Jesus Says Go

Mark 16

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Jesus was nailed to a tree, he breathed his last, the curtain was torn.

The stone was rolled away, sin lost its stronghold, death was defeated.

This story holds so much power, whether it’s your first time hearing it or your ten thousandth time. Live everyday like you’ve just seen the stone rolled away from the tomb with your very own eyes. Let that excitement, awe, and wonder overflow from your heart.

We know the power of the empty tomb, so now what? When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he appoints them to a certain task: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Jesus said go, so the disciples went.

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it (Mark 16:20).

Jesus said go, so the disciples went, and God showedup.

God saw the disciple’s obedience as usability. When we go, we obey Jesus’ calling on our life, and God can work through us. Look at everything God accomplished through the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven:

Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed (Acts 5:14-16).

Jesus said go, so will you obey? Will you let God work through you?

You don’t have to go far, but you do have to go. Go sit in your front yard and engage your neighbors walking by in conversation. Go to the grocery store and be extra friendly to your cashier. Go to church and mentor the newly saved Christian. Go to work and be eager to strike at every small opportunity to share the hope of the Kingdom.

You have a mission field. Your mailman, your coworker, and your next-door neighbor, need to hear the gospel. You have a message to share! If not you, then who?

 

-Mackenzie McClain

Work while Waiting for the Trumpet

I Corinthians 15

 

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So, two chapters ago we got to hear from the wise and lovely Susan Landry on the Love Chapter.  Today – we get to look at 1st Corinthians 15 – the Resurrection Chapter.  I find it just a little interesting that when chapters and verses were inserted it ends up being 13 powerful verses on love in the 13th chapter.  And, a mere 58 verses on resurrection in the 15th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.  There are definitely some Important things that Paul wants to pass along regarding resurrection.

 

He starts right off saying that the gospel he preached to them IS what saves – IFFFF and only if they continue to hold firmly to it.  He tells how he passed along to them what he heard of Christ, “of first importance” – his death for our sins, burial, and resurrection.  What do we pass along of first importance?  Hopefully it’s more than the weather report, sport scores, family activities, or Hollywood gossip.  There is a gospel that saves – but only for those who hear it and believe and hold firmly to it.  I appreciated Jake Ballard’s writings here on the devotions blog (following Easter – April 23-26) on proving the resurrection – first Christ’s, then the coming resurrection.  If you know someone who could use some help in believing (even yourself?) it would be time well spent to do the research, ask the questions, pray for understanding, surround yourself with believers, find the answers, and seek ways to defend the faith and the resurrection.

 

For, as in Paul’s day, there are still many who will mislead (vs. 33).  Don’t be one caught going in the wrong direction.  There are many who are still ignorant of God – to our shame – we have work to do (vs. 34).  While we are preparing for the trumpet sound, we have work to do.  Looking forward to that great moment when we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (vs 52)!  Looking forward to that moment when death is swallowed up in victory (vs. 54)!  And because of this . . . “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

 

-Marcia Railton

Looking for the Living Christ

Philippians 3 10
John 20
Acts 1
Acts 9
Church Tradition
Revelation 1
All these places point to a living Christ, if we take the Bible even slightly seriously.
But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t believe.
Today, we are going to do something different. When you are done reading this blog, turn off your phone, close your Bibles and listen to the Spirit of God. Jesus said he would give us the Spirit, and the Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth. So listen to the spirit.
That’s a hard ask, but what I mean is pray. That prayer may be sitting quietly at your powered-off laptop, or it may be on a run in your neighborhood, or on a nature hike in the nearby park, or it may be as you weed your garden, or as you pick up your room at college. Wherever you find yourself, in whatever it is that connects you to the Lord, ask the question I have asked you over and over again.
Do you believe that Jesus is alive?
That is the central question, not merely of the Christian faith, but of the human condition.
If Christ be not raised, life is, to quote MacBeth, “A tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”
And one more Bible study, one more daily reading will not fix that bleak picture of existence if you do not believe Christ is really and truly alive.
Today, pray for conviction that Christ is raised. Pray for the knowledge that he lives. Pray that Christ would live within you and be made real to you. Whatever it takes.
I have had my doubts. There are times when I felt the crushing weight of loneliness, as if we are the only beings in the universe. But now, having experienced the saving grace of God in my life, I am convinced. I know that Christ lives, and I have written every day with the desire that you too are convinced.
May you, my brothers and sisters, feel the wind of the spirit as Christ breathes on you.
May you dive into the waters of life and swim to the shore where Christ prepares a meal and forgives your sins.
May you see him rise up from the mount of olives to prepare a place and may you trust he will descend to that mount again.
May you find yourself knocked from your horse with the voice of Christ resounding in your ears.
May you stand firm, no matter the course of life, no matter the beast or demon that stand in your way and persevere in his calling.
May you have all this and more because Christ, the savior and redeemer, is alive through the Power of God.
So, I ask one more time, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Turning to See Jesus

Free Theme Days – Evidence of the Risen Jesus

Revelation 1

Revelation 1 5 6
The last book of the Bible is a strange book. When one reads through it, one is accost with a number of images: dead lambs and dragons, beasts and battlegrounds, angelic armies and satanic hordes, a woman wearing starry crowns and a harlot mounted atop a beast. With these fascinating images along with many others, and a host of interpretations through the years for each image (it’s the Pope, no it’s Russia, no it’s China…) one easily can get lost in those conversations. However, I want to focus on Revelation Chapter 1. Go read it.
READ REVELATION 1!
Think about that description. Who are we talking about?
Jesus.
The one who was dead but is now alive forever and ever. Every day this week, we discussed how Jesus was believed to be alive. Revelation at the following chapters is a testament, a revealing on the work Jesus is still doing to John.
First, John looks and he sees Jesus. His eyes are open to the possibility that Jesus is alive, because he has heard the message as it was told to him or as he experienced it (whether John on Patmos is the same John of Zebedee is too big a discussion for today). And when John has the faith that maybe, just maybe, a man can rise from the dead, Jesus shows up. Jesus is ready to appear and teach.
Second, this Jesus is mighty. He wears a gold sash, with flaming eyes, bronze feet, white hair, with a voice of many waters. Shining like the sun, he has swords in his mouth and holds stars. He now holds the keys of death and hades, and is the First and the Last. John recognizes that Jesus, being raised is more than just a man with breath in his lungs again, like Lazarus or Eutychus who died again. He was alive in a way that made our life pale in comparison.
Third, and this where were the work of Jesus comes into play. What is Christ doing? He is walking among some lampstands. In an act of compassion for our brains, Jesus tells John “The seven lampstands are the seven churches.” What is Jesus doing? He walks among the churches. He is not far away and distance but close beside where his people are.
What do we gain from reading Revelation 1? We gain a few truths. Jesus walks close beside his people, especially when gathered together as the church. If we are gathered together Christ walks among us. If we want to see him, we should go where he wants to be found, among his people. We should also take very seriously that we aren’t looking for a soft cuddly Jesus who will tell us everything we want to hear. He may give comfort (Rev. 2:8-11), but he may also call you out on your terrible behavior (Rev. 3:14-22). But we only see Jesus when we turn and look. He is not hiding, but so often we hear the call of his voice and assume that he is not really there.
John believed that Jesus could still be alive. He turned, and to his joy he saw the risen Christ. The same can be said about us, if we are willing to turn and look, because we believe he is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Deaths of the Apostles

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 2 24

Earlier in the week (two days ago, in fact) we talked about how the apostles were telling the truth about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. We noted how, out of their many faults, they weren’t all crazy. We also noted how along with Paul, they weren’t gaining much from teaching this tale.
But COULD they have been lying? I assume, knowing their other faults, there is always the possibility that they COULD have been lying, enjoying the privilege of being leaders in a new religious movement. Some people just like power, after all. But there is a large difference between “they could have been lying” and “they lied”. What does the record of their lives show?
Church tradition is normally frowned upon in the Church of God. There are some very valid points to be made for why that is the case. Revelation and tradition have conflicted in the past, and even in many churches today, and we think that what God said is correct and a person’s interpretation of God’s words are not on the same playing field. But there are places where Church Tradition doesn’t conflict with scripture, and it is at least interesting to think about what a majority of Christians have said about the 12 men who followed the founder.
Twelve men followed Jesus from the get-go, and they were called disciples in the gospels and apostles in Acts. We’ve talked about them already, but today I want to touch briefly on how each one of them died. Each of these stories come from church tradition. There is little evidence for some, and undeniable evidence for others. Let’s see their deaths and then comment on them all together.
  1. Peter was crucified upside down, saying that he did not die in a way similar to his Lord.
  2. Andrew, like his brother Peter, was also crucified.
  3. James, the Son of Zebedee, was put to death with the sword by King Herod in Judea. (Acts 12:1-2)
  4. John, the Son of Zebedee, dies in exile, but of natural causes at an older age.
  5. Philip was put to death by a Roman Proconsul in Asia Minor after converting the Proconsul’s wife.
  6. Thomas traveled to India and was killed by four soldiers with spears.
  7. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia after bringing the faith to the people.
  8. James of Alphaeus was crucified while preaching in the southern parts of Egypt.
  9. Jude/Thaddeus was beheaded in Beirut.
  10. Simon the Zealot was killed after refusing to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Beirut.
  11. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded.
  12. Matthias was burned to death.
  13. Paul, (this is a bit of a cheat, as he wasn’t one of “the Twelve,” but go with me) after appealing to Caesar and traveling to Rome, was killed by the Emperor by beheading.
That’s a pretty grim and dire list. Why bring it up? With the exception of John, every other Apostle of Jesus died in faith, and usually because they were preaching faith, after living a harsh life. Peter was crucified upside down. Do you believe that a man who stole a body would have allowed himself to be crucified upside down if he could produce a body and say “I MADE IT ALL UP! It was a hoax!”? No! Peter didn’t downplay his testimony because he was speaking the truth. Considering that Bartholomew and Matthias both died in places outside of Israel, only one of the twelve apostles died in their homeland.
They didn’t live high on the hog, off the fat of the land. They traveled to places they didn’t know, to people to whom they were sent (apostle means “one who was sent”) because they believed Jesus was alive and that message was important enough to seek out the lost.
John was in exile because he believed Jesus was alive. James, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, Bartholomew, Matthias and Paul were all killed in various ways because they believed Jesus was alive. Andrew, James the Lesser and Peter were all CRUCIFIED because they believed… no, they KNEW… Jesus is alive. 
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Paul is Proof

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 9

Acts 9 5 (2)

Much of what we believe in the Christian faith is taken, understandably, on faith. However, if I had to give one story that almost shuts down the need for faith and instead have PROOF about  Jesus and the Resurrection, it would be the story of Saul/Paul and his conversion in Acts 9.

Up until the point in Acts 9, Saul has been persecuting the Christian faith. They were most likely being stoned or thrown in prison for trumped up charges. Stephen was accused of blasphemy and he was stoned to death. We all know he spoke no words of blasphemy, because the truth is not blasphemous, but that is where the Jewish leaders were.

But in Acts 9, something amazing happens, Saul gets knocked off a horse, goes down, hears the voice of a man who claimed to be Jesus, goes blind, and wanders into Damascus blind and healed by a Christian, one of the very people who he had just been persecuting.

Why does this count as proof for me?

1. Because it’s clear that Paul is not crazy. In a day and age where scholars doubt everything from the historical Moses to the historical Jesus, one would assume that when they agree on a traditional understanding, that counts for something. No scholar doubts that Paul wrote Romans. Ask for yourself, is Romans the work of a man out of his mind with guilt, that turned to follow Christ because he was driven to the small band he once hated out of a plagued conscience? There are parts of certain letters where we see Paul’s expressed sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:9, for example), and one could point to that as a case. But Romans! It’s a theological magnum opus! He is a man still gifted with all his intellect and faculties.

2. Could Paul be lying, hoping to gain wealth or fame off this new movement? We will go into this kind of theory even more in depth tomorrow, but Paul lost everything by getting on board this Jesus movement. He was persecuted, beaten, battered, and abused (2 Corinthians 11), and this after he had everything he ever wanted. He was the top dog of Judaism (Philippians 3) but he turned away from all those things so that he may follow Christ.

I encourage you to consider the persecutor-turned-evangelist Paul. What could cause a man rabidly dedicated to defending the faith of his ancestor and the honor of his God to so drastically change his tune and agree with those whom he persecuted?

For my part, it convinces me there is something going on with this Jesus movement, particularly that the leader must still be alive.

 

So, do you believe Jesus is alive?

 

-Jake Ballard

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 1

Acts 1 3

Over the next few days, I have been given free reign to focus on any portion of scripture. However, I am going to hop around a bit, focusing on a theme: evidence for the risen Jesus.   (And on Sunday our devotions will continue our chapter-by-chapter walk through the New Testament with the book of 1st Corinthians.)
We just celebrated Easter/Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important, most key and most crucial story to what it means to be a believer in Jesus. If Jesus is not raised from the dead: Christmas is little more than a nice story, his teachings are little more than nice words, and his death is little more than a sad story of injustice. BUT, if Jesus was raised to life, never more to die, it means that God put his seal of approval on Christ. Christmas becomes the birth of the Savior, his teachings are divinely given mandates from the best of all possible prophets, and his death is a sacrifice for sin and a ransom from evil/Evil.
Many people in our world today doubt all sorts of miracles. They question the Exodus story due to the “outlandish” claims about the Nile turning to blood or the parting of the sea. They question the stories of creation: was the Earth created in six literal 24 hour days six thousand years ago or through a gradual process involving billions of years? Did Jesus REALLY feed 5,000 people with some fish and some bread, or did they share with one another and no one was left hungry? All of these are interesting questions, and different theological beliefs and convictions lead to various answers.* However, as noted above, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION  is not incidental to the story of the Bible; the Bible IS THE STORY OF THE LIFE, DEATH AND NEW LIFE OF CHRIST. That is God’s Central theme in the pages of Scripture. It gets us to Jesus or points back to him. Jesus, then, connects us to God. Therefore, whatever we believe about other miracles, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is essential.
Which is why Acts 1 was included in Scripture.
READ ACTS 1!
What is so interesting about it is that Christ doesn’t appear to one guy in a room with the door closed (we could chalk that up to lying or insanity). He doesn’t even appear to just the twelve. There are anywhere from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected, walking around preaching and teaching and convincing them that He was real and not a figment of their imagination.
Were the disciples crazy? Scripture shows their flaws but none of them would have been delusional.
Were the disciples lying? That could have been refuted easily and wouldn’t they have quickly given up the story and admitted the lie. (We are getting ahead of ourselves, stay tuned.)
The important point to make is pretty clear. Jesus began a movement. The movement didn’t end with his death, but continued on far afterwards, presumably with him coming back to life. Over and over, this has been confirmed in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of believers. When I ask, “Do you believe Jesus is alive?” I am really asking three question.
Is scripture trustworthy about its claims? If yes, then we must believe Jesus is alive.
Are believers trustworthy about their claims? If yes, then we should trust scripture, and should believe that Jesus is alive.
Have you experienced Jesus? If yes, then tell others that Jesus is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
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*For my part, I think when the Bible tells a narrative, we should trust the narrative to be historically accurate, and when it tells poetry and myths, we don’t hold poetry and myths to that same standard. That discussion takes a lot to unpack… if you are intrigued, be on the lookout for a Young Adult Class coming to FUEL this Summer!

He is RISEN! He is RISEN INDEED!

John 20

John 20 8

In John 20, we see Christ has been raised. He is no longer in the tomb. The stone was rolled away and he lives.
The Darkness is over!
The LIGHT HAS DAWNED!
The Light who gives light to every person is ALIVE.
Praise the God who gives life to the Light who shines forth in the Darkness. The Darkness COULD NOT overcome the Light.
However, in this metaphorical language, taken straight from the mouth of John, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing couple of statements made at the end of the chapter.
John specifically says exactly why he wrote the book.
“These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You have read through the entire book of John. You have read the prologue of chapter one. You have read the “book of signs”, from chapter 2 to 12, and the seven signs Christ performed. You have read the “book of teachings”, from chapter 13 to 17 and all the things that Christ tells us there. Finally, you have read the “book of glory”, from chapter 18 to 20, all about how he receives his exaltation in the crucifixion and the greatest exaltation of the resurrection.
The reason for each “book”, for every chapter, for every phrase, for indeed EVERY WORD, all of it was for you to at the end say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus, the one performing miracles, the one speaking truth, the one who died, is the Son of God? Do you have life in his name?
If you don’t, don’t wait. On this day, as we celebrate Christ raised to life, I want to celebrate that YOU have been raised to life. Talk to your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, legal guardian, your pastor or youth worker, your best bud who believes… talk to ANYONE about giving your life to Jesus, about getting baptized, about believing in the name of Jesus and experiencing life and life abundantly.
If you believe, remember, that today we speak of Jesus and we say
“He is Risen indeed.”
In the future, Christ will say of you, believer,
“My Brother, my sister, the children of my Father, they are all risen. They are RISEN INDEED!”
Amen,
Come Lord Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Stake Your Life on This

John 11

John 11 25

In John 11, Jesus received word that his dear friend was very sick, and yet Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before heading to Bethany, where Lazarus was.  When he finally got there, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

Martha, Lazarus’ sister came out to meet with Jesus, and we have a record of their incredible conversation.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

I love these incredible statements of faith:  If Jesus had only been there, he could have healed Lazarus.  Even now, God would give Jesus anything Jesus asked.  “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

No wonder Jesus loved this family.  They were devout followers of Christ with amazing faith.

You know the rest of the story.  Jesus told them to roll away the stone.  Martha said basically, “he’s going to stink, he’s been dead four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Then Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  And the dead man came out!

Many people believed in Jesus because of this miracle.  But not everyone believed. The Pharisees’ response was, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…” and they plotted to kill him.

How is it possible to have such diametrically opposed reactions?  Unfortunately, we see a similar range of reactions to Jesus today, from faithful devotion to hostility.

I don’t know about you, but I want to have the same reaction Martha demonstrated.  And I’m staking my life on verses 25 and 26.  I want to encourage you – do the same.  And I’ll look forward to seeing you at the last day.

-Steve Mattison

 

 

A Hope, a Command and a Reassurance

Matthew 28

Matthew 28 20b

In the matter of a few sentences, we have a hope, a command and a reassurance. This hope is the greatest hope that anyone could have: the hope of a resurrection. The simple fact that Jesus walked out of His grave is proof enough that we too will walk out of our graves. God has given us a taste of His power, showed us that death isn’t something to fear. All throughout Matthew, we have seen the way that Jesus has lived and have heard His words. We know the way in which we are to live our lives. Jesus was the perfect example for us. If we follow in his footsteps just imagine the reward the we will receive knowing that Jesus was rewarded with eternal life.

This hope that Jesus left us with is accompanied with a command, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples all the commands I have given you.” This command is a heavy one, although it seems straightforward. First Jesus commands us to go. We need to move to carry out this command. The second part is to make disciples. This is a daunting task these days. It seems like no one wants to hear about religion of any kind, let alone discipleship. Maybe people don’t want to listen to you, this just means that you must go. Jesus said in Matthew 10:14, if someone won’t receive you, then shake the dust off your feet and move on. This applies to us in our daily lives even if we aren’t going to move to Peru to minister. If our friendships aren’t moving towards discipleships, then perhaps it’s time to go.

Jesus, knowing how hard this command would be to follow, provided a reassurance to go along with it. He said, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus held firm until the very end of His life. He weathered the taunts and the persecution, the beatings and the crucifixion. If anyone understands hardship, He does. And He is with you always. When you are struggling in the face of trial, look to Jesus. Understand how he endured His trials and let His way work in your life. Allow Jesus to give you strength as you strive to follow his command, holding fast to the hope that we all share in the resurrection to come.

-Nathaniel Johnson