Monthly Archives: July 2014

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Thursday, July 31, 2014 – God’s Time…

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.– John 11:17-21

Time is an important theme throughout John’s Gospel.  Everything has a certain order, a certain time in God’s plan, and John makes it clear that Jesus is completely in control of his time.  All of which makes the timing of Jesus’ response to the request to help Lazarus seem strange.  We are told in verse 6 that when Jesus heard that Lazarus, his friend, was sick he remained in Galilee two more days before he began his journey to Bethany.  John tells us that when Jesus finally did arrive in Bethany, it was too late.  Lazarus was dead and buried.  In fact, John reports that Lazarus had been dead for four days by then.  What’s more, John reports that both Martha and Mary lament that Jesus did not arrive in time to heal Lazarus.  All of this makes it somewhat obvious that there is more going on here than a run-of-the-mill healing miracle.

What can we learn here? First, Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Lord even over terrible circumstances.  Jesus is Lord even over grief.  Jesus is Lord even when he does not respond as quickly as we would like.  Jesus is Lord even over death.

The other lesson we can learn is that God’s timing is not our own.  We view life in a narrow, linear fashion with one event preceding another.  God’s timing is fuller and richer, above and beyond our understanding, less like a limited line segment and more like a geometric plane.  Even when we are anxious and fretful over the shortness of time, God remains patient, calm, unhurried.   God is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 103:17), and our faith in Christ Jesus empowers us to calibrate our lives to God’s eternal timing and thereby find peace and assurance.  In Christ, we are no longer bound by a line segment; our lives are included in an eternal plane which knows no end.  God’s timing, though often confusing to us, is actually complete…and perfect.

Eternal Father, Ancient of Days, help us trust you with every minute of every hour of every day. Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 – Best Friends Forever

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”- John 11:11

Jesus and Lazarus were friends.  In fact, John may be telling us that they were “best friends forever.”  As we read John’s Gospel, we find that Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were all very close to Jesus.  The siblings freely shared their home with Jesus when he was in the Jerusalem area, since they lived in Bethany, a short distance from the Holy City.  It is in the context of deep friendship that Jesus is summoned to Bethany, that Mary and Martha find comfort and hope, that Jesus experiences great sorrow, and that Lazarus is raised from death to life.

In this account we find the key to experiencing abundant life – intimate friendship with Jesus.  Intimate friends freely share their lives with each other.  Perhaps you have a close friend with whom you so freely and joyously share your possessions that you lose sight of who actually owns certain items.  Sometimes friends buy things together, go on trips together, or live together, creating shared moments, shared memories, shared lives.  In the same way, we experience abundant life as we share a deep abiding intimate friendship with Jesus.  In the context of such a friendship with such a friend we find our faith quickened, our hopes stirred, our sorrows comforted, our vision raised, our sins forgiven, our possibilities unfettered.

Jesus’ great desire is to be our friend and to share with us his love and life so fully that we no longer can tell where our lives end and his life begins.  We simply share life.  In this context, we share our joys and sorrows; our hopes and dreams; our successes and failures.  So too Jesus shares with us his will and purpose, his grace and strength, his peace and comfort.  Everything we have we share with him; everything he has he shares with us.  His loves become our loves; his concerns become our concerns; his cross becomes our cross; his death becomes our death; his resurrection becomes our resurrection.

Reflecting on this relationship, Charles Wesley wrote these words, “Made like him; like him we rise/Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

Lord Jesus, I want to be your best friend forever.  Amen.

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” (John 15:15)

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, July 29, 2015 – “He, Whom You Love…”

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” - John 11:1-3

John brings the account of Jesus’ signs to a close with the raising of Lazarus.  After this event, the Gospel focuses on the events surrounding the Passover in Jerusalem and the passion and death of Jesus.  John has recorded Jesus’ actions of turning water into wine, healing a paralytic, multiplying bread and fish, pardoning an adulterer, and opening the eyes of a blind man.  John interprets all of these events as signs of the abundant life Jesus offers – life in the kingdom of God – transformation, wholeness, abundance, forgiveness, and vision.  John understands the culmination of Jesus’ actions to come in the raising from death of his friend Lazarus and the pronouncement, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Notice the relational context of this miracle.  John tells us that Jesus knows and loves Lazarus.  The scriptures tell us that Jesus was warmly welcomed in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  Just as John finds heightened meaning in the settings of various teachings and events in Jesus’ life, so too he finds heightened meaning in the relational setting of this event.  In the first three verses of this chapter we read of the three siblings, of Mary’s extreme expression of hospitality, and of the request for Jesus to respond to Lazarus’ need.  The request itself is made in terms of the relationship, “He whom you love is ill.”

It seems that this miraculous sign and the accompanying “I am” saying are placed in this relational setting to reveal the life-giving relationship which Jesus offers his followers.  It is true that he has healed unknown persons before, has taught multitudes before, and has forgiven unknown persons before.  However, a personal and powerful relationship with Christ Jesus is the essential element in experiencing the fullness of abundant life.

Lord, help me love you with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.  Amen. 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:1-9

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, July 28, 2014 – Dedicating the Temple

It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:22-30

John reports that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication.  This festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BC.  At that time the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes  had set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem and had offered a sacrifice on that altar.  The Jewish Priest Mattathias was outraged, and along with Judas Maccabeus rose up, cleansed the Temple, and rededicated it to the proper worship of Yahweh.  This eight-day festival of lights in the winter season is still observed today, known as Hanukkah.

It is in this setting that Jesus walked near but not in the Temple and was asked by Jewish followers about his identity.  “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,” they requested.  Jesus response was that if his words were not clear to them, his actions should have been.  “The works that I do in my Father’s name… bear witness to me,” Jesus told them.  Then he added, “But you do not believe.”  Jesus was telling these men that the problem with their faith was not in his lack of clarity but in their refusal to believe.

By mentioning the setting of the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, John reveals his understanding that the movement of faith is for followers of Jesus to dedicate him as the true Temple.  It is in the Temple, after all, where the divine and the human meet – fully and perfectly accomplished in the person of Jesus the Christ.  To make this point with great clarity in response to their inquiry, Jesus simply says, “I and the Father are one.”

Lord Jesus, sometimes we do not understand.  Other times we refuse to understand.  Cleanse our hearts of any false altars that our worship may be pure.  Amen

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he spoke of the temple of his body. – John 2:20-21

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 – A Savior… in Life and in Death

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father. – John 10:17-18

Throughout the discourse about his shepherding care, Jesus speaks of his willingness to “lay down his life for the sheep,” – an expression of God’s passionate love for his creation.  He concludes the entire discourse with an assertion that he will indeed die for the Father’s flock, and he offers insight here in chapter ten for the events which will transpire in chapter 19.

It is important to note that this is not a morbid, maudlin account as Jesus contemplates the meaningless progression of life to the grave. Nor is this a noble surrender to fate in which he acknowledges that his adversaries hold the power to destroy.  This is an expression in great confidence of the Father’s plan and of the Son’s complete obedience.  Throughout the events that lead to Jesus’ death, John makes clear that Jesus stays in control, that Jesus orchestrates the events.  As he expresses here and as is seen throughout the remainder of the Gospel, Jesus intentionally lays down his life; no one takes his life from him; and he will by God’s plan take his life up again.

We see this assertion of assurance that Jesus is in complete control of his fate throughout John.  Note the various conversations about the timing of events.  Jesus told his mother at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, “My hour has not yet come.”  Again in talking to his disciples about a feast in Jerusalem in chapter 7, he reported, “My time has not yet fully come.”  As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for the final time, he asserts, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  And just before his arrest, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify the Son that the Son may glorify you.”

Jesus’ expression of the Father’s plan and of the Good Shepherd’s love places his coming death in the context of God’s plan of redemption and healing.  Jesus will not die a martyr’s death in the hands of evil men.  Jesus will die a savior’s death in perfect plan of a loving Father.  Jesus chooses to die out of love for the world, and even the day and the hour are in his control.

Amazing Love, how can it be,
That You, my King, should die for me.
Amazing Lord, I know it’s true.
It is my joy to honor You. 
In all I do, I honor You.   (Lyrics by Chris Tomlin)  Song – “Amazing Love”

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, July 21, 2014 – One Flock, One Shepherd

And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. – John 10:16

The fastest way to spark a confrontation among Christians is to ask if Jesus is the only way to salvation.  One group will answer with a definitive yes, while the other group will respond, “Not so fast.”  The first line of thinking references Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “No one comes to the father but by me.”  While such an assertion offers comfort, it can also sow seeds for intolerance and cause us to wonder about a fundamental unfairness for people who live and die in cultures with no access to the Gospel.  In the bumper-sticker war, it is a short distance from “Jesus is the only way” to “institutionalized Christianity is the only way” to “my denomination is the only way” to “my church is the only way.”   Our text today offers help in this matter, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

Following his claim to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus talks of laying down his life for the sheep and then immediately adds that there are other sheep beyond those in “this fold.”  What does Jesus mean by such a statement?  Perhaps he means others beyond those who were following him at the time.  Perhaps he means others beyond Judaism.  Perhaps he means others who are seeking God’s grace and truth as best they know how in other faiths.  Perhaps Jesus’ words are intentionally vague to demonstrate that God’s grace is greater than we can even begin to imagine.

The best way to deal with this troubling issue may be to note that Jesus’ offer is for abundant life, not merely a passport from hell to heaven.  When we talk in terms of abundant life, our minds are able to grasp the rich meanings of salvation which include protection, healing, wholeness, well-being.  In fact, the Greek word soteria (salvation) is used in the New Testament more frequently to mean salvation from suffering and harm than salvation from sins.  It may be that we can understand salvation best as we see it to be the New Testament equivalent of the Hebrew Shalom, a word which means peace, friendship, well-being, safety, wholeness – in short, abundant life.   God’s shepherding care through Jesus Christ is simply an offer of divine healing and peace for a sin-damaged world – that would include you and me and sheep of other folds.

Lord Jesus, I don’t know all the answers, but I know enough.  I know that I am a sin-damaged person living in a sin-damaged world, and I know that you are the Good Shepherd.  Pour out your healing, your shalom, your salvation not simply for me but for all the world that we may all be one flock with one Shepherd.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 – I Am the Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep – John 10:11-15

At least forty-two times in the Old and New Testaments, scripture speaks of God’s people as being shepherded in faith.  From the first book of the Bible in which God is referred to as “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:24) to the accounts of David who was called by God to be the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2) to David’s confession in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd” and the prophecies of Isaiah, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (Isaiah 40:11), the expression of God’s care for his people is steeped in the imagery of a shepherd.  Jesus stands in this strong line of the revelation of God’s compassion for and protection of his people as he pronounces, “I am the good shepherd.”

Jesus is without question comparing his truth and compassion to that of the prevailing religious institution which had lost its way in a futile effort of self-preservation.  What differentiates the good shepherd from the hireling is the degree to which the overseer is willing to risk danger for those in his or her charge.  “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says, while the hireling flees at the sight of danger.  Jesus contrasts the hireling who “cares nothing for the sheep” and the good shepherd who knows and is known by the sheep in his fold.

Jesus’ claim to be the good shepherd is not a claim of status; rather it is a confession of desperate love for God’s people.  The gospels are clear that this desperate love is the centerpiece of God’s act of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The mighty movement of God is fueled by a desperate love for a lost creation.  It is this desperate love which Jesus later will commend to his disciples when he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The problem Jesus faced and that we face is that such love cannot be institutionalized.  It cannot be legislated.  It cannot be reduced to dogma or ritual.  This kind of love can only be experienced and shared when ego and pride are broken – when one is emptied of all-consuming self-love and filled with the whole, holy love of God.  It is in being broken, emptied, and filled that we experience life in all its abundance in the care and keeping of the Good Shepherd.  In the shepherd’s flock and fold we receive, share, and act on God’s desperate love for his people, especially those who are “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

Good Shepherd, break my strong will and pride that I may be emptied of my life-taking self-love and be filled to overflowing with your life-giving perfect love.  Amen.

Amazing Love by Hillsong

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014 – The Door to Abundant Life…

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. – John 10:7-10

Jesus’ offer is abundant life.  When we read such an offer, the first question which confronts us is, “What is abundant life?”  The word abundant usually refers to quantity – more than enough.  The offer of abundance is surprising, since most of life involves managing scarcity – budgeting finances, allotting time, and managing other resources.  Of course, far deeper than these concerns is the basic human condition of the finite nature of life, the mere number of days.  The Psalmist laments, “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).  The basic truth is that we live with the gnawing, life-robbing anxiety that life is merely a death march.

In the face of this overwhelming reality, Jesus offers abundance.  It is important to note that Jesus is not offering an abundance of days –  a simple extension of the death march.  To grasp the fullness of Jesus’ offer, we need to note the context – the imagery of sheep and shepherds.  Jesus’ offer of abundant life is the extravagance of shepherding care – an abundance of security, care, provision, grace, and protection – a full life, free of incessant worry and fear.

The second question follows the first: “How do we claim such an abundant life?” “I am the door,” Jesus says, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”   The third “I am” saying of Jesus in John’s Gospel offers the answer to the second question.  The way to find the abundant life is to know the one who came on purpose to offer life.  Apart from him, life may have an abundance of entertainment, busy-ness, and stuff, but in God’scare and keeping, we claim an abundance of everything that is of eternal value, everything that really matters and everything that really lasts.  Material things may delight us, but it is the spiritual things that truly satisfy our deepest longings.

Lord Jesus, I don’t need any more stuff.  I need love and joy and peace – I need you.  Amen.

“…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18

A Bible Study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, July 14, 2014 – The Thief and the Shepherd

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” – John 10:1-5

There is perhaps no more compelling image in Israel’s theology and history than that of God’s shepherding care.  The beloved Shepherd Psalm which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd,” offers timeless comfort, as it conveys rich and vivid imagery of God’s love for his people.  As Jesus reveals God’s grace and truth, he does not replace the Old Testament teachings, he fulfills them.

In his gospel, John places the Shepherd teaching of Jesus immediately after the story of the healed man who was cast out by the leaders of the synagogue, and in so doing, he contrasts the harmful actions of the religious leaders to the loving actions of the Shepherd.

Jesus’ words are harsh, as he compares the bandit to the shepherd.  The contrast is between the shepherd who welcomes, restores, nurtures, protects and leads – even at personal peril – and the unknown thief who cares only for himself.   The shepherd comes in by the door, calls the sheep by name, leads the sheep who know him, trust him, and follow him.  Bandits, on the other hand, sneak into the fold and claim a false authority.  The sheep neither know nor trust these strangers, and they will not follow them.

In this teaching it is clear that Jesus is both affirming the scriptural accounts of the shepherding care of God and denouncing the false authority of the religious leaders and the rigid institutions in his day.   Instead of exhibiting concern and compassion for people, they had turned inward to preserve and enrich and protect themselves.  Jesus claimed his place as the Good Shepherd and, in doing so, made clear the difference between the life-giving grace of God and the life-robbing ways of bandits.

Lord Jesus, I need you to be my shepherd.  Amen.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, July 10, 2014 – “We Would See Jesus”

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him. – John 9:35-38

John devotes all of chapter 9 to the healing of a blind man, a unique feature of the fourth gospel.  Of course it was not the healing, which John recorded in such length, but the controversy caused by it.  The context of this miraculous work was a prevailing theological error, voiced by the disciples, which associated illness, disease, and misfortune with sin.  “Was it this man or his parents who sinned that he was born blind?” Jesus’ followers inquired.  Jesus set their theology straight.  It was neither, Jesus retorted.  Instead of focusing on the cause of suffering, Jesus encouraged his followers to look for ways to alleviate it, that God might be glorified.  Then, Jesus healed the blind man by creating a salve of mud and spittle and gave the blind man instructions to go wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam.  As the man obeyed, his eyes were opened, and he saw clearly.

John records that instead of rejoicing with the healed man, the religious leaders harassed him, and they interviewed his parents in an attempt to discredit the healing.  It seems that errant theology puts up a strong fight.  When these men could find no support for their insistence that Jesus was a fraud and that the healing was a hoax, they declared the act evil and cast him out of the synagogue.  As surprising as this response may seem, it is often the response people make to a transformed life.  Christ-directed changes in hearts and minds, habits and lifestyles often close more doors than they open.

John completes the story of the miracle by telling of the reunion of Jesus and the healed man.  That which had begun with begging in the streets was completed with worship in the Temple.  For it was there that the formerly blind man found what he had been seeking – what perhaps all who truly love the Lord seek.  He saw his savior.  In so doing, his faith was confirmed and his worship was spontaneous and pure.

Lord, create within me a great desire to see you, to know you, and to worship you; and may my life be so transformed by your presence that others may see you through me.  Amen. 

“We would like to see Jesus.”  – John 12:21

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston