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Monday, June 5, 2017 – Peace in the Battle

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  – John 14:27

These words of Jesus offer great comfort to us, as he offers his peace to his disciples.  If we read them by themselves we might imagine that Jesus spoke these words by the Sea of Galilee on a beautiful, calm day.  Perhaps we can hear these words and interpret them to mean, as you follow me you will have neither trials nor temptations, neither trauma nor tragedy.  It would not be hard in such a recast of this scripture to desire such a protected life of peace.

The problem is that these words were not uttered at a time of tranquility and beauty.  Jesus spoke these words just hours before his arrest, trial, suffering, and death.  Jesus was not offering eternal peace in a mellow moment.  He was promising peace even in the face of peril.  “Peace I leave with you,” he assured his disciples, perhaps reaching out to touch them with the same hands which would be pierced by nails the following day.   Jesus was offering something that transcended the circumstances these followers would face.  No wonder he said he gave it “not as the world gives.”  This peace in their lives would not come from a moment of ease and relaxation.  It would come from the source of all life, the assurance of all truth, and the victor of all battles.

We could perhaps better catch the urgency and meaning of Jesus words if we recast them to reflect the setting in which they were given.  “I want to give you my peace,” we might hear Jesus saying, “because the world will not give you peace.  You are about to experience incredible tragedy, and you will have every reason to feel sorrow, despair, fear, and horror, so I want you to have my peace to see you through this and every battle, this and every dark night, this and every disappointment, this and every time of doubt, this and every brush with death.  It is this peace which will keep your hearts from being troubled and rid your hearts of fear.”

Jesus did not protect his disciples from the battles of good and evil.  Neither does he protect us.  He did not shelter them from the storms of life.  Neither does he shelter us.  But Jesus did give his disciples something the world could not take away – his peace.  That is his offer to you as well.

Lord Jesus, keep me from simply settling for a life of ease.  Instead, fill me with your peace that I may not shy away from the challenges and struggles but face them  with faith and hope and love.   Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, June 2, 2017 – Peace I Leave with You

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:27

In the timetable developed by the gospel writers, it was just a couple of hours before his arrest, just 12 hours before his interrogation by Pilate, and fewer than 18 hours until his death, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  To the very end, his concern is focused on his disciples.

The truth is that there is little that troubles our hearts more than death, so it would be natural for the disciples’ “hearts (to) be troubled” as danger approaches in the dark night.  Both Jesus’ comforting words and his non-anxious spirit in the face of suffering assure his followers that he is Lord not just of life, but also of death and of life beyond death.

From his divine center, Jesus shares his peace with his uncertain, anxious, and fretful disciples. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says, “my peace I give to you.”  Here Jesus is offering the night’s second parting gift to his disciples to accompany his previous gift of love, which he offered as he washed their feet, along with his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

“I do not give to you as the world gives,” Jesus continues, contrasting the freely given, unmerited grace of God to the various, strings-attached, self-serving gift-schemes of the world.  Jesus gift is not subject to capricious human nature or fickle circumstances.  His gift is secure, eternal, and sure – more akin to a grand inheritance from a generous, loving relative than a wage earned and fretted over.

It is from this divinely secure position in life, in death, and in life beyond death that Jesus offers his peace and calls upon his disciples to live in the confidence of God’s abundant provision, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Eternal God, you lavish us with everything we need to live non-anxious lives of love and peace.  Forgive us when we allow the fickle circumstances of life to distract and deceive us.  May our hearts find true rest, as we rest in you.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017 – “Because I Live…”

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. – John 14:19

John records that just before his arrest, Jesus spends the evening comforting, guiding, and preparing his disciples for all that lies ahead.  Though they cannot imagine what is about to transpire, Jesus empowers them with both theological insights and spiritual assurance.  He tells them plainly that he will die, but he assures them that he will not be separated from them.  Like many of Jesus’ sayings, especially in John’s gospel, his words seem to create a paradox, “The world will no longer see me, but you will see me,”

Of course on a literal level, Jesus could be talking here about the various resurrection appearances which will follow his death.  John records four such appearances, but Jesus rarely talks on a literal level, especially in John’s gospel.  More than likely, Jesus is talking about a spiritual awareness in which not just his immediate disciples, but followers through the ages, will see Jesus in their own lives and in the lives of one another.

Jesus’ words advance his promise, “Because I live, you will live also.”  The significance of these words cannot be overstated.  Jesus is saying that what happens to him is what happens to all who follow him.  With his own, he shares his life; he shares his love; he shares his purposes; he shares his spirit; he shares his very nature. His death and resurrection are emblematic of what happens to his followers. Discipleship is born, not merely when we believe or join a church, but as we die to our narrow self-interest and live to the grand purposes and glory of God.  As the Apostle Paul writes, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).  Charles Wesley puts it this way in the Easter Hymn, “Made like Him, like Him we rise/ Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”  Both are simply echoes of Jesus’ words, “Because I live, you will live also.”

Good Father, help me live out the promises of Christ Jesus by daring to die to my own self-centered ways and rising to the higher purposes of God.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017 – I Will Not Leave You Orphaned…

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  – John 14:18

Jesus continues his farewell discourse on the night before his death by offering insight and comfort.  Even though he is talking about leaving the circle of fellowship with his disciples, he assures them that they will not be alone. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, offering both protection and a transformed relationship.

Widows and orphans were particularly helpless in the first century with no strong male figure to protect and provide for them.  It would be natural for the disciples to experience the same feelings of alienation and vulnerability following Jesus’ death, but Jesus assures them that they will not be orphaned or abandoned.  In fact, they will be strangely and strongly empowered in Jesus’ absence through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The term “orphan” expresses a broken relationship, a state of being cut off.  Jesus’ expression that his followers will not be orphaned introduces the concept of adoption.  When someone is adopted, they enter a new family with relationships different from those into which they were born.  Adoption is a symbol of the new life and new relationships which emerge as followers come to faith in Christ Jesus and receive God’s Spirit.

Adoption forms a powerful image of full inclusion in God’s Mighty Movement, in which the follower is “no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:7).  Jesus’ words here clarify the relationship of discipleship in the strongest and most intimate terms as an adopted child of God. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

Lord Jesus, I thank you that you do not leave me orphaned and cut off, but graft me into the household of God as part of God’s mighty movement.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, May 18, 2017 – The Spirit of Truth

Due to domain issues which made our site temporarily inaccessible, this entry has been re-posted.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. … I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.                      – John 14:15-17, 25-26

The great promise of Christ Jesus to his followers on the night before he died was that the Father would fill the followers with the Holy Spirit of God.  Far from a point of doctrine or recited creed or legal code, the Holy Spirit is offered to bind the followers of Christ to him in life and even beyond death.  In his farewell discourse, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit using the Greek term Paraclete, which is variously translated Counselor, Advocate, or Comforter.  Jesus clarifies the meaning by saying, “This is the Spirit of Truth.”

Truth is a defining mark of God’s mighty movement, especially as recorded in John’s Gospel.  As John explains the incarnation, he writes in chapter 1, “The Word became flesh and lived among us… full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Before Pilate, after his arrest, Jesus confesses, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37).  Here, Jesus offers the promise of the Spirit of Truth to his followers.

Truth, of course, runs deeper than a collection of facts.  Truth may be understood as being unchanging – like the law of gravity.  It exists whether we are aware of it or not.  If we ignore it by jumping from the rooftop, it is to our own peril. Truth is like true North which may be found with a compass, as we align ourselves with it, we can find our bearing and make our way.  Without it, it is easy to get lost.  Truth is a Counselor which offers correction and guidance; Truth is an Advocate which interprets and discerns; Truth is a Comforter which dispels the darkness and grants assurance.

The problem when we speak of God’s Truth, is that we often think of legalism and an image of a God who is eager to punish and cast away.  Nothing, it seems, could be farther from the Truth as revealed in Christ Jesus.  Jesus bore witness to God’s truth as he befriended outcasts and welcomed sinners, as he cleansed lepers and healed the sick, as he raised up the downcast and forgave the unrighteous.  It seems that the truth of God is found in expressions of hospitality, generosity, and compassion.  God’s truth is revealed as wayward sons return home, as lost coins are found, and as everything is sold to purchase the pearl of great value.

This truth is not a theorem which may be proved, but a life-orientation which is experienced. God eagerly shares it with those who seek it and who are ready to follow it.  Those who receive it share spiritual intimacy with God but often meet rejection and alienation among others.  Jesus says that this truth “the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him,” and he adds, perhaps as he looks into the eyes of his followers, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Eternal Father, thank you for offering your Spirit of Truth.  Help me to cast out error and prejudice and self-serving motives that your life-giving Truth may dwell forever within me.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, May 11, 2017 – Great Works to God’s Glory

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. – John 14:12-14

As Jesus prepares to leave his followers, he assures them that the movement of grace and truth is not over.  It will not end with his arrest; it will not end with his trial; it will not end with his humiliation; it will not even end with his death.  In fact, Jesus tells them, God’s mighty movement is just beginning.  He wants his followers to know that the things which are to take place – including his suffering, crucifixion, and death – are necessary to accomplish God’s purposes.  While it may look to the world like defeat, it is actually victory.  Through it all, God’s purposes will have been advanced and even completed, as Jesus expressed in his dying words on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The mighty movement of God will advance on every front, Jesus assures his followers, for “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.”  The Christian movement is not simply centered on a wonder-worker whom we remember.  It is based on the grace and truth of God which indwell first Jesus and then his followers.  The mighty works of forgiveness, healing, hope, and new life will be extended to and through generations of people who turn their lives away from a toxic self-orientation and toward God.  As people experience God’s grace, seek God’s truth, and live to God’s glory and purpose, great and mighty things will transpire.  In fact, Jesus announces in his last hours that his followers will do “greater works” even than the works he did.

It is worth noting that Jesus ties together faith and works, saying whoever “believes in me will also do the works that I do.”  The church has too long fussed over the relative importance of faith and works.  Jesus simply expresses that both are a part of being caught up in the mighty movement of God. Jesus goes on to assure his followers that, as they follow him, nothing will be able to stop their work. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son,” Jesus tells them.  The promise is not to advance our narrow self-interest but fulfill the grand purposes of God as pursued by those who bear Christ’s name.

Good Father, forgive me for holding back and living a cautious, limited, broken, self-focused life.  Flood my life with your grace, align my heart with your truth, and help me find my place in your mighty movement.  In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017 – Seeing God

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. – John 14:8-9

After the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus led the group in an extended conversation about spiritual matters, and the desire to see God emerged, as Philip expressed to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  It may be that we can all understand the desire to see God.  We feel somehow that if we could just see, then we could know with greater certainty of God’s existence, of God’s goodness, of God’s care and concern for us. You may remember that Moses, the leader of the Hebrew people during the Exodus, requested that he might see God. “Show me your glory,” Moses said in Exodus 33:18.  In that encounter, Moses was only allowed to see God’s back – that is, to see where God had been, to see God in retrospect.  Jesus’ response is different.  He told the disciples that in seeing him, they were seeing God.

All of this may cause us to wonder what it means to “see” God.  Of course we can see with our eyes, that is to observe with our visual sense the divine.  Perhaps like Moses, we can see God’s presence more by what he has done – by the wonder of creation, by the grand movements of liberation and truth, by the lives of faith and courage which inspire us, and certainly by the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can see God by seeing what God has done.

Another way to see is to understand.  “I see,” we often say when we come to grasp intellectually a concept or an argument.  We could see God by understanding God’s ways, by understanding God’s truth, by understanding God’s work of salvation.  Volumes of church doctrine have been worked out to help us see God this way.

A third way of seeing, and one that is perhaps more to the point in this Gospel passage, is to experience God, to see with our hearts, our spirits, our limbic brain.  Perhaps this is the type of seeing that Jesus is referring to in the Beatitudes when he blesses the “pure in heart” with the ascription that “they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  It may be that as God’s grace invades our lives, it purifies us of all our self-serving blindness, and allows us both to experience God and to see God most fully.  This type of sight is akin to the sensation we have when we hear truth and, even though we have never heard it before, we know it to be so.  Such truth is self-authenticating, such that when we first hear it, it is as if we already know it.

Jesus is assuring his disciples that with eyes of faith they will experience God, know his self-authenticating truth, and have their eyes opened – not to prove God’s identity but to reveal God’s glory.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you.  Amen

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017 – “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”

If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. – John 14:7-11

John records that on their last night together – just hours before Jesus’ arrest – he and his disciples engage in an extended, deep final conversation.

In typical Johanine fashion, the discussion is advanced through probing questions and misunderstandings, sparked by a bold statement from Jesus, “If you know me, you will know my Father also… from now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Since the words which are translated “from now on” may also be translated “already” or even “assuredly,” we can see that Jesus is telling his followers that they are already empowered, that God is present both among them and within them – “assuredly” they “know him and have seen him.”

When Philip expresses uncertainty and says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” Jesus responds that Philip is not merely seeking the wrong thing, he has an entirely wrong idea about God.  God is not distant, far away, and unattainable.  The great mystery revealed by Jesus is that God is present – indwelling in our midst.  Jesus is not God’s agent.  “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me,” he tells his followers.  As Biblical scholar Rodney Whitacre puts it, Jesus “does not simply represent the Father, he presents him.”

All of this may seem a bit heady for a final conversation between Jesus and his followers.  Usually as we are about to depart, our conversations are filled with expressions of affection, so why the deep theological conversation about Christology on this last evening together?  The importance is centered not so much on believing the right things about Jesus as upon understanding the true nature of discipleship.  Jesus is telling the disciples that what was true about him would also be fundamentally true about them.

Jesus’ focus here is not so much about the past and future as it is about the present, and not so much about the transcendence of God as it is about the immanence of God.  Jesus’ words assure his followers that God is not merely eternal, omnipotent, and wholly other, but also personal, present, and empowering.  Likewise, discipleship is not only an assurance of being in God’s care eternally, it is also an active engagement in God’s mighty movement of grace and truth in the present.

Lord, help me find your claim on and presence in my life, that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I may by a part of your mighty movement.  Amen.

A Bible study blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, May 4, 2017 – Questions on the Journey

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” – John 14:1-5

John’s gospel is filled with questions.  From the first question Jesus asks in John 1, “What are you looking for?” until Jesus’ question in the last chapter of the gospel, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?”, the Gospel moves along on questions.  In the 14th chapter of John, as Jesus spends his last night with his disciples, there is no shortage of questions, and they seem to probe deeply into the disciples’ faith struggles:

  • “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
  • “How can we know the way?”
  • “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
  • “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
  • “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”

None of these questions and few of the other questions found throughout the gospels produce a neat and tidy answer, which may be memorized and recited.  These questions seem to serve a purpose deeper than that.  The questions of the gospels seem to guide us as we probe the mysteries of faith, as we dare to wonder, as we pursue truth, and as we develop increasing curiosity about God’s mighty movement and our participation in it.

Let us not forget that the invitation of Jesus in the first and the last chapter of John’s Gospel is simple, “Follow me,” – first expressed to Philip in John 1:43 and finally to Simon Peter in John 21:19.  Even this invitation reveals that Jesus is not so much interested in giving his disciples easy answers to life’s questions as he is in broadening our awareness, deepening our inquiries, increasing our curiosity, expanding our faith, forging a relationship, and engaging us in God’s mighty work.  In all of it we carry the questions with us – not because they have no answers, but because they lead us to a deeper truth.

Our journey with Christ is, therefore, less like a guided tour which we may observe objectively and enjoy a few convenient photo opportunities before lunch, and more like a grand and risky adventure on a treacherous trail of grace and truth, in which we find ourselves both lost and found at the same time, actively engaged, and consumed with glorious, probing, life-changing questions.

Let us never stop inquiring; let us never stop learning; let us never stop exploring!

Lead on, O King Eternal,
We follow, not with fears,
For gladness breaks like morning
Where’er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted o’er us,
We journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest;
Lead on, O God of might.  Amen.

A Bible study blog by Gorman Houston.

 

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017 – “I am the way…”

“…you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, ”I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. - John 14:4-6

As Jesus talks to his disciples on the night before his suffering and death, he assures them that when he leaves them they will know the way into the kingdom of God.  Thomas replies to show the ignorance of the group.  Since they don’t even know where the kingdom of God is, how can they possibly know the way?  Jesus responds by offering the sixth of the seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Jesus’ reply affirms convincingly that the key to the kingdom of God – the key to knowing God, the key to drawing close to God, the key to being in God’s presence – is simply being in relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is telling the disciples that the path to God is not a matter of following rules or laws, not a matter of being a member of the correct church, not a matter of developing a detailed theological understanding, not a matter of following the correct ritual.  All of those things may be means of grace – helpful ways of coming to Christ and learning of Christ – but none of those can be substituted for a genuine, growing relationship with our Lord.

“I am the way,” Jesus says.  Following laws or rituals or morality codes can make us devout, can make us obedient, can even make us decent people, but none of that can make us righteous or godly or Christ-like.  Why?  These well-intentioned actions produce the dangerous side-effects of pride, arrogance, jealousy, envy, and self-righteousness.  That’s why Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but by me.”   The only way to godliness, the only way to Christlikeness, is through the one who is the self-professed “Way.”

Lord Jesus, forgive my well-intentioned, self-righteous ways and help me commit myself fully to the only one who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston