Friday, November 30, 2018

Devotional: How to Live Together in This World, 1 Peter 5:1-14

Outline 1 Peter 5.1-14

Peter closes his letter with some practical application about how believers should live together in a way that will reflect God’s grace in this world of suffering and trials. In this chapter he gives two basic commands about church relationships. Church leaders are to shepherd the church. That is, they are to sacrificially serve and protect the church by being living examples of a gracious lifestyle and submission to the needs of their people. The command to all the church is that all their relationships be characterized by a humility that entrusts all of life to God’s care, controls oneself to avoid self-indulgence and stays faithful despite suffering. The promised outcome of this lifestyle is eternal, unfading glory. All of us are called to faithfully live out God’s grace in the power he provides.

Peter calls leaders to serve their people as “under-shepherds” of Jesus. (5:1-4) Their people are to be regarded as belonging to Jesus and placed under the leaders’ care by Jesus. The task of the leader is to train and serve the people as Jesus did. Thus, pastoring (shepherding) can only be done in close relationship with people. Just as Jesus modeled the behavior he was teaching, a pastor/leader must be closely connected with the people so he can know and meet their needs. The pastor should be willing to share the sufferings and trials of the those being ministered to. Church leadership must be a calling to serve, model, teach and lead, not just a profession. A church leader must be Jesus to the church even if that means that one must give their life for the people.

The attitude driving all relationships must be humility. (5:4-11) Humility should permeate every aspect of our behavior. In our relationship with God it means that we give up control completely and trust his care for us. Instead of worrying about what we cannot control we pray in a way that hands over all these problems to our faithful Creator. Instead of giving Satan an opening by indulging our selfishness, we watch ourselves and remind ourselves of the truth of who we are and what is really important. Instead of self-pity in trials, we join in service and prayer with our fellow-believers who are also suffering. We keep the proper perspective that trials are short-term and God promises that whatever was lost will be restored, that what seems in doubt now will be confirmed, what is weak now will be strengthened, and that all these troubles will end with us being established in eternal glory.

It is only with this perspective (5:12-14) that we can live out God’s grace in the power he provides and experience the peace that comes from being in Christ.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Devotional: Expect and Welcome Suffering, 1 Peter 4:1-19

Outline 1 Peter 4.1-19

Peter continues discussing suffering in chapter 4. His main point is that, as Christians, we should expect and welcome trials and suffering because they work out God’s will for our ultimate salvation. In a way, trials and persecution function as God’s judgment, not to condemn the Christian, but to remove and conquer our propensity to sin and accept the inferior benefits of the world. Persecution focuses us on God and his superior blessings. Thus, Peter urges that we should respond to trials and suffering with acts of grace and love enabled by God’s power. When we do this God promises deeper fellowship with Christ, glory, and the blessing of the experience of the Spirit, which will bring praise to God, purging of sin and completion of God‘s work of grace in our lives.

In 4:1 Peter again points to the example of Jesus. Just as he suffered in the body in order to defeat death and sin for all of creation, we need bodily suffering to overcome sin in our own lives. Suffering has a way of making spiritual things a higher priority and taking our minds off of fulfilling selfish desires and passions. It highlights our dependence on God and helps us see the meaninglessness of things that our flesh values. Those that have never experienced the comfort of the Spirit in suffering will never understand this. Suffering can appear to be a negative judgment on a person but Peter assures us that it will result in a positive outcome as the Spirit’s work of transformation prepares us for glory.

Thus, Peter urges believers to respond to trials and persecution with daily practical acts of love and grace. (4:7-11)Suffering often is the means God uses to enable the believer to make more use of the power and gifts God has given them. Suffering focuses us on the things that are important which energizes our prayers.  Suffering provides a perspective that enables us to give all our resources (hospitality) to serve without grumbling. A proper response to suffering energizes our spiritual gifts and increases our ability to serve effectively. Just as Jesus showed God’s glory through suffering, so we show his glory better as we experience times of suffering.

Finally,Peter says that we should not be surprised when we suffer or are persecuted and insulted. Instead we should “rejoice and be glad” that we have been chosen to “share Christ’s suffering.” The rejoicing is not in the pain and suffering itself, that would be crazy, but like Jesus we look through the suffering to the blessing, salvation and glory that will result from it. Everyone will experience God’s judgment. Better to let God perform his work of purifying us in the fire of suffering now than stand before him with a wasted life later. We can be sure that our “faithful Creator” (4:17) is going to set things right for us and for those who cause the suffering. Thus, our best question in the midst of suffering should not be “why?” but can always be, “how can I do good in this situation?”

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devotional: Suffering Leads to Victory, 1 Peter 3:13-22

Outline 1 Peter 3.13-22

In 3:13 Peter begins the next major section of the letter. Normally we would expect that living lives of humble service and doing right would be welcomed by our neighbors and often it is. But now, Peter points out that living for Jesus often brings trials and persecution from an unbelieving world. Nevertheless, Peter urges us to welcome suffering with joy and by returning good (acts of grace) for evil done to us. This seems odd but it works because our trials and suffering are the way God will bring about his perfect plan for the world and the way that the forces of evil, both physical and spiritual, will be defeated. In addition, this is how God strengthens our faith and builds our character and brings blessing to us now and ultimate blessing in the future. Peter’s encouragements to believers to stand joyfully and graciously in suffering (3:13-17, 4:7-19) frame the example of Jesus (3:18-4:6) whose suffering and death led to resurrection, ascension to the right hand of the Father and the defeat of all the powerful supernatural forces of evil.

Peter begins by reminding us that if we “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (3:14) we will be blessed. If fact, he says it is better for us to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. If we “set apart Christ as holy,” that is, we recognize him as the ultimate authority and build our lives around him, this will challenge societal norms and sometimes put us at odds with our neighbors and the governmental authorities. However, Peter cautions us to make sure that our “defense” of Christ’s standards is done with gentleness and respect and that our best argument is our good behavior and service to our neighbors. There is great blessing in suffering for Jesus. There is no blessing in suffering because you are acting like an arrogant jerk.

The example of Jesus provides the ultimate expression of how this works. His death, in the body, led to his resurrection and reward; and also provided, not only salvation to the world, but defeated the supernatural forces of evil that had dominated human society for thousands of years. When Jesus died it appeared that the spiritual forces of darkness, Paul’s “principalities and powers,” had defeated God’s plan to save and redeem the world. But, as Jesus’ body lay in the grave, he preached to the supernatural beings who had been imprisoned in the days of Noah. Jesus announced his victory over them and then proved it by rising from the dead. Just as Noah’s family were saved through the destruction of the flood, so we will be saved through the chaos of this life. Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (3:22). As we have renounced these powers through our baptism they are also subjected to us now and, in the future we will join Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

So when suffering comes we can respond as Jesus did, with acts and words of grace and truth. We don’t need to fear because God has won the victory over death and evil and anything the powers of this world do to us will result in our blessing. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Devotional: Gospel Relationships at Home, 1 Peter 3:1-12

Outline 1 Peter 3.1-12

Peter continues to apply the message and mission of the gospel to personal relationships in the first half of chapter 3. Jesus’ example of humility and dedication to pointing others to God with his words and actions, no matter what the cost, continues to drive Peter’s teaching on relationships within the home. In 3:1-7 Peter focuses on the marriage relationship, especially those in which a believing wife is married to an unbelieving husband. Peter’s basic point is that the marriage relationship is one of mutual submission to the specific and different needs of one another and respect for each other as partners in the grace of the gospel. In 3:8-12 he summarizes the section with a call to “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” supported by a promise from Psalm 34 that God will protect, hear the prayer and bless the one that lives this way. In all our relationships we are called to live out the grace of the gospel whether we are in a position of power or weakness.

In 3:1-7 the Christian wife receives the longer exhortation because she would have been the one more likely to be struggling in a relationship with an unbelieving husband who may have been against her Christian beliefs. It may also be that the church was being criticized that its raising of the status of women was causing strife in marriages. Like Paul, Peter urges the wife to submit to her husband (as was expected in the culture) and use her freedom in Christ, not to serve herself, but to serve him and meet his needs. Instead of prolonging the battle of the sexes, in which the husband uses his standing in society and generally greater physical strength to control his wife and she counters with seduction and manipulation, each one should imitate Jesus by submitting to, loving and serving one another as partners in salvation and ministry. But also like Paul, Peter goes against culture by telling the husband, “likewise,” to submit to the needs of his wife by especially being considerate of her unique needs as a female and her equal status as a gospel partner. Ultimately the goal is not to protect traditional social order or to “liberate” the wife from being a woman, but to remake both marriage roles as they should be in God’s kingdom and produce marriages that create homes that live out the gospel.

Finally, Peter closes the section with a summary of what gospel behavior looks like. The gospel message is especially seen in our closest relationships as they are transformed by the gospel. We must live compassionately, humbly and in harmony with one another, even in a hostile society, We can trust God to take care of our personal interests because God’s protection and provision are guaranteed to those who live submissive lives. Homes where husbands and wives serve and love one another are powerful witnesses to the power of the gospel. Relationships at work, with our unbelieving neighbors and with the authorities that display compassion, integrity and return good for evil demonstrate God’s rule and draw people toward him. Giving up our own agendas and desires seems dangerous but the ruler of the universe promises to bring blessing and peace as a result. This is the message,  mission and promise of the gospel.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Devotional: Gospel Relationships With Unbelievers, 1 Peter 2:11-25

Outline 1 Peter 2.11-25

So far  Peter has shown us that offering ourselves to Jesus means living out the gospel as Jesus did and growing into what Jesus has saved us to be. Now in 2:11-3:12 he will show us what this means for our relationships with the people around us. The bottom line in all of our relationships is that we should live in a way that draws others to Christ. (2:11-12) The supreme example of this is Jesus, who submitted himself to suffering and persecution without retaliation in order to secure our salvation. In 2:11-25 Peter explains how this affects our relationship with unbelievers and in 3:1-12 he explains how it should affect relationships in the church and in our homes. The key word governing all these relationships is “submission.” This means that we live compassionately, humbly, and in harmony with one another, trusting God’s care, protection and provision to take care of our personal interests. Our lives should always be lived in a way that draws people to Christ no matter how they treat us.

The central section (2:21-25) points to Jesus as the primary example of how to live in relationships and is bracketed by a section on our relationships with secular authorities (2:13-20) and by a section on relationships with believers (3:1-9). The ultimate example of an exemplary life that draws people to God is Jesus. He responded to persecution, insults, and suffering without retaliation. In doing so he defeated the forces of evil and opened the way of salvation and entrance to God. This is how God works. He does not work through violence or revolution which merely replaces one oppressor with another, but calls us to live peaceful, productive lives of service in the face of mistreatment and persecution. Just as God defeated the powers of evil by Jesus giving himself over to death, he will give us victory as we repay evil with love.

Peter gives two examples of how we respond to tyranny and persecution in verses 13-20. He urges Christians to respond to Roman authorities and slave masters with proper honor, obedience and submission. Here he is dealing with terrible situations in which there seems to be no solution. His point is that, even in these situations, God will work within this kind of suffering to save the world as he did through the suffering of Jesus. (2:24) This is the way the kingdom of God changes the kingdoms of this world. We can be sure that when we are in this type of situation that God will use our peaceful, loving responses to our persecutors in the same way he used Jesus’ response. And it does work. This is how the Roman empire was “Christianized” in less than 300 years.

So, if you are in a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape, take courage and respond with love. God is able to protect you and, even if the worst happens, to take your good behavior and use it to change the world. He might even use it to save the one who is persecuting you.

Devotional: Grow Into Who You Are, 1 Peter 2:1-10

Outline 1 Peter 2.1-10

Peter continues to explain who you are as a Christian and what you need to do to apply these truths to your life in the first half of chapter 2. He calls believers to leave behind the selfish goals, methods and perspectives that drove their lives before they met Christ and instead intensely desire to nourish the new goals, perspectives and methods of the gospel that has saved them. This is done as God's people offer themselves to Jesus because He is the only sure basis for life and what he has done for us obligates us to set aside our lives to serve Him. The old ways of getting what we want, “malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” break relationships and do not satisfy. Instead, we are called to crave the gospel, the word about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. and apply it as we follow him. When we daily offer ourselves to serve Jesus, the Holy Spirit will “grow us into our salvation” so that we resemble Jesus more and more each day. He will then join us together with other believers into the the temple (a “spiritual house”) that displays Christ to the world.

What Jesus did for us when we first came to him should drive us to seek more of him and grow into what he made us to be. We should desire this like an infant desires milk. The natural response to what Jesus has done for us should be a regular approach to Jesus, through the Spirit, in commitment, prayer and study of the gospel testimony contained in the Bible. This happens in the context of the church body as the Holy Spirit takes the diverse gifts of individual believers and builds us into one “spiritual house” offering ourselves as “spiritual sacrifices” to God. This is how God will build his new “temple” spreading out all over the world to offer the benefits of salvation and following Jesus to everyone.

Peter emphasizes that Jesus has made us into a “holy priesthood.” We are now created to be his special people, a “chosen race” set aside to serve him, represent him and distribute the amazing blessings he has given us to whoever we come into contact with. We offer ourselves to Jesus because he is the only sure basis for life. The longer we serve him the more we realize this. So let’s “crave the unadulterated milk of the word” by daily commitment to Jesus and serving him, meeting with other believers so that we are built into his spiritual house, and connecting those around us to the Jesus who saved us and loves us.

Devotional: Become What You Really Are, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Outline 1 Peter 1.13-25

In the second half of chapter 1 Peter applies the truth of our glorious eternal inheritance to how we are to live now. He states the basic command in verses 15-16. The God who calls us is holy so our conduct must be holy. Or, as the book of Leviticus states several times, “you are holy, because I am holy.” To say God is holy is to say “God is God,” and so what Peter is telling us is that we need to live what God has called us to be (1:15), what Christ has already transformed us to be (1:19) and what the Spirit continually enables us to be (1:2): the image of God/Jesus Christ lived out in the world. The Spirit takes the Word of God (Jesus) and the word of God (the biblical testimony about him) and applies them to produce the character and acts of God within his people. Because of the “blood of Christ” which has been applied to you, you are radically different than you were before. You have been set free from sin and are already on the winning side in the battle against evil.

Therefore, Peter calls us to apply the resources of the Spirit, the hope of our inheritance and the knowledge of who we are in Christ to our daily conduct by:

  1. Setting our minds daily on the resources God’s grace has provided for us to live as God’s image and resist the bad habits of our former lives. We should wake up every morning with a prayer that recognizes what God has provided and a commitment to living in a way that shows God to the world. We will fail at times, but our daily hope is set “fully on the grace” that Jesus will complete at his return. (13-14)
  2. Living reverent, worshipful lives before God that recognize that our conduct matters and will be judged by God based on what Christ has done for us and how we have lived out the grace and forgiveness that we have received. Received grace is not a license to sin. That attitude betrays that we have not understood or really received grace. Receiving grace obligates us to living graciously before God and his people. We should be willing to pay the same price that Jesus paid for us because we know that the same glorious inheritance waits for us. (15-21)
  3. Loving God’s people. God is not looking for adherence to an endless list of “do’s and don’ts” in our conduct but a life that is patterned after Jesus himself and reflects the self-giving way he related to others. As we walk together with fellow-believers toward Christ our hearts grow to reflect increasingly the love he has for others. As this happens we understand better God’s revelation in Christ and in the apostolic testimony about Christ contained in the Bible. This all works together to produce continual growth in resemblance to God in our words and actions. Love and truth come together. (22-25)

Peter is not calling us to become something were are not. He is calling us to become what God has already made us to be. We have the grace to live as Christ lived. Set your mind on that, commit to him and watch him produce Jesus’ character and actions in your daily life.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Family Thanksgiving


20181120_164130This Thanksgiving was a pretty “interesting” one. For many years we have been away from our family for Thanksgiving. Last year I was in the hospital for Thanksgiving. This year the plan was to have and enjoy time with our parents and the rest of the family. Thursday the plan went well. We had Thanksgiving dinner with Joyce’s mom and dad at their house. We then proceeded over to my sister Jayne’s house to enjoy the evening with her family and my parents. (see pictures above and below) There were a few people missing but we had a good evening together. We were supposed to have another get-together at my parents’ house on Friday. My brother and his family were coming up to join us. They did join us but we met at the hospital instead of our planned venue. We had to take dad into the ER in the morning. Turns out he has pneumonia and will be in the hospital for a few days. We’d appreciate prayers for him. We did finally eat supper together later in the evening with everyone. With all the changed plans we didn’t take any pictures. Nevertheless, Happy Thanksgiving. Despite our changes in plans God is Good, all the time.


Devotional: Our Living Hope, 1 Peter 1:1-12

Outline 1 Peter 1.1-12

1 Peter is a letter that calls believers scattered throughout this present chaotic, ungracious, and often evil, world to live the gracious life of the age to come. This only makes sense because God's promises guarantee that God will bring glory from the present oppression and persecution his people face. Peter gets right to the point of the letter in the greeting (1:1-2). God's people have a guaranteed inheritance (4) because he has chosen them for holiness and glory Thus, they can joyfully serve God, despite trials, as the prophets did. This is guaranteed by the Trinity: the Father’s choice, the Son’s blood and the Spirit’s work, and all are sure because of God's power. This future inheritance is the outcome of our salvation: the sharing of the glory of Christ in God’s future kingdom. This kingdom awaits the return of Jesus (6-9). In the meantime we are called to live out God's grace now and the message of the gospel now, just as Jesus did. The standard for this is the Word/gospel written and preached that grows us into the image of Christ. The proper response to this gospel is a desire to be like Christ, resist evil and love others deeply, despite trials and persecution. The promise of God and Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the ultimate success of his plan.

First, Peter is written to a church undergoing great persecution. (1:1-2) But Peter calls us to take great comfort in the fact that the whole Trinity is working within us and within the world to bring about this kingdom plan. Though we seem to be “exiles” in this world, we are actually the front line of the kingdom bringing its blessings (grace and peace) to those who receive us. This is our mission and God guarantees its ultimate success.

Peter then thanks and praises God for the living hope (1:3) of the glorious eternity which is the “outcome of your salvation.”(1:9) God’s new world has actually already begun in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and his distribution of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are renewed and transformed so that we are able, in the Spirit, to live the life of the future age now. We Christians are set apart and enabled to be walking, talking outposts of God’s kingdom wherever we go. Like Jesus, we will face opposition, but also, like Jesus, as we trust and connect to the Father, we become his agents to change the world. It’s a scary task but God does it through us.

Finally, all of this was what the Old Testament prophets were pointing to (1:10-12). The message of the gospel, Christ’s incarnation, suffering, overcoming of death and evil and “subsequent glories” is the climax of God’s revelation to humanity. We have in our possession now what the prophets, and even angels, were waiting for hundreds of years. Our response should be “inexpressible joy,” and “tested, genuine faith” as we move to a future “filled with glory.” 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Devotional: Summary of the Gospel of Mark

Mark Message Statement

Mark has taken us on a journey with Jesus to discover who he is the way the disciples did: by observing him in his everyday life and ministry. Mark (and probably Peter, the apostle behind the writing of this Gospel) is giving testimony as to why he is following this man, Jesus, who made some pretty outlandish claims.  Mark’s testimony is that Jesus’ words and actions have shown that he is the Messiah, Son of God and Savior. He is the ultimate servant who is able and willing to meet every human need including the greatest one; forgiveness of sin and victory over its effects. Jesus is the “stronger one” who has brought in the kingdom of God, empowers his people with the Holy Spirit and works through his people to extend that kingdom worldwide. Mark’s goal is that you believe these claims, give your allegiance to Jesus, and follow his example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood.

The abrupt ending of Mark has left the resolution of the situation open. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection forces you, like the women, disciples and Mark’s original audience, to make a decision:

Will you believe? The women and disciples are confronted by an idea that is beyond their comprehension. Could a dead man be alive? They will not believe it until they see it and they do see it. They should have believed. They had seen Jesus do everything from healing the sick, providing a feast for 5000 from a child’s lunch, controlling the wind and sea, and casting out demons to raising the dead. Resurrection was exactly what he had predicted. They did believe, but only after Jesus bodily appeared to them. Now Mark asks you to believe their testimony.

Will you trust his faithfulness? Ultimately, real Christianity is not about what we do for God, but about what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Mark has shown that Jesus has all the qualifications to provide everything we need for life and godliness. The “good news” is that Jesus has already won the battle and now “baptizes” us with the “fire” of the Spirit so that we can participate daily in that victory.

Will you follow? Jesus came to be a servant and ransom to free everyone to be what God made us to be. He now calls you and me to “take up that cross” and follow his example of sacrifice and service. He calls us to see everything we are and do in the light of that mission and every moment as an opportunity to love and serve God by serving his people. It will be hard, but the good news is that the outcome of all of it depends on him, not us.

Will you serve? Mark has shown that Jesus is the Messiah-king who brings in God’s great and wonderful age to come. He is the Son of God, YHWH in the flesh come to be with us and, yes, to serve us. He is the one that has overcome evil and will give us the ability overcome it daily in our lives. We are enabled to live and serve as he did. Now what will you do with this information? 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Devotional: A Lot Can Change in 3 Days, Mark 15.42-16:8

Mark 16.1-8 outline

Mark has arranged his conclusion to his Gospel, as he often does, in a very tight chiastic (sandwich) structure in which each element in 16:1-8 balances each element in 15:42-47. He does this to contrast the situation between the Friday death scene with that of resurrection Sunday morning. Here is the outline:

Time: Evening before the Sabbath

  • Joseph dares to ask for the body of Jesus
    • Pilate Marvels that Jesus is already dead, confirms his death and gives the body to Joseph
      • Joseph wraps the body, puts it in a tomb and rolls a rock in front of the door
        • The two Mary’s observe where Jesus is laid

Time: Morning on the first day of the week

        • The two Mary's go to the tomb
      • They bring spices to anoint the body and wonder how they will roll away the stone
    • The women marvel that the stone is rolled away and a young man informs them that Jesus is risen
  • The women do not dare to relay the angel’s instructions to the disciples  (Adapted from the NIV Application Commentary: Mark by David E. Garland, 611)

The point is that from Friday to Sunday a lot can change. No one, in their right mind expects a dead body to be gone from the grave three days after burial. But Mark, in a very concise and succinct way, testifies that Jesus’ body was gone and that an angel confirmed that the reason the body was not there was that he had risen from the dead..Mark assumes that the reader will know that, even though the angel’s instruction to the women was disobeyed, Jesus did meet with them and confirm that he was alive. This was the truth that changed these female disciples from fearful doubters into bold witnesses. It was the truth that would change the world.

On Friday Jesus was dead The centurion, who was quite experienced at knowing when people were dead, confirmed it. On Sunday, they were confronted with the truth that Jesus was alive. This was confirmed by the angel’s testimony and then from the well-known resurrection appearances of Jesus. It is the only explanation that explains the change in Jesus’ fearful followers and their boldness in founding the church at the cost of persecution and martyrdom.

It was unexpected. Even though Jesus told them he would rise from the dead they neither understood nor believed it. The women went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body. They left “trembling and astonished” at an outcome that went far beyond their ability to comprehend it. Only Jesus’ appearances to them and his assurances would allow them to make sense out of what had happened.

The final piece in Mark’s revelation of Jesus’ identity has been put into place. Jesus is the Messiah, the king of the Jews who fulfills the promises of God’s covenants in the Old Testament. Jesus is the Son of Man who will set the world right and judge and rule at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the Son of God, come in human flesh to defeat death and sin and provide the way for every person to have access to intimate relationship with God. The resurrection is the unique event that confirms this. A lot can change when we see the risen Jesus, overcome our fear and doubt and follow him.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Today is the One-Year Anniversary of My Stem Cell Transplant


                     November 16, 2017                     November 16, 2018

Today is a momentous day for me. I am celebrating the one year old birthday of my new immune system. This also means that I have been cancer free for a year. Of course, I need to wait until the PET scan in January to confirm that but we are thanking God for this healing miracle.

Here is what I wrote last year….

My main prayer request is that this would work and I would come out the process “Cancer-free” six months from now. Also please pray for Joyce and I as we grit it out through the process. Knowing that people are praying is a huge factor in keeping us positive and moving forward. Thank you for your prayers and support

As you can see that prayer was answered doubly. It is still true that we need prayer and that your prayers are a great encouragement. We are almost to the point where we can start making plans for the future and would appreciate your prayers for that. In the meantime we have our Christmas plates and cups out already and we plan to really enjoy our celebration of the incarnation. I missed the last two because I was so sick and it will be great to enjoy a Christmas that I can actually remember. To say God is good seems almost not enough. We have a lot to be thankful for this thanksgiving and we plan to celebrate that. Thank you for your prayers and support!

Devotional: The Vindication of the Cross, Mark 15:16-41

Mark 15.21-47 outline

With the decision of Pilate to give in to the crowd and sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion, he is given over to the soldiers for mocking and torture. Abandoned by his friends and mocked by his enemies, Jesus surrenders himself to the cruel authority and violence of the “beast” empire. He willingly takes the worst this evil world can give out. But, Jesus had also given himself over to His Father’s will and, in submitting to a demeaning death, would face it and defeat it. God used the darkest moment to give the clearest revelation of who Jesus is. The mocking soldiers who thought that Jesus was the appropriate pathetic example of a king for the Jews, who they despised and disdained, turned out to be more right than they knew when Jesus defeated death by rising from it. The Jews who mocked Jesus for being a man who could save others, but not himself, were being unintentionally prophetic when God saved the world through his death and resurrection. Even when it appeared that God had abandoned him, Jesus was revealed as the ultimate righteous sufferer (Psalm 22) who the Father was vindicating through the whole process. What people intended to humiliate and discredit Jesus, the Father turned into the revelation of Jesus as, not only the king of the Jews, but the Son of God and Savior. This, also is how God works when we “take up our cross” and trust God for our well-being, meaning and purpose.

The scourging, torture, and humiliation of Jesus were designed to break down resistance and assert the will of the rulers. The mocking soldiers and the public nature of the execution was designed to show who was in charge and deter the pretensions of serving any king but Caesar. Instead, Jesus’ quiet dignity in his suffering, faithful resolve, and refusal to retaliate moved a Roman centurion, who had likely been one of the mockers hours before, to proclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).

Mark also emphasizes Jesus’ cry from Psalm 22 as he pictures the crucifixion with reference to the entire psalm, emphasizing that Jesus was the "righteous sufferer" who felt and seemed abandoned by God but was never abandoned and would be vindicated. At the cross Jesus took on all the results and consequences of sin, including the feelings of estrangement and abandonment by God we have all experienced. But Jesus’ anguished cry came from a faithful heart that had known deep intimacy with God and assures us that God never abandons his people. As Jesus suffered all the pain and anguish of thousands of years of human history the Father was working to set things right. Within the darkness that gathered around the cross God was judging sin and evil and using Jesus’ faithfulness to defeat it.

Finally, God vindicated Jesus on the cross by tearing the veil in the temple from top to bottom at the moment of his death. Jesus, by choosing not to save himself and giving himself over to the Father, opened the way for access to the Father for all humanity. Jesus would save others as he ministered, by being a “servant and ransom” for all. Real power and real victory are experienced when we deny ourselves and use power to serve and save others, rather than saving and serving ourselves. It’s counter-intuitive, but the only way save your life is to give it away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

On the Road for Preaching in Oregon


20181111_123332This past weekend Joyce and I headed up to Ashland Oregon to minister at Ashland Bible Church. This was a monumental weekend for us in many ways. I have not preached in a regular church service in almost two years while I was being treated for lymphoma. 2345So it was a real privilege and blessing for me to be back “in the pulpit” again. Ashland Bible Church has been one of our faithful supporting churches since we went out to Guam in 1993 so it was quite appropriate to begin this new phase of ministry there. We enjoyed staying in the home of our long time friends Garland and Roberta Shinn (left). Joyce led the Sunday School time by sharing about our history of ministry with Liebenzell Mission USA at Pacific Islands University. Then I preached from Psalms 31, and 116 about God’s deliverance and healing from my cancer (11 months cancer free now) and my experiences of God’s presence and care through all of that. When I was first diagnosed with cancer I made a “vow of praise” to God that I would publicly recount the story of his healing presence in my life wherever I go and it was wonderful to be able to begin that there in Ashland. It was a great weekend and I thank God for it. The people there ministered to us and I know that they were touched and encouraged to hear what God has done in our lives, We look forward to doing this more.

20181108_165119 (1)20181112_151144

The trip was a long smoky drive up to Oregon (left) and back to California (right) on interstate 5. On the way up we could see the flames of the Camp Fire east of the freeway. On the way back the smoke was still so thick it lowered the temperature 12 degrees. It is sobering to realize how fast circumstances beyond our control can change our lives. This was the main point of my message. Any thought we have that we are in control of our own lives is illusory. We are thankful that we serve the One who has defeated the chaos of death, sin, cancer, and disaster.

Devotional: The Inadequacy of Religion and Politics, Mark 15:1-15

Mark 15.1-15 outline

Chapter 15 moves the account of Jesus’ trials from the high priest’s courtyard to the headquarters of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious leaders and the authorities of the Roman government thought that they were bringing this ragged Jewish prophet to trial, but in reality the God of the universe was bringing them under his judgment. What would they do with the one that God had already  identified as the Son of God, Son of Man and Messiah? Jesus was there offering relationship with God and a place in his kingdom. The religious leaders, the crowd and the Roman governor all missed it and suffered God’s judgment.

The religious leaders missed Jesus because of “envy.” (15:10) Theirs was a religion dominated by legalism and ritual. They had lost the Old Testament’s emphasis on God’s covenant grace and the great command to love God and others. Their years of compromise with the Roman power to survive in the short term had moved them away from the living faith of their forefathers. They were willing to sacrifice the Messiah to maintain the short-lived status, wealth and power that their religious system provided.

The crowd was more comfortable to live with a murderer who met their personal, nationalistic hopes of overthrowing the Romans. Barabbas may have been the “action hero” or “Robin Hood” of his day dispatching the hated Romans with his sharp knife and clever plans for liberation and revenge on the oppressor. This kind of a political “savior” tends to be much more popular than one whose revolution requires you to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 9:34)

Pilate just didn’t care about the morals or eternal ramifications of the situation. All he cared about was keeping the peace, order and maintaining his province in a way that would please his superiors. It didn’t matter to him if justice was served or how many had to die to make sure that happened. Only his political position was important. Thus, he dismissed Jesus as irrelevant.

Religion without relationship with God and politics apart from the kingdom of God do not meet human needs and will be judged by God. The incarnate God was standing in front of them but they killed him.and missed their chance for true liberation and life.

Religion sacrifices people for short term goals

Politics ignores the suffering for temporal expediency

Jesus cares for others long term benefit

Religion ignores God’s laws to please the political powers

Politics ignores injustice to maintain the status quo

Jesus pursues God’s will to inaugurate eternal life

Religion uses people to maintain status and wealth

Politics manipulates people to maintain power

Jesus serves people to meet needs

Religion accuses people to maintain false piety

Politics brutalizes people to maintain control

Jesus sacrifices himself to bring people into God’s kingdom

Religion trusts its ability to compromise with the world

Politics trusts the sword, club and whip

Jesus trusts in the Father who raises the dead

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Overview and Message of Exodus

Exodus Chart

Message of the Book of Exodus

God is the Sovereign Ruler who saves and liberates people who respond to His gracious provision of redemption and instruction, so that they can be in His presence, and serve, worship and obey Him.

  1. God is the sovereign ruler of all creation. He is the ultimate authority and has all power.
  2. God provides salvation (blessing, freedom, instruction) to humanity but it must received by faith.
  3. Exodus shows how God reveals Himself to people to bring them into relationship with Him (salvation).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Devotional: Facing Our Own Inadequacy: Mark 14:53-72

Mark 14.53-72 outline

The rest of chapter 14 looks at Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Mark frames the trial within an account of Peter’s “trial” before the servants of the high priest to contrast Jesus’ faithful response to Peter’s denial and cursing of Jesus. Jesus is seen to be much more (Son of God, Messiah, the Son of Man who shares power with YHWH) than anyone expected, while Peter and the Jewish leaders have their inadequacies, blasphemies and evil exposed. Peter’s pledges of fidelity to Jesus are revealed as empty boasts and the Jewish leadership is exposed as self-righteous, selfish power-seekers. The only difference between Peter and those that punched and insulted Jesus is that Peter, when he came face to face with his own inadequacy, recognized what he had done and broke down in tears.

The big issue in Jesus trial is his identity. The Sanhedrin cannot get their false witnesses to agree on the charges they they want to bring, temple destruction, so they focus in on Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. Ironically, God will allow the temple to be destroyed because these very leaders failed to recognize who Jesus was. At the trial, for the first time, Jesus publicly reveals himself as the Messiah, but he expands that idea far beyond what they were expecting. He knew here that their wrong, shortsighted views of what a Messiah should do would lead to the cross and accomplish God’s real plan to save the world.

This highlights the issue we all face when we are confronted with the claims of Jesus: Who is He? The Jewish leaders inadequate view of Jesus led them to oppose him, which destroyed the nation. Peter’s inadequate view of Jesus led him to rely on his own strength and deny Jesus. The other disciples were no different as they dispersed and abandoned Jesus. It is easy to understand why they saw Jesus this way. Jesus’ claim to be equal with YHWH is a big claim and went way beyond what everyone expected the Messiah to be. Perhaps the disciples should have seen it after three years living with Jesus, but God had a bigger evidence in store for them. Jesus had predicted that his claim would be verified when he rose from the dead. It was only when the disciples saw Jesus for who he really was that they would be able to see accurately their own needs and find them met in Jesus.

The main reason that we fail to see ourselves accurately is that we fail to see Jesus accurately. We are not adequate to be what we are created to be without that intimate contact and relationship with God. Jesus is the one who provides that. He is the temple, built without hands, where we meet God. Peter came face to face with his own inability at that trial in the courtyard and walked away broken and hopeless. Thankfully, Jesus is more than Peter thought. The risen Jesus would restore Peter and make him part of the apostolic foundation of the church. Like him, Jesus forces us to admit our own inadequacy. But, also like with Peter, Jesus still lives to forgive, even the one that cursed him, and enables a life that goes beyond what is humanly possible. We can’t. But he always can.

Friday, November 09, 2018

On the Road: Our Upcoming Speaking Schedule


Joyce and I are on the road again. We are thankful that this time we are not on the road to see the doctor. This weekend we are headed to Ashland Oregon to speak this Sunday morning at Ashland Bible Church. This will be the first time I have preached in a church service since I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. It’s a big step for us and we are excited to be doing this again. Below is our upcoming speaking schedule. We would love to speak, share or teach in your church, Bible study, missions meeting etc. You can email me at to set up a time.

  1. November 11: Ashland Bible Church, Ashland Oregon; AM Service
  2. December 2: Gateway Bible Church, Scotts Valley California, DCL Meeting
  3. December 9 Camino Bible Church, Camino California, AM Service
  4. December 30 Gateway Bible Church, Scotts Valley California, AM Service

Devotional: Be Ready For The Gethsemane Moment, Mark 14:32-52

Mark 14.32-52 outline

After Jesus’ Passover meal with this disciples, he took them to Gethsemane which was their customary place to get away, rest and pray. In this section, Mark contrasts the response of Jesus to the coming crisis of his death to that of the disciples. Jesus, in tune with the Father, knew what was coming while the disciples, still blind to the will of the Father, were oblivious. Jesus, knowing his need for strength and support, calls his friends to watch and pray with him, while the disciples, sure of their own sufficiency, sleep. When the crisis comes Jesus handles it with quiet faith in the Father’s plan, a willingness to face persecution without resorting to violence or revenge, and faces his betrayers and killers with a courage that comes from a deep commitment to and understanding of his mission from God. The disciples respond with confusion, fear, useless violence, and end up running in every direction except the right one and fade away into the night. They had not listened carefully to Jesus and so they were not ready for the crisis when it came.

Mark presents a very human Jesus to us in Gethsemane. He provides the example of how we are to respond to persecution and betrayal. Thus, Jesus’ godly response will lead to the redemption and restoration of, not only his blind and sleeping disciples, but also that of his persecutors, deniers and killers. He approaches the Father in the crisis as he trained his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But even as he prayed for deliverance, he was also willing to face the worst this world could deal out if that was the Father’s plan. This provides the model for how are to handle sickness, difficulty, trials, betrayals, pain and anything else we must face. The cry of lament (all through the Old Testament) and appeal for relief is not a lack of faith, but a result of deep faith that trusts a good God to accomplish his plan in a chaotic, sinful world. Jesus understood his dependence on the Father, lived a life of prayer and so, was ready for the crisis when it came.

The disciples, especially Peter, had continued to insist on their own agenda for Jesus, had insisted that they were able to serve Jesus in their own strength and thus failed to hear what he had been saying over and over. This is why Jesus points to Simon (not Peter, the “rock” yet”) and says, “Aren’t you strong enough to watch for one hour!” Peter and the others had not yet learned to depend on God to overcome the weakness of their human flesh. We are no different than they are. The essence of temptation is to get us to trust in our own sufficiency, follow our own plan and pursue self fulfillment. Jesus was ready because he was a man of prayer and he was a man of prayer because even he knew he needed the Spirit's power and insight.

Thus it appeared that all was lost. Jesus was taken into custody. The disciples were scattered and powerless. It seemed that the betrayers and killers had won. But Jesus could face this crisis the way he did because he knew the Father and he knew the Father’s plan would even defeat death.. We can be ready too when crisis strikes, by following his example.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Devotional: What Do We Remember? Mark 14:12-31

Mark 14.12-31 outline

The next section recounts Jesus’ Passover celebration with his disciples. It actually would not have been much of a celebration for them because Jesus again uses the meal to announce his death, the betrayal of Judas, and the denial by all the disciples. Mark again uses his typical “sandwich” method of presentation as he brackets Jesus’ explanation of the new covenant and new community that will be inaugurated by his death and resurrection, with his two predictions of denial and betrayal by his closest friends. While this must have horrified and surprised the twelve (indicating that they still were not listening and did not understand what Jesus was all about), Jesus words and actions show that he knew exactly what we was doing and what would happen. This was God’s plan from before the beginning and Jesus was giving his life willingly, as the Passover lamb, to become the ultimate sacrifice to defeat the greatest enemy and liberate his people from sin and death. Jesus was in control of the situation and would work through even through the disciples’ weakness (14:28) to create a new community based on the forgiveness and new life created by his poured out blood and broken body.

It was a custom at the Passover meal for someone to ask about the meaning of the meal. Jesus uses this opportunity to explain the new meaning and the new kingdom community his death and resurrection would create. Just as the original Passover sacrifice created the nation of Israel out of slaves, the sacrifice of Jesus would free humankind from sin, death and evil, create the church as a new community of Christ followers and unite them, by the indwelling Spirit, into a people that images Christ as his “body” until he returns. The Lord’s Supper would replace the Passover as the celebration of this new age; a cosmic day of liberation. It is interesting that Jesus chooses the bread rather than the meat of the Passover as the symbol of his body. This time the sacrifice is complete and does not need to be repeated. The bread symbolizes the indwelling Christ who binds the new community together and empowers it for service. The wine symbolizes the blood that is poured out to bring us into intimate relationship with God. Just as the disciples distributed the bread which Jesus multiplied to the four and five thousand, we are now empowered by Christ, as we “eat the bread” and “drink the blood” of covenant commitment to distribute Jesus and his blessings to the world.

The disciples still did not get it. Like Peter they all thought they could this in their own power. Peter pridefully compares his own commitment to the other disciples and receives the rebuke of Jesus. But even with the rebuke Jesus anticipates the forgiveness made possible by his death and resurrection as he says, “after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” The disciples will learn that it is only through intimate connection with Jesus, made possible by his sacrifice and the indwelling Spirit, that we can have fellowship with and serve God. We are dependent every moment on Jesus and what he has done.  This is what we must remember every time we take the bread and the cup.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Devotional: It’s Easy to be a Judas, Mark 14:1-11

Mark 14.1-11 outline

Mark 14 begins the climax of the Gospel of Mark. Mark has presented Jesus all through the book as God come in the flesh to serve his people and rescue them from their slavery to sin and all its consequences, ultimately death. He has also presented the surprising response to this amazing revelation of God: outright hostility from the leaders of the nation, misunderstanding of his mission by those who should have got it (the disciples), and the proper response of absolute trust from those from whom it would be least expected; Gentiles, women, blind men, outcasts and even the demonized. We see this presentation again in verses 1-11 as Mark sandwiches the extravagant response of an anonymous woman to Jesus and his message (3-9) between two accounts (1-2, 10-11) of the Jewish leaders and Judas plotting to kill Jesus. Judas, and the other disciples, illustrate how easy it is to let other things come between us and Jesus which can lead to betraying him. The woman illustrates the high level of commitment required to be a follower of Jesus as she did everything she could.

The Jewish leaders, Judas, and the guests who complained about the woman’s “waste” of good perfume show how easy it is to miss what God is doing in the world right in front of you. Over and over Jesus has been teaching that their understanding of what the Messiah is there to do is flawed. He has explicitly taught that he must be crucified before he comes into his glory. Whether the woman fully understood or not, she has made the proper response, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The Jewish leaders missed this because they were concerned about protecting the current traditional religious system. Judas missed it because he was concerned to profit from it. All involved here had most likely convinced themselves that they were doing the right thing and had God’s approval. We need to realize that we are prone to the same kind of rationalization. The only remedy is to do what God the Father commanded the three disciples at the Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)

In contrast, the woman did the right thing at the right time. Like the poor widow at the temple collection box (12:44) she gave all she had to Jesus. Jesus is not saying here that the needs of the poor can be ignored. But, love for Jesus will motivate us to do "a beautiful thing” to him and have impact “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world.” This will send, and has sent, Jesus’ followers into all the world to do all they can to take Jesus into the homes of “lepers” (14:3) to meet their spiritual and physical needs. This was Jesus’ mission and should be ours too.

Finally, Mark has placed the passion story in the context of the feast of the Passover. Just as God liberated the nation of Israel from Egypt with a sacrifice, he would now liberate the whole world from sin and death. But it is so counter to the way we usually think that is easy to miss it and think we are serving God when we are betraying him  We must listen carefully to Jesus and respond by giving everything we have and doing everything we can do. Then we will have a memorable part to play in that great mission.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Devotional: When the World Seems to Crumble, Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13.24-37 outline

In Mark 13:1-23 Jesus is mainly predicting the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem that would take place in 70AD. In verse 24 he changes his focus to a time “after that tribulation,” when the Son of Man would come “in clouds with great power and glory.” (26) The disciples had thought that those two events would happen in quick succession but Jesus taught that the destruction of the temple would happen before “this generation” would “pass away” (30), but “no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (32) when the Son of Man would return. The specific prophecy would encourage Jesus’ followers to trust his word (31) when the world they knew fell apart with the destruction of Jerusalem. It also encourages us to trust Jesus’ promise about his return. It will be fulfilled just as surely as was his prophecy about the temple.

Verses 24-27 describe what will happen when Jesus returns. In this context, the darkening of the sun and moon  and the falling of the stars refers to the overthrow of all the worldly and cosmic powers. The spiritual and political powers that dominate and oppress God’s people will be “shaken” from their places and removed. Jesus will judge the world and set things right for his people. The service and sacrifice (34) we do in this age will be rewarded and we will see that the suffering and difficulties we face now were only preparation for sharing in Jesus’ “power and glory.”

The “lesson of the fig tree” ties the two events together. The Jewish church could have been devastated when Jerusalem was destroyed, but they were not because they knew it was coming. They were “on guard” (23) because Jesus had told them beforehand. This has been true throughout history. When the world crumbles around God’s people they know that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (31) Whether our civilization crumbles because of invasions of Romans, barbarians, Islam, Vikings, communism or secularism we know that Jesus is at the door and his kingdom will continue until he returns.

Jesus closes the chapter with the parable of the doorkeeper and returns to the theme of the chapter: “Be watchful.” How do we do that? While the master is gone we must be doing the work he has assigned to us. Our waiting must be active and vocal. When the world seems to be crumbling around us we don’t withdraw into our own world and hide until we are rescued. We continue to meet the needs of God’s people, serve the communities in which he has placed us, return good for evil and we boldly announce the message of Jesus’ kingdom. Then, when the master returns, our crumbling world will be replaced with a kingdom which “cannot be shaken,” a world set right, an eternity in the presence of God. .So, “stay awake.”  It will all be worth it.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Chart and Outline of Mark 11:27-12:40

Mark 11.27-12.40 chart

Outline of Mark 11:27-12:40

  • Introduction: Jesus makes his claim to national authority 11.1-26
    • Jesus presents himself as king 11.1-11
    • Jesus claims authority to judge the temple and nation 11.12-26
  • Round 1: Jesus vs. Priests, Elders. Teachers 11.27-12.12
    • Jesus’ authority is the same as John’s: God  27-33
    • Jewish leaders reject God when they reject Jesus 12.1-12
  • Round 2: Jesus v. Pharisees and Herodians 12.13-17
    • Trap: Is Rome the real authority over the Jews ? 13-14
    • Escape: God is the real authority.  15-17
  • Round 3: Jesus v. Sadducees 12.18-27
    • Doctrinal Challenge: Is there a resurrection? 18-23
    • Jesus Wins: Torah proves resurrection 24-27
  • Round 4: Jesus  and the Law Teacher 12.28-34
    • Authority recognized: Jesus asked for his doctrine opinion 28-33
    • Jesus’ Response: Kingdom access granted   34
  • Conclusion: Who is the real authority? 12.35-40
    • Messiah’s authority supersedes human authority  35-37
    • Jewish leaders rejected Jesus’ authority and are thus condemned 38-40