Separation

What can separate us

 

Romans 8:35-39         Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What can separate me from the love of God in Christ? Romans 8 says, “nothing,” but I have my doubts.

I bet I prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer” twenty times growing up. I was always so afraid I’d missed something, or paranoid I’d somehow nullified my salvation since the last time I said the magic words. After walking with Jesus, I now know: there is nothing magical about it.

My words don’t save me. Jesus saves me. My response is to repent of my sins and believe He saves me.

We focus on the exact words we said, the exact time and place we knelt. We make our coming to Christ about our circumstances rather than our Savior. It was never about what I was doing. It was always about what He did for me.

The depth of our need for Jesus is so vast that even our act of coming to Him is flawed, but He is never surprised by this. He knows us fully and loves us still. He came to make everything right, including our half-heartedness and our ill intentions.

Come as you are and bare your soul. Cry out like David cried out in Psalm 51, confessing honestly and openly before the God who made you and promises to make you new, who loves you and stands ready to save. Then come back day after day. Walk daily in the grace you first received, knowing there is nothing you can do or not do to reverse the rescue the cross secured.

-Jennie Montgomery

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The Wisdom of This Age?

1 Corinthians 1-4

1 Corinthians 2-5 Faith In The Powe Of God blue

Sunday, June 18

 

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  (I Corinthians 2:6)

 

Paul has been describing how the message of the cross is God’s wisdom and power (1:18, 24), but it is a wisdom that this world cannot offer. And while Paul asserts that his message is not with “lofty speech” or “wisdom” (2:1), the cross is, in fact, wisdom—wisdom from God. It is a “hidden wisdom” (2:7) that contains an ancient message with the power to save those who believe.

 

Every period of history, there has been a conflict between the popular wisdom of the day and the wisdom of the cross. Paul refers to the popular wisdom of the day as the “wisdom of this age.” It is the wisdom that is espoused by the culture and times where one lives. But the wisdom of the age is contrary to the wisdom of the cross. Everything that the world claims to be wisdom is in fact foolishness compared to the cross, and everything God has revealed through the cross is deemed to be foolishness according to the world.

 

Have you ever wondered why the message of the cross receives such resistance by the world? Paul declares that the wisdom of the cross is radically different than the wisdom of the world because the wisdom of the age is diametrically opposed to the wisdom that is offered through the cross. And not only is the wisdom of the cross contrary to the wisdom of the world, the message and power of the cross cannot be understood by the world. In the eyes of the “natural man,” the wisdom of God is foolishness (2:14). It takes the spirit of God to discern the spiritual truth resident in the message of the cross. By all natural means, the despicable death of a false prophet from Nazareth upon a dishonorable and humiliating cross must surely be devoid of any real wisdom, for there can be nothing of value by following the teachings of some obscure, washed-up rabbi, who was thought to be born illegitimately and who did not follow the customs and traditions of the ancestors as was expected of a Jewish teacher of the Law.

 

This is exactly the appeal that the “wisdom of the age” proposes. It will contradict and distort the meaning of the cross or just out right deny its truth and power. Concerning the denial of the wisdom of the cross and the very existence of a God who sent his son to die upon it, I am reminded of a scene in the autobiographical allegory of C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, when John (Lewis’ main character) is portrayed as being imprisoned by despair that is imposed by a worldview that rejects any notion of a Creator (i.e., Naturalism). As Lewis personifies the antagonism of this worldview, he shows the perversions and absurd deductions of a worldview that tries to make sense of life apart from God and the wisdom he offers.

 

“Then I [John] dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them [the prisoners] and the jailer said as he put down the pipkin: ‘Our relations with the cow are not delicate—as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions….’

 

John said, ‘Thank heavens! Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense. You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.’

 

[Jailor]: ‘And pray, what difference is there except by custom?’

 

[John]: ‘Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?”

 

Don’t let the wisdom of the age undermine the wisdom of God and the power of the cross. Life will not make sense without the wisdom that is found in the truth revealed by it.

 

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Devotion by Jerry Wierwille

 

 

No Scamming Here

Romans 8-10

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Thursday, June 15

There are so many powerful verses in the three chapters for today but the section that really stuck out to me was this:

 

Romans 10:8-13

 

8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,

 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;

13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

 

 

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It doesn’t matter who you are, how you look, what race you are, or how much money you have…we can all be saved!  You believe with your heart, which results in righteous or “right” living, which means you are obedient.  Then, with your mouth, you confess, you speak out loud that Jesus is your Lord.  Calling Jesus your Lord means that you obey him.  He has authority over you and your life is not your own, it is his.  Doing these things, results in salvation!

 

Bonus!!! Our God is abounding in riches for all who call on Him.  It almost seems too good!  Usually when something seems too good to be true, it isn’t true.  It is a scam.  Like when someone calls my phone from a faraway place and tells me I entered a contest and won…and they just need some vital information to process my winnings!  Thousands of dollars could be mine if I will give them my name, social security number, and birthdate.  Humph!  I don’t think so!

 

Scammers market things to you that appear like they will improve your life in some way but truly it is to rob you.  With God, the truth is that He wants you!!  Not only does He want you but He wants to give you the things that money can’t buy like peace, joy, love, and purpose.  Don’t be scammed by the world.  Too many times we have seen people in our small group get the job they have always wanted, promotion, or a boy/girlfriend, only for it to take them away from church and the family of God.  The most precious thing we have is our faith and our hope.  Make a solid confession and live righteously. If you have slipped in some area and are not giving your whole life to your master Jesus Christ, recommit yourself to him and surround yourself with strong believers.

 

God wants you more than anything and those verses above contain the necessary information for you to be with Him forever!

 

1 Timothy 2:4

“who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

 

-Ruth Finnegan

(Photo Credit: http://insta.bible/romans-109-niv/)

 

Why Am I Reading This?

John 20-21

Jn20

Saturday, June 3

If you are in high school, you have asked this question sometime this year. If you are in college, the question probably gives you flashbacks of finals. If you are like me, you are 300 pages deep in a 400 page textbook by the time the question comes up. By that point, you are too doggedly determined to put the book down. “By gum, I’m gonna finish it!” the stubborn, stalwart voice in my head says.
Truthfully, it is a great question. When we ask, “Why am I reading/watching/listening/responding to this?” we ask a bunch of questions at once. What do I hope to gain from this? How will this knowledge inform my future actions? In what way does this information or content contribute to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial success and well-being? And the answers to “why am I reading this?” may be diverse. Maybe, like us college & graduate school students, you read something simply to gain the information from it for a test or project. Maybe you are reading to make wiser decisions in the future. But beyond these questions, which we ask of ourselves, this is also a question we ask of the author. We are also asking, “Why did you write this?” Why did J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to paper and craft some of the most iconic stories ever? (Lord of the Rings) Why did C.S. Lewis tell of magic (The Chronicles of Narnia), of angels and demons (The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy), and teach through his lovable, accessible, British way (Mere Christianity)?
In the Bible, this question doesn’t get answered too often. The Book of Job doesn’t tell us why the author wrote it. Sure we have very informed guesses, like, “The good and righteous will suffer. That is the way of this world.” But never once does the author tell us WHY he (or she) wrote the text. The authors of Matthew, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, similarly did not take the time to tell you why they wrote. Again, there is a case to be made that the purpose can be found, like “to record history.” But then, why is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life so different than John’s, and why do 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles differ so greatly in their retelling of the same events? (There are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, but they help us in understanding the text, if we are willing to do the work.)
All this is to point to two of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, John 20:30-31. If you have never memorized a verse in your life (John 3:16?), seriously, start with these two in John, because they could basically sum up the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. Actually, there is a case to be made that the ENTIRE BIBLE could be summed up in these beautiful words.
John 20:30-31 –  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
The author of John completely acknowledges he left things out. It doesn’t matter to him that every single detail down the line be absolutely perfect. He does not even begin to suggest that he told the story in chronological order. There is no way to make the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John compatible, with one single “correct order of the life of Jesus.” That isn’t the author’s point. The author didn’t write this Gospel to give us another “play-by-play” of Jesus’ life.
What the author does say, the reason why he put his pen to paper, what the Spirit was doing in him when it moved in and used him to write down words through the authors hand and brain, is so that YOU may believe. You reader. Not another “you”. I’m talking to you. These signs, these teachings, this crucifixion and death are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The author cares about how you deal with this. See, if at the end of the day you are done reading John and you say “Jesus was a really good man” or “Jesus was a wise teacher” then YOU’VE MISSED THE POINT. The point is not that Jesus was a pretty cool dude, or that he was a man who died for what he believed in. He was inaugurating the Kingdom of God by coming, and that we can choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom now; in other words, he is the Messiah. He came to live a perfect life, overcome the world, and be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in other words, he is the Son of God. Any other reading of John is a mistake. It is wrong. Jesus is not just another good leader, good religious teacher, good dude. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son.
If you end up believing in WHO Jesus is, in WHO he pointed us toward, in WHAT he was doing by ushering in a new way of being, then you have hit the point of the message of Jesus. You understand what the author of John was doing in all these many chapters, in signs, teachings, moments with the Savior. Moreover, by believing in Jesus, you will have life in his name, eternal life, abundant life now that can’t help but last forever! I hope that is where you find yourself today. The reason why I write so much about John is because I love it. I am a mess. I am a broken and sinful mess. But there are a couple things I know. I see these signs, these miracles and this death and resurrection and I have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And because I believe, I know that I have life because of him. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve. But I’ve got it. Come, you who are also undeserving, just like me. You sinners like me. You broken messes like me. Jake, like John, calls out “Believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing, you too can have life in his name!”
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: https://biblia.com/bible/esv/John.20.29)

Life Everlasting

John 10-11

john 11

Monday, May 29

Yesterday we saw Jesus give a man sight; if you thought that was cool, get ready to have your mind blown!
Jesus had some good friends. We know about Peter, James and John, who were his closest disciples. They went with him when he was “transfigured.” (Remember this story from Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9.) These guys saw Jesus do things that no one else saw, which is pretty amazing. But Jesus’ friendships didn’t only include his disciples. In the city of Bethany, south-east of Jerusalem lived two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. These three people seem to be good friends of Jesus. These people trust in Jesus (11:21-22) and know that God will raise the dead (11:24). But when Lazarus gets sick, Jesus doesn’t go to visit him and Lazarus dies.
Now, Jesus is the man who has saved people from the brink of death. This is the man who walked on water. This is the man who has constant communion with the God of the universe. This is the man who is the Resurrection and the life. But what does this man do? He weeps. Jesus does not bottle his emotions, he does not try to put on a happy face and “celebrate the life” of Lazarus. He weeps. Jesus knows the sting of death.
But then Jesus changes everything. There are miracles of children being raised to life from death in scripture. But, the Jewish belief at the time of Jesus was that after three days they were gone. There was “no hope” after three days, and even these trusters-in-Jesus seem to think so. Martha says, literally “Lord, he stinks. It’s been four days.” This is the man beyond all hope, but Jesus is bigger than even our hope. He simply speaks the words, “Lazarus come out” and out he comes, alive and struggling out of his grave cloths. Jesus proves who he is, Jesus is not simply a good man, but he is the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE!
Again there are some take away thoughts that I’d like to have rattle around in your brain:
First, death is awful. Seriously, it sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether it is your pet cat, your grandmother, your mom and dad, or your child, death is terrible, horrific, evil. Death is an enemy. If you have lost someone, allow yourself to feel the loss. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life Himself did not try and cheer everyone up. When you have lost someone, you need to grieve as God has made you to grieve. Do you weep in a corner? Do you play sports until you can’t stand? Do you write music on a guitar and play until you fingers bleed? This grief is acceptable. Allow God to speak into your grief, but don’t feel ashamed.
But, secondly, that’s not the last story. There is life again. Death doesn’t win! Spoilers, God kills death. What a beautiful irony! God takes the thing that destroys the people he loves and destroys it. “Death” is not the final word; the final word is “Life” with God in Christ!
You can experience this. It is not hidden and unaccessible to you. This life is available for anyone and everyone. Do you want to have Resurrection and Life? Can you say what Martha said?  “Yes, Lord. I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.” (John 11:27) Does this sound familiar? John 20:30-31 reads, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” Do you believe?
Do you want this life? It’s not JUST for the future. This week we also read “10:10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Do you want life? Do you want an abundant life? Christianity is not just good life for later, but abundant, God-bathed life now and eternal, blissful life later. That is not just good news. That is GREAT NEWS. May you believe in Christ and begin to experience the abundant life that overflows into eternal life by believing in his name!
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: http://presenttruth.info/the-resurrection-and-the-life-january-2016/)

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

John 8-9

Sunday, May 28

Jesus is an awesome teacher. I have read Dallas Willard’s amazing work, The Divine Conspiracy, where he discusses the Sermon on the Mount. One of the points that Willard makes is that Jesus is not just a smart guy, but the smartest guy. He is not just a wise person, but the wisest person. Jesus confirms this when he says that one “greater than Solomon is here”. (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31) So if anyone asks you who the wisest person in the Bible was the answer isn’t Solomon; it’s JESUS!
Jesus shows his masterful hand at teaching here in John. In these first 12 chapters of the Gospel, Jesus is performing miracles, which the author calls signs. We have already read about the sign where Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-12). There have been a couple healings, one of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) and one of a paralytic on the Sabbath (5:1-15). Then he did two where he overcame the normal laws of nature by feeding the five thousand with only a little food (6:1-15) and by walking on water (6:16-21). All these signs are connected in John, because all these signs point to an important truth: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing in him, we can have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
In John 8 and 9, Jesus connects both his teaching and a sign to point to his Messiahship. In chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples see a blind man. Instead of tying the blindness to anyone’s sin, Jesus says that God’s glory, and the glory of the One and Only Son, would be displayed in the man’s life. Jesus taught previously, in chapter 8, that he is the light of the world. He declared that if we follow him we will not live in darkness but walk in the bright light of life. He then makes his point vivid by giving this blind man sight!
The once-blind man is taken in, questioned, harassed and abused by the religious leaders of his community. Instead of listening to this man tell his testimony about the truth of Jesus, they were intent on shutting down Jesus and claiming that he was a fraud. The man’s testimony is only the truth: “I was blind, but now I see.” Jesus comes to the once-blind man and basically tells him, “You can see that I am the Messiah.” Even Jesus loves puns! Jesus teaches that the blind will see and those who think that they can see are truly blind.
This story is a wonderful picture and full of rich imagery on its own. But I also come away with three thoughts for how we live today.
First, the once-blind man was “giving a testimony” about Jesus. He wasn’t even close to a “believer” as we might define it. He trusted enough to go and wash and he came back with sight; nothing more than trust that the washing would work was asked of him. That is pretty amazing. He says nothing of faith before the miracle takes place. And when people ask him about his life, all he does is tell his story. That’s all God and Christ call you to do when they say to share the good news of the gospel. It does not mean you have to have a suave and sophisticated philosophical demonstration of the proofs of God. You simply tell people how Jesus found you, and why you are better now. Were you blind and now you see? Were you addicted to something and no longer? Are you more loving to your family and friends? THAT is your evangelism, that is the good news God calls you to share.
Second, do you feel like the once-blind man? There are times when we experience God doing something in our lives that doesn’t make sense. We CAN’T explain why something is happening. This guy just says “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see!” Sometimes, we feel God moving in ways that may make our families, our churches or ourselves uncomfortable. The people who should have celebrated this man’s miracle the most, his family and his religious leaders, turned their backs on him and cast him out. When God is moving, trust in what He is doing, keep looking for Him, and no matter who let’s go of you, God will find you. 
Third, take care that you are walking in the light of Christ so that you can see and live. Just like the people of Jesus’ day, this sign is pointing us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name. Take care that you don’t lose sight of that purpose. The purpose is not for us to say “I wish I could see a miracle.” The miracle has been done. Will you believe because of it? Will you trust that Jesus is who he claimed to be? Remember, if you don’t want to believe, that is still an option. But there is a cost: rejection leads to a life of darkness, and the ultimate darkness of death. Christ offers us so much more with life in this life that leads to eternal life. He is the light of the world and he offers us himself. Praise be to God through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World!
-Jake Ballard
Jake Ballard is Pastor at Pine Grove Bible Church in Brooklyn Park, MN. He is a husband to Amber, father to Melody Grace, and proud “daddy” to a black kitty named River (for my Dr. Who and Firefly fans). Jake is a graduate student at Bethel Seminary, where he is kept busy. When he does have free time, he likes to read (Tolkien and Riordan at the moment), watch Netflix (Star Wars: Deep Space Nine), and play video and board games. (Always open for suggestions, as I am less busy in the summer). He hopes that his devotions will help you, dear reader, fall in love with the Gospel of John, because if he had to pick a favorite book, it would be this one! God bless! 
(Photo Credit: http://www.boldcupofcoffee.com/blog/i-am-the-light-of-the-world)