“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”
I had my devotion all set in my head this morning. However, I saw something on the way to work that I just had to share.
The road I take to work is what we in Alabama call a backroad. Not a major highway, just a small two-lane road that meanders its way through woods.
So I set out for work; weary, sad, and just trying to make it through the day. And God reached down and touched my heart with a sprinkling of pure joy, a manifestation of His unending grace toward me.
I saw coming toward me a really big truck. You know the kind that are common to this part of the country, the kind with tires taller than me. As I watched this monster come roaring toward me, I noticed something flicker outside of the driver’s window.
“That person better not be throwing trash out their window,” I thought. Because I was just in the right mood to take on anyone driving that behemoth. After all, diligent members of my church family routinely go out and clean up the trash people throw on to the road. I was ready to confront the offenders.
But upon further study, I noticed that the image flowing out of that window was not trash at all. As I peered into the cab of the truck, I could see that it was occupied by two nuns, fully dressed in their habits which were blowing in the breeze of the windows.
As they flew past me with their engine roaring and their big tires churning, I noticed that they were both cackling at the tops of their lungs! Picture it friends, can you imagine such a sight??
Now I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t fit the picture I have in my head of how nuns normally live. I don’t actually know any, but I tend to think more of quiet, prayerful people living in stone fortresses rather than rip-roaring partiers roaming the backwoods of Alabama. I mean, they aren’t supposed to be having that much fun are they?
But what I realized in that brief, precious encounter was that, yes indeed, they were supposed to be having that much fun. My heart was lifted in those few seconds and a smile spread to my face as I recalled the wonderful promise Jesus gave us in John chapter 15: Your joy will overflow. What a fantastic reminder!
I think sometimes we followers of the Way get it wrong. Somewhere through the ages, we got the idea that following God meant solemnity at all times and piety at all costs. Somewhere along the way, Christianity got tagged as a lifestyle with no parties, no laughter, and nothing else that might cause enjoyment. (I think it might have happened in the dark ages.)
But on this glorious spring day my friends, let us remember that Jesus went to parties. Jesus had friends and deep relationships. Jesus even drank wine. So I am sure that He also laughed and experienced great joy. And He promised to fill us completely with His joy through the Holy Spirit. We need to embrace that fact and learn to live in a joyful state of mind while worshiping God instead of feeling guilty about it.
There are times, like today, that I don’t feel much joy. However, I am reminded that I have much more in my life to celebrate than to lament. All I have to do is stay connected to the source of that divine joy. All I have to do, is turn myself over to His tender mercies and He fills me with His presence and His joy. All for free. Just because I am His beloved.
Praise God, the Father, who continues to flow grace over me and show me the real way to live. And may He abundantly bless the nuns in the monster truck who showed up at the right time to lead me into abounding laughter.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit I pray.
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”
The Revelation of Saint John, 21:3-5
I was driving my kids to school this morning and my son commented on the beauty of the trees. We have a huge area of trees right beside the school that are heavy- laden with the most beautiful white blossoms. They are truly spectacular in the springtime.
As he marveled at the sight, he commented that “this must be what heaven looks like.” What he didn’t know, was that I had been thinking about heaven for hours. His grandfather died earlier this morning. And when we received the call, I immediately began to wonder about the joyous reunions going on in heaven today.
I don’t know what heaven is like. All I have is what the scriptures tell me. And based upon God’s word, this is what I imagine is going on there right now.
I honestly don’t know what heaven is like. But I believe it exists and my sweet father-in-law did too. I believe he is there right now, dancing with his bride that left us far too early. I can only imagine that his infectious smile and laugh has returned because of his joy in the presence of pure Perfection. And I truly believe he has a peace that we can’t comprehend, because he finally sees the whole glorious picture of Christ’s plan for us.
My heart is filled with joy and thanksgiving as I sit imagining the Johnson residence in heaven. Because I know, as Jesus promised, that Poppy is living in a paradise beyond our wildest dreams. I also know that there is a place for me there as well. And one day, our family will be reunited there with much joy.
It is my hope and prayer that each one of you have the same assurance in your heart. Our Lord loves each of you and His grace is available to all who call on Him.
Glory be to God, and thanks be to our Savior Jesus Christ!
“Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”
I read this and become so angry. I am angry at the injustice. I am angry at the weakness of the government officials. I am angry at the ignorant crowd. And I am very angry at the religious leaders. How could all these people allow an innocent man to be tortured to death? It is disturbing.
However, we must also remember that it was necessary. As twisted and hate-filled as it was, it was God’s plan to reconcile US back to Him. That’s right friends, this most horrible event was allowed to happen so that you and I could one day live in paradise.
So, if I am to be disturbed, I should be disturbed by my own sinful nature. If I am to be angry, I should be angry that an innocent man had to die in my place. Because, certainly, if there had been any other way to save my soul, God would have found it. But there was none. There was no other way to secure my salvation because my depravity is too deep. My nature is to love myself above others, and my heart is not fully surrendered to God.
So Jesus chose to come and die for my sake. And it doesn’t really matter who pronounced judgment or who hammered the nails. He did it to save me.
What am I to do with that reality? How am I to respond to such a gift that I cannot completely comprehend it? What should my life, which was bought with someone else’s blood and agony, produce in this world?
I hope you are meditating on these questions today my friends. For they are the heart of what today is all about. And the answers to these questions are the foundation of our relationship with Jesus. They deserve as much prayer and deliberation as we can give them. For today, we have been redeemed.
Grace to you.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”
Maundy Thursday. The last day of Jesus’ earthly life. How did He spend it? Do what all faithful Jews do, celebrating the Passover. Of course, we know it to be so much more than a normal Passover meal. Jesus took a day that was already greatly meaningful for His friends and turned it into something deeply sacred.
He created something sacred by what He did, what He taught, and how He loved on that final night. And it was not only for the twelve insiders. Jesus created this sacred moment for all of us who would believe in their footsteps.
The next two days were meant to be holy and set apart for us, friends. They are meant to be a time of reflection, prayer and repentance. I pray that you allow the Spirit of God to take you to such a place today. I encourage you, do not let the ordinary take the place of the sacred in the days to come. As much as you can, tune out the world and draw near to the Savior. It is only in this way that we can truly be made new. On this day, when He could have chosen to do anything, He chose to pray for us. I hope, on this day when you can choose to do anything, you choose to honor Him.
I am attaching the following link to the chapters that recall that Last Supper. There is so much richness and grace to be had in these holy words. I hope that you can spend some time in quiet reflection today on what He did, what He taught, and how He loved.
Grace to you.
The Gospel of John, chapters 13-18
“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus had a great way of making the religious people look sort of ridiculous. He took a complicated system of laws and statutes and expressed them in a way that was simple and easy to follow. And this confounded the priests. After all, they had spent generations constructing these laws down to the minute detail, and He was able to brush all that away and get down to the heart of the matter.
And yet, the truths He spoke were very deep and full of meaning. The difference between the man-made laws and Jesus’ interpretation, I believe, comes down to an “action vs. attitude” scenario.
For example, one of the big laws was “Do Not Commit Adultery.” I understand that. I can do that and feel very confident that I have done what God wants of me.
However, Jesus said it wasn’t about the action itself, but about my attitude, or heart condition, regarding the action. He said that if I even looked at anyone other than my spouse (with lustful thoughts) that I would be committing adultery. That is a whole other issue. Controlling my thoughts and emotions creates an internal struggle within my soul. Sure I can walk away from potentially adulterous situations. That is easy. But once I have been tempted, it is going to be almost impossible to stop thinking about it. All of a sudden, when interpreted through the lens of my Savior, my “good” actions have transformed into a sinful circumstance.
For me, the same is true with the Great Commandment (both sides of it.) I can follow all the rules, keep the Sabbath, have no other gods, don’t kill, don’t lie, etc. But where does my heart lie?
Am I truly loving God with everything I have? Is He truly first in my life above everything else including my job, my family and even my own comforts?
And am I truly loving my neighbor as myself? Or do I placate this requirement by doing a volunteer day every once in a while and giving money when asked for a missions offering? Do I love the neighbor that I don’t like? Am I Ioving people that make me uncomfortable? Is my daily life a reflection of His love for all people?
On this last day of “formal” teachings, Jesus said many things. However, above everything else, He said this was the most important. With only 2 days left with us, I believe He chose His words very carefully. So I have to take time today and dive deeply into this Commandment. I am compelled to seek His opinion on whether I am living up to it. And what HE would have me do in my pursuit of it.
Our Savior is a God of grace and mercy. His grace sustains us in our relationship with Him, and His mercy is poured over us with an expectation that we will pour it over others. Let us not allow His greatest commandment go unfulfilled, friends. Let us seek Him deeply and allow ourselves to be used as instruments of His grace and gospel message.
Song of the Day: Amazing Grace
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”
But the leaders were indignant. They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.”
As disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ, let us re-trace the steps and actions of our Savior during this Holy Week.
On Monday of that week, scripture records this episode in the Temple. Remember, this was a Holy Week for Him too. It was the week that all Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of their most holy days.
Thousands upon thousands of good, God-fearing people coming to offer their sacrifices and worship. Coming to find healing, forgiveness, or peace. Coming to connect with the Great I AM. And what did they find?
Swindlers, cheaters, and spiritual prostitutes. People who were more concerned about taking their money than providing a meaningful worship experience. And these pilgrims were at the mercy of those who would take advantage of them. This system was set up to require a certain type of sacrifice and a certain kind of money. And the only place to get these required items were from the merchants and sellers conveniently set up in the house of worship.
No wonder Jesus was angry. No wonder He was moved to throw an epic fit in the midst of the chaos. Can you imagine it? Could you imagine your own pastor storming into church, turning over furniture, and throwing people out because of the farce we had made of worship?
Let me ask you a question. If you only had a week left to live, what would you do? What would you say? Only the most important things, right? And so did Jesus.
So I encourage you to spend time each day this week, immersed in the scriptures that document His activities. Search them. Pray over them. Ask the Lord what He is saying to you. And finally, meditate deeply on how you are being called to respond.
This is the deep work of the Spirit, my friends. Drink deeply from the fountain of our Lord’s revelation and be blessed by it.
If you are truly serious about keeping this week holy, I suggest you start here. This song and video are not easy. But they speak truth into what this week is all about .
Song of the Day: Yes, I Will… –Bebo Norman
So where are we from our experience yesterday? You know, those sorts of experiences of God are not ones that can be done in 10 minutes and then move on to something else.
To dive into our spiritual reality sometimes takes us places that we don’t want to go. For others, it may come as a comfort, long forgotten in the midst of daily challenges. However, no matter where it takes us, it is a place in which we should stay for a while and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us.
What does He have to say to you? Will He speak words of grace and healing into a current struggle? Will He whisper, “well done, good and faithful servant” over a lifetime of faithfulness? Will He take you to a place of rejoicing?
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to find your place of worship today and open your hearts to the indwelling of the Spirit. He is waiting there to commune with you in a most personal way. It doesn’t matter if your Hallelujah is full of joy and adoration, or if it broken and painful. He is faithful to show up in all circumstances.
I have heard this song twice in the last 12 hours. That is a sacred echo. I believe I was meant share it with you today. I tried to pick a couple of versions that would speak to any of us, and believe me, there are about a hundred out there. So I hope this takes you to a place of worship today in which you come face-to-face with the risen Lord.
Hallelujah – The Canadian Tenors – WOW!!
Hallelujah – Kurt Nilson – Amazing – But a bit more earthy
Hallelujah – Bon Jovi – For all you 80’s children