Darker days to come?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 23:26-31
“If people do this when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)
Jesus knows that things can only go from bad to worse in our world.
If innocent people are crucified by religious leaders, things do not look good.
If living trees are cut down like this, what will happen to the dead trees?
Without God, our trees (lives, hopes, kingdoms) are withering and dying.
At first, we do OK, like a tree first uprooted from the soil (its still green).
But as time goes on, the tree slowly dies, and it’s branches go dry.
Our world has been running on reserves, but in time things will go dry.
Eventually, slowly, everything goes from bad to worse.
Contrary to the idea that life in this world is evolving, it’s devolving.
Unless we are reconnected to God; unless we are replanted in the soil.
Why are we so surprised by increasing sickness, violence, addiction, despair, suicide?
We may be in a bubble for the moment, but how long will our bubble last?
Jesus entered the mess to overcome it; He endured the curse to overcome it.
There is hope in this messed up world, but only Jesus can take us there!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I cast my ballot a few days ago, but I have no illusions that any of these leaders can help. Our crisis is deeper and worse than politics can fix; we need a Messiah!

Telling yourself to focus on God!

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2)
When I am discouraged, overwhelmed, scared, or troubled, what should I do?
In moments like these, tell yourself to focus on God.
In this Psalm David is engaging in ‘self-talk’, telling his soul to praise God.
He recalls what makes God great and good, and why there is still hope.
God is great, His love and mercy are great, His purpose and kingdom are great.
Everything about God is great, nothing and no one can overtake Him.
Too often we focus on the greatness of our problems or struggles.
We worship our problems – really we do – when we focus on their greatness.
No matter what happens or what we face or how bad things look, God is superior.
There’s no guarantee an easy life, but we will overcome in the end!
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
Have you convinced your soul that nothing is stronger or greater than God?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, thank You for the reminder to focus on God. Help me to remind myself to focus on God too. NOTHING can separate me from You and Your love!

Serving a questionable leader?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Jeremiah 39-40
“Serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.” (Jeremiah 40:9)
I am trying to figure out how this message fits for Jesus followers.
Through history there have been ungodly rulers in charge of our world.
What does it mean to “serve the king”, when that kings is evil or unjust?
It obviously cannot mean to join the king in their ungodly behaviour.
We submit to God as we submit to our leaders, even when they are wicked.
We don’t support them, but we do not rebel against them either.
As ‘servants’, like Jesus we go beneath in order to help.
We win them over by graciousness and humility and servanthood.
It is evident to them that we are different, that we have integrity and honesty.
We pray for our leaders, and we live good, honourable lives before them.
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” (1 Peter 2:12)
We will speak the truth, but we speak that truth in love – not rebellious defiance.
What does it mean for me to ‘serve’ my new premier, whether I like him or not?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, help me to be a humble servant also in regards to leadership, government, justice and mercy. You have not called me to play politics, but to be like You. Help me to know what this means.

A firm word spoken in love!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Jeremiah 36-38
“This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” (Jeremiah 38:4)
Jeremiah is being accused of discouraging the people with his words.
His message is negative, it points out the failures and sins of the people.
The question is, was his negative message helpful, or hurtful?
It all depends on the context, and the heart of the speaker.
I have heard loving people offer critique in a kind, helpful way.
And I’ve heard unloving people speak only nice words, but they were unhelpful.
There is a time for a doctor to be firm and clear about his warnings.
But there are also times when doctors need to learn some bedside manners.
The same can be said for christians, and christian teachers.
As Jesus followers, we know there is a negative side to our message.
That message needs to be spoken, but in a firm yet gracious way.
Is it evident to those to whom we speak of sin that we love them?
Is it evident that we apply this message to ourselves to, and live it ourselves?
Am I really seeking the good of the person that I am challenging?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, may any challenging word I speak be filtered first through Your loving, gracious heart, and may it be clear that I am no better, and equally in need of correction and challenge.

Releasing Jesus into the world!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 23:13-25
“He has done nothing to deserve death.” (Luke 23:25)
Forget the church, and christians, and religion, and church history for a moment.
Just focus on Jesus and ask yourself, ‘what can we say against Him?’
Pilate concluded that Jesus had done nothing to deserve death (v.15).
I would make that even stronger: what He did deserved life!
I feel bad that church and christianity have reflected so poorly on Jesus.
It makes sense to me that many people reject God and Jesus because of our failure.
But this is a poor reflection on human nature, not on Jesus.
Like Barabbas, we are a seriously flawed bunch, even the very best of us.
And yet we are quick to exonerate ourselves, while critiquing Jesus.
Jesus stands in stark contrast to Barabbas, but also to us (including christians).
Our world needs more Jesus, not more church or christianity.
If you are disillusioned by the church, please focus on Jesus!
And if you are a christian, please focus on Jesus.
May we release more Jesus – not Barabbas – into the world!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, we foolishly crucify all that You represent while we unleash our depravity into the world. Help me to put to death the Barabbas life in me, that Your life may take over!

Quiet, humble proof!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 23:8-12
“Jesus gave him no answer.” (Luke 23:9)
Jesus just stood there quietly, looking like a fool.
Herod wanted a sign, Jesus gave him nothing.
In the end Herod only saw a buffoon, a meek helpless mute.
Jesus does not come across like a worldly leader or celebrity.
He does not draw attention to Himself, and avoided the spotlight when He could.
People were always demanding proof or signs to back Him up.
He did not do miracles on demand, only when they had a good purpose.
People still demand proof and signs that Jesus is Lord.
‘Why doesn’t He make evil stop, why doesn’t He show Himself?’
‘Why doesn’t He speak to me, or help me when I need Him?’
“Jews demand signs, Greeks look for wisdom; we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:22)
Our job is not to prove with words or miracles, but to follow Jesus to the cross.
Jesus humble, sacrificial love, this is the sign that proves His greatness!
To love, serve, bless, forgive, share, care etc. is the quiet proof of God!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, many times I have heard people ridicule You, or faith in You. Help me not to try to fight and prove You. Help me to be like You, proving God’s message with quiet, humble love.

Turning things right-side up!

“We have found this man subverting our nation.” (Luke 23:2)
The Latin root for the English word ‘subvert’ means to turn from beneath.
The original Greek word in this text means to turn thoroughly.
Jesus is being accused of turning things around – like a revolution.
But was Jesus really a revolutionary?
Not in the sense that we normally think, but yes He was.
Jesus came to turn things right, or straight, or right-side up.
Our world is upside down, or backwards, in terms of goodness.
Jesus ‘subverted’ the rulers by being a humble, gentle, patient, loving person.
His goodness antagonized their self-serving attitudes and behaviours.
As Messiah, Jesus was the king of the Jews, but not a worldly king.
His exercise of authority was shown in how He loved and served people.
Jesus subverts Satan, sin, death and hell by His subversive kindness.
As Jesus followers, we are called to be kingdom subversives in the same way.
Not with violence, or rebellious spirits, but with grace, mercy and peace!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, help me to know how to lead like You in this upside-down, mixed up world. May I be guilty of subverting greed, selfishness, injustice etc. with my gracious attitude and behaviour.

Confident… from now on!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 22:66-71
“From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of God.” (Luke 22:69)
For Jews, the ‘Son of God’ was a sinless, God-pleasing human, like Adam (Luke 3:38).
And the “Son of Man” was the promised messiah (see Daniel 7:13-14).
This Son of Man would stand with God and receive God’s authority, glory and power.
Jesus saw Himself as Son of God (perfect Adam) and Son of Man (promised Messiah).
This is what provoked the anger of the Jewish leaders, and led to His death.
Jesus knows this, but He knows that this will only confirm His identity.
“From now on” suggests from this point on, even when I suffer and die.
His suffering and death do not dethrone Him, but assure His throne.
Jesus has been crowned with all authority over all creation.
Adam is back in charge, God’s creation kingdom is re-established.
With Jesus, we are also reigning with God, victorious over Satan, sin and death.
Even though we suffer and die, “from now on” we are victorious with Christ.
This can give us confidence and strength as we face our own suffering and death.
Like Jesus, I want to refuse to let my troubles distract me from my triumph!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, despite all that I see or feel or experience to the opposite, help me to stand with You next to God, trusting that I am Yours, I am secure, and nothing can separate me from God’s love.

OK to be honest!

“For you have taken me up and thrown me aside.” (Psalm 102: 10)
This is not one of those verses that people memorize.
You won’t find it on inspirational cards or gift mugs.
The psalmist is being brutally honest – this is how he feels.
God inspires him to record his honest thoughts, even though they are untrue.
God has allowed us to see into the soul of a struggling believer.
Someone that hangs on to God for hope, but is feeling no hope.
I have met many people like this, and have felt this a few times too.
It’s nice to know that God allows them to feel and express their feelings.
Sadly other believers are not so patient and kind with those who lament.
In their piety they rebuke those who complain or question God.
They tell them that it is their sin, not God, that is hurting them.
They say that if they had faith, they would not feel that way.
Jesus does not treat us this way; like God He is gentle with those who struggle.
“A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:20)
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, thank You for Your patient love. Thank You for the freedom to be honest with You. May those who feel far from You somehow experience Your comfort and strength as they pour out their soul to You.

The freedom of God!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Jeremiah 34-35
“So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord…
‘Freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine.” (Jeremiah 34:17)

There comes a point when God allows us our freedom to choose folly.
He “gives us over” to the desires of our heart (see Romans 1:21-32).
This is not God being mean; this is God honouring our freedom.
But with that freedom comes consequences, and they are often not pleasant.
Jeremiah warns the people that sickness, suffering and death will result.
In the bible ‘punishment’ is not God being mean or vengeful.
Punishment (judgment, hell, etc.) are the natural consequences of rejecting God.
When we stubbornly choose our own way, God eventually allows us our freedom.
Our world is experiencing the consequences of such ‘freedom’.
In fact we’re learning that freedom from God is actually bondage and misery.
Life is not better without God; it can’t get better until we go back to God!
The freedom of submission to God is greater than freedom from submission to God.
Living with, like and for God is the key to love, joy, peace… the freedom of God!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I have seen the truth of this. Going my own way only seems to promise ‘freedom’ but actually makes life worse. Better to be your slave, than the slave of any other pleasure or thing.