Written by: Justin Taylor Years ago, Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) popularized an old poem—the commonsense simplicity and clarity of which have encouraged many anxious and weary saints. From an old English parsonage down by the sea There came in the twilight a message to me; Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, Hath, it seems to me, teaching…
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This was my jail Bible study last week. I’ve been thinking about it since then, about how it was really more for me than for them maybe. I went in with a friend. We usually go up with two of us. I led. My friend used to be in federal prison for like eight years. Jesus got a hold of her in a big way there and she has such a soft heart for people. She has yet to really tell her testimony. I can’t wait until she does. It will be powerful.
We had three different groups of women, so I led this three different times. Some women can’t get along with each other, and all together the little room we meet in would be too full. I like the intimate nature of groups of three and four because we can really interact. It’s a county jail and most of the women are Native American. We chatted for awhile. I’ve been going in leading studies on Sunday nights for over 17 years now, and some have been in and out of jail almost that long.
My thread was about people who wanted to get to Jesus so bad they were willing to do almost anything to do it. The first was from Luke 5:18-20. That’s where the four guys lower the paralytic guy down through the roof because the house was too crowded to get to Jesus. In verse 20 it says, “And when He saw their faith He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.” It never really struck me before Jesus saw their faith. And maybe the four guys were changed that day too. Or maybe they encountered Jesus before. But they were desperate enough for their buddy to get healed that they sawed a hole through a roof. That’s audacity and desperacy.
The next scenario we looked at was Luke 7:36-50, the woman who washed Jesus feet with her hair, tears and ointment. She busted into a dinner party of Pharisees and was willing to cut through put down’s and maybe getting tossed out so she could do something they would never do. In washing His feet with her tears, she got to His heart and He got to hers. Jesus turned to her and said that He knew she loved Him much and that though her sins were many, she was forgiven much. The Pharisees didn’t get that. But they weren’t willing to get to Jesus like she was either. Are you? Am I?
The third person we looked at was a another desperate woman. She’s told about in Luke 8:42-48. Do you notice none of these people get names? This one is “the bleeding woman.” She had ‘an issue of blood’ for 12 years. If you want to get a room full of women going, read that story. She thought, ‘if I could just touch the hem of His garment.’ And she did and ‘boom!’ she was healed. She had to push through a big crowd to get to Jesus.
What do you have to push through to get to Jesus? I have push through a busy schedule, other people’s demands, through stupid distractions, through crowds, traffic, tiredness, laziness and all kinds of things just to get to Him. There are times when I find myself saying inside “I just have to sit with Jesus.” Sometimes I want to scream it. Other times my soul whispers it.
To the women in jail, I encourage them to get radical to get to Jesus. They will do whatever it takes to get to a party or to get a hit of drugs, or to get a boyfriend. Jesus said in Matthew 5:29-30 that if your right eye or right hand causes you to sin to cut it off. That’s radical! We have to be radical to get away from sin and we have to be radical to get to Jesus. Unconventional, desperate, audacious. We have to saw holes in roof tops, break into dinner parties and push through crowds.
Do whatever it takes, but get to Jesus and hold on tight.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like know. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength. Revelation 1:12-16
Most of the depictions that you see of Jesus are either of Him in a manger as a baby, the crucifix where He is still on the cross, or some characterization of Him as a human. In those pictures, Jesus is usually holding little children on His lap, or teaching the crowds. The Jesus that John encountered in his vision is the resurrected Lord. He is not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” (the title of a hymn by Charles Wesley), a baby, or the crucified one. Oh no, He is the resurrected, ruling and reigning warrior King.
Daniel encountered this same Jesus, which he described In Daniel 7:9-10: “While I was watching, thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His attire was white like snow; the hair of His head was like lamb’s wool. His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame. A river of fire was streaming forth and proceeding from His presence.” In Daniel 10:5-6, Daniel got another vision of the pre-incarnate Christ: “And I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen; around His waist was a belt made of gold from Ufaz. His body resembled yellow jasper, and His face had an appearance like lightning. His eyes were like blazing torches; His arms and feet had the gleam of polished bronze. His voice thundered forth like the sound of a large crowd. (NET Bible)”
This is the Jesus who is now sitting on the throne, holding the universe together and interceding for us. This is the same Jesus who will return one day in the clouds to take us home, and to then pour out His wrath on those who rejected Him. John got to see this too, recorded in Rev. 19:11-16: “Then I saw Heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself..From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with an iron rod…”
I give you these descriptions of Jesus because this is the One that we place our trust in and pray to. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is holding the world together, and He holds us together. He is not someone to be taken lightly. Trust Jesus today and worship Him for who He really is!
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Consider: To think about carefully, with regard to taking some action; to take into account; to regard or treat in an attentive or kindly way; to gaze on steadily or reflectively (From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
What if we got up everyday and considered how to encourage others and to stir them up to love and good deeds? I am usually thinking and praying about everything that’s on my plate and planning about how I am going to get it all done. I’m not really considering all of the people I’m going to see that day and how I can encourage them, just thinking about myself.
Philippians 2:3-4 tells us that we should “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but to consider others better than ourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” There’s that word ‘consider’ again. So what if I got up praying for the key people I live and work with and asked God to show me how to encourage them and move them to do the same thing with the people they come in contact with? My day might be others centered instead of self centered. I might get less grumpy with interruptions. It could be kind of a game to see the ripple effect, like in the movie “Pay it Forward”
How can we do that? Pray for people that God puts on your heart, or ask Him to put people on your heart. Ask Him to show you how to pray for them, and to show you what to say to speak into their circumstances, and how to encourage them. The root of the word ‘encourage’ is courage. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should get together with the purpose of encouraging, or giving courage to, one another. It takes courage for widows to face another lonely day, for parents to set godly boundaries for their kids, for bosses to make necessary decisions, or for people that are at change points to move to the unknown.
According to these verses, that’s a main reason for Christians to get together–to stir (or spur) one another on to love and good deeds, to meet together, and to encourage one another. When you go to church, go with the mission of speaking into others’ lives. Or have people over to your house, or meet them for coffee or actually call someone instead of just shooting texts to them.
“And all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” ‘The Day’ is the time that Jesus comes back. Before that happens, Matthew 24 and 2 Timothy 3-4 tell us that things will get rough, when people’s love grows cold and lawlessness abounds. The worse it gets, the more we need our Christian brothers and sisters to speak encouragement to each other.
So consider how to stir up some love and good works! And give courage to those around you today.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8
Sir Isaac Newton was the identifier of physical laws that govern the universe, like ‘what goes up, must come down,’ and ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ There are spiritual laws that are true whether people know them or agree with them. One is that we have all sinned and sin must be paid for by blood. That’s why they used animal sacrifices in the Old Testament and why Jesus had to shed His own blood to pay for our sin, told about in the New Testament.
Our Galatians verses point to some other spiritual laws, like that our actions have consequences, either good or bad. What we do matters. One day we will be repaid for what we have done. Sowing is another word for planting seeds, and reaping is another word for harvesting. We aren’t talking about actual seeds, but spiritual ones. Our seeds are deeds that we have done, choices we have made, or actions that we have taken.
If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the consequences of that. Sowing to the flesh could mean a lot of things, like selfish or sinful acts done, things we have done to satisfy our own desires, or things we have done by striving in the flesh to do things on your own without God. Reaping corruption means that you suffer the consequences of those deeds. Plus, those deeds will be like bad crops that are destroyed and not harvested. You throw away the rotten pumpkins in the garden, and your selfish and sinful deeds will be tossed out.
Sowing to the Spirit is the opposite. They are things that we do because we are looking to please God. They are good deeds, things done in obedience or with the good intention of helping others or doing what is right. Those seeds planted will go into eternity. You might think that good guys end last, or that it doesn’t matter because no one notices or cares. Wrong. God notices, He keeps an account and He will reward you. What we do matters.
Galatians 6:9 commands us to not grow weary of doing good or to give up. Psalm 126:5-6 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” In Heaven you will see the results of the things you did for God and many people may come running thanking you for what you did.
It is never too late to turn your harvest around. Start living for Jesus and, as Ephesians 5:10 says, “Find out what pleases the Lord.”
Power Verse: Matthew 7:13-14
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
The Daily Diet…
Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” ends with this stanza:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh; Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
That pretty much sums up to the two roads that lie ahead of all of us. Proverbs 14:12 reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it only leads to death.” That way that seems right is our own way, the one where Frank Sinatra sang about: “I did it MY way.” It might sound good in a song, but in life it leads to destruction and an eternity in Hell. It is a wide road and most of the people in life are on that road. It is the road that says “no” to God and “yes” to self. It is the easy road, the road most taken.
In contrast, the second road is the one that leads to Jesus and to eternal life. It is a narrow path, and few are on it. There is a contrast between those who follow Jesus and those who take the other road. It is the many and the few contrast. It’s all over the Bible, and when it comes to being a Christian, it should be all over our life. Take the story of Numbers 13 where they sent twelve spies into the Promised Land, the place that God promised and prepared for the Israelites. Ten gave a bad report because they were chickens. Just two looked at it with the eyes of faith and said, “Let’s go.”
It’s always ten to two. You might look around and find no one on your path. Get used to it. You might always be the outsider, the hold out, the loner. That’s the way the call is designed. Don’t expect people to stand up and applaud you. Our choices in life have been narrowly defined by this call of God to something different. It is the path that leads to eternal life, so hold on. Our rewards aren’t here and we aren’t going to see the benefits immediately, they are for Heaven and they are certain.
Power Verse: Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.
Jesus is calling us out to live a different life because we know Him. We no longer have living for self as our primary goal. Charles Barkley, the NBA star said quite a few years ago now after he had done something that others criticized, “I am not a role model.” But now that you belong to Jesus, He is asking quite the opposite. He tells us to be a role model, the light of the world, a city on a hill. We are to be so changed in our actions that others see our good works and give glory to God because of it.
We aren’t saved by those good works, so don’t be confused with doing more to become a Christian, to earn God’s love or to prove your worth somehow. When grace invades our lives, God changes our hearts and our actions. That’s part of being a new creation. We turn from being involved in activities of the darkness, which could involve carousing, drunkenness, materialism and being just plain self-centered. And as God drives that out of us, He turns us to seeking what He wants for our lives.
In Acts 10:38 that “Jesus went about doing good.” Titus 3:8 tells us, “That those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” And finally, in Ephesians 2:10 we find that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Start by going about doing good, just like Jesus. If there is something you can do to help someone or if there is a way you can bring positivity and goodness to a conversation, a situation or to a person that is down, that’s a good start. People will just want to be around you. And when they ask why you’re different than everyone else, you can tell them about Jesus and what He has done in your life.
Go and shine your light!
Power Verse: John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
The Daily Diet…
Before we start, let’s lay a foundation of what it means to be a Jesus follower. In Genesis 1:1 we find that everything starts with “In the beginning, God…” That is the first step to being a child of God, recognizing and submitting to the fact that everything begins and ends with God. He created us and He has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible. It is God’s words and has absolute authority over our lives.
In the Garden of Eden, sin was introduced to the world through three principal characters: Adam, Eve, and Satan. God had said “Do not eat” of two trees in the middle of paradise. Satan, God’s archenemy, lured Eve and then Adam to see and to eat. This separated us from God, each other, nature and ourselves. In Romans 6:23 God tells us that the payment for sin is death, and in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The Old Testament prepares the way for a perfect sacrifice, the payment for this sin. God works through Adam and Eve’s seed to bring about a man Abraham, a family of twelve sons of Jacob, and a country Israel. When the fulness of the time was right, God sent Jesus His son to come to the earth through Abraham and Jacob’s family line, through the country of Israel, to all of us. John 3:16 proclaims the words of eternal life for us.
Through faith in Jesus we are offered the free gift of salvation through grace. We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it because of our sin. We accept it through faith, calling on God and telling Him that we believe that He exists, that He made us, and that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sin. Romans 10:9 states, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
When you believe in your heart, that means that you are changed and that God did it. When you come to faith in God, He gives you a new heart. Instead of being bent of self and sin, you are changed to craving His life and priorities over and above your own. God does that. Your response is to follow Him and to obey His words.
I have been writing Bible studies to send to a couple of women who are in prison. One of them spent her first three months in a cell by herself , with no TV and only got out for two hours a day. But she had her Bible and her new found faith. This is one of the series of studies I wrote to her.
In writing it, I have grown and trust that others that want to spend time in the Word will grow as well. So here we go..
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16
Healthy eating seems to be the fad these days, complete with superfoods and antioxidants. The Word of God is super food for the soul.
It is better for
you than avocados and pomegranates. These studies are a series of daily devotional, complete with power verses for each day to meditate on and to even commit to memory. All of the verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
I challenge you to mark these verses in your Bible and to read the chapter the verse or verses are surrounded by. This book takes you through the New Testament.
Let’s start eating!
That’s what Jesus told His parents when He was 12 in Luke 2:49. Picture it: He gets to go from Nazareth to Jerusalem with His parents for the Feast of Passover. I don’t know if it’s the first time He gets to make the trip or not. But He is fully human, so how much does He know? He doesn’t have an earthly father, so He doesn’t have original sin pulling at Him, that sin nature that dogs the rest of us.
Maybe it’s like this: He’s finally here and this is Jesus’ chance to interact with people who have studied the Old Testament scriptures–the very ones that were written about Him. He’s had these dreams about glory, and when He gets to hear scripture at the Synagogue, His heart burns. And now He’s finally at the Temple. He’s home.
“I’m home, this feels so good. I want to stay here. Wait a minute. Why are these guys so spiritually cold? Why don’t they recognize Me? Okay, I’m only 12. I don’t even know how my dreams are going to work themselves out. That Passover Lamb–is that Me? I have to tell them there’s another way, to not be all caught up in the rules so they miss the love and the promises and the relationship with God Almighty…”
“If only they knew what this Temple was made to be, what it was like when My glory filled it. Why do I keep having these dreams? I wish I could tell someone who gets it…” “JESUS! Where were you? We were worried sick. We were halfway home. What are you still doing here?”
“I MUST be at My Father’s house.”
Do you have the same things that drive and pull you because Jesus lives in you? Do His dreams tug at you and speak to you and scream at times, driving you mad in a good way?
I do. I’ve come to realize they are put there by my Father. I realize that because Jesus lives in me and His Spirit is alive in me, I can say with Jesus (John 2:17) “Zeal for my Father’s house will consume me,” and as the KJV renders Luke 2:49 “I must be about my Father’s business.” And “I must be in His house.”
There are a few other must’s that drive me.
- I must sit at His feet on a regular basis, not just whizzing in and out like those “5 minutes with God” devotionals (what?) but reclining in God’s presence, speaking with Him in an intimate, secret place. “Your words were found and I ate them and they because to me a joy and the delight of my heart. I did not sit in the company of revelers. I sat alone because Your hand was upon me.” Jeremiah 15:16-17
- I must tell a lost and dying world the good news of Jesus.
- I must be where Jesus is. He is bent low, so I must have friends in low places: the outcasts, outsiders and outlaws. I must go to people and places where others won’t to shine the light of Jesus and bid them to come from darkness to His marvelous light.