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Posts tagged ‘repentance’

Radical Repentance

Radical RepentanceWhen discussing Radical Repentance, we can’t overlook the conversion of Paul.

A well-known persecutor of the church, Paul not only witnessed but gave his approval to the murder of Stephen (Acts 8:1). Many had no doubt labeled him “The Least Likely to Receive Christ.” But then this self-proclaimed “Pharisee” encountered Jesus and became a passionate early missionary and author of several New Testament letters.

In today’s passage, we dig into his dramatic conversion story.

Interact with God’s Word:  Acts 9:1-30

  1. The Lord himself told Ananias of Paul’s conversion, yet Ananias responded with skepticism. Why?
  2. Why is it sometimes difficult to believe a dramatic conversion story?
  3. What were some signs that Paul’s conversion was genuine (vv. 20 & 22)?
  4. What important role did Barnabas play in Paul’s adjustment to the life of faith (vv. 26-27)?
  5. What important role can you play in helping a new Christian adjust to the life of faith?
  6. What can you learn from Paul’s story about God’s ability to save those you’ve pretty much given up on? (See also Luke 15:1-31.)

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for your own conversion experience and ask him to show you how to share Christ’s love with the so-called “hopeless cases” in your life.

Acts 9:1-30

1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”

22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. 23 After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. 24 They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. 25 So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

28 So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown.

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

Radical Repentance – Running on Empty

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Philippians 3:7.

Bonus Reading: John 6:22-58

At the age of 25, according to the world’s standards, I was successful. I was a world record holder in the mile, had been on several Olympic teams, and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, in May of 1972, in front of a nationally televised audience, I finished last during a race in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. I was angry, humiliated, and empty.

Shortly after that race, my wife, Anne, and I visited our friends Bernie and Clara Taylor. During our visit, I noticed Bernie reading over something and asked him what it was.

“It’s my testimony of coming to know Christ,” he said.

Even though I had been raised in the church, and Christian friends had shared Christ with me over the years, I didn’t know what Bernie was talking about. So, that evening, he and his wife shared with Anne and me what it meant to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That night, it became clear that life was not about running faster or winning an Olympic medal; those things could never fill the void in me—only Christ could do that. A few weeks later, Anne and I accepted Christ. It was the best decision we ever made.

—Jim Ryun in The Courage to Run

My Response: When have I allowed my personal pursuits to get in the way of pursuing Christ with my whole heart?

Thought to Apply: Never let success hide its emptiness from you.—Dag Hammarskjold (Swedish statesmen)

Adapted from The Courage to Run (Regal, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Jesus Freak Is Born (Again)

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Bonus Reading: John 3:1-17

Most everybody knows Toby McKeehan as the artist who performed “Jesus Freak” with his fellow band mates in DC Talk. But as a kid, Toby (now known as solo artist tobyMac) went to church because his mom dragged him there. He would often ditch Sunday school.

But 12-year-old Toby’s life changed because of Harold, one of the church’s youth leaders. Along with showing an interest in Toby, Harold invited him to a camp.

“I thought it was a sports camp,” Toby says. “But when we got off that bus, we went straight into this worship service where this preacher was talking for hours.”

While Toby disliked the preaching, he appreciated the conversations back at the cabin. “Harold would take time to talk to us,” Toby says. “He’d share about his past and told us about Jesus.”

One night Toby lay in his sleeping bag with a lot on his mind. He wanted to have a relationship with Jesus, but he didn’t know how. Finally, he went and woke up Harold.

“He led me in asking Christ to forgive me and asking him into life,” Toby says. “My life just went in a totally different direction right there.”

—Todd Hertz in Ignite Your Faith

My Response: Because of Christ, my life has changed in the following ways: …

Thought to Apply: The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise.—Clement of Alexandria (early Church Father)

Adapted from our sister magazine Ignite Your Faith

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – Free Behind Bars

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.  – Ephesians 2:1

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2:2-10

David Berkowitz was sentenced to consecutive life sentences for killing six people and wounding numerous others in New York City. Known as “Son of Sam,” he terrorized the city for months until his capture in 1977.

Berkowitz confessed to the crimes to avoid the death penalty. Though up for parole several times, he has consistently been denied freedom.

For many, this seems a fitting end to a madman’s life—dying a slow death in jail haunted by his past crimes.

But that’s not the end.

In 1987, an inmate talked to Berkowitz about Christ. He gave Berkowitz a Bible.

According to Berkowitz, the book changed his life: “Everything seemed to hit me at once. The guilt from what I did … the disgust at what I had become. … I got down on my knees and began to cry out. … I asked Jesus to forgive me. … A peace flooded over me. … I knew that my life, somehow, was going to be different.”

Berkowitz now has CDs and videos of his conversion available through Focus on the Family. He has appeared on Dr. D. James Kennedy’s TV show, and he has endorsements from Chuck Colson.

—Mark Herringshow & Jennifer Schuchmann in Six Prayers God Always Answers

My Response: Why might I find it hard to accept that someone like David Berkowitz could be a genuine Christian?

Thought to Apply: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.—John Newton (British clergyman and former slave-ship captain)

Adapted from Prayer Power (Tyndale, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A President’s Greatest Need

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. Philippians 3:10.

Bonus Reading: Acts 9:1-30

As a young Michigan Congressman, Gerald Ford met a gospel-film executive named Billy Zeoli who came by his office and gave him a Bible. Over the next few years, the two men became close.

Among their bonds was a love of sports: Ford had been an All-American football player, and Zeoli had a ministry to pro athletes. At a pre-game chapel for the Dallas Cowboys, in Washington to play the Redskins, Ford went to hear Zeoli preach on “God’s game plan.”

Ford was especially moved by the sermon and talked with Zeoli afterward about Christ and forgiveness and what it meant. The inquiry felt real and raw; but was that the moment Ford committed himself to Christ? “It’s hard to say when a man does that,” Zeoli says plainly. “That’s a God thing. But I think that day is the day he looked back to as an extremely important day of knowing Christ.”

When Ford became vice president in 1973, Zeoli began sending him a weekly devotional memo. Zeoli sent 146 devotionals in all, every week through Ford’s presidency. Beyond the memos, Ford and Zeoli would meet privately every four or five weeks for prayer and Bible study.

—Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy in Time

My Response: One thing I will do this week to get to know Christ better is …

Thought to Apply: Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on Earth!—Jim Elliot (slain missionary to Ecuador)

Adapted from “The Other Born-Again President,” Time

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – God’s Huge Heart

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Bonus reading: Romans 8:31-39

As I met with Fernando in his prison cell, he confessed that he had committed a lot of sins. He just couldn’t see how God could possibly forgive him. I drove home today’s Key Bible Verse and emphasized the complete forgiveness God offers to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of our short time together, God broke this man. We got down on our knees and Fernando asked the Lord for forgiveness.

After his release from prison, Fernando moved to London. During one of our trips to England, Pat and I invited him over to our hotel for tea. When Pat greeted him in the lobby, he greeted her with the words: “The thing that got me was that your husband assured me from the Bible that ALL my sins were forgiven in one moment, forever, never to be brought up again.” He could not get over the forgiving heart of God.

A few days later, Fernando told his story to a group of English businessmen. “I never would have listened to the message of Christ if I hadn’t been in jail,” he admitted. “I was too arrogant, too proud. But I was desperate, I was in crisis—and God used it.”

—Luis Palau in High Definition Life

My Response: When I struggle with experiencing God’s forgiveness, I will remind myself that God’s heart is huge and his forgiveness is unending.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Load of Sin

Radical RepentanceWho Said It … Luis Palau

Luis Palau leads the Luis Palau Association—a ministry committed to innovative evangelism worldwide. He’s shared Christ with more than 1 billion people through such avenues as television, radio, the internet, and festivals.

Luis has authored nearly 50 books, including A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Portland, Oregon, and have 11 grandchildren.

Who Said It … A Load of Sin

Fernando Montero had wealth, prestige, power, influence. Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, he had climbed the political ladder to become Columbia’s secretary for defense. At age 37, he ran the nations army and directed its attacks against the powerful Cali drug cartel. Then something went terribly wrong.

Accused of financing the president’s political campaign with drug money, Fernando landed in a military penitentiary. Prison officials cut him off from contact with the outside world.

Eventually a friend smuggled a Bible into Fernando’s cell, urging him to read Romans. The book both intrigued and confused him.

During a visit to Colombia, I was asked to try to visit Fernando. I agreed. I thought the guards would turn me away at the gate, but to my surprise, they let me in.

I entered the compound and spent 45 minutes with the weary Fernando. He told me he had read Romans, but said, “I just don’t get it.” It became clear that Fernando’s main problem was the load of sin he carried.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Waltrip’s Good Wipeout

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. … I can make you as white as wool.”  – Isaiah 1:18

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 51:1-17

I did some terrible things in my past—stuff that was against God’s will, offensive to Him, sin.  Some things were worse than others but God hated them all.  I had to confess them.  Then He wiped the slate clean.

But it took a while for me to believe the slate was really clean.  I thought of it more like writing something on a piece of paper and then erasing it.  The words are erased, but if you hold the paper just right, you can still see the letters.  That’s how I felt.  I thought, Okay, it’s not there anymore; but if I turn it just right, I can see where it used to be.

It’s hard to accept the fact that the slate is clean.  It’s natural to think we can never be totally forgiven for things we’ve done.

A lot of people don’t fully understand how God treats confession.  They live in the past.  They won’t move on.

But I’ve confessed my sins to God.  I know God forgives.  The Bible declares that He does.  No image remains.  That means I can have a clear conscience about where I am today.  Christ died so that we could be forgiven of our sins.  We’ve got to realize that, and take advantage of it.

— Darrell Waltrip in Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One

My Response: Am I shackled to my past, or am I moving on in the freedom of forgiveness?

Adapted from Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One (Regal, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Scrub Nurse

Repentance 2Who Said It…Tom Eisenman

Tom Eisenman dropped out of high school at 15, went on the road with a rock-and-roll band, and never lived at home again. He became a high school teacher and then a pastor.

A self-described NFL nut, Tom and his wife, Judie, have led Bible studies for the San Francisco 49ers.   Tom’s books include Temptations Men Face, and The Accountable Man.  He pastors the College Center Church in San Diego, California.  And to relax, he builds fine furniture.

What He Said…Scrub Nurse

A car ran a stop sign and hit me nearly head-on while I was on my motorcycle.  My injuries were extensive.

I remember the nurse who was working on my torn-up right leg, trying to clean it with a sponge.  The leg was opened up with a number of large lacerations, and sand, dirt, and small bits of blacktop were embedded in the wounds.  The sponge wasn’t getting it all out, so the nurse warned me she would have to use the stiff brush.  She said simply, “It has to be clean for it to heal.”

Getting clean can be a painful experience.  It was for me that day.  But I’ve always remembered the nurse’s little phrase and have thought how true it is in the spiritual realm.

All healing requires cleansing.  Confession is painful.  But when we confess our sin, we open the door for God’s love to rush in.  The open wound is cleaned up through forgiveness and treated with the love and grace of God.

Adapted from The Accountable Man (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – The Joy of Forgiveness

Repentance 2David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had engineered her husband’s murder.

And until the prophet Nathan confronted him about it, he had tried to cover it up.

2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 recount this story.  This Psalm and Psalm 32 are David’s first-person accounts of the misery of unconfessed sin and the release that follows confessing and being forgiven.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 51:1-17

  1. Why did David tell God (v. 4) that the sin he had committed was against Him?
  2. What effects of his sin did David fear (vv. 9, 11)?
  3. What toll had his sin already taken (v. 12)?
  4. What is the essential nature of confession (v. 4)?
  5. What attitude is God looking for from the offender (v. 17)?
  6. What qualities of God’s nature (v. 1) assure the repenting sinner that he will be taken back?
  7. What is the result of being forgiven (vv. 2, 7, 9)?
  8. What are the effects on the person forgiven (vv. 12-15)?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God that there is always hope and a fresh start for the man who knows his sin and is willing to repent of it.

Psalm 51:1-17

1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. 2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. 3 For I recognize my shameful deeds—they haunt me day and night.

4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. 5 For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. 6 But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

13 Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you. 14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. 15 Unseal my lips, O Lord, that I may praise you.

16 You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. 17 The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Burden Lifting

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Galatians 6:1

Bonus Reading: James 5:19-20

The priestly system, a human mediator between sinners and God, was done away with when Jesus gave his life once and for all on the cross. But there’s something beautiful about how God designed the body of Christ so that meaningful life sharing takes place in important areas like confession and absolution.

When a friend is weighed down under a burden of sin, we can lovingly invite him to speak about what’s troubling him. Confession is painful to do, but when you give permission for your friend to bring his sin into the light and you hear his confession, you help lift the burden from him. Help your brother name the sin. Then be ready to speak a loving absolution.

You may even want to rise and lay hands on your brother. In an attitude of prayer, say: “What you have just told me is a confession. The Bible says we are to confess our sins to one another so that we may receive God’s forgiveness and healing. I am convinced that you’re truly sorry for this. Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”

With continued prayer support and accountability, your friend will experience complete healing and restoration.

—Tom Eisenman in The Accountable Man

My Response: Am I willing to hear another man’s confession and offer him the forgiveness that is promised in Christ?

Thought to Apply: We have a free, full, final, forever forgiveness in the atoning work of Christ.—J. Sidlow Baxter (preacher)

Adapted from The Accountable Man (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Self-Blame Blaster

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the Lord. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.”  Isaiah 1:18

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 103:12

Rich came to my office to talk about his struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. He had fought in the Vietnam War and had done things he didn’t want to remember, much less tell others about. These things were done in the line of duty, but he still felt guilt and shame. He knew God forgave him, but he had times when he struggled to forgive himself.

As Rich shared his story, I longed for this brother to walk in the freedom and joy of forgiveness. I had no idea what to say. There is no easy answer or quick fix for a man struggling with such deep guilt. During our conversation, the Holy Spirit put a thought in my mind and words on my lips that helped this struggling man.

I asked Rich if he was certain God had forgiven him. He gave an emphatic, “Yes!” I asked him again, if he was confident, in the core of his heart that forgiveness of Jesus Christ on the cross was enough to wash his sins away. He looked at me as if I were a bit dense and said, “I have no problem understanding God’s forgiveness; my problem is I can’t forgive myself.”

What I said in response to his assertion could have angered or offended him, but it didn’t. I said, “You have to forgive yourself; you are placing yourself above God.”

He stared at me in stunned amazement. “I never looked at it that way. That’s true. I do have to forgive myself.”

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: Have I accepted God’s “Not guilty!” verdict for my confessed sin?

Thought to Apply: There can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant!—Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian novelist)

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Chill Factors

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong. 1 John 1:9

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 103:1-14

“I can’t understand how you put up with those cold winters!” The comment was directed to me by a Florida friend as I was visiting him in February a couple of years ago. He was speaking of my home in Montana, where winter temperatures often drop below zero.

Actually, I was thinking something similar about his winter climate. The outside temperature was 42 degrees, but because of the damp Florida climate, I felt colder than I do in Montana with the temperature in the teens.

But my feelings were deceiving me. They can do that in many areas of life. Today’s Key Bible Verse tells us that God forgives us as we confess our sins. This isn’t hard to believe—except for those times when we really blow it or, worse, keeping blowing it over and over. Then we may feel like God can’t or won’t forgive us.

But like a thermometer that tells the true temperature regardless of how we feel, God’s Word tells us the truth about Him irrespective of our feelings. When we confess, He forgives. Every time. No exceptions. When we accept the truth about God’s complete and unconditional forgiveness, we’re released from feelings of doubt and guilt, and begin to feel forgiven.

—Mike Raether

My Response: If I don’t feel forgiven, I’ll read today’s Bonus Reading out loud until I do.

Thought to Apply: If his conditions are met, God is bound by His Word to forgive any man or any woman of any sin because of Christ.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Prime Suspect

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!  – Psalm 32:1

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:1-7

My 10-inch miter saw was broken. I was steamed. Apparently one of my heavier children held onto the handle like a chin-up bar and lifted his feet off the floor. Three of my kids were immediately ruled out because of their light weight. That left two.

I had an idea who the guilty culprit was, but I wanted to be fair before I hung anyone. I went to my oldest son first. “Did you break my saw?” I questioned. From the surprised look on his face, I knew he was innocent—this time. That left Sam.

Sam is about the happiest kid you’ll ever meet, but he breaks things. He doesn’t mean to, but he does. I approached Sam and asked sternly, “Sam, did you break my saw?”

A shadow of guilt covered his face, and then I ranted and raved about foolishness and the cost of my saw, and warned that it had better not happen again. He promised and left.

Within an hour, Sam came back and nuzzled up to me. “Dad, I’m sorry about the saw,” he said softly. “Will you forgive me?” My heart melted, and we were restored.

That’s what repentance does: it restores hearts and relationships—especially with God.

—Todd Wilson in Indiana

My Response: Do I picture God more as a judge or as a father?

Thought to Apply: The man who is truly forgiven and knows it, is a man who forgives.—Martyn Lloyd-Jones (British preacher)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

High-Profile Turnarounds – Through God’s Eyes

CelebritiesWe all become aware of the vices and virtues of people in the public eye. But God doesn’t view them as special cases.

Just like us, they become Christians through His unmerited favor—not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service.

They are, however, specially visible examples of the way He transforms lives. That is the focus of this Scripture passage.

Interact with God’s Word:  Ephesians 2:1-10

  1. What does verse 1 tell you about the original status of “all of us”?
  2. What do verses 2-3a tell you about the natural condition of “all of us”?
  3. Why were “all of us” under God’s anger (v. 3b)?
  4. What does Paul say (vv.4-8a) God did to liberate us from our hopeless predicament?
  5. What else is implied in “all he had done for us through Christ Jesus” (v. 7)?
  6. What is it that you “can’t take credit for” (v. 8)? Doing good things? Believing?
  7. In what ways are you God’s “masterpiece” (v. 10)?

Spend Time in Prayer: Thank God for making you “examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. 2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much,5 that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)6 for he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus.

7 And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. 8 God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – “W” for Wild

George W. BushKey Bible Verse: Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2

The sweaty man I used to watch outdistance his bodyguards jogging at the ballpark and fumble his way through a press conference was born into a privileged family and spent the first part of his life acting like the world owed him an existence. Arrogant and irresponsible, he lived large and partied hard. In business, he was a moderate success, but his first foray into public life was a resounding failure. He worried his parents, worried his wife, and worried his friends. There were times when alcohol got in the way of both life and love. And then one day around the age of 40, this man grew up.

A few years later, someone asked George W. Bush who his hero was. Without hesitation, he answered, “Jesus Christ.” There was a lot of snickering over that answer in the next few days, and speculation that he was simply trying to score a few points with his audience. What many people failed to notice or didn’t take seriously was what he said immediately after his confession—”because he changed my life.”

Everyone who knew Bush back in his wild days will tell you that his life is truly changed. His confession was guileless because he really meant it.

—Jody Dean in Finding God in the Evening News

My Response: Who do you know whose life has been radically changed by Jesus?

Thought to Apply: Once I was dead . . . and now I am alive. And the difference is Jesus.—Walter Brueggemann

Adapted from Finding God in the Evening News (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – The Goal

Paul HendersonKey Bible Verse: The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:2

Bonus Reading:  Romans 8:1-11

Most mature Canadians know exactly where they were on September 28, 1972, during the final hockey “Summit Series” game against the Russians. With 34 seconds left, Team Canada’s left winger Paul Henderson banged home the winner!

Despite the ensuing fame and fortune, within months Paul grew restless. “I’d buy a new car or set of clubs,” he says, “and in two weeks, I was bored with them.” What’s wrong with me? he wondered. Why can’t I sleep at night?

Paul pictured God as a cosmic killjoy; a man’s man, he assumed, couldn’t be a follower of Christ. But finally, in desperation, he picked up a Bible he’d received as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For two-and-a-half years he laboriously studied it and grilled a Christian friend. “I came to believe there really was a God, and that He loved me,” he says.

But in the same breath in which he surrendered his life to Christ, Paul warned God, “Don’t expect me to tell anybody about this! I’ll never have the guts to do it.” Today, as director of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada’s Leadership Group, he’s told tens of thousands about something more important to him than scoring The Goal.

—Judy Nelson in Worldwide Challenge

My Response: With whom could I share the story of my own turnaround?

Thought to Apply: Once I was blind … and now I see! And the difference is the good news of God’s love. —Walter Brueggemann (professor)

Adapted from Worldwide Challenge (3-4/98)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – Mel Gibson’s Search

Mel GibsonKey Bible Verse: He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 1 Peter 1:18-19

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 2:13-15

At the height of his stardom, Mel Gibson had achieved everything he ever hoped for—except a sense of purpose. Gibson felt he was drowning in fame, wealth, drink, and despair. This led the one-time “sexiest man alive” to his knees and back to God. In a Reader’s Digest interview, Gibson told Peggy Noonan, “I was really searching, asking ‘What’s on the other side? Why am I here?’ I might have looked like I’m living the high life, making movies and jetting around the world, but true happiness resides within. I was spiritually bankrupt. It was like a spiritual cancer starting to eat its way through. I simply had to do something or it was going to take me.”

This 12-year pilgrimage led Gibson to the Gospels and the passion of Christ. He realized what Jesus did on the cross. Gibson described it to Noonan this way: “The purpose of the sacrifice [of Christ] was to expiate the transgressions of all mankind. The testimonies from the Gospels speak of love, of ransom, and a complete forgetting of self for the sake of all others, which is really the height of heroism. Jesus became the whipping boy so that we have a chance, because we can’t make it on our own.”

—Matt Neace in PreachingToday.com

My Response: I’ll thank Jesus for becoming the “whipping boy” for my sins.

Thought to Apply: Once I was lost … and now I am found. And the difference is the Gospel.—Walter Brueggemann (professor)

Adapted from PreachingToday.com (4/4/04)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – “Pat Summerall Here”

Pat Summerall and John MaddenKey Bible Verse: But God is so rich in mercy … that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life.  – Ephesians 2:4-5

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 2:1-10

For 45 years Pat Summerall’s voice and face have spelled football. After his own career as a star kicker, Pat went into broadcasting, at first covering golf and tennis. Teamed for years with John Madden, he was a Sunday afternoon voice of Fox TV NFL football.

But Pat was an only child whose parents divorced before he was born, leaving him feeling empty and alone. He became an alcoholic, living from drink to drink as his body broke down. During the 1994 Masters tournament, he faced up: “I’d been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood—and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, saw what a terrible sight I was, and said to myself, ‘This isn’t how I want to live.'”

Pat spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. This helped alleviate his alcohol problems but didn’t address his spiritual vacuum. Then he bumped into his old coach, Tom Landry, who explained about his spiritual need and connected him with Dallas Cowboys chaplain John Weber. Pat’s life was transformed, and he was baptized at age 69. “Summerall was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand,” Weber says. “Now he gets his power from another source.”

—Art Stricklin in Sports Spectrum

My Response: How has the Spirit’s power broken destructive patterns in my life?

Thought to Apply: Once I was enslaved … and now I am free! And the difference is God’s rescuing merc —Walter Brueggmann (professor)

Adapted from Sports Spectrum (11-12/01)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – Holy Edge?

Franklin and Billy GrahamKey Bible Verse: Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God”  – John 3:3

Bonus Reading:  John 3:4-17

Upbringing is never enough to give anyone an “extra push” into heaven. Ask Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy. Talk about having spiritual connections! But Franklin will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t enough. Raised in the spiritual greenhouse of the Graham home, Franklin went through the right motions: baptism, regular church attendance, and exposure to a steady diet of the gospel. But deep inside, Franklin knew he was hollow.

One evening in Switzerland Billy Graham confronted his son. “Your mother and I sense that you’re struggling in your heart, Franklin. You need to face the truth; you need to make your own decision. Until you do, you won’t have peace.”

Angered by his father’s words, Franklin decided to run from the truth. He ran to several Middle East countries trying to fill his life without committing it to Christ. Then one night in a hotel room in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus had conversation with Nicodemus[John 3:4-17], Franklin decided Jesus was right. He prayed, received Him into his life, and was born again. Now he was more than the son of a world-renowned preacher. He was a child of the living God.

—Skip Heitzig in Jesus Up Close

My Response: Do I sense that I’m hollow … or know that I’ve been reborn?

Adapted from Jesus Up Close (Tyndale, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – My 180-degree Turn

Darrell WaltripWho Said It…Darrell Waltrip

Darrell started racing go-carts at age 12 and entered his first stock car race just four years later. He became a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup competitor in 1975. In the 1980s, he earned its Driver of the Decade award. Today, he holds 84 Winston Cup victories.

Darrell is currently a commentator for NASCAR Fox Sports and hosts a weekly Bible study in his garage for 75 men. He and his wife, Stevie, have two children and live in Franklin, Tennessee.

What He Said…My 180–degree Turn

I was a church kid. So I knew when I was doing something wrong, but I’d do it anyway. I lived that way as an adult, too.

After Stevie put Jesus first in her life, she was on me about going to church. I raced on Sunday; that was my excuse for not going. Then a friend told us about a church that met in a high school on Wednesday night, and I lost my excuse. We went. Everything the pastor said seemed directed my way. God was getting my attention.

We were at church one July night in 1983. That racing season wasn’t going well; neither was our marriage. I was desperate enough to ask our pastor to pray for us. Then I prayed. I asked the Lord to come into my life and get me out of the mess I was in. I told Him I was a sinner and asked Him to forgive me.

God didn’t flip a switch; rather, my life and outlook slowly started to improve. God had changed me.

Adapted from Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One (Regal, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

Lenten Devotional – Day 20

Lent 3In John 8 we read,

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?’”

The whole scene was a plot to trick Jesus.  Once again, Jesus perplexes me.  He simply squats down and starts playing in the dirt.

Then I read Numbers 5:11-31 and I think Jesus was having a silent conversation with the Pharisees.

Go ahead and read the passage.  See if you catch it.

To my North American eyes, the passage is outrageous.  What does barley flour, holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor have to do with sexual sin?

During a trial for sexual sin, the priest mixed water and dust from the tabernacle floor.  If the accused could drink it and not get sick, the person was innocent.  If the accused got sick, a curse would be on them.

In John 8, the woman brought before Jesus had already been caught in the act.  Her guilt was sure: she knew it, the Pharisees knew it.

After reading Numbers 5, it appears that Jesus touching the dirt was a nod to the law and its demands for guilt.  Yet Jesus put the leaders on trial, expecting them to take inventory of their hearts.

Like the adulteress and the Pharisees, our guilt before God is sure.  If we were required to drink the cup of bitter water that God’s justice requires, we would surely die.

In the coming days, Jesus would pay for their guilt and mine, drinking the cup we all deserved, carrying our curse.

On days like today, it is good for me to see a glimpse of what my sin cost Jesus by remembering the law.  It was, after all, initiated by God so that I might experience God’s holiness and see more fully my need.
It increases my gratitude for Him.
It fills in my understanding of His unrelenting love for me.
It causes my heart to soften toward Him in worship.

How does a deeper understanding of the law affect you today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 15

Lent 3If given the chance to have dinner with either Simon or the “sinful” woman, I would chose her.

While broken, this woman is both authentic and humble and I like that.  Plus I know what it means to wrestle with sinful patterns in my own strength, only to come up short.  I think she and I could have an honest conversation about sin, suffering and our need for hope.

I’ve made some assumptions about the woman that draw me toward her story.  I bet she didn’t go looking for a bad reputation.  I assume the sins that lead her into a scandalous reputation started just like mine do – with a single, seemingly insignificant, choice.

Maybe it was a lie she did not rebuke.  Maybe it was a hurt she couldn’t forgive.  Maybe it was a bait-and-switch situation where someone promised her the world, used her, and then left her to figure out what to do next.

Whatever it was, the woman in Luke 7:35-50 gave in and embraced the reputation that her sin awarded her. It was probably easier that way – that’s one of the enemy’s great selling points.

But I do that:

I give in to ‘little’ sins that redirect my heart bit-by-bit.

I accept my sharp tongue by justifying, “They know I’m kidding.”

I spend money as if this world is where my hope lies.

When there is tension in a relationship I distance myself, opting for ambiguity rather than authenticity.

I lose sleep feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

The bottom line is, I must stop living in the past and start living in light of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He offers me freedom when I am His.

The weeping woman recognized her only hope in this life was to convert her sin into repentance at the feet of Jesus.  Causing a scene in a Pharisee’s home was the least of this woman’s cares.  Living with a clean slate was worth everything to her.

And I bet she wasn’t expecting to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Where would you love to hear God say “You are forgiven?”  What are you willing to do to get to His feet?

Radical Repentance – Saul’s Conversion

The Conversion of Saul

The Conversion of Saul

When discussing Radical Repentance, we can’t overlook the conversion of Paul.  A well-known persecutor of the Church, Paul not only witnessed but gave his approval to the murder of Stephen (Acts 8:1).

Many had no doubt labeled him “The Least Likely to Receive Christ.”  But then this self-proclaimed “Pharisee” encountered Jesus and became a passionate early missionary and author of several New Testament letters.  

In today’s passage, we dig into his dramatic conversion story.

Interact with God’s Word:  Acts 9:1-30

  1. The Lord himself told Ananias of Paul’s conversion, yet Ananias responded with skepticism.  Why?
  2. Why is it sometimes difficult to believe a dramatic conversion story?
  3. What were some signs that Paul’s conversion was genuine (vv. 20 & 22)?
  4. What important role did Barnabas play in Paul’s adjustment to the life of faith (vv. 26-27)?
  5. What important role can you play in helping a new Christian adjust to the life of faith?
  6. What can you learn from Paul’s story about God’s ability to save those you’ve pretty much given up on? (See also Luke 15:1-31.)

 

Spend Time in Prayer

Thank God for your own conversion experience and ask him to show you how to share Christ’s love with the so-called “hopeless cases” in your life.

Acts 9:1-30:

1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest.  2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there.  He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.  4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!  6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one!  8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind.  So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.  9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas.  When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul.  He is praying to me right now.  12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!  14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.  16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul.  He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight.  Then he got up and was baptized.  19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days.  20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

21 All who heard him were amazed.  “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked.  “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”

22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  23 After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him.  24 They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot.  25 So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him.  They did not believe he had truly become a believer!  27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul.  He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

28 So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.  29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him.  30 When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown.

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – Running on Empty

Jim RyunKey Bible Verse:  I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Philippians 3:7

Bonus Reading:  John 6:22-58

At the age of 25, according to the world’s standards, I was successful.  I was a world record holder in the mile, had been on several Olympic teams, and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

However, in May of 1972, in front of a nationally televised audience, I finished last during a race in the Coliseum in Los Angeles.  I was angry, humiliated, and empty.

Shortly after that race, my wife, Anne, and I visited our friends Bernie and Clara Taylor.  During our visit, I noticed Bernie reading over something and asked him what it was.

“It’s my testimony of coming to know Christ,” he said.

Even though I had been raised in the Church, and Christian friends had shared Christ with me over the years, I didn’t know what Bernie was talking about.  So, that evening, he and his wife shared with Anne and me what it meant to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That night, it became clear that life was not about running faster or winning an Olympic medal; those things could never fill the void in me—only Christ could do that.  A few weeks later, Anne and I accepted Christ. It was the best decision we ever made.

—Jim Ryun in The Courage to Run

 

My Response: When have I allowed my personal pursuits to get in the way of pursuing Christ with my whole heart?

 

Thought to Apply: Never let success hide its emptiness from you.—Dag Hammarskjold (Swedish statesmen)

Adapted from The Courage to Run (Regal, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Jesus Freak Is Born (Again)

Key Bible Verse:  If yCampfire 2ou confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Romans 10:9

Bonus ReadingJohn 3: 1-17

Most everybody knows Toby McKeehan as the artist who performed “Jesus Freak” with his fellow band mates in DC Talk.  But as a kid, Toby (now known as solo artist tobyMac) went to Church because his mom dragged him there.  He would often ditch Sunday school.

But 12-year-old Toby’s life changed because of Harold, one of the church’s youth leaders.  Along with showing an interest in Toby, Harold invited him to a camp.

“I thought it was a sports camp,” Toby says.  “But when we got off that bus, we went straight into this worship service where this preacher was talking for hours.”

While Toby disliked the preaching, he appreciated the conversations back at the cabin.  “Harold would take time to talk to us,” Toby says.  “He’d share about his past and told us about Jesus.”

One night Toby lay in his sleeping bag with a lot on his mind.  He wanted to have a relationship with Jesus, but he didn’t know how.  Finally, he went and woke up Harold.

“He led me in asking Christ to forgive me and asking him into life,” Toby says.  “My life just went in a totally different direction right there.”

—Todd Hertz in Ignite Your Faith

 

My Response:  Because of Christ, my life has changed in the following ways: …

 

Thought to Apply:  The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise.—Clement of Alexandria (early Church Father)

Adapted from an article in Ignite Your Faith magazine (1-2/05)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

 

Radical Repentance – Free Behind Bars

Prayer in Prison 2Key Bible Verse:  Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.  – Ephesians 2:1

Bonus ReadingEphesians 2: 2-10

David Berkowitz was sentenced to consecutive life sentences for killing six people and wounding numerous others in New York City.  Known as “Son of Sam,” he terrorized the city for months until his capture in 1977.

Berkowitz confessed to the crimes to avoid the death penalty.  Though up for parole several times, he has consistently been denied freedom.

For many, this seems a fitting end to a madman’s life—dying a slow death in jail haunted by his past crimes.

But that’s not the end.

In 1987, an inmate talked to Berkowitz about Christ.  He gave Berkowitz a Bible.

According to Berkowitz, the book changed his life: “Everything seemed to hit me at once.  The guilt from what I did … the disgust at what I had become. … I got down on my knees and began to cry out. … I asked Jesus to forgive me. … A peace flooded over me. … I knew that my life, somehow, was going to be different.”

Berkowitz now has CDs and videos of his conversion available through Focus on the Family.  He has appeared on Dr. D. James Kennedy’s TV show, and he has endorsements from Chuck Colson.

—Mark Herringshow & Jennifer Schuchmann in Six Prayers God Always Answers

 

My Response: Why might I find it hard to accept that someone like David Berkowitz could be a genuine Christian?

 

Thought to Apply: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. —John Newton (British clergyman and former slave-ship captain)

Adapted from Prayer Power (Tyndale, 2008)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

 

Radical Repentance – God’s Huge Heart

Prayer in PrisonKey Bible Verse: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  – Romans 8:1

Bonus readingRomans 8: 31-39

As I met with Fernando in his prison cell, he confessed that he had committed a lot of sins.  He just couldn’t see how God could possibly forgive him.  I drove home the above Bible verse and emphasized the complete forgiveness God offers to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

At the end of our short time together, God broke this man.  We got down on our knees and Fernando asked the Lord for forgiveness.

After his release from prison, Fernando moved to London.  During one of our trips to England, Pat and I invited him over to our hotel for tea.  When Pat greeted him in the lobby, he greeted her with the words: “The thing that got me was that your husband assured me from the Bible that ALL my sins were forgiven in one moment, forever, never to be brought up again.”  He could not get over the forgiving heart of God.

A few days later, Fernando told his story to a group of English businessmen.  “I never would have listened to the message of Christ if I hadn’t been in jail,” he admitted.  “I was too arrogant, too proud.  But I was desperate, I was in crisis—and God used it.”

—Luis Palau in High Definition Life

 

My Response: When I struggle with experiencing God’s forgiveness, I will remind myself that God’s heart is huge and his forgiveness is unending.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Load of Sin

1884 Methodist Hymnal - #532 - O That My Load of Sin Were Gone

1884 Methodist Hymnal – #532 – O That My Load of Sin Were Gone

Who Said It … Luis Palau

Luis Palau leads the Luis Palau Association—a ministry committed to innovative evangelism worldwide.  He’s shared Christ with more than 1 billion people through such avenues as television, radio, the internet, and festivals.  

Luis has authored nearly 50 books, including A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian.  He and his wife, Pat, live in Portland, Oregon, and have 11 grandchildren.

 

What He Said … A Load of Sin

Fernando Montero had wealth, prestige, power, influence.  Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, he had climbed the political ladder to become Columbia’s secretary for defense. A t age 37, he ran the nations army and directed its attacks against the powerful Cali drug cartel.  Then something went terribly wrong.

Accused of financing the president’s political campaign with drug money, Fernando landed in a military penitentiary.  Prison officials cut him off from contact with the outside world.

Eventually a friend smuggled a Bible into Fernando’s cell, urging him to read Romans.  The book both intrigued and confused him.

During a visit to Colombia, I was asked to try to visit Fernando.  I agreed.  I thought the guards would turn me away at the gate, but to my surprise, they let me in.

I entered the compound and spent 45 minutes with the weary Fernando.  He told me he had read Romans, but said, “I just don’t get it.”  It became clear that Fernando’s main problem was the load of sin he carried.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

 

Radical Repentance

Radical RepentanceWhen discussing Radical Repentance, we can’t overlook the conversion of Paul.

A well-known persecutor of the church, Paul not only witnessed but gave his approval to the murder of Stephen (Acts 8:1). Many had no doubt labeled him “The Least Likely to Receive Christ.” But then this self-proclaimed “Pharisee” encountered Jesus and became a passionate early missionary and author of several New Testament letters.

In today’s passage, we dig into his dramatic conversion story.

Interact with God’s Word:  Acts 9:1-30

  1. The Lord himself told Ananias of Paul’s conversion, yet Ananias responded with skepticism. Why?
  2. Why is it sometimes difficult to believe a dramatic conversion story?
  3. What were some signs that Paul’s conversion was genuine (vv. 20 & 22)?
  4. What important role did Barnabas play in Paul’s adjustment to the life of faith (vv. 26-27)?
  5. What important role can you play in helping a new Christian adjust to the life of faith?
  6. What can you learn from Paul’s story about God’s ability to save those you’ve pretty much given up on? (See also Luke 15:1-31.)

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for your own conversion experience and ask him to show you how to share Christ’s love with the so-called “hopeless cases” in your life.

Acts 9:1-30

1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”

22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. 23 After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. 24 They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. 25 So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

28 So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown.

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

Radical Repentance – Running on Empty

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Philippians 3:7.

Bonus Reading: John 6:22-58

At the age of 25, according to the world’s standards, I was successful. I was a world record holder in the mile, had been on several Olympic teams, and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, in May of 1972, in front of a nationally televised audience, I finished last during a race in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. I was angry, humiliated, and empty.

Shortly after that race, my wife, Anne, and I visited our friends Bernie and Clara Taylor. During our visit, I noticed Bernie reading over something and asked him what it was.

“It’s my testimony of coming to know Christ,” he said.

Even though I had been raised in the church, and Christian friends had shared Christ with me over the years, I didn’t know what Bernie was talking about. So, that evening, he and his wife shared with Anne and me what it meant to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That night, it became clear that life was not about running faster or winning an Olympic medal; those things could never fill the void in me—only Christ could do that. A few weeks later, Anne and I accepted Christ. It was the best decision we ever made.

—Jim Ryun in The Courage to Run

My Response: When have I allowed my personal pursuits to get in the way of pursuing Christ with my whole heart?

Thought to Apply: Never let success hide its emptiness from you.—Dag Hammarskjold (Swedish statesmen)

Adapted from The Courage to Run (Regal, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Jesus Freak Is Born (Again)

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Bonus Reading: John 3:1-17

Most everybody knows Toby McKeehan as the artist who performed “Jesus Freak” with his fellow band mates in DC Talk. But as a kid, Toby (now known as solo artist tobyMac) went to church because his mom dragged him there. He would often ditch Sunday school.

But 12-year-old Toby’s life changed because of Harold, one of the church’s youth leaders. Along with showing an interest in Toby, Harold invited him to a camp.

“I thought it was a sports camp,” Toby says. “But when we got off that bus, we went straight into this worship service where this preacher was talking for hours.”

While Toby disliked the preaching, he appreciated the conversations back at the cabin. “Harold would take time to talk to us,” Toby says. “He’d share about his past and told us about Jesus.”

One night Toby lay in his sleeping bag with a lot on his mind. He wanted to have a relationship with Jesus, but he didn’t know how. Finally, he went and woke up Harold.

“He led me in asking Christ to forgive me and asking him into life,” Toby says. “My life just went in a totally different direction right there.”

—Todd Hertz in Ignite Your Faith

My Response: Because of Christ, my life has changed in the following ways: …

Thought to Apply: The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise.—Clement of Alexandria (early Church Father)

Adapted from our sister magazine Ignite Your Faith

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – Free Behind Bars

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.  – Ephesians 2:1

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2:2-10

David Berkowitz was sentenced to consecutive life sentences for killing six people and wounding numerous others in New York City. Known as “Son of Sam,” he terrorized the city for months until his capture in 1977.

Berkowitz confessed to the crimes to avoid the death penalty. Though up for parole several times, he has consistently been denied freedom.

For many, this seems a fitting end to a madman’s life—dying a slow death in jail haunted by his past crimes.

But that’s not the end.

In 1987, an inmate talked to Berkowitz about Christ. He gave Berkowitz a Bible.

According to Berkowitz, the book changed his life: “Everything seemed to hit me at once. The guilt from what I did … the disgust at what I had become. … I got down on my knees and began to cry out. … I asked Jesus to forgive me. … A peace flooded over me. … I knew that my life, somehow, was going to be different.”

Berkowitz now has CDs and videos of his conversion available through Focus on the Family. He has appeared on Dr. D. James Kennedy’s TV show, and he has endorsements from Chuck Colson.

—Mark Herringshow & Jennifer Schuchmann in Six Prayers God Always Answers

My Response: Why might I find it hard to accept that someone like David Berkowitz could be a genuine Christian?

Thought to Apply: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.—John Newton (British clergyman and former slave-ship captain)

Adapted from Prayer Power (Tyndale, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A President’s Greatest Need

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. Philippians 3:10.

Bonus Reading: Acts 9:1-30

As a young Michigan Congressman, Gerald Ford met a gospel-film executive named Billy Zeoli who came by his office and gave him a Bible. Over the next few years, the two men became close.

Among their bonds was a love of sports: Ford had been an All-American football player, and Zeoli had a ministry to pro athletes. At a pre-game chapel for the Dallas Cowboys, in Washington to play the Redskins, Ford went to hear Zeoli preach on “God’s game plan.”

Ford was especially moved by the sermon and talked with Zeoli afterward about Christ and forgiveness and what it meant. The inquiry felt real and raw; but was that the moment Ford committed himself to Christ? “It’s hard to say when a man does that,” Zeoli says plainly. “That’s a God thing. But I think that day is the day he looked back to as an extremely important day of knowing Christ.”

When Ford became vice president in 1973, Zeoli began sending him a weekly devotional memo. Zeoli sent 146 devotionals in all, every week through Ford’s presidency. Beyond the memos, Ford and Zeoli would meet privately every four or five weeks for prayer and Bible study.

—Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy in Time

My Response: One thing I will do this week to get to know Christ better is …

Thought to Apply: Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on Earth!—Jim Elliot (slain missionary to Ecuador)

Adapted from “The Other Born-Again President,” Time

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – God’s Huge Heart

Radical RepentanceKey Bible Verse: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Bonus reading: Romans 8:31-39

As I met with Fernando in his prison cell, he confessed that he had committed a lot of sins. He just couldn’t see how God could possibly forgive him. I drove home today’s Key Bible Verse and emphasized the complete forgiveness God offers to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of our short time together, God broke this man. We got down on our knees and Fernando asked the Lord for forgiveness.

After his release from prison, Fernando moved to London. During one of our trips to England, Pat and I invited him over to our hotel for tea. When Pat greeted him in the lobby, he greeted her with the words: “The thing that got me was that your husband assured me from the Bible that ALL my sins were forgiven in one moment, forever, never to be brought up again.” He could not get over the forgiving heart of God.

A few days later, Fernando told his story to a group of English businessmen. “I never would have listened to the message of Christ if I hadn’t been in jail,” he admitted. “I was too arrogant, too proud. But I was desperate, I was in crisis—and God used it.”

—Luis Palau in High Definition Life

My Response: When I struggle with experiencing God’s forgiveness, I will remind myself that God’s heart is huge and his forgiveness is unending.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Radical Repentance – A Load of Sin

Radical RepentanceWho Said It … Luis Palau

Luis Palau leads the Luis Palau Association—a ministry committed to innovative evangelism worldwide. He’s shared Christ with more than 1 billion people through such avenues as television, radio, the internet, and festivals.

Luis has authored nearly 50 books, including A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Portland, Oregon, and have 11 grandchildren.

Who Said It … A Load of Sin

Fernando Montero had wealth, prestige, power, influence. Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, he had climbed the political ladder to become Columbia’s secretary for defense. At age 37, he ran the nations army and directed its attacks against the powerful Cali drug cartel. Then something went terribly wrong.

Accused of financing the president’s political campaign with drug money, Fernando landed in a military penitentiary. Prison officials cut him off from contact with the outside world.

Eventually a friend smuggled a Bible into Fernando’s cell, urging him to read Romans. The book both intrigued and confused him.

During a visit to Colombia, I was asked to try to visit Fernando. I agreed. I thought the guards would turn me away at the gate, but to my surprise, they let me in.

I entered the compound and spent 45 minutes with the weary Fernando. He told me he had read Romans, but said, “I just don’t get it.” It became clear that Fernando’s main problem was the load of sin he carried.

Adapted from High Definition Life (Revell, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, help me to know that in you there is no condemnation and nothing can ever separate me from your love.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Easter – Resurrection Sunday

Easter - Resurrection Sunday

He has risen!

Jesus’s friend and disciple John recorded this memory in his letter (John 20:19b-20):

“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

I wonder how Jesus felt to know that it was finished.  Here He was, 3 days later standing before the people He had just gone to hell and back (literally) to save.  Just like before, Jesus moves toward people.  He offers Himself to them.  He offers to show them the wounds on His hands, feet and side.  These marks, born through fierce love, were evidence of the pain and suffering required to break sins power.  Yet His first words to the source of that pain are, “Peace be with you.”

No entitlement here.  It was love that motivated Jesus – before the grave and afterward.

The peace He offers comes only through a relationship with Him. Like the diamond on the black cloth, as we recognize our need we see His brilliance and perfection all the more.

Will you trust in the finished work of Christ?  Will you continue to let the spirit dig up more areas of your hard heart so that He can glorify himself through you more fully?

If we do that, then Jesus’ last words become our act of worship and thanks.  Matthew records the scene where these last words were spoken.  Just 40 days after Jesus’s resurrection Jesus came and said to them, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

He is with us.

Our risen Savior asks us to, “Go,” help others see how to His finished work frees us from the power and penalty of sin.  To demonstrate His love even when people don’t deserve it.  Why?

Because we are people who have been forgiven also. His love is what life is all about.  His love pursues.  His love speaks Truth.  His love redeems broken people.

What a privilege to channel my gratitude for Him by helping others thrive in a relationship with Jesus.  He commissioned His followers, “Go.”

I’m going.  Will you come, too?

Lenten Devotional – Day 40 – Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Matthew 27:45-56 records numerous details about the day Jesus died.

The earth went dark and shook violently.

Tombs opened and godly men and women were raised from their graves.

The moment Jesus gave up His spirit, the thick curtain to the sanctuary of God was ripped in two.

Heaven and earth thundered with activity and then, I imagine, it all felt very quiet.

For 3 days Jesus’ grave was very quiet.

If the story ended there, we would still be lost. It doesn’t.

In a letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addresses the importance of Christ’s resurrection.  Take some time today to thoughtfully read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead…For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

We have hope because the grave did not swallow Jesus.  He drank the cup our sins created.  He ransomed us – bought us back from sin’s power.  And then He conquered death – set a heavenly order in motion again.  The curse – death, separation from God – had no power over His perfection.

In Psalm 46:10, we are encouraged to, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Take time today to be still before God.  Thank Him for whatever comes to mind.  He is good and He is very much alive today.  And tomorrow we get to celebrate that Heaven-altering fact.

Lenten Devotional – Day 39 – Good Friday

Good FridayGood Friday.

I wonder what goes through the minds of people in the world who don’t “get” Christianity.  I bet they wonder why Christians remember the day Jesus died as “good.”

I hope someone asks me sometime.  I don’t know what I would have answered before, but now I would speak honestly about my sin.  I would acknowledge that my life is out of whack and I recognize that my sin hurts others and me.

Worst of all, my sin separates me from the one True God who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

Today, Good Friday, is good because God’s Son, Jesus, drank the cup of wrath that my sin birthed.  Because of His perfection, He broke the cycle.

Today is good because Jesus willingly died to bring me Hope.  He conquered sin.  Death has no claim on those who choose to trust Christ alone.

In light of the Lenten season, I have come think of my sin and my Savior in tandem – like pedals on a bike.  It is for my good to live in the reality of my sin and even more vital to balance that by focusing on Jesus and His saving love.

Because His death met a deep need of mine.

He is so good.

Lenten Devotional – Day 38 – Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday - PilateWe are more like Pilate than we want to believe.

Rather than stand up for what he believed to be true – he is, after all, recorded three times declaring Jesus’ innocence – Pilate avoids a decision by trying to push the problem into someone else’s court.

Pilate plays the political game, attempting to please both his conscience and the crowd by offering to beat the innocent Jesus but ultimately release Him.

Pilate ignores truth speakers around him.  In Matthew 27:11-36, we learn that Pilate’s wife urged him to release Jesus.  “Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Leave that innocent man alone.  I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night.’”

Pilate let public opinion have a greater influence over him than Truth.  Then he washed his weak hands in a tiny bowl of water.  But at the end of the day he knew he caved to a crowd, sent an innocent man to the cross and released a dangerous criminal back onto the streets.

Like Pilate, I have given away many opportunities to take a stand for truth.

Truth is uncomfortable.  It makes a conversation awkward.  It might change a dynamic in a friendship or I may be mocked.

Like Pilate, I often try to softly stand up for what I believe through “less divisive” movements.  I pass the buck to someone else, I change the conversation or I candy-coat my beliefs by merely implying what I mean, yet making sure not to clearly offend anyone with my convictions about Jesus Christ.

It takes guts to lead spiritually.  Biblical convictions aren’t cuddly.  Jesus was the Son of the living God and that’s what He told others.  That Truth is worth telling others.

Pilate missed a great opportunity to know His maker in a personal, life-changing way.  How will you take advantage of the platforms God gives you today – will you tell others the truth about Jesus?

Lenten Devotional – Day 37

The Last Supper

The account often referred to as “The Last Supper” is recorded beginning in John 13:1:

“Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

 

What a statement: “He loved them to the end.”

The end was not pretty.  He was given over to an unjust trial by Judas, one of the men who had served by His side for the last 3 years.

He was abused, whipped, lied about, spit on and publicly mocked.

All done by people whom Jesus loved to the end.

And Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends who claimed he would be true to the end, failed Him by denying every association he had with Jesus.

Yet Jesus loved him until the end.

That’s…I don’t even have a word for it.

After Judas left the meal to alert the Pharisees, Jesus spoke up again in John 13:34-35:  

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As a follower of Christ, I am to love like Jesus.  I see vast room for improvement in my heart.

Yet I’m thankful, again, that this command is not for me to just “do” better, try harder.  Instead, Jesus gave me His Spirit to live inside of me and teach me to love better, equip me by His Spirit’s power to do what I cannot.

I am one who wants to live and love others in light of the love Christ has shown me.

Lenten Devotional – Day 36

Lent 3The crowd from the feast at Lazarus’ house followed Jesus out into the streets of Jerusalem the next day.  In their exuberance and worship they lay palm branches, the Jewish national symbol, down in the dirt like a carpet for their King.

“Hosanna!” they shouted joyfully, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

John notes the crowd’s motives in John 12:17-18: “The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.”

The crowd was looking for a leader.  An eloquent, spiritual man who raises people from the dead was a spectacular choice.  The popularity vote was strongly in Jesus’ favor.
 And the Pharisees hated that.  Their plotting continued.

But Jesus remained focused.  His ride on a young donkey down the street before the jubilant crowd was a fulfillment of the Prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9, the priest, over 500 years before. Scripture was being fulfilled right before their eyes.

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

The crowd’s idea of a king and God’s idea of a King were different.  God is not limited to political parties or public opinions. Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”

God was unrolling a plan that would span centuries.  He was in the process of redeeming mankind, not just relaxing the strain on the Jewish people of that day.

Where are you in the crowd?  Do you have your own ideas or agendas that you are asking God to bless?  Will you choose to lay down your own plan and ask God to reveal His purposes in your life instead?

Lenten Devotional – Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Here’s a quote to consider during your Sabbath rest this weekend.

“… Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul.  We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves – to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have.  Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10).  Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.”

– Tim Keller, pastor and author.

Lenten Devotional – Day 34

Lent 3God wants His people to know and love Him.

This aspect of His character is remarkable.  Other religions worship gods who are unapproachable.  But the one True God says words like this:

  • “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  John 6:34-36 and John 6:50-52.

 

  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:11-13.

 

 

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”  John 10:7

 

  • “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”  John 10:9

 

  • “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  John 11:17-27

 

  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

 

There are more identity statements from Jesus in Scripture but this short list is a good start.  Choose one of the statements above and ponder its truth throughout the day.

I am pondering:  Jesus is the bread of life.

Lenten Devotional – Day 33

Lent 3In John 11:1-44, the disciple John records a conversation Jesus had with Martha and Mary upon His arrival to their town of Bethany.  The women, two of Jesus’ dear friends, had sent for Jesus to come heal their brother. Lazarus had been dead for 4 days by the time Jesus arrived.

Martha immediately went to meet Jesus upon His arrival.  She brought Him her hurt, yet in her pain she chose to rehearse truth about Jesus.  In faith she chose to focus on the long view of God’s plan for broken and hurting people like her.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she began. “But even now, I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus asked Martha about her faith before He called her brother back from the dead.  Martha’s faith was in Jesus, not the results for which she prayed.

Do you believe Jesus is the answer to your prayers, rather than a particular outcome?

Lenten Devotional – Day 32

Lent 3In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus uses words like suffering and death and makes references to raising from the dead.

The disciples and followers of Jesus had no idea what was coming.  The concept of God dying was unfathomable.

Since God’s plan didn’t add up in Peter’s mind, he spoke out against it.

Difficulty, sacrifice, discomfort, pain; these are not words that sell others on following Jesus.  And like Peter, I often do my best to convince God that the suffering is not just a bad idea, but altogether unnecessary.

“Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord!  This shall never happen to You.”  
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus doesn’t just rebuke Satan.  He also draws Peter’s eyes, and mine, back to the bigger picture, albeit counterintuitive and uncomfortable.

I don’t like leaving the safety of my Christian box.  But that’s exactly what Jesus requires.

Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Sacrifice.  It’s part of the Christian life. Our Lord sacrificed everything for us.

Consider writing a statement of trust. I’ll go first:

Jesus, I may not understand my circumstances but I will trust You and obey even when it is difficult.

Lenten Devotional – Day 31

Lent 3One of Jesus’s most poignant questions is found in Matthew 16:13-20:

 
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’  And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

How would you answer that question?

The text goes on to say Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ close friends and followers, responded with this statement: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

I believe those words are true.  But I wonder how quickly I could come up with a concise statement of faith like that.

In the world, I’m cautioned to handle bold statements with care.  Truth is seen as relative, not real, so we are encouraged to ride the fence of popularity.

In contrast, as a Christ-follower, I want to make very clear the issue of Jesus’ identification as Savior for the world.

Today I boldly proclaim with Peter.  Jesus Christ, I believe  You are the Son of the living God.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Lenten Devotional – Day 30

Lent 3This week we have reflected on David’s example of turning from sin and reconciling with God.  I wronged a coworker, but I can tell you firsthand that a great weight has lifted because I chose God’s plan of repentance, not my plan of escape.  I am on good terms with the people I offended and I know God is pleased with me.

Confession, I’m learning, actually does me good.  By confessing my sin to Him and to others, God revealed other areas of my heart that I needed to entrust to Him more fully.

You’ve read the Psalm a few times this week.  Today, pray through Psalm 51 adding in specifics from your own walk with God.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit – with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

Lenten Devotional – Day 29

Lent 3David knew to Whom he was praying.

What we believe about God’s character plays a huge part in our walk of faith with Him.

In Psalm 51, David’s Psalm of repentance, David lists several of God’s qualities.

  • God is merciful“Have mercy on me, O God…”
  • God’s love is unfailing“ because of your unfailing love…”
  • God is compassionate“Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.”
  • God is our judge“You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.”
  • God desires honesty (Truth) – “But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.”
  • God purifies us from sin“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
  • God forgives“Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.”
  • God is present with us through His Spirit“Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.”
  • God’s salvation brings joy – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”

What other truths about God do you see in Psalm 51?

Lenten Devotional – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Lent 1Here’s a quote about God’s rest to consider during your Sabbath this weekend.

“At least one indication of unbelief is the tendency to measure life’s challenges against our own adequacy instead of God’s promises.  To enter our Sabbath rest, we must put an end to self-reliance – trusting in our own abilities to overcome difficulties, rise above challenges, escape tragedies, or achieve personal greatness.”

― Charles R. Swindoll

Psalm 51

Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.