Monthly Archives: March 2014

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Thursday, March 27, 2014 – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?”  Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  – John 3:9-15

During the long ordeal in the desert wilderness, the newly freed Hebrew slaves found much to complain about, and the scriptures are filled with accounts of their “murmurings.”  Instead of trusting the God who delivered them from the strong and mighty hand of Pharaoh, they remembered fondly their days in captivity and complained continually against their liberator.

Why did God rescue the Israelites from slavery if they were happy in Egypt?  Perhaps it is not that they were happy so much as it is that they were comfortable.  No doubt it was a hard life, but it was predictable – there was food; they were protected by their captors; and while there was heartache and toil, the Hebrew people had learned to accommodate their station in life.  All was well enough in their eyes, but all was not well with God.  God did not create his people to be slaves.  He did not bring forth a mighty nation from childless Abraham and Sarah just so they could be comfortable living as strangers in a foreign land.  God’s plan was greater than their plan.

As God brought deliverance, the Israelites experienced many and various trials, one of which was a series of attacks by poisonous serpents.  Moses interceded for his dying people, and God instructed him to put a fiery serpent on his staff and lift it high, that all who were dying could look to it and find healing.

Jesus told Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, that just as God had a greater plan for the Hebrew people than to be enslaved in Egypt, so too God has a greater plan for his people than to be enslaved in sin.  And just as God had provided a salve to bring healing in the wilderness of Sinaii, so too God has provided salvation to bring healing to a dying world.  And just as the Hebrews were healed as they looked at the serpent which had been “lifted up,” so too healing, wholeness, even eternal life are offered to those who turn to the Christ as he is “lifted up.”  Lifted up on the cross of Calvary, lifted up in ascent to heaven, lifted up as lord of life, Christ offers salvation to all who turn and trust.

Good Father, help me to trust you, to turn my eyes and my life to Jesus, and to follow where he leads.  Amen.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9

a Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 – The Seen and the Unseen

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’  The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:5-8

When Nicodemus questioned Jesus about being born anew, Jesus responded with a simple truth – “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”  What Jesus was telling this Jewish leader was straight forward.  We can better understand heavenly things by beholding the logic and mystery of earthly things.  To understand the spirit, for instance, simply behold the wind.  “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”  In this example and many others we see how the physical world serves as Jesus’ classroom, for the natural bears witness to the supernatural, the seen to the unseen, the physical to the spiritual, the practical to the unimaginable.

Don’t we see this same pedagogy in the parables, which Jesus uses as teaching tools in the other gospels?  “The kingdom of God is like…,” Jesus begins, and then he talks of farming and fishing, of birds and lilies, of strangers and neighbors, of sheep and goats, of family relationships and friends at the midnight hour.  The natural bears witness to the supernatural, the seen to the unseen, the physical to the spiritual, the practical to the unimaginable.

Jesus’ offer is for Nicodemus to move beyond the prevailing understanding of religion as rules and to find faith as fullness of life.  There’s a supernatural spiritual awakening just waiting to unfold, Jesus teaches.  You cannot control the spirit, nor can you see it, but it’s as real as the wind blowing through the trees.  How do we know?  Behold the witnesses – the natural bears witness to the supernatural, the seen to the unseen, the physical to the spiritual, the practical to the unimaginable.  “…So it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

Good Father, open my eyes to behold the world about me with all its wonders and use what is seen to teach me about your kingdom which is unseen.  Amen

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

a Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 – Vertical Living in a Horizontal World

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” – John 3:3-4

We tend to think of life in a linear, horizontal, one-dimensional fashion.  We often use a horizontal timeline to show the passage of history, the chronology of events.   When Jesus encountered Nicodemus, he told him, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  In this, Jesus is talking about life in a different kind of time – not chronos (the passage of time) but kairos (the fullness of time).  Chronos is horizontal time.  Kairos is vertical time.  The birth Jesus is talking about to Nicodemus is vertical living, while the emergence from the womb on our birth day, which Nicodemus mentions, is horizontal living.  Consider these contrasts:

Horizontal                                 Vertical
Chronos                                    Kairos
Earthly                                      Heavenly
Limited                                     Abundant
Sinful                                        Holy
Temporal                                 Eternal
Incomplete                              Perfect
Physical                                   Spiritual

The incarnation of Christ may be understood as the meeting of the horizontal and the vertical, the intersection of earth and heaven.  That is why throughout the gospels we are able to see glimpses of the kingdom of heaven wherever Jesus is.  His teachings are eternal truths; his miracles are signs from heaven, his life is abundant and spiritual; his timing is perfect.  That is vertical living in a horizontal world.

Of course, when a vertical line intersects a horizontal line, a cross is formed.  Perhaps what John is expressing in Jesus’ words is that we find salvation through the cross of Christ, not just because it is the implement on which Jesus died, but also because it is an expression of the on-going work of Christ to bring earth and heaven together.  No wonder Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Christ is the fulcrum, the hinge, the pivot point, the center of the cross.  It is through Christ, therefore, that we are able to see, enter, and experience the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ invitation to Nicodemus – and to you and me – is to live above this limited, sinful, temporal, incomplete, physical, earthly existence.  His invitation is to live fully by entering into the abundant, holy, eternal, perfect, spiritual, heavenly life through him.  That’s vertical living – living in the kingdom of God – and we claim that kind of life by being “born from above.”

Good Father, invade my limited, earth-bound life with your spirit that I may enter into the fullness of life.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Monday, March 24, 2014 – Alive in Christ

This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:2-3

John places this teaching about rebirth first among the various discourses of Jesus in his Gospel.  There are several aspects of this placement worthy of our meditation.  First, the teaching is to Nicodemus, a Jewish leader – a reminder that Jesus came to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.  Furthermore, by offering this insight to a Jewish leader, John makes it clear that Jesus is not rejecting Judaism.  His complaint was with the way Judaism had been institutionalized.  As the Gospel unfolds it is clear that the Jewish leaders reject Jesus, not that Jesus rejects the Jewish leaders.

Second, this teaching is placed immediately after Jesus’ first “sign” of turning water into wine.  Perhaps John wants us to see the correlation between the sign and the teaching.  Both are about an inner transformation.  The good news Jesus offers is not about following laws with outward compliance.  Rather it centers on following the heart and inward transformation.  Jesus is offering a new heart, a new love, a new nature – as different from the sinful nature as wine is from water.

Finally, this teaching may come first because it is primary.  That is, it is of first importance if we are to grasp Jesus’ offer of life in all its abundance.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus remind us that if we are not open to a new birth – a new heart, a new nature, a new life – then we will be unable to see the kingdom of God as it unfolds about us and opens before us.

Lord Jesus, cast out all that hinders me and send your Holy Spirit to bring me new life in your image.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

 

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Friday, March 21, 2014 – Coming to Christ by Night…

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” - John 3:1-2

John records that Jesus’ first teaching was in the context of an encounter between our Lord and “a ruler of the Jews,” named Nicodemus.  The encounter begins as Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night.”  This detail seems to tell us more about Nicodemus than it does about the setting of the event.  John says he came “by night” rather than “at night.”  What can we glean from this detail?

It could be that Nicodemus is hiding his interest in Jesus, seeking to use the darkness as his cover.  He could be a secret admirer of Jesus, a secret inquirer of faith, a secret seeker of truth.  As the Gospel unfolds we see Nicodemus move from the shadows and periphery toward the center in his devotion to Jesus, until finally in the nineteenth chapter, John tells us that Nicodemus assists in the burial of Christ Jesus.  Such an act would have violated Jewish law and would have rendered Nicodemus defiled (touching a corpse) before the high, holy day – a strong expression of devotion.

Perhaps John is saying that Nicodemus (and by extension all Jewish leaders) is in the dark, ignorant of the path to a transformed, God-empowered life.  Hence, Jesus asks in verse 10, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?”  John seems to be affirming that Jesus came first to his own people, to a leader of Judaism, to offer his teaching of light and life.  Jesus did not reject or denounce Nicodemus for being in the dark; instead he offered him correction and truth, the light of knowledge.  And to his credit, Nicodemus had an open and teachable spirit, a desire not merely to defend his religious views but to know God more fully.

Good Father, I am often in the dark.  Help me seek your light of life and truth as my guide.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Thursday, March 20, 2014 – The First Sign

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  – John 2:3-5

John ends his account of the water-to-wine miracle by reporting that this was the first of Jesus’ signs.  Several things interest me about this statement.  First, John consistently refuses to use the term miracle in referring to this event and others like it in his gospel.  Instead, he calls them signs.  It seems that what John is getting at is that these events are to be understood primarily in the way that they point beyond themselves to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, to what life is like when it is lived abundantly in God’s realm.

As we work our way through John’s Gospel, note the various signs – the multiplication of bread, the healing of the chronically ill man, the raising of Lazarus, the granting of sight to the man born blind, and even the changing of water into wine – and think what these events show us about God’s offer of life through Christ.

Secondly, it fascinates me that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine.  This seems to be such an insignificant miracle compared to raising the dead or restoring the sick.  I know Jesus said that this miracle was taking place out of turn, that his time had “not yet come,” but is there some divine purpose in having this miracle lead the way?  Perhaps we recognize that this event is about an inner transformation, a changing of the essential nature of something – water became wine.  Perhaps this sign assures us that the primary miracle Jesus performs in our lives, as we come under his authority, is an inner transformation – that we “grow into his likeness,” that our sinful human nature is changed into the divine nature.  Maybe this is the first sign because it points to the primary work of Jesus.

I also can’t help thinking that changing water into wine is the first sign because it brought joy; it celebrated life.  Perhaps this sign points to the miracle Jesus works in our life to open to us the abundance of life and the joy of living.  After all, Jesus tells us that he has come that we might “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Countering the scarcity and hard times of this world, Jesus offers abundance and joy.

Lord Jesus, work your mighty miracles in my life that I may experience the fullness of life, be transformed into your likeness, and become a sign of your kingdom.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 – Drink Deep

When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”  – John 2:3-5

It is difficult to read the account of Jesus turning water into wine in Cana of Galilee without noticing the sheer enormity of the miracle.  John reports that the attendants filled six stone jars with water.  Each of those jars held twenty to thirty gallons, John reports.  That’s no small amount of wine for the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.  My calculations put it at between 120 and 180 gallons of wine.

We learn something of the abundance of God in this miracle story.  God is not limited.  God lavishes us with an abundance of all things – wine, food, healing…grace, love, forgiveness, compassion, care, goodness.   Our God is an abundant God.

What’s more, in this miracle, he seems to be inviting us to drink deep the good stuff – the good wine, the good portion.  This is no measured amount; this is an extravagant offering for everyone.   God wants us to live in the midst of his abundance and to reflect his generosity with all of creation.  As we freely receive his gifts and freely offer our own, we join our Lord in the celebration of life.

Good Father, thank you for your good gifts.  Help me accept them, celebrate them, share them, and allow you to be glorified through them.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 – The Wine-Maker and the Parabler

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom. - John 2:8-9

John’s Gospel is filled with encounters in which people are confused.  They see something that challenges their sensibility.  They hear something that challenges their understandings.  It’s confusing, mystifying.

In Jesus’ first miracle, the attendants followed Jesus’ command and filled stone jars with water, then they dipped some out and took it to the steward of the feast.  The steward was confused.  The wine he tasted was clearly superior to the wine he had been serving at the wedding feast.  He assumed that there had been a mistake, that the good wine had been inadvertently served after the inferior wine.  How else could this confusion be unraveled?  John includes in his account of the confusion over the wine that the steward “did not know where (the wine) came from.”  Then John adds, parenthetically, “Though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”

We find this same type of ignorance and confusion throughout John’s Gospel.  In account after account some people get it, and some people do not.  As we read through the Gospel, we find that in every situation the key is not so much knowing what had been done, but rather knowing the one who had done it – not so much grasping what had been said, but rather knowing the one who had said it.

The same is true of the parables Jesus tells in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The stories of our Lord have the power to reveal great truths about the kingdom of God, but over and again it seems that some folks find meaning and some folks don’t.  How do we make sense of the confusion in all of this?  Well Jesus said it best in Mark’s Gospel, as he instructed his disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” (Mark 4:11).

The lesson is that for the Steward of the feast to know where the wine came from, he just needed to come to know the wine-maker, and for hearers to understand the parables, they just need to come to know the Parabler.

Good Father, help me find meaning in life, as I come to know the Giver of Life.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Monday, March 17, 2014 – Stone Jars and Earthen Vessels…

Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. – John 2:3-5

John tells us that Jesus’ first miracle was the changing of water into wine.  What interests me is that there was nothing special about the elements Jesus used to perform the miracle – just stone jars and water.  Likewise, John tells of no special words or gestures.  In fact, we are not told that Jesus ever even touched the jars or the water.  Those about him did it all.  He just used their effort to perform a mighty work.

That is still the way Jesus performs miracles today.  He doesn’t need anything special – no “eye of newt” or “toe of frog” like in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”  Jesus just needs what he’s always needed – simple elements and profound obedience.  John assures us that as the attendants followed Jesus’ commands, a transformation took place, God’s glory was made manifest, and people came to faith.

Today, as you offer a prayer for someone, remember that Jesus performs his miracles through the obedience of those about him.  So, wait upon the Lord and seek out what our Lord would have you do to bless the person for whom you are praying.  It need not be anything complicated or extravagant.  In fact, it’s better if it is not – just a simple call, a simple card, a simple gesture of concern.  Perform this simple act as an expression of obedience and an offering to accompany your prayer.  Then, behold the way in which Jesus will bless it and use it for his purpose and to his glory.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

Good Father, use my simple expressions of love and concern today to do your mighty work.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Friday, March 14, 2014 – “Do Whatever He Tells You”

When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”    – John 2:3-5

In John’s Gospel we first meet Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the midst of a crisis at a wedding feast in Cana.  They had run out of wine long before they had run out of guests.  Mary came to Jesus and told the attendants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  The attendants obeyed, and as they did, miraculous things transpired.  Jesus’ glory was made manifest.

Mary’s word to those at the wedding in Cana 2,000 years ago continues to challenge and guide followers of Christ Jesus today.  We do well when we “do whatever he tells” us.  In fact, such obedience is the essence of salvation, of allowing Jesus to be our Lord.

Sometimes Jesus’ word is easy to obey, but more often than not we have to give up our own will to follow his word, and that is not easy – especially when it offends our sensibility, confronts our prejudice, exposes our hypocrisy, or undermines our comfortable theology.

There is nothing complicated about obedience, but that does not make it easy.   It seems we are only willing to obey someone whom we respect, someone whom we love, someone who is worthy of our allegiance.  In other words, the closer we move to Jesus, the more open we are to live out Mary’s good word, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Lord Jesus, help me love you, honor you, hear you, and obey you in all things.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston