The Early Church : The Purity and Persecution of the Early Church

Acts 5


Today, I’d like to focus on two more aspects of the church, both of which defined the church in its earliest days: purity and persecution. 


Purity


Yesterday, we read how God used his church to care for the least fortunate. No one in the church had any need. One of the ways this was accomplished, remember is that those who had property would sell it and give the proceeds to the church. There was no demand or command to do this, but those who did were honored by the church. In Acts 5:1-11, we read about a husband and wife duo who tried to buy the affection of the church. They sold a piece of property, but kept back a portion. But that wasn’t the problem. In verse 7, Peter asked Sapphira whether this was ALL the money they received for the land. THAT was the lie. They wanted everyone to think they were just as good as those who gave ALL their money to the church. 


But the church is not about building up our own ego. The church is about caring for those who need help. When Ananias and Sapphira lied, they lied to the Holy Spirit and they lied to God! In our world, some use church or religion for their own status. God has shown since the birth of the church that he’s not fooled. He desires to keep his people pure, focused on his mission, his goals, and not on themselves. 


Persecution


The disciples kept proclaiming Jesus. Those who were powerful were being told there was someone more powerful. Those who denied the resurrection were shown there was a resurrection. Those who considered themselves righteous were proven to be wicked. That is going to make people mad. They had told them that they couldn’t preach in the name of Jesus, but the apostles reply “We must obey God rather than human beings!” What an AMAZING testimony. They are not worried about people. They aren’t worried about the commands of men, of governments, of those who can kill the body but not the soul. 


God said “Go!” and so they go. Jesus said “Disciple others!” and so they disciple. The Holy Spirit gives them words and so they speak. 


Because of this, they were flogged (v40) and ordered not to speak. And the reaction of the disciples is fascinating. They were rejoicing. Rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer disgrace. Counted worthy to suffer. God thinks of them highly enough to be humiliated. 


Because in our humiliation, in our suffering, in our rejection, we look most like Jesus. God reverses our fortunes in the same way that he raised Jesus from the dead and sat him at his right hand.

In our humiliation, God gives glory. 

In our suffering, God gives joy. 

In our rejection, God gives acceptance. 

In our weakness, God gives Jesus. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, be more like the early church, today. 

May the message fill your mouth and the mission compel your feet. 

May the Spirit of God give you power and the love of God give you passion.

May the dedication of the apostles and the purity of the church define your own worship of God. 


May you do all this so that God is glorified, Jesus is honored, and many find faith. 

-Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch/ ) and on Instagram (https://instagram.com/timberlandbiblechurch?igshid=t52xoq9esc7e). The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, plays board games and roleplaying games with amazing friends weekly and recently celebrated both Cinco de Mayo and May the Fourth (Be with you). If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about Star Wars, look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336 )or email him at jakea.ballard@yahoo.com
God bless you all!

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 21-22 and Acts 5

The Early Church : The Growth of the Church

Acts 4


If you are an older reader, especially who was around for the 70s and 80s, you probably remember the Church Growth movement of the 60s and 70s. During this time, many people in the church focused on increased numbers; more people in the pews. In the 80s and 90s, the big push was for “seeker-sensitive” Christianity, making churches open and safe for those who were just beginning to seek Jesus. The impulse to grow and have more people come to Jesus is not wrong in any way! One way to define the mission of the church could be “more Christians, better Christians”: growing in quantity and quality. Both are important. A lot of really mediocre Christians, with no intention of acting and being better, is bad; a handful of super quality Christians, with no intention of growing, is bad.  


What did growth look like in the early church? In Acts 2, we read one example of growth. In verse forty-one, we read these words : “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” 


Three

THOUSAND?!


Peter must have had a very clever marketing strategy. He must have understood his target demographic. I wonder who his social media manager was and who worked his SEO. Of course, it’s none of those things. Those things aren’t bad; but anachronistic. Peter must have given them something else.  We do know why so many came to faith that day. 


He gave them Jesus. 

Jesus said “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) We lift up Jesus, we tell others of what he has done and how great he is, and he draws people in. 


In Acts 4, we see the qualitative growth of the church as well. After Peter and John are told not to proclaim the name of Jesus, they prayed to God. And God causes them to grow. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke boldly. They shared all their possessions, they cared for one another, they made sure that everyone was taken care of. 


The early church, by lifting up Jesus and living the way he lived and taught, grew in number and in character: more Christians, better Christians. When we look to our own churches, we should pray that we see the same growth, the same kind of growth, that the church got in Acts. We should be praying that God would use us to tell more people about Jesus, so they can come to know him, and we should be praying for God to make us better followers of Jesus today than we were yesterday. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 19-20 and Acts 4

The Early Church : The Passion of The Church

Acts 3

The early church was a special time in history. Jesus has just been raised. He has gone up, bodily, into heaven, and has poured out his Spirit upon those who follow him. (Rom. 8:9) In our day discussions about doctrines and divisions about drivel develop daily. 


BUT in the EARLY CHURCH, they were passionately pleading for the Pierced. They didn’t argue and debate about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin (to be fair, no-one has ever really debated that question). We can get so distracted from what was the early church’s singular focus : giving everyone and anyone the message of Jesus, and changing their world with the power of Jesus.


In chapter three, a man who had been begging for years is healed. This is the first of many, many miracles recorded in the book of Acts. The disciples were passionately sharing the message and gift of Jesus with everyone! They tell their fellow Israelites that God healed this man because of his servant Jesus. They tell the Sanhedrin and high priest about Jesus. They count it as a joy when they are persecuted and beaten for Jesus. They know their reward in heaven is great, because the righteous are persecuted by the wicked (Matt. 5:12).


In our lives, are we passionate about the message and work of Jesus then and now? If you aren’t don’t try to be passionate!


Instead, remember your sins, your mistakes, your failures. Remember that for even the smallest, you were separated from God. You were condemned to destruction, because that is the fate of those without God. And remember that God loved you enough to give you Jesus to redeem you. Jesus loved you enough to die in your place. They love you SO MUCH they love you just as you are, and they love you TOO MUCH to let you stay there, and want to make your life better, freer, holier, more and more wonderful. 


The early church was passionate because they knew the truth of Christ. We will be passionate when we remember it. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 17-18 and Acts 3

The Early Church : The Power of the Church

Acts 2

So far this week, we have been speaking of “the early church”, but that is a bit anachronistic. Because, today, we come to the founding, the start, the inception, of the church. Pentecost is a Jewish high holy day, one of the great feasts through the year, and it is 50 days after passover. Pentecost, of the Feast of Weeks, of Shauvot was to commemorate the giving of the Torah to the people of God. On THIS Pentecost, something new was given. 

In verse two of chapter two, we see that there is a great sound, along with fire that came among the people. But verse four is where the new thing God was doing happens. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. Of course, reading a verse like this, a few questions come to mind. What is the Holy Spirit?What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?How is this new?


The Holy Spirit is the personal, powerful, presence of God. In John 13-17, Jesus teaches his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come, guide, teach, comfort, and council them. In Acts, the Holy Spirit speaks to the apostles and decides on what the church should do. (See Acts 8:29 and 15:28-29) The Holy Spirit is listed alongside the Father and the Son in certain salutations and greetings to the church, and as part of the authority in which we should be baptized as believers. The Spirit, in other places, is like water poured out on people, as fire that burns up the chaff, as wind that moves over the face of the world. It is not easy to pin down. It’s not easy to understand.


However, these followers weren’t getting a strong theological point on the Spirit. They were drenched in it, spoke various languages by it. To be filled with the Spirit in the book of Acts was to display the power of God in signs and miracles (like speaking in tongues or raising the dead, keep reading Acts!). But they were also filled with the Spirit in order to be bold. (Acts 4:31) The power of God was in all these people, changing both their outward actions and their inward personalities, making them into people who could confidently face anything that came their way because they were connected to God by his Power in the authority of Jesus. 


And the Holy Spirit had never worked that way until Pentecost. This amazing, moving, shaping, guiding power of God had come upon specific people, leaders like Moses and prophets like Aaron. When it came upon these specific people, they could lose the power of the Spirit, like Samson or Saul. But in Pentecost, anyone who believed that Jesus was the Messiah was given the Spirit to speak the word. That is why Peter quotes Joel in vs. 17-21. It proves that Jesus, in giving his people the Spirit, he was both fulfilling prophecy and giving them the power they would need to be his witnesses. 


Monday, we were left with the difficult question : will you follow Jesus?Yesterday, we were left with another doozy : will you be his witness, near, far, and to the ends of the earth?


Today, I want to encourage you : you can’t do it! (That’s not helpful!) No, those questions are too big for me and you. But with God, all things are possible. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave is available to you in grace. You don’t HAVE to follow Jesus on your own, or be a witness in your own wisdom and power. You can join with the early church, and this power will come upon you and empower you. Peter said “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Holy Spirit, his power and presence, will be in your life, guiding and teaching you. It will fill you to the brim with power, but more importantly with courage, with confidence, with grace, with forgiveness, with hope, and with love. 


The more I study the Holy Spirit, the more questions I have. But I have learned one thing : I want more of it in my life.


Join me in asking for God’s Holy Spirit to fill your life, today. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 15-16 and Acts 2

The Early Church : The Fate of the Apostles

John 21

In John 21, Jesus has a number of more appearances to the disciples. After the disciples go fishing, Jesus shows up on a beach, and feeds them. Jesus takes the time to “restore” Peter. After asking him three times if Peter loved him, and hearing Peter’s three replies, he says in 18-19


“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”


Very often, when we first start following Jesus, we may think “Well, now life will be good!” We may hear preachers say “just pray and believe” and then life will go really well. And Scripture itself says that “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) But we need to be careful before thinking this means we won’t have troubles, pains, and even death in spite of, or even CAUSED BY, following Jesus. Jesus himself warned his followers that they would have trouble (See John 16:33; “you will have trouble”). And the early church, especially the lives of the disciples, prove that we will have trouble. 


Most of our knowledge of the apostles come from church tradition; we don’t know the following, but it is generally accepted. Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Matthias were all crucified by Rome. James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus were both killed in Jerusalem by the ruling authorities. Matthew, Thomas, Thaddeus/Jude and Bartholomew/Nathanel were all killed while speaking of their faith. Paul, the thirteenth apostle “to the gentiles” was beheaded after a long time in prison. Only John, as Jesus prophesied, died of old age. 


I don’t bring this up to scare you or to make you depressed. I want you to know that a bunch of hillbilly fisherman from the backwoods of a small nation oppressed by an Empire changed the world. The truth of Christianity is proved in these men. They gained no power, no prestige, no wealth, no control by dedicating their lives to the gospel message. They truly believed, to the point of death, that a man named Jesus lived, taught, died, and was raised again. They didn’t go out conquering with armies. They gave their lives so others may find life. They lived knowing that God would work everything out for the good of those who love him; because they were called according to his purpose, they would be raised according to his son. 


That is the kind of passion and dedication I want to have for Jesus. I am asking myself “if Jesus sent me to speak his name, would I go? Would I be willing to die to make sure that others could find life?” I want my answer to be yes. 


How about you? How would you answer that question? Jesus is turning to you and saying “Follow me!

-Jacob Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 11-12 and John 21

Will you choose the Good?

Luke 10

Today, the scene is set in Martha and Mary’s home. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and this story is propelling his journey to the cross. Mary and Martha, sisters, are arguing, as sisters do. Martha has invited Jesus and his crew of AT LEAST twelve hungry men (possibly more if some of the seventy or seventy-two disciples have come along) over for dinner. She’s got a lot of social pressure placed on her, because to have people in her home and NOT feed them, and feed them well, would look bad on her whole family. It would be shameful. 

And Mary is just sitting at his feet. 

Martha, rushing, busy, sweating, harried.

Mary, content, lounging, comfortable, relaxed. 

I feel for Martha. “LORD, don’t you care that my sister isn’t working as hard as I am” she says in frustration, with slightly gritted teeth. “She isn’t serving you the way that I am, isn’t trying to be as good for you as I am! TELL HER TO GET UP AND HELP ME!” Of course she is troubled, worried, bothered, anxious. 

We are all Martha. We are all so worried. So anxious and bothered. So troubled. 

But Jesus just calls out to her, to us. “Martha, Martha…” Can you hear the compassion when he says her name? When he says your name? You are so busy, so laden down with cares and concerns, with worries, about how you will succeed, how you will make sure everyone is taken care of, how you will serve. But Jesus isn’t worried about all that. He calls out to you and says something beautiful. 

There is only one thing necessary. It’s the good thing that Mary chose, to sit at his feet, listen to him, rest in him, love him. 

Will you choose the good?

Is that your one thing? Do you want to serve, to prove how strong, and powerful, and mighty, and good, and honorable you are? Or are you willing to sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn from him, grow from him, but most of all love and rest in him? To be sure, there is a time to serve. Jesus is in the room teaching how to live. But, will you listen to his words? We can get so busy “serving him” we don’t actually hear what he says. There are those casting out demons and performing miracles who don’t know the Lord, and whom the Lord doesn’t know (see Matthew 7).

The one that is necessary, listening to the words of Jesus and resting in him, give our service purpose and grounding. 

Will you choose the good?

Will you choose to rest in the one whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light, who will give your soul rest?

Will you choose the good?

Jesus, primarily, calls us to himself. There will be a time for service, but the first and foremost command is to be with him, in peace and rest. Are you listening to that call? For some of us, the command to “come and die” is terrifying. But for some of us, “come and rest” is worse. We have to admit that we are not superheroes, no matter what we tell ourselves. We might just be people, like everyone else.

Will you choose the good?

Jesus gives us rest. This is the upside down kingdom we receive when we have a relationship with Christ. We take up his work so we may rest. We serve with him so we may reign with him. We take in his death so that we may live.

Will you choose the good?

-Jacob Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway – Deuteronomy 3-4 and Luke 10

He Set His Face

Luke 9

I enjoy video games. I could bore you with my digital adventures during quarantine, but I’d like to focus on a much more recent experience. I was playing a game that came out recently, and loving it. At one point a warning came up : “This is your last chance to purchase any gadget or suit upgrades. Do you wish to proceed?” I had an experience in the past when the game didn’t warn me we were in the final stages. So I backed up, upgraded, and went into the end game in full force. 

Most people don’t have a moment like that. Very few have been able to determine when the “end” of their life was going to begin. 

Jesus isn’t most people. 

In Luke 9:51, we read a powerful phrase. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The phrase “set his face” is sometimes rendered as “He was determined” or “he set out for”. While both of these translations have merit, I like the “wooden” translation of “set his face.” 

“He was determined” feels a little passive. He made a decision to take steps to go to Jerusalem. 

“He set out for” however, makes it feel as if he started to power-walk all the way to Judea. 

Instead, he set his face. We aren’t even halfway through Luke telling of Jesus’ life, but we begin to see that everything that happens from here on, Jesus is doing with his endgame in mind. Every healing he performs is done with his face looking at Jerusalem. Every teaching he gives ends with him setting his face back to Jerusalem. Every step he takes, north, south, east or west, takes him one step closer to the Place of the Skull. Every healing he performs puts him one step closer to the scars across his back. Every breath of teaching he pours out gets him closer to the last breath of this life. 

And it gets him closer to the ascension. To the life beyond death. To the glory after humilation. Every breath he breathes gets him closer to new breath, new Spirit filling his body. Every healing he performs puts him one step closer to a body, unbroken and healed. Every step he takes takes him one step closer to the Mount of Olives, and the ascension to the Throne of God. 

That’s a good end game.

So when Jesus teaches anything in the rest of Luke, consider that he thought it was important enough to say as he walked his final days on Earth. Whether he was teaching and loving Mary and Martha in their own home, correcting the Pharisees about their view of sinners and tax collectors and the God who loves them in Luke 15, or teaching about the End Times in Luke 17, every event and teaching of Jesus are the ones that gained his attention after he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem.

Let this devotion urge you to reconsider how we read these words today. Don’t read Luke as another item on your busy checklist. But hear them as the words of Jesus that they are, pouring over you, through you and into you, and let them change you today. As we move ever closer to Easter, may we read Luke and set our own faces toward Jerusalem.

-Jake Ballard

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway – Deuteronomy 1-2 and Luke 9

It’s Not Always Easy

Luke 8

Jesus is not know for being particularly easy with his teaching. It can be just plain difficult. 

Sometimes the teachings are easy enough to understand but hard in their application. We know what Jesus said about enemies. He didn’t mince words or obfuscate. Love them. Full Stop.  But, when you have an enemy, you don’t WANT to love them. If you HAVE to love them, then you CAN’T hate them, and in the darkest parts we want to hate some people. But Jesus came to shine a light into even those parts and to change them. So, love (wish and seek the best for) your enemies and pray (bring their needs, cares, and burdens before God) for those who persecute you. That is hard. 

Other times Jesus doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. A lot of the people in John 6 stopped following him because he said, “You have to eat my body and drink my blood.” And today we can say, “Oh yeah, he was talking about communion.” But THEY didn’t know that. There is a rabbi talking about eating a person and drinking his blood, and they are just thinking about the number of Torah laws and cultural traditions they would have to break. But mostly, they would be thinking “WHAT?! WHY?! What is he on about?” Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. But they didn’t seem to get it, because his mission wasn’t complete yet. 

And sometimes, the teaching is BOTH hard to understand and seems difficult in the day-to-day living. 

Luke 8 is full of them. Why does Jesus, who is so insistent on US spreading the Kingdom message to all corners of the world, teach with hiddenness? Why does he say, “Go into all the world” and tell everyone to keep it quiet? Why does he teach in parables, so that the crowds would be confused? I could give an astute scholarly answer, that references the nature of prophecy and the different purposes for the mission of Jesus and mission of the church, but in the end it is a head scratcher. It feels weird. It feels hard. It weighs on me. 

Nothing weighs heavier on me from this chapter than Luke 8:18. As a reminder: “18 So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” That’s a hard one! Why should the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Is that what Jesus is saying?

Though the questions are important, there are times for answers. And of course that is not what he is saying. 

Jesus has just finished saying that a light will not bet covered up but put on a lampstand, and how everything will be disclosed and made known. He has been speaking about the knowledge of the Kingdom, the Gospel, the Word of God, the Knowledge of God, the Logos of God, up to this point.  So the question we need to answer is “whoever has what?” Whoever has a desire and thirst to learn the things of God. Whoever has a desire to serve Jesus. Whoever has a desire to follow him where he leads. Whoever, once the lamp is lighted, wants to see it in its fulness. THAT person will be given more. They will actually acquire the knowledge they are looking for. They will be equipped to serve. They will be empowered to follow. They will see the light, and it will fill them up, all the way from the inside out. 

But whoever does not have those desires…

Well, what little power, strength, might, authority, ability, talent…

It’ll be taken away. 

It’s a hard teaching. But it makes sense. Jesus comes to offer life. If we don’t want life, we don’t get it. It’s not forced upon us. 

You may be wondering, “But right now I don’t want it. I am reading because it’s a habit I can’t break. I am reading while crying because I want it to be true but can’t pull out that belief in me.” Welcome to the Christian Faith, where desires like that have existed beside the “most devout” since the dawn of the church! Ancient Christian authors wrote statements like (and forgive the modern paraphrase) “I don’t want God, but I want to want God.” Even a man declared to Jesus “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Maybe you have believing unbelief, or unbelieving belief. Maybe you want to want God. Or want to want to want him. 

Jesus can work with that glimmer. 

Because in the end he will work with us on all the hard passages, on the ones that weigh on us, on the things that are hard to understand and hard to live out. 

The promise from scripture is that, if you let him work, “He will finish the good work he began in us.”

Jesus will give you understanding and peace when you don’t. 

Jesus will give you the skills and ability for service. 

Jesus will give you power to follow. 

Do you want him to? Do you want to want him to?

-Jacob Ballard

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway Numbers 35-36 and Luke 8

Sacred Imagination

Luke 7

I want you to imagine with me. 


You are a powerful man in ancient Israel. You hear about a miracle worker and rabbi. This guy, in just the last couple days reportedly saved a slave of some centurion without even being near him. More than that, he brought the dead back to life! Could such a thing be? Nothing like it has happened in your lifetime. This man reminds you of Moses, Elijah, and the prophets that you have grown up hearing about and spent your life studying. You know that such a man must be holy, must be from God. You invite this man to eat with you, so you can see for yourself how this holy, miraculous man interacts with people.

So you see him. And he’s shorter than you expected. Actually, he’s quite unremarkable in appearance. He is not wealthy, he does not come from money or make much when out teaching. He is lean from walking and fasting. He has an entourage of men with thick accents, no training, and a certain lack of decorum. They look and act like fishermen. To your surprise, you learn they ARE fishermen. One is even a tax collector. It’s only natural to begin to doubt. But when he opens his mouth to teach, it intrigues you. The passion with which he speaks. The intensity in his eyes. The compassion in his touch, to all people, draws you in, and you invite him over for dinner. Doubts gnaw at your mind, but surely in a personal setting those will fall away.

However, at dinner, things get really out of hand. As per usual, you have your home open to use by the people of the city, because God has blessed you for your devote life and upright character. Everyone, all thirteen (and more) of this teacher’s usual crew start to relax, kick back their feet, and eat. But, in the middle of dinner, she comes in. The years of hard life, of acting in such impolite, anti-social, uncouth, wicked and sinful ways, of trying and failing to do better, showed in every movement in the presence of this teacher. But instead of running like she should have, she bends down, weeping, and cries on his feet, wipes his feet clean with her tears. She takes his barely washed feet and anoints them with the sweetest perfume, the smell wafting over you all. She is making a scene, at YOUR dinner. And you know what kind of person she is. She doesn’t deserve this attention, she only wants to ruin your hospitality, because that’s the kind of person she is. 

No, no this man must be a phony. How could a man who raises the dead not know what this woman does every day? How could such a “holy man” allow so much uncleanness to caress his feet? Why let someone like her defile someone like him?


Then he says your name and breaks you out of your reverie. He calls your name. He tells you about two debtors, both forgiven – one much and one little. He asks “Who will love the forgiver more?”

“The one who was forgiven much,” you answer wisely. 


He turns to the woman and takes her worried, nervous, anxious trembling hands in his own. He turns his soft but piercing eyes to her own, red from weeping. He says to you, “Do you see this woman?” He lets the words hang in silence for a moment. She rubs her nose. For the first time you notice that some of her hair is starting to turn gray. You notice that she is not old, but the lines come from stress. You notice that she must have washed to come, as she looks cleaner than you have seen her in a long time… You see yourself seeing this woman, who you see everyday, in a new way. She is a whole person. She is more than the sum of her mistakes. She is loving this teacher. She is showing him honors “She has done for me what you have not,” he says. “She has much to be forgiven for, and so she loves, knowing now that she is forgiven. In your own eyes, your sins are so much smaller, and so your love is so much less.”


The rest of the table murmurs about the teacher forgiving sins, but as they talk he says to the woman “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” She smiles at him with gratitude and joy…

Do you see this woman?

Or do you see the sins? The immorality? The wickedness? The hardness of life? The addictions? The abuse?


Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, and more importantly, causes the spiritually blind to see the world. May this imaging open your eyes. This man who raised up the dead, more importantly, raised up the living to new life. May this story cause you to raise the living to new life. 


And may this question reverberate in your head all day :

Do you see this woman?

(Optional note for those confused about the devotion : spiritual imagining, putting ourselves in the story, is an ancient spiritual tradition. One great example that is often used is in Luke 15, the parable of the “Lost/Prodigal Son”, or better “The Lost Sons” or best “The Searching/Prodigal Father”. You may see yourself as the son who runs off, the servants rejoicing, the son who is angry for forgiveness, or the father looking for his boys. It says much about ourselves and our relationship with God and others to see who we identify with, and to put ourselves in strange places in the story. Today we looked through Simon’s eyes in Luke 7, not because it is the best, but because of course he would doubt Jesus. Of course he would question him. Of course he would be offended at the woman. And of course, all of that is undue, because Jesus overcomes our doubts through miracles, our questions through answers and better questions, and our offense by unending grace. May this story take a new meaning to you as you ask yourself: Do you see this woman?)

-Jacob Ballard

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway – Numbers 33-34 and Luke 7

Merry Christmas

1st John

On Christmas, it’s appropriate that we read 1 John. It may seem better that we read Matthew or Luke, but 1 John distills the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspective of an old man. If we want to hear an old, inspired teacher dispensing his wisdom, John (and the books attributed to that name) are books to which to turn. 


John is old and he is concerned with the most important things in life. He testifies about Jesus, the light who comes into the world, to fulfill the joy of himself and his readers. Joy is a chief concern of the old man. Jesus doesn’t turn us into a curmudgeon. That’s because Jesus brings us to a God who is greater. 
A God who is light.  A God who is love.  That’s a God of Joy. 

If we want to be in Christ, to have this God who fulfills joy, to be counted among the children of light and love, we must keep the commands of Christ. We must walk as Jesus walked. But what is the command. When John says the old command they have heard from the beginning, he is not referring to the law. He is referring to the command from the beginning of the teaching of Jesus. The message which we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(3:11) Just as Christ laid down his life for us, we should be willing to lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in love (3:16). We believe in the name of Jesus and love one another, just as Christ commanded us (3:23). More verses that tell us to love one another because of the love of God : 4:7-8, 4:10-12, 4:19-21.


The command is to love our brothers and sisters. 

But we are also commanded to NOT love the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean to not love people. The “world” according to John, are all the things that are not of God: sin, power, money, control, hate. We so easily love sin, which gives us momentary pleasure, usually at another’s pain. We love power and money and control, so that we can continue to sin without consequence in this world. And hate allows us to have superiority to others even as we hurt them, because we think we are better. 


AVOID THAT. Avoid those idols!

Know that if you keep the command to love, if you believe in the name of Jesus, and allow him to guide you in light and love, the God of joy is going to give you a joy that lasts forever. We are promised eternal life. 


May you, my brothers and sisters, experience the JOY that God gives. 

May you LOVE one another, as is the command of Christ. 

May you avoid sin and the love of the world, and have PEACE in yourself.

May you experience eternal life, both now and forevermore, and have HOPE. 

And with that HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, may you have a very, very…


Merry Christmas!

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 John.

Tomorrow we read 2nd & 3rd John.