How, Who, What?

John 10

How can we live a full life? We all want our lives to be fulfilled. We all want to know that answer, don’t we? Well, we can’t answer how until we focus on the more important question: What or who is the source of abundant life?

Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd who feeds and cares for His sheep. Tired of Jesus’ metaphors, religious leaders corner Jesus at the temple and ask Him directly: Are you the Christ?

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” What is Jesus saying here? Chasing anything other than Jesus will steal what God has blessed you with, kill your dreams, and destroy your purpose in life. Only Jesus can restore the blessings that have been stolen, bring life to dreams that have died, and give our lives purpose. Possessions come and go, as does the enjoyment they bring. The only way to experience joy that never leaves is to have something that cannot fail. An abundant life comes from Jesus, who never fails.

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

When a reporter asked John D. Rockefeller how much money was enough to make him happy, the millionaire replied, “Just one dollar more.” Nothing on Earth is ever going to satisfy us. But if you ask anyone who has made Jesus the Lord of their life, they will tell you that they are blessed beyond anything they could have ever asked or imagined. A life apart from Jesus will always leave you lacking, but a life centered on Jesus is full of abundance.

• What do you strive for in life? Is what you strive for different from what Jesus strived for?

• What are some common traps that keep us from living the life Jesus wants for us?

-Andy Cisneros

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 13-14 and John 10

In the Right Order

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 37 & 38 and Matthew 19

I remember a song we used to sing in Sunday School:

“Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!

Jesus and Others and You, in the life of each girl and each boy.

J is for Jesus for he has first place. O is for Others we meet face to face.

Y is for You in whatever you do. Put yourself third and spell Joy.”

It’s not just a sweet song with a catchy tune for little girls and boys. There is a lot of truth in those lyrics. And it comes to play in two passages in Matthew 19 – Jesus’ teaching on divorce and his conversation with the rich young man regarding materialism. Let’s look first at divorce.

Too often marriages start to crumble when the relationship becomes a ‘his side’ vs ‘her side’. Gone is the teamwork and working together and dream of always being together that brought them together in the first place. It is replaced with selfish goals and pursuits, quick tempers and irritations, and eventually seeing their mate tragically not as their better half but as their enemy. It is not a new thing – it was a problem 2,000 years ago as well. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason.” (Matthew 19:3). She doesn’t make me happy any more. He never picks up his dirty socks. This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be -it’s too hard. I think I love someone else. He’s changed too much. She never has time for me. He works too much – or not enough. Times have indeed changed, but people, not so much. We would do well to remember and put to daily use Jesus’ reply.

Marriage was created by God – for a male and female to become one – for life. What God created is good. Humans have a way of messing up his creation – including finding ways out of marriage. So how do we avoid the hard hearts that lead to divorce? Remember the proper order. Jesus-Others-You. As you and your spouse draw closer to God and His Son it draws you closer to one another so your spiritual health is a great place to start. And nothing breaks the viscous his side/her side battle like seeing yourself as one – the way God intended. It’s harder to go into attack mode when you are actually shooting yourself, or your other half. Before you know it – you are naturally putting him or her ahead of yourself because you realize the team benefit. And the JOY creeps back into your marriage – the way God intended.

And then we have the rich young man who wanted to know what he had to do to ensure eternal life. Jesus said start by following God’s law – that is the part about putting Jesus first since Jesus came to do and teach God’s will. The man was pleased to report he did that well – but what else could he do? Sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus – that is putting others before yourself in a big way. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:22). He lost his JOY because he was too attached to what he had amassed to keep himself comfortable. He boasted of how well he kept God’s commands – but it was too hard to love his neighbors like himself. He got himself out of order. That’s the trouble with wealth – it often makes us forget to put God and others first. Jesus didn’t say NO rich man would gain eternal life, but it would be very hard. Rather than solving problems wealth often creates more. It becomes harder and harder to keep priorities straight and in the proper order when you have more and more to juggle and prioritize.

Jesus – Others – and You. Put yourself at the end of the line because at the judgment, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30). It’s the order that leads to lasting life and joy.

-Marcia Railton

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.

Who are Your Children?

3rd Epistle of John

3 John 4

The letter was written by “the elder”, the same author as 2 John. It is a personal letter to Gaius, who must have been a leader in a congregation. It is not possible to know if this Gaius was the same “Gaius” mentioned in other places in the New Testament (Act. 19:29, 20:4, Rom. 16:23, 1 Cor. 1:14).

 

No greater joy, 1:4

 

The author states: “No greater joy can I have than this, than to hear that my children follow the truth”. While it is a great joy for biological parents to know that their children follow the truth concerning God the Father and Jesus the Messiah (John 17:3), here the author is using the world “children” metaphorically to mean those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah (1 John 2:1, 5:1). The author most likely had a personal influence in these “children” coming to and then growing in their faith.  Like a parent who cares for their child, the author expressed his desire to be present with them (3 John 1:10, 13, cf. 2 John 1:12).

 

Support such men, practice hospitality, 1:5-8

 

The main purpose for the writing of the letter was to encourage Gaius and the congregation to support traveling Christian teachers. The author knew that these teachers of true doctrine were doing “God’s service”, and as much as Gaius and others could support these men, they would be “fellow workers in truth”. Practicing hospitality is a theme emphasized by other writers of Scripture:

 

Paul: “Share what you have with God’s people, and practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

 

Author of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).

 

Peter: “Welcome one another into your homes without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

 

As believers in the One True God and His Messiah, Jesus, we should be ready to open our homes to others of like-minded faith, especially to those who are ministering “for His sake”.

 

Diotrephes upbraided, 1:9-10

 

A certain man named Diotrephes was called out because he refused to practice hospitality to the traveling truth teachers. Diotrephes not only refused to give hospitality, but “stops those who would welcome them and puts them out of the church”. Diotrephes must have been a proud, selfish man.

 

Bill & Stephanie Schlegel

 

(Editor’s Note: I am so glad I met Bill and Stephanie Schlegel at FUEL this past summer and had the opportunity to share a meal with them, during which time they agreed to write for this week.  I greatly value their love for and dedication to God’s truth.  The Schlegels lived in Israel for 34 years.  He is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas: https://www.bibleplaces.com/satellite-bible-atlas-schlegel/ . This spring he will be leading an incredible trip to Israel: https://maranathatours.com/wp-content/uploads/brochure-website.pdf

For more great writing, podcasts, videos and testimonies about the truth in God’s scriptures, we welcome you to check out the website that Bill edits – One God Report: http://www.onegodreport.com/

Filled With So Much Joy We Want to Share

1 John 1

1 John 1 2

There is an old gospel song called Wonderful Words of Life.  I have loved this song because of its lyrics:  Sing them over again to me –Wonderful words of life, let me more of their beauty see – Wonderful words of life.  Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty.  Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life – Wonderful words of life!  In 1 John 1 the life – the eternal life – is a reference to Jesus.  The disciples knew Jesus personally and knew without a doubt that he was sent from God to be the savior and teacher of mankind.  The disciples knew  God through his word and knew personally Jesus Christ His son.  The only one – as one disciple described him in the gospels  as the one who had the words of life.  He actually said (when Jesus asked if he was going to turn away also as some nominal disciples had): to whom else shall we go? for you have the words of eternal life.(see John 6:68)

Having this relationship with Jesus gave them so much joy they wanted to share it with everyone.  Shouldn’t having a relationship with the one who has the words of eternal life fill us with so much joy that we want to share it too?

The joy comes from knowing the one who is eternal life and recognizing that all of God’s ways lead to light, and life, and truth.  Those people who walk in God’s ways must emanate this same light and life, and truth.  The darkness has no part in the light.  We must walk in ways of light and not in darkness.  We must want to share that light with others.

Let’s face it there is plenty of darkness out there.  Sin is everywhere, and everyone has sinned at some point in their life.  But the life giving, light bearing news is this:  God is willing to forgive all who confess their sin to Him and cleanse them from their sins.  Through the power of what Christ did on the cross we can all be put back into right relationship with our heavenly Father God.  These are definitely wonderful words of life!  And words worth sharing, and shining in our dark world.  So maybe you will find yourself singing the familiar words :  Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty, beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life!

Merry Peterson

 

 

Oxymorons

James 1

James 1 9 (1)

I am a dad and as such enjoy the occasional (or perhaps not so occasional) dad joke. I also like to see the look on someone’s face as they decipher the unexpected oxymoron. Some of these are so common that we don’t even realize when we say them. Others take a moment to realize what has been said.

Here are some examples:

  • Act naturally – Is it really natural if it is an act, or is it natural to act, or … WHAT?
  • Random order – Which is it random or in order?
  • Original copy – By definition if it is a copy it cannot be the original.
  • Only Choice – If it is the only one it is not a choice.
  • Jumbo Shrimp – Enough said

I am clearly confused by all of these oxymorons.

James, although known to be quite practical in his writing starts out using a couple of oxymorons.

The first he uses is in the second verse, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” I am usually not saying, “Thank you for this traffic jam” or, “I am so glad I just stubbed my toe.” James is not saying that we will or should enjoy pain or difficulties. He is saying that as our faith is tested it becomes stronger, just like we do when we go to the gym.

Next he writes of Humble Pride. James 1:9-10 says,

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.

How can one in humble circumstances glory in his high position? The trick is we are not boasting or glorifying ourselves, but we are glorifying our God. Jesus tells us in Luke 10:42-45 that the one who wishes to become great must become least. As we serve others, we show that we are not focused on the desires of our flesh but instead we are caring for others. This shows true humility. After telling us that we are to be doing the word of God and not just hearing it James ends this chapter by telling us that pure and undefiled religion is to serve widows and orphans while keeping yourself unstained.

Sometimes when you do the right thing it may just confuse someone enough to cause them to ask why you did it. Let’s live in a way that inspires others to seek God and His Kingdom!

-Bill Dunn

Stop Running from His Call

God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

We’ve all heard the story of Jonah and how he tried to run away from God. Of course, we know that didn’t work out too well for him. He had to sit in the belly of a giant fish until he decided that he would listen to God. We all have our Nineveh. It’s that one thing in the back of your mind that you know you need to do but it’s the last thing you want to do. Jonah ran away because he was scared and often we do the same thing. 

 

For a while, my Nineveh was mission work. I heard God speaking to me through the people at my church calling me to get involved but that scared me. I haven’t even graduated high school yet God was calling me to leave the country and do His work. That seemed much bigger than I thought I was able to do. So I just ignored the nagging in the back of my mind for as long as I could. Obviously, I didn’t end up sitting in the literal stomach of a huge fish. However, I always felt drained and never quite right. Eventually, I got the hint and I talked to someone from my church who had decided to sell all her stuff and move to Guatemala for mission work. By the end of the conversation, we were making plans for me to come down and do missions with her for a week. After that God had opened my heart and I felt joy for the first time in a while. This then led to the opportunity to join the LHI team in going to Peru. Both opportunities have been nothing short of a blessing. 

 

The amazing thing is that if God calls you to do something He’s not going to send you into the situation unprepared and empty-handed. I felt unqualified for what God was calling me to do, but all I had to do was open up my heart to what God was trying to show me. So today as you think about what God is calling you to do, whether it be a huge project or just a random act of kindness, let God guide you, without trying to run from Him. 

 

-Maggie Gallagher 

Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness

“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”

joy to the world

 

Isaac Watts published the words for “Joy to the World” in 1719.  A century after Watts wrote the words, Dr. Lowell Mason, heavily influenced by Handel’s “Messiah”, set the words to music. Watts wrote the famous carol after meditating on Psalm 98.  Psalm 98:4 reads, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.”  This is precisely what Watts was trying to do by writing the hymn.

 
Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King
;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He’ll rule the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love
And wonders, and wonders of His love.

 

The first verse of the carol talks of Jesus coming to earth.  It does not talk about Jesus’ coming as a special baby, but more importantly his coming as King. There is no mention in the entire carol of Bethlehem, a manger, shepherds, or a special star.   In fact, much of the carol has more to do with Jesus’ future, second coming, than with his birth as a baby.

 

The third verse of the carol mentions “thorns infesting the ground” and “the curse”, both references to God telling Adam that the ground would be cursed as a consequence of his sin (Genesis 3:17-18). Because Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, mankind would have to work to produce food, and instead of abundant crops growing effortlessly, now weeds and thorns would be plentiful.  However, the carol is looking forward to a day when there will be no more sin, sorrow or thorns.  We know all too well, that that day has not yet come, but we look forward with confidence to the day Jesus will return to earth again and all the consequences of sin will be defeated.

Although much of “Joy to the World” tells the story of Jesus second coming, it is still a wonderful song for us to sing at Christmastime.  As we celebrate Christmas, it is important for us to remember that Jesus did not stay a baby in a manger.  His story does not end with his death on the cross, or even his resurrection. We sing of “Joy to the World” because we know that one day Jesus is coming back to set up his Father’s perfect, never-ending, kingdom here on earth!

-Jill McClain