the only one qualified to judge

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. [John 5:22-24 ESV]

Most of us really do not like to talk about judging, the judgment day or anything like that.
I think that is because we all know ourselves and the things that we have done, said and thought.
We all know that apart from grace we would be lost.

Apart from the intervention and the intercession of Christ we are without hope.
So when we think about judgment our focus turns to verses like these.
Words like these, that speak of faith and eternal life, give us so much hope.

I find it interesting how Jesus says that he alone is the judge.
Perhaps this position was granted to him because he is the God-man?
In a sense Jesus is the only one qualified to judge man because he was a man who was tempted as we are yet did not sin.
In these verses Jesus speaks of not being judged and having eternal life.
Perhaps that is something that we all need to hear?
In honoring the son we have eternal life and we are not judged.

Lord, thank you for not judging me and for giving me eternal life.

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

spiritual intimacy

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.[John 5:19-21 ESV]
I think of an intimate unity when Jesus speaks of only doing what the Father is doing.
We see that intimacy reflected when he speaks of the love that he and the Father share.
Even in the confines of human flesh Jesus shows us an intimacy that he has with the Father.

In the gospels we see this intimate love poured out as Jesus is moved by compassion.
In this compassion we see the love of the Father and his purpose in doing greater works.
And I believe that those greater works of love and mercy continue yet today.

Whenever compassion and empathy rises up in us, the world sees a bit of that intimacy.
The lives of people like Teresa of Calcutta witness to such an intimacy with God.
In truth, there is no greater evidence of spiritual intimacy than love and care.

When we are intimate with God we see what he is doing and join with him in the work.
Spiritual gifts and fruit develop in us as we follow God in loving the world.
And intimacy grows as we mature in our relationship with Christ.

Help me to know you more intimately Lord. Help my life to testify of your love.

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

our spiritual father

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. [John 5:18 ESV]

Many still today stumble over Jesus' claims of being the Son of God.
The claim seems to be a bit outrageous from a purely human point of view.
Before Jesus no one ever dared call God their father.

So, the reactions of the Jews were somewhat predictable.
Many religious people, even today, are angered when they hear someone call Jesus God.
The idea that God became human is a challenging thought for both Christians and others.

Even so, have you considered the possibility that God could become your spiritual father?
Have you thought about the idea that being born again is about fatherhood?
And that everlasting life means that you have a father for eternity?

This is the good news that Jesus and his disciples preached.
Greater than being saved and rescued from sin and death.
A glorious reality that transcends religion, dogma, theology and everything else.

Being born from above means that you have a new identity through a new father.

Our Father. May your kingdom come and your will be done in and through us.

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

religious vs spiritual people

This issue keeps arising from the Jewish leaders. They do not appreciate the good things Jesus does on the Sabbath. Most Jews cower at the rebuke from these men, but Jesus does not. He is very clear about this. He cares for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized more than He cares for how some people may interpret and apply God’s law. It is easy to follow a set of rules; it is much harder to care for the things of the heart. He also makes it clear that those who follow His path are put on earth to serve. His followers’ service comes out of love for Him. All who follow Him are to love and to serve, especially on the Sabbath. [Commentary in John 5 on Jesus' conflicts with religious leaders. -VOICE]

A few comparisons of religious and spiritual leaders:
  • Appreciation vs Jealousy - for folks who minister differently
  • Bullying vs Inspiring - of people who follow them.
  • People vs Rules - loving people should supersede religious legalities.
  • Head vs Heart - who or what you serve is a matter of the heart.
  • Service vs Subservience - we are hear to serve those Jesus served and not leaders.
  • Love vs Ritual - we are most like Jesus when we serve.
  • Sabbath vs Life - every day is a sabbath when it comes to healing.
Lord help us to be a people who appreciate, inspire, love and serve.

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

kingdom work

Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your bed and walk.” At once the man was healed and picked up his bed and walked. ... The Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Day of Rest. It is against the Law for you to carry your bed.” ... Because Jesus did these things on the Day of Rest, the Jews made it very hard for Him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is still working all the time so I am working also.” [John 5:8-17 NLV]

The context of the Jews' criticism of the man who has been healed blows me away!

This man has been paralyzed for 38 years! 38 long years!
Where were these self-righteous Jews when this man was suffering and struggling?
Where were they when he cried? Who among them lifted one finger to help him in his suffering?

Such is the demeanor and attitude of many religious people even today.
Such folks tend to focus on legalities rather than spiritual things.
How is it that anyone would not rejoice with a healed man who suffered for so long?

These same folks persecuted Jesus because he broke their rules by helping hurting people.
These religious folks felt totally justified in their criticism because their theology.
They preferred to cling to a caustic doctrine rather than encourage people involved in God's work.

Here is the question that I think must be asked of all religion:
Does it help or hinder the work of God on planet earth?
Jesus speaks directly to this and proclaims that God is working all of the time.
He indicates that the healing of people like this man is an evidence of God at work.
In saying this he invites all who will to join God in helping hurting people.

Help me Lord to not hide behind my doctrine when I see hurting people.

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

the loneliness of suffering

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. [John 5:2-9 ESV]

I have to come clean and say that this question of wanting to be healed troubles me.
I experience intense arthritic pain at times - ankle surgery awaits me.
My first wife died of diabetic complications and Ann suffers from a paralyzing neurological disease.

I pray all of the time - I want to be healed and I want Ann to be healed.
So I find that my heart has to come to grips with Jesus' question.
And I am sometimes challenged to not take offense when this question comes up.

I begin by saying that Jesus knew that the man wanted to be healed.
And he knew that it was the Father's will for him to be healed.
His question is puzzling yet the man's response is quite revealing.

Do you find it interesting that the man never really answered Jesus' question?
The expectation is that the man would have shouted "YES! I want to be healed"
But instead he says that he has no one to help him in his quest for healing.

Can you feel the pain and the loneliness that this man is experiencing?
Does compassion rise up in you when you think about his paralysis?
Where do you think his friends and family were these past 38 years?

I love that Jesus walked into this man's loneliness, pain and suffering.
The man was sick for almost forty years and wanted, dare I say prayed, to be healed.
Yet healing did not come until Jesus arrived on the scene.

It is an object lesson for us about our need to help those who are helpless.
Would it be that people like this man are befriended by people like us.
How great it would be if those in pain did not have to suffer alone.

Help us dear Holy Spirit. May no one ever have to suffer alone.

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

exercising trust in a crisis

The official pled, “Sir, please come now before my child dies.” Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son is healed!” And the man believed Jesus and started home. While he was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that all was well—his son had recovered. [John 4:49-51 MSG]

The dialog between Jesus and the official seems a bit strange.
The man comes pleading to him about a son who is very sick.
At first blush, Jesus comes off as a bit uncaring.

To the naked eye it would seem that the Lord was dispassionate about the man's son.
He refused to come with the father but seemed to brush him off with a few words.
One observing the interaction might have a different perspective than we have today.

I think that is one of the messages in this story for us today.
Things are not always as they appear to us in our moment of crisis or pain.
God is at work even when things seem out of control.

The official could have doubted Jesus' sincerity and demand that he come with him.
He could have insisted that he have it his way and continue to beg Jesus.
Instead he gave up control and chose to trust what Jesus told him to be true.

Such is our challenge in every day life when "bad things" happen.
We can insist in prayer that we have it "our way" or we can trust in the Lord.
We can believe that God is at work even when there is no evidence to prove it.

Lord, help me to remember this lesson and trust you when crisis and pain comes.

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

spiritual food

Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” ... Then Jesus explained: My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. [John 4:32-35 NLT]

I can relate to doing things that quench my spiritual hunger.
In times like that it seems that I forget about my physical needs all together.
As if something spiritual transcends that which is natural.

There is just something other-worldly about engaging in work that you are made to do.
And unless you read something different, I am not speaking of religious work or activities.
The work I am writing about elates me spiritually and is totally relational.

God's work is all about the relational stuff.
When we lovingly interact with people we are doing the work of the kingdom.
Apart from love all ministry is void of anything spiritual.

Consider what Jesus says to his disciples about the harvesting of souls.
Does anyone believe that a soul can be won for the kingdom without love?
When I consider the ways that Jesus ministered I see love personified.

I am brought to an understanding that kingdom work is all about compassion.
Those who are hurting, lost and in pain need love and compassion.
Who among us ever came to the Savior for any reason other than someone loved us.

The work of the harvest fills us with spiritual food.
Our witness is all about the work of love in our lives.
Love is the spiritual food that each of us so desperately need.

Help me to love those who you love Lord. Please give me a heart of compassion.

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

worship is spiritual not geographical

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” ... The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” [John 4:16-20 ESV]

Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well continues.
She begins to sense that there is something special about the man she is talking to.
He gets her attention as he speaks to her about the man who she is living with.

She immediately switches the subject to something religious yet the Lord turns it spiritual.
Jesus informs her that worship is spiritual not geographical.
We today would be wise to hear his words - it is not about where we worship.

It is not about the physical but about the spiritual.

The life of this simple woman is absolutely turned upside down when Jesus tells her who he is.
Can you sense the amazement that she must have been feeling?
The hope of all creation had appeared to her and she could not contain her excitement.

Her religious experience was turned inside out by the presence of the Ancient of Days.

Such is the evidence of all of history.
Peoples of all genders, ages and ethnicity have been radically changed by an encounter with God.
It is our spiritual heritage. I want such change.

Come Lord Jesus. I am thirsty. I need a drink from your life giving well.

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

spiritual thirst

Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” ... The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” ... Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” ... Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” [John 4:7-15 ESV]

My first reaction to this story is how a simple request can evolve into something greater.
Does the depth of the conversation simply not blow you away?
Jesus takes something so simple as a drink of water and turns it into something so profound.

He turns something ordinary into something special.

I think that is the way of the Spirit in our lives as well.
Small things can take on profound meaning.
An encouraging word or an act of kindness can have lasting consequences.

Simple conversations can become so profound.

Can anyone doubt that Jesus believed that he was the Messiah?
Could a mere man proclaim that he is the giver of living water?
The identity of Christ is so evident in this reading.

And who would not drink of this eternal well?

I have found this to be true - I have sensed this living water in my own life.
Such is the difference between the Samaritan woman's religion and what Jesus offers.
The water he gives produces more than religious zeal - his water gives spiritual life.

I am thirsty Lord. Fill me with your living water.

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

spiritual influence

“No one can have anything unless God gives it. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ ... He must become more important while I become less important.” He who comes from above is greater than all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly matters, but he who comes from heaven is above all. He tells what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his message. But whoever accepts his message confirms by this that God is truthful. [John 3:27-33 NLT]

This passage is a fitting follow-up to the conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisee. In these verses John the Baptist affirms the things that Jesus told Nicodemus. Consider these points that John makes as he shares with his disciples and others:
  • Spiritual wisdom is a gift from heaven. A person who understands this is able to receive it because they have placed themselves in a place of humility.
  • We are not God or the Messiah. It is a needed lesson in humility for many with an over-inflated ego. Humility is a necessity, not an option, for a follower of Christ.
  • We are humble fore-runners. Like John it is our job to proclaim the good news about Jesus telling all that God loves them and wants all to know him.
  • We are friends of God who rejoice greatly at his voice. When we read the scriptures we rejoice over his words. Our relationship with God is a joy filled one.
  • His influence must increase in our lives. When we are born again we begin as spiritual infants and grow into mature children of God as we walk humbly before Him.
I love it how John ends this passage saying the same thing that Jesus told Nicodemus about eternal life. When I think of John I think of someone who had such a clear and humble understanding of his role in life and such an amazing insight into God.

Like John, I pray Lord that your influence would grow stronger in my life.

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

the dark side

The Light has come into the world. And the Light is the test by which men are guilty or not. People love darkness more than the Light because the things they do are sinful. [John 3:19 NLV]

The setting for the coming of the Messiah is one of great spiritual darkness.
Everyone is stumbling around in the dark - even the religious leaders struggle spiritually.
This passage reminds me of this verse from the prophet Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Jesus is that great light that has come into the world.
His light illuminated, and yet illuminates, the dark ways of humankind.
His life, teachings and ministry testify to the light of God.  

I find it interesting how, in the gospels, sinners repented and were made whole by this light.
Yet religious people ignored their witness preferring their darkness to Christ's light.
It is a troubling thought for those of us who have followed God for a long time.

It is troubling to know that Christ mostly confronted the darkness of religious people.
It concerns me and causes me to question the dark theologies that I once embraced.
And it reminds me how easy it is to be drawn to the dark side.

Lord, I need your light. Please shine and expose all of my dark ways.

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

the gift of immortality

As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son. [John 3:14-18 GNT]

The text of John 3:16 is the most famous verse in all of the bible.
But the verses surrounding it are not as well known.
In these verses we learn about the nature of mortal and immortal life.

To begin with, God sent his Son, the exact impression of the Father.
Jesus, the Son, was lifted up, elevated, in his day that people might believe in him.
The promise was that all who believed would live forever.

Those who reject God, like all of creation, cease to exist when they die.
All creation is born mortal and have nothing in them that survives death.
People who believe in Jesus receive the gift of immortality.

Such is the gospel of Christ and the new birth.
Those who refuse to believe are already judged and cease to exist when they die.
Folks who believe are transformed and receive eternal life.

I believe in you Jesus. Thank you for the gift of eternal life.

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

the inner wind of the heart

Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? [John 3:7-8 ESV]

As this fascinating dialog persists Jesus continues to press Nicodemus about his beliefs.
He challenges the Pharisee's understanding of spiritual matters.
Jesus speaks of the born again experience as something that a Jew would already know about?

Is that a new thought for you? It once was for me.
I mean, isn't this born again stuff a Christian doctrine?
Listening to Jesus, one might argue that being born again was part of Jewish teaching.

So why was a Jewish teacher like Nicodemus not already acquainted with the doctrine?
Perhaps the answer might be connected to a focus on the Law and not the Spirit?
In reality, one need look no further than King David to see a born again Jew.

Jesus likens being born again to the wind blowing even though one cannot see it.
Thinking about that my mind considers the power that a tornado or hurricane releases.
Winds are invisible but can have such an impact on things visible when they blow.

In like manner, when we are spiritually born our heart becomes powerful like the wind.
Our invisible spirit can exert influence and power over things visible in our lives.
That influence and power is why we need to be born spiritually.

Thank you Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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

spirit gives birth to spirit

“And how can a man who’s getting old possibly be born?” replied Nicodemus. ... “I assure you,” said Jesus, “that unless a man is born from water and from spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit: you must not be surprised that I told you that all of you must be born again.“ [John 3:5-6 Phillips]

Before 1975 I had never heard the phrase "Born Again".
Like many, I was a fairly religious person even though I had stopped going to church
Yet I had never read the bible - not even one of the gospel accounts.

So my reaction to this 'born again' phrase was similar to Nicodemus in this passage.
My understanding of such matters was purely cerebral - I had no clue about spiritual things.
So I understand how the Pharisee felt when Jesus began speaking of being born again.

Being born from water and from spirit seems to delineate natural from spiritual birth.
Interesting when you consider Jesus' own birth as told by the gospel writers.
In a sense he was born of spirit before his mother gave natural birth to him.

Jesus is unique in that respect as his mother was flesh and his Father was Spirit.
So it is that when we are born again we become like Jesus - albeit not at natural birth.
When we are born from above we have both fleshly and spiritual parents.

Thank you for the new birth Lord. I am blessed to have a Father like you.

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

spiritual understanding

“What right have you to order them out?” the Jewish leaders demanded. “If you have this authority from God, show us a miracle to prove it.” “All right,” Jesus replied, “this is the miracle I will do for you: Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up!” [John 2:18-19 TLB}

It makes sense that the Jews questioned Jesus' authority here.
After all, he had just cleared the temple court challenging the way that they made money.
They felt they had a right to see some authoritative sign.

Such is the reasoning of many religious people when confronted by a prophet.
Inwardly they knew that they were doing something wrong.
But their greed and mental rationalizations trumped their inner understandings.

Instead of trying to comprehend what Jesus was saying they jumped to a conclusion.
In doing so they missed the entire point of why he was upset about their motives.
Perhaps things would have been different if they would have questioned him further?

Maybe Jesus would have told them that the temple that would be raised was that of his body?

Sadly their reactions are often those of religious people when the conversation turns spiritual.
People are comfortable speaking of religious rites and practices but struggle with spiritual things.
They are centered on external things when they should be focused on things internal.

Lord, help me to see and understand life through inner eyes.

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