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!

At the Wedding

John 2

John 2 5

Good morning everyone!  (Or afternoon, or evening, depending on when you get to this!)  Let’s take a look at John 2, a much easier chapter to dig into compared to yesterday’s in my opinion…

Thought #1 – Vs. 1-12:  The author here writes about Jesus’ first miracle; turning water into wine at a wedding.  We’re all probably relatively familiar with this passage, and most are probably aware that when Jesus answers his mother with “Woman” it does not mean disrespect in Greek like it might in today’s world (and if not, now you know!).  There is so much in this little story that we don’t know, such as who was getting married, why Jesus and his mother were attending, what the reactions were of the people who saw Jesus perform his first miracle, etc.  Despite reading this multiple times, I did find something new to think about this time through.  This time I saw that Mary already had faith in Jesus’ abilities before he had proven anything to her.  While we also don’t know much about Mary, we can pick up a few characteristics or insights into her life from the little we read.  For example, Mary’s faith has always relied on the idea about not needing to see to believe.  She has always had a deep trust in God, and in His power, and isn’t afraid to boldly ask for a miracle, at least according to what we can read in the Bible.  She has probably experienced God’s power in the most personal way of any human on earth, and I think it shows.  In this story, she doesn’t even really acknowledge Jesus’ response, but simply tells the servants to obey him.  What a mom thing to do… give a direction and not listen for any ifs, ands, or buts about it!  Mary knew what Jesus could accomplish before even seeing it happen, she had no doubts in God’s power that was within Jesus.  We are lucky enough to live in the present day where we have very easy access to a Bible that lays out all the miraculous things done in the past by Jesus.  I think we take that for granted!  I know in my own life I do not always fully trust in God or in His power to work in my life, yet I have 66 books’ worth of examples of how He has already done amazing things with that power!  How can you shape your faith to be a bit more like Mary’s – trusting God’s power to do the work needed even if we can’t see the outcome yet?

Thought #2 – Vs. 13-23:  I love this story about Jesus clearing out the Temple.  Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of people getting in trouble when I know they are doing wrong… I was definitely that kid in elementary school that ratted out any misbehavior immediately.  But beyond that, I think this story also makes for some great analogies and comes up with a lot of good thoughts!  In this story we see Jesus experiencing what can be termed a “righteous anger” towards the people who have dirtied the Temple.  He wasn’t just freaking out, or getting angry with people for messing up, he was upset that they were tarnishing the Temple of God in such a public way.  They knew very well what that Temple was for, and yet they chose to set up shop for a personal gain that did nothing for them in the long-run.  So Jesus clears them out in a very active way!  Later on we see Jesus compare this Temple to himself (vs. 21) and that got me thinking about how our bodies as temples for God sometimes need a good clearing out.  I’m not talking about a juice cleanse or anything like that, but I’m talking about an active removal of the things that aren’t supposed to be there.  This can be a wide variety of things… fear, sin, poisonous habits or relationships, you name it.  Sometimes we need to experience that same righteous anger in order to be motivated to clear out our life and get back on track with God.  Do you see any areas of your life that you feel need to be cleared out so you can be back on track with God?  What are you doing, or what can you do, to actively clean yourself out?

I hope our questions for today bring about some quality reflection time!  I know they got me thinking!

~Sarah

Miracles and Praise

Acts 12 9

Acts 12

Acts 12:1-19
“but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening: he thought he was seeing a vision.”      Acts 12:9 “Pinch me! I must be dreaming.” We are not so different from Peter. When miraculous things happen, we doubt that they are real. When we finally accept the reality, we make ourselves crazy trying to explain it rationally.
I have had many moments where God has worked in a miraculous way. And I was so thankful for those moments at that time. But then those fade and you begin to question whether that was God or if it was just you hoping it was God. We all have those doubts. We have to ask – do we believe it’s God…do we want it to be God?  We all have those moments where God is speaking to us and we have to be able to recognize His voice.  The more we know God the more we are able to recognize miracles for what they are. God working in our lives.
Mighty God of Miracles, we confess that we try to explain your miracles rather than enjoy them. Help us to accept that you use all of your creation including other people to work your miracles. Open our hearts to your generous gifts and use us to deliver your miracles to others.
Next time something amazing happens to you or someone you know, don’t try to explain it away.  Accept it as a miraculous gift from God. Give Him the Glory!
Acts 12:19-25
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” Acts 12:21-24
In Matthew 22:37, the first and greatest commandment for Christians is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  Likewise, the 10 Commandments warn us against idolatry.  In today’s passage, Paul talks about Herod’s meeting with the people of Tyre and Sidon.  Once Herod won their approval, they praised and idolized him as a god. Giving another the praise God deserves is turning away from Him who gave you life and a way to salvation, including the death of His Son.  What more must God do to prove how much He loves you and deserves your love in return? We can even lose sight of His authority by relying too heavily on a fellow Christian for guidance. Give all your praise and honor to Him.
-Andy Cisneros

An Extraordinary Testimony

1 John 1

1 John 1 3

The day Jesus called, John was likely living a day just like any other day. John, his father and his brother went to work just like any other day. They started completing their job just like any other day. And they threw their fishing nets into the sea just like any other day.

Then Jesus called.

In a moment’s notice, John left everything he had and followed Jesus simply because Jesus called John and his brother on just another day.

Jesus said come, so they went. That’s it. No flashing lights, no miraculous signs, nothing out of the ordinary. With just one simple sentence, they dropped their nets to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you but just by reading that, I’d say his testimony in Matthew 4:21-22 seems pretty boring.

John’s testimony seemed boring until I realized John’s life changed completely. He was offered immortality in paradise. Who could pass that up? All John had to do was believe to gain immortality.

This brings us to 1 John 1. The first three verses are simply saying that John was there with Jesus. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus perform miracles. He experienced the power of Jesus Christ. John was there. That is no ordinary testimony.

Sometimes in life, I convince myself that my testimony is pretty boring. If you’re like me, you sometimes think that your testimony is typical. Whether that is because you grew up in the church or were engulfed in the easily entangling sin, our individual testimonies don’t seem exciting enough or even Christian enough in our own minds.

The thing is our testimonies showcase the reason we believe: the reason why Jesus is real to us. Our testimonies provide proof that our lives were changed. Our testimonies are never ordinary testimonies. Our unique experiences, stories, and lives show how great of an impact Jesus still has today on this beautifully ordinary day.

When someone asks you how you can believe in someone who died over 2,000 years ago, recount your testimony, tell that Jesus is alive and continuing to work in miraculous ways. Because Jesus is there with you, changing your individual life every step of the way. Yours is no ordinary testimony.          
– Madison Cisler                      

 

(Thank you to Madison Cisler for writing this week. Madison is a student at Atlanta Bible College.  She will be writing on the books of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John.  Look for great devotions this week!)

God Even Thinks of the Little Things

Luke 1

 

Fuel Blog post 1 final

Today we are reading through Luke Chapter 1, which begins with the prediction of John’s birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth, followed by the prediction of Jesus’s birth, and ends with the birth of John.

 

It is easy to look at this section of scripture and focus on the major events that occurred—which might I add—are incredible. Imagine being in Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, or Zechariah’s shoes. In one moment, your life has completely been turned upside down. What a brave faith each of these individuals had.

 

But there is something important in this passage that I think could easily go unnoticed because of the power that the main story line holds. That is the fact that God thought of the smallest things.

 

To start from the beginning, we learn in Luke 1:7 that Elizabeth and Zechariah had been unable to conceive a child. In their time, it was a disgrace for a woman to not give birth. With both Elizabeth and Zechariah being older, I cannot imagine the shame that Elizabeth endured for years before conceiving John. She expresses this in Luke 1:25. Later, we find out that Elizabeth and Mary are related. Mary is also told that she, though a virgin, will conceive Jesus. Luke makes a point to draw the connection between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:36.

 

Why am I bringing this up? Because God has the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with whoever he wants. He could have chosen ANYONE to carry Jesus and John, so why Mary and Elizabeth?

 

By choosing Elizabeth to carry John, a faithful servant of God no longer had to be frowned upon for being infertile. He gave Elizabeth a beautiful gift and miracle that I am sure had been prayed for by both Elizabeth and Zechariah for years. God could have accomplished what he needed done without this, but he did it anyway.

 

Furthermore, God chose Mary to carry his Son. That in and of itself is miraculous, but what is so cool is that God gave Mary Elizabeth. He knew that Mary would struggle and need someone to comfort and be there for her. Not only was Elizabeth faithful to God, but she also had just conceived the miracle of John. Mary had someone that understood what she was going through, and Mary also had concrete belief that the prophecy was true because Elizabeth experienced something similar.

 

What is so crazy to me is that God did not have to do any of that! He could have chosen people hundreds of miles apart with no relation to one another to carry these two powerful men. He could have chosen someone to carry John who already had many children as well, but he didn’t!

 

Simply put, God thought (and still does) think of the little things.

 

This resonates because it proves that God will not call us on a mission without all of the correct supplies. We, as Christians, are called to big things whether we may realize it or not. A lot of these callings may be out of our comfort zone and force us to jump into territory that we might not understand completely.

 

But the beautiful thing is that God sees it all. So, the next time he calls, answer. Take the jump. Start running. Because, no matter what, God won’t let you jump out of a plane without a parachute.

 

-Leslie Jones

A Taste of the Kingdom Hope Now

Tuesday

Matthew 24 14

Yesterday we learned about the future hope of the Kingdom of God. A time when God’s just rule and reign will cloak the earth, His son Jesus will reign as king, and you and I will live in a completely restored relationship with God and Jesus on a revitalized earth. But that time has not come yet; still though, God’s presence and rulership can be felt in the present. This is the present aspect of the kingdom of God.

Have you ever wondered what was the point of the miracles Jesus performed? The miracles were great but they were to point to something greater, namely two things: one, they provided evidence that Jesus was who he said he was (John. 5.36), and two, they pointed to the fact that God’s power and rulership were breaking into the present now (Lk. 4.18-19). In the Old Testament there are passages that describe God’s redemptive power and Jesus in his ministry fulfilled those. In Luke 4, Jesus stands in a synagogue and begins to read:

“The spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives , and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD. And he began to say to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

The time of God’s healing and restoration, Jesus fulfilled in his ministry. The miracle healings were a taste of the future reality. However, there is another way in which God’s kingdom power and influence can be brought into the present. And that is by obedience to Jesus.

There’s a purpose as to why we should obey Jesus. One purpose in particular is that when we obey Jesus and live as he says to live, we are actually manifesting the kingdom power and influence into the present. When you forgive someone who wronged you, you manifest the kingdom. When you evangelize you bring the kingdom into the present. When you love selflessly, when you obey and honor authority, when you confront sin and wrong doing, when you see people and situations the way God sees them you bring the eternal into the temporal, the kingdom into the present. The life Jesus calls you to live is not a good lifestyle, but a kingdom lifestyle. A life that embodies the ethics and practices of God.

So yes the full realization of God’s kingdom is not here yet, but the effects can be felt and seen in the now through your obedience to Jesus. We looked at the future hope and present reality of the kingdom, and this for Jesus, was the gospel he preached. Here are other verses about Jesus sharing the gospel of the kingdom of God:

Matthew 4.23; 9:35; 24.14 and Luke 16.16

When you share the gospel with someone, sharing the kingdom is essential and yet so many gospels tracks and presentations say nothing about it. Preach and live by the gospel Jesus taught. The gospel of the kingdom of God.

-Jacob Rohrer

What Happens When We Pray?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

psalm 145 18

We know that God already knows our thoughts and prayers before we ever lift them up to him (Matthew 6:8), so why do we still need to pray? Yesterday, I promised you an answer to this question and today I will do my best to provide you with one.
I first want to start with a story from when I was in elementary school. Back in those days, I was too young to drive, so I would use my bike to get around. For my birthday one year, I got the coolest green bike from my parents. I loved that thing and would ride it up and down my street or take it to my friend’s house. Then one day while I was at my friend’s house, my green bike was stolen out of his driveway. After this happened, I prayed for weeks that God would give me a new bike. Firstly, I don’t know what I expected God to do. Did I expect a new bike to show up in my garage overnight? Did I expect him to take control of my parents and have them go and buy a new bike?  Regardless, what ended up happening was not what I asked for. Instead of getting a new bike, I had a change of heart.

 

After days of praying about this, I realized that what I was praying for really was not necessary. So what does prayer do? God works through prayer to change us. Whenever we pray in Jesus’ name, we are actively being made into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now there are certainly special cases where God physically interacts with the world to answer our prayers. This has a special name: miracles. I absolutely believe that God has the power to grant any kind of miracle, but I also believe that he rarely chooses to do so. He is our Father that knows what is best for us (Matthew 6:30), and will not neglect us. However, most of our prayers will be a medium for God to work in our own hearts and minds to change us. This is why we must commit ourselves to constant prayer. On the one hand, if we have important issues on our mind and in our prayers at all times, then our actions will start to reflect those things and through our actions, God can answer our prayers. On the other hand, if we spend our time praying for frivolous things, we will be able to realize that by the amount of time we spend thinking and praying about it.

 

This of course leads to one more very difficult question: if God knows what we need and won’t neglect us, than why do some of our prayers, especially those for healing, go unanswered? We will dive into that topic tomorrow. But for today, focus on prayer and being made into a new creation.

 

-Nathaniel Johnson

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

John 8-9

Sunday, May 28

Jesus is an awesome teacher. I have read Dallas Willard’s amazing work, The Divine Conspiracy, where he discusses the Sermon on the Mount. One of the points that Willard makes is that Jesus is not just a smart guy, but the smartest guy. He is not just a wise person, but the wisest person. Jesus confirms this when he says that one “greater than Solomon is here”. (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31) So if anyone asks you who the wisest person in the Bible was the answer isn’t Solomon; it’s JESUS!
Jesus shows his masterful hand at teaching here in John. In these first 12 chapters of the Gospel, Jesus is performing miracles, which the author calls signs. We have already read about the sign where Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-12). There have been a couple healings, one of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) and one of a paralytic on the Sabbath (5:1-15). Then he did two where he overcame the normal laws of nature by feeding the five thousand with only a little food (6:1-15) and by walking on water (6:16-21). All these signs are connected in John, because all these signs point to an important truth: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing in him, we can have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
In John 8 and 9, Jesus connects both his teaching and a sign to point to his Messiahship. In chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples see a blind man. Instead of tying the blindness to anyone’s sin, Jesus says that God’s glory, and the glory of the One and Only Son, would be displayed in the man’s life. Jesus taught previously, in chapter 8, that he is the light of the world. He declared that if we follow him we will not live in darkness but walk in the bright light of life. He then makes his point vivid by giving this blind man sight!
The once-blind man is taken in, questioned, harassed and abused by the religious leaders of his community. Instead of listening to this man tell his testimony about the truth of Jesus, they were intent on shutting down Jesus and claiming that he was a fraud. The man’s testimony is only the truth: “I was blind, but now I see.” Jesus comes to the once-blind man and basically tells him, “You can see that I am the Messiah.” Even Jesus loves puns! Jesus teaches that the blind will see and those who think that they can see are truly blind.
This story is a wonderful picture and full of rich imagery on its own. But I also come away with three thoughts for how we live today.
First, the once-blind man was “giving a testimony” about Jesus. He wasn’t even close to a “believer” as we might define it. He trusted enough to go and wash and he came back with sight; nothing more than trust that the washing would work was asked of him. That is pretty amazing. He says nothing of faith before the miracle takes place. And when people ask him about his life, all he does is tell his story. That’s all God and Christ call you to do when they say to share the good news of the gospel. It does not mean you have to have a suave and sophisticated philosophical demonstration of the proofs of God. You simply tell people how Jesus found you, and why you are better now. Were you blind and now you see? Were you addicted to something and no longer? Are you more loving to your family and friends? THAT is your evangelism, that is the good news God calls you to share.
Second, do you feel like the once-blind man? There are times when we experience God doing something in our lives that doesn’t make sense. We CAN’T explain why something is happening. This guy just says “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see!” Sometimes, we feel God moving in ways that may make our families, our churches or ourselves uncomfortable. The people who should have celebrated this man’s miracle the most, his family and his religious leaders, turned their backs on him and cast him out. When God is moving, trust in what He is doing, keep looking for Him, and no matter who let’s go of you, God will find you. 
Third, take care that you are walking in the light of Christ so that you can see and live. Just like the people of Jesus’ day, this sign is pointing us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name. Take care that you don’t lose sight of that purpose. The purpose is not for us to say “I wish I could see a miracle.” The miracle has been done. Will you believe because of it? Will you trust that Jesus is who he claimed to be? Remember, if you don’t want to believe, that is still an option. But there is a cost: rejection leads to a life of darkness, and the ultimate darkness of death. Christ offers us so much more with life in this life that leads to eternal life. He is the light of the world and he offers us himself. Praise be to God through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World!
-Jake Ballard
Jake Ballard is Pastor at Pine Grove Bible Church in Brooklyn Park, MN. He is a husband to Amber, father to Melody Grace, and proud “daddy” to a black kitty named River (for my Dr. Who and Firefly fans). Jake is a graduate student at Bethel Seminary, where he is kept busy. When he does have free time, he likes to read (Tolkien and Riordan at the moment), watch Netflix (Star Wars: Deep Space Nine), and play video and board games. (Always open for suggestions, as I am less busy in the summer). He hopes that his devotions will help you, dear reader, fall in love with the Gospel of John, because if he had to pick a favorite book, it would be this one! God bless! 
(Photo Credit: http://www.boldcupofcoffee.com/blog/i-am-the-light-of-the-world)