’.
In this scene, Jesus does not ‘perform’ for a good reason.
He is up to something better, the most important thing He can do.
Jesus is in the process of beating Satan and sin, and setting us free.
If He were to ‘perform’ our way, we would not like the results.
The same is true now, Jesus is still up to something better.
When Jesus seems hidden, or unresponsive, He is not inactive.
Jesus is at work all the time, everywhere, confirming His victory.
He is using me and my life – and everyone else’s – as part of His plan.
He has His reasons when He does not ‘come down’ when we ask Him to.
Better to surrender to His hidden purpose, than have Him meet my demands.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, this is true, but still not easy. Sometimes I really do wish You would do something visible, miraculous. But even if I do not see, yet I will trust in You!

Honest about MY shortcomings!

“Let all those whose hearts are honest praise him.” (Psalm 64:10)
Do you know anyone who is evil?
Not in the general sense that we’re all sinners, but like David describes.
They make evil plans, their tongues are swords, their words are arrows.
They attack the innocent, they cleverly scheme ways to bring them down.
They have no fear of getting caught, and could care less about God or others.
I haven’t met someone like this, though I’m sure they’re out there.
To some degree, we all have hints or moments of this, but not this bad.
David is right, people like this will face God one day, it won’t be easy.
Maybe I’m not THIS bad, but I need to honestly admit when it creeps in.
My subtle use of words to win over others, my secret hope that others will fail.
My critical or judgmental attitude about others… these are not small to God.
God hates this stuff, whether big or small, whether in seed form or fully grown.
The Lord is calling me to be honest with Him, to name the ‘little’ sins.
Not to grovel, but to experience God’s amazing grace for me too – and praise Him!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, its easier to see the bigger sins of others than the supposedly smaller sins in me. Help me to see that my sins are logs to You, no matter how they compare to others.

Prone to wander!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Nehemiah 9-10
“We are slaves today, in the land you gave our ancestors.” (Nehemiah 9:36)
The bible is the story of God’s love for His stubborn children.
In times of need or crisis we cry out for help.
But when we’re doing well, we forget God, or keep Him at a distance.
Living without God leads to hardship and misery.
Think of the prodigal son, free to live as he pleased.
And he ends up among the pigs destitute and hopeless.
Yet not quite hopeless… there’s still the Father.
Like Nehemiah in this prayer, like the prodigal son, we can go back.
God does not give up on us, even when we give up on Him.
Where am I right now in my relationship with the Lord?
Am I clinging to Him for help, or trying to go it alone?
Life in this world is impossible without God as our partner.
Whatever we pursue instead will enslave us, and ruin our lives.
Thankfully, even then, we can still turn back, and He will welcome us!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, ‘prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Your courts above

Refuse to be intimidated!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Nehemiah 6-8
“They were all trying to frighten us, but I prayed ‘Strengthen my hands.'” (Nehemiah 6:9)
Do you believe in the Enemy (the accuser, the deceiver, the devil, the satan)?
There are many ideas about what the devil is, and what the devil is like.
I don’t believe most of them, but I do believe that we face a major spiritual Enemy.
The angels are spiritual messengers (‘angelos’ means ‘messenger’).
Demons (fallen angels) ‘speak’ in many ways to get into our heads.
Like the legion of spirits that used pigs to frighten people away from Jesus.
Or here, voices of fear and intimidation, weakening the people’s confidence and resolve.
I am sure you experience these negative voices, undermining your faith, hope and love.
There are also encouraging voices, angels (messengers) from God, that point us to God.
But what voices do we listen to, which voices do we give credence to?
Nehemiah refused to be intimidated; He looked to God for strength, and received it.
He resisted the devil, and the devil fell back (for the time being).
Am I aware of the Enemy’ schemes, am I on guard, and am I refusing to be intimidated?
Jesus is the Voice (Word) of God, and the angels echo Him; I choose to listen to Him!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I don’t know exactly what Satan is, but I do know what Satan does. Satan is constantly whispering doubt, fear, confusion into my head and heart. May Your Spirit speak louder in my soul, and may I choose to listen to You!

Experiencing Jesus through me!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Mark 15:21-26
“Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus…” (Mark 15:21)
Have you ever heard of Alexander and Rufus?
How is it that Mark knows their names, when the other gospel writers do not?
Why is it that Mark assumes his readers will know them?
One guess is to think about the impact of what happened to their father.
Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ cross, did this lead him to believe in Jesus?
To carry a condemned man’s cross was not an honour, but a humiliation.
Such an experience could shake him up, and lead to deep soul turmoil.
At the same time to be in the presence of such a gentle, gracious condemned man.
To see His suffering, yet to hear His gracious forgiveness for His murderers?
It seems likely that this experience led him to share what happened with his sons.
And together they became known in the christian community (in Rome, where Mark wrote?).
An encounter with the gracious Saviour leads to this family’s conversion.
This is not the only time this happens (for example, Acts 16:25-34).
Today I am wondering, has my family experienced the gracious Jesus through me?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, how has experiencing You in Your crucified glory impacted me? How has it impacted my family through me? May those I love come to know and experience You for themselves, like Alexander and Rufus.