a witness to spiritual influence

They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [Acts 5-8 ESV]

Can you imagine the shock on the disciples' faces as they watched Jesus disappear.
This final miracle totally took them by surprise.
They were expecting Jesus to restore the Kingdom to Israel.

Their minds were on earthly answers and physical kingdoms.
The dreams of a restored Israel disappeared with Jesus in the clouds.
To these Jesus spoke of a heavenly kingdom and of spiritual power.

He spoke to them about being his witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
Even so, some folks think of the word 'witness' as a verb rather than a noun.
These think it is something you do rather than the person who you are.

In truth our lives witness to the influence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives.
When his influence is weak, we witness a life of worry and fear.
When it is strong, we witness to something else - something greater.

I need you Lord. Help my life witness to the power of the Holy Spirit.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

spiritual baptism

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4-5 NIV]

The word 'baptism' has been a hotly disputed term in church circles for many years.
Some dogmatically adhere to an immersion only formula.
Others ascribe to a pouring or sprinkling methodology.

It seems to me that those who do that miss the heart of the idea.
The idea that a new soul has responded to Christ's invitation.
One who was spiritually dead is now alive and wanting others to know.

Baptism reminds me of the many who came with repentant hearts to John in the Jordan River.
In this response the Baptist symbolized God's forgiveness with an act of cleansing with water.
That said, I think that, in this passage, Jesus speaks of an invisible baptism.

The idea of being baptized with the Holy Spirit seems different but similar to water baptism.
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples and those who had already been baptized with water.
In speaking this promise Jesus tells us two things:
  1. Christians have an ongoing need for forgiveness and spiritual empowering;
  2. God is present to respond to those needs.
What seems odd however is how some feel that such a baptism is a one-time ecstatic event.
The focus of this event is often the impartation of a permanent spiritual gift.
I think of it more as a needed and an ongoing process of spiritual cleansing and filling.

I repent Lord. Baptism me afresh in your Spirit. Fill me Lord. I so need you.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

divine discipleship

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Interesting how Jesus includes heaven in his declaration.
It is a reminder to all of us of the timeless divinity and sovereignty of Christ.
Also noteworthy is the mention that some worshiped but some doubted.

I just love Matthew's honesty in this passage.
He wanted us to know that even some who saw Jesus after the resurrection doubted.
Believing in Jesus is not a matter of intellectual logic but one of a humble heart.

In the context of "all authority" Jesus commissions those then, and we now, to make disciples.
Most of his own mission on earth was spent discipling uneducated people.
The Lord was basically saying to "do what I did":
  • reach out to the poor - he was always seeking them out;
  • go to the harlots - he welcomed one who anointed his feet;
  • invite tax collectors - he made one of them an apostle;
  • baptize them and watch their lives change as you share my teachings with them.
And he tells them that they will not "go" alone.
The Holy Spirit will go with them giving them lessons to share.
In that sense he was with them, and is with us, to death and beyond.

Lord, give me a heart for people and fill my mouth words as we cross paths.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

where you do not want to go

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” ... And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them ... When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” [John 21:18-22 ESV]

It is so easy when you hurt so bad, or hear something you do not like, to look at others.
And ask 'why' questions like:
  • Why do others, like John, seem to have easier journeys.
  • Why is my journey so often a painful one?
  • Why aren't my prayers answered?
Jesus answers our 'why' questions with another question: "what is that to you?"
I think that the 'why' questions are unfruitful ones that cause us to obsess.
And wallow in our pain rather than process it and move through it.

Jesus ends by telling Peter "You follow Me!"
He makes no apology and offers no excuse.
In fact he emphasizes it by saying it twice.

Even in difficult places, "where you do not want to go", following Jesus is essential.
In such places our focus and our motivation must not be on:
  • our pain - hurt and sorrow can blind us;
  • our circumstances - discontentment often robs us of wisdom;
  • other people - jealousy will impair us.
Following Jesus requires us to look up and not look around.
It requires us to trust him for today and tomorrow.
And it demands to let go of our fear of going where we don't want to go.

Help me Lord to follow you and not worry about where that takes me.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

seeing past our shame

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. [John 21:15-17 ESV]

My inclination is to give Peter a break here.
Yes I know that he denied the Lord three times.
I also know the shame that he felt because of those denials.

Jesus saw through that shame and forced Peter to deal with it.
He saw past those denials and he knew how much Peter loved him.
Peter so needed the Lord to drag him out of his shame.

The Lord was up to the task because he saw great things in his friend.
I love that Jesus saw in Peter a heart filled with compassion and care.
His challenge to care for hurting souls reflected what he saw in Peter.

The disciple was a fisherman, not shepherd, by trade.
Yet the Lord saw a heart filled with love, care and compassion for lost sheep.
As he spoke he affirmed and proclaimed his desires and plans for him.

I think that the Lord is also speaking to us who feel shame.
He tells us that when we love we are able to transcend our shame.
When we love our focus is directed away from ourselves.

When we care for people who are hurting we become the hands of God.
In reality, if we love Him we will care for his sheep.
The two go hand in hand - if we love Jesus we will also love those who he loves.

I love you Lord. Please, I beg you, open my eyes to your hurting lambs.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

breakfast with friends

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” ... When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. ... Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. [John 21:4-7,12 ESV]

This is such a beautiful story of friendship and discipleship.
The disciples once again find themselves in a familiar place.
For the past three years they have eaten many meals with the Lord.

John tells us that this is the third time that they have see the risen Christ.
This time he comes specifically to share a meal with them.
It is interesting how John recognized Jesus and told his friend Peter.

The Lord told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.
They must have flashed back to that day when Jesus spoke those exact words to them.
In that moment John knew it was Jesus calling out to them.

I so love Peter's impetuously spontaneous reaction!
Overwhelmed at the thought of being with the Lord, he throws himself into the water.
He wanted to be the first to see his friend up close and hear his words.

I love how these disciples gathered around for one last breakfast with Jesus.
I can picture myself there and feel my heart filled with awe.
I can sense the excitement and love for the Lord that these men felt.

Help me Lord to see you in the ordinary events of my life and in the faces of your followers.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

power suits

You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. [Luke 24:48-49 ESV]

A new chapter of mankind is dawning for these humble fishermen, tax collectors and handmaids.

These will be those who turn the world upside down and inside out.
These who witnessed, and performed, miracles had a story to tell.
These who loved Jesus, and walked with him in friendship, will continue his mission.

They will be those who first proclaim the good news to all of the earth.
It is amazing when you consider the extent, and the impact, of their message on humanity.
How is it that these humble few could do such a thing?

Jesus tells them that they are not yet ready for the mission though.
They must wait until they are "clothed with power from on high".
Does that image simply captivate your imagination?

I think that we sometimes get a bit too theological about this phrase.
So easy to gloss over the work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is that these who Jesus spoke to were timid and afraid.

The bravest of them lacked the ability to continue Jesus' mission.
They needed to wait for the promise of the Father.
To wait until the Holy Spirit clothed them with spiritual power.

Teach me to wait for the promise Lord. I need to be clothed with holy power.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

willful ignorance

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” [John 20:25 ESV]

I think that it is so interesting how Thomas rejected the witness of his friends.
These had actually seen the resurrected Christ and testified about it to Thomas.
In a sense Thomas was the first skeptic in a very long procession of skeptics.

Many people reject the testimony of first hand witnesses like John, the writer of this passage.
Strange how skeptics think that it is 'intellectual' to dismiss these eye witness accounts.
It seems to be a case of willful ignorance and an unwillingness to believe.

Eight days later, Jesus appeared again and confronted Thomas saying:
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
This account not only confronts the willful ignorance of Thomas but of modern day skeptics as well.

In reality faith is embracing a message told by faithful witnesses.
A blessing comes when we believe what we have not seen.
I am one of those who have been blessed by believing the reports of the faithful.

Lord I believe the reports of the witnesses. Thank you for their first hand reports.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

the first message after the resurrection

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, 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 glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:19-23 ESV]

Can you imagine what it was like for Jesus to simply materialize in a locked room?
Visions of Star Trek transports and materializations come to mind.
I know that I would have been both freaked out and amazed.

Luke adds to the record of this event reporting how Jesus said:
"Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?"
Isn't that the way that we so often deal with things that our brain cannot comprehend?
When something unexplainable happens we are troubled and have difficulty believing.
Things that seem too good to be true are often hard to believe.

To comfort them Jesus speaks peace and shows them his wounds.
In Luke's account he even eats a meal to show he was real.
Even those present in the room had trouble embracing the resurrection.

And how interesting that the Lord's first message to them is about forgiveness.
A bible college teacher once told us about his struggle to forgive and how this verse helped him.
He realized that those he forgave were forgiven even though his feelings told him they were not.

Many times I remember that when I forgive - feelings will eventually follow the act of forgiveness.
It is hard to accept the reality of forgiveness because of the conflicts we feel.
In such times it is helpful to remember the words of Jesus - they are forgiven.

I am in awe of the resurrection Lord. It causes me to realize my need to forgive.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

Jonah and Jesus

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [Matthew 12:38-40 ESV]

Little is written about the time between the cross and the resurrection.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about it.
He wrote of Jesus leading captivity captive when he descended into the earth.

There is much speculation about what that means.
Some think that Jesus set righteous saints free from Sheol, the place of the dead.
Some think that the captives that were set free were those living in bondage on earth.

Such speculation is interesting and worthy of thought.
What I think about is how similar the experiences of Jesus and Jonah are.
  • Both were alive during the experience - Jonah in the fish and Jesus in heaven. 
  • Both were missing - deemed dead and gone.
  • Both needed a miracle to survive their experience. 
  • Both returned and had a message of hope for people under a sentence of death.
This is where we are today.
We embrace, with much hope, the mystery of the death.
As we live we look forward to that time of resurrection and new life.

Thank you for experiencing and tasting death for me Lord. I am in awe of you.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

into your hands

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. [Luke 23-44-49 ESV]

This last utterance from the cross reminds me of these words that Jesus once said:
I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
Even at this very last moment of his life we are reminded.
The son of God was not a victim of circumstances or of man's evil plans.
At any point Jesus could have chose another path for his life.

Yet love compelled him to stay the course and freely offer his life for us.
Love compelled him to stay committed to the words he prayed in the garden.
"Not my will but thine be done".

And since that final moment we have all been beating our breasts.
Like the centurion, and those who watched at a distance.
We have all been wondering how this could have happened to an innocent man.

Perhaps it could have happened no other way?
Maybe the whole spectacle took place to reveal the darkness of man.
And the brilliant light of God's one and only Son?

This reminds me of how we daily need to place our lives into divine hands.
When things seem so crazy and out of control we need to release control.
As we let go we commit ourselves again and trust the hands of God.

Father, into your hands I commit my body, my strength, my soul, my life and my spirit.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.