Thursday, April 28, 2011

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 until 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 ever 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. 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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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

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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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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 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 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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Monday, April 25, 2011

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 burial 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 run through 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 believe we are 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 into the ground. The young elephant tugs and tugs, but cannot release itself from the stake. Once the elephant is convinced it is powerless, the trainer doesn’t have to drive the stake so far into the ground.

Adult elephants are tied to stakes that they could easily pull from the ground – except they don’t think they can. The elephant possesses the power, but lacks the belief, so they willingly submit to the stake.

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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Sunday, April 24, 2011

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 and accepted her unconditionally died like He had been 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 today, 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, April 21, 2011

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, April 20, 2011

We Don’t Need Another Hero

By Allen White

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. John 18:25-27

It was a long night. Standing out in the cold, wandering what was next, Peter’s first lie was accompanied by a second and third. Then, the rooster crowed just as Jesus had said. Every time that Peter lied, the stakes were a little higher.

The first two inquirers perhaps didn’t recognize Peter as a usual bystander in the courtyard. Why was he there? He must be connected to Jesus. Peter dismissed these claims out of hand. But, the third question was a little harder to deny.

The third inquirer was a servant of the high priest. He would have vividly remembered Peter, because it was Peter’s sword that connected with his relative, Malchus’ ear (John 18:26). Peter had left a lasting impression.

Was there blood on his sword? Was there guilt on his face? Unfortunately, to avoid being caught in a lie requires yet another lie.

Then, the rooster crowed. Peter was faced with the person that Jesus knew he was. Jesus saw right through him. Peter felt exposed. He had been happy living with an unreal version of himself in his head.

He wanted to be the man who stood by his Lord in thick and thin. Peter wanted to be the one who lasted until the very end. He wanted to take heroic action to prove his allegiance to Christ. If it were only that easy….

I love stories about heroes--people who risk life and limb for the sake of others. Soldiers who valiantly fight to defend our freedom. Rescue workers who disregard their personal safety to save another. Who wouldn’t want to be a headline-making, speech-giving, book-writing hero for Jesus?

Jesus isn’t looking for heroes as much as he’s looking for people willing to do the right thing. True heroes were just doing their job. True heroes think of others rather than themselves. People who toot their own horns are really kind of disgusting to us. People who are faithful—the ones we can count on—they’re the heroes we need.

Peter, like many of us, had over-promised and under-delivered. He wanted to be just that good. He just wasn’t. But, the rooster’s crow was not the end of Peter’s story.

Jesus didn’t write him off. Jesus didn’t discount his allegiance. Jesus knew Peter. Peter did exactly what Jesus had expected. Peter was Peter, but God wasn’t finished with him yet.

What do you tend to over-promise? Are you aiming too high? Are you only depending on yourself? Sometimes we dream of taking the hill when all we really need is to take the first step. What is that step for you today?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dealing with Irrational People

By Allen White

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. John 18:19-24

Irrational behavior has no good argument. Yes, Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day, but He loved them just as much as He loved His disciples. Jesus came to save the lost. The high priest and the others were lost. They just didn’t know it.

People who result to anger, cursing or violence aren’t interested in working through a problem. They only want their way. They make it clear that the only way to get along with them is to co-dependently acquiesce to their wishes. As long as you’re willing to stay on the bottom, things will work out just fine for the bully. That’s a hard place to live.

How do you deal with an irrational person? Jesus provides some answers for us.

1. Stay Calm. When someone yells at you, it’s hard not to yell back. But, then again, you’re not in Kindergarten any more. If the other person decides to jump off of the cliff emotionally, jumping off with them won’t solve anything. (Remember what your mother used to say.)

The Bible tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). This is a proverb, not a promise. Jesus gave no harsh words. He stayed calm.

2. Speak the Truth. When people are upset, it’s easy to start back pedalling and even saying whatever it takes to get them out of your face. The problem is that you lose your integrity in the process. The Bible says, “…a double-minded man [is] unstable in all he does” (James 1:8, NIV 1984).

The great thing about always telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. If you always tell the truth, you’re consistent. But, it’s necessary to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Truth-telling is not an excuse for rudeness.

3. Avoid Personal Attacks. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), then He got slapped. He didn’t over-react. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t call down 10,000 angels (Matthew 26:53).

Jesus knew that His accusers weren’t the enemy. He was fulfilling God’s mission. It wasn’t pleasant. That’s for sure. But, it was necessary for our salvation.

When someone challenges you, points out a fault, or falsely accuses you, it’s a natural defense to point out the accuser's faults. It’s childish, but it’s natural. But, it doesn’t get you anywhere.

If what they are saying is true, even if it’s hard to accept, then we need to take it under consideration. If it’s false, then we really don’t need to worry about it.

My kids often get hurt feelings when one calls the other a “baby.” I’ll ask them, “Well, are you a baby?” “No,” they reply. “Then don’t worry about what they say.” Now, nobody likes to be called a “baby,” not even me, especially when I am acting like one.

When you’re falsely accused, you need to remind yourself of the truth. You need to be who you are whether others like it or not. When you get into defending yourself to false accusations, you’re just wasting your time. There’s no winning there. “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants” (Psalm 135:14).

What irrational behavior are you dealing with these days? Who is getting under your skin? Pray for them. Ask God to help you calmly speak the truth when you encounter them. Then let God do His work. If you need help getting started, pray this: Psalm 109.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Beginning of Healing

By Allen White

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. John 18:15-18

Peter had been in denial of these events for a long time. The first time Jesus talked about the events leading to His death, Peter rebuked Him (Matthew 16:21-22). Peter and the other disciples, even at the Last Supper, were jockeying for position in the Kingdom (Luke 22:24-30). Jesus’ words about the Kingdom were very exciting. The passage to the Kingdom was unthinkable to Peter.

Now, Jesus had been arrested. What Peter had so long denied was now coming into reality. The problem was, like many of us, Peter wasn’t ready to own it.

It’s easy to look down on Peter. After all, Peter had pledged, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Peter wasn’t ready to go to prison. He had a hard time just waiting in the courtyard.

When a servant girl asked if Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter denied it. He didn’t run away. He wanted to know what was going on. He was appropriately freaked out at this point. Sure, he could have pretended not to hear her instead of lying. People deal with stress in odd ways.

Peter wasn’t justified in his lying, just like we are not justified in judging him. We don’t even want to get the water cooler humor out of the gutter. Why would we risk arrest?

Each of us faces a reality that is difficult to accept. Maybe someone has given us an insight into ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge. We’d rather say, “Just put the mirror away.” Maybe it’s mounting debt or too many pounds on the scale. Maybe it’s a dependence on something or someone that we still think we could give up at any time. What is that annoying bit of reality for you?

God did not intend for you to live your life enslaved to a false sense of reality. You know what I’m talking about. Rather than just putting it away, why not expose it to the light of truth? As Rick Warren says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” What have you been hiding? It’s time to come clean to someone who can help you.

Don’t go admitting a porn addiction to your spouse. Find someone of the same sex who can point you in the right direction. The conversation with your spouse will come later.

If you can’t pay more than the minimum payment on your credit card or continue to go further into debt, seek out a financial counselor like someone who leads Financial Peace University.

Don’t deny Jesus the opportunity to truly transform your life. Admitting that you are powerless is the first step.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Goes Up Must Come Down

By Allen White

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. Matthew 26:31-35

Before we look down our noses glibly at Peter, let’s put ourselves in his shoes. See how well they fit? When we have attended a weekend conference like Promise Keepers or a marriage retreat or any other kind of retreat we leave feeling like we could conquer the world. Nothing could get in the way of being the godly man/woman, husband/wife, father/mother, brother/sister, employer/employee that God called us to be. Nothing.

As we stood there hand in hand, swaying to the music, we wanted everything that we just promised to be true. “I will read my Bible every day. I will be kinder (or more assertive). I will be the man/woman that God made me to be.” In the magic of the moment, we desired some sort of spiritual zap that would make all of this happen. Shazam! Then, we get stuck in traffic in the parking lot leaving the event.

Our newfound sanctification unravels so quickly. I’m not saying don’t trust God for big things. We should expect God to work in our lives. We should expect God to transform us. We should also expect that this won’t happen on our timetable.

Our transformation starts with a promise that leads to a process. If we want to improve in our roles and relationships, who have we invited to coach us along the way? The role of the coach is to refocus the player. Sooner or later, we will run out of steam. Promise keepers soon become promise breakers. Peter wasn’t so different from us.

If you notice, Peter said it, but all of the other disciples gave it a hardy “Amen!” It feels a bit like the last night of summer camp. If we could run our cars off of that kind of energy, we would never need to fill our tank again. But, this energy is less like perpetual motion and more like a rocket ride: there’s an explosion at the end.

What goes up must come down.

What do you wish could magically disappear from your life? What character quality would you like to have just appear? Take away the magic and the illusion, and you’ve got the project to work on. Now, who can help you? Not your spouse. Are you in a small group? Have you visited Celebrate Recovery? (Oh, I don’t need that. As they say, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.) If you’re stumped, then ask God to send someone to help.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

God’s Callings Are His Enablings

By Allen White

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:45-46

If you were Jesus, what direction would you go? Would you willing face the betrayer or would you get out of dodge? Jesus doesn’t say, “Let’s get out of here.” He directs them, “Let’s go.” Jesus moves toward His accuser.

The matter was now settled in Jesus’ heart as well as His head. He fully accepted spiritually, emotionally and physically what was before Him. There was no getting out of it or going around it or the other way. God directed Him through it.

Now, before we gear up to lock horns with our enemies, we need to remember the process that Jesus went through. First, He was sure that this was God’s will for His life. Even though it was an overwhelming circumstance, He was assured that this was the path that God chose for Him to take.

How do we get that kind of assurance? God’s Word, the Bible, is the first place to start. Does it agree with God’s Word? God won’t contradict Himself.

In addition to the Word, we should pray, consider our circumstances, and seek out wise, godly counsel. If all of these line up, then we have a good idea of what God’s Will is for our next step.

Not everyone running toward opposition is ready for it. Jesus did not attempt an overwhelming mission on His own strength. After being assured of God’s direction, the second part was receiving the peace that comes through prayer.

God doesn’t give missions that rely on our strength. If anything, God counts on our weaknesses to drive us into depending on His strength. Supernatural results don’t come from mortal attempts. God’s callings are His enablings.

Once we have discerned God’s Will and have tapped into God’s power, then we’re ready to move forward. This isn’t so mysterious. Often God’s Will is as plain as the words on the pages of His book.

What are you wrestling with today? What are you questioning in your life? God has the answer for you.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Talk Is Cheap

By Allen White

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Matthew 26:42-44

Getting other people to understand can be pretty frustrating. “Why can’t they see things the way that I see them?” The simple answer is – because they’re not you. Even those who are closest to us don’t always understand our sense of urgency or the depth of our pain. We really shouldn’t expect others to understand, but we should always be understanding.

The disciples didn’t fully understand why they were asked to watch in the garden. After all, Jesus had escaped the religious leaders and other enemies many times before.

To them, this seemed like another of Jesus’ escapades. They were tired, so they slept. They hadn’t embraced the angst that would have kept them awake at night. It wasn’t their angst.

Frustration comes when others don’t catch the vision of what we’re passionate about. “Why don’t they feel as strongly about this need as I do?” Again, they’re not you. God makes us passionate about things for us to do something about, not just talk about. If God’s Will could be accomplished simply by talking, we would have completed God’s mission a thousand times over by now. Talk is cheap.

Where are you growing frustrated these days? Who do you feel that you need to take along? Who should you maybe leave behind? Why do you want to bring them? “Because I’m married to him/her.” Okay, that’s a good reason. At what point, do you need to go it alone and take it directly to God?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jesus Didn’t Die to Make Us Comfortable

By Allen White

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

Jesus is disappointed by His disciples’ slumber. After three and a half years together, they still didn’t get it. He chastises them: "Can't you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire” (Matthew 26:40-41, Msg).

When it comes to the things of God are we eager or are we old dogs? There is a part of all of us that longs for the comfort of the fire. But, Jesus didn’t die to make us more comfortable.

When it comes to your relationship with God, what are you eager about? What do you need to fan into flame? What are you possibly ignoring? There will plenty of time to “sleep” later.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Hardest and Best Thing

By Allen White

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

Submitting to God’s will is often the hardest and best thing to do. It’s the hardest thing because we lose the sense of control that we think we have. It’s the best thing because God leads us to things that bring Him glory. It’s not necessarily the easy path, but it is certainly the right path.

The things of God are supernatural. If you take that word apart, it’s beyond-natural. Natural things are easy. Natural things are within our ability and our control. If God only lead us into easy things, we wouldn’t need Him.

But, there is life beyond this life. I’m not just referring to our home in Heaven. There is a supernatural life that God wants every believer to enter into. I’m not talking about the crazy-spooky stuff we see on Christian television. The life God has for us is rich and full and empowered by His Spirit.

We need God’s power, not to make our lives easier, but to accomplish the things God has planned for us. God’s power is not merely to make our problems disappear. God’s power is the strength we find in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Jesus faced a weak, very human moment in the garden. His was not a mere human death. His death was a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Death would be disempowered by resurrection. That wasn’t the issue.

Sin is completely contrary to God’s nature. It’s not a matter of God just disliking sin. Sin is offensive to who God is. Jesus, who never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), was now required to bear the sins of every person, past and future, and pay the price on the cross. Sometimes our own sin is too much to bear. Could you imagine taking on the sins of everyone?

Jesus wasn’t questioning the Father as much as He was being honest about what He was experiencing. In that exchange, He came to accept God’s will. As God, Jesus had accepted His mission by coming to earth in the first place. As a person, made just like us, He came to fully accept what God called Him to.

What is difficult for you to accept in your life? Have you taken this to God? Have you investigated God’s Word? There are things that we shouldn’t put up with. But, there are also difficult things that we must accept. Accepting God’s will is the key to a joyful life.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Emotions Are So Unreasonable

By Allen White

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Matthew 26:36-38

Death is not a normal thing to volunteer for. Jesus spoke of His mission on this earth over and over with His disciples. Jesus knew that the end of His mission would result in death. But, even for our All-Knowing God, Jesus had never personally experienced sin and death. His Divine mission was confronted with a strong human reaction.

Jesus took Peter, James and John, His inner circle, a little further into the garden. He knew that His betrayal would happen sooner rather than later. He asked them to keep watch while He prepared Himself in prayer.

Jesus was overwhelmed. The Son of God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, the Savior of the world was overwhelmed. And, He should have been.

Emotions are just so unreasonable. Our emotions motivate us toward things that defy our logic. Some of us were even taught that emotions were scary or bad or both. But, emotion is a part of who we are.

No one should feel okay at a loved one’s funeral. We should grieve. Everyone should feel overwhelming joy and excitement on their wedding day. And, there are days when the circumstances of our life are completely overwhelming. There’s only one place to go on those days.

Jesus, being fully human and also fully God, was overwhelmed. With His disciples keeping watch, He chose to go by Himself and to connect with the Father. No person would understand His plight. No amount of ranting and raving would cure what ailed Him that day. Only a connection with the One who completely understood Him and His circumstance would help.

Where do you go when you are overwhelmed? Do you escape into a bad habit? Do you go to bed? Do you go ballistic? There is only One Person in your life that can take what you’re dealing with, and it’s also the only Person who will fully understand – your Heavenly Father.

God is not surprised by your circumstance. God wired you to feel what you feel. When you are completely overwhelmed, He completely understands.

What are you feeling overwhelmed by today? It’s time to get alone with the One who understands.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Turning Wine into Grape Juice

By Allen White

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Often our first reaction to this passage is “Those Corinthians were so terrible. They got drunk when they were supposed to be celebrating communion.” That’s actually not the worst offense.

Jesus turned water into wine, and conservative believers have turned the wine into grape juice. I don’t drink alcohol and that’s my choice. In the first century, wine was served with meals. Let’s just accept that and stop watering it down.

I thank God for the Corinthian church. They messed up on everything. They were confused over communion, groceries (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40), and the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58). We wouldn’t know what we know today, except for the Corinthians’ mistakes. God bless ‘em.

The drunkenness at their communion was out of line, but what was more out of line were the divisions among them. The wealthy members had plenty to eat and drink and went right on ahead without any regard for anybody else. Other folks didn’t have much of anything to eat. The Corinthians were the haves and the have-nots. This flew in the face of what they were celebrating.

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. No one is more deserving or less deserving of God’s grace. No one is greater or least. How the Corinthians celebrated God’s grace was offensive to Christ’s sacrifice. In God’s eyes, we are equally entitled.

What inequities do you see in the church? Who do you think that you’re better than? Maybe you’re better off financially or intellectually, but none of us is better than anyone else. But, by the grace of God….

When we begin to feel superior to others, we should feel a check in our spirits. When our ego puffs us up to someone bigger than who we really are, we must remember that without Christ we are nothing.

What did you just think about as you were reading these words? What do you need to confess? Pray about it right now.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Are Not Alone

By Allen White

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29

With the common elements of their Passover dinner, Jesus illustrated His sacrifice. He picked up a piece of bread that was unleavened, because the Israelites didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise before their escape from Egypt (Exodus 12:39). He told them, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

Every time they celebrated the Passover, or ate any bread for that matter, Jesus wanted them to remember His broken body. Just like Jesus’ disciples need daily nutrition, we also need God’s grace. When we eat our toast for breakfast or our sandwich for lunch, Jesus wants us to remember how He has provided for all of our physical and spiritual needs. He paid the ultimate price, so that we don’t have to.

Next Jesus raised His glass and said that it resembled the blood that He would shed to provide a new and better covenant with His people (Hebrews 7:21-22). This time His grace would sustain us in a way that obeying the Law could not (Romans 6:14).

Jesus still expects His followers to obey His commands (John 14:23), but He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. That’s not to make an excuse. “I just sinned in a colossal way and blew out my marriage, oh well, nobody’s perfect.” Give me a break.

Jesus gives us everything that we need to live our lives for Him, if we are willing. As we grow closer to Christ, we desire the things of God – not more religious activity or time in the church building – but when God’s nature begins to become second nature to us, we’re getting it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a long way to go. Our work is not to try harder and pretend better. Our work is more difficult than that, especially for Type A personalities: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). There are no easy steps to remaining. In fact, there are no steps at all. Jesus has provided all that we need. It’s our job to tap into His provision.

What do you need? What fruit would you like to see accomplished in your life? How well are you connected to the vine? The connection to Christ is the key.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Will God Forgive Me for What I’m About to Do?

By Allen White

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.” Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ betrayal was no surprise to Jesus (Psalm 41:9). It had been planned long ago. In fact, prophets foretold how much would be paid (Zechariah 11:12), that the money would be thrown in the temple (Zechariah 11:13), and what it would eventually purchase (Zechariah 11:13). Jesus had Judas’ number all right.

Jesus was a Master of bringing his disciples up to speed. Since Judas had so recently agreed to the betrayal (Matthew 26:14-16), he might have even been surprised at Jesus’ knowledge. Jesus wanted His disciples to be prepared for the events that would soon unfold.

God is not surprised by any choice that we make. In fact, while God constantly influences us, if we persist, God will allow us to carry out what we have determined to do – even if it’s to our own detriment.

Could Jesus have prevented Judas from betraying Him? Of course, He could. There is no greater force in the universe than the power of God. Could Jesus have tried to change Judas’ mind? He could have persuaded Judas quite convincingly. But, Jesus knew His mission: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

When Jesus tells Judas, “It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24), He is not cursing Judas for agreeing to the betrayal. Jesus knows the torment that Judas will experience for betraying his Messiah. Jesus wouldn’t want to be in Judas’ shoes. It’s a dangerous thing to be on the wrong side of God.

Will God forgive us for what we’re about to do? God is always willing to forgive us. The question is if after committing the act, would we even be in a place to seek forgiveness?

What are you contemplating today? Do you understand the consequences of your actions? Have you “played the movie forward” and thought through all of the possible outcomes? You certainly don’t want to put yourself in the place where you wished you’d never been born.

While we don’t always understand God’s ways, we do understand that His ways are better than ours (Isaiah 55:9). We also have to understand that often our ways are foolish (Psalm 1:6). As Ed Young, Jr. has said, “You are not what you’re feeling right now.” God thinks far more of you than that.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Connecting with God

By Allen White

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. Matthew 26:17-19

Why would Jesus celebrate Passover? Think about it. Jesus is God. God delivered His people from captivity in Eqypt. By celebrating Passover, Jesus is really celebrating His Own work.

Now, I don’t believe that Jesus celebrated Passover for any kind of selfish reason. But, considering He is God, and Jesus certainly was not subject to the Law, He chose to honor the traditions of His people. His disciples certainly would not have understood the Messiah skipping such an important celebration.

God does much to accommodate us. When we look at the early Church, we see that they met in the temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). Where they met was not nearly as important as who they met: God Himself and each other (Hebrews 10:24-25).

They didn’t own any buildings, let alone any elaborate cathedrals or white steeples. There were no electric guitars or Powerpoint presentations in their services. Nothing against these things, but the first church had nothing like this. Yet, God will meet us in our idea of what the church gathered should look like.

That being said, there are other places where God desires to meet us. God desires to meet us in quiet places, just like the places Jesus sought out to be with the Father (Mark 6:46). He is present in a special way when small groups of believers gather together (Matthew 18:20). In fact, His presence is significant every time we recognize it – regardless of where we are.

God wants to sit down and spend time with you. Just like two friends would sit in a coffee shop and talk, God desires to be with you. He delights in you. He has so much that He wants to give you.

God will take whatever five minutes you will quietly give Him. Do you have five minutes right now? Not to sing or talk or read the Bible, but to quietly connect with God. The less you talk, the better.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Was God Just Playing with Them?

By Allen White

This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance. Exodus 12:11-14

The final sequence of events leading to Jesus’ death started the Passover celebration with his disciples. Passover harkens back to the time of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. As a persecuted people, Jewish holidays celebrate God’s protection over and over again throughout time: Passover (Exodus), Purim (Esther), and Yom Kippur (Maccabees). God provided for His people then and will provide for His people again today.

Passover centers on the last of the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians. The plagues are a bit curious. After all, frogs, locust, hail – was God just taking creative license? All ten plagues were purposeful in targeting a specific Egyptian god.

The frogs were directed at Heket, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, water and renewal. She was actually represented as a frog, and here we thought that was reserved only for princes.

 The locusts were sent to show God’s power over Seth, the Egyptian god of storms and disorder. And, the hail fell to overpower Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky. And, the list goes on.

The final plague resulted in the death of the first born son in every family. While the first born son is often the heir, the first born son of the Pharaoh was regarded as divine. The final plague overcame the chief Egyptian deity, the Pharaoh himself.

To protect themselves, the Israelites were given instructions to sacrifice a lamb and paint the doorposts of their house using hyssop as a brush. God provided a way of escape using the blood of the lamb.

Jesus, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) began His journey to the cross by celebrating Passover with His disciples. He wasn’t kissed by the angel of death, but He was kissed by Judas.

The gods of this age are not tied to natural phenomena like the Egyptians’ gods. The gods of this world are more personal: lust and greed, drunkenness and gluttony, selfishness and pride, anger and hatred. Jesus came to deliver us from all of these false gods.

Which one of these challenges you most directly these days? Which do you struggle to overcome? Do you believe that God is greater than the power of these forces? Ask Him daily to help you overcome.

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