repentance and rest

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’” Isaiah 30:15

It does not matter who wins the White House, the message of the Sovereign Lord to our nation will be the same: “Repent.” It does not matter the color of an individual’s skin, if he or she is not walking with Christ, the One through whom all were created says: “Repent.”

We can be confident this is the Word of God for today because this was the message of Christ as He walked the earth many years ago. “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 4:17) Love tells us what we need to do.

“Now there were some present at the time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5)

There is no true rest in darkness. Pretending to be what we’re not; justifying wrongdoing; blaming others; denying the truth… we’re not created to live this way. Jesus invites us to come into the light, to receive forgiveness, and to find rest.

‘Get right with God! Quit focusing on others and examine your own heart. Look at your own actions and confess your own sin. Be honest. Come to Me for healing and freedom. My blood has already covered your debt, but you cannot continue to live in darkness. I am the Light! I am the Way; I speak Truth with perfect love; I give Life filled with joy and hope.’

A merciful Father wants all to believe that His loving Son stands with open arms to receive any person who comes humbly to Him. May all hear His invitation.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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One of the great things about teaching Bible to middle school students is the chance to dispel the myth that God-followers are ‘wimps’ or ‘soft’ individuals. There is no way to read the stories of Abraham, David, Samson, Deborah, Esther, and a host of others without noticing the extraordinary courage in people of faith.

In the New Testament, ‘common’ individuals determined it was worth everything to live for His Majesty. Mary Magdalene, Paul, Peter, and Mary the mother of Jesus are four well-known followers. Though we live in different times with different challenges, we can learn from those who went before us.

In praising Jesus, I think Mary Magdalene and Paul would highlight their deliverance from powerful forces. Mary was possessed by demons. She could not control the evil that owned her. She was a hopeless case… apart from a miracle. Then Jesus of Nazareth appeared and cast out all seven of the evil spirits and brought true freedom to a daughter of Israel. From that moment forward, Mary loved her Teacher and was totally loyal to her Master. Of all people, God chose to let His Son appear first to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection. God makes the best choices…

Paul was delivered from the powerful force of ‘religion.’ With a brilliant mind, the young man Saul was unmatched in his zeal for the God of Israel. The problem was he had rejected Jesus as the One God sent to rescue the world. On the road to Damascus, the Light appeared and spoke directly to a determined Pharisee and changed his life forever. Through hardships of every kind, Paul ran his race like few others. He knew nothing of this world compared to what God has prepared for those who love and serve Him.

While also rescued and delivered from his sin, Peter would praise God that Jesus ‘chose’ him. “Who am I to be called by a King? What does Jesus see in me?” With all his flaws, Peter always remembered he was chosen, though he did not deserve the Lord’s mercy and grace. The same God has chosen to love us… though we don’t deserve such blessing. May we better understand this gift and may we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.

Mary from Nazareth also knew the blessing of being chosen. Only one mother in the history of mankind would give birth to the Messiah. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (Luke 1:46-48) From beginning to end, Mary loved, protected, and followed the One who also saved her soul. Her reply to God’s angel teaches us a proper response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Let our voices join those who have known the goodness of God. He is the faithful One and He beckons us to live in His love.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” I John 4:9-10,15-16

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I’ve always been pretty good at sneaking into buildings, such as churches and especially gyms. Of course, it helped while growing up that my dad was the keeper of many keys as the head of a school, but even without a key, there’s usually a way.

img_1706Not long ago, I found the one weakness in a huge house not too far from where we live. It sits by itself a quarter of a mile off a main road and is quite beautiful. Inside, I counted five fireplaces, three huge rooms with domed ceilings, and thirteen potential bedrooms.

The problem is, the mansion is unfinished. I think construction may have started eight years ago and there has been no activity the past couple of years. I am no builder, but I’d guess the house could be ready for occupancy if a hard-working crew dedicated three solid weeks to paint, finish the floors, and complete the extravagant bathrooms and kitchen. It might cost a million dollars, but I’m sure millions have already been invested.

The backstory of this house is a mystery, but it reminds me of a teaching of Jesus: “Who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.” Jesus was discussing the cost of discipleship: “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple. Don’t begin until you count the cost.” (see Luke 14:27-29)

This instruction is not about salvation… which is a gift of God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

We will never deserve the great salvation we’ve received, but if I want to be like Peter or Paul or Mary Magdalene, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, I need to calculate a bit. The volunteer who says, “I want to follow you Jesus, but first let me take care of this and that…” might be told: “You’re not ready to follow Me quite yet… you see, I’m the King and everything is on My terms…” (see Luke 9:57-62)

“But Lord,” I say, “I’m not sure I have what it takes. I do come empty-handed and I think I love You now more than ever, yet my faith sometimes falters. I want to be brave, but I’m sometimes fearful. Is there any hope?” I think Jesus would smile and answer: “Yes! Come to Me for what you don’t have. I’m the Author and Perfector of your faith. I know how to make you brave. You won’t be carrying your cross alone. I have given you the Holy Spirit! He is your Helper, your Comforter, and your Teacher. Take courage and follow Me.”

“If you love Me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” John 14:15-17

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double portion

We know God loves humility, but He also loves boldness. Religious leaders put Peter and John in prison after healing the lame man at the Temple gate.  When they were released from prison, the disciples prayed: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak Your Word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the Name of Your holy servant Jesus.” God answered this prayer of faith: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.” (see Acts 4:29-31)

Elisha was the loyal servant of Elijah, a prophet of God. Before Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, he asked his student: “What can I do for you?” Elisha made a bold request: ”Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” Elijah said this was a difficult thing, but Elisha would know God’s answer according to what he was allowed to ‘see’ as Elijah’s life on earth ended. God said “yes” to Elisha’s extravagant prayer and II Kings records his fruitful life (see chapter 2 and following).

So how are we to pray these days? Is it possible to be both humble and bold? Of course it is! We need look no further than the One we follow. Jesus was “gentle and humble in heart” yet “powerful in word and deed.“ He taught with authority and brought honor to His Father by healing the sick and casting out demons and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Some may think that only His twelve apostles were given similar authority and power, but this is not so. Descriptions of two disciples tell us what is needed. Stephen was one of the seven chosen to serve the widows in the early Church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5) Barnabas, nicknamed ‘Son of Encouragement’, was quick to embrace Paul as a brother in Christ. “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24)

Has the world ever needed God any more than now? Storms, floods, wildfires, a worldwide pandemic, social unrest, political turmoil… Now is the time to pray boldly! Our world needs Jesus! Let’s pray for the double blessing of Stephen and Barnabas: they were both FULL OF FAITH and FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

God wants us to pray with persistence and determination. Again, Elisha is an example. On his last journey, three times Elijah told Elisha to stay put instead of following him. Three times Elisha gave the same reply: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (II Kings 2:2-6) If he had not persisted, Elisha would never have received a double portion.

Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow is meant for us: “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice… Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (see Luke 18:1-8)

“You will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God… Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion…” Isaiah 61:7

“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts 6:8

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Luke 11:11-13

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Our dear friend Anna from Brazil shared some thoughts about the first miracle of Jesus recently. Anna has a way of teaching that makes hearers continue to ponder God’s lessons long after the meeting has concluded.

A realization I reached regarding Jesus turning water into wine at Cana may already be common understanding, but I can’t seem to quit thinking about it. Here’s the thought: If it had not been for Mary, this would not have been the first miracle of Jesus.

Even the Son of God had seasons of life. He was born in Bethlehem and grew up as an obedient child in the small town of Nazareth. “And the Child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him.” (Luke 2:40) He worked with His father Joseph until He was around thirty years old then was baptized by John the Baptist. Aside from His miraculous conception, no miracles, signs, or wonders were attributed to the carpenter’s son. Jesus was seen as one living an ordinary life.

Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit after His baptism and after He returned from forty days of fasting in the wilderness, He was full of power. Mother Mary must have noticed a change in her Son. No one knew Jesus on earth better than His mother, who over the years, treasured many things in her heart… including an old man saying: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34)

Mary understood that the hosts of the wedding feast would be totally humiliated when the guests learned there was no more wine. Susan and I were responsible for Kinsey’s and Jordan’s wedding. If the director came to us as dinner was being served and said, “I am so sorry, but we miscalculated… only half your guests are going to get to eat,” we might have fainted. In the culture of Jesus’ day, running out of wine was worse.

But her Son did not ‘own’ this problem. When Mary asked Him to get involved, He replied: “What does this have to do with Me? It is not yet My time.” In other words, ‘Mother, this is none of My business. God has plans for Me reveal His power, but this is not the moment.’

Mary would not be dissuaded; she absolutely could not bear the thought of her friends entering a disaster that would shame them for the rest of their lives. She ordered the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” Did she then give a ‘mother’s look’ to her Son?

So Jesus used water and six huge water pots to produce over one hundred gallons of the finest wine ever tasted on earth. “Who serves the best wine last?” asked the master of the banquet after taking a sip. God let His Son first reveal His power while rescuing parents at a wedding feast. What a story!

So here’s a question for those of us who follow Jesus today: How many people will Jesus rescue and bless if I boldly intercede on their behalf like Mary did at the Cana wedding?

Is the Father waiting for us to knock on His door with the audacity of Mary? Do we know the Son well enough realize nothing is impossible for Him? Do we love people enough to ask and seek and knock? I think I hear Jesus whisper: ‘The sky’s the limit!’

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:5-10

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