Thursday, March 31, 2016

Three Strikes and You’re In

By Allen White

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
   “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17

How do you feel when someone asks you the same question more than once? “Are we there yet?” As much as we start off patient, it doesn’t end there. But, why do they keep asking?

Kids aren’t asking “Are we there yet?” They’re making a statement: “I’m tired of riding in this seat. Other twelve-year-olds don’t sit in a car seat. Let’s get there already.” But, other repeated questions can be more troublesome.

Are they asking because they didn’t hear my answer the first time? Are they just not paying attention to what I have to say? Or, are they asking because they don’t trust me? Ouch.

Peter felt that Jesus’ questions fell in the last category. Jesus asked about Peter’s love for Him three times. Maybe this was to balance out Peter’s three denials of Jesus (John 18). Cue the rooster.

Jesus’ intent wasn’t to taunt Peter. Jesus loved him. Perhaps the three questions did counter the three denials. Jesus’ heart was toward reconciliation. This was three strikes, you’re in.

God’s heart toward us is always toward reconciliation. From Eden until now, God always wants to reconcile with us. Even His hatred of our sin betrays His love for us. God doesn’t want anything to stand in the way of our relationship with Him.

No matter who you are. No matter what you’ve done. God hasn’t given up on you. God will never give up on you. He isn’t like us. His chances don’t run out. God is not in a hurry. He will wait until we have run through all of the solutions and scenarios. When our excuses are all used up, God will step in. If we want to be left to ourselves, He will do that too.

What have you done that you feel might be too big to forgive? God is always ready to forgive. All you have to do is ask. Now, there may be damage to relationships that will take a lot of work over time. But, God’s forgiveness is immediately available.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

McGyvering Our Faith

By Allen White

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

 “No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:4-14

Years ago, I ran the children’s ministry at the church I served at in California. (I also had adult ministries and led worship – but we’re not going to go there. When a church starts out small, you grow with it.)

Like every other children’s pastor on the planet, I had a regular need for new teachers to replace the exhausted ones. In fact, one teacher put it this way, “Now that I’m in the sixth year of my one year commitment, I was wondering if I could take a break?” I couldn’t really accuse her of being unfaithful. (I hope you understand that this is a bit tongue in cheek.)

My usual process of recruiting new teachers involved a great deal of thinking and a greater amount of worry. What if I don’t find any teachers? What if I have to teach all of the kids myself? What if in the process of keeping this plate spinning, my other plates stop spinning?

I would think about all of the adults in our church. Then, I would think about why they would turn me down. Then, I would think about anybody who was relatively new to the church and might take my call. Then, I would worry some more.

After I had approached my list of “usual suspects,” I would face a certain number of rejections – often 100 percent. I would consider quitting my job. “What did hotel desk clerks make these days?”

I would fantasize about a church where volunteers lined up at my door – where their constant obsession was God’s calling on their life and other than that they had relatively no life – but then, I would wake up and realize that no one else was probably like me. Then, I would finally reach the end of my horded resources or lack thereof.

As a last resort, I would pray and ask God to give me the two or so teachers that I needed. And, He always came through. Within days all of the children had loving, dedicated teachers, and the stress was gone.

Why did I put myself through that over and over again? Why didn’t I just seek Jesus first? Well, I am actually that dumb at times.

The disciples had been successful enough as fishermen to actually make a living. After a night of fishing, they had caught nothing. They were at the end of their rope. The Kingdom of God didn’t seem to pan out, and now fishing became unreliable as well. But, here’s what they didn’t understand – if Jesus isn’t in it, even success is a failure.

Sure we can “McGyver” our lives for a while, but bailing wire and duct tape can only take us so far. If we only attempt what we can manage, then don’t be surprised if nothing supernatural takes place. If the natural is working, then the supernatural is unnecessary.

If we believe that outcomes are up to us, then we need to dethrone ourselves as the master of the universe and allow God to take His proper place in our lives. It’s hard to be in need and not control the means. But, for the disciples on that day a miraculous catch brought in with miraculous nets gave them one more reason to trust in Jesus.

What are you worried about right now? They say that if you think about something three or more times a day, then you’re worried about it. What is that worry? What do you feel that you must accomplish on your own? What is making you lose sleep at night? Isn’t it time to give that over to God?

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Gone Fishing

By Allen White

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3

Jesus died. He arose. He appeared to his disciples. Then, the disciples went fishing. Huh?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if the rug was pulled out from under you? Would you live in your parents’ basement? Would you go back to your high school job? What would you do?

Jesus’ disciples were left with a mystery and a misunderstanding. The ‘sure thing’ of the last three years seemed unsure. What they knew they could count on was their old standby, fishing. They were comforted by something so familiar.

I don’t believe they had turned their backs on Jesus. At a minimum, a disciple’s gotta eat. Sure, Jesus had directed them to fulfill His mission (John 20:21-23), but what did that mean. The disciples weren’t trust fund brats who could live a life of leisure. They couldn’t just sit around drinking wine, smoking cigars, and debating the meaning of Jesus’ words. They had to keep body and soul together.

When supernatural callings intersect with ordinary lives, the results will vary. A few who are called make too much of how special they must be. Most don’t understand. And, more than a few sit around and debate the words.

But, Jesus told them what to do. Why did they go back to fishing? Why didn’t they just go out and start doing it? We could ask ourselves the same question.

What is Jesus calling you to do? If you know, what’s keep you from fulfilling that call? If you don’t know, what’s keep you from finding out?

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Penance and Forgiveness

By Allen White

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-23

Boy, there’s a lot of theology packed into these words from Jesus. While you and I have had a lot of years to process these thoughts, it was a lot for the disciples to unpack.

Jesus greets them with “peace,” then informs them of their mission. The disciples are being sent just like Jesus was sent. They weren’t headed to the cross rather they would carry on His mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

It wasn’t up to the disciples to accomplish God’s Work on their own. Jesus breathed on them. Breath is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).  Then, He added, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Up to this time, the Spirit was with them, but the Spirit was not in them (John 14:16-17). When the Spirit is with someone, the Spirit directs the person toward Christ (John 16:8-11). When the Spirit is in a believer, His Presence confirms that indeed the person is a child of God (Romans 8:16). The Spirit also brings supernatural power (Acts 1:8).

Attempting God’s Work without God’s Power is worthless. But, being empowered by God’s Spirit to fulfill His Mission is unlike any other adventure. God intends to use believers in ways beyond what they would every imagine.

Jesus’ final instruction here is a little more challenging to understand: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23). The range of interpretation goes from the sacrament of penance to just avoiding the topic altogether.

Some have taken this forgiving/not forgiving authority along the lines of binding and loosing (Matthew 18:18). Jesus’ disciples are instructed to affirm those who have received forgiveness, but to warn those who haven’t sought forgiveness. The believer’s mission (John 20:21) combined with the Holy Spirit’s mission (John 20:22) leads to a wonderfully redemptive result. Judgment placed in human hands tends to become something less than wonderful.

But, let’s look at the basic meaning of Jesus’ words. If you forgive someone, they are forgiven. How can we forgive people who offend us and sin against us? We can fully forgive because Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins allows us to freely forgive others. The offender still needs Jesus’ forgiveness, but our forgiveness of them is a strong testimony of Christ’s love.

If we don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven. They can still ask Jesus for forgiveness. We don’t stand in the way of anyone’s salvation, but our forgiveness of them could help them along to finding salvation. Not to mention that our unforgiveness only interferes with our relationship with God (Matthew 18:33-35).

Jesus has sent you. What does your mission field look like? It’s your workplace, your neighborhood, your home. Don’t get overwhelmed because Jesus has also given the Holy Spirit to help you. Your mission is a mission of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). You don’t have to right every wrong, but when you have opportunity to forgive that’s the first place to start.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jesus is the Answer. What was the Question?

By Allen White

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. John 20:19-20

The evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus’ followers met together with the doors barred. There was much to figure out. There was much to fear. What was the answer? Then, Jesus appeared.

The disciples recognized Him as Jesus. His body bore the scars from the nails in His hands and the spear in His side. This was Jesus. The curious thing is how did He get in the room without using a door or window?

Some have taught that Jesus now possessed a spiritual, immortal body (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), much like believers will have when they are resurrected. He was recognizable. He could be touched. He wasn’t a ghost. Yet, He appeared without opening a door. Beam me up, Scotty?

The disciples were confused and afraid. Jesus came to them with assurance and answers. When we are accused and afraid, Jesus does the same for us. When we feel that we’re at the brink, when we’ve run out of ideas, when we’re ready to quit, Jesus gives us His Presence and His answer.

The most frustrating situations become less complicated in His Presence. The relationships we could give up for dead receive new life from Him.

In the 1970’s born-again hippies sang, “Jesus is the Answer.” We’ve heard it so much, it seems cliché. But, even today, Jesus is the Answer. What’s your question?

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Things I Just Don’t Understand

By Allen White

(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) John 20:9

“They still did not understand.” I am comforted by those words. Two of the three disciples in Jesus’ inner circle, Peter and John, didn’t understand. Sometimes I don’t understand. Now I don’t feel so bad.

When we think about all that Peter and John had witnessed. Jesus’ teaching, healings, Lazarus’ resurrection, miracles, and even their daily lives together, we would think if anybody got it, they would.

Now, we have the advantage of 2,000 years of theology and teaching about these events. Our perspective is far different. In fact, the Bible says that we know things that the prophets longed to understand (Matthew 13:17). Since childhood, many of us have understood the truth of the resurrection. Yet, there are many things that we don’t understand.

When we try hard to please God, yet bad things still happen to us, we don’t understand. When we pour our hearts out to God and confess our sins, often we still feel guilty and ashamed, we don’t understand. When we are kind to others, and they are cruel to us, we don’t understand.

God’s Word reveals the Truth that we can come to understand:

God is pleased with you (Colossians 3:3).
Your trying is always inadequate (Romans 3:20).
Your relationship with God isn’t all up to you (Isaiah 12:2; Romans 15:13).
Bad things happen to everybody (Matthew 5:45).
God’s grace covers all of your sin (Ephesians 1:7).
Sometimes God’s grace is dispensed in daily doses (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Often a unresolved hurt in your life causes you to go back to the sin you detest (Romans 7:14-25 ;Luke 17:1-4).
You are not as good as you think you are (Romans 3:23).
Others aren’t as bad as you think they are (Matthew 7:3-5).

As you learn to trust God, you will grow in your understanding. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be things that you don’t understand. But, God will give you everything that you need to know.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Awesome Power of Doubt

By Allen White

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20:3-8

In the race to the tomb, Peter came in second. Peter, who was the first to walk on water (Matthew 14:28), who was the first to draw his sword (John 18:10), was outrun by John. But, Peter still entered the tomb first. Some things never change.

In the tomb, Peter and John discovered the grave clothes. If someone had taken the body, they wouldn’t have bothered to unwrap it. Peter took it all in. John saw and believed.

The open tomb meant that the body was gone. Whether by grave robbers or conspirators, the assumptions were wide open. But, what they discovered inside led to only one conclusion: Jesus came back from the dead. He had power over sin and death. John had the evidence he needed to believe.

Where do your doubts lie these days? Some people wonder whether they are truly saved. They keep doing the things that they don’t want to do. The old tapes that are running in their minds and the old patterns that produce the same old results make them wonder where the power of God is in their lives.

The enemy’s only tool is to convince us that we are powerless over sin. Even though we have a Savior who conquered death, Hell and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:54-56), our enemy wants us to stay trapped in doubt and destructive behaviors.

When trainers work with elephants, they take the young elephants and tie them to a stake that is driven deeply in the ground. The young elephant tugs and tugs, but can never release itself from that stake. Once the elephant is convinced of being powerless over the stake, the trainer doesn’t have to drive the stake so far into the ground.

Adult elephants are tied to stakes that they could easily break free from – except they don’t think they can. The elephant possesses the power, but lacks the belief.

Many of us are like that elephant. There are things in our lives that have been dogging us for years. Jesus died to save us from sin. Jesus died to redeem us and to forgive. The power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in every believer (Romans 8:11). There is nothing that can keep us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Yet, many of us are convinced that we can never break the tie to our sinful behavior.

What sin has dogged you for years? How has it harmed you? How has it harmed others? The goal of your life is not merely to forsake sin, but to live a full life in Christ. God has so much more for you. Ask God to help you. Ask a believing friend to support you. Find a small group to rally around you. It’s time for you to be free.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Double Billed for Our Sins

By Allen White

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
John 20:1-2

Jesus’ disciples had just experienced the weekend from you know where. Jesus -- their teacher, their friend – had died a criminal’s death in the cruelest way possible.

When I watch the movie, The Passion of the Christ, I start cringing about halfway through knowing that the whipping scene is coming. It’s hard to take on video. I can’t imagine being there.

Mary Magdalene and the others were completely heartbroken and confused. Mary was overcome with grief. The Man who loved her and accepted her unconditionally died like He was the worst person in the world. She went to His tomb to pay her respects.

Mary discovered what she never expected. The stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. She concluded that the cruelty of Jesus’ tormentors didn’t stop at His death. They continued to humiliate Him and to taunt His followers. What should she do?

Mary quickly found Peter and John. She reported what she saw and what she concluded. They went on to investigate. She stayed behind.

When we wake up on Easter morning, we know that Jesus was resurrected. After all, it is the old, old story. Mary Magdalene and the others weren’t sure what to expect. Yes, Jesus had predicted His death and His Kingdom. But, what did that really mean?

Jesus made references to destroying the temple and raising it up in three days (John 2:18-20). The religious leaders were angered because they thought Jesus’ prediction was literal -- impossible, but literal. Yet, is it more impossible rebuild a building or come back from the dead?

Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the knowledge that we have, but we share in their experience. They knew Jesus’ words, yet they had never experienced the things He had predicted. When God, through His Word, tells us that our character will be that of Christ’s (Philippians 2:5-11), we understand those words, yet there is so much that we haven’t experienced.

When God’s vision for our lives is for us to become humble, patient, kind, forgiving and more, it’s all good in theory, but how is that actually going to happen? Our Savior made promises to us. Our God wants us to experience a life that is beyond our everyday life. The tomb is open, but what does that mean in my life today?

Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. The sins we’ve committed can never be erased, but Jesus offers a second chance (and a third, and a fourth…). The relationships that we’ve burned through can only be resurrected by forgiveness. Our character flaws can only be corrected with God’s power and a humble heart.

Jesus paid it all. What are you still paying the price for today? Have you accepted His free gift of salvation? It’s not complicated. The instructions are pretty straight forward: Romans 10:9-10. You just need to be willing.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Are You in the Right Fight?

By Allen White

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

 Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:33-38

The Jewish leaders had no authority to kill Jesus. They turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea. From this conversation, we get the feeling that Pilate really didn’t want to be involved in the issue, yet couldn’t really get out of it.

Pilate had one angle to pursue: if Jesus regarded Himself as some kind of king, then perhaps He was bringing about an uprising that would threaten the Roman Empire. That would be reason enough to execute Him.

While Jesus brought the Kingdom of God, He never claimed to be a king. Others referred to Him as being the “King of the Jews,” but Jesus never embraced that title.

In fact, Jesus appeals to Pilate’s reason. If Jesus were a king, then wouldn’t this be the time that His followers would start an uprising? Wouldn’t that be normal king-like behavior? Pilate was baffled.

Pilate asks an honest question, “What is truth?” Jesus had done nothing that should be punished. The Jewish leaders were seeking the death penalty. Jesus was willing to die, but there just wasn’t a rational reason to kill Him.

Don’t you think that Jesus could have run circles around the religious leaders and the Roman government? Innocence is not difficult to defend if the person is actually innocent. No one was more innocent than Jesus. But, His mission wasn’t to right the wrongs against Him. His mission was to right the wrongs of everyone.

Jesus faced His accusers calmly and reasonably because He knew the will of His Father. He had settled everything in the garden. There was no doubt. There was no second-guessing. Now was the time for obedience and submission.

What have you been fighting against? Are you sure that you’re in the right fight? Are you sure that it should be a fight at all? Where do you need to be assured of God’s Will? How have you sought to discover God’s Will?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Don’t Even Think About It

By Allen White

[Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

 Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” John 13:6-8

To be clean, you have to acknowledge that you’re dirty. To receive forgiveness you must admit that you need forgiving. Peter wasn’t too good to have his feet washed. He just didn’t feel good enough to have Jesus wash his feet.

It’s not that Peter’s feet were clean. He had collected plenty of dust in his sandals along the way. It’s not that Peter had never had his feet washed. Feetwashing was as common as a shoe shine 50 years ago. Peter’s issue was not with the what. His issue was with the who.

Peter would have let a servant was his feet. He would have been completely comfortable with someone of lower stature bending down to cleanse his tootsies. But, the Son of God? That made Peter uncomfortable. Jesus tipped social convention on its ear. The Greatest was doing the work of the least.

While most of us would do anything for anyone in need, sometimes it’s difficult to receive help. We would give the shirt off of our back, but to take someone else’s shirt is another matter. It all comes down to pride.

The self-righteous, like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11-32), think that they don’t need Christ’s sacrifice. They don’t appreciate God’s grace. They might even take it for granted, because the dark side never seemed that dark. If we can live our lives well on our own, then why do we need Jesus?

The reality is that none of us can live our lives well enough. All of us have fallen short (Romans 3:23), probably more than we care to admit. If we feel self-righteous and better than other believers, then we’ve overly focused on avoiding obvious sin and carefully ignored hidden sin. Whether you’re dirty on the outside or dirty on the inside, you need to be cleansed.

I see this with men addicted to pornography. It’s addictive like a spiritual crack cocaine. It’s deceiving. “I can quit any time. This doesn’t control me.” Here’s the reality: if you could quit on your own, you would have. You’re not going to break this one on your own and just confessing to God won’t break it either. You’ve already done that and look where you are.

To break an addiction to anything: porn, food, internet, alcohol, drugs, work or whatever else, you have to humble yourself and confess to another person. James 5:16 says,

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

If you want to be healed, you must confess to another believer. After all, we are only as sick as our secrets. Wouldn’t it be great to be free?

Where do you need to be cleansed today? What do you need to confess? Who feels like a safe person to confess to? Don’t keep yourself in bondage for another day.

Once you’ve confessed, here are a couple  of resources that can help you:

Faithful Eyes:

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Do You Know Who You Are?

By Allen White

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:2-5

My son and I sat at the counter in a diner at the Baltimore airport. One of the servers was wrapping silverware in napkins and asked my son if he wanted to help. I told him that was a pretty good Tom Sawyer strategy there.

The server told me that he used to manage the cafeteria at the Rayburn House Office Building in D.C. I asked him if any members of Congress gave him any trouble. He said the representatives were fine, but their staffs were a pain. If things didn’t go their way, they would puff up their chests and announce, “You don’t know who I work for.” (If I was the cafeteria manager, I would be thinking “And, you don’t know if I spit in your food.”)

[RHOB exterior pic]

The truly powerful people, the representatives of the people, knew who they were. They knew why they were there and how quickly they could get a one way ticket home. The staffers, well, nobody had voted for them. They lacked the same perspective.

Jesus knew who He was. Jesus could pick up a towel or pick up a cross and know He was and is Almighty God. No menial task could ever lessen His significance. Jesus, “who, being in the nature of God…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). Insecure people have difficulty serving others. They can’t take the backseat. They must take center stage. But, those who know who they are can allow others to shine.

Jesus Christ was not a self-promoter. If anything, He was a self-demoter. Jesus knew who He was. He had nothing to prove. He had nothing to lose. He could freely love and give His all. Jesus didn’t need an ego and an entourage to make Him feel big. You couldn’t get any bigger than Jesus.

As followers of Jesus Christ, how are we tempted to promote ourselves? When, out of insecurity, are we tempted to make ourselves larger than we really are? What are we too good to do anymore?

You and I are not better than our Savior. When we feel that we need to be, then we have forgotten who we really are.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

The Full Extent of God’s Love

By Allen White

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
John 13:1

As Americans, we enjoy certain unalienable rights (sic) endowed by our Creator,  Our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence called for the end of tyranny and for the freedom of all people. As much as we enjoy these rights over time they had to be defended and protected by diplomacy and often by force.  These aren’t rights that everyone respects.

Conflicts around the world for thousands of years have stemmed from people infringing on the divinely endowed rights of others. If these rights aren’t constantly protected, they can quickly disappear.

By the time Passover arrived, Jesus’ mission was nearly complete. His “hour” was at hand. This was the very reason that He came (John 12:27). His mission was to judge the world, to defeat the devil, and to be lifted up (John 12:31-32). This victory would be won once and forever. This battle would never need to be fought again. Jesus’ work was final.

The third sentence of this verse is worth noticing: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Who were “His own”? The immediate context might suggest that these were only His disciples, yet other references in John point to a much larger group.

John starts his gospel talking about “His own”:

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13).

The qualifications for God’s own people were redefined. Acceptance into God’s family was no longer limited to one race. Anyone who receives Christ is part of “His own,” including anyone reading these words.

The promise is that Jesus will love us to “the end.” The cross pronounced the end of sin and death. God’s love for us provides the way of salvation. God’s love also provides the ability to live for Him until the end of this life.

We don’t need to fight for our souls. Christ fought for us and won. We don’t need to exhaust ourselves trying to overcome sin and the flesh. Christ is victorious. As we depend on Christ that victory is ours.

How are you feeling? Maybe a little defeated today? Maybe it’s time to remind the devil of his bad news: He lost and Jesus won. Let Jesus win in your life today.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

A+ Christians and D- Christians

By Allen White

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (NIV)

Everyone appreciates a passing grade. No one wants to fail. When I was in fifth grade, I received an “F” on a pop quiz. I only scored two correct answers out of five. It’s the only failing grade I ever received in school. (Now, I know that some people just aren’t into school. I’m not bragging. For the sake of full disclosure, I was also the kid who struck out at tee ball. Ouch! The ball is right there… I quit the team.)

Our educational system has indoctrinated us with the idea of what it takes to measure up. If we can accomplish the first three letters of the alphabet (A, B, C), then we’re in reasonably good shape. If we get a little further into the alphabet, we’re in trouble. If we perform well, we succeed. If we perform poorly, we fail.

God doesn’t grade on a curve. He also doesn’t grade on a scale. Sinners go to Hell. Saints go to Heaven. The only difference is that “saints” chose God’s forgiveness and “sinners” chose against it.

The test James speaks of in this passage is for “saints” only. Here’s the test: “if you persevere, you will receive the crown.” Here’s what it doesn’t say: “if you persevere with a smile on your face, if you never have a bad day, if you never utter a discouraging word, if you never doubt, if you sing hymns and recite platitudes while you’re suffering, then God will bless you” – those aren’t the conditions at all.

If we persevere, if we grin and bear it, if we admit our weakness and lean into God, if we just make it through, then we will receive the crown of life. There are no A-plus Christians or D-minus Christians. The crowns are all the same color. There is no gold, silver and bronze.

How do we pass God’s tests? By simply completing the test and not giving up. It’s okay to strike out. Just don’t quit the team.

What do you feel like giving up on today? I would encourage you to give up trying to figure everything out and surrender it to God. Instead of walking out, turn to God and say, “I just can’t fix this. God, I need you to take over.” Then, wait and see what He does.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

God’s Going to Bless You Anyway

By Allen White

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." Genesis 22:15-18 (NIV)

God called Abraham and gave him the promise many years before this event (Genesis 12). How is it at this point in Abraham’s life that God applies a condition: “I will surely bless you…because you have obeyed me”? Was there a loophole?

God chose Abraham to start a people of God’s own. From the very beginning, God had an idea of what His people would be like. God wanted people who would resemble Him. But, between the Tower of Babel and the Call of Abraham, there really wasn’t anyone around that looked like one of God’s people. Should God start over? Should God go back to the garden?

God chose Abraham knowing two things very clearly: Abraham didn’t resemble God, and God was going to start a people through Abraham. Wasn’t there someone more devoted? Wasn’t there someone who wouldn’t choose adultery or lying as an option? Maybe there was. Maybe there wasn’t.

This is where our lives connect with Abraham’s life: God chose Abraham and us based upon His desire to have a relationship with us. And, God has a plan to bless us and to fulfill His will through us. None of us are prepared. None of us are good enough. But, nothing is impossible with God.

God delivers on His promises to us, but not all at once. For Abraham, the promise took a process. Abraham’s tests were not to prove his worth, but to cause him to more closely reflect God’s character. God didn’t put conditions on His promise when He gave it. If you do X, then I will give you Y. If passing a test was the criteria for God’s blessing, then Abraham failed miserably. And, he certainly wasn’t wealthy enough to buy all of the Mulligans needed to cover his faults.

Abraham never reached perfection in this life (and neither will we). But, with each test, Abraham grew a little closer to resembling his Father. That gives us all hope. As we keep moving forward, as we continue to lean into God, as we give up our selfish ways and surrender to Him, we will develop more of His character. He’s going to bless us anyway. We don’t have to earn that.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The gods of Mastercard and Visa?

By Allen White

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." Genesis 22:13-15 (NIV)

God used this circumstance to reveal His character to Abraham. God demonstrates one of His compound names: Jehovah-Jireh, the LORD Will Provide. This is more than a promise. This is part of the unchanging nature and character of God.

Providing is not what God does on occasion. It’s Who He is. Just like you might have brown hair or blue eyes, God is our Provider. It would be against His nature not to.

What does God provide? “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Recently, my second grader was studying for his economics exam. (What?!) He learned that needs were necessary for living. He also learned that wants are things we would like to have but don’t necessarily need. God will provide for all of our needs, but He might not provide for all of our greeds.

In our culture, we are prone to act to quickly. Think about it. When we need something, do we reach out to God in prayer or do we reach for our credit card? Often God does not provide for us because we’ve taken care of things ourselves. We haven’t given God the opportunity to provide.

What do you need today? Have you asked God to provide? Ask Him right now. It’s in His nature.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Doing the Unthinkable

By Allen White

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. Genesis 22:7-8

Notice how Abraham’s faith shines through. He reassures his son that God will provide the lamb. All that Abraham knows at this point is that the child of promise, conceived by miraculous means, will be offered to God as a sacrifice. He assumes that the sacrifice is Isaac. What Abraham doesn’t know is that his words and actions point toward “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The thought of losing a child seems unbearable. The thought of causing your child’s death, even at God’s command, seems unthinkable. Here in what must have been a time of personal anguish for Abraham, we can glimpse the cost to God when He offered His Own Son to die for our sins.

Think of how much we are worth to God. At great personal loss, He paid the price to redeem us. If you were feeling a little worthless today, remember that God paid the ultimate price for you. You are worth everything to Him.

“You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).To make a tax deductible donation to Galatians 4:19 Ministries:

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is God Wearing You Out?

By Allen White

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied. Then God said,

"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey…
Genesis 22:1-3 (NIV)

I’m not sure what is harder to believe: God’s request or Abraham’s compliance. Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes. What would be going through your head? “Are you kidding me? After all that we’ve been through to get this boy, now you want you want me to kill him? God, you are wearing me out on this.” Wouldn’t you feel frustrated and confused?

Abraham didn’t show any of these emotions. He just got up the next morning, saddled his donkey, and took Isaac up the mountain. Maybe Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). Maybe Abraham had finally reached a place after several decades where he could trust God completely. He was at a very different place in his relationship with God. Abraham knew that he could trust God.

Throughout Abraham’s journey, he faced many failures and doubts, and he grew in his relationship with God. There really is no other place for a human to grow. Abraham started out more or less as a blank slate when he was called by God (Genesis 12). He trusted God enough to move, but he really didn’t know God. When you begin to pile up Abraham’s problems: Sarai and the Egyptians, the promise and infertility, Hagar and Ishmael, Sodom and Gomorrah, doubting and laughter, you would think that Abraham’s faith would be devastated. Yet, the circumstances of his life provided fertile ground for Abraham to grow in his relationship with God. If Abraham had waited for things to calm down before he started growing spiritually, he still might be waiting today.

What test are you facing today? Is there something that God is asking you to give up? God will strip away everything that hinders our dependence on Him. The amount of struggle and drama is really up to you.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

The Days of Haagen-Dazs and LA Law

By Allen White

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalm 68:5-6

God provides what we lack. To the fatherless, He is our Father. To the husbandless, He is the spouse. For the lonely, He provides community. For the prisoners, He sets their hearts free. But, the rebellious, the disobedient, the self-willed, the God-has-abandoned-me-so-I’ll-just-do-it-myself crowd, they end up in an unpleasant place.

I was single until I was 35 years old. Now, while there were great days when I knew that I could do whatever I wanted and nobody would care. There were also sad days when I knew nobody would care about whatever I did. I’d blow up the black balloons and drown my sorrows in gallons of Haagen-Dazs and episodes of LA Law.

Now before you started feeling sorry for me (or ridiculing me), here’s the deal: my situation was my choice. There were people all around me. And, of course, there was God who loved me.

God wants to give us what we need to live our lives for Him. God has great plans for us. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). He has the desire and ability to lead us into satisfying, relationally-rich lives, if we are willing.

As my friend, Al Cleveland says, “It seems all I can control is the amount of resistance I offer against his leading. He seems quite determined to save me from myself.”

How much resistance are you putting up today? What do you need today? How can you step out of the way and let God provide?

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Not Guilty Anymore

By Allen White

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

“Though every act of sin is forgivable, the effects of some are not erasable.” – Chuck Swindoll

Why was Ishmael even there that day? Didn’t Ishmael’s birth come as a result of Sarah’s scheming? Now that Sarah had the “perfect,” promised family, her resentment for the “extended” family was clear. But, beyond Ishmael’s taunts and the family’s dysfunction, Ishmael was also a reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s unfaithfulness to God. Ishmael represented more than just a rowdy teenager. Ishmael represented their shame.

How do we feel when we face reminders of our past? Even though we have been forgiven, even though we have victory in that area, it’s easy to feel guilty and ashamed. Our pride is offended at the idea that we could have ever done such a thing.

Aaron Shust sings God’s affirmation to us in Not Guilty Anymore: “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, doesn’t matter what you’re coming from, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been.  Hear me tell you, I forgive.
“You’re not guilty anymore.  You’re not filthy anymore.  I love you, mercy is yours.  You’re not broken anymore, you’re not captive anymore.  I love you, mercy is yours.”

The things we are so ashamed of are reminders of God’s grace.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Is Your Life “It’s Complicated” or “Mayberry”?

By Allen White

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."

 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt. Genesis 21:17-21 (NIV)

Abraham’s family situation was complicated. It certainly wasn’t Mayberry. Now that God had given Abraham and Sarah the heir to the promise, they didn’t need a spare. At Sarah’s prompting and with God’s direction (Genesis 21:11-13), Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.

Was Ishmael a mistake? Was Ishmael a problem that would never be resolved? Ishmael was out of Abraham’s family, but not out of God’s blessing.
Regardless of who you are, how you got here, or what you’ve done, God loves you and wants to bless you. That’s just Who God is. If you feel that you don’t deserve God’s blessing, well, that’s how it’s supposed to be. You and I don’t deserve God’s blessing.

God loves you, and there’s really nothing you can do about that.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Are You Stingy with God’s Grace?

By Allen White

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." Genesis 21:8-10 (NIV)

Sarah faced a common, but unbecoming dilemma. She had received God’s grace, but she refused to offer God’s grace to others. Sure there was some sibling rivalry between Ishmael and Isaac as well as plenty of tension between Sarah and Hagar. It was not your typical step family situation, if there is a typical one.

God never intended for us to hoard His grace. He gives grace to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9) and grace to sustain us (2 Corinthians 12:9). God also gives His grace for us to give to others. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” How do we administer God’s grace? “Administer” used here is the same word as “stewardship.” Everyone who receives God’s grace has become a steward or manager of God’s grace. It’s our job to extend God’s grace to those around us by using our spiritual gifts (charismata or “grace gifts”).

How has God blessed you with His grace? How can you extend God’s grace through forgiveness, encouragement, mercy or helps today?

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

God Is Faithful Even to the Faithless

By Allen White

Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. Genesis 21:1-3 (NIV)

God could have easily said, “You know, Abraham and Sarah, I chose you and gave you my promise, but you doubted me, you laughed at me, and you sinned against me, so I’m going to find better people to fulfill this promise. I’m done.” But, that’s not the way God is. God is patient even when we’ve run out of patience for ourselves or for others.

Despite our doubts, fears and schemes, God is faithful. Even if we’ve given up on God, God never gives up on us. Now, there are times when it is hard to see much evidence of God’s presence or work in our lives. But, He is there and always will be.

God is not about to give up on you. Where are you today? Are you ready to give up on someone? God? Someone else? Yourself? God will give you all that He has promised, if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

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