The Incomparable Jesus: Alive Evermore

September 21

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…” (Luke 24:5-6)

We have been looking at Jesus and discovering just a few of the things that made Him unlike any other man… or religious figure.

We saw that He was a Man of Sorrows – that He did not just come to take away our pain, but to share in our pain. He felt exactly what we felt – with an empathy that built deep emotional connections with those to whom He ministered. Jesus (God with us) was unashamed to embrace what it is to hurt… just as we hurt.

We also saw that Jesus came to serve – and noticed that this was no small thing. God came down to us, and rather than demand our service (which He deserved!) He chose to serve us. In love, He elevated the status of those around Him to a place of importance – and humbly gave of Himself to those in need.

Today, we bring our attention to the one fact that separates Jesus from every other religious figure (or leader) who ever lived…

If you want, you can take a trip to Kushinagar, India and find the resting place of the cremated remains of Gautama Buddha.

buddhas tomb

Or you can make a journey to Madina, Saudi Arabia, and find the tomb of the prophet Muhammad.

muhammads-tomb.jpg

Take any trip you like, if you seek for the founder/leader of any of the world’s religions you will find an honored, final resting place.

But if you go to Jerusalem to seek the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, you will only find an empty tomb. You can look inside and see for yourself – there is NO ONE in there.

Jesus tomb

That’s because Christianity is formed on the foundation of one amazing fact. Our Savior lives! He died on a Roman cross, was buried in a nearby tomb, but was raised from the dead three days later!

And He still lives today.

The whole basis of Christian faith rests in a living Redeemer – Who paid the ultimate price for each of us, but is the only Person Who defeated death – never to die again!

Christ resurrection

The leaders of all the world’s religions were able to influence and instruct many people. They often had some good advice for us. They had some wisdom to share with us. But, being mortal, they could not remain with us forever.

Only Jesus is alive forevermore. And He lives to walk with each of us, work with each of us, speak with each of us – and to guide us into the fullness of all that His death and resurrection bought for us.

We, who have received Jesus (and what He did for us), share an eternal connection with our Creator. We are adopted members of God’s Own Family. Entrusted with His Kingdom – emissaries of the Most High. Beloved children of God.

john-20-21

With the Living Savior as our Head – our Leader – the Author and Finisher of our faith.

This makes Jesus the most important Figure to ever live… to die… and to live again.

There is none to which we can compare Him. He alone is, indeed, “the way, the truth, and the life.” There is no other person who could do what He did… and continue to do what He does — for those whose hearts have trusted in Him!

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The Incomparable Jesus: Servant of Man

September 20

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Several years ago, a young family in our church had expressed the need for some help with a few repair projects at their home. So quite a few of us donned our tools and headed over to provide some help. We had no idea of the magnitude of the problems that awaited us…

From the moment we opened their door, we knew we were in for a day we would never forget. We entered the house and the floor was moving… as a sea of cockroaches scattered everywhere. They covered the floors and walls. They were behind every wall-covering. They filled the cupboards and countertop.

roach infest

It was like nothing I had ever seen… and hope to never see again (I am not a big fan of bugs, of any kind – but especially roaches!).

Needless to say, the repairs were put on hold until we could reclaim the home.

I tell this story, not to make you ill – but to set the scene for understanding the magnitude of the love of God that was on display when Jesus came to this earth.

When the eternal Son of God came to live and walk among us, it was hardly any different than any of us walking into a roach-infested home. Like roaches compared to us, we are so far inferior to Him, that we hardly deserve anything more than His contempt. But Jesus didn’t come to get rid of us, or to squash us, or to treat as all verminous creatures should be treated.

Jesus came to connect with us. Be with us. Love on us. And serve us.

Jesus loving

Creator-God. Almighty Majesty. Eternal Entity enthroned in the glory of the heavens – and He leaves all that to come to “roach-infested” earth.

Jesus came with a mission. And part of that mission was to take all our sin (that which makes for our “roachness”) upon Himself and be tortured to death in our place. While that is often our grateful focus, we also need to realize that this is not the whole reason for why He came.

Think about His words to His disciples. “I did not come to be served, but to serve…”

This is God speaking. God… with us. He actually deserves to be served. It is the most proper thing for us to do, concerning our Maker. We would rightly expect Him to expect our service to Him. He wouldn’t even be wrong to demand it of us.

But this is not why Jesus came and spent time with people. He came (in a very real sense) to put Himself aside… and to serve us. Only a true love can do this.

Jesus_helping_boy

To truly serve someone we must elevate that person (or persons) above ourselves. Willingly put them in a place above us. Make them more important than ourselves. Make them the recipients of our time, energy, and resources. Even when they are hardly deserving of a single thought, or a second of our time.

Jesus came as the living example of the depth to which the love of God would go. The God of the whole universe… elevating human beings above Himself to impact them with His love. The Master… being the servant.

Showing us, for all of time, that we are not “verminous” to Him. We are the delight of His Heart – and He willingly came and showed us just how much we were His delight… by humbling Himself and serving us.

This is Jesus. The living, breathing demonstration of the Living God — as He really is!

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The Incomparable Jesus: Man of Sorrows

 September 19

“He was… a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

The Jewish people had a tight hold on a popular picture of their promised Messiah. He was going to be a conqueror. A warrior. He was going to bring the nation back to world prominence. He would be relentless. Unstoppable. A King, just like David. Only better!

When Jesus came on the scene, He created quite a buzz of expectation! He had the (unheard of) ability to do powerful, miraculous things. He was smart. Wise (beyond His years). His talks could captivate audiences.

Jesus teaching

He spoke like He really knew what He was talking about. He was comfortable with the powerful. Tender with the timid. With a supreme devotion to truth and what was right.

But there was one thing about Him that confounded those around Him. Unsettled them. Caused them to question… even doubt. He had all the earmarks of the promised One – but then there was that one thing that seemed so out of place for a conqueror.

Jesus wept.

weeping-jesus

He hurt with the hurting. He was (genuinely) troubled by those with troubles. He was openly (above and beyond) compassionate with those who were “harassed and helpless.” And He seemed so unashamed of that fact.

“Some conquering warrior! Shedding tears. Hugging the hurting. Touching the ‘untouchables.’ Investing in those who were the castoffs of society. Sharing their pain. Looking into faces filled with grief… and not turning away.”

This surprised everybody. Jesus did things that only the Messiah would do. But most folks just didn’t get His connection with the weak and hurting. “Who cares about them!”

God does.

More than we ever realized. More than society ever accepts.

Religious culture says: “God is only for the chosen few. The impeccably moral. Those who have it all together. Those who merit His favor. Those who deserve Him.”

But in Jesus, we encounter a staggering truth: God is more than power, or moral living, or truth, or righteousness. God is love. God’s heart is wide open to every person who hurts, who has troubles, who has heartache, who is despised or rejected by the world (or by those who seem to be on God’s good side).

God is love

The truth is: If you have a pulse… you have God’s Heart.

That’s why we see Jesus hurting with the hurting. Crying with those who mourn. Weeping at real-life tragedies. Though He was God with us.

No. Because He was God with us!

At the heart of Jesus is the Heart of God – and His heart was open to all the hurts all around Him. He was not afraid or ashamed to share the pain of those who were subject to sorrow and grief.

Compassionate Jesus

Jesus jumped into the middle of their pain, felt it with them, and offered them His heart to let them know they were not alone. Never alone.

He came not only to die for us… but to truly connect with us in the fullness of our human condition.

Man of sorrows, indeed.

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The Incomparable Jesus

September 17

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

When we think about Jesus, we often focus on His supreme sacrifice to pay the price for our sins. And this is right. He came to willingly give His life in our place.

Or we think about His ability to do the miraculous – to do things that were humanly impossible. And this is good. We need to see Jesus as the incarnation of Almighty God.

Or maybe we think about His ability to teach – to bring heaven’s wisdom and truth down to earth. This is also a proper focus. For Jesus came to tell us about things of the King and about how to live in His wonderful Kingdom.

 Jesus pierced  Jesus heals  jesus-teaching.jpg

But we often miss something that is really at the heart of everything Jesus came to do. If we are not careful, we can miss the heart of Jesus behind everything He did.

In our verse for today, Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

What a strange thing to say! We must remember that this is a prophetic picture of the promised Messiah – the One Who would come and be the Savior, Redeemer, and Liberator of all mankind.

We would expect all the prophecies about Him to be full of pictures of power and majesty, and victory and relentless vigor to bring about His reign on the earth. We would expect words about a glorious conqueror – who overwhelms His foes with irresistible force. Someone exalted and heralded for His justice and equity. Someone whose power and passion make Him a warrior, deserving respect and admiration.

conqueror-jesus.jpg

We would NOT expect Him to be described as One who was “despised and rejected by men.” Not this conqueror. Not this Messiah. Not this long-awaited fulfillment of a long-promised Savior.

Yet, these were the God-inspired words of the prophet. The coming Messiah would be despised. Rejected. Sorrowful. Aware of, and fully familiar with, grief.

But what we tend to forget is that Jesus came, not only as the fulfillment of Messianic promise, but also as the true revelation of the Most High God. He came as God… with us. And what we saw in Him is the exact expression of Who God really is (Heb. 1:3). He came to erase all the pictures of the past – so distorted by the frail understandings of mankind. He came to replace those pictures with a new one. An accurate one. An eternal one.

That for all of time, our view of God would have only one true picture. Jesus came as the “Word of God” to live among us (John 1:1-14).

word became flesh

The Word = the expression that communicates a clear understanding. He came to communicate Who God really is. He came to make it clear to us. Not just with words, but with actions.

To show us… this IS God. This is how we should relate to Him. This is how He desires to relate to us.

This week, I just wanted to draw our attention to Jesus – the incomparable Messiah Who came to give us all that we need, in every way possible…

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Pointless Warnings?

September 14

“When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” (Jeremiah 7:27)

Before leaving this passage, I just wanted to offer my thoughts on something that is both obvious and strange about this verse.

It is God speaking. He is speaking to His prophet Jeremiah. And His message is simply: “Go warn my people… but, they won’t listen.”

Yesterday, we addressed this verse from the prophet’s perspective. He was ordered to go the-old-prophetand do something that would not succeed. He was destined to fail before he ever spoke a word. Yet, he went anyway.

The lesson for us is obvious. We cannot control the results of what we are asked to do – we are just asked to be faithful to do what we are told. That is such a hard lesson for us – but it is foundational for Kingdom living. Our task is just to be diligent and faithful – and leave all the results to God.

But what about this verse… from God’s perspective. God already knows what is going to happen before He ever commands Jeremiah to go and proclaim His message of warning.

So why bother? What is the reason for sending the prophet, when the message he brings will NOT be received. Why does God do something so (seemingly) pointless?

As I think about this… I came up with two reasons (I’m certain there are others!).

First, because God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16), He must always display the aspects of love’s character. And what is love’s character?

love bears all things

Even when love is not reciprocated or it is rejected… love must express it’s undying faithfulness, loyalty, and relentless hope. Love doesn’t just love when it knows it will be received and respected. Love loves even when there is no chance for it to be returned. It’s almost as if love cannot help itself… but love.

Even though God knew the outcome in advance, His enduring love compelled Him to send out words of warning and hope. Love could do no less.

Second, God also knew that, eventually (after a lot of brokenness and heartache), His people would come to their senses and return to Him.

In those wonderful moments of restoration, God’s people could reflect back on what God’s love compelled Him to do – even when all hope was gone: God was still reaching out to His people, calling them to turn their hearts back to Him.

God reaching out

It is the evidence of God’s commitment to His people – to plead with them even though they had zero intention of listening to His voice.

It strikes me that there may be some who are reading these words and wondering if it is possible for God to forgive you for the horrible or shameful things you have done. I have tremendous news. God has not rejected you – even if you are suffering the consequences for your actions. His message of hope is still for you – even if your situation may seem hopeless.

God loves you with an everlasting love. He cannot unlove you. Because He IS love. And when anyone turns their hearts back to Him, He is always waiting with open arms!

jesus2

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Kingdom Talk: Success and Failure; pt. 3

September 13

“When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” (Jeremiah 7:27; see also Ezekiel 3:7)

Picture this… you have a message from the God of Heaven. You KNOW it’s from Him. You are certain that it is God speaking to you. It comes directly from the Throne of the Most High… given for the people of earth to hear.

And then God tells you the unimaginable. “Tell them what I have to say… but they will not listen to you. You will talk… but they won’t listen.”

prophet speaks

How pointless. How senseless. How meaningless. Why bother?

Why proclaim a message that no one will heed (a message from God, no less!).

Yet, this was often God’s little insight for His prophets. “Guys… here’s what I need for you to tell My people… but, sorry, you will fail to get the message across. They just won’t listen to you.”

How would we respond to God’s little insight? Would we go… knowing that we will fail.

I am finding that, as Christ-followers, each of us must come to grips with the idea that success and failure are completely out of our control. Even our faithfulness does not mean that we will see a mighty move of God. We do not control God, even by our faith.

Results are always the responsibility of God.

And it just may be that what we do will look more like failure than success.

This week’s lessons have been mostly for me. They are the lessons with which I have been wrestling for the longest time now. We all want our lives to be a success. We want recognition for what we do. We crave someone (lots of someones!) to come along and tell us just how important we are. How gifted we are. How essential we are. How what we do matters so much.

If we are not very careful we will find that there is so much of US in the equation that there is so little room for God.

It becomes all about us – when we were just certain that it was all about God.

all about me

I’m sure you’ve noticed… the Kingdom of God has built-in assurances for humility.

We don’t really like them. We try to avoid them. We tend to think that we will be different from everyone else. That somehow every thing we do will succeed.

But the same principles apply to everybody. It is never about us. Ever. Even when we think we are doing amazing things for God. Even when we look at what we’re doing and admire our own efforts. And expect everyone else to admire them too.

Our job description is extremely brief… BE faithful. Leave everything else to God.

We each have to be willing to sacrifice all our hopes and dreams to trust in God’s faithfulness. We have to be willing to abandon all measure of reward and recognition. In short, we have to leave every bit of success in God’s Hands – even if we never get to share in the recognition for that success.

I think, for me, that is the hardest lesson of all.

Maybe, for some of you as well…

leave in God's Hands

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Kingdom Talk: Success and Failure; pt. 2

September 12

Yesterday, we talked about success as measured by Kingdom standards – and about how all the positive results we want to see must be left in the Hands (and timing) of God.

As an illustration of this we must turn to our Lord Jesus.

Think about His moments on the cross. Not just the suffering. Not just the price being paid for us. Not just carrying our sin.

But think about Him… in that very moment… in regard to success or failure.

Christ bleeding on the cross - 2

He had spent His entire earthly ministry investing in people. Loving people. Giving of Himself. Meeting needs. Doing things that only God can do.

And they were the ones yelling to “Crucify Him!” They were the ones who willingly chose an insurrectionist and a murderer (Luke 23:19) over the One Who had constantly shown them such kindness.

Crucify Him!

Jesus came to sway the world back to a loving God – and, in that moment on the cross,  the whole world was rejecting Him.

But what about His closest followers? Surely the men who were the focus of most of His time and attention would support Him in His darkest hour? Well, one outright betrayed Him – willfully selling Him out (literally!) to His enemies. And after a lot of noble talk, all the rest of the twelve abandoned Him at His trial.

Peter denies Jesus

Men who had walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, and personally witnessed things that only God could do and say… elected to run and hide – and save their own skins. When their Master needed them most… they were gone.

By all accounts (humanly speaking), in that moment on that cross, Jesus was a colossal failure. All He had set out to do had come to nothing. He was abandoned. Alone. Abused. Tortured. Dying a pointless (seemingly meaningless) death.

And all hell was celebrating. The Light Who came into the world to bring new life to all humanity was snuffed out. A hapless failure. A senseless waste.

But, in the Kingdom, success or failure can never be measured by the standards of this world… or by the devious workings of hell.

Because the standard of the Kingdom is not as much cause and effect… as it is sowing and reaping.

Jesus said it Himself:

kernel of wheat

Jesus’ time on the cross looked like failure. Jesus’ death looked like irreversible defeat.

But in apparent failure and defeat a seed was sown that could not fail or be defeated.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it this way: “Jesus… Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” (12:2) That joy was you and me – and all those who would look upon Jesus’ sacrifice and embrace His gift of eternal grace. It was the victory won out of what anyone would see as defeat. It was success out of what anyone would see as failure.

The Kingdom of God is not built on what the world defines as success – it is built on the premise of Psalm 126:5-6:

ps 126 5

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Kingdom Talk: Success and Failure

September 11

As Christians, all too often we tend to bring the world’s definitions and experiences into our thoughts of the Kingdom of God. But when we do that, we can find ourselves operating by the world’s ways – while expecting God’s results.

One of the most interesting things about Jesus’ teaching is the fact that He often compared the world’s focus with the focus of the King and His Kingdom. What strikes us is how very different God’s view is from the world’s view – and how diametrically opposed the world’s approach is, to God’s approach.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Jorge_Cocco

The problem lies in the fact that we have all been conditioned to act and react in accord with the world’s point of view. Our default mode is to do things the world’s way and expect results (in the Kingdom) according to how things get done in the world.

Jesus came to tell us a better way. He came to show us that better way. And He came to get us in “on the ground floor” of how things work in the Kingdom of God.

The very essence of true Christian living is doing things God’s way, in accord with God’s viewpoint, and having the faith to trust that God is doing what only God can do. Even if we cannot see it happening. Even if we never see it happening.

Not surprisingly, God’s definition of success is also very different from the world’s.

The world tells us to follow our hearts. Chase our dreams – with dogged determination.

follow your heart   chasing-dreams

And if we will work hard enough, and long enough, and “refuse to lose,” we will get the positive results that we are seeking. Get a purpose… and pursue it with passion – and we will reap all the rewards of our perseverance.

But… God tells us that our hearts will deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9). Our dreams are almost always self-centered. And all our efforts can only produce human results.

As Christ-followers, we are actually called to get “a hold” on God’s Heart. Define our dreams by His purpose for us. And live our lives as an expression of our trust in Him. All the rest is up to God. It is HIS work that defines success. And He is the One solely responsible for the results He desires.

This is such a hard lesson for us. We want to see immediate results to our efforts – and if we cannot measure our successes, we can so easily get discouraged, disappointed, and defeated in our relationship with God.

disappointment with God

Last time I checked… discouragement, disappointment, and defeat are NOT fruits of the Spirit! They are direct indicators that we have shifted our focus from God’s way, back to the world’s way – and that we are expecting God to respond, by honoring our desires and efforts.

We all know this… the Kingdom of God is built on faithfulness. Our faithful trust in God. God’s faithfulness to respond to our trust.

But that does not mean we will see immediate… or even miraculous results.

It means we are called to do our part… and trust that God is doing His. In His way. In His timing.

His part is what brings the results. The successes. And His results and successes are measured by eternal standards.

Results and successes we may never know about until we get to the other side…

eternal-reunion

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…Out to Sow…

open again

September 10

“A sower went out to sow…” (Matthew 13:4)

I want to thank all of you who contacted me, taking the time to let me know what a blessing these blog posts have been to you. You can never know just how powerful an encouraging note can be!

I especially wanted to thank my friend Keith @ Stand Tall for Christ (great site!) for bringing up such a valid point… and one that I can so easily forget.

What we do, whenever we attempt anything for God, is just investing in people. And sometimes (maybe often) we are investing in someone that we don’t even know. Maybe they are just cruising along one day and stumble on our words posted on a site – and those words are instrumental in changing their lives.

As is central to the parable of the seed and the sower, you never know when what you cast will find a ready and willing soil. The sower’s role is to just toss the seed.

seed sowing

In a very real sense, we are sowing into the miraculous. It is a miracle when the word of God finds a home in someone’s heart – and it is a miracle when those hearts come alive to Jesus! (Salvation is a resurrection miracle!). But, for each of us, we must realize that WE do not control any of the outcome. We are not the miracle workers. He is. And our part is just to play a role (however tiny) in the miracles that He desires to do.

When we get discouraged. When we can only see the drudgery of our lives. When our lives (and our time) just seem like a waste – it is so easy to forget that we are not in this for ourselves. We are planters, waterers, cultivators… it is GOD Who is committed to bringing the results. That is HIS role.

1 cor 3 7

As we are often discovering… we have no control over God (though, in our honest moments, we probably wish we could). But it is HIS work we are investing in… and our only role is just to be faithful with the talent and gifts we have received.

Sow the Word. Water it with grace. Cultivate it with kindness and encouragement. All the rest is God’s work. God’s results.

I forget that sometimes. In truth, I think we all do.

If I can be honest (and why shouldn’t I be?) I often struggle with doubt. Insecurity. Whether anything I do really matters.

And when you add God to that mix, our perception of Him can get a little (or a lot!) distorted. We end up in dark places. Frustrated. Tired. Sometimes angry. Mostly at God. When none of it is His fault.

Angry with God

We have just lost sight of the one fact that keeps us grounded. We are but dust. But He has chosen to redeem that dust… and has personally called us to serve Him with the gifts and talents He has given us.

He has not redeemed us for our success. Our recognition. Our satisfaction. Our glory. (Even) our happiness.

He has redeemed us so that He can work through us – in ways that only He can do.

And so much of the time… we will never see (this side of heaven) how much work He has done through us…

All that to say this… I have concluded that I just need to keep sowing the seeds God has given me – until He tells me to do something else.

It is time to pick up that seed bag (once again) and head “out to sow…”

sowing seed

Posted in Daily devotional, Disappointment, Giving of Ourselves, Glorifying God, Pleasing God, Purpose in Life, True Christianity | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Closed til further notice…

closed

The old-timers had a saying… “If you are doing something, and God isn’t in it… stop doing it.”

I find myself reflecting on that statement alot, these days…

There comes a point in every person’s life when one cannot be content with doing something just to do something (even if you think it might be a good thing). It is not enough to simply be active… one’s actions must bring some results.

There has to be fruit from the labor — or the labor is fruitless.

More and more, I find myself struggling with the question of fruitfulness — and whether all my hours of efforts in maintaining this blog are accomplishing anything worthwhile for the Kingdom.

It is the doubt… and the not knowing… that has become an ever-present issue in my life.

So, for an indeterminate time, I have decided to stop writing these posts.

Perhaps, I will continue writing (at some future date) if and when I feel that it really is something that God desires for me to do.

Until then, thank you to all of you who have read my work (and a special thanks to all of you who have posted comments and questions). I pray God’s faithfulness to surround you all the days of your lives. May God richly bless you as you seek His Heart!   M. A.

P.S. I will continue my book posts until all the chapters are posted…

You can catch those posts at: https://truechristianitybook1.wordpress.com

 

 

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