City Seekers

“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Hebrews 13:12-14)

Various cities in the Middle East fuss over which is the most ancient. Among the contenders are cities like Jerusalem, Byblos, Jericho, and Damascus. The debate often spars over definitions involving the claims of uninterrupted habitation, the presence of the oldest ruins, and so forth. Some argue with archeology while others dig up their evidence from the writings of age old historians.

The writer of Hebrews would not have taken sides in this squabble. He had his sights much higher than any earthly city. He had read the Biblical record of city builders like Nimrod, Pharoah, and Nebuchadnezzar. He was not ignorant of the glories of Niniveh, Pithom, and Babylon. However, he was not too impressed with their splendor and power.

All of that dazzle was now sealed and useless in the coffins of history. Yes, they had risen, and they had shined. But, their glory had forever fizzled out.

It was a different class of man and city that caught the author’s eye. These were Old Testament heroes who had shown a distinct aversion to sinking their roots into earthly soil. In one way or another, many of them forfeited temporary homes in favor of deeds to heavenly mansions.

Enoch simply walked away and disappeared.

Noah built a boat and said goodbye to every place he had ever known.

Abraham turned his back on Ur of the Chaldees and headed for the Promised Land, only to keep on living in tents when he arrived.

Moses had grown up in the luxurious palaces of the Nile, yet he voluntarily chose to leave that all behind and take off for the desert with a multitude of complainers. Why? He had discovered that the reward for bearing Christ’s reproach was worth infinitely more than all the treasures of Egypt.

Even Rahab the harlot came to set her priorities by this rule. With no hesitation that we know of, she exchanged her house on the wall for the fantastic, but unknown, inheritance with the children of God.

Yet all of these examples were mere shadows of the Perfect One who would descend into the manger at Bethlehem. This Man ministered for three intense years with less of a home than foxes or birds. At the end of His ministry, He walked right into the heart of Israel’s most important city to be cruelly beaten and shamed . . . but not to die.

He would not even die inside an earthly city.

The anonymous writer of the epistle wants to emphasize his point. Those who name the Name of Christ do not seek permanent residence on earth. They don’t expect to or want to continue here.

So, what do I look for? Are my eyes focused on the stuff of this world? Do I quietly yearn for the stability of the visible, tangible things of this earth? Do I get antsy if others have more, or better, or prettier?

Then maybe I am still seeking a city down here.

Dear Father, open my eyes to see your city. Tune my ears to hear its music and prepare my heart to worship its Builder.

Serve & Lead

“After that He poureth water in a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. . . . For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:5, 15)

There is a certain concept of leadership that is faulty, or at least, incomplete. It is the idea that leaders are mainly the visible and popular individuals, who are behind the podium, on the platform, speaking into the microphone. Often we see these people interviewed by the media, followed by crowds, and living in opulence. Unconsciously we can adopt the common opinion that they are the image of leadership and generally define what it is.

Now I am not questioning that they are leaders. They usually are, for good or bad. But if we take a closer look at the matter in the Bible we will discover that the real thing goes a lot deeper. Take this passage in which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, undeniably one of the noblest scenes of servanthood in all of Scripture.

The Savior saw a need and moved. His action spoke of initiative, of resourcefulness, and wisdom. It was stepping out to do what needed doing, regardless of whether others followed suit, agreed, or even understood what was going on. That is exactly what a leader does. He (or she) is one who assesses the situation in front of him and moves. With that movement he instantly steps into a role of influence and becomes an example to follow, a leader.

It is significant that the Lord chose to act out this lesson Himself, rather than just refer to an Old Testament example. He took off His outer garments, rolled up his sleeves, so to speak, and started serving. The shock, bewilderment, and embarrassment this created among the Twelve was instantaneous. The Man now washing their feet was the Word, who according to this same Gospel, had created everything! They were scandalized, wondering how they had allowed the situation to come to this.

Quite in sync with his personalty, Peter put up a fuss. But the Lord did not back down. Why not? Was it just that He didn’t want to give in? Was He trying to shame them into service? Clearly those were not His reasons. I believe He was trying to teach us all something extremely important, about the very nature of godliness.

In heaven, the dwelling place of the Most High, that ideal atmosphere where the Almighty lives, we will find serving others to be a part of the beautiful essence of the land. On this earth, where sin has warped human thinking, service is seen to be the career of the under privileged, the lower class, the common man.

Who knows? Maybe in glory the Son of God will at times serve His disciples, as the eternal and perfect example of the way things really are. I don’t think we should be too surprised. Remember, He does not change. One double thought I believe is clear: We are all called to serve and we are all called to lead.

Dear Father, give me a love for service. Help me see it as a privilege and act of obedience of the first order. Thank you for serving me even today as You intercede for me before the Father. I praise you for being so humble, so good, so consistent. Amen.

The Smelly Belly

“And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. . . . Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:9, 17)

Jonah had not counted on the fish.
His decision had been made some time before arriving at the Joppa seaport. He had caught a whiff of divine mercy in the assignment and simply was not going to Nineveh to preach. So he purchased the passage and settled down for the journey across the Mediterranean. About the time a few dark clouds began to roll in, Jonah was starting to yawn. Soon he was sound asleep.

That was until the shouts of the incredulous captain burst into his dreams, rebuking him for such gross negligence, and ordering him to join the rest of them in their pleas for supernatural help. When the sailors’ lots sniffed him out as the culprit, Jonah was hit with a torrent of desperate questions. His blunt answer made their blood freeze.

He was a Hebrew, running from the God of heaven, the One who had made the sea and land.

Notice that there was nothing wrong with Jonah’s theology. He was absolutely right. But his attitude remained one of defiance, determination, and resignation. That’s why he calmly suggested that they sacrifice him to the waves. He was totally ready to die in his stubbornness. So, against their desire but desperate to save their lives, they picked him up and heaved him overboard.

Jonah thought it was over. He expected a few seconds of flight, then the splash and shock of cold water, followed by the natural struggle to breathe . . . But wait! Yuck! What was this? Why wasn’t he dead? What was this nasty slime and putrefying stench?!

He was inside God’s surprise.

Actually, Jonah didn’t really dwell on the nauseous odor in his submarine room, but it doesn’t take very deep logic to imagine how it was. The Lord was making sure Jonah’s return to the mission was also a lesson on how miserable life can get for rebellious children.

Yes, the prophet knew a lot of truth about Jehovah. He knew that He created the world and chose Abraham to father the nation of Israel. Yet his Biblical knowledge had not made him wise, which is why he never expected to survive the dive. He still thought he could challenge the will of God and get away with it, refusing to be drawn into the fragrance of God’s grace towards the wicked city.

His smelly experience is graphic instruction for us. With online search engines, digital libraries, and audio sermons at our fingertips, we live surrounded by more Bible information than any generation before us. But we all have Jonah’s stubborn heart beating in our chests, along with the smooth skill of deceiving ourselves to sleep while going away from God’s will for our lives.

May the Lord help us to honestly seek His will.

Dear Father, please give me a heart that obeys Your desires, not just a mind that knows Your attributes. May the aroma of Your goodness always be enough to move me in whatever direction You lead. Amen.


“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. . . . But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:10, Acts 1:8)

How beautifully the Holy Spirit weaves His themes in and out of Scripture, causing them to emerge in different centuries of the sacred story, each time according to His wise purpose. The wording of Isaiah’s verse is so close to that of Acts 1:8 that there can be little question about their being close spiritual cousins. The exact details are different but the living thrust of both passages is a divine mission for every true believer in God.

We are to be His witnesses. For the people listening to the prophet, the message was to boldly display the solid case for His eternal Being. They were to show off the perfect
trail of prophecy. Since forming the nation, Jehovah had sent Israel a continuous stream of fulfilled prophecies, spanning everything from international politics to personal blessings. The evidence was irrefutable.

In comparison, the argument for any idol of any nation of the world was ludicrous. Various times throughout the book, Isaiah pokes fun at the whole idea of manmade images and the utter absurdity of them being able to foretell anything.

Centuries later Doctor Luke recorded the precise last words of Christ before His ascension. Surely he knew that anyone familiar with Isaiah’s writings would quickly make the connection. The charge was pretty much the same, only here in the New Testament the grace of Jesus and the goal of worldwide evangelism were more clearly seen.

All of the redeemed were now officially called to join the witness stand. The followers
of Jesus were to share the overwhelming testimony of His life and identity as Savior of the world. 
However, the courtroom was not a specific building or place. It was much larger than that. It was the entire earth! Christians were to scatter to every corner of the globe to witness of the greatest truth mankind could ever know.

As back in Isaiah’s time, these godly people had a thick dossier of proofs. Miracle after miracle, fulfillment after fulfillment, many visual confirmations of His resurrection . . . all stacked up to certify Him as the One and only Messiah.

Perhaps the astonishing question for all of us should be: Why does God even stoop to give us this honor? I really don’t think we could understand the full answer.

We have no inherent right to be such royal ambassadors. We are mere clay, completely unworthy of having the divine image imprinted on our souls or being selected to represent the invisible Lord before a lost world.

But in His amazing grace, the King has chosen us to tell each generation that He was, and is, and always will be. We are living monuments of His love, and are expected to share with any soul who will listen, that He is God.

Dear Father, very often I have been silent about You, both in actions and speech. For many around me, I may be the closest one in Your family they will ever meet. Please help me hold the banner high and boldly show them that You are the true God, and that You came to die for their redemption. Amen.

Family Fellowship Week 2014 Messages

Our theme for the Family Fellowship Week 2014 was Faithful Till The End.  Our focus was on being faithful until the end of our earthly race, in all aspects of our life and ministry.  As you review these notes from the week, we trust that you will be encouraged to remain faithful.

Faithful When Trials Come

Few have suffered more than Job, yet he is known as one who remained faithful through trials.  Regardless of who we are or the trials we face, we must remember that the grace of God is sufficient to see us through.  Proverbs 28:20 reminds us that “A faithful man shall abound with blessings.”  Job lost much, but in the end he was doubly blessed, because of his faithfulness. – David Ellenburg

Faithful With Our Message

The writer Jude exhorts us to contend for the faith.  He gives us descriptions, examples, and judgements of apostasy, as well as descriptions of the uselessness and bad character of apostates.  Verses 20-22 give us five defenses against apostasy. We keep our message faithful to the end by loving, walking, speaking, and standing on the Truth of God’s Word, while recognizing that we have security in Christ, Who is able to keep us. – Jim Bailey

Faithful When Opposed

As we serve in the place of God’s choosing, we will be opposed by the world.  They will revile, persecute, and defame us through personal, physical, and public attacks.  We must show a proper response with a soft answer, endurance, and prayer for our attackers.  We must focus on what God thinks, not what others think, in order to remain faithful in the face of opposition. – Gene Krachenfels

Faithful in our Spirit

To be faithful in our spirit, we must look to Christ, Who waits for us at the finish line and calls for us to come on through the trials of this temporal life, to the eternal glory that awaits us.  We must serve through troubles with endurance, because He endured; with faith, because He has saved us and daily saves us from this present world; and with grace, which He gives.  We must focus on the eternal to maintain a faithful spirit. – Time Daniel

Faithful in Our Friendship

Jonathan and David’s relationship is a classic example of friendship in the Bible, from which we learn characteristics of a true spiritual friendship.  We must show unconditional love, be a faithful advocate, trust, and seek to encourage our friends.  Faithful friendship is about seeking to benefit and sharpen the other individual. – David Landers

Faithful to the end

God has given us different responsibilities for every season of life.  He has given us a springtime of preparation, a summer of propagation, a fall of preservation, and a winter of consummation.  As we get older we must seek to get better, not bitter about changes that come.  We must be faithful in each season, and seek to encourage those who are coming behind us. – Bill Wingard

An Almighty Lesson

(1) “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; . . .” (2) “And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. . . .” (3) “Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:” (Genesis 35:11; 43:14; 49:25)

These three “Almighty” references stand out as verbal mileposts along the rocky road that made up Jacob’s life. The first was Jehovah’s revelation of His own omnipotence, followed by a promise. The second was spoken by Jacob many years later. It was the fatalistic cry of a man who remembered what to believe about God, but had never really brought himself to bow to it in humble submission. At this moment, after having made such a mess of his life, he had little hope of experiencing God’s joy ever again.

But what about the third verse? It was the shout of a changed man. There was hope in those words. There was excitement! There was confidence.

Why the huge change? Remember, this sneaky twin was a rascal of the first order and a terror to many of those unlucky enough to have faced him in business. He swindled his brother, he lied to his father, he cheated his uncle, and he humiliated his children. Because of his history of raunchy deals, Jacob headed into his later years with a soul weighed down by sour memories. Add to this the continual mourning for a favorite son he thought was dead and you have a textbook example of misery. The wild oats had sprouted and years of reaping the mature grains of his deceit had left him tired and cynical.

So again, what happened in the last seventeen years of his life? What erased the pessimism and bitterness that had built up in the previous one hundred and thirty years?

They were swallowed up in the grace of the God who proved to him the reality of His all powerful wisdom. Against all odds, He had preserved Jacob’s favorite son Joseph in Egypt. Then, through an almost unbelievable orchestration of events, He arranged for the two to embrace again.

Nearly two centuries before, Jehovah had presented Himself to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham as the Almighty God. The Scriptural record then confirms that his father Isaac passed on to him this wonderful knowledge and charged him to believe it.

But Rachel’s darling son had a very high opinion of his own savvy. He was not very interested in knowing God or learning about His almighty character. Oh, he finally passed the test alright, but he went about it the long, hard way. In the process he made a first class wreck of his life. Fortunately, the One who promised to bless him does not forget His promises . . . even if His children blow it.

Have we learned the lesson? If so, no human force or circumstance will shake our peace for very long. King David reminds us in Psalm ninety-one that we have a refuge and a fortress in the shadow of the Almighty. And then, at the closing of the Book of the Revelation, we are told to expect a city that has no need for temple, or sun, or light . . . for God Almighty dwells there.

Dear Father, I am too inclined to forget Your Almighty nature, or ignore its implications. In thoughts and attitudes and actions I often reveal how shallow my faith really is. Forgive me, Lord. Amen. 

Secret Conversations

“Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. . . . And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 5:39, 50)

There is more in this scene than meets the eye, or ear. For there were two secret conversations going on at this meal in the Pharisee’s home.

Neither conversation could be heard by the others around the table because they were unspoken. One person definitely thought his ideas were private, while the other dearly hoped hers were fully known by God. Nobody else had a clue as to the intense emotions stirring in the minds of these two.

Nobody, that is, except the Lord Jesus. He was well aware of the silent accusations being launched his way by Simon. At first, from his self-appointed perch of importance, this religious man had probably thought to impress the Master with a show of honor and glamour. But he had been surprised by this embarrassing visitor, who had unwittingly peeled away his facade. Soon his heart betrayed his actions and poisoned his mind with ugly criticism toward his Guest. He was too proud to insult the Master in such a setting so he spoke to himself.

Or so he thought. It never occurred to him that Jesus could hear him loud and clear.

The Lord also knew what was going on in the mind of the distraught lady, whose craving for a new life drove her to break social protocol. As far as she was concerned, her reputation was already in the ashes and she had little to lose. The moment had come when the conviction in her heart could no longer stay pent up, so she made a bee line in his direction.

But she quickly realized how out of place she was at this banquet, and undoubtedly felt the stares, heard the snickers, and sensed the scornful looks.

In her anxiety and embarrassment, she kissed, she wiped, she anointed, she worshipped . . . oh, what a mess she seemed to be making of everything! Why had she been so rash?

And then Jesus spoke. But not to her. He spoke to Simon, and there was a serious ring in his voice. Initially it might have sounded like the Lord was just giving another parabolic lesson. But as the words became more personal and forceful, the Pharisee realized that Jesus was actually responding to his own malicious thoughts!

Soon the Lord was contrasting the woman’s devotion with his own indifference, and God’s assessment of the situation became crystal clear.

Then Christ turned to the lady and addressed the second unspoken conversation. But His attitude was quite different, one of sympathy and tenderness. His words revealed to all what the longing of her heart had been. She craved forgiveness and desperately wanted the peace only God could give. And that is exactly what He gave her.

Dear Father, You know my thoughts–always. You know what I truly believe about everything. You hear every word my mind would speak if it wanted to. Help me glorify You first, where it all starts, in secret. Amen. 

Mary the First

“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” (John 20:1)

She was the first. Mary was at the front of that long line of people who actually saw the resurrected Lord! And obviously, nobody can ever take the gold medal from her neck.

All four Gospels tell us that she was the fortunate believer. Other women went early too, but none before her. Of the men we know little. They were either too sad, too confused, too discouraged, or too frightened.

Now the Bible never openly explains why Mary was given this honor. She came to the garden with some spices, presumably to finish what the various ladies considered a hasty job done by the two men after the crucifixion. They had probably scheduled to meet there and she just happened to arrive before the rest. She showed surprise at the empty tomb, so she wasn’t expecting the resurrection any more than the others.

However, the Holy Scriptures lead us to believe that she had unknowingly been drawn to the garden for a private appointment before everyone else!

Two of the Evangels inform us that this Mary had been healed of a severe case of demon possession, mentioning the exact number . . . seven! Elsewhere, the Lord had implied in His teaching that to be invaded by seven demonic beings was torture of a high order. Her corresponding debt of gratitude is understandable.

It is John who steps past his fellow writers and leads us into the actual garden scene that took place. He describes how distraught she was at discovering the missing body. She apparently spoke with two angels without blinking and then turned around to mistake Jesus for the gardener. Finally, her passionate pleas are cut short by His tone of voice and direct address.

Do you also notice something stronger in Mary than in any of the other followers? More than just missing Him, and being whacked by the thud of His death, she seems to dearly love Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was the most important person in her entire world! Even in the bewilderment caused by His mysterious disappearance, the petrified soldiers nearby, and a conversation with brilliant angels, she was undeterred in wanting to find and care for Him.

I think we have here a lesson in how the Lord rewards love.

God knows what love is. It finds its definition and original expression in Him. Therefore, when He calls His children to love Him with their entire being, He knows exactly what to look for. He pays serious attention to the Christian who deeply loves Him and enjoys rewarding that devotion extravagantly.

Perhaps, then, the most important question I can ask in this context is, “How deep and pure and intense is my love for the Lord?” If I do not love Him with heart, soul, and body . . . why not?

I can be sure He knows the answer to both questions.

Dear Father, how easy it is to talk about Your love, to study it, and divide it up in its various Biblical expressions. But, oh Lord, please turn that theory into a powerful reality in my heart. Amen.

Facing the Stones

“And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David:” (2 Samuel 16:6)

You may remember a time with someone kicked you when you were down. Sadly, it may have even been somebody in God’s family who threw the verbal stones at you. These assaults can hurt more than ever when you can’t understand why you are suffering to begin with! At any rate, the way we respond to the stones is critically important.

David responded with grace and patience to Shimei’s tyrade. He could have lashed out like a wounded wolf and ripped him to shreds. In fact, had he given his men their heads they would have had Shimei’s. But David was more mature than most of those around him. He knew that God was watching and very interested in the events. So, he refused to answer in a fleshly way. His focus was heavily doctrinal. It was all about the Lord and what He could and would do if He chose to. Ah, that’s a great way to face the stones!

How important for us to learn to do the same. An important step to being prepared is precisely, to realize it will happen. Sooner or later we will find ourselves on a road very similar to this one leading out of Jerusalem. Our experience on it will be one of those unavoidable bitter cups God gives us to drink. They may remind us of the spoonful of cod liver oil Mom used to make us swallow−nasty tasting stuff, but excellent for the body!

Have you been pelted recently? Is the sting and shame of it still fresh? Seek wisdom to accept it with the maturity of David.

May God grant us all to be alert and ready. The end of the matter is already in His capable hands. Our response He leaves to our will.

Dashed Hopes

“And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, . . . and Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him. And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, . . . came in the press behind, and touched his garment.” (Mark 5:22-27)

As serious a trial as the situation was with his daughter’s health, Jairus was about to be tested even more deeply.

At first it would seem that the deathly state of his little princess was in itself the most pressing matter. She was, as the text points out, breathing her last. This drove the distraught father out of the house, even at such a critical moment. And though he was a man of position and wealth, this did not keep him from taking extreme measures. There, in the street, in view of everyone, this ruler of the synagogue fell before Jesus’ feet and begged for his attention.

Out the window went any air of superiority he might have cultivated as an important leader in the community. While normally he might have maintained some degree of public dignity, not today. Not this time. His daughter was dying.

Imagine his delight when the gracious Savior looked him in the eyes and matched his painful gaze with sincere concern. Immediately the Lord moved towards the house and hope began to glow on Jairus’ face. The word spread like wildfire and soon there was a growing flock of neighbors walking with them.

But along the way a sick lady crossed their path. Actually, she didn’t really want to be seen. Attracting attention was the farthest thing from her mind. Teacher and father were being followed by a throng of excited people and she had no intention of creating a scene. Rather, she tried her best to be inconspicuous.

However, the Master would have nothing of it, and kindly exposed her faith as an example for everybody. Of course, this all took precious time . . . and Jairus saw the servant approach with a dreadful look on his face. Jesus had taken too long! His daughter had died.

How impossible it is to measure the pain! A few minutes before, everything was hope and excitement and anticipation. His prayer was being answered and the horrible enemy of his family would be forced to retreat just as its victim was within reach.

But then this woman had erupted on the stage and the compassionate Lord had stopped the event. He turned slowly, and in His kind and thorough way, addressed the lady, the disciples, and the crowd. Everyone was thrilled with the results! Everyone, except a certain daddy. His hopes had just been dashed.

Now, I know the end of the story. It turned out well. Jesus had not been distracted for even a second, nor was His plan ever in danger. As with Joseph and the Egyptian butler many centuries before, the Lord had allowed hopes to be raised and then demolished . . . but just for a while.

Yet have I learned this lesson of trust? Am I able to watch my expectations get smashed and still believe? Is my confidence in Christ solid enough to weather this kind of disappointment? And can I rest in peace no matter what the final outcome is?

Dear Father, how easy to understand the facts without embracing them in “real” life. Help my unbelief. Amen.