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    Daily Devotions - Entries written by Jonathan Ziman

    WedWednesdayAprApril23rd2014 At The Beginning
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    As best we can tell, the debate that was raging at the time of Jesus was not about whether or not divorce was permissible, but rather about the specific circumstances under which it would be legal. There were two schools of thought on this issue. One group argued that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. The other group argued that divorce was reserved simply for cases of infidelity.

    In this case, rather than get pulled into a debate that was, after all, primarily intended to trick Him, Jesus side-stepped their question entirely:

    “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)

    Whatever exceptions Moses might have intimated were allowable, God’s plan before the Fall was always for one man and one woman to be joined together in one marriage, for life. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, the message stays absolutely consistent. There is no middle ground, and Jesus leaves no room for debate.

    In some respects it’s remarkable that the religious leaders of the day were more fixated on the ways and means for getting out of a marriage than trying to discern God’s original plan for marriage to begin with. However, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Sin has turned all of us into rebels constantly looking for short-cuts, escape clauses, exclusions and exceptions.

    How often do we dream up elaborate excuses for ourselves before engaging in sin, trying to weasel our way around what we know to be wrong? In our infinite creativity we like to imagine that we can somehow obey the letter of the law while simultaneously breaking it in such a way as to suit our immediate needs. We should hardly be surprised when God doesn’t take the bait, instead seeing straight through our pathetic ploys and convicting us of sin in the process.

    The Pharisees were left without any answer. After all, whatever clever arguments they may have been able to dream up regarding possible reasons for divorce, they couldn’t argue against the fact that it was never part of God’s original plan for men and women. A fact that remains true for us today.

    Now, one last thing before we close our thoughts for today. Please note who Jesus' audience is here. He's not talking to the woman whose husband has been physically abusing her for years, or the husband whose wife has moved in with another man. He is speaking to a group of men engaged in esoteric debates that completely ignored God's original plan for caring, loving marital relationships. To these people Jesus' words were stern and specific. 

    However, if you are the abused or victimized party in a divorce, then God's grace extends to you as much as to anyone else wronged by sin. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Jesus' words are not meant to heap shame and guilt on those hurt by divorce, but rather to condemn those people who would willingly flaunt God's Creation design and abandon their spouse for almost any reason whatsoever. 

    So today, if you are considering a divorce, for whatever reason, please reach out to one of our pastors for prayer and counsel. We would love to talk with you in person and help you in whatever way we can. We want to pray with you and would love to be a support and encouragement for you during this difficult time. 

    TueTuesdayAprApril22nd2014 Is It Lawful?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Today we return to our series on the Gospel of Mark. Admittedly, having just studied the Crucifixion and Resurrection, it almost seems anti-climactic to go back in time to study the chapters we missed. It’s a bit like reading the end of the book first—now we know what’s going to happen, so why read the rest?

    Well, for starters, we already knew what was going to happen anyway, so it’s not like some big surprise has been ruined. More importantly, however, there is still much to learn from chapters 10-14. So this week we’ll be examining the first twelve verses of Mark 10, in preparation for our sermon next Sunday by Pastor Lon Allison.

    Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

    Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

     “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

    They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

     “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:1-12)

    Marriage is one of those hot-button topics that seems to constantly be in the news these days. Our culture is busy trying to redefine everything—what is a man? What is a woman? What is marriage? We keep drifting further and further away from Biblical concepts of gender and sexuality, and in the process losing sight of God’s good and great plan for His Creation. If things appeared to be in a sorry state of affairs in Jesus’ time, it sure seems as if things are even worse today.

    As so often happened in Jesus’ ministry, the issue of divorce was raised, not because the Pharisees genuinely wanted to know what Jesus had to say about marriage, but because they wanted to test him. Their objective was to try and trick Jesus in some way.

    Jesus’ response gets at the heart of the issue in no short measure. Divorce was only ever tolerated as a concession to their hardness of hearts, but God’s plan was that there should never be divorce.

    God is opposed to divorce. There’s no wriggling around that uncomfortable fact. There might be limited exceptions in specific circumstances, but even those don’t mitigate the fact that God hates divorce. It’s never part of His plan for our marriages for them to end in divorce.

    That said, as we noted yesterday, God is a God of grace, and what we just celebrated over Easter was the forgiveness that can now be ours because of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. No sin is too big that it can’t be forgiven. No marital pain is too great that it can’t be healed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We serve a mighty God, and as much as He hates divorce, He loves us even more. 

    MonMondayAprApril21st2014 Living In Light Of The Resurrection
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

     Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

     These brief words from the Apostle Paul, written to his “true son in the faith” Timothy, are a fitting way to begin the week after Easter. In the coming days and weeks we should be filled with thankfulness for the mercy He has shown towards us. We should sing with hearts full of joy because of the grace poured out on us in abundance. We should awake each day amazed by the truth that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Whatever else may happen today, nothing can change what God has already done. Our salvation is now secure. As a result, nothing can ever separate us from our Heavenly Father.

    The Resurrection allows us to move forward in life with a boldness we may never have felt before. We can be confident of the fact that, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Whatever the external circumstances of your life, Jesus will not give up on you and will never stop working in and through you. Whatever trials and tribulations come your way, the Holy Spirit will not leave you or cease to be a living presence in your life. The Resurrection is an assurance that God will never abandon us.

    Such abundant grace extends out to us even when we wander away. Even when we get distracted and allow ourselves to be led away into sin, God’s grace is big enough to draw us home. Even when we feel low and lousy and unlovable, God’s grace is there to right our ship and re-orient our life to Him. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” a work He continues to this very day. We are all works in progress, and Jesus displays “immense patience” towards us all the time.

    So let us begin this week with praise to the Lord for the Resurrection, and the mighty power He displayed in raising Christ from the dead.

    Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen! (1 Timothy 1:17)

    FriFridayAprApril18th2014 Christ Died For The Ungodly
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    As we pause to contemplate the gravity of the crucifixion and all that means for our lives, let’s together spend time reflecting on the words of Paul from Romans Chapter 5:

    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

    Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

    To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

    Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    ThuThursdayAprApril17th2014 The Crucified King
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

    At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

    When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

    Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

    With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

    The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:27-39)

    A crucified king. It’s an image familiar to us, but completely foreign to the people of Jesus’ time. How could anyone possibly reconcile those two seemingly opposing images--conquering king and crucified criminal?

    So there they stood--wondering, marveling, confused. Instead of recognizing that He was quoting Psalm 22, a Psalm of David, they thought he was calling out to Elijah. And then, Jesus died. It was a real death. He didn’t pass out. He didn’t faint. He didn’t go into a coma. He died.

    Something astonishing happened in that moment. Something about the way He died, something about the manner of His death, something about the entire event so shook the centurion standing guard over the criminals, that he was driven to faith. The sign posted on the cross that labeled Jesus as the “King of the Jews” was meant to belittle our Lord. Yet in His death He was recognized with a title even more amazing--the Son of God.

    In that moment, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” It was a dramatic visible sign that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price, not just for our sins personally and individually, but for all sins corporately and completely. In that moment the Temple and its entire sacrificial system was rendered obsolete. The shadow was replaced by the substance of Christ (Colossians 2:17). In that moment, the path was cleared for us to boldly enter in God’s very presence. Praise the Lord for that gift!

    Jesus paid it all,
    All to Him I owe;
    Sin had left a crimson stain,
    He washed it white as snow.

    WedWednesdayAprApril16th2014 Who Will Accuse?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

    A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

    It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: The King of the Jews. (Mark 15:16-26)

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 8:1, which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What an encouragement that is! Whatever awful memories may pop into our minds, whatever situations arise that make us feel guilty and ashamed, if we are in Christ then we have been forgiven once and for all. There is now no condemnation. Nothing can be held over our heads. No charge can be brought against us. We have truly been set free.

    Of course, such a glorious freedom came at a very high cost indeed. Our sins were not, and indeed could not, simply be ignored. They weren’t swept under the carpet, nor were they merely overlooked. Sin had to be dealt with in a definitive manner. And in today’s reading we see that awful price begin to play out in the death of Jesus.

    Mocked, ridiculed, tortured and abused, He was treated as if He was nothing; a worthless, valueless, insignificant criminal. Nailed to a cross, He was left to die a slow and painful death. It was a cruel death, to be certain, but the goal was as much humiliation and shame as it was pain and suffering. The cross was the ultimate way to assert power and authority over another human being.

    The written notice hanging on the cross summed it up nicely. Here was their supposed king--reduced to nothing more than the shell of a man, a naked, beaten and bloodied body left to die on a cross.

    Yet, as the disciples would soon discover, it was this very death, in all its shame and horror, that ultimately paid for all our sins. As Peter would later write, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:24).  Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame,” in order to complete the task God had appointed for Him to do, paying the penalty for our sins (Hebrews 12:2).

    What charges have been leveled against you? Who stands against you in accusation? What guilt and shame seems to continually rear its head in your life? As we prepare to celebrate Easter, look to the cross and be reminded that it was there that sin met its match, and death was swallowed up in victory, so that you might be set free. 

    TueTuesdayAprApril15th2014 The King Of The Jews
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

     “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

     “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

     “Crucify him!” they shouted.

     “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

    But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

    Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

    Christmas and Easter are without a doubt the two biggest events on the Church calendar. For as many different denominations that we have scattered across the world, these two celebrations are a common thread that bind us all together as followers of Christ (even if we sometimes end up celebrating them on different days). It makes sense, since Christmas marks Jesus’ birth, and Easter His death (and Resurrection). They function as book-ends to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and as such have a very different feel to them.

    Just a few months ago we celebrated with joy His arrival as a baby, remembering the great prophecy of Isaiah:

    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
        there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
        and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
        with justice and righteousness
        from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty
        will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

     Yet, today, as we read Mark 15, there appears to be no throne, no kingdom and no peace. Instead we see a man condemned to die. That precious child has grown to become a threat. As a result, He must be removed.

    Indeed, in the chaotic moments before Jesus was condemned, as Pilate offered the people a choice between Barabbas and Jesus, the chief priests seemed to be the ones pulling all the strings. They were the ones working the crowd into a frenzy, inciting the people to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. Isaiah promised “no end” to Jesus’ government, and yet Mark tells us Pilate simply “handed [Jesus] over to be crucified.

    Note, however, the last line of Isaiah’s prophecy. “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Just as the Kingdom of God could not be ushered in with human hands, neither could it be snuffed out through human efforts. The Lord Almighty is always at work, establishing His definitive will in His definitive way. What He has determined will come to pass, and nothing can thwart those plans.

    Although the disciples couldn’t see it at the time, although it made no sense in the moment, and even though everyone thought all hope was lost, God was still in control. In fact, it wasn’t until several years later that the Apostle Paul, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would capture the astonishing truth for us in the following way:

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
    Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
        by taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        by becoming obedient to death—
            even death on a cross! 

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
        and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11) 

    The Lord moved sovereignly in Jesus’ birth, He moved sovereignly in Jesus’ death, He moved sovereignly in Jesus’ Resurrection, and He continues to move sovereignly throughout His Kingdom even to this very day. We serve a mighty God who does mighty things. Do not ever let the struggle of the moment take your focus off our King. He lives, He rules, He reigns. Let us praise Him today!

    MonMondayAprApril14th2014 The Coup
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

     “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

    “You have said so,” Jesus replied.

    The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

    But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15:1-5)

    Today marks the entrance into a special time of reflection and introspection that the Church has often referred to throughout history as “Holy Week.” It’s the week before Easter—the final days before Jesus was crucified. So, in preparation for our services this Friday and Sunday, we’re jumping ahead in our study to Chapters 15 and 16, where Mark records these last moments of Christ in detail.

    Most of us are so used to this story by now that the weight of the facts are sometimes lost on us. But look at this one little phrase, “So they bound Jesus…” That’s astonishing. Just think about who it is they are tying up with ropes. This is no mere man, this is “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

    This is the man who called His first disciples with an authority that compelled them to leave everything and follow Him. The One who healed a man with an unclean spirit, healed Simon’s mother-in law of a fever, healed a lepor, healed a paralytic, healed a man with a withered hand, taught with authority, and then calmed a storm.

    This is the man who healed a man with a demon in such a powerful manner that the people begged Jesus to leave that area because they were astonished at his power. He healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, and raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

    Jesus fed five thousand people, and then walked on water, before healing yet more people, including a Syrophonecian woman’s daughter who was beset by a demon. He healed a deaf man, fed four thousand people, healed a blind man, and then went up on a mountain where He was “transfigured” in the presence of Peter, James, and John.

    And those are just the highlights. For three years Jesus moved throughout the region, healing people everywhere He went, teaching with authority, and pointing people to God. He caused such a stir that upon entering Jerusalem, the crowds assembled to wave palm branches before Him, honoring Him as their Messiah and King.

    This is the man whose own family couldn’t stop Him, the one who repeatedly avoided capture and evaded every trap and trick thrown at Him by the religious leaders who were increasingly frustrated by His very presence among them.

    But more than any of this, this man was God Himself. The Creator allowing Himself to be bound by His Creation. The coup that was begun in the Garden of Eden comes to completion in this awful moment, as the King is bound and handed over to be judged and executed. The symbolism could not be more powerful—God’s chosen people finally and definitively handing over their King to be crucified.

    Thankfully for us all, of course, the story does not end there. However, as we move through this week we should pause here to consider the ways in which we still, even today, continue to rebel against our King. We bristle against His authority. We push back against the boundaries. We look to greener pastures, and constantly seek to assert our own independence. May we see in those attitudes and emotions the awful similarities to the men who bound Jesus and handed Him over to be killed. May we see them, and be broken, and repent.

    FriFridayMarMarch28th2014 We Have Not Stopped Praying
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    For our final devotional of the week we turn our hearts and minds fully towards God, spending time meditating on the following verses from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. May our prayers echo Paul’s, and may our hearts sing with joy for the salvation Jesus purchased for us on the cross.

    3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

     9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

    (Colossians 1:3-14)

    ThuThursdayMarMarch27th2014 And Can It Be?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

     Cast your mind back over the last four or five months of this sermon series. As we’ve worked our way through the Gospel of Mark we’ve encountered example after example of Jesus’ absolute authority over all things. He has the power to calm storms, the power to raise people from the dead, the power to cleanse people of demonic possession, and the power to heal even the most severe injuries and illnesses. Everywhere He goes people are stunned by the depth of His wisdom and the power of His teaching. He can even walk on water!

    Yet now the story seems to move in a different direction. Until this point, Jesus has been an almost unstoppable force moving through the region. But now His journey seems to be moving in another direction, and He begins to repeat a new and almost incomprehensible message to the disciples. This “Son of God” is not planning on conquering Jerusalem and stealing the throne, but will instead “be delivered into the hands of men [who will] kill him” (Mark 9:31).

    How could anyone reconcile these two seemingly opposing narratives? Jesus was just transfigured before their eyes! Jesus just healed another boy who had been possessed by a demon! What force left in the world could possibly be strong enough to crush such an incredible person?

    We now know, of course, that it was only by God’s plan that Jesus was handed over to be killed. He was not taken by surprise or defeated by Satan. Rather, this was God’s will from the very beginning. Charles Wesley captured something of this amazement in his hymn, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain.” As we close today, may this be our song and our prayer as well:

    And can it be that I should gain
    An interest in the Savior's blood?
    Died he for me, who caused his pain?
    For me, who him, to death pursued?
    Amazing love! How can it be
    That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
    Amazing love! How can it be
    That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

    WedWednesdayMarMarch26th2014 Only By Prayer
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

    The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

    After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

    He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer. ” (Mark 9:25-29)

    As if to highlight the absolute power and authority of God over all things, Jesus proceeds to heal the boy absolutely and definitively. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), and here we see the proof. The boy who had been afflicted since he was a child is healed with a word of command from Jesus. Truly anything is possible with God.

    Yet, at the same time, there’s a problem. Although Jesus clearly has power to defy the forces of darkness and turn back the ravaging effects of sin, the disciples are left wondering how come they couldn’t affect those changes themselves. The answer, it turns out, has nothing to do with their limitations as mortal creatures as opposed to Jesus’ divine perfection. Rather, the problem lies in their failure to pray.

    Are you noticing a common thread in our devotionals so far this week?

    It would seem that Jesus really wants us to pray. So what is it about prayer that makes it such a vital component of our spiritual life? The most obvious answer, in this particular case, is that it connects us with a source of power and strength that is so utterly beyond ourselves that it’s almost impossible to fathom. With God, everything is possible, and prayer connects us to that possibility.

    Secondly, prayer clearly demonstrates our total dependence on God. When we pray, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, that we don’t have all the power, and that we don’t have all the authority. In fact, when we pray, we are essentially admitting our total helplessness. It would appear that the disciples had perhaps lost sight of this crucial fact, and were perhaps beginning to think that they were the ones casting out demons, not the power of God working through them.

    Finally, prayer is a reminder that God is not an abstract concept, but a loving Father. He longs to be in relationship with us, and prayer affords us the opportunity to connect with God in one of those most intimate ways imaginable.

    So now, as we close out our devotional time, I encourage you to pray with renewed energy and focus today. God loves you and wants to hear from you. He has the power to help you. Recognize your own helplessness and turn to God for healing today. 

    TueTuesdayMarMarch25th2014 Everything Is Possible
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

     “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

    A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

    “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

    So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

    Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

    “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

     “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-24)

    The first question that comes to mind when reading this passage concerns unanswered prayer. If, as Jesus seems to imply, “Everything is possible for one who believes,” then how come we don’t see more miracles today? Are we not believing enough? Is our faith too weak?

    But before we jump to those questions, we need to examine the text more closely. Jesus does not say, “Everything is guaranteed to happen in accordance with the fervent prayers of someone who has enough faith.” God is not a genie in a bottle, beholden to the wishes and desires of whoever wakes Him up. What Jesus does say is, “Everything is possible for one who believes.

    The key word here is “possible.” Think about it this way. When we pray to God, we are not grasping at straws, hoping that perhaps one of the many possible divine entities that may or may not actually exist “out there” deigns to get involved in our lives to tilt the balance in our favor.

    No, when we pray, we are entering into the throne room of the one true King, the Lord of Lords, the God of the Universe. This is the God who holds all things together, the One who created everything out of nothing. He is more mighty and powerful than we can ever possibly imagine. That’s the kind of power and authority we have access to when we pray. So of course all things are possible. After all, this is God we are talking about!

    If we believe that He is who He says He is, then everything is possible. That means that while there is no guarantee of healing, there is a very real potential for it (not just a vague wished for hope). While there is no guarantee of provision in a time of crisis, the act of praying for it is not futile or pathetic, but vital and important, for the possibility of relief and supernatural intervention is absolutely real.

    If God is involved, anything is possible. I am not the source of potentiality, God is. As such, miracles can happen even for those who feel weak, weary and worn down by life. As the boy’s father cried out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” May we have the courage to approach our Father in Heaven with that kind of faith today.

    MonMondayMarMarch24th2014 Just Pray
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

      “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

     A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

     “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

     So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

     Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

    “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

     “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-24)

    I have uttered many prayers for help throughout my life, but none with such pleading and desperation than the time my wife experienced a miscarriage. As we began to notice that things were not going well with the pregnancy, we both prayed with a fervency we had never experienced before. And yet, my wife still miscarried. Why didn’t God intervene to heal her and save the baby?

    I think this is the kind of question we all have in mind after reading a passage like this. What we want to know, what we long to understand, is why God doesn’t heal, provide or protect in the ways we are hoping and praying that He will. Jesus healed the boy “possessed by a spirit,” so why won’t He heal me? Or my spouse? Or my friend?

    That question, of course, is far bigger than anything we could possibly cover in a brief devotional, but it’s instructive perhaps to consider Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. Not one of us could ever hope to pray with more trust, faith, and belief than Jesus, and yet God, in His wisdom, nevertheless chose not to answer that particular prayer. Clearly there are aspects of God’s sovereign will that we can never fully comprehend this side of Heaven.

    Tomorrow we’ll continue our examination of this passage, considering more carefully Jesus’ conversation with the man about his sick son. But for today, one thing we do know, for sure, without any doubt, is that God wants us to pray about everything. Even when things don’t make sense and we have absolutely no clue what is going on, God wants us to pray.

    Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

    Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

    Two actions steps lead out of these verses. First, take your requests and concerns to God today. Now. Whether it makes sense or not, whether you feel full of faith or not, whether the situation seems bleak and hopeless or not, persist in prayer and do not give up. Second, please let us know how we can be praying for you. We gather as a staff to pray for you every Tuesday. We would love to pray specifically for you tomorrow. 

    FriFridayMarMarch14th2014 The Denial Of Self
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

    For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

    If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38) 

    When I was a child we often gave things up for Lent. So, for 40 days (more or less), we would be deprived of candy, or chocolate (note how we managed to keep those as separate categories), or perhaps television or cookies. My parents may have tried to explain this to us, I’m not sure, but I admit I was never really very clear as to why we were suddenly giving up such essential pieces of my childhood life. The calendar said “Lent,” therefore we were obliged to give something up.

    So at this time of year, in particular, it’s hard not to read Jesus’ words in a similar way. Following Jesus, in this view, seems to imply that we should be focused on denying ourselves pleasurable things in this world so we can experience spiritual treasures in the next.

    But according to New Testament Professor R.T. France, Jesus is talking about something “on a different level altogether from giving up chocolates for Lent. ‘It is not the denial of something to the self, but the denial of the self itself’” (R.T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary on The Gospel of Mark, p.340). This corresponds much more precisely with Jesus’ encouragement to follow Him to the cross, to die. He’s not talking about temporary inconvenience, He’s talking about absolute submission. It’s an all-or-nothing decision. There’s no middle ground when it comes to following Jesus. 

    That said, when it comes right down to it, we all do a pretty miserable job at setting our own selfish needs and desires to one side for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Maybe some days are better than others, but the bottom line is that we can’t do this perfectly or completely. We’ve all had exciting moments of total shining commitment to our Lord and Savior, that are invariably followed by painful reminders of our own weakness and timidity. 

    Rather than see this as failure, however, such an analysis should lead us to worship instead. Depriving ourselves, or denying ourselves, or even denying our “selves,” doesn’t earn us more favor with God. Our righteousness is dependent on one thing only. Jesus. It’s His perfect obedience and His total denial of self that saves us and allows us entrance into the presence of God. Thank goodness it doesn’t depend on me!

    He is the King. We are His servants. We are called to follow. We are commanded to obey. We are exhorted to grow. But when, as we seek to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we do stumble and fall, we can take heart knowing that His grace makes up the difference. 

    ThuThursdayMarMarch13th2014 Following Jesus
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    Following Jesus is not something we undertake lightly or casually. It is more than attending church or wearing a cross around our neck. Jesus makes a claim on our very lives. How will we respond? As you read this passage today, pray for God to reveal areas in your life you’ve been holding back, and ask for His help to bring your whole life under His authority.

     As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them ?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

     As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

     Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

     He said to another man, “Follow me.”

     But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

     Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

     Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

     Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62)

    WedWednesdayMarMarch12th2014 "Get Behind Me, Satan!"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

    But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:31-33)

    I like to think that I am a good communicator, but apparently when it comes to my children it would seem that I am not. When I say something simple and straightforward like, “Please clean up the dishes from the table,” I am working on the basis that this is a pretty simple command to follow. Yet their ability to misconstrue, misunderstand and in general try to argue their way out of doing it often leaves me totally dumbfounded.

    In a similar way, it’s hard to understand how it is that after Jesus speaking so “plainly” about His coming arrest, death and Resurrection, the disciples could still not understand, and indeed Peter could even feel obligated to rebuke Jesus (whom, by the way, he had just identified as the Messiah).

    Once again, however, we find ourselves caught up in a historical challenge. Although we know what Jesus is talking about, and although it all therefore seems quite plain and straightforward to us, it was almost too much to comprehend for the disciples. How could it make any sense that the Messiah, the Savior, the Promised One they had all been looking for, would suffer, be rejected and then finally killed? How could it make any sense that the same man who had recently walked on water could let Himself be mocked and humiliated and executed in such a manner?

    If I had been there, would I have been able to understand? In fact, looking back to my life before I was a Christian, did I have any ability to understand anything at all before the Holy Spirit made it clear to me? The understanding that I have now is a gift that has come as a result of God’s work in my life, not through my own brilliance. I brought nothing but sin to the table, but God responded with grace and patience, opening my eyes so I could finally see.

    Humanly speaking, a life lived for Christ will never fully make sense to the world around us. It will seem counter-intuitive, backwards and upside-down. The priorities will seem skewed, the ambitions will appear to be off-track, and the accomplishments and legacies invisible or insignificant.

    Those, however, are all “human concerns,” and we have been called to set our hearts and minds on pursuing the “concerns of God” instead. As followers of Jesus, we claim to follow a King whose ways will always create confusion for those who don’t yet understand. Whatever persecution or opposition we may face along the way, let’s pursue those paths nonetheless, and continue to pray with fervor that all would come to know Jesus as their King.

    TueTuesdayMarMarch11th2014 A Son Of Man
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    There are two highly significant passages of Scripture that inform our understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. On the one hand, He was indeed the great King who conquered death and established God’s Kingdom rule. On the other hand, He was a suffering servant, humiliated by the forces of evil and led to a tortuous death. As you read these passages today, ask the Lord to lead you into a place of awe and wonder at the great God whom we serve. 

     “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Who has believed our message
        and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
    2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
        and like a root out of dry ground.
    He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
        nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
    3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
        a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
    Like one from whom people hide their faces
        he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

     4 Surely he took up our pain
       and bore our suffering,
    yet we considered him punished by God,
        stricken by him, and afflicted.
    5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
        and by his wounds we are healed.
    6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
        each of us has turned to our own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
        the iniquity of us all.

     7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
    he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
        and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
        so he did not open his mouth.
    8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
        Yet who of his generation protested?
    For he was cut off from the land of the living;
        for the transgression of my people he was punished.
    9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
        and with the rich in his death,
    though he had done no violence,
        nor was any deceit in his mouth.

     10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
       and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
        and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
    11 After he has suffered,
        he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
        and he will bear their iniquities.
    12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
        and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
        and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
        and made intercession for the transgressors.
    (Isaiah 53)

    MonMondayMarMarch10th2014 "Who Do People Say I Am?"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

     They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

     “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

     Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

     Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)

     Almost any commentary you might happen to read on the Gospel of Mark will say that these verses mark a turning point in the story. From this point forward, Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem. Although there will be much that happens along the way, there is a shift away from the kind of circuitous ministry we’ve encountered so far, as Jesus instead moves decisively towards the cross.

    Once again though, we have a challenge as readers, because we know far more about what’s going on than the disciples do. We know who Jesus really is, we know what’s going to happen, we know all about the birth of the early church, and we have experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives today.

    The disciples may have had the unique opportunity to walk with Jesus, but that’s it. The rest was yet to come. All they had to go on was a unique calling on their lives, some incredible healings, unbelievable miracles, and difficult teachings. They had moments of clarity, when all these data points connected clearly for them and the truth started to come into focus, but for the most part they were still in the dark.

    The brief interchange Mark records for us here is one of those rare moments of clarity. Jesus pushes them to provide a definitive answer about the question of His identity, and Peter, bold as ever, hits the nail right on the head: “You are the Messiah.

    Why would Jesus then order them to keep such good news (from our perspective) a secret? There are many different interpretations, but perhaps the most likely is the fact that our conception of “Messiah” is vastly different than theirs would have been.

    There is a fair amount of evidence indicating that at the time of Jesus, some people believed that the “Messiah” would be a political or even military leader. However, while Jesus may have come preaching that, “The kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15), His mission was never meant to overthrow Roman rule in order to establish His own. His identity as “Messiah,” therefore, was to be kept secret in order to prevent any possible misunderstanding until such time as Jesus Himself could demonstrate how He would function as their real Messiah, by dying on the cross.

    As we read these verses some 2,000 years later, the reminder for us is that Jesus is not just the Messiah in a general sense, He is our Messiah in a very personal and specific sense. I need to hear this on a daily basis. Jesus died for our sins. He came to rescue us from slavery and set us free to live for Him. He came to adopt us as His children and establish Himself as the Lord of our lives. It is only when we have absolute clarity as to who Jesus is that we can begin to have clarity about who we are as well. Are you resting in your identity as a child of God? 

    FriFridayMarMarch7th2014 His Eyes Were Opened
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

    He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

    Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)

    For the blind man whose eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ healing touch, this was an astonishing miracle. The blind do not spontaneously regain their sight, and for this man the change in his life must have been extraordinary.

    However, since Mark doesn’t provide a detailed account of each and every miracle Jesus ever performed, we have to ask if his reason for putting this story here has any greater significance beyond a further demonstration of Jesus’ absolute power over all of Creation. 

    Clearly, the Pharisees did not understand who Jesus was, nor were they interested in what He had to offer. Their spiritual blindness to the truth appears to be fixed, leading them on a path to separation from God.

    Even the disciples, we learn, were still largely blind to who Jesus was and what was going on. Jesus repeatedly challenged their lack of comprehension, but rather than dismissing them as He did the Pharisees, He continued to work with them, helping them to make sense of everything that was happening around them. It was slow going at times, but slowly, gradually, the disciples came to understand more and more, until eventually, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, when the Spirit fell on them all, their eyes were opened and everything finally came together. 

    It’s a journey that to some extent we are all on in our own lives. Although the moment of salvation may be as sudden and dramatic as someone flipping on a light switch in a dark room, our understanding of the fullness of who Jesus is continues to grow and shape and develop as we grow in our faith and grow closer to Him.

    How are you growing in your understanding of who Jesus is and what He wants from us? 

    ThuThursdayMarMarch6th2014 The Yeast Of The Pharisees
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

    They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

    Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

     “Twelve,” they replied.

     “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

    They answered, “Seven.”

    He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)

    Looking for a passage that helps bolster your claim that the Gospel accounts are authentic? Look no further than this example of the disciples stumbling once again through an awkward conversation with Jesus. Who would invent such a story, especially if they were trying to start a movement that held up these men as their founding members?

    But aside from any apologetic value this passage may or may not have, it does give us a welcome comedic interlude in a series that has been both challenging and convicting. The poor disciples. Having just been warned about the dangerous influence and potentially negative impact of the Pharisees, they display their total lack of comprehension once again.

    I suppose I can’t judge them too harshly. I need (like?) to eat every few hours, and when I get hungry everything else does kind of fade into the background. It’s quite possible that I, too, might have thought Jesus’ comment about “the yeast of the Pharisees” was really a comment about the bread He had just multiplied for four thousand people, and which we now didn’t have enough of on the boat. After being intimately involved in two such incredible miracles, it would be hard not have bread on the brain.

    In some ways, however, this returns us to the same challenges we discussed yesterday. Since we are physical creatures living in a physical world, it’s easy to get sidetracked by physical things. Sadly, in doing so, we often end up losing sight of the deeper spiritual reality we are actually a part of. We discover that we have “eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear.”

    How “tuned in” are you to Jesus today?

    WedWednesdayMarMarch5th2014 Give Us A Sign
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    One of the other pastors here at church is currently engaged in a very deep conversation with his buddy about the existence of God, and it’s been exhausting. What seems so blatantly obvious to us appears to be a logical impossibility to his friend. This friend is not merely an agnostic, uncertain about his beliefs, or on the fence about what is true, he is an avowed atheist, absolutely and definitively rejecting God. In fact, he denies anything supernatural whatsoever. It’s not just Christianity that comes under his condemnation, it’s all world religions.

    How can this be possible? What about truth and beauty? What about love? Where does he think these things come from? What about the soul? Are we really just animated matter that is alive (whatever that means) one moment, and then dead the next?

    Although I don’t like looking back to the time when I was not yet saved, I do remember quite clearly that at the time my own atheism seemed to be the most rational, sensible outlook on life available. I lived in a material world, and if I couldn’t measure it, see it, feel it, hear it or touch it, then I wasn’t interested in believing it.

    I think one time a Christian tried to reach out to me in college, and my answer was something along the lines of, “If Jesus showed up here and proved his existence to me, then I’d believe.” My colleague’s friend, the atheist, would I think say the same thing. If God wants our allegiance, then the burden, apparently, is on God to prove himself to us. 

    Jesus faced a similar challenge in his own ministry:

    The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. (Mark 8:11-13)

    “Prove yourself Jesus!” I can hear the echoes of my old college self in the demands from the Pharisees. I can hear our atheist friend offering a similar challenge from off in the wings somewhere. So why wouldn’t Jesus do it? Surely He wanted everyone to believe? Wasn’t it reasonable to ask for some evidence, some proof to back up His astonishing claims? 

    Clearly, Jesus did not see it that way. In fact, if we look a little closer the prevailing pattern in Mark is of growing opposition and challenge from the Pharisees. They weren’t interested in discovering who Jesus really was, they wanted to “test” him, to catch Him out, to look for some way to condemn Him (which eventually they would do).

    Was the feeding of the four thousand not enough? Or the feeding of the five thousand? Or any one of the many, many, many healings? They didn’t approach Jesus with a humble and open heart genuinely seeking answers, they came looking for a fight, looking for a confrontation, convinced of what they already believed. 

    It took God’s supernatural intervention in my life to soften my heart and make me receptive to hearing the Gospel. It will take God’s supernatural intervention to soften the hearts of those around us who have yet to believe. And that means we need to be on our knees in fervent and persistent and ongoing prayer for their salvation. Who are you praying for today?

    TueTuesdayMarMarch4th2014 Compassion For The People
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

    His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

    “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

    “Seven,” they replied.

    He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:1-10)

    Every Tuesday morning at 11:30am we gather as a staff to pray for our congregation. We pray for healing, for provision, for wisdom, for direction, for hope and for salvation. The needs are many, and at times it seems almost overwhelming. There is so much brokenness in this world, and so much pain and suffering, that it is sometimes hard to see how anything is going to come out in the end.

    The wonderful encouragement for me from this passage is the demonstration of Jesus’ great love and care for our very real physical needs. Was His primary mission on Earth to provide a free meal to these people traveling around with Him? Of course not. But did He do it anyway? Amazingly, yes. In fact, He does so without prompting:

    Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

    His compassion for the people, and His desire to provide for their immediate physical needs, is a great comfort to me to persevere in prayer for the many, many needs all around me right now at church. Not only does Jesus save, but He provides. Not only does He care about our ultimate eternal destination, but He cares deeply about our temporary, broken current situation as well. And He extends His power to solve problems in both the spiritual realm as well as the physical.

    So as we turn to the Lord today on your behalf, how can we be praying for you?

    MonMondayMarMarch3rd2014 The Bread of Life
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    We begin our week with a passage of Scripture that is not found in the Gospel of Mark, but is linked thematically with much that we will study this week. This comes from the Gospel of John:

    Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

    So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

    Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

     “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

    Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:28-40)

    I was blessed last week to have the opportunity to share the Gospel with a guy I met, and he ended up giving His life to Christ. It was an exhilarating moment for us both! I don’t consider myself to be particularly adept or experienced at sharing my faith. You might say I’m an “accidental evangelist” when it comes to spreading the Gospel. But in this case, as I responded to the Spirit’s leading in this man’s life, the Gospel came tumbling out and He responded with faith.

     

    I say all this because the man I was ministering to was starving to death spiritually. He was desperate for answers, and eager to hear about the One who could offer Him true and lasting rest. All I did was point Him to “the bread of life.”

     

    What a promise Jesus makes: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In the midst of all our prayers for God to provide for us and for others financially, relationally and vocationally, (and these are all good prayers to pray), I sometimes wonder if we lose sight of how desperately we all need Jesus at a much deeper level.

     

    Those who are far from Christ spend their lives cramming all kinds of spiritual junk food into their empty hearts, desperately trying to fill that aching void with a patchwork mess of new-age ideas, self-help mantras and cobbled together traditions and ideas they get from family and friends. Such an endeavor, we know, is ultimately always a lost cause. But who will be bold enough to let them know? Who will share with them the only hope that is secure, and the only food that will fill and the only water that will truly satisfy?

     

    Meanwhile, those who know Christ and have called upon Him as Lord can often become distracted by the dazzling, dizzying busyness of life, and slip back into old habits of securing happiness and hope through and in the things of this world. Their salvation is not in peril, but the primary object of their devotion has shifted from Creator to Creation. Such an endeavor, we know, will only result in disappointment and distress, for the idols of this world are empty and meaningless. But who will be bold enough to let our fellow travellers in the family of faith know that they are placing their trust in all the wrong places? Who will remind them again of the only hope that is secure, and the only food that can truly satisfy our deepest desires?

     

    “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

     

    This week, my prayer is that we may we be conduits of that life, in whatever context God has placed us. I pray that we would sow the Gospel into every corner of Creation, praying faithfully and expectantly for God to do mighty and marvelous things as He grows and spreads His Kingdom throughout the world. 

    FriFridayFebFebruary28th2014 Strengthen Our Feeble Hands
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 

    After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

    Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)

    It sometimes seems as if we end every week talking about another miracle from Jesus, and that could very well be true! The Gospel accounts are packed full of healing miracles. Almost everywhere Jesus went, people were healed. Even in Nazareth, where He was rejected by His own family and friends, still some were healed. Imagine, the power of God walking around, touching, speaking, healing. I love the way Mark puts it, “People were overwhelmed with amazement.” Wouldn’t you be?

    In this particular case, Mark may be recording this miracle for a couple of reasons. First, it’s another sign of the incredible power of God, a power unlike anything seen or heard of before. Moreover, it’s another sign of God’s desire to work even amongst the Gentiles, and it shows God’s care and compassion for specific, individual people. Christianity is not about large-scale abstract philosophical principles, but is the intimate story of a God deeply committed to the restoration of His lost and broken Creation.

    However, at a deeper level Mark may also be making a theological point about Jesus’ role as the promised Messiah. As New Testament scholar R.T. France has pointed out, the situation and language in this particular miracle recalls the following passage from Isaiah:

    Strengthen the feeble hands,
        steady the knees that give way;
    say to those with fearful hearts,
        “Be strong, do not fear;
    your God will come,
        he will come with vengeance;
    with divine retribution
        he will come to save you.”

     

    Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
        and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
    Then will the lame leap like a deer,
        and the mute tongue shout for joy.
    Water will gush forth in the wilderness
        and streams in the desert.
    The burning sand will become a pool,
        the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
    In the haunts where jackals once lay,
        grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. (Isaiah 35:3-7) 

    These words, spoken to comfort God’s people as they faced Exile, promised a day when all things would be made right again. Not just in the immediate sense of being restored to their homeland, but in the larger sense of God bringing all things back together to the way they were always supposed to be. It’s a promise that was partially fulfilled when the people did, indeed, return from Exile, and was partially fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, but will only reach it’s ultimate and complete fulfillment in the Last Days.

    Until then we hold on in hope and pray for God to continue His work here amongst us. Will everyone who has faith and prays and asks God for healing experience such restoration here and now? Sadly, no. Even Jesus didn’t heal everyone who needed it. But in a larger sense, one day we will indeed all be healed. We will graduate out of these weak and broken bodies and experience new life in the very fullest and most complete way possible, in the very presence of our Savior Himself.

    He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary27th2014 Reaching The Unreachable
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    When Jesus purposefully entered the region around Tyre, and then healed a Gentile woman’s daughter, He signaled a significant shift in His ministry. Instead of restricting His influence to Jews only, He gave clear hints that the Kingdom would actually include all people, Gentiles and Jews together. Although it may be hard for us to make sense of such a debate now, at the time this was a very significant issue. As we read in Acts:

    Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

    Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

    The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

    The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

     “‘After this I will return
        and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
    Its ruins I will rebuild,
        and I will restore it,
    that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
        even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
    says the Lord, who does these things’—
    things known from long ago.
    (Acts 15:1-18) 

    What about us? Are there ways in which we are artificially, or perhaps even just unintentionally, constructing walls and barriers towards other people hearing the Gospel? A good friend of mine said to me the other night, “Jesus calls us to fish for men, not clean the fish. Yet, all too often we see our job as cleaning people up so they can enter the Kingdom, instead of getting them into the Kingdom and letting the Holy Spirit clean them up afterwards.”

    As we try to communicate the Gospel with our friends, family members and co-workers, can we honestly say that we share with Jesus the grand vision of God for all of “mankind [to] seek the Lord”? How can we expand our vision for the lost to truly include all people, even those we may have perhaps dismissed in our minds and hearts as somehow unreachable?

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary26th2014 Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Today we return to our study of Mark, and as we prepare for the sermon on Sunday we find ourselves faced with a particularly challenging passage of Scripture to interpret.

    24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

    27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

    28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

    29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

    30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
    (Mark 7:24-30)

     Although commentators, pastors and professors have come up with all kinds of creative ways to explain what is going on here, on first glance at least this does not appear to be the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School. There’s a tone here, and a harshness, that seems completely out of place with our understanding of God’s great love for everyone.  

    While there is no solution that makes this passage completely palatable, at least two things in particular help frame the conversation for me. First, this was a conversation in large measure prompted by Jesus Himself. Although He gives the very clear impression of being opposed to helping a Gentile, Jesus was the one who put Himself in that situation to begin with.

    As we read above, “Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre” (Mark 7:24). Jesus specifically and intentionally chose to enter this Gentile region. Nobody made Him go there. This woman didn’t approach Him in a synagogue in Galilee. Jesus left the Jewish region and went into a place where there would only be Gentiles, and lots of them. Why would He do that? It’s a small detail, but clearly something more must be going on here than meets the eye.

    Secondly, whatever the dialogue Jesus and this woman have, the result is a truly spectacular healing. “Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone” (Mark 7:30).

    Jesus doesn’t touch the girl or even see the girl. He simply announces that the demon has gone. There was something about her tenacity, her insistence, her urgency, her love for her child, something, that led Him to respond with healing. Earlier, we read that Jesus’ ministry in His hometown of Nazareth was severely hampered because of their lack of faith. Could it be that this woman stands as a counter-point to the rejection Jesus experienced from his own family?

    Ultimately, of course, not one of us actually has the right to approach Jesus for anything at all. Mired in sin, we can’t say we “deserve” God’s intervention in our life in any way, shape, or form. But in this little interlude we catch a glimpse of God’s gracious provision and His boundless love for those who know how little they deserve, but come humbly to God nonetheless.

    As we close our devotional today, consider the Parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee. Where is our heart?

    To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

     “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

     “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

    TueTuesdayFebFebruary25th2014 What's Your Plan?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    As I noted yesterday, we will spend some time again today reflecting on what God has already taught us through our study of Mark, and how we should be putting that into practice in concrete ways. It’s one thing to hear a sermon or read a devotional, and to be convicted or challenged, but are we then taking the next step of actually setting goals and enacting change as a result?

     Consider, for example, Paul’s challenge to the Romans:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:1-9)

    The title for this sermon series comes from Mark 1:17: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” When we follow Jesus, we don’t merely listen to sermons and teachings, but as our own lives are transformed, that change spills over into the lives of those around us as well.

    What is your plan for putting God’s Word into action?

    MonMondayFebFebruary24th2014 What Difference Has It All Made?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

    May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

    Every now and then we take a brief pause to reflect back on the passages we’ve been studying. Consuming information is easy to do; in fact, we’re programmed by our culture to consume ever-increasing amounts of data on a daily basis. Whether it’s news stories, or cultural commentary, or emails, texts, Facebook updates, Tweets, short videos on Vine or long videos on YouTube, TV shows, video games, books, magazines, or even conversations—we are constantly sifting inputs and trying to make sense of it all.

    In the middle of this data deluge it can be hard to pause long enough to listen for the voice of God speaking to us from the pages of His Word, or through the power of a sermon, or the conviction of the Holy spirit. We consume a lot of Christian stuff, but how much of it do we allow to sink in deeply to the level of our hearts? What kind of transformation is happening as a result? To put it in more Biblical terminology, “Where is the fruit?”

    So for the next two days I suggest we all take a moment to press pause on consuming more new information, and spend time reflecting on what we have already learned. What difference has any of it made? 

    We’re more or less half way through our study of the Gospel of Mark. That means we’ve studied seven chapters of the Bible, listened to 17 sermons from the pulpit and read 85 devotionals from me. But as you reflect back on the last five months, how has God used all that content to produce change in your life?

    As Paul encouraged the Thessalonians:

    So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

    FriFridayFebFebruary21st2014 Out Of A Person's Heart
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

    After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

    He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

    I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but my wife has an aunt and uncle who are devout followers of a Hindu religious leader named Sai Baba. Among other things, they are firm believers that what you put into your body really can and does defile you spiritually. In fact, it’s a very significant issue for them. They pray over their food, not to give thanks for it as we do, but to cleanse the food of any defilement that might contaminate them spiritually as a result of consuming it. It may sound ridiculous, but they’ve been living this way for probably 40 years now, and have raised their children to do the same thing. And they’re not alone.

    Jesus, of course, points out the obvious hole in this theory. What you eat is simply fuel. It’s food that enters the digestive system, is broken down, and then the waste is passed out of the body. The real problem, Jesus challenged the people, is with “a person’s heart.” Eating too much salami may give us heartburn, but in and of itself does not separate us from God. Lying repeatedly, cheating on your spouse, stealing from someone else—all of these things both reflect a heart that is already drifting away from God, and are also actions that serve to separate us from His presence even more.

    Is Jesus contradicting the purity laws of the Old Testament by making such a bold claim? No, I think what He is trying to do here is to emphasize that sin is embedded within us, and reflected in the thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions that are stirred up as a result. This reflects the overall teaching of the Bible that everybody has been rendered guilty through the infection of sin, and nobody is innocent. Contrary to popular belief, we are not born in purity, only to be corrupted by the world. We are born corrupted, and our only hope of escape is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is our only way out.

    So eat all the organic, free-range, antibiotic-free food that you want. It may indeed be of great physical help to your body. But let us never forget that the far more important issue is what we are doing to solve our sin problem. Are we constantly striving to save ourselves? Or are we leaning on our Savior, content in the righteousness that comes from Christ alone?

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary20th2014 Create In Me A Pure Heart, O God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    As we have discussed issues of purity and holiness this week, today it seems appropriate to pause for a moment to spend some time in prayer, spurred on by David’s powerful psalm of repentance:

    Psalm 51
    For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

    1 Have mercy on me, O God,
       according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
        blot out my transgressions.
    2 Wash away all my iniquity
        and cleanse me from my sin.

    3 For I know my transgressions,
        and my sin is always before me.

    4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
       and done what is evil in your sight;
    so you are right in your verdict
        and justified when you judge.
    5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
       sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
    6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
        you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

    7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
        wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
    8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
        let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
    9 Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

     10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
        and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    11 Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
       and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

     13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
       so that sinners will turn back to you.
    14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
      you who are God my Savior,
      and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
    15 Open my lips, Lord,
      and my mouth will declare your praise.
    16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
       you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
    17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
       a broken and contrite heart
      you, God, will not despise.

     18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
       to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
    19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
      in burnt offerings offered whole;
        then bulls will be offered on your altar.

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary19th2014 "You Nullify The Word Of God"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:9-13)

    Without wishing to sound too negative, the twisted lengths to which some people will go in an attempt to justify, or even legitimize, sin is astonishing. Just when I think I’ve seen or heard it all, I encounter some new corruption that makes me shake my head in disappointment and bewilderment. It is surely incredible that God’s patience has not run out yet, and that He chooses to pour out grace and love instead of wrath and judgment.

    Our endlessly creative hearts continue to come up with new and ever more inventive ways to work around the clear commands of God. And that’s at the heart of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees in this passage. Some of them had even come up with ways to use the Law in order to get out of doing the Law. Read what Professor R.T. France says in his commentary on The Gospel of Mark:

    “In rabbinic literature the term [corban] recurs frequently as a formula used when making an offering (whether of food, money, or property), as a result of which the thing dedicated becomes unavailable for normal use; in practice the formula seems to have been used primarily for the negative purpose of excluding a particular person from the use of the property…rather than positively transfer it to divine use.” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, p.286)

    In other words, the people had managed to so twist the Law around to suit their own selfish needs that they would dedicate something to God with the express purpose of keeping it away from someone else.

    Jesus, of course, had no patience for this whatsoever. As he told the people who did this, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” Now, if I came up to you and asked if you would like to nullify the word of God today, you would most likely say no. Most people don’t initially set out to oppose God. In fact, even the Pharisees, were, in their own way, trying to pursue God as fervently as possible.

    However, we underestimate the power of sin if we think we’re completely immune to similar temptations today. How many times has someone justified a couple of extra drinks with the claim that it’s important to have times of rest in our busy lives? Or how often do we invest significant sums of money in the sporting activities of our children, while telling a close friend who needs some help that things are too tight right now?

    The way out of this mess isn’t complicated or clever. It’s the same thing believers have been doing for two thousand years. Repent and believe. The power for living in a way that glorifies God doesn’t come from within, but from God. As Paul told the Romans: 

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

    May God grant us strength to live that way today.

    TueTuesdayFebFebruary18th2014 Our Heart Problem Is A Sin Problem
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

     “‘These people honor me with their lips,
       but their hearts are far from me.
    They worship me in vain;
        their teachings are merely human rules.’
    You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8) 

    I sometimes think our faith would be a whole lot easier if we could simply judge things by the way they look. It would level the playing field, lower the bar, and generally make things a lot easier for everyone. The reality, of course, is that clean living does not necessarily equate with holiness. We can probably all call to mind certain Christian men and women whom we thought were walking with the Lord, but turned out later to be leading a double-life. Although horrible to consider, it is possible to say and do all the right things, while at the same time embracing a hidden life that is completely opposed to God.

    However, while it may seem as if this is a problem unique to our contemporary culture, influenced perhaps by the entertainment industry or easy access to pornography, Jesus reminds us that our tendency towards deceitfulness is nothing new at all. In fact, His condemnation of the Pharisees was not much different from Isaiah’s condemnation of the people of Israel, which was itself not much different from Joshua’s concern about the way the people were drifting towards idolatry, which was itself not much different than the descent into sin that led to the Flood, which was really just the culmination of a problem triggered in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first set themselves up in opposition towards God.

    Our heart problem is a sin a problem. And our sin problem is a human problem, impacting everyone everywhere. It’s a disease that may become more visible at times, when certain people let it run rampant in their lives, and they act out accordingly, but we’ve all been infected. None of us is able to sit on the sidelines and judge objectively. None of us can point fingers without coming under the holy gaze of God ourselves.

    Isaiah chastised the people for choosing to honor God with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him. That’s a hidden sin; a deceit that disguises itself behind rites and rituals meant to impress others with religious devotion. Who can tell what is really going on?  

    Paul warned the Galatians as follows:

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

    God alone knows our hearts. And we, alone, know what the conviction of the Holy Spirit feels like. The choice, then, is ever before us. Will we sow to please the flesh, or sow to please the Spirit? Which path will you choose today?

    MonMondayFebFebruary17th2014 Mr. Clean
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    The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)

    I don’t know about you, but I do wash my hands before eating, and I encourage my children to do the same thing. It’s not just a habit or a custom, it’s plain good hygiene, especially at this time of year when so many people are sick. We’ve been washing our hands for years, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

    But this passage is clearly about so much more than just practicing good hygiene. Jesus doesn’t want you to ditch the hand sanitizer just yet. The washing of hands (or not) was what we might call, “the presenting problem.” The real, deeper issue, however, was the use of traditions that controlled such ceremonial washing. The Pharisees and teachers didn’t come all the way from Jerusalem because they were worried about the disciples getting sick from not washing their hands before eating. They came from Jerusalem because they were concerned about their power and influence over the people. This was an issue of control; an issue of authority.

    Far from being some ancient argument that no longer matters to us today, the debate continues to plague us in the contemporary church. Why do we do the things we do? What is the difference between a church tradition and a command of God?

    Our traditions in large measure make us who we are. We eat and think and talk and act and sing the way we do because that’s the way we do things here in Wheaton, Illinois in 2014. And while some of those things may be guided by principles we pulled from the Bible, some of them may owe more to the culture we live in. This becomes particularly apparent when you sit down with, say, a Congolese refugee, who wants to know why the pastors don’t personally visit everyone in the congregation. This would be normal for churches where they come from, yet it’s not something we do here.

    Traditions in and of themselves may be good, noble, and even God-honoring in some sense. However, we are moving into dangerous territory if they ever become equal in importance to God’s direct instruction to us in His Word, the Bible.

    What good habits or Christian practices have become immutable traditions in your faith? How do you feel when someone challenges them, or contradicts them, or dismisses them? 

    FriFridayFebFebruary14th2014 Many Were Healed
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    When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)

    The faith of the people in Gennesaret stands in stark contrast to the hardness of heart and lack of understanding of the disciples. Whereas the disciples apparently struggled to make sense of the feeding of the five thousand, and were terrified when Jesus approached them walking on water, the everyday people of Gennesaret actively sought Jesus out for help and healing. They were single-minded in their focus; they needed healing, Jesus had the power to heal, so they did whatever they could to get near Him. Even touching “the edge of his cloak” was enough.

    Is it possible, perhaps, that sometimes we overthink things too much? Is it possible that with all our education, all our books and all our vast reasoning capacity, sometimes we overlook the obvious answers right in front of us as we try to make sense of things that we will never understand? Do we sometimes lose sight of the forest as we focus so intently on the trees?

    I am an academic-type of person. I love to read and I love to learn. These are gifts from a God who encourages us to think and reason and read and write. However, I know from personal experience that sometimes my over-analytical mind can crowd out my need for a heart-felt faith. Jesus often commends the faith of those who had a simple faith, those who were not looking for answers for every last conundrum of the universe. Might I need to sometimes take a page out of their book and stop trying to solve everything myself?

    The story of these healings is told simply and plainly. In many ways there is nothing remarkable or special about this interlude at all. And yet, perhaps that’s exactly the point. The disciples, with all their access to Jesus, were still as hopelessly confused as ever. These people, however, were intimately aware of their needs, and just took them to Jesus for help as-is, no questions asked.

    What are some ways in which over-thinking things can sometimes get in the way of our faith? In what areas of your life do you need Jesus’ healing today? 

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary13th2014 Walking On Water
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    Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

    Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

    Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)

    How quickly it is that we move from faith to fear, or belief to befuddlement. One moment we can be high as a kite from the dramatic answer to a particular prayer, and then the next moment we find ourselves down in the dumps, convinced that nobody, not even God, has the power to solve a particular problem.

    We like to think of our spiritual lives as being far more constant, but if we’re honest these cycles of confidence and concern consume much more of our time and energy than we’d like to admit.

    The disciples were in exactly the same boat. “Straining at the oars” against a terrible headwind, barely able to make any progress, they found themselves totally out of their league. Although they had just finished a missionary journey where they themselves were given authority from Jesus to cast out demons and heal the sick, and despite the fact that they had just seen Jesus supernaturally divide five loaves and two fish in order to feed five thousand people, nevertheless, when Jesus appeared, walking on the very lake itself, they assumed it must be a ghost, and they cried out in terror.

    As Mark records for us in particularly somber tones, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). Despite everything they have seen and experienced, apparently the disciples simply do not understand what is going on around them. “Who is this?” (Mark 4:41) they asked, after Jesus calmed the storm. Several significant miracles later, they still cannot wrap their heads or hearts around an answer.

    Now, although we may suffer from the same human tendency towards being slow to understand, there is a very significant difference that separates us from the disciples and their denseness. In our natural state we’re just as blind as the disciples, but for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us see.

    We’re not left alone, stumbling through the world trying and failing to make sense of the craziness around us. We have a counselor; a helper; an advocate, who will lead us into “all the truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see and ears to hear. The Holy Spirit helps us to read the Bible and understand what it says. The Holy Spirit equips us to see God’s hand at work in this world and to respond in faith as a result.

    We may experience moments of weakness and doubt, but the Holy Spirit will lead us back into faith and security as we seek His guidance and put our faith in His presence. How do you need the Spirit’s help in your life today?

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary12th2014 Feed Them
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    By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." 

    But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

    They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

     “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

    When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

    Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:35-44)

    If we had a fire drill here at Wheaton Bible Church on a busy Sunday morning around 9:45am, we’d end up with about 4,500 people outside the building in the parking lots. Obviously it’s a far cry from a typical crowd at a professional sporting event, but it’s a very large crowd nonetheless. Now imagine being tasked with feeding all of them. Furthermore, imagine you are not sitting right on North Avenue, but are way out in the countryside somewhere, with no restaurants or stores nearby. What would you do?

    When posed with a similar problem, the disciples made what seemed to be a pretty reasonable suggestion to Jesus, namely that He “send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Who could possibly provide food for that many people? Why would you even try? They’ve had enough teaching for the day, so now just send them along on their way.

    Jesus, of course, had other plans, and the five thousand people were fed from these five loaves and two fishes. Moreover, not only was everyone “satisfied” with what they ate, but “the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.”

    Having fed the people spiritually through His teaching, He now fed them abundantly through the bread and fish. Jesus came not merely to heal, but to give hope; not merely to preach, but to provide as well. As John would later quote Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

    Which miracle is more amazing: feeding the five thousand or raising the little girl from the dead? Calming the storm or healing the demon-possessed man? Helping a lame man to walk, or enabling each and every one of us to be born again?

    Over and over again we come face to face in the Gospel accounts with a man who was completely unlike any other person to ever walk the face of the Earth. This world is horribly broken; infected by sin and rotten at its core. You just have to look at the headlines to realize that this is not the way things are meant to be.

    Yet in Jesus we catch a glimpse of the way things are meant to be. He’s a window into a world un-marred by sin; a vision of hope for a future where there is no more sin and no more death. Each and every miracle, while amazing in and of itself, gives us another sneak peek into a time and place where everything will be made right; where children don’t die unexpectedly, cancer doesn’t exist, there are no storms, and nobody ever goes hungry again.

    That day can’t come soon enough. But in the meantime Jesus calls us to stay awake and be prepared; to live in the present with an eye to the future. How can you make the most of the opportunities God has given you today?

    TueTuesdayFebFebruary11th2014 The Good Shepherd
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    But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:33-34)

     Sadly, although Jesus was hoping to provide the disciples with some much needed rest and recuperation, His popularity was exploding and everywhere He went, large crowds were gathering. In this case, as Jesus and the disciples traveled by boat to a quiet location, the people ran ahead and were waiting for them when they landed.

    Rather than send them away, however, Jesus chose instead to engage with them. In fact, Mark tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” It’s a powerful image that has roots in the Old Testament, particularly in longer passages such as this one from Ezekiel:

    The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

     “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

     “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

    When set against the backdrop of this powerful prophecy, Jesus’ care and concern for the people gathered to see Him takes on a whole new level of meaning. Clearly, we have here the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to “look after” His sheep and “rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.”

    Jesus didn’t merely look at all the people and feel badly for them and all their needs, He had a deep passion and love for them as His personal flock; His people; His precious Creation.

    So what did He do next? Did He set up a ministry? Did He reach out and heal? No, “he began teaching them many things.” As the passage before and after this one will make abundantly clear, Jesus is deeply concerned with the very real physical challenges and pressures we face on a daily basis. But in this situation His compassion led first and foremost to teaching. Jesus knew, perhaps better than anyone else, that ultimate peace and rest could only come from a right understanding of His mission. As we noted yesterday, Jesus came “proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14), and His message was clear: “’The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” Without hearing that good news first, healing and feeding would never possibly accomplish everything promised by God through the prophecy to Ezekiel.

    In the midst of our varied physical needs today, how and where are you pausing to remind yourself, or be reminded by others, of the central message of the Gospel? Jesus was preparing to do an incredible miracle by feeding five thousand people, but first He had things to teach them about the Kingdom of God. What is God teaching you?

    MonMondayFebFebruary10th2014 Rest
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    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:30-32) 

    I don’t know about you, but when it comes to winter, I have a very strong hibernation instinct. All things being equal, I’d much prefer to stay inside with the heat cranked up, a big mug of hot coffee or chocolate in my hand, and the Winter Olympics on the television. If those crazy athletes want to work out in the snow and ice, good for them. I admire their tenacity. I’ll live vicariously through them. But cold is not my thing and I’d prefer to not be out in it. At all.

    So in the middle of a miserable winter like this, a little rest sounds like a wonderful idea. In fact, it’s a beautiful thing to read of Jesus’ care and concern for the disciples after everything that happened to them on their first missions trip. He may or may not have been interested in debriefing with them about the spiritual impact of their missionary work, but what we know for a fact from the text is that He knew they were hungry and needed rest.

    Of course, in an ultimate sense, Jesus was primarily concerned with “proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14). His message was clear, “’The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

    Yet, at the same time, this good news was never meant to be simply an abstract theological premise. Jesus spent thirty-some years fully embedded in this very physical world of rain and snow, and hot and cold, and hunger and thirst, and work and rest. He didn’t float into Galilee on a cloud as an ephemeral spiritual presence. He was born into a real family, grew up in a real town, and as He embarked on His ministry, He walked along dusty roads and spoke with the downtrodden and touched the dirty.

    God built our entire world around patterns of work and rest. Our bodies are designed to sleep for a full third of each day. The sun and moon are set in place to provide cycles of night and day. God even modeled this pattern for us Himself when He chose to rest on the seventh day of Creation, establishing it as a Sabbath day of rest (Genesis 2:2).

    While my desire to hunker down and do nothing right now may be driven more by mild seasonal depression than anything else, it is true that God has programmed us for cycles of rest to follow cycles of work. We see it throughout the Bible, we see it in the care with which Jesus seeks to treat the disciples after their missionary trip, and we see it in the ultimate rest we will all experience in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

    Finally though, note that while Jesus is concerned for their physical needs, such as eating and resting, He doesn’t send them away for that, He draws them to Himself instead.

    I may be able to find physical rest for my body by reclining on my couch in front of the television, but I will never find spiritual nourishment in doing so. In order to be fully refreshed we need to spend time with Jesus during our cycles of rest and relaxation. How are you “re-hydrating” yourself spiritually today?  

    FriFridayFebFebruary7th2014 Be Alert And Of Sober Mind
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    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

     Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

     The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

     She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

     “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

     At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

     The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:17-29)

     The Puritan pastor and author John Owen once wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you” (Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter II, accessed online here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/mort.i.v.html). His point was simple. Don’t mess with sin. Don’t fool around. Don’t let it get a foothold in your life. Don’t go up to the line and peek over the edge. Don’t think that you’ll be strong enough to resist the temptation. Instead, work with all the strength the Holy Spirit gives you to put to death the sin that lingers in your heart.

     It’s a lesson we all need to learn, and re-learn, on a regular basis, for sin is a far more powerful and potent force than we often like to imagine. Indeed, but for the grace of God, we are all just one bad decision away from utter ruin and disaster. In our Bible reading for today, Herod provides an excellent case in point.

     One minute Herod was enjoying a fine party at his palace, the next minute he found himself ordering the execution of a man whom he “feared” and “protected,” “knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” What happened? Where did he go wrong?

     In this particular case the culprit seems to have been lust. It was Herod’s unchecked lust for the beautiful young daughter of Herodias that led him down the path he never meant to take. It was the rash vows he found himself making as a result of his desire to please this young dancing girl that led to John’s execution and the subsequent guilt and shame at his own foolish decision.

    Sin will get the better of us if we give it a chance. While our own rash decisions may not have caused heartache and pain on quite the same level as Herod’s, if we don’t keep our eyes out, sin will overtake us sooner or later. As Peter warns so wisely,

    Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

    And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary6th2014 Acknowledge Your Sin To God
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    Continuing with the theme of repentance from yesterday’s devotional, we turn today to David’s song of confession. Perhaps there are major sins you need to repent of today, or perhaps not. But as you read this Psalm ask the Lord to convict you of any ways in which you may find yourself being deceitful. The Lord offers to be our “hiding place,” if we will put our trust in Him. 

    Psalm 32
    Of David. A maskil. 

    1 Blessed is the one
        whose transgressions are forgiven,
        whose sins are covered.
    2 Blessed is the one
        whose sin the Lord does not count against them
        and in whose spirit is no deceit.

     3 When I kept silent,
       my bones wasted away
        through my groaning all day long.
    4 For day and night
        your hand was heavy on me;
    my strength was sapped
        as in the heat of summer.

     5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
       and did not cover up my iniquity.
    I said, “I will confess
        my transgressions to the Lord.”
    And you forgave
        the guilt of my sin.

     6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
       while you may be found;
    surely the rising of the mighty waters
        will not reach them.
    7 You are my hiding place;
        you will protect me from trouble
        and surround me with songs of deliverance.

     8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
       I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
    9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
        which have no understanding
    but must be controlled by bit and bridle
        or they will not come to you.
    10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
        but the Lord’s unfailing love
        surrounds the one who trusts in him.

     11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
       sing, all you who are upright in heart!

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary5th2014 The Gift Of Repentance
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    King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

    Others said, “He is Elijah.”

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

    But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:14-16)

    Guilt can drive us to say and do some pretty remarkable things. Politicians will devise the most elaborate lies in order to cover up their adulterous affairs. High-flying businessmen will invest vast amounts of money to try and cover up their failed investments. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, King David sent a man to his death in an effort to cover up his affair. Somehow, when sin gets a hold of our lives, it becomes easier to believe the lies we create than the truth we need to confess and repent.

    Such was certainly the case for Herod. Here Mark gives us a brief glimpse into the court of Herod, who, while not officially recognized as a king by the Romans, nevertheless liked to consider himself as such. We don’t know how Mark came to know all this, since he wasn’t there at the time, but perhaps a servant at the court told him about this conversation later. Either way, Herod was very disturbed to hear about the commotion Jesus was causing throughout Galilee. Imagine hearing that there is a man wandering about your town casting out demons, bringing back little children from the dead, and even calming a storm in the middle of the lake! No wonder Herod was confused and threatened. And no wonder, then, that having impulsively had the innocent John killed in an effort to impress a beautiful young woman, Herod was now convinced that John the Baptist had been brought back from the dead.

    Guilt can eat us slowly from the inside out. It’s a rare person who is able to completely erase the feelings of guilt and shame that come from committing an egregious sin. Whatever kinds of excuses and rationalizations we may conjure up for ourselves in an effort to cover everything up, there is ultimately only one way to get rid of the stain forever. Confession, repentance and forgiveness through Jesus.

    Guilt and shame over un-confessed sin can bubble up at the most inopportune and unexpected moments. It can impact our relationships, lead to all kinds of foolish decisions, and, if left unchecked long enough, eventually destroy our health.

    But the good news for us is that it doesn’t have to be that way. God is not interested in how good we are at “spinning” our sins so as to make them seem less awful. He just wants our willingness to turn to him in confession and repentance. And when we do get to that point, the healing and restoration that God can work is truly miraculous. It’s a gift that Herod never got to enjoy, but one which Jesus offers to each and every one of us today. How will you respond?

    TueTuesdayFebFebruary4th2014 He Is Our Help And Our Shield
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    As we consider the ways in which God has called us to live lives of obedient sacrifice to Him, today we turn to Psalm 33, which extols God’s majesty while recognizing our position as humble worshipers.

    Psalm 33

    1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
        it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
    2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
        make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
    3 Sing to him a new song;
        play skillfully, and shout for joy.

     4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
       he is faithful in all he does.
    5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
        the earth is full of his unfailing love. 

    6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
        their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
    7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
        he puts the deep into storehouses.
    8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
        let all the people of the world revere him.
    9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
        he commanded, and it stood firm.

     10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
       he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
    11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
        the purposes of his heart through all generations.

     12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
       the people he chose for his inheritance.
    13 From heaven the Lord looks down
        and sees all mankind;
    14 from his dwelling place he watches
        all who live on earth—
    15 he who forms the hearts of all,
        who considers everything they do.

     16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
       no warrior escapes by his great strength.
    17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
        despite all its great strength it cannot save.
    18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
        on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
    19 to deliver them from death
        and keep them alive in famine.

     20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
       he is our help and our shield.
    21 In him our hearts rejoice,
        for we trust in his holy name.
    22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
        even as we put our hope in you.

    MonMondayFebFebruary3rd2014 He Sent Them Out
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

    These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

    They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:7-13)

    For the most part, the twelve disciples do not come across very well in the four Gospels. They are slow to understand and slow to act. They often withdraw in fear, and regularly fall short in matters of faith. Although most of the time it’s only Peter who puts his foot in his mouth, none of the disciples come across as particularly astute or spiritual aware, and one often marvels that Jesus chose these men at all. In the end, one will betray Jesus, another will deny Him outright, and the others will run away and hide. And yet, here in this brief passage we catch a glimpse of something amazing; the disciples following Jesus’ commands and bearing incredible fruit as a result.

    The description is brief and to the point. Jesus called the twelve disciples to Himself, and then gave them their marching orders. They were to go out in pairs, taking nothing with them except a staff. They were to rely on the hospitality of the people they visited, and were not to linger in places where they were clearly not welcome.

    And the results? “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:13). That’s a pretty successful ministry! They preached repentance, drove out demons, and healed sick people. Having walked with Jesus and observed Him closely for quite some time, this was now their chance to put all that learning into practice. Apparently they managed to hit this one right out of the ballpark.

    On the one hand, this assignment was set up specifically for the twelve disciples, and does not carry over directly to us today. Jesus is not ordering all of us to go out two by two, taking nothing but a staff, and so on. On the other hand, the underlying principle still applies. Jesus called and commissioned the disciples for a particular task, and although it may have seemed impossible or overwhelming, they obeyed Him nonetheless.

    As becomes clear as we read through the rest of the New Testament, all believers have been called and commissioned to share the Gospel in some way with those around them. The Gospel is a story that has been embedded in our lives; it’s more than just mere information, it’s become an integral part of who we are. Jesus wants us to share that story of transformation with others. Will we, too, respond with obedience?

    FriFridayJanJanuary31st2014 He Was Amazed
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    He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:5-6)

    On the surface of it, this is kind of a confusing statement to make. Was Jesus really stopped dead in His tracks by the lack of faith of the people? Does this mean that there are things that God can’t do? Does a similar principle hold true today? Am I failing to see miracles because I don’t have enough faith?

    The previous chapters of Mark give us enough data to see that clearly there is nothing Jesus cannot do. He has demonstrated over and over again His absolute authority over all things, whether it’s physical ailments, spiritual opponents or even the natural elements. Whenever Jesus speaks, the Creation responds in obedience.

    As such, we can affirm with certainty that it was not the people’s lack of faith that somehow stymied Jesus’ attempts to perform miracles. Rather, despite the fact that the people recognized His power and wisdom, they clearly didn’t want to have any part of it whatsoever. They didn’t appreciate Him bringing His miracle-working ministry to their small town and they certainly didn’t want Him to stay there. And as such, in a display of great patience and grace, Jesus left.

    One little fact that is easy to overlook as we rush to condemn the people of Nazareth is that some people were, in fact, healed. Jesus wasn’t completely silenced. His power wasn’t completely stifled. Yes, “He was amazed at their lack of faith,” but at the same time, he did “lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” Certainly the implication is that there could have been so much more, but I think about the incredible impact His healing must have had on those few who did have faith. Their lives were, perhaps, changed forever as a result. Most notably of all, it was those who realized just how needy they were that wound up as the recipients of His healing.

    Which I think brings us back around to the question of faith in respect to healing. God can heal, and does heal. God looks for faith, and responds to faith. But our faith alone is never the determining factor in His willingness to heal. The few sick people in Nazareth who did in fact turn to Jesus for help were healed. God honored their faith, however weak and tentative it might have been, and chose to act. But sometimes God acts even in the absence of our faith. For example, when Jesus calmed the storm, rescuing everyone from certain death, He did so despite the fact that, in Jesus’ own words, the disciples perhaps had no faith at all.

    So take heart and be encouraged. Our faith is not about trying harder to be better people, or drumming up more faith, but leaning more on Jesus, the One who has already accomplished everything on our behalf. Our weakness and failures should lead us more deeply into communion with the One who alone is perfect, the One who alone has the power to provide everything that we need to make it through the day today.   

    7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
        my spirit fails.
    Do not hide your face from me
        or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
    8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
        for I have put my trust in you.
    Show me the way I should go,
        for to you I entrust my life.
    9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
        for I hide myself in you. (Psalm 143:7-9)

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary30th2014 Teach Me To Do Your Will
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Although the people in Jesus’ home-town rejected Him, those of us who have put our trust in Him have nowhere else to turn. We have experienced His life-altering power in our lives, and now we just need regular reminders to keep us tightly connected to our Lord. As you read the Psalm today, pause to remember all that the Lord has done for you, “meditate” on His works, and pray for His wise and generous direction in your life. 

    Psalm 143 (New International Version)
    A psalm of David.

     1 Lord, hear my prayer,
       listen to my cry for mercy;
    in your faithfulness and righteousness
        come to my relief.
    2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
        for no one living is righteous before you.
    3 The enemy pursues me,
        he crushes me to the ground;
    he makes me dwell in the darkness
        like those long dead.
    4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
        my heart within me is dismayed.
    5 I remember the days of long ago;
        I meditate on all your works
        and consider what your hands have done.
    6 I spread out my hands to you;
        I thirst for you like a parched land.

     7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
       my spirit fails.
    Do not hide your face from me
        or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
    8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
        for I have put my trust in you.
    Show me the way I should go,
        for to you I entrust my life.
    9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
        for I hide myself in you.
    10 Teach me to do your will,
        for you are my God;
    may your good Spirit
        lead me on level ground.

     11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
       in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
    12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
        destroy all my foes,
        for I am your servant.

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary29th2014 They Took Offense At Him
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 2 comments Add comment

    Christian author Randy Newman has been working on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980. God has used him to share his faith in many ways, times and places throughout that time, but one of the most challenging contexts for him has always been family. So, he wrote a book about it, called “Bringing the Gospel Home.” He begins the book with the following story:

     “When I informed a friend I was writing a book on witnessing to family, he told me he had the perfect chapter titles:
    Chapter 1: Don’t Do It!
    Chapter 2: Don’t Do It!
    Chapter 3: Did You Think I Was Kidding?
    Chapter 4: Pray For Somebody Else To Do It
    Chapter 5: Review Chapters 1, 2 and 3” (Bringing the Gospel Home, 13) 

    Now, obviously that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but for anyone who has actually tried to share their faith with family members, perhaps you can relate? It’s a challenge, right?

    I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, however. Remember how, earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ own family came and tried to keep Him from ministry?

    When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

    We see a similar pattern again here, as those closest to Jesus, who presumably grew up with Him and knew His family, are opposed completely to His ministry.

    Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:3-4)

    The problem here was not that Jesus failed to live up to the hype, but that the people couldn’t think of Him as anyone other than a mere carpenter. Their hearts were hardened towards Him, and most likely no amount of evidence would have convinced them otherwise. 

    You may have encountered all kinds of difficulties, challenges and set-backs as you have sought to share the Gospel with your family members. You may even have been tempted to give up completely, to in effect move out and move on with your life. However, God gave you this family and these relationships for a reason. We diminish the power of God when we try to use this story in Mark as an excuse to set aside witnessing to our family in favor of seeking out more fruitful mission fields. Even if we have been rejected by them every step of the way, we still have a responsibility to pray—an action that nobody can complain or argue with you about.

    And we’d love to pray with you for your family members as well. You may not want to submit their names publicly on the blog, but please let us know via email whom we can pray for this week.

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary28th2014 Let All The Faithful Pray To You
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Although many of the passages we choose for these devotionals are meant to be encouraging, a thorough understanding of the Gospel begins with repentance. Confession of sin is not something we like to think or talk about, but it’s an essential step in our relationship with God. Without repentance, there can never be complete restoration. So as you read through this Psalm, pray for God to reveal to you areas of sin and unbelief in your life, and then ask for His help to bring them back under His authority.

    Psalm 32 (New International Version)
    Of David. A maskil. 

    1 Blessed is the one
        whose transgressions are forgiven,
        whose sins are covered.
    2 Blessed is the one
        whose sin the Lord does not count against them
        and in whose spirit is no deceit.

     3 When I kept silent,
       my bones wasted away
        through my groaning all day long.
    4 For day and night
        your hand was heavy on me;
    my strength was sapped
        as in the heat of summer.

     5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
       and did not cover up my iniquity.
    I said, “I will confess
        my transgressions to the Lord.”
    And you forgave
        the guilt of my sin.

     6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
       while you may be found;
    surely the rising of the mighty waters
        will not reach them.
    7 You are my hiding place;
        you will protect me from trouble
        and surround me with songs of deliverance.

     8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
       I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
    9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
        which have no understanding
    but must be controlled by bit and bridle
        or they will not come to you.
    10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
        but the Lord’s unfailing love
        surrounds the one who trusts in him.

     11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
       sing, all you who are upright in heart!

    MonMondayJanJanuary27th2014 How We Need Jesus!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 2 comments Add comment

    One of the more significant problems we face as believers today is over-familiarity with Jesus. We’ve read the New Testament accounts before, we’ve listened to radio dramas, we’ve seen movies, plays, and television shows, we’ve been in Bible studies, and tried sharing the Gospel with other people along the way. As we read through the Gospel of Mark, it’s almost impossible to put ourselves back in the shoes of the original audience. We know what’s happening and we know how the story will end.

    As such, we can sometimes lose a little bit of the sense of absolute awe and amazement that followed Jesus around wherever He went. The miracles are amazing, but perhaps, for some of us, they get relegated to the realm of theology rather than practice. They are fodder for thought, rather than calls to action. They are data points for defending the faith, but not always moments where we pause to marvel at the God who came to dwell amongst us.

    Think about the way in which you responded to the miracles we read last week. Now, how would you react if someone stopped a stormy sea dead in its tracks today? What would you say if you saw a dead girl come back to life in your own house? It would be almost unbelievable, right?

    And indeed, this is what we see over and over again in Mark’s Gospel—people marveling at this man called Jesus. Anyone who claims Jesus was just a nice guy and a good teacher has clearly never read the Gospel accounts. Mark describes a man utterly unique in the history of the world, a man completely unlike any other, a man without any equal.

    So, it’s not surprising that upon returning to Nazareth, where He begins teaching again in the synagogue, the same questions start to come up again:

    Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

    “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? (Mark 6:1-2)

    Although, as we are about to find out, these people did not want in fact want to put their faith in Jesus, they could not deny that He spoke with a wisdom that was startling to everyone, and possessed a power to perform miracles that was unexplainable. Even those opposed to Jesus could not withhold their amazement at His power.

    It’s a pattern we continue to see even today. Some reject Jesus right off the bat. They won’t even consider His claims or look at the evidence. Others, however, hear the Gospel, but choose to turn away nonetheless. It’s as if they see Jesus, but can’t (or won’t) really look at Him.

    Sadly, I think, if we’re honest, even believers can be guilty of turning their backs on Jesus. More than anyone else we know first-hand the power of God to save and heal and restore. And yet sometimes it is almost too much, and we back away from Him, choosing to engage our own fears or failures instead.

    Oh how we need Jesus! All of us! The lost need to be saved, and the redeemed need to be continually rescued from the sin that lingers in our lives and keeps tugging at our idolatrous hearts. I don’t just need Jesus’ teaching, as amazing as that is, I need His direct intervention in my life to turn my ship around and keep my eyes fixed firmly on Him.

    May we be people who pray that into our own lives and the lives of those around us this week. 

    FriFridayJanJanuary24th2014 Healed
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 3 comments Add comment

    A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 

    At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

     “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

    But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:24-24)

    This incredible story of power is a tough one to unpack for me right now. I know so many people struggling with chronic diseases or cancer that it’s hard to read about such a dramatic and immediate healing. I know of God-fearing believers filled with the Spirit who prayed earnestly for similar healing, but it never came. I know of people caught up in pain and suffering right now who have tons of faith, but are seeing no release from their symptoms. What does this passage say to them?

    Experientially we can affirm that we live in a broken world where our personal lives will be filled with pain and suffering. Sin has infected everything, down to the tiniest building blocks of life, and as a result nothing really works properly anymore. Bodies slowly deteriorate over time. Minds fail. Relationships fall apart. Nothing has been left unsullied by the corruption of sin.

    However, to end on that depressing note would be to leave the story unfinished. What we have in Jesus is a powerful reassurance of God’s care for us and His desire for the world to be rid of sin once and for all. We know from Revelation that His plan is to return one day and make all things new; to put an end to all pain and suffering once and for all. One day there will be no more crying, and that gives us hope for today.

    But this story of the woman being healed is a reminder that God is not only concerned about some day far off in the future, but He cares for us here and now as well. Jesus’ ministry involved countless personal encounters with ordinary people. The goal was not simply to come and die, but to come and dwell. That’s astonishing to me.

    I cannot begin to explain or understand the reasons God has for healing one person while leaving another to suffer. But I am also continually amazed at the healing He does work in so many ways and places. He intervenes in ways we will probably never fully understand or appreciate until we come face to face with God in eternity. But that doesn’t keep me from trusting in Him for today.

    The greatest promise we have in Scripture is that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Whatever happens, His presence with us is guaranteed, and He will never let us go. 

    I know that many people are going through some very difficult times right now. As a staff we would love to pray for you and support you through it all. Please contact us, or use the comment box below to let us know what’s going on and how we can help.

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary23rd2014 From Death To Life
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24)

    While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

    Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

    He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

    After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:35-43) 

    As if the power to halt a storm in its tracks was not enough, Jesus uses this tragic moment in the family of Jairus to put an exclamation mark on His absolute, total, and complete authority over all things, even death. Healing someone is one thing, but raising a dead child to life again is a different matter entirely.

    Now, sometimes critics will try to claim that in such ancient times people were not as medically astute as they are today, and as such, in all likelihood this little girl was not really dead at all. However, while they may not have been able to diagnose genetic disorders or understand all the complexities of the human body, death was something that ancient people would arguably have been far more familiar with than we are today. Death was an everyday reality for people living in the Roman Empire. Plagues, fires, diseases, infant mortality, murder, and low life expectancies would have made death something everybody was painfully experienced with.

    So without a doubt this girl was dead. And yet Jesus, with just a simple spoken word, and a touch of His hand, raised her back to life. The people “were completely astonished,” and with good reason. Dead people simply don’t come back to life. Again, we are faced with the difficult question that arises as a result. Who is this man who can conquer even death? What kind of power can launch a full frontal assault on the “great leveler”?

    Death will come for us all one day. There is no escaping it, and no fleeing from it. We will all be consumed. But in Christ we have hope, because in Christ, death is not an end, but a glorious beginning. It’s the moment when our mortal bodies will be “swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). Life! In Christ death is no longer to be feared, because in Christ it means entrance into the very presence of God Himself. 

    For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary22nd2014 Not Ashamed
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    As we consider the impact that an encounter with Jesus had on the demon-possessed man, today we explore the powerful change that happened in the life of Paul. As you spend time reading God’s Word today, pray for Him to reveal Himself to you in both powerful and personal ways.

    Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

    To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

    First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

    I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

    I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

    (Romans 1:1-17)

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary21st2014 Dressed And In His Right Mind
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    Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

    As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:14-20)

    How did the people react to finding the man “dressed and in his right mind”? It’s somewhat astonishing but Mark tells us “they were afraid.” In fact, they were so fearful of what Jesus had done that they “began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”

    Jesus was clearly so much more than just a nice guy or a profound teacher. After all, people don’t shrink back in fear from someone just because He has interesting ideas about living together in community. People don’t “plead” with someone to leave their region simply because He is preaching an ethic of love for others. No, these accounts in Mark are intended to show without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

    In fact, this entire section of Mark’s Gospel should be incredibly encouraging for all believers, showing as it does Jesus’ incredible power over sickness, disease, demonic oppression, the forces of nature, and even death. Jesus stands completely alone amongst all other great men of history.

    However, the way the people respond to Jesus is a stark reminder that not everyone actually wants to experience the power of God in their lives. Although, as we noted last week, we should indeed have a healthy fear of the Lord, the reaction of the people in this story is surely not what God had in mind.

    What kind of “fear” do you have for the Lord? Do you welcome His powerful presence into every corner of your life? Or, if you’re honest, would you prefer He stayed away from the all those nooks and crannies where nobody can see what’s going on? Where does God need to be at work in your heart today?

    MonMondayJanJanuary20th2014 Son Of The Most High God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

    When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

    Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

    “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

    A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mark 5:1-13)

    Whatever our personal presuppositions about demons may be, it’s clear from Scripture that there are indeed evil forces at work in this world. We may not be comfortable with the idea, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In fact, there’s a very fine line between what we like to think of as healthy skepticism and ultimately un-Biblical denial.

    Just look at the New Testament. It’s impossible to read through the Gospels without coming face to face with the brutal, dehumanizing, and God-opposing forces of darkness organized by Satan. A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved freeing people from the grip of demon possession, and this story is perhaps the most vivid.

    We ended our devotionals last week with the disciples wondering out loud, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). In the very next scene, it is a demon who provides the explicit answer. This man who has absolute authority over the chaotic forces of nature is none other than the “Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7). And Jesus proves this to be true by casting out not just one demon, but a whole legion of them.

    Is it demon possession or mental illness? Is it Satan at work, or simply the random brokenness of a fallen world? Is it evil invading my life, or is it my poor health and over-active imagination? We can spend hours debating the answer, but the solution is always the same. In every situation, Jesus has proven that He absolutely has the power and the authority to bring healing.

    Where do you need Jesus to intervene in your life? How can we pray for you today?

    FriFridayJanJanuary17th2014 Who Is This?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

    He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

    We can only begin to imagine what it would have been like to see the storm abate so suddenly. To go from crashing waves to “completely calm,” must have been astonishing—and an enormous relief. Whereas previously the men had feared for their lives, now they found themselves completely safe.

    Although they might have had a legitimate and understandable fear of the storm while they were in the middle of it, when they saw Jesus stop the wind and the waves dead in their tracks, their fear shifted focus to the man they were with. “Who is this?” they exclaimed, looking at Jesus. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Healing miracles and exorcisms were astonishing enough, but such a powerful demonstration of absolute authority over the physical world put Jesus in an entirely different realm altogether.

    Although Mark doesn’t say it out loud, the answer is clear enough. Only God has that kind of power over Creation. And here Jesus gives the world a glimpse of that same divine authority over all things. More than a miracle worker, more than a healer, more than a wise teacher, Jesus was God. And even the wind and the waves obeyed Him. The question is, do we?

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary16th2014 Why Are You So Afraid?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    I am afraid of sharks. Big sharks, little sharks, sharks in tornadoes, sharks with lasers on their heads—it doesn’t matter, I’m deathly afraid of all of them. You’d think it wouldn’t be that big of a problem, especially since the nearest ocean is over a thousand miles away, but that’s the nature of fear. It’s often irrational, and most of the time can’t be argued against logically. Fear grabs a hold of our gut and refuses to let go. The disciples, as we noted yesterday, were understandably afraid of drowning on the lake. They probably knew people who had lost their lives in storms exactly like the one in which they found themselves trapped. But they boat didn’t sink, and they didn’t drown. Read what happened instead:

    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

    He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

    Given the circumstances, Jesus’ question is a little bit confusing. I can imagine at least one person in the boat, probably Peter, thinking to themselves, “Are you kidding me? Did you see the lightning? Did you feel the wind? Were your clothes not soaked through with water? Do you see any life preservers on this thing? Who wouldn’t be afraid?”

    What Jesus wanted them to see, however, was that their fears were misplaced. Think back to the wise words of Proverbs 1: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Or the parallel structure of the last verse of Psalm 111 and the first verse of Psalm 112:

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
        all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
        To him belongs eternal praise.
    (Psalm 111:10)

     Praise the Lord.
    Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
        who find great delight in his commands.
    (Psalm 112:1)  

    Certainly, this “fear” of the Lord is not meant to leave us cowering in the corner, terrified of what God might do next, in the way an abused dog might fear its owner. However, to speak of fearing the Lord as merely showing God respect or honor fails to capture how mighty and marvelous and holy God really is. When Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord (just a vision!) he fell on his face in fear for his life. Moses’ limited encounters with God left him so visibly changed the people demanded he cover his face with a veil. Our God is not really “our” God at all. He alone created all things, sustains all things, and will bring all things to completion. He is the potter and we are the clay.

    The irony of the situation in the boat was that the disciples had no clue just who exactly was sitting in the boat with them. The apostle John would later see the risen Lord Jesus in a vision, and, like Isaiah, fall on his face “as though dead.” (Revelation 1:17). Rather than being afraid of the storm, they should have been afraid of the one who had control over the storm. A startling conclusion they were about to come to themselves, and which we will study in more depth tomorrow.

    For today, however, consider your own fears. Are you looking at them in light of your own limited experiences? Or do you live your life in the trust and faith that those fears, however real, pale in comparison to the One who made all things, knows all things, and controls all things? May God give us eyes to see His work in our lives, and faith enough to lean on Him even when things seem hopeless. 

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary15th2014 Don't You Care?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 2 comments Add comment

    When disaster strikes, what’s our knee-jerk response? Where do we turn for guidance and direction? There are times, I know, when I’ve somehow been able to stay calm and collected, and simply turned to God in prayer, and waited patiently for Him to provide. However, if I’m honest, more often than not, my first reaction is rarely that holy and spiritual.

    We live in a broken world, and although it’s often hidden by the relative peace and prosperity we enjoy here compared to other places in the world, sin has corrupted, and continues to corrupt, every single part of our existence. So it’s no wonder that we often find ourselves wondering what on earth is going on. Where is God in the middle of all this? It’s a question much like the one the disciples found themselves asking as they rode their boat into a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

    In the heat of the moment, as the waves crashed around and over them, and the water began to pool in alarming amounts at the bottom of the boat, the disciples were understandably fearful for their lives. And as things appeared to go from bad to worse, their leader, their teacher, their Lord, slept soundly at the stern. Who wouldn’t be somewhat exasperated? What is going on? Are they going to die? “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

    They spoke as if they were certain they would drown while Jesus, by remaining asleep, would somehow escape a similar fate. Or perhaps at some level they already knew that everything was different with Jesus, and that the normal rules somehow wouldn’t apply to Him. Either way, the problem was a real one—the storm was not a metaphor for something else. They weren’t trapped inside a parable. As fishermen who knew all too well the terrible toll that such storms could take on boats like theirs, they had good reason to be concerned, even afraid.

    The problem is that their knee-jerk question was entirely wrong. Instead of asking for help, they called into question Jesus’ love and concern for them. Uttered in the heat of the moment, it sounds reasonable, normal even. But spoken to God, it implies a shocking degree of misunderstanding. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Satan’s temptation to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1) In other words, “Are you really so sure that God loves you?” “Are you certain that He wants the best for you?”

    The disciples found themselves not only thinking that very question, but blurting it out loud. And we’ll find out how Jesus responded tomorrow. In the meantime, what’s your first response when suffering, sorrow, or even just the struggles of life come your way? Anger? Frustration? Fear? Sadness? There is much in this world that can cause legitimate fear, pain and grief, but while we work through those extremely difficult emotions, may God protect us from calling His perfect goodness and total holiness into question. 

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary14th2014 There Is No Other
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 2 comments Add comment

    As we prepare our hearts and minds for the sermon this coming Sunday, we pause today to consider a passage that perhaps sets some context for our study on Mark 4:35-41, “Jesus Calms the Storm.” As you read these brief verses from Isaiah, pray for God to reveal Himself to you.

     I am the Lord, and there is no other;
       apart from me there is no God.
    I will strengthen you,
        though you have not acknowledged me,
    so that from the rising of the sun
        to the place of its setting
    people may know there is none besides me.
        I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    I form the light and create darkness,
        I bring prosperity and create disaster;
        I, the Lord, do all these things. 

     “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
        let the clouds shower it down.
    Let the earth open wide,
        let salvation spring up,
    let righteousness flourish with it;
        I, the Lord, have created it.

      “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
       those who are nothing but potsherds
        among the potsherds on the ground.
    Does the clay say to the potter,
        ‘What are you making?’
    Does your work say,
        ‘The potter has no hands’?
    Woe to the one who says to a father,
        ‘What have you begotten?’
    or to a mother,
        ‘What have you brought to birth?’

      “This is what the Lord says—
       the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
    Concerning things to come,
        do you question me about my children,
        or give me orders about the work of my hands?
    It is I who made the earth
        and created mankind on it.
    My own hands stretched out the heavens;
        I marshaled their starry hosts.
    (Isaiah 45:5-12)

    MonMondayJanJanuary13th2014 He Set My Feet On A Rock
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Do you ever feel as if you can’t quite catch your breath? That everything is moving so quickly you can barely keep up? We’re not even two weeks into January, and I think for many of us it already seems like two weeks too many. New Year’s Resolutions are already straining under the stress of our crazy busy lives. Good intentions regarding rest and renewal have gone out the window. Our workload is as busy as ever, the weather is grim, and summer seems like an eternity away.

    But don’t lose hope or give up! God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our lives and get everything in order before He acts. Your uppity great-aunt may not visit unless your house is neat and tidy, and the tea is all laid out on a perfectly pressed tablecloth, but God engages us where we are, warts and all.

    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:1-9)

    I waited patiently for the Lord;
        he turned to me and heard my cry.
    He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
        out of the mud and mire;
    he set my feet on a rock
        and gave me a firm place to stand.
    He put a new song in my mouth,
        a hymn of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear the Lord
        and put their trust in him.
    (Psalm 40:1-3) 

    We may be near the middle of January already, and you may already be feeling “behind,” but with God there is no such thing as a lost cause. Today is just as significant a day as January 1st. Every moment we are alive God gives us opportunities to start over, to reset, to reboot our lives. If we turn to God in totally honest helplessness, and look to Him for guidance and direction, He will light the path for us.

    The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:4-10)

    My encouragement for all of us comes directly from Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

    FriFridayJanJanuary10th2014 It Is Good To Be Near God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    I only watched the last 15 minutes or so of the New Year’s Eve celebrations from Times Square, but it was enough to be completely appalled at the level of debauchery that appears to be so commonplace everywhere I turn these days. Books, TV shows, movies, songs—the collapse of morality is everywhere around us and seems to be rapidly gaining momentum. Against such a depressing background it’s hard not to lose hope. I often talk with people who express their sadness and frustration with “the way things are going,” and there is always a sense of powerlessness—that we’re sliding down a slippery slope with no way to put on the brakes.

    But the Bible tells us a different story. All hope is not lost. Instead of being cynical and pessimistic, we should be hope-filled and optimistic. Just listen to this parable:

    Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

    Jesus was born into a tiny, insignificant family in a tiny, insignificant town. His ministry was opposed and challenged at every turn, and He was eventually put in prison and executed. Most of His disciples fled, and all were fearful for their lives. Yet, with this tiny group of believers God sparked a movement that changed the world. From almost pathetic beginnings Christianity has grown to influence almost every corner of Creation. It’s impossible to count how many people have been saved through an encounter with the Living God. The Gospel has not just grown, it has exploded across the world, taking the Good News into all levels of society, from rich to poor and everything imbetween.

    Moreover, we know with absolute certainty that God is in control, and Jesus is coming back. The Creation will be redeemed. Nothing will be wasted. All will be made right. Praise the Lord! The world we live in is indeed corrupt and falling apart. But it’s where God has placed us at this particular time in our lives, for purposes that only He knows. We can and must speak out as God convicts and leads us, but we can, and must, at the same time continue to preach the Gospel with all the strength that God gives us.

    Yet I am always with you;
        you hold me by my right hand.
    You guide me with your counsel,
        and afterward you will take me into glory.
    Whom have I in heaven but you?
        And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
        but God is the strength of my heart
        and my portion forever.
    Those who are far from you will perish;
        you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
    But as for me, it is good to be near God.
        I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
        I will tell of all your deeds.

    (Psalm 73:23-28)

     

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary9th2014 Blessed Is The One Who Trusts In God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Again today we spend time in quiet reflection on God’s Word. How is God speaking to you through this passage today?

    How lovely is your dwelling place,
        Lord Almighty!
    My soul yearns, even faints,
        for the courts of the Lord;
    my heart and my flesh cry out
        for the living God.
    Even the sparrow has found a home,
        and the swallow a nest for herself,
        where she may have her young—
    a place near your altar,
        Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
    Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
        they are ever praising you. 

    Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
        whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
    As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
        they make it a place of springs;
        the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
    They go from strength to strength,
        till each appears before God in Zion.

     Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
       listen to me, God of Jacob.
    Look on our shield, O God;
        look with favor on your anointed one.

     Better is one day in your courts
       than a thousand elsewhere;
    I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
        than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
    For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
        the Lord bestows favor and honor;
    no good thing does he withhold
        from those whose walk is blameless. 

    Lord Almighty,
        blessed is the one who trusts in you.
    (Psalm 84)

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary8th2014 God Grows The Fruit
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)            

    The celebration of a New Year invariably brings with it the desire to establish a whole series of New Year’s Resolutions as well. It’s a time of year when we can pause to assess where we’ve been, and make plans for where we want to go now. This is particularly true in the area of spiritual growth and development. How is our relationship with God? How vibrant is our prayer life? How often do we connect with God through worship? What do we need to change in order to draw closer to God this year?

    While this kind of goal-setting is important to do (and indeed, I just started a Bible-reading plan myself), it’s important to keep in mind who it is who ultimately is doing the work in our lives. Last week we considered the Parable of the Four Soils, and it’s hard not to walk away from that passage without wondering, “what kind of soil am I?” or, “What kind of soil do I want to be?” Although those questions are good, they can sometimes imply that the growth is then entirely up to us. In other words, a parable largely meant to explain the different reactions to hearing the Gospel can be twisted into a charge to “do more and try harder.”

    The brief parable we are looking at today stands as a corrective to such a mis-reading. Although the man is the one keeping the field and scattering the seed, the growth essentially happens completely by itself, “though [the man] does not know how.” This should be a great encouragement to those of us who so often fall short of the goals and expectations we set for ourselves. It should be an encouragement for those of us who recognize that as often as we try to be that “fourth soil” that bears so much fruit, all too often we end up feeling a lot like the “first,” “second,” or “third” soil instead. 

    God is the one growing His Kingdom. We get to work with Him on that mighty endeavor, but He is the One who brings growth and change, not us. He is the One who changes lives, not us. He is the only One who has access to someone else’s heart, not us. The Gospel has a power in and of itself. We can share it, explain it, teach it, preach it, and proclaim it, but God alone directs whether or not it takes root and whether or not it ultimately grows.

    So this year, go ahead and set goals, make plans, and work hard in the areas of your life where you know God has been convicting and challenging you to grow, but at the same time rest in the assurance that it is God who is at work bringing about the fruit. 

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary7th2014 You Are The Light Of The World
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 1 comments Add comment

    Today’s devotional is set aside as a time of private, personal Bible reading and prayer. Consider the following verses from the Sermon on the Mount and ask God to reveal Himself to you as you read His Word today. 

    Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

    He said:

     “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn,
        for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
        for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
        for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful,
        for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart,
        for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
        for they will be called children of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

     “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

     “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

     “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
    (Matthew 5:1-16)

    MonMondayJanJanuary6th2014 The Light Of The Gospel
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

     “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:21-25)

    My children love playing with flashlights. In fact, as a result I can rarely find a flashlight when I need one. The ability to bring light into darkness is almost miraculous, and clicking that little on/off switch brings my daughters incredible joy. If I’m honest, I’m kind of amazed by it myself as well.

    For Jesus and the disciples, living in a time and place when batteries and electricity didn’t exist, the darkness would have pressed in even more closely than it seems to do today. In such a context, who would light a lamp only to then hide it under a bowl or a bed? Jesus chooses such a ridiculous image on purpose. He wants to emphasize his point, that “whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” Just as a lamp is meant to illuminate a room, so to is the Gospel meant to be shared with the world. As we studied at the very beginning of this series, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15)

    I don’t know what kind of wonderful gifts you received over Christmas, but nothing brings more permanent, lasting peace and security than the Gospel. No gadget or gizmo, however shiny and amazing it may be, can bring the same kind of joy and hope that the Gospel does. God is working to grow and spread His Kingdom. He’s not forcing anyone to get involved, but let’s pray that we all have “ears to hear” the message Christ is preaching, and that our hearts would be changed as a result.

    FriFridayJanJanuary3rd2014 Spirit-Filled Fruitfulness
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19).

    We live in a world chock-full of distractions. Fear controls us. Money consumes us. Desire drives us. The word of God is living and active, but all too often we drown it out with a cacophony of competing voices.

    As we close this week, read Matthew 6:19-34:

     “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

     “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

     “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

     “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

     “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

    What does Jesus suggest to be a good perspective on wealth and money? What is the connection He makes between fear and wealth? What is His closing challenge in this passage?

    The wise person is the one who does not just hear these words and stories and parables of Jesus. The wise person is the one who takes them to heart and lets them reorient his or her way of life.

    Jesus describes four soils, four types of people who hear the word but respond in very different ways. The challenge is to be fruitful, to internalize the law of God and let His voice drive and control every last nook and cranny of your life. Pray for the Holy Spirit to enable that way of life for you today.

     

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary2nd2014 Oaks Or Brambles?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

    He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

     “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:13-25)

    Commenting on the parable of the sower, New Testament professor Klyne Snodgrass concludes, "People think they can look like giant oaks without putting down deep roots. When they realize how much effort it takes to put down deep roots, they too often settle for being bramble bushes."

    Bramble bushes or oaks? Nobody wants their life to be described as anything other than fruitful and magnificent, but are we really willing to dig in and act on the things we know deep down that God has called us to do? Are we going to ever step up and be the people we know God wants us to be?

    All too often the word "grace" is thrown around as if it means we don't really have to do anything difficult for God. After all, so the argument goes, we don't live under the law any more. Yet, this completely misses the point. Grace is what saves us. Grace is God giving us what we don't deserve. Grace is what enables us to actually live a life that is pleasing to God. Grace doesn't lower the bar, it raises it.

    Take some time today to assess your relationship with God. What are you going to do this month to start laying down the kind of deep roots that we all so desperately want to have?

    (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 176.)

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary1st2014 The Danger Of Idolatry
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Whenever we eat out at a Thai restaurant I am always amazed at the statues and figures representing the gods they worship. Perhaps it's all just decoration to make the meal seem more authentic. Perhaps some people really do worship these golden idols. Either way, it seems blatantly obvious that these figures are simply pieces of wood or metal. Who could possibly think they have any power? Someone made them in a factory! 

    Yet, while we may dismiss these more obvious idols as silly, when we cease listening to God we are in effect creating idols of our own. Our idols may not be painted in gold, but they are just as useless and just as potentially harmful to our relationship with God.

    This idolatry is part of the problem Jesus addresses in his parable of the sower.

    When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

    “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
        and ever hearing but never understanding;
    otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
    (Mark 4:10-12)

     With this in mind we go back to Isaiah, and while we could read all of Isaiah 2, just consider the following verses:

     You, Lord, have abandoned your people,
       the descendants of Jacob.
    They are full of superstitions from the East;
       they practice divination like the Philistines
       and embrace pagan customs.
    Their land is full of silver and gold;
       there is no end to their treasures.
    Their land is full of horses;
       there is no end to their chariots.
    Their land is full of idols;
        they bow down to the work of their hands,
       to what their fingers have made.
    So people will be brought low
       and everyone humbled
        do not forgive them.
    (Isaiah 2:6-9)

    Isaiah's critique is of the people of Israel, but does this passage not hit a little close to home? 

    Where have idols crept into your life recently, perhaps subtly taking the place of the voice of God? How seriously are you going to take God's charge to root out and destroy all of them? 

    The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
        made by human hands.
    They have mouths, but cannot speak,
       eyes, but cannot see.
    They have ears, but cannot hear,
       nor is there breath in their mouths.
    Those who make them will be like them,
       and so will all who trust in them.

    All you Israelites, praise the Lord;
      house of Aaron, praise the Lord;
    house of Levi, praise the Lord;
     you who fear him, praise the Lord.
    Praise be to the Lord from Zion,
      to him who dwells in Jerusalem.
    Praise the Lord.
    (Psalm 135:15-21)

    TueTuesdayDecDecember31st2013 Are You Listening?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 0 comments Add comment

    Embedded in the middle of this long passage in Mark 4 is a quote taken from Isaiah 6. In order to fully understand the relevance of this quote for the parable of the sower, it helps to read Isaiah 1 first. As you read through this poetic and prophetic introduction, circle, underline or otherwise take note of all the language about hearing, listening and saying/speaking.

    Note, for example, that in Isaiah 1:3 even the cattle know their master, yet Israel has failed to understand theirs:

    The ox knows its master,
      the donkey its owner’s manger,
    but Israel does not know,
        my people do not understand.” 

    Your pets know your voice and, for the most part, pay attention to your commands. Yet do we treat God with the same kind of attentiveness? Or do we consider such faithful obedience as being somehow above us? Are we too proud to accept that we really are not our own? That we are created beings, not the creator? That we've been bought at a price?

    Or look at Isaiah 1:19-20:

     If you are willing and obedient,
       you will eat the good things of the land;
    but if you resist and rebel,
        you will be devoured by the sword.”
    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

    God was clear that listening was not enough. The people were to be obedient as well (but of course, they were not). How often do we listen to God speak through the Bible or through a sermon and then fail to let any of it impact the way we live our life? What is God's judgment on this kind of behavior?

    The concluding images of Isaiah 1 are of an oak with fading leaves and a garden without water: 

    You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
        like a garden without water.
    The mighty man will become tinder
        and his work a spark;
    both will burn together,
        with no one to quench the fire.” (Isaiah 1:30-31)

    In both cases there is no fruit, no vitality, no life. This is the absolute opposite of a “Psalm 1 life,” rooted in God. It is an image that Jesus would return to often in his ministry. In your prayer time today ask God to reveal the ways in which you have been shunning His authority in your life. Seek His face now, while there is still time and grace to turn and hear and understand. 

    MonMondayDecDecember30th2013 The Parable Of The Sower
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me 3 comments Add comment

    Now that we have concluded our series on Advent, we return again to the Gospel of Mark and our series entitled, Follow Me. We pick up the story in Mark 4:1-25

    Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

     Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

     When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

    “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
       and ever hearing but never understanding;
    otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” 

    Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

     

    He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

     “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

    Have you ever had a conversation with someone, only to realize later on that you really don't remember what they said? Or worse, have you ever told someone something and then discovered later that they weren't really listening? In some ways the parable of the sower addresses just this situation. The people were listening to Jesus speak, but were they actually grasping what He had to say? The people heard words come from His mouth, but would they listen and understand the implications for their life?

    The central challenge of the parable of the sower is to hear and understand what Jesus says. We are to reject the "easy-believism" of so much that passes for Christianity today and we are to embrace instead the life-changing demands that Jesus places on all who would call themselves His disciples.
     
    Failing to hear my wife when she asks me to pick up some milk at the store may lead to an argument, but in the big scheme of things, it is largely irrelevant. Failing to take God's Word to heart is, as God repeats over and over again, a matter of life and death.

    FriFridayDecDecember27th2013 Sealed With The Spirit
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    As we prepare for the sermon this Sunday, read and reflect on the following verses from the Book of Ephesians. Jesus leaves us with ongoing comfort and joy because we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. What a great gift He is to us!

    In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

    (Ephesians 1:11-14)

    ThuThursdayDecDecember26th2013 The Spirit of Truth
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 2 comments Add comment

    Since Christmas is such a crazy busy time of year for everyone, the devotionals this week are focused entirely on Scripture. So today, slow down, catch your breath, pray, and ask God to speak to you as you read His Word. We’ve talked a lot about Jesus being God’s great gift to us, but as we prepare for the sermon this coming Sunday, we will now look ahead and consider God’s other great gift to us—the Holy Spirit.

    “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

    “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
    (John 14:15-21, 25-27) 

    “… you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

     “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”(John 16:6-15)

    WedWednesdayDecDecember25th2013 Merry Christmas!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    On Christmas Day many of us are so busy with a hundred other activities it can be hard to make time for a private quiet time as well, but if you are able to do so, I encourage you to work in some time for prayer today, and we’ve selected the following Psalm to read as well. Merry Christmas! 

    I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
        before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
    I will bow down toward your holy temple
        and will praise your name
        for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
    for you have so exalted your solemn decree
        that it surpasses your fame.
    When I called, you answered me;
        you greatly emboldened me.

     May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
       when they hear what you have decreed.
    May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
        for the glory of the Lord is great.

     Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
       though lofty, he sees them from afar.
    Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
        you preserve my life.
    You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
        with your right hand you save me.
    The Lord will vindicate me;
        your love, Lord, endures forever—
        do not abandon the works of your hands.
    (Psalm 138)

    TueTuesdayDecDecember24th2013 New Birth Into A Living Hope
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Christmas is upon us. It’s the moment when the Kingdom of God broke into this world, and everything changed as a result. As you prepare your heart for Christmas this year, consider the great opening chapter of 1 Peter:

     Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

    Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

    Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

    Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

    “All people are like grass,
        and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
    the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

     And this is the word that was preached to you.

                

    MonMondayDecDecember23rd2013 Your Throne Will Last Forever
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    As we move closer to Christmas, it helps to consider the incredible ramifications of the Incarnation. The baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem was God-in-the-flesh; God dwelling among us. We are blessed beyond imagination to find ourselves living on this side of that momentous occasion, with the astonishing gift of God’s Word to us, and the perspective to see all of God’s workings from Creation until now. Regardless of what happens this Christmas, we have so much to be thankful for! In your quiet time today, read and reflect on the opening words from the Book of Hebrews:

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

    For to which of the angels did God ever say,

    “You are my Son;
       today I have become your Father”?
    Or again,

     “I will be his Father,
       and he will be my Son”?
    And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, 

    “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
    In speaking of the angels he says, 

    “He makes his angels spirits,
        and his servants flames of fire.”
    But about the Son he says,

     “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
       a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
    You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
        therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
        by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

    He also says,
     

    “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
        and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    They will perish, but you remain;
        they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will roll them up like a robe;
        like a garment they will be changed.
    But you remain the same,
        and your years will never end.”
    (Hebrews 1:1-12)

    FriFridayDecDecember20th2013 He Made His Dwelling Among Us
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    We can’t talk about the “Prince of Peace” without pausing for a moment to look ahead to Easter. In fact, the reason that Christmas is so amazing is because of what we will celebrate just a few months from now at Easter. The incarnation is a miracle—an astonishing moment in the history of the world. But it goes so much further than that. The miracle is not simply that God took on human flesh and dwelled amongst us, but that the mighty God of the Universe also lived the perfect life we could never live, paid the horrible penalty we all deserve, and conquered death once and for all so that we might be restored in relationship with our Heavenly Father once again. That’s what we are really celebrating at Christmas. Behind all the sparkly lights and festivities is the best gift of all—peace with God, bought at a price we could never pay. Give thanks to God for that today.

    Surely he took up our pain
       and bore our suffering,
    yet we considered him punished by God,
        stricken by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.
    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to our own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.
    (Isaiah 53:4-6)

    ThuThursdayDecDecember19th2013 Hear Me, Lord!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    As we draw nearer and nearer to Christmas, I encourage all of you to draw nearer and nearer to God through prayer as well. Whenever and however you choose to pray, do not neglect this most vital component of your spiritual walk with Christ this season.

    Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
      for I am poor and needy.
    Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
    You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord,
     for I call to you all day long.
    Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
      for I put my trust in you.

     You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
      abounding in love to all who call to you.
    Hear my prayer, Lord;
      listen to my cry for mercy.
    When I am in distress, I call to you,
      because you answer me.

     Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
    All the nations you have made 
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
      they will bring glory to your name.
    For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
      you alone are God.

     Teach me your way, Lord,
      that I may rely on your faithfulness;
    give me an undivided heart,
       that I may fear your name.
    I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
       I will glorify your name forever.
    For great is your love toward me;
      you have delivered me from the depths,
        from the realm of the dead.

    Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
     ruthless people are trying to kill me—
      they have no regard for you.
    But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
     slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
    Turn to me and have mercy on me;
     show your strength in behalf of your servant;
    save me, because I serve you
      just as my mother did.
    Give me a sign of your goodness,
      that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
       for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
    (Psalm 86)

    WedWednesdayDecDecember18th2013 He Will Be Our Peace
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Marshal your troops now, city of troops,

    for a siege is laid against us.

    They will strike Israel’s ruler

    on the cheek with a rod.

     

    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    though you are small among the clans of Judah,

    out of you will come for me

    one who will be ruler over Israel,

    whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.”

     

    Therefore Israel will be abandoned

    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,

    and the rest of his brothers return

    to join the Israelites.

     

    He will stand and shepherd his flock

    in the strength of the LORD,

    in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

    And they will live securely, for then his greatness

    will reach to the ends of the earth.

     

    And he will be our peace…

    (Micah 5:1-5a)

     

    When the Magi from the east approached King Herod asking about the King of the Jews, Herod turned to the teachers of the law for advice. They, in turn, quoted this prophecy from Micah by way of answer. It made no sense at the time—after all, Bethlehem was a tiny village, insignificant and irrelevant. However, the words were clear, and Herod went to horrific ends in order to kill the perceived threat to his throne.

     

    What God has willed, however, cannot be stopped by the mere hands of men, and so the young Jesus escaped the tyrant Herod and with his family went to live temporarily in Egypt. As John would later say, somewhat poetically, in his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Indeed, the darkness could not ever overcome it. 

     

    Although there is clearly a sense in which Jesus functions to bring peace into our communities, neighborhoods, families and friendships, the primary gift of His peace is seen in our restored relationship with God Himself. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, and peace follows after Him everywhere as a result. However, more importantly, Jesus embodied that peace, and indeed became our peace, providing us access back into the presence of our Heavenly Father. 

     

    As the Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Or again, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col. 1:19-20). 

     

    The great gift of Christmas is the promise of this restoration. What once was broken has now been restored and made new. What once was lost has now been found. May that be the source of our comfort and joy this Christmas.

     

    “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

     
    TueTuesdayDecDecember17th2013 We Have Seen A Great Light
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 3 comments Add comment

    Our focus this week is on Jesus as our “Prince of Peace.” It’s a title heavy-laden with meaning, and rich in implications for every aspect of our lives. Read the following passage from Isaiah, and marvel at the way in which God promises that a baby boy will be the one to conquer the forces of evil and darkness. God will not impose His peace forcibly through a display of His mighty power, but humbly, through the birth of a child. Incredible!

    Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

     The people walking in darkness
       have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of deep darkness
        a light has dawned.
    You have enlarged the nation
        and increased their joy;
    they rejoice before you
        as people rejoice at the harvest,
    as warriors rejoice
        when dividing the plunder.
    For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
        you have shattered
    the yoke that burdens them,
        the bar across their shoulders,
        the rod of their oppressor.
    Every warrior’s boot used in battle
        and every garment rolled in blood
    will be destined for burning,
        will be fuel for the fire.
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
        there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
        and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
        with justice and righteousness
        from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty
        will accomplish this.
    (Isaiah 9:1-7)

     In what area of your life are you seeking the “zeal of the Lord Almighty” to be at work? How can we be praying for you this Christmas season?

                

    MonMondayDecDecember16th2013 He Himself Is Our Peace
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 2 comments Add comment

    Twenty years ago the world honored South African leaders Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk with the Nobel Peace Prize, "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa" (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1993/mandela-facts.html). It was a monumental moment in the history of South Africa. After years of painful injustice and bitter strife, the way appeared to be clearing for a new day of freedom and justice.

    As I watched the news and read the articles about Nelson Mandela’s funeral last week, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I was reminded that we live in a fallen, sin-ridden world, where conflict is the norm, not the exception. We argue, fight, steal, kill, hurt and maim. We often oppress others and seek to exert power in truly horrible ways. Indeed, human history is filled with countless examples of human evil; evidence of the Biblical truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

    That said, the outpouring of grief at Mandela’s funeral was also a clear sign to me of just how much we yearn for something, or someone, to give us hope. Our hearts crave it. We may try to suppress the truth that our world is broken, and we may try to hide the sin that lurks in our own hearts, but deep down we are all keenly aware of how desperate our situation really is. In this way, Christians and non-Christians alike all seek a savior. We are all looking for a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

    The sad truth is, however, that Nelson Mandela was not that savior. He was a great leader, honored by many, and a trailblazer for change in a very difficult political environment, but he was not the savior South Africans were really looking for. Although many things have changed in his country since 1993, there is still fighting and oppression and injustice and pain and suffering. No human has the power to change that.

    But at Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of One who came to bring lasting peace:

    “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-18)

    In Christ we can experience peace with God and peace with each other. In Christ we can catch glimpses of God’s Kingdom breaking through into our broken world. In Christ we have hope that one day all things will be restored and made whole once again.

    The wolf will live with the lamb,
      the leopard will lie down with the goat,
    the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
        and a little child will lead them.
    The cow will feed with the bear,
        their young will lie down together,
        and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
    The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
        and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
    They will neither harm nor destroy
        on all my holy mountain,
    for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
        as the waters cover the sea.
    (Isaiah 11:6-9)

    AMEN!

    FriFridayDecDecember13th2013 Our Father In Heaven
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Are you feeling it yet? Comfort? Joy? Peace? Hope? These are the words we see most often on Christmas cards. These are the words plastered on the walls of our sanctuary this Advent. These are the words that fill our Christmas carols and Christmas songs. Perhaps, for you, Christmas is indeed “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and these emotions come as easily as an old car fish-tailing on black ice.

    However, for others of us, these words may represent everything we don’t have, and yet want most. Comfort and joy may be as elusive as a parking spot in the mall on Black Friday. What then? Where do we turn? Are we left pasting a fake smile on our face as we join the Christmas joy parade?

    No amount of eggnog will solve our sadness, or assuage our sense of loss. But Jesus reminds us that there is someone we can turn to for help:

    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
        but deliver us from the evil one.’
    (Matthew 6:9-13)

    Prayer is not a magic pill that will suddenly turn our depression into delight. However, the marvelous gift of Christmas is that because of Jesus we now have free and total access through prayer to our perfect, loving Father in Heaven, who alone has the power to do all things. And it is through His power that maybe, just possibly, we might be able this Christmas to join with David in proclaiming,

    You turned my wailing into dancing;
       you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
    that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
        Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
    (Psalm 30:11-12)

    ThuThursdayDecDecember12th2013 The Prodigal Father
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    We can’t leave our brief study on Jesus as our “Everlasting Father” without considering what is perhaps the most significant text on this subject in the New Testament—the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as some have called it, the Parable of the Two Lost Sons).

     Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

     “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 

     “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

     “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

     “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 

     “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

     “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

     “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

     “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:11-32)

    What does this parable tell us about Jesus? What kind of a father is He to us?

    WedWednesdayDecDecember11th2013 The Son Of Man
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 1 comments Add comment

    When opposed by the Jewish leaders for having healed someone on the Sabbath, Jesus responded:

    “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:27)

    Isaiah 9:6 contains a strange inversion that we don’t pause to think about very often. The verse promises that a child will be born to us, yet we are told he will have the name, “Everlasting Father.” Obviously at some point most baby boys grow up to be fathers, but something different is going on here, for these titles seem to be bestowed on the baby at birth, as a reflection of characteristics he already possesses.

    I think that the passage from the Gospel of John, above, gives us perhaps a brief glimpse into the truth Isaiah is trying to capture in his prophecy. And it’s here that we begin to catch sight of some element of the Trinity. For ultimately the language of fathers and sons only scratches the surface of God’s divine identity.

    What we learn from Jesus, however, is that the Father and the Son are completely in synch with each other. “Whatever the Father does the Son also does.” The Son is obedient to the Father, but this is not a master-slave type of relationship. Rather, the Son is the perfect reflection of the Father. More than that, He acts as if He were God Himself. “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” What we affirm as followers of Christ is that Jesus was indeed God.

    Many today still try to explain away Jesus as just another wise teacher. But the Gospel accounts simply don’t allow us that option.

    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

    Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

    “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”(John 10:27-33)

    What Isaiah reminds us, especially at this time of year, is that the “little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay” is also our King of Kings and Lord of Lords; He is the Alpha and the Omega, our only hope in a dark world that is hopelessly broken by sin and death. He is our light, shining brightly in the darkness.  

    TueTuesdayDecDecember10th2013 From Everlasting To Everlasting
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    It may feel as if we were just celebrating Thanksgiving, but now Christmas Eve is just two weeks away. We will all invest a significant amount of time preparing our homes and yards for Christmas, but how much time will we invest in preparing our hearts through prayer and reading God’s Word?

    As we continue to explore this idea of Jesus, our Savior, being called our “Everlasting Father,” today we will consider a few more passages that help flesh that idea out for us.

    Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
    He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
    Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young meh stumble and fall;
    but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
    They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
    (Isa. 40:28-31)

    “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
    But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
    They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
    It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
    but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
    I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
    To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.
    (Hosea 11:1-4)

    Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
    Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
    (Psalm 90:1-2)

    Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
    (Isaiah 64:8)

    MonMondayDecDecember9th2013 He Is Our Everlasting Father
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    The people stood on the edge of the Promised Land, anxious about what would happen next. Could this really be it? Would they really be able to take such a vast territory? What about all the people living there already? What if they tried to fight them and lost? Then where would they go and what would they do?

    As they teetered on the brink, hesitant about what to do next, 12 spies were sent into the land to survey the territory and report back to Moses and the leaders. But when they returned, speaking of highly fortified cities and powerful armies, the people turned away in fear. There are giants in there! We can’t possibly go in. So Moses said to them,

     “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31)

    It’s a beautiful image of God’s care and concern for His people. The “Almighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) scooping up His beloved child, and with tenderness and care, carrying him through the desert. I can’t help but think of the way in which I hold my daughters in my arms when they are tired, or sick, and can’t take another step by themselves. When it comes to picturing God leading the people of Israel through the desert, we are quick to remember the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, but often forget this more personal aspect of God’s presence; not just leading, but providing with love and patience.

    The two parts of God’s character come together in Isaiah’s enigmatic promise that one day a child would be born “to us,” and His name would be “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:5-6). Our Heavenly Father is omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal, yet at the same time also a Father, a caring parent who speaks of us as His children, and calls us to be a part of His family.

    It’s almost too much to hold together in my head. The Lord “laid the earth’s foundation,” and “marked off its dimensions.” He “shut up the sea behind doors” and gave “orders to the morning” (Job 38:1-12). And yet at the same time, He approaches us with the kind of loving care and concern that only a Father could display:

    So do not fear, for I am with you;

                            do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

                I will strengthen you and help you;

                            I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)  

    So today, instead of being overwhelmed with the craziness of Christmas, pause to reflect on, and rest in, the wonderful promise of God’s absolute provision. Whatever you are going through right now, your Heavenly Father promises to strengthen you and help you. The baby lying in a manger guarantees it.  

    FriFridayDecDecember6th2013 Mighty God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

                (Isaiah 9:6)

    Our God is a mighty God and a wonderful counselor; a King of Kings who is mighty to save and sovereign over all things. At the same time, however, this mighty God, our Savior, came and lived among us, taking on human flesh, coming to us as a mere baby, a child no less, lying in a manger, surrounded by animals, and largely hidden from everyone. Such an arrival was a miracle few expected or understood.

    The miracle of Christmas is that our King humbled Himself to save us. He sacrificed Himself to bring us peace with God. Our comfort doesn’t rest in material goods, but in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Our joy has less to do with the way life is going, and far more to do with the “grace in which we now stand.”

    As we finish this week’s devotionals, consider the great promises Paul lays out for us in his letter to the Romans, and be encouraged by the security of God’s great love for you.

    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

     

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

     

    Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11)

    ThuThursdayDecDecember5th2013 Be Glad And Rejoice!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 1 comments Add comment

    Advent can be a wonderful time to look back and consider the wonderful prophecies God provided for His people hundreds of years before Jesus was born. These powerful words speak volumes about God’s great love for us, and convey again the mighty power of a God who has been working out a plan since before the dawn of time. Be encouraged today that this same mighty God is “with you” personally, and indeed takes “great delight in you.”

    Sing, Daughter Zion;

        shout aloud, Israel!

    Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,

        Daughter Jerusalem!

    The Lord has taken away your punishment,

        he has turned back your enemy.

    The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;

        never again will you fear any harm.

    On that day

        they will say to Jerusalem,

    “Do not fear, Zion;

        do not let your hands hang limp.

    The Lord your God is with you,

        the Mighty Warrior who saves.

    He will take great delight in you;

        in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

        but will rejoice over you with singing.”

     

     “I will remove from you

        all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,

        which is a burden and reproach for you.

    At that time I will deal

        with all who oppressed you.

    I will rescue the lame;

        I will gather the exiles.

    I will give them praise and honor

        in every land where they have suffered shame.

    At that time I will gather you;

        at that time I will bring you home.

    I will give you honor and praise

        among all the peoples of the earth

    when I restore your fortunes

        before your very eyes,”

    says the Lord.

    (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

    WedWednesdayDecDecember4th2013 Who Is This King Of Glory?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Who is this King of glory?
    The LORD, strong and mighty,
    the LORD, mighty in battle!
    (Psalm 24:8)            

    We serve a mighty God. That much should be undeniable. As we consider the grand sweep of history, from the dawn of Creation until the present day, God’s hand is visible everywhere we look. His reach extends from the high courts of kings and rulers all the way down to the plain and ordinary lives of people like you and me. God has been working since before the beginning of time, and will continue to work long after we shed this mortal coil.

    The great truth set before us in Scripture is that our God is a mighty God. He is the One who spoke the world into existence. He is the One who breathed life into Adam. He is the One who gave Abraham and Sarah a son. He is the One who saved Joseph from certain death, and then used him to save a nation. He is the One who rescued His people from slavery, delivering them from the hands of Pharaoh. He is the One who brought the people into the Promised Land, and went before them to vanquish their enemies. He is the One who conquered Israel’s enemies, even when the odds were repeatedly stacked against them. He is the One who sent His own people into Exile as discipline for their ongoing idolatry and rebellion. He is the One who brought them back home again, and enabled them to rebuild Jerusalem.

    This is what we mean when we talk about the sovereignty of God. He is ruler of both Heaven and Earth. He holds all things in His hands—not just the big events that play out on the main stages of the world, but the little ordinary moments that make up the day-to-day existence of each and every one of us. He doesn’t just observe everything that happens from a distance—He has a vested interest in our lives, and plays an active role in each and every moment. Only a God this big could possibly be our “comfort and joy.”

    “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

        my chosen one in whom I delight;

    I will put my Spirit on him,

        and he will bring justice to the nations.

    He will not shout or cry out,

        or raise his voice in the streets.

    A bruised reed he will not break,

        and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

    In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

    he will not falter or be discouraged

    till he establishes justice on earth.

        In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

     

    This is what God the Lord says—

    the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,

        who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,

        who gives breath to its people,

        and life to those who walk on it:

     “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;

        I will take hold of your hand.

    I will keep you and will make you

        to be a covenant for the people

        and a light for the Gentiles,

    to open eyes that are blind,

        to free captives from prison

        and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

     

     “I am the Lord; that is my name!

        I will not yield my glory to another

        or my praise to idols.

    See, the former things have taken place,

        and new things I declare;

    before they spring into being

        I announce them to you.”

    (Isaiah 42:1-9)

    TueTuesdayDecDecember3rd2013 Love The Lord Your God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    As I mentioned yesterday, my own personal Bible reading plan for this month involves reading through Deuteronomy. The passage below is taken from Deuteronomy 10, which speaks to this week’s focus on our “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). What do you learn about God from these verses? How will you respond?

    And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

    To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

    Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.

    (Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1)

    MonMondayDecDecember2nd2013 Advent
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Although Advent is meant to be a time of quiet contemplation as we prepare for the “coming” (or “advent”) of Jesus, for many of us it is simply a time of increased stress and strain. In fact, it is easy to become completely overwhelmed with ever-growing shopping lists, endless parties, and a feeling that we should be happy all the time. Christians will talk a lot about “putting Christ back in Christmas,” but the question is, “How?”

    One simple way we can push back against all these pressures is to zealously guard our quiet time with God. This isn’t legalism, it’s common sense. God will love us the same whether we read our Bible and pray every day or not. As a display of His grace, God will still work in our lives and answer our prayers even if we fail to slow down to listen to His voice.

    However, we will feel closer to God, and feel more grounded in the middle of all the chaos, if we invest some time each day to read God’s Word and pray. Moreover, while we are glad to provide these devotionals as a resource to you, they do not function in the same way as reading God’s Word. For example, this month I am personally going to read through the Book of Deuteronomy, and I may read some Psalms in there as well. I encourage you to pick a plan that works for you, and then go for it.

    As for the devotionals, this week we continue our series, “Comfort and Joy,” rooted in two key texts often associated with Christmas. Read and reflect on the following passages. How is Jesus’ birth good news for you this year? In what areas of your life are you praying for God to shine His light, bringing hope and healing and restoration?

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

     

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

     

     “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

     

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)

    The people walking in darkness

                            have seen a great light;

                on those living in the land of deep darkness

                            a light has dawned.

                You have enlarged the nation

                            and increased their joy;

                they rejoice before you

                            as people rejoice at the harvest,

                as warriors rejoice

                            when dividing the plunder.

                For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

                            you have shattered

                the yoke that burdens them,

                            the bar across their shoulders,

                            the rod of their oppressor.

                Every warrior’s boot used in battle

                            and every garment rolled in blood

                will be destined for burning,

                            will be fuel for the fire.

    For to us a child is born,

                            to us a son is given,

                            and the government will be on his shoulders.

                And he will be called

                            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

                            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

                Of the greatness of his government and peace

                            there will be no end.

                He will reign on David’s throne

                            and over his kingdom,

                establishing and upholding it

                            with justice and righteousness

                            from that time on and forever.

                The zeal of the LORD Almighty

                            will accomplish this.

    (Isaiah 9:1-7)

    FriFridayNovNovember29th2013 The Sign Is A Baby
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Well you did it. You made it through Thanksgiving! I hope that it was a wonderful time of rest and that you experienced the grace of God in the midst of your gathering. But whatever happened, (or didn’t happen), today is a new day, and a new opportunity to turn afresh to God to be refreshed by His Word and encouraged by His Spirit. 

    For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.

    And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
        there will be no end.
     He will reign on David’s throne
     and over his kingdom,
      establishing and upholding it
      with justice and righteousness
     from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the LORD Almighty
     will accomplish this.
    (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    As I noted earlier this week, our focus for the sermon this Sunday will be on the ways in which Jesus is our “wonderful counselor.” On Wednesday we explored the word “wonderful,” and so today we look at the word “counselor.” Again, this is a word which, in English, has a wide range of meanings, but in Isaiah the prevailing sense is of someone who gives advice. Clearly Isaiah is drawing a marked contrast between the ways of man, which tend towards idolatry, and the way of the Messiah, whose heart will be perfectly in tune with God. Isaiah draws this out more completely a few chapters later, when he says:

    A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
     from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
    The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
       the Spirit of counsel and of might,
     the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
    and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

     He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
    but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
    He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
          with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
    Righteousness will be his belt
     and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

     The wolf will live with the lamb,
         the leopard will lie down with the goat,
    the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
        and a little child will lead them.
    The cow will feed with the bear,
             their young will lie down together,
      and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
    The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
     the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
    They will neither harm nor destroy
          on all my holy mountain,
    for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
    as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)

    The coming Messiah, Isaiah seems to be saying, will be unlike anyone else before Him. In contrast to every fallen leader and wicked king, the Messiah will be filled with “the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD.” The vision that Isaiah lays out after that is stunning in scope. This “shoot” won’t just be a wise man, but a ruler who will turn everything upside down. The needy and poor will see justice, “the wolf will live with the lamb,” and eventually “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD.”

    Jesus came and dwelt among us in the most unlikely manner, being born in an inconsequential town far away from Jerusalem. Yet the angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds that this was an event of massive importance. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

    The sign was a baby. Wrapped up and lying in a manger. The promised Savior appeared as the ultimate symbol of helpless dependence and total neediness. Truly even in His birth Jesus embodied the very “foolishness” that the cross would later appear to be to His opponents. And yet through that same “foolish” death Jesus would ultimately make a way for any and all to taste forgiveness, find freedom, and experience new life in Christ. May that drive us all to praise and worship today!

    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

                “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
     the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

    Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

    ThuThursdayNovNovember28th2013 Giving Thanks To The Father
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Thanksgiving 0 comments Add comment

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

     Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

    There can be no better time of year than Thanksgiving to be reminded of God’s admonition for us to live in peace and unity with each other. “As God’s chosen people,” we have a duty, an obligation, to relate to others in community in a way that reflects God’s character.

    What does that look like? Paul spells it out clearly: we are to display “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” If that wasn’t enough, we are also called to “bear with each other and forgive one another.” Given that Thanksgiving is a time when most of us are gathering together with immediate and extended family, we will no doubt be given many opportunities today to practice this command.

    So how can we bear with people we don’t particularly like? How can we display kindness and compassion when others rub us the wrong way? How do we forgive each other rather than engaging in heated confrontation? By looking to God and being reminded of the many ways in which God has forgiven us.

    Yes, we should give thanks to others for the ways in which they have blessed and encouraged us. Yes, we should give thanks to God for the many ways in which He has provided for us. However, let us also never forget that the biggest, most significant blessing we have ever received from God can’t be bought, stored or held. Peace and restoration with our Heavenly Father deserves far more than a simple one-time prayer of thanksgiving—it should drive us to worship every moment of every day.

    So today, as we carve up turkeys, watch football, and gripe about the weather, may we remember the Gospel. May we take Paul’s words to heart, and

     “Let the message of Christ dwell among [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in [our] hearts. And whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, [may we] do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

    WedWednesdayNovNovember27th2013 Wonderful Counselor
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 1 comments Add comment

    As we work our way through Advent, over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the following well-known verses in depth, spending a week on each “name” of God.

    And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    (Isaiah 9:6)

    We hear these verses almost every Christmas, but how often do we stop to ask ourselves what they actually mean? What is a “wonderful counselor”? We might think of a wonderful meal, or a wonderful vacation, but a wonderful counselor?

    For help in understanding this phrase I turned to Bible scholar and pastor Alec Motyer, who has done extensive studies in the Book of Isaiah. In his commentary on Isaiah, he notes that the word “wonderful” is used in many places throughout the Old Testament, but most often it carries with it a sense of something being outstanding, incredible, and almost inexplicable. When used to speak about God it means “supernatural.”

    For example, if you turn to Genesis 18:14 in your Bible, where Sarah questions her ability to bear a child in her old age, the LORD responds by saying, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Depending on your translation, there may be a footnote indicating that the word “hard” could also be translated “wonderful,” because the underlying Hebrew word is the same.

    As God worked supernaturally and wonderfully to overcome all obstacles and bless Abraham and Sarah with a son, so, too, would God work supernaturally and wonderfully to bless Mary and Joseph with a son. This is the prophecy of Isaiah 9.

    Pastor Motyer then points us to another example in Psalm 118, where we read:

    The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
    the LORD has done this,
               and it is marvelous in our eyes.
    The LORD has done it this very day;
                let us rejoice today and be glad. (Psalm 118:23-24)

    Of course, Jesus would later quote these verses and apply them to Himself and His ministry. He was the cornerstone, set in place by a dramatic and supernatural work of God to change the course of history forever. Here again, the word “marvelous” is the same word translated as “wonderful” in Isaiah 9:6. The idea is of something awesome and amazing, totally outside of the realm of anything we could imagine or hope for. Such indeed was the birth of Christ.

    Our wonderful counselor is Jesus, the One whose appearance amongst us, and substitutionary death for us, made it possible for us to be reconciled with God. No wonder the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people

    (J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, pp. 101-105)

    TueTuesdayNovNovember26th2013 A Great Light
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Although the title for our Advent series is rooted in Luke 2, the verses we will be exploring are taken from Isaiah 9. So today, spend some time reading this great passage of Scripture, and preparing your heart for what God would speak to you this Advent season.

    Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

    The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of deep darkness
               a light has dawned.
    You have enlarged the nation
                and increased their joy;
    they rejoice before you
              as people rejoice at the harvest,
    as warriors rejoice
               when dividing the plunder.
    For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
              you have shattered
    the yoke that burdens them,
                the bar across their shoulders,
               the rod of their oppressor.
    Every warrior’s boot used in battle
                and every garment rolled in blood
    will be destined for burning,
               will be fuel for the fire.
    For to us a child is born,
                to us a son is given,
                and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
               Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
              Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
               there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
               and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
                with justice and righteousness
                from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the LORD Almighty
                will accomplish this.
    (Isaiah 9:1-7)

    MonMondayNovNovember25th2013 Comfort and Joy
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Advent 0 comments Add comment

    Is it really Advent already? We’re not even done eating turkey! Well, yes and no. Technically speaking, Advent begins this coming Sunday, December 1. So don’t worry—you’re not behind yet. That said, our pattern with the devotionals is to prepare for what’s coming on Sunday at church. As such, although it feels early, we’re going to ease into Advent this week as we begin to look beyond Thanksgiving and towards Christmas.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

      “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)

    Our theme for Advent this year is “Comfort and Joy.” It’s a reference to the well-known refrain from the Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” which refers back to this passage in Luke, where an angel of the Lord appears to some shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem, proclaiming, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

    At first glance, we might wonder where the idea of “comfort” comes from. After all, it’s not included in these words from the angel, and doesn’t seem to figure very highly in the New Testament explanations of Jesus’ mission. However, if we look back to Isaiah 40, we read the following prophecy:

    Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
    Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
               and proclaim to her
    that her hard service has been completed,
                that her sin has been paid for,
    that she has received from the LORD’s hand
                double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

    The incredible blessing we celebrate at Christmas every year is rooted in this promise. Namely, that our hard service has been completed, our sin has been paid for, and that we can now be reconciled with the Lord.

    So, while we may not personally always experience a life of physical, emotional or financial comfort, we can nevertheless experience God’s comforting presence through each and every trial. We may not personally feel happy all the time, but we can experience true, lasting joy when we consider that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1) and as such, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

    FriFridayNovNovember22nd2013 Who Are My Mother And My Brothers?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

      “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

    These are difficult verses. What we’re used to hearing in the Bible is a focus on the family; an over-arching ethic that elevates familial bonds over all others. Didn’t God Himself command us to, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you”(Exodus 20:12)? So how are we to make sense of Jesus apparently rejecting His own family in favor of His disciples?

    Pastor Rob will give you that answer on Sunday.

    In all seriousness, it’s a tough passage. Given that we know Jesus lived a perfect life without sin, He can’t be breaking one of the Ten Commandments here. Moreover, there is nothing in the rest of the Gospels to indicate animosity towards His family. In fact, His mother and brothers will appear again in accounts of His crucifixion and as members of the early Church.

    Most likely then, we have here the first hints that the community Jesus was forming was going to be radically different than anything that had come before. At the end of our devotionals last week we read from John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    This is surely at the heart of Jesus’ comments to the disciples in Mark 3:33-35. Jesus used the opportunity of His birth family coming to take Him away from all the craziness of His ministry in order to positively affirm the new relationships that the disciples would have with their Heavenly Father. Seen in this light, His comments are more positive than negative, more focused on affirming a new freedom of access to God than decrying or diminishing existing relationships to family here on earth.

    Our earthly families may be wonderful or stressful. We may have a close family, or no family. There are all kinds of relationships, and all kinds of people. However, Jesus is clear that whatever our family of origin, if we have been born again, then we have been grafted into a new family, with a perfect Father whose love for us will never waver or fade. As we draw nearer to Thanksgiving, and enter a season of the year when family tensions can sometimes reach boiling point, it’s a wonderful reminder to keep in mind.

    ThuThursdayNovNovember21st2013 The Grace of God Has Appeared
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As we reflect on the power of God to save lives, and His grace and patience in working with us as flawed, imperfect, and inconsistent followers, we turn our attention today towards the brief letter from Paul to Titus. These two passages in particular serve as great reminder of the incredible love that God has shown, and continues to show, towards us. How is God speaking to you through these verses today?

    For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8)

    WedWednesdayNovNovember20th2013 The Unforgivable Sin
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

    So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

    He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:22-30)

    If you’re reading this devotional, the chances are very good that you have not committed what we so often refer to as “the unforgivable sin.” The point of this passage is not to strike fear into the hearts of believers who are keenly aware of their own faults and failures. Rather, Jesus is decrying a fixed hardness of heart represented by the teachers of the law, who stubbornly and consistently rejected Jesus, even going so far as to ascribe His power and authority to Satan.

    Moreover, we know that Jesus’ grace and forgiveness extends even to those who persecute Christians and challenge God directly. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. He stood by while Stephen was stoned to death. He took an active role in trying to crush the early Church and stamp out Christianity. People have sinned against God throughout history and yet still managed to find freedom and forgiveness in the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

    It’s never too late for the “prodigal sons” of every family and every generation. If in your heart you feel guilt, shame, concern, fear or frustration over your sins, then most likely you have not yet hardened yourself completely against God, and there is therefore still time and space for you to experience forgiveness and healing and new life. Use this time today to repent of your sins and turn to God for help. He loves you, and we can be certain of that because His Holy Spirit is convicting you. Don’t turn away. Don’t waste another minute. Run to God today. 

    TueTuesdayNovNovember19th2013 In Him We Were Chosen
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    As Jesus faced all kinds of opposition, so we, too, encounter all kinds of suffering and struggle. Whether it’s physical illness, financial hardship, or relational tension, it can often seem as if the hits keep coming with no let-up in sight. In the face of all that, we can take comfort in God’s Word, and the following verses in particular have been of great encouragement to me personally. As you read these words, ask God to impress them on your heart so they might sink in deeply and impact you profoundly. 

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

     

    In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

     (Ephesians 1:3-14)

    MonMondayNovNovember18th2013 Be Strong In The Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

    A few nights ago we gathered together as a church to celebrate about 70 people getting baptized. It was an amazing evening, filled with incredible testimonies, wonderful worship and a powerful display of unity between members of both the Spanish and English speaking congregations.

    We do many things as a church, but baptizing believers is one of the most exciting and encouraging moments of the year. After all, each baptism represents a changed life—someone who has been rescued from the “the dominion of darkness and brought…into the kingdom of the Son he loves”(Colossians 1:13). With each baptism we catch a glimpse of the reality promised by Jesus in the verses above, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    As such, it is almost impossible to understand how the teachers of the law could have seen Jesus’ ministry as something Satanic. Yet sadly, that was exactly the charge that they leveled at Him.

    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

    And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

    So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:20-27)

    The grace and patience which Jesus shows in dealing with such a charge is amazing. He doesn’t strike His accusers down, or curse them, or in any way exercise His divine power against or over them. Instead, He uses their challenge as a chance to explain to the people gathered His plan for dominating Satan completely.

    Paul would later tell the church in Ephesus, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Ephesians 6:12). Nevertheless, Jesus defeated Satan once and for all at the cross, and therefore we have nothing else to fear. Instead we can celebrate with Jesus the good news that the Kingdom has drawn near—good news for us, and good news for those we care most about. As you persevere through whatever trials God has set before you this week, stand firm, take courage, and “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

    FriFridayNovNovember15th2013 Children Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:13-19)

    I never had much luck getting picked for things as a kid. As teams would form for people playing soccer or capture the flag, I was usually the last one selected. Tall and gangly, I wasn’t the most coordinated person around, and as a result I was more of a liability than an asset. Now, perhaps if we had had a Trivial Pursuit team or some kind of writing game, then things would have been different. However, most elementary school boys are not playing those kinds of things during recess.

    Jesus, as we know, attracted massive crowds of people wherever He went. He had all kinds of people following Him. Some sought healing, others simply wanted to see a good show. Some were intrigued by His teaching, while yet others were actively looking for ways to stop Him in His tracks. However, out of this amorphous mass of people, Jesus chose a specific group of men to be His closest companions; the twelve disciples.

    We don’t know for sure why He chose these particular men over any others. Unlike the captains on the playground teams of my childhood, Jesus wasn’t looking for the biggest, strongest, most capable-looking men. In fact, He chose twelve men who genuinely struggled to make sense of their master and His mission. One would deny Him, another would betray Him, and all would fail to see what was really going on until after the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost.

    The emphasis here is not on the men themselves, but on the One who chose them to begin with. Mark is clear to point out here that one of their primary tasks as Jesus’ chosen ones was simply to “be with him” (Jesus). They would walk with Him, talk with Him, listen to Him, pray with Him, eat and sleep with Him, and over time, in theory, in some small way, begin to think and act like Him.

    As amazing as it was that Jesus selected these men to be part of His inner circle, it’s even more incredible that since that time Jesus has drafted each and every one of us onto that same team. Your selection has no basis in any gifts, talents, or abilities you may or may not have. Your income, background, age, gender and race make no difference whatsoever. There is no selection committee or voting behind closed doors.

    God extends His grace freely and unilaterally into our lives, and we have the wonderful opportunity to become a part of the family. Do you realize what a blessing that is? Your value and significance in life is rooted in nothing else than God’s great, unending love for you, as displayed in His Son, Jesus Christ. May that encourage you in your walk today!

    Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)

    ThuThursdayNovNovember14th2013 You Know Me, Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    As we consider this week the amazing ways in which God works to heal us and include us in His family, I encourage you today to read and re-read, and then pray through the following Psalm of David.

    Psalm 139

    You have searched me, Lord,
      and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise;
        you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down;
        you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
        you, Lord, know it completely.
    You hem me in behind and before,
        and you lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
        too lofty for me to attain.

    Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
        if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
        if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
        your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
        and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
        the night will shine like the day,
        for darkness is as light to you.

    For you created my inmost being;
        you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
        your works are wonderful,
        I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from you
        when I was made in the secret place,
        when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
        all the days ordained for me were written in your book
        before one of them came to be.
    How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
       How vast is the sum of them!
    Were I to count them,
       they would outnumber the grains of sand—
        when I awake, I am still with you.

    If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
        Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
        your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
        and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
    I have nothing but hatred for them;
        I count them my enemies.
    Search me, God, and know my heart;
        test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting.


    WedWednesdayNovNovember13th2013 A Man Familiar With Our Sorrows
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

    While popular with many, Jesus was not liked by everyone, and His encounters with the religious authorities were particularly difficult. In this case, after teaching so forcefully about the dangers of legalism in regard to the Sabbath, the Pharisees and the Herodians even went so far as to begin plotting how they might kill Jesus. It’s not surprising then that Jesus and the disciples moved to a different place to minister, as we read in the passage below.

    Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:7-12)

    Such a move may have taken them away from the immediate threat, but it was far from a defensive retreat into isolation. Instead of avoiding the limelight, Jesus seemed to attract even more people to Himself, as Mark records a large crowd coming from all over the country to see Him.

    The needs must have been overwhelming in scope. The sick, the demon-possessed, the lonely, the hurting, the broken—everyone wanted to see Jesus and be healed by Him. The crowds pressed in enough that Jesus even asked for a boat to be ready so He would have a little space around Him.

    Clearly, however, this was where Jesus knew He was meant to be. He withdrew from the Herodians and Pharisees specifically in order to engage with the people crowding in around Him. He wanted to heal. He wanted to cast out demons. He wanted to be right where He was.

    Later in the Gospel of Mark we’ll read, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34). The God who created the Universe and everything in it came and walked among us, not as a distant, aloof, unapproachable deity, but as a man filled with love and care and concern for a people broken by sin and living in death.

    We see here in Jesus a man we can draw near to, a God who is approachable. He doesn’t shy away from our mess, but reaches out in love. And He continues to do so today. Whatever the sin, whatever the problem, whatever the issue, we are never too dirty, too broken, or too far away to draw near to Jesus and be healed. He came from Heaven to Earth to restore our fractured world, and He wants to restore you as well.

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
    Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
       by taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        by becoming obedient to death—
            even death on a cross!

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
       and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father.
    (Philippians 2:5-11)

    TueTuesdayNovNovember12th2013 Jesus Ministers To Many
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Today we jump back into our series on the Gospel of Mark, and rejoin Jesus and the disciples as they continue on their incredible journey around Galilee. As we’ve done on previous Tuesdays, today’s devotional is really just a selection of texts directly from the Bible. We encourage you to read and meditate on these words, and consider the following questions: What do we learn about Jesus from these passages? How does that knowledge of His character impact the way we live our lives today?

    Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:7-12)


    Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

    (Matthew 4:23-25)


    Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

    He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

    Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

    Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

    “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

       the one I love, in whom I delight;

    I will put my Spirit on him,

       and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

    He will not quarrel or cry out;

       no one will hear his voice in the streets.

    A bruised reed he will not break,

       and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

    till he has brought justice through to victory.

    In his name the nations will put their hope.”

    (Matthew 12:9-21)

    He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:17-19)


    MonMondayNovNovember11th2013 Lord, Hear Our Prayer
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Prayer 1 comments Add comment

    Yesterday we were privileged to hear from author and speaker Tom Doyle as he shared about his passion for encouraging and supporting the persecuted church around the world. Although it can sometimes seem as if the problems are so big that there is nothing we can do to help, there is actually still much that we can do from right here in the West suburbs of Chicago.

    First and foremost, we can pray. This, perhaps, is the greatest test of our belief in prayer--when there is literally nothing else we can physically do to help, do we really believe that our prayers will have a significant impact? Is it possible for some words I mutter under my breath here in Wheaton to change things that are happening across the world in Syria?

    How we answer that question will determine what we do with a sermon like Tom’s yesterday. If, when it comes right down to it, we’re really just not sure our prayers will make a difference, then we’ll file his sermon away as something interesting but not applicable. After all, the bottom line is that we can’t do anything anyway. We’ll feel sorry for “those people” for a little while, but then move on with our lives as before.

    If, however, we understand the incredible power that resides in faithful prayer, then learning about the incredible suffering of the persecuted church becomes an opportunity instead of a burden. According to the Bible, the Christian believers living throughout the Middle East are our brothers and sisters--they are family. Hearing about their plight, and their faithfulness to Jesus in the midst of incredible suffering and struggle, is a great encouragement. It makes me want to pray more, not less! After all, we serve a God who works miracles! We serve a God who sustains us in times of great weakness and need! We serve a God who answers prayers in surprising and amazing ways that serve to bring Him even greater glory!

    So today, I encourage you to join me in praying for the persecuted church, and to guide us in that prayer I’ve included a psalm below:

    Psalm 143

    Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
    in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
    Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you.
    The enemy pursues me,
       he crushes me to the ground;
    he makes me dwell in the darkness
       like those long dead.
    So my spirit grows faint within me;
       my heart within me is dismayed.
    I remember the days of long ago;
       I meditate on all your works
      and consider what your hands have done.
    I spread out my hands to you;
       I thirst for you like a parched land.

     Answer me quickly, Lord;
       my spirit fails.
    Do not hide your face from me
       or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
    Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
       for I have put my trust in you.
    Show me the way I should go,
      for to you I entrust my life.
    Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
      for I hide myself in you.
    Teach me to do your will,
       for you are my God;
    may your good Spirit
      lead me on level ground.

     For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
     in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
    In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
       destroy all my foes,
     for I am your servant.

    FriFridayNovNovember8th2013 Nothing Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

     Over the last month a number of people have approached the church for help as they have faced into some very challenging situations. We’ve seen people with significant financial needs, relational needs, physical needs, and spiritual needs. Although the exact source of the problem may vary from person to person, the bottom line is that everyone is looking for help and hope.

    Without a doubt Romans 8 stands as one of the most encouraging and uplifting passages of Scripture when it comes to the many difficult situations we are presented with each day. As Paul reminds us, although we may experience pain and suffering in the short-term, ultimately there is not a thing on this planet that can separate us from God Himself. This is good news, because He alone is the source of healing and hope.

    As we close our week of devotionals on Romans 8, spend some time reading and praying through the following passage of Scripture. Whatever challenges lie before you right now, you can stand firm in the knowledge that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and can stand “without blemish and free from accusation.” What a glorious promise that is!

    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:15-23)

    ThuThursdayNovNovember7th2013 Neither Height Nor Depth Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    We serve a mighty God. Our Lord is a God who is majestic, marvelous, and magnificent. He sees all things and reigns over all things. He holds time in His hand. He is deeper than the deepest ocean, and higher than the highest mountain. In considering the greatness of God, Paul was able to declare, with absolute certainty, 

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    Yet, despite this greatness, our Heavenly Father is just that, a father. He is gentle, compassionate, patient and loving. He cherishes us as His beloved children, and treats us with care and concern. As we meditate on the astonishing depths of God’s great love for us today, spend some time reading and praying through the following psalm. May it lead you, as it did David, to praise the Lord with all your soul.

    Psalm 103

    Of David.

     1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
       all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
    2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
        and forget not all his benefits—
    3 who forgives all your sins
        and heals all your diseases,
    4 who redeems your life from the pit
        and crowns you with love and compassion,
    5 who satisfies your desires with good things
        so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

     6 The Lord works righteousness
       and justice for all the oppressed. 
    7 He made known his ways to Moses,
        his deeds to the people of Israel:
    8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love.
    9 He will not always accuse,
        nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities.
    11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
    12 as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

     13 As a father has compassion on his children,
       so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
    14 for he knows how we are formed,
        he remembers that we are dust.
    15 The life of mortals is like grass,
        they flourish like a flower of the field;
    16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
        and its place remembers it no more.
    17 But from everlasting to everlasting
        the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
        and his righteousness with their children’s children—
    18 with those who keep his covenant
        and remember to obey his precepts.

     19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
       and his kingdom rules over all. 

    20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
        you mighty ones who do his bidding,
        who obey his word.
    21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
        you his servants who do his will.
    22 Praise the Lord, all his works
        everywhere in his dominion.
    Praise the Lord, my soul.

    WedWednesdayNovNovember6th2013 Neither The Present Nor The Future Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    As we continue our study in Romans 8:38-39, begin your devotional time today with a moment of reflection. What fears and concerns are attempting to drive a wedge between you and God? Call them out by name and ask God directly and specifically for His intervention. Pray for His Spirit to comfort you and give you strength as you do battle against the many pressures of the day. 

    Now, we return to Romans 8, and look at another source of stress in our lives that God has complete control over:

     For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    Time is the most precious resource we have, and yet we treat it as if we had an unlimited supply. Days turn into weeks, and before we know it, a year can fly by, with goals unmet and dreams unfulfilled. The transient nature of time creates anxiety in all of us. We can become consumed with regrets about the past, or overwhelmed with fear and concern about the future. Even living in the present can be crowded out with the many pressures of work and family. And yet, as Jesus pointedly remarked, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). It’s a rhetorical question, with an implied answer, “No.” Yet, if we’re honest, it doesn’t keep us from worrying nonetheless.

    Paul says that, “neither the present nor the future…will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39). This is great news indeed, but how could these things be threats to our relationship with God to begin with?

    Perhaps we catch a glimpse of this in the Parable of the Four Soils, where Jesus notes,

    The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).

    Many of us live insanely busy lives, rushing from one thing to the next, constantly on the move, rarely slowing down to breath. We bounce from one email to the next, from one text message to the next, from phone call to phone call, fooling ourselves into thinking we are multi-tasking, while in reality we are simply trying to do too many things at the same time. Jesus warns us that the danger of life is that the many good things we pursue can become, if we’re not careful, ultimate things that threaten to choke out God’s Word from our lives.

    The solution? Jesus tells us:

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

    How will you “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” today?

    TueTuesdayNovNovember5th2013 Neither Angels Nor Demons Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Romans 0 comments Add comment

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    Last week the vast majority of Americans celebrated Halloween. Children around the country dressed up in silly costumes, went trick-or-treating, and ate way too much candy. For most, it was simply a time to be goofy and silly, with no thought given to any underlying spiritual components at all. Some might argue that Halloween has grown in popularity simply because businesses have discovered how much money they can make from it (apparently it’s second only to Christmas now). However, I think it goes a little deeper than that. Every year around this time I find myself reminded of C.S. Lewis’s famous opening words in the Preface to his book, The Screwtape Letters.

    There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” (The Screwtape Letters, 15).

    Halloween is the perfect example of such double-mindedness in our culture. On the one hand, many people are quick to play down the whole affair as just some harmless fun, since after all there are no real witches, ghouls or goblins. On the other hand, others seem almost a little too eager to embrace the evil and dark elements of Halloween. The person who downplays Halloween as simply another Hallmark holiday ignores the Biblical teaching about the reality of demonic forces that are active in this world. The person who overplays the evil and lives in fear of the coming zombie apocalypse ignores the Biblical teaching about the sovereignty of God over all things, including the spiritual realm.

    Let’s be clear. The Bible teaches us that Satan is real, demons are real, and angels are real. Moreover, there is a supernatural world swirling around us that we can’t always see, but is real nonetheless. As Paul tells the Ephesians,

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

    That said, the amazing and encouraging news for us is that, although demons may be real, we have nothing to fear from their presence around us. Why? Because they are not equal and opposite in power to God. They are created beings and cannot operate outside of God’s will. Moreover, while they may strike us with many blows, their ultimate defeat has already been decided. They cannot win. That means that not even spiritual attack can sever our relationship with God. If we have put our faith in Jesus, if we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, then no demonic force has the power to take that away.

     

    As you close your devotional time today, spend some time in prayer confessing your fears and worries to God, and asking for His comforting presence to reassure you of His sovereign power over all things. 
    MonMondayNovNovember4th2013 Neither Death Nor Life Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Romans 0 comments Add comment

    We take another brief interlude from our study of Mark this week as we prepare to hear from special guest speaker Tom Doyle. Tom currently serves as the Vice President for Church & Ministry Partnerships, and Middle East Strategy Director for an organization called e3 partners, which seeks to equip believers, encourage evangelism and establish churches around the world. Tom is also a published author, and has spoken at Wheaton Bible Church in the past. This coming Sunday he will be sharing with us some of his experiences working with the persecuted church around the world, basing his message on Romans 8:38-39:

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    Nothing, perhaps, is more scary to us in this world than death. It lingers quietly in the corners, hovering patiently in the dark shadows of our communities, silently stealing loved ones from us and leaving behind incredible pain and deepest sorrow. Death can’t be controlled and can’t be avoided. We talk about “cheating” death, but ultimately we all live on borrowed time. The young are convinced it will never happen to them. The elderly wait nervously for its imminent arrival. Even the strongest Christian often carries with them a hesitant uncertainty concerning the moment of their passing.

    Paul was not immune to these thoughts. He had personally experienced incredible pain and suffering throughout his ministry. We know for a fact that he was there when Stephen was stoned to death, but he had undoubtedly seen many other people die throughout his life. Then, as now, death was the great leveler. Rich or poor, Roman ruler or lowly farmhand, all had to die. Yet, somehow, despite everything, Paul managed to maintain a hopeful outlook on life. As he declares here, not even death itself can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

    God’s great love for us is not limited by the boundaries of this visible world. Death may seem like the end of everything, but according to the Bible in many ways it is just the beginning. As Paul says elsewhere, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”(2 Corinthians 5:8). Death, in this view, is not the great and horrible “going away” that we fear, but more of a comforting “coming home” that we can look forward to with eager anticipation.

    Believers, then, can live with courage and boldness this side of Heaven, knowing that whatever happens, even if their very lives are taken from them, nothing can ever separate them from their Heavenly Father. In fact, as martyrs throughout the history of the church have been so keenly aware of, death simply serves to bring us closer to God.

    The fear of death is one of the greatest fears we have ever faced. Yet, as Paul reminded the people of Corinth, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:54). This is amazing news. Whatever fears we may be facing right now, even the very worst-case scenario we can imagine cannot interrupt our relationship with God. As Paul ends his letter to the Corinthians:

    “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

    FriFridayNovNovember1st2013 My Soul Finds Rest In God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    We began our week with Jesus declaring boldly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:38). If the Sabbath was somehow “made,” or set apart, for us, what does that mean for the way in which we treat it? Where, ultimately, do we find our Sabbath rest? Today we turn to a Psalm which perhaps captures the heart of God’s ultimate purpose for the Sabbath.

    Psalm 62

    Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
    Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
        he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

     How long will you assault me?
       Would all of you throw me down—
        this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
    Surely they intend to topple me
        from my lofty place;
        they take delight in lies.
    With their mouths they bless,
        but in their hearts they curse.

     Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
       my hope comes from him.
    Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
        he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
    My salvation and my honor depend on God;
        he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
    Trust in him at all times, you people;
        pour out your hearts to him,
        for God is our refuge.

     Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
       the highborn are but a lie.
    If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
        together they are only a breath.
    Do not trust in extortion
        or put vain hope in stolen goods;
    though your riches increase,
        do not set your heart on them.

     One thing God has spoken,
       two things I have heard:
    “Power belongs to you, God,
    and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
    and, “You reward everyone
        according to what they have done.”

    Where do you find rest? Do you even have time for rest in the midst of your busy schedule? If you don’t want to set apart Sunday as a “Christian” Sabbath, then how, when and where are you carving out time to be with God, so that your soul might find rest in Him? 

    ThuThursdayOctOctober31st2013 God At Work
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As we continue our devotionals this week, I encourage you to spend some time today in prayer. Reading the passages below may only take a couple of minutes, but instead of rushing straight off to check your email or go to the gym, invest another five or even ten minutes (!)in prayer. Force yourself to sit still in one place, close your eyes, and, if the situation allows it, pray out loud to God. Prayer is one of the primary ways in which we can connect with our Heavenly Father. Reach out to Him today!

    One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

    Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say. (Luke 14:1-6)

    So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

    WedWednesdayOctOctober30th2013 "Which Is Lawful On The Sabbath?"
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

    Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

    Today’s passage of Scripture takes us back to the Gospel of Mark, and a further confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees revolving around obedience to the Sabbath laws. As Mark tells the story, this is clearly a little bit of a set-up: “Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.” Even at this early point in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees were actively trying to catch him doing something wrong. Jesus, however, was hardly caught by surprise, and instead of side-stepping their “trap,” chose to engage them directly and completely healed the man with the shriveled hand.

    Although this brief interchange is primarily intended to focus attention around a discussion of the Sabbath, for the man with the shriveled hand this was far more than just a high-minded esoteric debate about matters of theology. For this poor man, the encounter with Jesus had everything to do with his broken, warped hand. This moment with Jesus undoubtedly changed his life forever. This miracle was yet another example of Jesus’ absolute, unequivocal authority over every part of Creation. Moreover, in total contrast to most other faith-healers of the time, Jesus uttered no special spells and incantations, nor did he apply any special medicines. Instead, a part of Creation that was twisted and bent out of shape responded instantly to the simple but powerful words of the One in whom “all things were created” (Colossians 1:16).

    In the Gospel of John Jesus is recorded as saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Jesus came to rescue His Creation from the curse of death and offer us eternal life. He came to bear the punishment for sin and to conquer death and Satan once and for all. That’s good news! As we read yesterday in a similar passage in Luke, many “people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:17). And even today, every week people hear the Gospel and respond with relief and joy.

    However, others were not convinced, and, much like Pharaoh did when he was faced with the awesome power of God over all of Creation, they responded by hardening their hearts and even plotting for ways in which “they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6).

    You, too, may know people like this in your own life—men and women who have heard about Jesus and perhaps even seen God move in amazing ways, and yet stubbornly refuse to worship Him as Lord. As frustrating and hopeless as it may sometimes seem, do not give up on them. The amazing truth we celebrate every year at Easter is that Jesus is alive, and that means He is still actively at work in this world, softening hearts and changing lives.

    We serve a mighty God who is able to do far more than we could ever imagine, and we look forward to seeing His mighty power work a miracle in the lives of those we pray for the most. 

    TueTuesdayOctOctober29th2013 Healing On The Sabbath
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    There is a clear pattern throughout the Gospels of Jesus teaching on the Sabbath. However, periodically this teaching was accompanied by dramatic healings as well:

    On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

    Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

    The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

    When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

    What do these verses tell us about Jesus? Now scroll back up and re-read the story again. What is God saying to you through this passage?

    As we close our devotional time today, spend some time praying for wisdom and discernment as you consider how God might be speaking to you about what it means to observe the Sabbath.                                           

    MonMondayOctOctober28th2013 Who Is The Lord of Your Sabbath?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    What do you do on a typical Sunday? Do you consider it a “Sabbath” and treat it as such? Do you work? How much? What kind? What did you do yesterday, for example, after you came home from church? Did you check your email? Mow the lawn? Watch TV? Do some laundry? Finish some homework? What does it mean to rest? Are we even required to keep the Sabbath?

    Although it’s no longer the sort of hot button issue it once was, the questions surrounding Sabbath-observance are many. Although you may have found over the years that you’ve fallen into a certain set of habits regarding the Sabbath, this week we encourage you to revisit those conclusions and pray about how God might be speaking differently to you today.

    We begin our study in the Gospel of Mark:

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

    He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

    Now, keeping the Sabbath was core belief for the Jews. As God communicated clearly to Moses, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people”(Exodus 31:14). There’s not a lot of wiggle room in that command, and the consequences for disobedience are among the strongest possible. Of course, defining what exactly God meant by “work” was where things got complicated. Thus, over the years honest, well-intentioned, God-fearing religious leaders attempted to bring further definition to the law, predominantly out of a desire to help people keep the Sabbath holy and not inadvertently sin against God.

    Jesus, however, sidesteps all of this and boldly asserts that He Himself “is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:38). The Sabbath was one of the most sacrosanct elements of the Jewish faith. Keeping the Sabbath was enshrined in the Ten Commandments, the very heart of the Law of Moses: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10). Jesus doesn’t engage in debate about what can or cannot be done on the Sabbath, but instead uses this opportunity to put Himself on the same level with God Himself. There was only one Lord of the Sabbath, and as such Jesus’ words here are in effect yet another claim to divinity.

    If nothing else then, our own thoughts, opinions, habits and customs surrounding the Sabbath have to be lined up against the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. If He is truly the Lord of the Sabbath, then what we decide to do (or not do) today has to line up with what Jesus said and did back then. Who is the Lord of your Sabbath?

    FriFridayOctOctober11th2013 The Son Of Man Has Authority
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:8-12)

    After 15 years of marriage I’ve noticed that my wife often skips ahead to the end of a book in order to find out what’s going to happen. How can she do that? It ruins all the suspense! Well, for me it does. However, for my wife it removes any uncertainty and allows her to enjoy the slow unfolding of the plot as it winds its way to the conclusion she already knows about.

    In some ways, we all approach the Gospel accounts in this manner. We know where they are headed and we know what’s going to happen. But even if we didn’t, Mark seems to ruin the surprise for us here as he recounts Jesus’ words to the people gathered to hear Him preach:

    “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:9-10)

    In the very first sermon of this series, Pastor Rob noted that we would bounce back and forth between two key themes that come up in the Gospel of Mark: “Who is Jesus?” and, “Am I following Him?” The dramatic scene that began with four men hacking their way through the roof of a house in order to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing now ends with absolute amazement among the people as Jesus not only forgives this paralytic for his sins, but heals his broken body as well. Mark recounts for us the people’s startled reaction, “We have never seen anything like this!”

    Who is Jesus then? Mark is crystal clear. More than a great teacher, more than a mere healer, He is truly and unequivocally the Messiah, the Son of God. To Him alone belongs all authority. But while that may be true in my head, does that theological truth play out in the day-to-day reality of my life? I may affirm “Jesus is Lord” with my mouth, but do I give Him complete control of my heart?

    ThuThursdayOctOctober10th2013 Have Mercy On Me, O God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Although Jesus forgave the paralytic without any apparent confession or obvious repentance, the general pattern we have in the Bible is that if we are to be restored in relationship with God we must first turn away from sin. No psalm captures this better than David’s prayer after he was confronted about his affair with Bathsheba.

    As you read through this psalm, ask God to reveal the sin that lingers in your own heart, and then turn to God in confession and repentance, so that you may in turn experience His grace and be restored.

    Psalm 51
    For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

     1 Have mercy on me, O God,
      according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
        blot out my transgressions.
    2 Wash away all my iniquity
      and cleanse me from my sin. 

    3 For I know my transgressions,
       and my sin is always before me.
    4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
       and done what is evil in your sight;
    so you are right in your verdict
        and justified when you judge.
    5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
       sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
    6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
        you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

     7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
      wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
    8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
        let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
    9 Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

     10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    11 Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
       and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

    13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     so that sinners will turn back to you.
    14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
      you who are God my Savior,
      and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
    15 Open my lips, Lord,
       and my mouth will declare your praise.
    16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
      you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
    17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
        a broken and contrite heart
       you, God, will not despise.

     18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
     to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
    19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
       in burnt offerings offered whole;
      then bulls will be offered on your altar.

    WedWednesdayOctOctober9th2013 Who Can Forgive Sins?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    There’s been a lot of commentary recently about a very popular television show called “Breaking Bad.” I’ll admit up front that I’ve never an episode myself, so I can’t comment on the details of the show itself. However, I can comment on what I perceive to be the cultural forces that would lead so many people to watch such a dark story. And I think in large measure it’s wrapped up in the painful self-awareness we have of the sin in our lives.

    Although many people today try to resist the Biblical concept of sin, there is nevertheless a pretty clear understanding of evil, and shows like “Breaking Bad” explore that evil in meticulous detail. We’re fascinated with it. Where does it come from? What makes people do awful things? What drives someone over the edge? Is it a sudden change, or a gradual process? Will the wicked truly be punished, or will they continually evade justice? Does anyone notice or care?

    Of course, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That applies not just to drug dealers and murderers, but to school teachers and businessmen as well. In fact, apart from the grace of God, we are all “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). And something has to be done to pay for that sin. It can’t be ignored or swept under the carpet. There has to be a penalty. Justice must be served.

    When Jesus announced to the paralytic that his sins were forgiven, the teachers of the law were not just mildly annoyed, they were shocked and appalled. Even though this poor sick man was in no obvious or apparent way a “bad” person, even so it was inconceivable to them that Jesus had the right to unilaterally announce that his sins had been forgiven.

    Their unspoken question hung in the air, pregnant with expectation. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). It’s a question that each and every one of us has to stare down in our own lives even today. Who can forgive sins?

    Is justice served because someone “gets what they deserve”? If I work hard enough and feel badly enough, can I somehow spiritually pay off the debt I know I’ve accumulated from a lifetime of less-than-perfect living? Is it enough to feel guilt and shame or is something else needed? What will happen to the people who have hurt me the most? Who will ensure that the great evils of this world will someday be made right?

    The way in which the teachers of the law answered that question revealed exactly what they thought about the man standing in front of them. How we answer that question today reveals just as clearly what we truly believe about Jesus ourselves. 
    TueTuesdayOctOctober8th2013 When I Am In Distress, I Call To You
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    One of the most significant gifts God has given us is free, ready, and open access to the Bible. Aside from the hundreds of foreign language versions available to us, there are at least a couple of dozen English variations, in various styles, covering every possible stylistic preference.

    We can read the Bible on our mobile phone or tablet, our desktop or laptop, even on an Xbox. We have large print Bibles and pocket Bibles, plain Bibles or study Bibles. We have been blessed beyond the imagination of anyone else in all of human history with free access to the very words of God Himself. But to what end? Are we actually reading it? Are we taking the time out of our day to actually read and study and meditate and ruminate on the words that supposedly bring life?

    Today we have included a Psalm for your devotional reading. It’s Psalm 86--a prayer of David looking to God for help. Although the paralyzed man who was let down through the hole in the roof and healed by Jesus said nothing, we can probably all empathize with what he might have been feeling, emotions that are captured powerfully and poetically by David in the following psalm.

    Psalm 86
    A prayer of David.

    Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
       for I am poor and needy.
    Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
       save your servant who trusts in you.
    You are my God;  have mercy on me, Lord,
        for I call to you all day long.
    Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
       for I put my trust in you.

     You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
     abounding in love to all who call to you.
    Hear my prayer, Lord;
       listen to my cry for mercy.
    When I am in distress, I call to you,
        because you answer me.

     Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
        no deeds can compare with yours.
    All the nations you have made
        will come and worship before you, Lord;
       they will bring glory to your name.
    For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
       you alone are God.

    Teach me your way, Lord,
      that I may rely on your faithfulness;
    give me an undivided heart,
       that I may fear your name.
    I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
       I will glorify your name forever.
    For great is your love toward me;
        you have delivered me from the depths,
       from the realm of the dead.

    Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
      they have no regard for you.
    But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
        slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
    Turn to me and have mercy on me;
       show your strength in behalf of your servant;
    save me, because I serve you
       just as my mother did.
    Give me a sign of your goodness,
       that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
       for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

    MonMondayOctOctober7th2013 Through The Roof
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

    Last week we spent a significant amount of time studying Jesus alone in prayer. He woke up early in the morning, before anyone else was around, and disappeared off to some quiet location where, presumably, He hoped nobody would find and disturb Him. We talked about the need for solitude and emphasized the vital importance of creating space in our schedules to pray. Why? Because prayer is one of the most significant ways in which we can stay connected to our Heavenly Father. Without a regular diet of prayer we’re effectively running on fumes and will eventually come up empty.

    Our passage this week finds Jesus in a completely different location. Instead of the peace and calm of that early morning prayer, Jesus finds Himself surrounded on all sides by huge crowds of people. In fact, Mark tells us, “they gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door” (Mark 2:2). The people were packed in like sardines.

    I wonder what the four men thought when they first showed up with their friend who was paralyzed? Were they frustrated? Confused? Did they consider coming back at another time? Did they wonder if it was hopeless trying to get through the seething masses?

    Whatever they may have thought, they persevered nonetheless, and somehow managed to get up onto the roof of the house where Jesus was preaching. Yet, still another problem faced them--the very roof they were standing on. There were no trapdoors or obvious points of entry.

    I can’t imagine the noise and mess they made as they tore apart the packed dirt, baked clay, and heavy wood beams to create a space big enough to let down the paralyzed man on his stretcher or mat. It’s hard to see how Jesus would have been able to keep preaching during the process. The scene was no doubt etched in the minds of everyone who was there for years to come. It’s not surprising then that Jesus commends the faith of the men who brought their sick friends to him. Their perseverance in the face of numerous setbacks was astonishing, and their absolute confidence that it was all worth it because surely Jesus could heal their friend was commendable.

    The broader passage that this little scene sets up is meant to focus our attention on Jesus as the one who has the power and authority of God to both heal broken bodies and forgive sins. In short, the passage as a whole points decisively towards Jesus as God. But at the same time we are given here a glimpse into the faith of a few men who cared deeply for the physical ailments of their friend.

    These men simply sought physical healing, knowing nothing of Jesus as their Savior. We, however, have complete understanding and insight into the significant power and unique authority that Jesus has to give us access into the presence of God. We know first-hand His life-giving power and ability to restore and renew. So, how far are we willing to go to share that good news with the people we care most about? 

    FriFridayOctOctober4th2013 Follow Jesus
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

    Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

    For the first disciples, following Jesus was an exercise in learning to expect the unexpected. Just when they thought they had figured out what was going on, Jesus would change gears and move in the other direction. Undoubtedly this often led to frustration as well as confusion. Ultimately, of course, it led to abandonment, as the disciples looked at his arrest and crucifixion in complete disbelief.

    Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was simply a case of learning to follow where Jesus led. Given the positive reception He had received so far, and the large crowds He was attracting, it would have made sense for Jesus to remain where He was. But His mission, as He tells the disciples, was far bigger in scope.

    And so the disciples chose to follow Jesus, as “he traveled throughout Galilee.” They learned to follow where He led; moving when He moved, and stopping when he stopped. As they traveled, Jesus preached His message regarding the Kingdom of God, and drove out demons wherever they appeared.

    Following Jesus means different things for us today than it meant for “Simon and his companions.” We can’t literally follow Jesus around the countryside. However, we have been called to give our lives back to our Savior as an act of worship and in total obedience to follow Him wherever He may lead. What does that look like for you?

    ThuThursdayOctOctober3rd2013 How To Pray
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    Prayer is such a vital component of our spiritual lives that Jesus gave the disciples a pattern to follow. Although we are not obligated to fit all of our prayers into this pattern, we would do well to take Jesus’ words at face value and consider using this model more frequently than we perhaps do. Spend some time today praying through the Lord’s Prayer, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, below: 

    “This, then, is how you should pray:

    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
        but deliver us from the evil one.
    (Matthew 6:9-13)

    WedWednesdayOctOctober2nd2013 Where Did Jesus Go?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:35-37)

    Simon and the disciples were confused. Where had Jesus gone? After such a busy time healing people and casting out demons He was in great demand. Where could He be? His sudden disappearance no doubt had them worried. When they found Him, there’s clearly some frustration. What was He doing? Didn’t He realize people were looking for Him?

    Jesus, however, was not about to be hurried, hassled or squeezed into someone else’s mold. The disciples may have been confused, but Jesus was not.

    Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

    Instead of setting up shop in Capernaum and solidifying His reputation there, Jesus announced His plans to keep moving throughout the villages of Galilee instead. The goal was never centralization, but constant movement out into the lives of as many people as possible.

    The disciples didn’t understand that then, and we continue to struggle with this today. Our natural tendency is to settle in and settle down. We crave stability, certainty, and consistency. These are not necessarily bad things, except when it comes to the Gospel. The Gospel is meant to go out into all the world. Instead of settling in, we should be going out. Instead of centralizing our faith we should be spinning it out into the four corners of the earth. As Pastor and author Ed Stetzer often says, “multiply everything!”

    Experts often remind us that the controlling verb in the Great Commission is “make disciples,” and not “go.” That is, although in most English translations it sounds as if the command is “go!” it is actually “make disciples!” Be that as it may, the underlying assumption of the Great Commission is that disciples are being made as we are going. Movement out into the world is the assumed starting point of discipleship. Something Jesus tried hard to model for His disciples, even though they struggled to make sense of it all.

    How is Jesus leading you to multiply your faith in the lives of others?

    TueTuesdayOctOctober1st2013 Pray Continually
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    The Bible contains a number of references to prayer, but the following verses taken from the New Testament capture the heart of God’s will for our lives when it comes to prayer:

    Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

     Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    How will your rejoice in the Lord in prayer today? What can you give thanks for? What concerns are you presenting to God?

    MonMondaySepSeptember30th2013 Very Early In The Morning
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 2 comments Add comment

    Today we return to our study of Mark, exploring a small, but important, interlude in Jesus’ early ministry.

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

    Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

    Right in the middle of some of Jesus’ most significant early ministry “successes” (in human terms), he took time out of His schedule in order to get away somewhere and pray. This was not something he did begrudgingly, out of duty, but willingly, out of necessity. The need for communion with His Father was so great that he fought back tiredness in order to get up early so He could be alone. Mark, it should be noted, is usually pretty sparse in his descriptions, but in this passage he takes time to emphasize that not only was it “very early in the morning,” but it was so early that “it was still dark.”

    It is sometimes possible to so over-emphasize the divinity of Jesus that we can overlook His humanity as a result. I think that in this brief snapshot of Jesus in prayer we catch a glimpse of the human side of Him. We don’t know what He was praying about, but perhaps He was seeking comfort, wisdom, direction and guidance.

    We’ve all heard this sermon before--if Jesus took time to pray, then how much more so should we? Yet, despite the painfully obvious application of this passage, we persist in trying to go it alone, sometimes avoiding prayer altogether for days at a time. Why? Because we’re busy? Tired? Distracted? Are we waiting for the right time when we will somehow feel like we’re “in the praying mood”?

    Prayer is as much a choice as anything else in life, and we have to consciously carve out time in our schedules to be in prayer. We talk all the time about wanting to avoid legalism and creating empty rituals, but I can’t help feeling that when it comes to prayer most of the time it’s just laziness or an over-inflated sense of our own strengths and abilities. Perhaps, if we’re honest, a lack of prayer may even indicate a lack of faith.

    Whatever the root cause, there’s no time like the present for re-connecting with God. Guilt over a failure to pray can actually keep us from prayer, so instead of feeling defeated by shame, turn to God right now in prayer. Confess your struggles to Him, and ask for His help in re-structuring your schedule to make prayer a more significant part of your daily life. 

    FriFridaySepSeptember27th2013 Thoroughly Equipped
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

    We frequently turn to this passage in order to defend the inerrancy of Scripture, or the sufficiency of Scripture, or to talk about the way in which Scripture is “God-breathed.” Rarely, however, do we consider the broader context, which emphasizes, again, the incredibly close mentoring relationship that Paul had with Timothy.

    We already know that Paul considered Timothy to be his “dear son,” (2 Timothy 1:2), whom he prayed for “night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3). But here in this passage Paul gives us the most detailed look yet into their relationship.

    First, Paul taught Timothy. That’s not hard to believe. Paul taught at length everywhere he went, so it’s no surprise that in the time he spent with Timothy, teaching was a major component. But we’ve all had good teachers. What made Paul’s relationship so different?

    Beyond the teaching we see here that Paul let Timothy into the inner workings of his life. Timothy got to witness first-hand Paul’s “way of life…purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Timothy was part of what we might call Paul’s “inner circle.” He got to see the real Paul, warts and all. Which, by the way, is funny to think about, given how blunt Paul often is in his letters. How much more “real” could Paul be?

    Paul allowed Timothy to see, not just the ups, but also the downs; not just the ministry successes, but the horrible failures and significant challenges as well. Nothing was hidden, because Paul was committed to sharing his entire life with Timothy. Why? So that Timothy would in turn do the same thing for someone else, and so on and so on, down through the generations. As Paul says to Timothy, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of .”

    It’s popular these days to mine the Bible looking for leadership principles we can pluck out and apply in order to have more successful businesses or ministry endeavors. But in this case what we see is a model of life-on-life discipleship leading not necessarily to personal riches and success for either Paul or Timothy (note his heavy emphasis in this passage on suffering and persecution), but leading instead to the growth of God’s Kingdom, the only kind of fruit that has any lasting value or significance in this world. Where are you investing yourself?

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember26th2013 Follow My Example
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    What does it mean to multiply our faith in the lives of others? As we spend some time today in God’s Word, reflect on the following verses in the context of our broader discussion about following Jesus. What is God calling you specifically to do differently this Fall? We’d love to hear how God is leading you--please leave us a comment using the link below.

    Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

    You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

    Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

    Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember25th2013 As A Son With His Father
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

    Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, (1 Timothy 1:18)

    Jesus bid Simon, Andrew, James, and John to leave everything in order to follow him. He was calling them to be His disciples--they would follow in his footsteps and learn from Him as they went. They observed, they questioned, they poked, prodded, explored, listened, forgot, took steps of faith, regressed terribly, and then, finally, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit they launched the Church.

    However, as we noted earlier this week, Jesus poured Himself into these first disciples not simply for their own personal edification, but to set a pattern, a model, for the multiplication of faith from generation to generation. Jesus built His Church around a community of men and women who lived in partnership and connection with each other, spurring each other on “toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

    We see this pattern displayed in the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul loved Timothy, his “true son in the faith,” and clearly spent a significant amount of time investing in this capable young leader. Two books of the New Testament are letters written specifically to Timothy, and he is mentioned by Paul in numerous others as well.

    I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

    (Philippians 2:19-23)

    Even a cursory reading of the New Testament is enough to highlight for us just how busy Paul was. He was a man on the move, rarely settling anywhere for very long, deeply burdened by the desire for people to experience the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ in their own lives. He planted more churches than we will probably visit in a lifetime, and was a prolific writer and speaker at the same time.

    Yet, in the middle of all this vitally important, Kingdom-oriented work Paul still found time to mentor young Timothy. We don’t know all the details--Paul doesn’t give us a how-to manual, and Timothy didn’t leave us a diary of his experiences sitting at the feet of Paul. However, we do see the results. Paul’s letters are filled with references to the many people he served in ministry with, but Timothy sticks out as someone Paul clearly had a very different kind of relationship with. There is a tenderness and affection in his language that rarely appears when speaking of other believers.

    According to Paul, Timothy “proved himself” quite capable, because “as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” As the disciples served with Jesus, so Timothy served with Paul. It’s a pattern that has been repeated down through the centuries, a pattern that God has used over and over again to identify, train, and then release new leaders to support His growing Church.

    We’re all crazy busy. We all have a thousand things coming at us every day. But if Paul found time to mentor Timothy, who is God calling us to invest in?

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember24th2013 Walk With The Wise
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Jesus didn’t call the disciples simply so they could enjoy a special relationship with Him, He called them in order that they would then take His message out into the world, making disciples; multiplying their faith. As we move into our Scripture reading for today, keep in mind this vision Jesus had for pouring into a few in order to influence the many.

    Psalm 145:1-7

    1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
    2 Every day I will praise you
        and extol your name for ever and ever.

     3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
       his greatness no one can fathom.
    4 One generation commends your works to another;
        they tell of your mighty acts.
    5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
        and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
    6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
        and I will proclaim your great deeds.
    7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
        and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

    To whom are you “commending” God’s works? Who are you telling about God’s “mighty acts”?

    Psalm 71:15-18

    15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
        of your saving acts all day long—
        though I know not how to relate them all.
    16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
        I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
    17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
        and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
    18 Even when I am old and gray,
        do not forsake me, my God,
    till I declare your power to the next generation,
        your mighty acts to all who are to come.

    The Psalmist talks of declaring God’s power “to the next generation.” Certainly this includes the next biological generation (our children), but thinking more broadly, where is the next generation of faith starting to grow and bear fruit as a result of your testimony? That might involve sharing the gospel with your neighbors, or mentoring a younger man or woman here at church, or engaging others in spiritual conversations as the Spirit leads you.

    Proverbs 13:20

    Walk with the wise and become wise,
        for a companion of fools suffers harm.

    Finally, who are you walking with in your life? We’re all spiritually following in the footsteps of Jesus, but whose real presence are you spending time in on a regular basis? How are you growing (or not) as a result? Conversely, who is walking with you? 

    MonMondaySepSeptember23rd2013 A Life Of Following Jesus
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    This coming Sunday we will take a small detour out of our Mark series in order to hear from author and speaker Leighton Ford. For those of you who may not know Dr. Ford, he worked alongside Billy Graham from 1955 to 1985, traveling the world and speaking at crusades to millions of people. Currently Dr. Ford serves as the President of Leighton Ford Ministries, an organization dedicated to equipping and encouraging young Christian leaders. It’s in this role that he’ll be sharing with us on Sunday, and, it turns out, his topic fits extremely well with where we are currently in the Gospel of Mark.

    Last week Pastor Rob highlighted the fact that Jesus chose to inaugurate His Kingdom with ordinary men from the relative backcountry of Galilee. These men were not members of the Jerusalem elite. They were not scribes, or Pharisees, or teachers of the law. Yet, in His grace, He reached out to them and chose them, calling them to follow Him. And they did!

    When they first stepped out of their boats and into Jesus’ life they had no idea what they were getting into. They hadn’t gone to some ancient equivalent of Moody Bible Institute or Wheaton College, and weren’t planning on entering ministry full-time. Nevertheless, over the course of the next three years Jesus discipled these men--shaping, forming, changing and growing them. In effect, He was preparing them to launch a movement that would change the world forever. The call to “follow me” was followed up with hours and days and months and years of life-on-life mentoring, as Jesus taught, modeled, explained and challenged these regular men to be the apostles upon whom He would build His Church.

    Following Jesus was never designed to be a solitary endeavor. God’s plan, as modeled by Jesus Himself, was for followers of Christ to live in community with other believers, learning from those who have gone before them, and passing on the faith to those following behind. Last week Pastor Rob challenged us to follow Jesus. This week we’ll look at the ways in which Jesus often uses other believers to help us grow and become “fishers of men.”

    How have you experienced the call of Christ in your life? In what ways have you responded? Where are you still holding back? Why?

    We’d love to hear more of your stories! Leave us a comment on the website using the link below.

    FriFridaySepSeptember20th2013 If You Are Willing...
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. 40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

    43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

    (Mark 1:39-45)

    All this week we’ve been reading stories of Jesus’ incredible power. He taught with authority, He cast out demons with ease, and He healed sick people with kindness and compassion. He clearly demonstrated His power over both the natural and supernatural world. We can be under no illusion that Jesus was just another “wise teacher,” for here was a man performing miracles the likes of which had never been seen before. 

    Jesus’ encounter with the man who had leprosy is just as incredible. The leprosy rendered the man ritually unclean, unable to approach others or be a part of society. Yet, Jesus “reached out his hand and touched the man,” bringing instant healing in the process. Only the God of the Universe could possess the power to reverse such a severe and debilitating disease, not only restoring the man to complete physical health in the process, but also restoring him back in relationship with other people as well.

    God, in His sovereign wisdom, may or may not work in such miraculous ways in our lives today. As hard as it may be for us to believe, He may in fact allow a loved one to pass away from cancer. We cannot begin to guess at why or how this could possibly be something He would let happen to us. Yet, it does. The question is, how will we respond in those times when God doesn’t heal as we had hoped?

    The man with leprosy approached Jesus asking, “If you are willing…” and Jesus was willing and able, and healed him immediately. And perhaps that has been your experience, and perhaps you too, like this man, have been filled with joy as a result.

    But this isn’t always the case, and then what? Well just a few years after this miraculous healing Jesus found Himself down on His own knees in prayer before the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking a very similar question, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He was facing unspeakable agony and pain, and looked to God for relief. Yet, in this case, according to God’s sovereign plan, the answer was no, and Jesus went obediently to the cross to die.

    But although God’s answer was not what Jesus might have been hoping for, He didn’t leave Him to suffer alone, and as Luke notes in the very next verse, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43). And when God perhaps doesn’t intervene in the ways that we had hoped for, we can take comfort in his strengthening presence with us nonetheless, for He will never leave us nor forsake us, guiding us and giving us strength to persevere, even through the darkest of all imaginable valleys.

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember19th2013 A Prayer To God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As we consider the many stories this week of Jesus speaking and acting authoritatively in the lives of the people He ministered to, we can take comfort in the fact that He continues to work in our lives today. Consider using the following psalm as a template for lifting your own requests, or the requests of people near to you, up to God.

    1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
    2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
        and grant you support from Zion.
    3 May he remember all your sacrifices
        and accept your burnt offerings.
    4 May he give you the desire of your heart
        and make all your plans succeed.
    5 May we shout for joy over your victory
        and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

     May the Lord grant all your requests.

    6 Now this I know:
       The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
    He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
        with the victorious power of his right hand.
    7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
        but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
    8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
        but we rise up and stand firm.
    9 Lord, give victory to the king!
        Answer us when we call!
    (Psalm 20)

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember18th2013 Acting With Authority
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

    That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
    (Mark 1:29-34)

    I’m sometimes asked if I believe that God still heals today. Of course I do! How can I not? He heals people all the time, all over the world. Hundreds and hundreds of prayers for healing are answered every day. We’ve seen it in our small group, in our family and throughout our church. I’m not trying to be facetious, but God has been healing people since the dawn of time, and will continue healing people until He returns.

    Of course, what people are really wanting to know is, Do I believe that God will dramatically, supernaturally, and instantly heal people the moment we pray over them? Or more specifically still, Do I believe that God will answer every single prayer for healing? These are much harder questions to answer.

    What’s striking about this particular story of healing is the mundane nature of what happens. There’s nothing dramatic about it. The earth doesn’t shake. Simon’s mother-in-law doesn’t see a bright flash of light at the end of the tunnel. Jesus simply takes her hand and helps her up. In touching her the fever is removed, and she is restored to health.

    I once heard a doctor say that while he can stitch things together, only God has the power to heal a wound. We live in a scary world filled with car accidents and cancer, where mysterious pains could be nothing at all, or a sign of something serious. Any brush with illness is enough to remind us of how frail our bodies are, and how easily and quickly they can fall apart.

    However, this is also a world where Jesus is alive and active and present, working to sustain us through times of injury and stress, healing broken bones just as miraculously as He heals broken hearts. Just because we can see what is happening when a bone heals doesn’t make the fact of it healing any less miraculous.

    Jesus is just as concerned with healing common colds, sore throats and skinned knees as He is with healing Multiple Sclerosis or cancer. Any injury, accident or illness is a reminder that we live in a fallen world, and all of it is an affront to a holy God who created us to live in a world without tears and pain and sorrow. No pain is too small for us to pray over, and no healing is too minor for us to recognize as coming from God.

    Of the hundreds of people that Jesus healed throughout His mission in Galilee, Mark chose to highlight this simple, quiet healing for a reason. The same God who can command demonic spirits to leave a man can also command a simple fever to pass from a beloved mother. It’s a scene that speaks of Jesus’ great love and tenderness towards us, and a reminder to persevere in prayer for each other as we struggle through this life, broken bodies and all.

    How can we be praying for you today?

    http://www.wheatonbible.org/10713/prayerrequest/Prayer_Request

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember17th2013 An Encounter With God
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 2 comments Add comment

    As we read yesterday, Jesus both taught with authority and acted with authority. The Messiah may have come in a manner that lacked the kind of pomp and circumstance people were expecting, but His supernatural power was evident to anyone who was around Him. Jesus was clearly far more than just another wise sage. He exuded power. When He spoke, the world responded.

    To set that kind of power and authority in context, for today’s Bible reading we go way back to Exodus, and an encounter Moses and his leaders had with God on the mountain.  

    When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

    He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

    Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

    Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

    12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

    13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

    15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
    (Exodus 24:3-18)

    The incredible news for us is that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can now approach God boldly and openly. What needs are you taking to God today? How can we be praying together with you for God’s power to be revealed in your life today?

    http://www.wheatonbible.org/10713/prayerrequest/Prayer_Request

    MonMondaySepSeptember16th2013 Teaching With Authority
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

     “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 

    The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
    (Mark 1:21-28)

    We’ve all had the misfortune to sit under bad teaching before. No doubt some of us may have even been the source of poor instruction ourselves. And yet God’s primary form of communication to us is through His written Word, the Bible; words which we study both in private and in community with others. In His grace, God works through fallen, sinful people to bring His Word into communities throughout the world. Even bad teachers can still be used by God, because the power does not reside in their eloquent words or carefully constructed illustrations, but in God’s Word itself.

    The “teachers of the law” in this story got the short end of the stick. Of course they are going to look pathetic compared to Jesus. He is, after all, the ultimate teacher. Who better to explain God’s Word than the person whom John refers to as “the Word [who] was made flesh” (John 1:14, KJV)? But the main point in this passage is not to critique the religious elite (that comes later). Rather, Mark wants to emphasize for us Jesus’ power and authority over all things.

    So, the description of His authoritative teaching is followed immediately by a story of that same power and authority being exercised over a demonic spirit. The “exorcism” is completely devoid of any special rites or rituals. There are no special phrases Jesus has to say—He simply commands the spirit to leave, and it does. However much havoc they may be allowed to wreak in this world, clearly the demonic forces are still in complete subservience to God.

    Jesus continues to preach with authority to this day, albeit in a form that is somewhat different than it was in the synagogue in Capernaum. We place such a heavy emphasis on reading and studying the Bible because these are God’s words to us. His words have power--study them!

    But more than that, God’s presence has power as well. Ours is not a dry religion of dusty books and ancient manuscripts. Jesus is alive and active in our lives, delighting to answer our prayers and interceding for us before the Father. How can we join with you in praying for God’s intervention in your life today?

    http://www.wheatonbible.org/10713/prayerrequest/Prayer_Request

    FriFridaySepSeptember13th2013 They Followed Him
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 6 comments Add comment

     When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:19-20)

    It was such a simple, direct command, and yet one that would have eternal consequences for these two men. They were simple fishermen, brothers, working together far away from the important cities of the region. They weren’t scribes or Pharisees or teachers of the law. They worked long hours on small boats fishing the Sea of Galilee. The work was not spiritual or esoteric, and didn’t require advanced degrees or certificates. They didn’t live in poverty, but they weren’t wealthy either.

    Their response, however, was simple and straightforward. “They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” As with Simon and Andrew, James and John barely faltered in their obedience. They dropped everything in order to walk with Jesus. It was a turning point which changed their lives forever.

    As you reflect back on your own life, what have been some key turning points for you?

    Perhaps for some of us it was the moment when we came to faith; when all the dots finally connected and we gave our lives completely over to Christ. For others, however, perhaps the more significant turning point came later, through a period of suffering or struggle, or in a sermon or Bible study. Whatever it is, we’d love to hear your stories—click on the link below and share in the comments how and when you heard that call from Jesus to follow Him, and how you have responded since then.

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember12th2013 Blessed Is The One Who Trusts In The Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As we consider the calls to “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15) and to “follow me” (Mark 1:17), today’s Psalm considers the faithfulness of God and the blessing of putting our trust in Him.

    1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
      he turned to me and heard my cry.
    2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
        out of the mud and mire;
    he set my feet on a rock
        and gave me a firm place to stand.
    3 He put a new song in my mouth,
        a hymn of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear the Lord
        and put their trust in him.

     4 Blessed is the one
       who trusts in the Lord,
    who does not look to the proud,
        to those who turn aside to false gods.
    5 Many, Lord my God,
        are the wonders you have done,
        the things you planned for us.
    None can compare with you;
        were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
        they would be too many to declare.

     6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
       but my ears you have opened—
        burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
    7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
        it is written about me in the scroll.
    8 I desire to do your will, my God;
        your law is within my heart.”

     9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
       I do not seal my lips, Lord,
        as you know.
    10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
        I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
    I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
        from the great assembly.

     11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
       may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
    12 For troubles without number surround me;
        my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
    They are more than the hairs of my head,
        and my heart fails within me.
    13 Be pleased to save me, Lord;
        come quickly, Lord, to help me.

     14 May all who want to take my life
       be put to shame and confusion;
    may all who desire my ruin
        be turned back in disgrace.
    15 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
        be appalled at their own shame.
    16 But may all who seek you
        rejoice and be glad in you;
    may those who long for your saving help always say,
        “The Lord is great!”

     17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
       may the Lord think of me.
    You are my help and my deliverer;
        you are my God, do not delay.
    (Psalm 40)

    How has the Lord been your “help and deliverer” recently? We’d love to hear from you—please use the link to leave comments the website.

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember11th2013 Come, Follow Me
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 2 comments Add comment

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    The title for our sermon series, “Follow Me” finds its root in these verses, and we’ll be unpacking the many implications of this seemingly simple command over the coming months. But for now we turn our attention to Simon and Andrew, fishing in the Sea of Galilee, staring at this man named Jesus, wondering what they should do.

    Would they leave everything and fall in line behind Him? Or would they shake their heads in bewilderment and carry on with their lives as if nothing had happened? They didn’t know that their lives were about to change forever. But God knew. They weren’t chosen at random, they were selected, called out, and all but commanded to follow this itinerant teacher and prophet. It was part of God’s plan to use these men, and they responded with eager obedience, leaving their nets behind to follow him.

    But what does it mean to “follow Jesus”? For Simon and Andrew, they could literally walk with Jesus, touching His robe, listening to His voice, aware of His presence. They went everywhere with Him, listening, learning, observing, discussing, asking questions and trying to live out His teaching as best they could.

    Clearly, this kind of “following” is not an option for us today. And yet, the call echoes down through the years nonetheless. So what are we to do?

    First and foremost, as Pastor Rob has already noted, we need to have a very clear understanding of whom we are following. In this regard we are blessed in ways that far exceed the first disciples. We can’t sit down with Jesus for a cup of coffee, but we have the incredible benefit of being able to see the big picture of the entire Bible from beginning to end. We have the privilege of living in light of the Resurrection. We know how the story is going to play out, and we know what will happen after Jesus ascends into Heaven and the Spirit begins to grow the Church.

    Moreover, we know personally, first-hand, what Jesus has done in our own lives. Again, we can’t touch Him, but He has “touched” us in ways that are just as significant and meaningful. How many of us can testify to incredible encounters with God? To moments of intimate communion with the Lord? To answered prayers that defy all explanation? His Spirit dwells within us, and moves through us, in ways that continually amaze me.

    We’ll continue to explore what it means to follow Jesus over the coming weeks and months, but for right now, take a moment and ask Jesus Himself, in prayer, what it means for you to follow Him. Where is He leading you? What call has He placed on your life? How are you obeying?

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember10th2013 Shout For Joy Before The Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Jesus began His ministry proclaiming the good news of God’s coming kingdom. But that phrase “good news” sometimes becomes so commonplace to us that it’s hard to wrap our minds around it being something truly wonderful and exciting. As we turn to God’s Word today, we read Psalm 98, which although not speaking directly about the gospel message, nevertheless captures some of the joy and excitement associated with the arrival of God’s Kingdom.

    1 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
    his right hand and his holy arm
        have worked salvation for him.
    2 The Lord has made his salvation known
        and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
    3 He has remembered his love
        and his faithfulness to Israel;
    all the ends of the earth have seen
        the salvation of our God.

     4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
       burst into jubilant song with music;
    5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
        with the harp and the sound of singing,
    6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
        shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

     7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
       the world, and all who live in it.
    8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
        let the mountains sing together for joy;
    9 let them sing before the Lord,
        for he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
        and the peoples with equity.
    (Psalm 98)

    What are you learning about yourself and God through this series so far? How is Jesus challenging you? Leave a comment on the website—we’d love to hear from you!

    MonMondaySepSeptember9th2013 Repent And Believe
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 1 comments Add comment

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

    The first time I read about Jesus, I was amazed. The person I encountered in the Gospel of John was nothing like the stereotype I had mocked and ridiculed for so many years. A few months later, as a young believer, I devoured the New Testament, eager to learn as much as possible about Jesus. It was an exhilarating time.

    Now, however, after 15 years, there are times when I find it hard to get back into that same mindset of awe and wonder. Reading the gospels with “fresh eyes” is sometimes hard to do, because I know the entire story inside and out. I’ve heard the miracles, learned the teachings, and memorized the plot. Catching a glimpse of Jesus with that same wide-eyed wonder I had as a young adult is often a challenge.

    Yet, here, in these brief verses at the beginning of John, we’re reminded once again of the simplicity of Jesus’ message.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

    What’s exciting about this good news is not the package it’s delivered in, but the ramifications it will have for the rest of human history. The verses are short on poetic language or dramatic action, but the content is revolutionary in size and scope.

    The world had been spinning out of control since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, but with this brief announcement, Jesus marked a turning point of epic proportions. God’s people would no longer be lost in sin. God’s people would no longer be left wondering when their Messiah would come. God’s people would no longer be separated from their King. “The time has come,” said Jesus. Peace, restoration, and new life were all finally within their reach. And all they had to do was “repent and believe.” Amazing!

    FriFridaySepSeptember6th2013 Well Pleased
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 2 comments Add comment

     9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

    12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:9-13)

    How many of us move through life constantly looking for the approval of other people? How many of the decisions that we make are ultimately intended, at some deeper level, to earn affirmation and approval from our parents? Why do we sometimes find ourselves wondering if God still loves us? How many times have you read this passage in Mark and thought to yourself, “I hope that one day, when I get to Heaven, maybe God will say something similar to me”?

    The truth is that God already loves you. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s atoning death on the cross was motivated by God’s love for us. Or again, in another letter, Paul wrote: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

    Moreover, we have been made part of the family now. While we may not be God’s “Son” in the way that Jesus was, nevertheless, God has become our Father in ways that are almost as intimate.

    Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

    Will we fall down and make mistakes? Yes. Will this grieve God? Yes. Is there room for improvement in our lives? Yes. In fact, it is God Himself who equips us and grows us and purifies us through the process called sanctification. We are all in the process of being transformed, and growth is what we are looking for in the lives of maturing Christians.

    However, God’s love for us is unchanging, and His commitment to us is unwavering. We don’t need to strive to earn His favor in our lives.

    God loves you. You are already His beloved son or daughter. Nothing can ever separate you from Him, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. In the end, we don’t work towards His love, we rest in it instead. May that truth sustain you in your walk today. 

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember5th2013 Prepare The Way For the Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    As we did on Tuesday, we’ll spend time today meditating on God’s Word. The following passage is the basis for part of the quotation that appears in Mark 1:2-3.

    Before you read on however, pause for a moment to pray. Then read the passage and pray again, asking God to speak to you through His Word. 

    1 Comfort, comfort my people,
        says your God.
    2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
        and proclaim to her
    that her hard service has been completed,
        that her sin has been paid for,
    that she has received from the Lord’s hand
        double for all her sins.

     3 A voice of one calling:
    “In the wilderness prepare
        the way for the Lord;
    make straight in the desert
        a highway for our God.
    4 Every valley shall be raised up,
        every mountain and hill made low;
    the rough ground shall become level,
        the rugged places a plain.
    5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
        and all people will see it together.
    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 

    6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
        And I said, “What shall I cry?”

     “All people are like grass,
       and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
    7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
        because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
        Surely the people are grass.
    8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
        but the word of our God endures forever.”

     9 You who bring good news to Zion,
       go up on a high mountain.
    You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
        lift up your voice with a shout,
    lift it up, do not be afraid;
        say to the towns of Judah,
        “Here is your God!”
    10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
        and he rules with a mighty arm.
    See, his reward is with him,
        and his recompense accompanies him.
    11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
        He gathers the lambs in his arms
    and carries them close to his heart;
        he gently leads those that have young.
    (Isaiah 40:1-11)

    What does this text say about God? What does it say about you? How will it impact your life today?

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember4th2013 Preaching Repentance
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

     “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
       who will prepare your way”—
    3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
        make straight paths for him.’”

    4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

     7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)

    Repentance has been a recurring theme for us throughout this summer. It came up frequently in our series on the Book of Revelation, and now, here at the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we’re reminded again of the centrality of repentance.

    It’s possible that at this point in the conversation you may find yourself on the verge of tuning out. You may find yourself thinking, “I just don’t see how this applies to me right now. I’m a pretty decent person, things are going well, I’ve been praying and reading my Bible, I’ve signed up to help serve at church this Fall and I’m leading a table at Huddle (or perhaps it’s P4Y). I’m not cheating on my spouse, or being lazy at work, or drinking too heavily, or watching pornography. Maybe I should feel guilty for some kind of sin in my life, but I can’t think of anything at all right now.”

    Repentance is such a heavy word, laden with all kinds of negative stereotypes. The word calls to mind somber, heavy-handed preachers proclaiming dark warnings of doom and gloom, urging the lost to repent lest they perish in the coming judgment.

    But a Biblical call to repentance is far more engaging than this. Just look at John, and the reaction his message engendered:

    “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Mark 1:5)

    Certainly, it is possible that a number of people went to see John simply because he was a curiosity—something odd and different. But Mark’s account emphasizes the fact that large numbers of people journeyed to see him. Moreover, they didn’t just stare at him from a distance, they found themselves compelled to action, confessing their sins and being baptized by him in the river. His was not a message of doom and gloom, but a message of hope.

    In many respects, the news is even better for us than it was for the people listening to John. John could only point forward to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. We have personally experienced such a baptism! Repentance for us, then, is an ongoing process whereby we remind ourselves of the gospel, which says that yes, although we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, there is hope and healing and restoration and forgiveness to be found in the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus.

    If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, I would highly recommend reading the following brief, two-page article by Tim Keller. In it he gives some clear examples of what repentance is and is not, as well as some very practical steps for living a life of repentance. Let me know what you think!

    http://www.allsoulsseattle.org/resources_files/All_of_Life_is_Repentance.pdf

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember3rd2013 Where God Leads
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 3 comments Add comment

    Throughout this series we’ll continue a pattern we’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks whereby we intersperse devotional readings (my words) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with Scripture readings (God’s words) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    Although the temptation may be to ignore the Tuesday/Thursday devotionals, I encourage to pray for God to speak to you through His Word, and then consider how He might be calling on you to take a next step and put it into action.

    We’d love to hear from you as you encounter God through His Word in this way, and we encourage you to leave comments and interact with us on our website, using the link at the bottom of the email.

    1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

     

    6 Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

     

    10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

     

    19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8)

     

    What does this text say about God? What does it say about you? How will it impact your life today?

    MonMondaySepSeptember2nd2013 The Beginning
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Follow Me Mark 0 comments Add comment

    Whenever we’re about to embark on a big trip somewhere as a family, my children have a really hard time containing their excitement. As the big day gets closer and closer, their enthusiasm starts to bubble over, and the night before we depart it’s always a struggle getting them to go to sleep!

    Well, we’re about to embark on a significant adventure here as a church, as we engage in new sermon series on Mark that will take us all the way through to the middle of next Summer. And let me tell you that as a pastoral team we are extremely excited about what God might choose to do in and among us as we preach and teach through this incredible little book.

    Pastor Rob has titled this series, “Follow Me,” and as we work our way verse-by-verse through the text we’ll be exploring two parallel tracks: First, what does it mean to follow Jesus? And second, who is this Jesus we are following anyway? We can’t follow someone we don’t know, and yet, at the same time, if Jesus is who He says He is, following Him becomes an absolute requirement for all believers.

    You may be reading this thinking, “nice promotional piece, but where’s my devotional?!” We’re busy, action-oriented people and we’re constantly pressing forward faster and faster, eager for others to cut to the chase, to boil things down to their essence, to give us bullet-points and easily attainable goals so we can check things off our to-do list.

    But God moves apart from this world. He isn’t governed by smart-phones and action items. So, today’s devotional is brief, and based on the following verse:

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

    We’ll revisit this verse in more detail in a couple weeks time, but for now I encourage you to follow Jesus’ model and spend some significant time in prayer today. Pray for God to speak to you clearly and personally as you read your way through the Gospel of Mark. Pray for the Spirit to transform your heart, purifying you from lingering sin and equipping you for the works He has planned for you to do. Finally, pray for the Spirit to ignite in your heart a passionate desire to know Jesus more deeply and to follow Him more completely.

    May your prayer life grow and mature and develop and blossom and bear incredible fruit over the next year as we study the Gospel of Mark. And may that personal experience with God transform your life completely in the process.

    FriFridayAugAugust30th2013 Be Like Minded
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

    As we mentioned at the beginning of this brief two-week series, our vision as a church is about multiplication. We want to see disciples making disciples. We want to see faith multiplied from generation to generation. We want to see the gospel grow and spread and bear fruit throughout the Chicago region. It’s a grand vision, yes, but one that’s rooted in very Biblical soil. We have been commanded to love God (Matthew 22:34-38), we have been called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40), and we have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). A Christ-follower is someone who does these things. It’s our job description.

    But this mission is not something we accomplish on our own. There are no special prizes for go-it-alone Christians. Unlike the heroes of movies and television shows, our mission is best tackled together, as a team. This is why Paul encourages the Philippians to be “like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” He’s not suggesting they all think alike, look alike and dress alike. That’s weird and cultish. What Paul is encouraging goes far deeper than those externals. He wants them (and, by extension, us as well) to move as one body, motivated by the same desires and driven by the same passion. He yearns for them to have hearts that beat with the same intensity for God. He wants them to set aside themselves in order to follow Jesus as one.

    We, too, are called to be of one spirit and one mind. It’s the only way we can ever possibly hope to achieve this lofty goal of seeing disciples multiplied throughout our communities. We do that work together. Are you in community with other believers? What’s holding you back? What steps are you going to take today to get connected with others who are moving in the same direction?  

    ThuThursdayAugAugust29th2013 Love Each Other
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Believers are called to be people rooted in Scripture. So for two days this week (Tuesday and Thursday) we will intentionally scale back the devotional commentary and increase the Scripture content. Use your devotional time today to reflect on the passage below and pray for God’s leading.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

     “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

     “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:1-17)

    WedWednesdayAugAugust28th2013 Encourage One Another
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

    But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 

    Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

    (1 Thessalonians 5:1-15)

    Tearing things down is always easier than building them up. Just ask my children. No sooner has a castle been carefully constructed from LEGO bricks or wooden blocks than an over-zealous sibling comes barreling through the room to knock it all to pieces. The same is often true in our relationships. I wish it were not so, but at one time or another we’ve all ended up the victim of an unkind word or a secret betrayed.

    Hurting other people is depressingly easy to do. Sometimes it’s accidental, and sometimes it’s incidental, but other times, if we’re honest, it’s totally intentional. All ways around, every time we hurt someone else, it’s sin at work, corrupting and confusing and separating the people God planned to be joined together in relationship.

    If we are to work together to make disciples, we cannot keep falling into these patterns of self-centered behavior. Instead, we are to “encourage one another and build each other up.” How hard is it to say an encouraging word to someone else? What does it cost us to invest in building someone else up? Instead of strife, God wants us to “Live in peace with each other.” Why do we keep resisting that command?

    There are people in your life that God has put you into relationship with. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ, your co-laborers, your fellow disciples, your support network, your community. This is not a fraternity or a secret club, and we don’t get to pick and choose whom God has brought into our life. These men and women are here to speak into our lives, and we into theirs.

    So, today, unless you happen to live all by yourself on top of a mountain in absolute isolation, how can you “strive to do what is good for each other”? What does that look like for the community you are a part of?

    TueTuesdayAugAugust27th2013 We Are One
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    As we noted last week, believers are called to be people rooted in Scripture. So for two days this week (Tuesday and Thursday) we will intentionally scale back the devotional commentary and increase the Scripture content. Use your devotional time today to reflect on the passage below and pray for God’s leading. 

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
        if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    (Romans 12:3-21)

    MonMondayAugAugust26th2013 Carry Each Other's Burdens
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:1-10)

    The mission God has set before us is immense. His call on our lives is all-encompassing. The task we have been asked to complete sometimes seems overwhelming. “Make disciples of all nations…” It’s so simple to say, and so hard to do. Some of us struggle to be disciples, let alone make other disciples.

    Yet, we are not alone. Not only has God given us the gift of His Holy Spirit, but we have also been given a community of believers to walk this path alongside us. Christian community may be a challenge at times, but is ultimately a blessing that can have a profound influence on our lives and on our ministry.

    We have been called to serve the King in a task that will cost us everything we have. Yet, at the same time, we have been told we should “Carry each other’s burdens” and to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Whose burdens are you helping to carry? To whom among the family of believers are you “doing good”?

    Our lives are fleeting, and the temptation to use those precious moments in the pursuit of pleasure is incredibly strong. Yet, “whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Where and how do you plan to spend yourself this fall?

    FriFridayAugAugust23rd2013 The One Who Works Righteousness
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    “Go and make disciples.” We hear it all the time at church. We know we should be making disciples, but sometimes we’re not exactly clear as to why. We could perhaps point out the obvious fact that this is a command given directly by Jesus. Or we could point to the growth and spread of the early church as a case study in disciples making disciples. But for me the prime motivator lies much closer to home, in my own heart.

    Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
    Praise the Lord, my soul,
        and forget not all his benefits—
    who forgives all your sins
        and heals all your diseases,
    who redeems your life from the pit
        and crowns you with love and compassion,
    who satisfies your desires with good things
        so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 

    The Lord works righteousness
        and justice for all the oppressed. 

    He made known his ways to Moses,
        his deeds to the people of Israel:
    The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love.
    He will not always accuse,
        nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    he does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    (Psalm 103:1-12)

    I am compelled to tell others about Jesus because of the amazing work that He did to rescue me from sin, redeeming my life “from the pit.” I was headed in the wrong direction, and He reached out to reel me in. I owe God everything. He satisfies me with everything, even when I have nothing. I can sing His praises even when I am sick and weary and broken down. He cares more for me than I can comprehend, and I willingly and eagerly desire to give Him every part of myself as a result. What about you?

    ThuThursdayAugAugust22nd2013 The Lord of Heaven and Earth
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Believers are called to be people rooted in Scripture. So for two days this week (Tuesday and Thursday) we will scale back the devotional commentary and increase the Scripture content.

    Use your devotional time today to reflect on the passage below. How is God speaking to you through Paul’s speech to the people of Athens? What are you going to do differently as a result?

    Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

     “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

     “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

    WedWednesdayAugAugust21st2013 He Provides Redemption For His People
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    The mighty God whom we serve deserves not just our worship, but our lives. Our God is not confined to a sanctuary filled with well-dressed people on Sunday mornings. He walks out of the door and into the rest of our lives right alongside us. He is the One who leads the way. He is the One who makes the path. He is the One growing His Kingdom. He is the One with a mission—to redeem His Creation. We partner with God in response to His gracious invitation to include us in the work He has initiated.

    Praise the Lord.
    I will extol the Lord with all my heart
        in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

     Great are the works of the Lord;
       they are pondered by all who delight in them.
    Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
        and his righteousness endures forever.
    He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
        the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
    He provides food for those who fear him;
        he remembers his covenant forever. 

    He has shown his people the power of his works,
        giving them the lands of other nations.
    The works of his hands are faithful and just;
        all his precepts are trustworthy.
    They are established for ever and ever,
        enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
    He provided redemption for his people;
        he ordained his covenant forever—
        holy and awesome is his name.

     The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
       all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
        To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111)

    We cannot and will not ever move “Forward Together” until we learn to praise the Lord with all our heart. His works are good. He provides food. He remembers His covenant. He shows His people His works. His precepts are trustworthy. Perhaps most astonishing of all, He provides redemption for His people.

    God moves first. We follow where He is leading. In what areas of your life do you have the positions reversed? 

    TueTuesdayAugAugust20th2013 God's Possession
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Believers are called to be people rooted in Scripture. So for two days this week (Tuesday and Thursday) we will intentionally scale back the devotional commentary and increase the Scripture content. Use your devotional time today to reflect on the passage below and pray for God’s leading.

    Have you created enough space in your schedule to hear from the Lord today?

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

     In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

    MonMondayAugAugust19th2013 Glory in His Holy Name
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Forward Together 0 comments Add comment

    Next Sunday Pastor Rob will launch us into the new ministry year with the first sermon of a two-week series entitled, “Forward Together.” How do we pursue the call to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20) while also obeying the command to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40)?

    As we prepare for those sermons through the devotionals, we’ll spend most of our time considering the foundations that lie behind our mission. Specifically, who is this God that calls us to go out into the world making disciples? It is, after all, His sovereign hand that lies behind everything that we do. Whatever grand visions we may have for changing the world are first and foremost rooted in God’s greater plan for redeeming His Creation. We are the players in the grand drama He is unfolding before us, not the other way around.

    Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
        make known among the nations what he has done.
    Sing to him, sing praise to him;
        tell of all his wonderful acts.
    Glory in his holy name;
        let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
    Look to the Lord and his strength;
        seek his face always.
    Remember the wonders he has done,
        his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
    you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
        his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
    He is the Lord our God;
        his judgments are in all the earth.
    (Psalm 105:1-7)

    We may be feeling down, we may be feeling overwhelmed, we may be feeling sick, we may have all kinds of very legitimate reasons for feeling as if everything is going wrong. However, as we read the Bible we are constantly reminded of the bigger picture that God is painting all around us. “Remember the wonders he has done.” Consider the incredible ways in which He has worked in your life, bringing you to salvation, rescuing you from sin, protecting you from danger, and blessing you with life. Beyond that, remember the miracles and judgments He has worked throughout time and history. Look to the lives of the saints who have gone before you, enduring great suffering and persecution in their pursuit of Christ and their desire to honor Him with their lives.

    We serve a mighty God who is bigger and greater and more majestic and marvelous and amazing than we can even begin to imagine. As you begin your week, “Glory in his holy name,” and may your heart rejoice as you seek the Lord.

    FriFridayAugAugust16th2013 Victory
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22)

    When my children think of victory, they think of being the first one to touch the car, or the first one to the front door, or the first one up the tree. They think in terms of coming in first, and beating everyone else. Victory is the stuff of Olympic gold medals and Super Bowl rings. But when we look at the Bible, in what way was Jesus victorious? He conquered death and defeated Satan, but how did He accomplish such incredible feats?

    “…he made himself nothing
     by taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        by becoming obedient to death—
            even death on a cross!”
    (Philippians 2:7-8)

    The path that led to victory for Jesus involved terrible suffering and ultimately, death. The way to the winner’s circle required astonishing humility and unwavering obedience. Jesus didn’t win the prize by defeating everyone else, He won the prize by serving everyone else. Jesus persevered to the bitter end, and as a result,

    God exalted him to the highest place
        and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father.
    (Philippians 2:9-11)

    The one who is victorious” should expect that life will be hard, that suffering will come in plentiful supply, and that obedience may cost everything. However, Jesus will walk with us through it all, carrying us through the hard times, encouraging us when we are feeling weak, and equipping us to do things we never could have imagined to be possible.

    May we be people who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and put it into action, persevering to the end, no matter what the cost.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust15th2013 Repent (Again)
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:19-20)

    One of the most dominant themes we have encountered through this series is the call to repent. Five out of the seven letters contain a call to repent. Even for the churches facing the direst of circumstances, the command remains the same—repent. It’s a refrain that Jesus returns to over and over again. Repent, repent, repent.

    All too often the word “repent” calls to mind fire-and-brimstone preachers pounding their Bibles and yelling from the pulpit. However, the most incredible sign of God’s gracious patience and love for us is the call to repent. As Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” Every rebuke in this section of Revelation carries with it an associated call to repentance.

    That Jesus commands us to repent means that He is giving us an opportunity to change our ways. Instead of exercising His right to judge us on the spot, He gives us time to turn away from our sin and turn back to Him. Instead of spitting out of His mouth in disgust He gives us opportunity to change our ways.

    And not only that, but He Himself gives us the strength to change even when we feel incapable and ill-equipped to do so ourselves. It’s His Holy Spirit who works to cleanse us and renew us. It’s His Holy Spirit who works to purify us and redirect us. It’s His Holy Spirit who strengthens us and re-vitalizes us. But none of this can happen until we turn to Him first in repentance.

    How many times during this series have you heard the call to repent, felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and yet not quite been able to bring yourself to fall to your knees and ask God for forgiveness and help? Do not put it off another day. God, in His incredible patience, is giving you yet another opportunity. He stands at the door, knocking, waiting for you to move. What will your response be today?

    WedWednesdayAugAugust14th2013 Rich or Wretched?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:17-18)

    We hear all the time that America is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and certainly, God has chosen to bless us and prosper us in ways that are truly incredible. Indeed, some people have become incredibly rich in the process, not just in comparison to the rest of the world, but in comparison to the rest of America as well. No doubt there are some who really do think that they “do not need a thing.” After all, they are used to being able to buy whatever they want. Clearly such arrogance is a sin, and a serious challenge to authentic faith.

    In ways that are perhaps somewhat similar, the church in Laodicea had been blessed materially, and the people found themselves to be financially stable and secure. However, instead of this being a blessing, the impact of such prosperity was entirely negative. Whatever they may have thought about themselves, the church, as Jesus points out, was in reality, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” They had relief from the pressures of poverty, but found themselves spiritually bankrupt nonetheless.

    We can clearly see the corrupting influence that excessive wealth had on the people of Laodicea, and we often condemn those we perceive to have excessive wealth today. But what about the vast majority of us who are stuck in the middle? What would Jesus say to those of us who would not classify ourselves as rich?

    In many respects, the challenges remain the same for us as for them. Our hearts are prone to incredible deceitfulness, and the dreadful tendency to see ourselves as the author and sustainer of our own lives will plague us until the day we die. It’s incredible to me how quickly I can go from praising God for His faithful provision to thinking and acting as if everything depends on me. How many times do I set aside prayer and choose to plow ahead under my own strengths and abilities instead?

    Jesus calls all of us to Himself, both rich and poor alike. For He alone is source of true wealth, true prosperity, true peace and true comfort. Without His help we may own everything yet possess nothing. Call on Him for wisdom today.  

    TueTuesdayAugAugust13th2013 Neither Hot Nor Cold
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

    Although most people can no longer tell from my accent, I was born and raised in London, England, and only came to America later in life. There are all sorts of little differences between the two countries, but one of the most obvious for me involved putting ice into drinks. Honestly, we never had ice growing up. There was no ice-maker in the freezer, no ice in our sodas, and definitely no ice in our water. In fact, I have to admit that I am perfectly content to drink my beverages at room temperature. The rest of my family, however, thinks I am crazy. The very quality that makes water so refreshing is its coolness. Lukewarm water is, for most people, disgusting.

    According to New Testament professor Grant Osborne, the church in Laodicea was geographically located between hot springs to the North in Hierapolis, and cooler springs of drinkable water to the South. Laodicea, however, had neither. Their physical location provided the perfect metaphor for their spiritual state. They possessed neither the warm spiritual fervor that might characterize a church filled with love for God and love for other, nor the kind of refreshing zeal for the Lord that we might expect from a church that, at least in theory, was filled with the Holy Spirit.  

    Instead, the church at Laodicea was lukewarm, the spiritual equivalent of a bottle of water that’s been sitting all day in a hot car. Their spiritual state was so dire that Jesus describes Himself as nauseated to the point of vomiting them out of His mouth. That’s not exactly the kind of the performance review most of us would hope to get from our Lord and Savior, is it?

    Jesus is not looking for us to prove our faith through dramatic external examples of spiritual fervor and zeal. He does care very deeply, however, about the state of our hearts. If we’ve been born again, we’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and equipped to participate with God as He grows His Kingdom throughout the world. There is new life flowing through our veins, and that vibrancy should be increasingly visible in everything we do, everywhere we go, and every relationship we have. As Jesus announced to the people of Jerusalem,

    “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (John 7:37-39)

    MonMondayAugAugust12th2013 The Faithful and True Witness
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

     “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)

    We live in a world of phonies and con artists. Sometimes it seems as if nothing is real anymore, and nobody can be trusted. We’re no longer shocked when politicians turn out to be crooked or corrupt. We simply shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to living under the authority of hypocrites and liars. It’s increasingly hard not to be cynical, and holding on to hope in the middle of it all is a daily struggle.

    Yet, even though other people may let us down, there is one person whom we can always trust. As we’ve read over the last six weeks, “These are the words of Him…

    …who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. (Revelation 2:1)

    …who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. (Revelation 2:8)

    …who has the sharp, double-edged sword. (Revelation 2:12)

    …whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18)

    …who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. (Revelation 3:1)

    …who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (Revelation 3:7)

    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)

    We may or may not be able to trust what politicians, parents or even pastors tell us, but the words of Jesus stand firm forever. He alone has the power and the authority to speak definitively and absolutely into our lives. He alone is faithful—to His promises, to Himself, and to us. He alone is true—there is no falseness in Him. He is the embodiment of truth.

    How has God been speaking to you through this series? Where has He been encouraging you to make changes in your life? Summer is quickly drawing to a close. Who will help hold you accountable to sustaining these changes through the craziness of the next couple of months?

    FriFridayAugAugust9th2013 Review: To the Church in Sardis
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

    These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

    Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)

    The letter to the church in Sardis is difficult and depressing. There is little that is positive to hold on to here. Unfortunately for them, they will forever be remembered for the fact that, although they had “a reputation of being alive,” in reality they were “dead.” From the outside looking in, their church was perfect. But Jesus could see what the world could not, and it was rotten to the core.

    Some churches fought persecution from without, while others battled heresy from within, but the church in Sardis had given up fighting for anything a long time ago. Totally blind to their own apostasy, they were almost a lost cause. As Jesus once said to the Pharisees:

     “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28)

    Less than a week has passed since Pastor Ted preached on this difficult passage, but the chances are good that by now you may have set it aside and moved on with your life. The stress and strain of work, the many needs of those around us, the hustle and bustle of life--all of it works against us putting into practice what we have learned.

    Don’t let that happen to you. Push back against inertia, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength to put into action all that you felt convicted to do or change after church last Sunday.

    Every one of these letters ends with the admonition to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Don’t let these words from God go in one ear and out the other. Treasure them. Keep them. Wrestle with them. Let His words sink deep into your heart, that He might transform you from the inside out, and you be counted among those who are victorious.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust8th2013 Review: To the Church in Thyatira
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

     “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

    These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

    Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

    To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:18-29)

    The church in Thyatira was in the middle of a dreadful spiritual battle. Although they weren’t completely devoid of positive elements, their tolerance of false teaching threatened to be their downfall. Jesus had apparently given their ring-leader, “Jezebel,” time to repent, but to no avail. As a result, she would soon be judged, along with all those she had led astray. The situation was bleak and there was apparently little hope for revival.

    That said, there were some who did “not hold to her teaching and [had] not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” For these people, Jesus brought encouragement and hope. “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.” That’s an incredible promise! The only thing Jesus asked of them was to hold on to His teachings, which they already believed, until His return.

    Some among us may be convicted by the challenge to the church in Thyatira, and realize that they, too, have been led astray by false teaching of one sort or another. For those people this letter brings encouragement to repent, and to do so quickly. Sin will always be judged, and suffering can sometimes be used by God to discipline His children.

    However, this letter also brings a hopeful word to those who have resisted “Jezebel” and feel lonely and isolated in their rejection of such foolish and idolatrous behavior. Sometimes it can be frustrating and difficult to be the odd one out, the sole voice of reason in a world that seems to have gone mad. But stand firm. Jesus is on your side and will bless those who persevere to the end.

    But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:10-11)

    WedWednesdayAugAugust7th2013 Review: To the Church in Pergamum...
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

     These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

     Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

     Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:12-17)

    The church in Pergamum was a mixed bag. On the one hand, despite intense pressure from those outside the church to participate in worship of the emperor, the believers in Pergamum remained “true to [Jesus’] name.” Even when some people were put to death, this church “did not renounce [their] faith in [Jesus].

    On the other hand, they were not doing so well at resisting more subtle threats coming from within the church itself. Apparently there were those among them who were leading believers astray, encouraging idol worship and some sort of sexual immorality. The real threat to this church was not persecution from without, but slow corruption from within.

    For some of us, the church in Pergamum is hard to relate to. We feel that we would never be led astray by errant teaching, and the warnings here seem distant and removed from our reality. Surely we would never tolerate someone who was leading us into sexual immorality and idolatry, right?

    Certainly, if a teacher stood up and promoted such things I would hope we would all reject such heresy. But are we at the same time tacitly encouraging each other to watch television shows or movies that feed idolatrous desires or promote sexual immorality? How can we lovingly and gracefully hold each accountable to living lives of purity and holiness outside of the four walls of the church?

     “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

    What’s in your heart?

    TueTuesdayAugAugust6th2013 Review: To the Church in Smyrna...
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

     “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

    These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11)

    The church in Smyrna endured significant suffering and persecution. While others seemed to prosper, they were continually under threat of destruction. Although God’s blessings appeared to be abundant in the lives of those around them, they faced almost insurmountable challenges.

    To these people Jesus’ words were clear and simple. “Do not be afraid.” He didn’t promise immediate relief, He didn’t offer to remove the source of suffering, and He didn’t directly threaten their enemies with judgment. Instead, Jesus encouraged them to persevere; to stand strong in the middle of their trials. “Be faithful,” Jesus said to them. “Even to the point of death.

    Few of us will face the kind of persecution for our faith that might lead to death or imprisonment (although this continues to be a very scary reality for believers in other parts of the world). However, many of us are facing all kinds of other trials and tribulations. Jesus’ words remain just as relevant for us as for the church in Smyrna. “Do not be afraid.” Fear steals far more from us than any disease ever could. Fear robs us of joy, snatches away peace, and, left unchecked, can drive a wedge between us and God.

    Jesus alone has the authority to tell us not to be afraid, for He is “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The ultimate fear for all of us is death, the end which we are all so desperate to avoid. But Jesus has conquered death once and for all. He stands in victory over Satan. As a result, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

    MonMondayAugAugust5th2013 Review: To the Church in Ephesus...
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    So often in our church lives we move forward at such a fast pace that there is little time for reflection on what we’ve just learned. This week we pause for a moment in order to re-consider the five churches we have already studied. God undoubtedly spoke to you already through these letters. How have you been responding?

    “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

     These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

     Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

     Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7)

    The church at Ephesus had many things going for it. All outward appearances pointed to a healthy church that resisted false teaching and rejected wickedness. It was a church ready to do the hard work involved in following Christ, enduring hardships for Jesus and persevering in the face of difficulty.

    And yet, something was missing. They were doing all the right things, but Jesus still called on them to repent. Why? Because their heart was no longer in it. Somehow a disconnect had developed between what they were doing and why they were doing it.

    Some people, perhaps, were simply going through the motions. Others, meanwhile, may have been more active participants in the life of the church, but with the wrong goals in mind. Making disciples had become a numbers game. Resisting false teaching had become an exercise in attaining doctrinal purity. They had inadvertently discovered that it was possible to be “effective” as a church, even when they weren’t walking with Jesus.

    Have you “forsaken the love you had at first”? Has your heart grown cold, or do you sense a distance has developed between you and God? In what respects are you simply going through the motions? Jesus says, “repent.” Turn back now. Ask Him for help to rekindle the passion and desire you once felt. He wants you back. And be encouraged. To reword Paul’s encouragement to the Romans, “for those who are in Christ Jesus…there is now no condemnation,” only grace.

    FriFridayAugAugust2nd2013 The Few
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:4-6)

    Given the grim situation in Sardis it’s incredible that there were any people left in the church who had not turned away. “Yet you have a few people,” Jesus says, “who have not soiled their clothes.” Professors and Biblical experts can point you to all kinds of historical and cultural allusions going on in this passage. In fact, I encourage you to find a good commentary so you can explore those for yourself. However, it doesn’t take an expert in Biblical Greek to understand the contrast between soiled and unsoiled clothes. The few people in this church who had somehow remained faithful to Jesus stood in stark contrast to the majority who were walking away. The difference between the two groups could not have been more obvious.

    Honestly it’s both sad and a little confusing for me trying to make sense of this church. How was it that so many people could be headed so totally in the wrong direction? Did anyone ever stop to question what was happening? Could nobody see the contagion spreading among them? What happened in the lives of the leaders to allow such apostasy? Did anyone try to speak out along the way? What happened to them?

    We’ll never know for sure what happened in Sardis, but there’s a very strong warning for us today. Jesus ends this letter with the familiar refrain, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What happened at Sardis could happen anywhere. It could happen in our churches, in our homes, in our lives. If we are not careful, spiritual apathy can creep up on us over time and slowly choke the life out of us. Are we listening to Jesus? Are we keeping a careful watch for Satan? Are we paying attention to the sin that lurks at the door of our own heart, waiting to lead us astray?

    Some may wonder if this means that we can lose our salvation, to which I would say, no. If we’ve truly been saved, then the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and I would say we cannot lose our salvation. Many of us have made all kinds of stupid mistakes along the way, and God is incredibly patient as He walks with us through all kinds of twists and turns in the road. Those who may seem far from God now may very well end up much closer than we could imagine.

    However, at the same time, I never want to diminish the powerful, corrupting influence of sin on our lives, and we must be careful to keep an eye out for the accuser, our enemy the devil, who seeks to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). As we close our study on the church in Sardis, may we be reminded by their poor example of the need for constant vigilance in our walk of faith, and pray in earnest for the Spirit’s protection as we seek to honor God with every part of our lives.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust1st2013 Remember What You Have Received and Heard
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:3)

    Sooner or later, we all fall down. After all, we are sinners. We are works in progress. Perfection is not in the cards for us. However diligent we may be, failure is going to be our constant companion. Then what? When we lose it at with a loved one, what happens next? When we realize that our desire to look good and be accepted led to us “exaggerating the truth,” what do we do with those feelings of guilt and shame?

    The church in Sardis was buried deep in sin. The situation looked bleak. Their defenses had been destroyed, and the enemy had already made significant advances into their midst. Defeat looked almost inevitable. Total destruction was just around the corner. They had not just stumbled, they had fallen head-first down a deep hole. Jesus’ words to them, while stern, nevertheless held the keys to life. He called on them to “remember…what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

    The language here is reminiscent of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

    Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

     

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

    In His letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus was most likely calling on the people to hold fast to the gospel, because that was the only thing that could save them. But the problem, perhaps, was not just one of knowledge, but of practice. It’s one thing to be taught the gospel, or to learn Bible stories, or to hear great sermons. It’s something else entirely to apply those truths to our lives. It’s the process of application that takes abstract content and drives it deep into our hearts.

    How do you remember what you have received and heard? What systems do you have in place to help keep you connected to Christ? What is your role in taking great sermons filled with great content and turning them into life-changing experiences? Who in your life is there to speak the gospel to you when you stumble and fall down? Who has access to remind you of what you have received and heard, to encourage you to hold it fast, and to help you repent? The path we walk is fraught with danger. Don’t make the mistake of trying to go it alone!

    WedWednesdayJulJuly31st2013 Wake Up!
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2)

    As I write this devotional I am physically exhausted and on the verge of sleep. We recently moved house, and the combination of heavy lifting and late nights spent unpacking and rearranging have taken a toll. As I read Jesus’ call to “wake up!” all I can think about is drinking more coffee. But the lethargy, the heaviness, and the feeling that there’s a thick comforter draped around my shoulders dragging me down, captures exactly the kind of spiritual malaise that had infected the church in Sardis. Like a parasite slowly sucking the life out of its host, sin was eating away at this church and threatened to destroy it completely.

    Jesus’ command to them was simple: “Wake up!” Apparently the majority of the church was already lost, and the little that remained was perilously close to destruction. If they were to stand any chance of survival, the first step was opening their eyes to see just how serious the situation really was. Death wasn’t just a vague threat, it was a present reality. People were dying spiritually, and something had to be done immediately before the whole church succumbed.

    The solution to their apathy and indifference required them to “strengthen what remains.” In other words, they had to shore up their defenses in order to bolster themselves against the enemy. The same challenge remains true for us today. While our salvation itself may not be under attack, our faithfulness to God’s commands is constantly being undermined, not just by the sin in our own lives but the many challenges and temptations that come at us from the world we live in. The dangers are too many for us to blindly go through life as if we have no enemy and there is no war. Peter described Satan as prowling “around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Paul reminded the church in Ephesus that, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

    Your real battle is not with the annoying person who cut you off in traffic this morning, or the boss who keeps giving you the worst assignments, or the significant other who seems to be ignoring you. Your real enemy is sin, and in that battle you are your own worst enemy. Jesus calls on us to wake up, to be watchful, and to remain diligent, lest we mindlessly drift away on the waves of indifference, wasting away spiritually for lack of attention. How is your walk with Christ? Where have you been drifting this summer? What steps are you going to take today to get back on track?

    TueTuesdayJulJuly30th2013 A Bad Reputation
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1b)

    Once when I was a child, I remember reading on my report card the infamous words, “Could try harder.” Apparently the teacher felt that my efforts in the class were lackluster and if I would just apply myself a little more, then perhaps my grades would improve. In all honesty, it’s possible he was correct--at the time I wasn’t particularly motivated by school. Indeed, sooner or later we all need someone to give us a kick in the pants to get us moving again. I’m all for speaking with love and grace and kindness, but sometimes the situation calls for rebuke, and although it can be painful, it may often be the best course of action.

    Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis, however, go way beyond mild rebuke. There’s no pause to give encouragement. Instead, he cuts to the chase with some of the most chilling words imaginable. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” I cannot imagine a more horrible thing than to hear Jesus speak like that of me or my church. Clearly the believers in Sardis were in significant trouble. They weren’t “struggling” with sin, they were, according to Jesus, dead.

    If you’re reading this devotional, the chances are good that you’re not dead yet. You may be battling sin and temptation, you may be experiencing ups and downs in your faith, you may even have wandered away from God for a season and are only now finally coming back to the Church. But you’re not dead. A dead person no longer even thinks about spending time with God. A dead person completely ignores his Heavenly Father and feels no regret, no guilt, and no shame. A dead person may go through all the motions, but she has lost all connection to the Spirit. A dead person, in this context, perhaps was never truly saved to begin with, and is still hopelessly lost in sin.

    Despite all of that, it’s hard not to read this passage without pausing to reflect on our own spiritual walk. Over time it can become easier and easier to say all the right things and quote all the right people, without letting any of it sink down below the surface and into our hearts. When Christians fall into egregious sin it’s almost always because there’s a gulf that has developed between their personal life and their public life. They have learned how to nourish and develop sin in their heart, while all the time retaining a spotless religious life on the outside.

    How big is the gap in your life? Your reputation in the eyes of others may be outstanding, but what would Jesus say about the reality that only you and He actually know? You may not be dead, but are you dying? Has sin driven a wedge deep into your life? Do you feel like you’re putting on a mask every time you go to church or Bible study? The time to repent is now. The Apostle Paul said, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

    We may be weak and foolish, but Christ died to save the weak and foolish, and He’s waiting for you to turn back to Him today.

    MonMondayJulJuly29th2013 Supernatural
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
    These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. (Revelation 3:1a)

    Before I was a Christian I used to think that reality was limited to the things that I could see, hear, feel, taste or touch. I was highly skeptical of anything religious, and dismissed the supernatural as absolute rubbish. “You’re born, you live, you die, and that’s it,” I would proudly proclaim to anyone who was listening.

    Obviously, things have changed somewhat since then. As a Christian and a pastor I am keenly aware of the spiritual forces at work around us. But it’s not surprising to me when non-Christians deny the existence of such forces. How could I be? Even I sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day running of my life that I lose sight of the bigger picture. We’re physical creatures living in a physical world, and it’s easy to become consumed with our physical needs while completely neglecting our souls.

    The seven letters to the seven churches are a wonderful reminder for me that there is a much, much, much bigger game afoot than we can even begin to imagine. While we putter around wondering about this and that, God is waging a cosmic war fought across time and throughout space, across multiple dimensions, and intersecting the life of every single human being that has ever existed or ever will. There’s not just something supernatural going on, there’s some extraordinary, something we can barely begin to wrap our minds around. This is the world that the Book of Revelation gives us a tiny glimpse into, and it’s not surprising we can hardly make sense of any of it.

    For the church in Sardis, Jesus describes Himself as the one “who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (Revelation 3:1). Everything is in His hands. He speaks with absolute authority on behalf of the Father and the Spirit, and He speaks to the seven stars, representing the seven angels of the seven churches (see Revelation 1:20). It’s a reminder to the people that there is far more going on around them than they can even begin to imagine. The Lord that they confess to be serving is not just a Jewish version of the Roman gods so prevalent in statues throughout the city, He alone holds all things together with a spiritual vibrancy and vitality that outstrips everything else.

    As we study this letter, may the One who holds the seven spirits and the seven stars speak deeply into your life, exposing sin and bringing new life to everything He touches.

    FriFridayJulJuly26th2013 To The One Who Is Victorious
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29)

    As has become a regular pattern throughout these chapters, the letter to the church in Thyatira ends with a call for everyone to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We all have different strengths and weaknesses. My struggles are perhaps not your struggles. The Spirit will convict each of us in completely different and unique ways as we read these letters and consider God’s words to the churches. The question is, how will we respond?

    As we read the Bible, and spend time in prayer, the Spirit constantly speaks to our hearts, revealing sin, and giving us direction. But then what? The temptation is to think, “Hmm…wow…yeah,” and then close the book, get up, and go check our email. That moment with Jesus gets set to the side as we move on with the rest of our life, getting ready for work, talking with our children, preparing a report, balancing our budget, preparing for vacation, or simply doing errands. We ignore the Spirit at our peril. Linger in that moment. Bring Him with you as you go about your day. Keep those thoughts front and center and resist the temptation to go on to “more important things.”

    Incredible blessings await those who are “victorious,” doing God’s “will to the end.” His plans for us go far beyond simply having a nice life and nice home and a nice job. God’s vision is cosmic in scope, unbounded by time or space. And somehow, for some reason, He wants to include us in the work that He is doing. So today, as you spend time with God, stop, linger, listen, and let the Spirit speak deep into your heart.

    But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

    May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17) 

    ThuThursdayJulJuly25th2013 Hold On To What You Have
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ (Revelation 2:24-25)

    The church in Thyatira was big enough that although many had tolerated “Jezebel” and her false teaching, not everyone had actually placed themselves under her authority yet. Even if the church was leaning in that direction, there were still some who did “not hold to her teaching.” To these people Jesus had one command, “hold on to what you have until I come.

    This call to persevere to the end is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you have probably seen many people give up along the way. Some just drift slowly away. Others spin out of control over a personality conflict or disagreement. Yet others still willingly trade in their faith for a moment (or two, or three) of sinful pleasure, knowing it to be wrong, but choosing to turn their back on God nonetheless. The sad fact is that many will start the race, but few will finish. And of those that do finish, how many slide in by the skin of their teeth, rather than boldly dashing across the finish line, chest extended and arms out wide? 

    When Jesus says, “hold on to what you have,” He’s saying in effect, “hold on to your faith as if your very life depended on it.” We are to cling tightly to Jesus and never, ever let go. When Jesus says “hold on to what you have,” the image that comes to mind is of a little girls who wraps herself around the leg of her father when he comes home from work. He has to literally peel her off, one finger at a time. Or think of how tightly you grip the safety bar on a roller coaster, or how hard you squeeze a loved one about to embark on a long journey.

    What you have in Jesus is not just nice or special or helpful or informative, it’s everything. In fact, your life is meaningless, hopeless, and directionless without Him. His blood has redeemed you and His Spirit sustains you. Do not turn away. Do not get distracted. Do not think to yourself, “I’ve got it from here.” Do not flirt with danger. Do not tolerate sin. Do not look back. Do not surrender. And whatever you do, once Jesus has got a hold of your life, cling tightly to Him and do not ever, ever let go. 

    WedWednesdayJulJuly24th2013 Grace in the Midst of Sin
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23)

    One word changes the tone of this letter completely: “Nevertheless.” Yes, there was much that the church in Thyatira was doing well, “nevertheless,” the problems were extensive. For some reason, despite everything, they had let the church be infiltrated by a woman who was leading them astray in a number of significant ways. Despite all their apparent success they were teetering on the verge of collapse. A contagion was spreading through their ranks and had to be stopped quickly before it brought the whole church down.

    A woman referred to here as Jezebel was being tolerated in their midst, despite the fact that she was misleading many people and leading them away from God. Whereas many churches battled false prophets, this church seems to have allowed her presence among them. Perhaps they were fearful about the impact of disciplining such a public figure. Perhaps they didn’t want to split the church. In my estimation, given the many good things the church was involved with, it’s most likely that the leaders were simply afraid of losing their status as a church. They didn’t want to rock the boat when the church was booming in so many areas. Looked at from a human perspective, directly confronting this woman and her followers could have potentially “ruined everything,” causing many to leave the church, and perhaps leading to increased persecution and opposition.

    Whatever the reason, their failure to directly confront this growing problem was in fact causing an even bigger issue for the church, as people were being led into sexual immorality and probably idolatry. This section of the letter is shocking, and God’s imminent judgment should send a shiver down our back. This letter is a startling reminder that God sees every sin and does not, indeed cannot, tolerate it at all.

    However, even here God extends grace. This woman, referred to as Jezebel, has been wicked beyond imagination. And yet, despite leading people into sexual immorality, Jesus says here that He has “given her time to repent.” That’s remarkable! His patience with us in our weakness is astounding. Moreover, even though it seems likely that she will not repent, His offer extends out to those who have been led astray as well, “I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.” In other words, there were people in the church who were supposedly followers of Jesus, who had come under the teaching of a false prophet who encouraged them to engage in sexual immorality and idolatry, probably even worshipping other gods, and Jesus was extending His hand to them in grace, offering them the opportunity to repent of their sin and turn back to Him.

    It is never, ever, too late to repent. However far we have gone in our sin, whatever dark road you may have let yourself be driven down, no matter how far from God you may feel at this moment, God is extending His hand to you and giving you a chance, today, right now, to turn away from it all and turn back to Him. The time is now. Will you repent and receive the grace God offers to you?

    TueTuesdayJulJuly23rd2013 Love, Faith, Service, Perseverance
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (Revelation 2:19)

    The people of Thyatira, apparently, were doing well in a number of areas. In contemporary terms we might think of them as a booming church, firing on all cylinders. By all external measures they were highly successful in their ministry. Their love, in contrast to the church in Ephesus, was seemingly growing and increasing. Their faith in Jesus and trust in Him was more than when they first believed. Their acts of service (perhaps as an expression of their love) were visible and multi-faceted. And above all that they were commended for their perseverance--they held fast to Jesus despite opposition.

    There were problems, for sure, and Jesus would get to those next. But His first words to them were words of encouragement for the things that were going well. Jesus has yet to communicate directly with me concerning my progression in the Christian walk, but I can look back over the years and see for myself where I have stumbled and where I have grown. I don’t need to wait for God’s final verdict on my life in order to identify the places of weakness and build on the strengths that I do have.

    While not exhaustive, these four components of the Christian life identified by Jesus (love, faith, service and perseverance) certainly capture a huge part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

    How are you doing in your love, both for God and for others? It’s the “first and greatest commandment” and also the hardest to live out. 1 Corinthians 13 has been a continual source of challenge and encouragement for us as a family. Spend some time meditating on that passage this week.

    How are you doing in your faith? It’s one thing to go to church and call ourselves Christians, but how does that influence the way we live our lives? When push comes to shove are we trusting more in our own ingenuity or God’s strength and power? Do we carry the burden of our lives largely by ourselves, or are we trusting God to be our shelter in the storm? When challenges arise, do we look to God for help, or do we turn to someone, or something, else?

    How are you doing in your acts of service? Does our faith ever translate into action in the lives of other people? Does our love show in the way we treat others? Would anyone we work with or live near to know that we are Christian were it not for the fact that they see us rush out of the house every Sunday morning?

    How are you persevering? Has our faith waned over the years, to the point where the overwhelming realities of life have drowned out the vitality we once enjoyed? Have we let the world intrude so much into our life that our priorities are for the most part no different than our non-Christian neighbors and friends? Are we pressing on towards the end, striving with everything we have to glorify God in every area of our life, or have we grown tired and bored and lazy, exhausted by it all, and ready to retire?

    Thankfully, our eternal security is not dependent on our performance in any of these areas. We can draw near to God, not because we are rocking as a church, or knocking it out of the park as believers, but solely because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We all fall down, every day. We can never work hard enough or become good enough to earn God’s favor. But as sinners saved by grace, we have the opportunity to turn to Him every day for help and ask for His Spirit to equip us to do the things that we otherwise could never do by ourselves. For that I am incredibly thankful.

    MonMondayJulJuly22nd2013 The Head of the Church
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
    These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18)

    The church in Thyatira faced a very different set of challenges compared to Ephesus and Pergamum. Thyatira was not a particularly large or important city, but it did have a number of temples, with the focus of their worship being on Apollo, the son of Zeus. It’s no accident, then, that the opening line to this church contains a bold statement clarifying exactly who the real Son of the real God is. Apollo may have been exalted by many in Thyatira, but Jesus is the one “whose eyes are like blazing fire.”

    John fell on his face in absolute fear for his life when he beheld the risen Jesus. And no wonder! A statue, however glorious and impressive, is ultimately still just a lifeless piece of metal or stone. Jesus, our risen King, is alive, and when He returns He will return in all His glory. As Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians:

    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

    The head of the Church is the one whose blazing eyes see all things and judge all things. The head of the Church is the one whose feet will trample down His enemies, crushing His opponents. We are very comfortable emphasizing the fact that Jesus was fully human, but let us never lose sight of the fact that He was also fully God. The many word pictures and images that John paints for us throughout the Book of Revelation help us to somehow catch a glimpse of someone we otherwise have a hard time seeing.

    Most importantly, however, this is the same Jesus who is intimately involved in our lives--in my life, in your life. When we pray for help, we are praying to someone who has power beyond our imagination. When we look to Him for strength, we are supported by a rock that cannot be shaken. When we turn to Him for guidance, we are led by someone who holds all things together, and works all things together. That’s the God whom we worship, and may we willingly and eagerly give our lives in service to Him. 

    FriFridayJulJuly19th2013 Testify to God's Grace
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)

    Are we listening? Are we paying attention? When Jesus speaks, do we let the words sink in deeply, cutting to the deepest part of our soul? How do we hear sermons on the radio--as good advice that fades into the background noise of the day, or something deeper that God may be using to drive sin out of our lives? How do we read the Bible? How much do we read the Bible? When was the last time we heard the Spirit speaking to us, challenging us, guiding us, convicting us? How did we respond? What changes did we make as a result? What criteria would we use to judge a “victorious” life? How might Jesus’ criteria be different? What are our goals for a successful life? How would we respond if Jesus called us to shoot for a different target?

    Commentators and experts are divided as to what the “hidden manna” and “white stone” might refer to. Undoubtedly Pastor Rob will expound on these accordingly on Sunday, but from the context it is clear that whatever these things may be, they are good things. These are clearly blessings from God; rewards for those who are victorious. But what does that mean?

    My life is filled to the brim with things competing for my time, energy, effort and money. The to-do list is overflowing with items I have to get done. There’s no end to the yard work, house work or home work I have to finish before tomorrow. While I can bring God glory in all of the little things of life, there seems to be something bigger that Jesus has in mind here. A life well-lived may involve simple faithfulness in the middle of raising a family and working a job, but perhaps at the same time Jesus has an eye on a larger goal we should all be aiming for.

    For me, I think of Paul and his parting words to the elders of Ephesus.

    However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

    As we try to glorify God with every mundane detail of our lives, may we, too, “testify to the good news of God’s grace.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly18th2013 Repent
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16)

    Although the overall tone of the letter to the church in Pergamum is, in my opinion, fairly positive, the challenges they faced were still quite serious. They had successfully resisted the Satanic forces that were pressing in from outside the church, but were stumbling when it came to resisting the splintering effects of weak doctrine, and what in other places might be termed false prophets.

    The solution to their problem was simple--repent! Repentance was not considered an optional element, something they could do if they wanted to, but was rather something of ultimate importance if they wanted to escape the coming judgment of God. To repent meant confessing their sin and turning completely away from it. They were to set aside everything that might keep them from worshiping God and pursue instead the path that lead them back to Christ.

    But repentance is more than simply turning away from sin and turning towards Christ. The call to repentance has behind it a call to believe the gospel. We all fall short of the holy standards of God and must continually be reminded that we cannot do anything without the grace of God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. When He died on the cross, he bore the punishment deserved by every member of the church in Pergamum who had wandered from the faith. His death was sufficient to pay the penalty even for those who had committed sexual immorality. But such grace could only be appropriated by a turning away from such sin; the people had to repent.

    We fall short in many ways all the time, but God, in His mercy, continually displays astonishing levels of patience as He waits for us to turn back to Him. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, whatever sin you find yourself embroiled in, it is never too late to repent and turn back to Jesus. His death was sufficient for the people of Pergamum, and His death is sufficient for you and me as well. Don’t delay. Repent today.

    WedWednesdayJulJuly17th2013 What Do You Believe?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)

     Disagreements regarding doctrinal decisions have divided the Church for decades. Every argument seems to lead to a new sect or sub-sect forming as the Church splinters into a thousand new branches, each claiming to be more Biblical than the one before. The vast number of different denominations has left many feeling that perhaps doctrine is the problem, and that being more open-minded is the best option. Perhaps, as our culture would have us believe, there are many different paths that all lead more or less to the same place, and perhaps we should stop arguing and just “get along.”

     The truth, however, is that doctrine matters. The fact that Christians have argued so much amongst themselves over the years is not an argument against doctrine, but simply a reminder that we are sinful people who frequently let our sinful natures destroy relationships and distract people from the central mission of the Church.

    The problem in Pergamum was largely internal to the church itself. Jesus commended them for their steadfast faith in the face of extreme opposition from those outside the church. Yet, they were failing terribly when it came to challenges from within. They were, it would seem, beginning to come under the sway of groups that were leading people away from the faith.

    We like to think that we would never let false doctrine take us down the path to apostasy. And yet, it happens all the time. Instances of married followers of Christ walking away from their spouses and committing adultery happen with startling regularity. Followers of Christ routinely wander off into lives of substance abuse and addiction. Unhealthy appetites for money, success, and power lead many to set aside their moral compass and ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit as they pursue self-centered grandiose visions of glory and power. In almost every situation, a sinful heart has pushed effortlessly through the weak or non-existent walls of shoddy doctrine in order to build a case for self-serving satisfaction.

    The Christian life is a constant battle to resist the idols that promise the world, but lead to death. We stand firm through the power of the Holy Spirit, but doctrine is our hedge against the baser instincts of our sinful nature. A firm grasp of Christian doctrine can help us resist those who would seek to lead us astray and keep us on the narrow path that leads to life. What are you doing to grow in your knowledge and understanding of Christian doctrine?

    TueTuesdayJulJuly16th2013 Where Satan Has His Throne
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:13)

    Satan’s influence over our cities and communities is usually either completely ignored, or grossly overstated. Some see the devil’s hands in everything and anything that isn’t explicitly Christian, while others seem to drift along, either oblivious or, worse still, ambivalent, about Satan’s efforts to lead us away from Christ.

    For the believers in Pergamum, the situation was far more dramatic still. The persecution they faced was direct and obvious. As New Testament Professor Grant Osborne has noted, “Pergamum was the center of the imperial cult in Asia.” In other words, Pergamum was ground zero for a religious system based around worshiping the Roman Emperor. In fact, Dr. Osborne continues, “It was the first city to be allowed a temple to a living ruler when in A.D. 29 Augustus allowed a temple to be erected to him” (Grant Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament).

    Christians were already ostracized for failing to worship the traditional suite of Roman gods (a number of whom had significant temples erected in their honor already in Pergamum). The situation for Christians deteriorated further still when they refused to participate in the worship of Emperor Augustus. Behind all of this lay the spiritually malevolent forces of evil, working hard to destroy the Church before it could get a foothold in the city.

    However, despite Satan’s best efforts, and despite the fact that some, such as Antipas, had been killed for their steadfast faith in the fact of persecution, the Christians in Pergamum had in fact remained “true to [Christ’s] name” (Revelation 2:13). Were they perfect? No. Did they struggle? Probably. However, somehow they had endured, resisting Satan to the very end.

    Our world, and our challenges, may look vastly different than they did for the people of Pergamum. But our ultimate adversary remains the same. Satan’s plan never changes. He accuses us constantly and looks for ways to lead us away from the grace of God. Don’t be fooled. You may never be asked to worship an emperor, but what does this world want you to worship? Will you resist?

    MonMondayJulJuly15th2013 The One Who Holds The Sword
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
    These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. (Revelation 2:12)

    Although we often shy away from talking about God’s judgment, the Bible is clear that one day Jesus will return and all evil will be brought to account. When Jesus comes back, He will bear a “sharp, double-edged sword,” representing judgment and authority over all people, and there will be no escape.

    We sometimes worry that this might offend those who are not Christians. However, this should actually be the best news imaginable. Our world is filled with evil--just scan the news. Not a day goes by without multiple shootings, murders, thefts, and every type of sinful, self-centered, proud, and conceited act imaginable. It may seem distant and removed at times, until that sin encroaches on our lives, bringing pain, suffering, sickness, and death. This world is not right, and we need someone to fix it.

    Certainly, by God’s grace, the world is kept from complete collapse into anarchy and chaos. Not everything is doom and gloom. God blesses us with beauty and love and joy and birth and new life and laughter and happiness. These all come from God and we should praise Him and give Him thanks for them. But they are nonetheless pale imitations of the truer, deeper reality of God’s coming Kingdom. One day, all things will be restored to the full extent of their nature.

    So for me, as also, perhaps, for the church in Pergamum, the fact that Jesus is coming soon, carrying with Him the sword of judgment, is an encouragement. It’s a comfort to know that all wrongs will be made right. It gives me hope to know that all evil will eventually be rooted out and punished. The bad guys may seem to get away with it for now, but a time is coming when there will no longer be any escape. And justice will be served.

    FriFridayJulJuly12th2013 May We Hear What Jesus Says
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

    Almost every day of our lives we’re exposed to vast quantities of Christian “stuff.” Whether it’s in our families, on our radios, part of our devotionals, through our emails, or in our conversations, we hear about God and Jesus and Bible a lot. We do a grand job of talking the talk, saying the right things, and acting the part, but are we really listening to what God is trying to say? We hear the words, but are they truly sinking in? Are they changing us? Are we being transformed?

    My fear is that over time we can become increasingly ambivalent to the glorious riches that we have been given in Christ. We can become more comfortable trotting out trite Christian sayings than digging in and actually studying what the Bible really says. The freedom and prosperity that God has blessed us with, can, if we are not careful, become a hindrance to our faith, keeping us from the kind of life-changing encounter with a holy God that is at the center of a vibrant, growing faith.

    Jesus says:

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

    This is my prayer, both for myself, and for you, as we work through our study on Revelation 2-3. May we hear what the Spirit says, not just to the church in Smyrna, but to all the churches mentioned in these chapters. May we be people who persevere in the face of persecution, ready and willing to give our lives in complete service to our Lord and King.  

    ThuThursdayJulJuly11th2013 Will We Stand Firm?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
    (Revelation 2:10)

     Faithfulness “to the point of death” is a challenge that, in all likelihood, most of us will never face. Some may be called to missionary work overseas and end up in places where such dramatic persecution is a real possibility, but the vast majority of us will live out our lives in the relative peace and security of America, protected by a constitutional right that guarantees our freedom to worship God.

    However, while we may never face the end of a spear, we have nevertheless been called to a radical commitment to Jesus that demands every single part of our lives. Jesus made this crystal clear to his first followers:

     Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

    A cross, we should remember, was a symbol of death. Not persecution. Not rejection. Death. It represented execution, the end of life. This was the kind of absolute commitment Jesus asked of His followers. The earliest disciples were to give up everything, with the promise that in doing so, they would, incredibly, gain everything. A few chapters later in the Gospel of Luke Jesus expands on this statement.

    25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27)

    I’ve put my trust and faith in Jesus, I know I’m saved, and I am trying to follow Him, but truly letting go of all my personal agendas and ceding control of every corner of my life to Jesus is a daily challenge. I may or may not be called to face martyrdom for my faith, but the more crucial question is, will I remain faithful to Jesus until I do die?

    Will we stand firm in our faith, day in, day out, over the long haul of a life lived in relative peace and security? Or will we “stall out” as soon as the kids are out of the house, or the mortgage is paid off, or we find someone younger and more attractive?

    WedWednesdayJulJuly10th2013 We're Free - So What?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (Revelation 2:9-10)

    237 years ago the young nation of America shed the oppressive rule of the King of England and forged her way ahead as a free and independent nation. This astonishing turning point changed the course of both countries forever. The freedoms that we have come to take for granted possibly would not exist were it not for this moment of brave defiance in the face of persecution. July 4th is more than just another day to eat hot dogs and watch fireworks, it’s our Independence Day. And yet, although it’s barely been a week since we waved our flags and watched the parades, how quickly that moment of patriotism gets lost in the shuffle of life. Sometimes, I fear, our appreciation for the incredible freedom that day represents lingers for less time than the exploding fireworks we so love to watch. 

    The earliest followers of Jesus were keenly aware of what it meant to live under the reign and rule of a tyrant. Whether or not there was systematic, Empire-wide persecution, Christians were increasingly pushed to the margins of society, rejected by the Jews for failing to conform to the Law, and mocked, ridiculed and frequently killed by the governing authorities for their refusal to worship the Emperor. The path chosen by a new believer during this time was one fraught with danger. The cost of discipleship was incredibly high. “Choosing Jesus” often meant losing friends and family, and the real possibility that others might refuse to do business with me, or worse still, report me to the Romans on any number of trumped up charges.

    The believers in the church in Smyrna knew very well the price they might end up paying for taking up Jesus’ call to “follow me” (Mark 1:17). And yet, they did it anyway.

    In the face of the coming persecution, Jesus’ words to them were simple. “Do not be afraid.” Easy for Jesus to say, right? He’s not the one sitting in prison, or facing death. We might, of course, remember that Jesus was the one who “took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4). But more than that, this entire passage in Revelation basks in the light of Jesus as the Risen King, the one whose “face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” He holds all things in His powerful hand, bringing blessing and allowing suffering according to His divine plans and purposes. Even our struggles are bounded by His will.

    For whatever reason God divinely determined that I should be born and live in this particular time and place in history. I am not currently under the threat of going to jail or being killed because of my beliefs. I can proclaim Jesus loudly and proudly almost whenever and wherever I want.

    Certainly there are many ways in which the prevailing cultural climate stands in opposition to core Biblical beliefs I hold dearly. However, none of that keeps me from being able to preach the gospel. Thanks to God’s sovereign plan and the bravery of our nation’s founding fathers, we have been given freedom and blessing that most people around the world and throughout history have never had. What are we doing with it? Are we taking God’s Word out into a broken and hurting world, boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus to any that would listen? Or are we content to wave a few sparklers once a year and then live under a self-imposed code of silence, desperately trying to fit in with everyone else, and hoping nobody notices that we are different?

    TueTuesdayJulJuly9th2013 Jesus Knows Our Afflictions
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!
    (Revelation 2:9)

    It’s not often that we see the words “affliction” and “poverty” in the same sentence as the word “rich.” In fact, for those of us enduring affliction right now, it may be hard to conceive of anything positive coming out of it at all. Breast cancer, back injuries, car accidents, financial ruin--whatever the problem may be, in the middle of it all it can be astonishingly hard to see God’s hand of blessing in any of it. How can it ever be good for a child to die or a husband to leave his wife and family and run off with another woman?

    This world is broken in ways that we don’t like to think about. The creeping insidiousness of sin has infected all things, and will continue to corrupt this world until Jesus returns. No part of our lives is left untouched. And yet, the sin and suffering and evil and destruction is somehow not the complete picture. It may feel that way in the moment, it may look that way from our immediate perspective, but the Bible is clear that there is, as C.S. Lewis put it in The Chronicles of Narnia, “a deeper magic.”  

    Jesus knows our afflictions. He is keenly aware of our poverty, our pain and our suffering. And yet, He declares us to be rich! In analyzing this passage, professor Grant Osborne points us to a fascinating parallel in Mark 10:29-30, where Jesus says:

     “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

    In giving up everything to follow Jesus, it turns out that we in fact gain everything, “a hundred times as much”! And yet, that blessing comes, nonetheless, “with persecutions.” In my own life I know that while I was living for myself, I aggressively pursued anything and everything that promised or appeared to promise satisfaction. The goal was comfort, ease, peace and enjoyment. But no purchase, relationship or experience ever came through for me. In the time since giving my life to Christ, I have experienced incredible joys and deep sorrows, but the spiritual blessings of a relationship with Christ have been too many to number. I can endure all things now knowing that He has me in the palm of His hand.

    This was the promise that the church in Smyrna had to be reminded of, and it’s the promise that continues to apply to us today as well. Come what may, God will never let us go. He will never leave us, and He will never forsake us. Through cancer, bankruptcy or relational ruin, God’s presence will continue to strengthen, encourage and work to bring blessing in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. Our sorrows are the soil in which He will often work to bring about the greatest blessings.

    MonMondayJulJuly8th2013 Jesus - Our Buddy Or Our King?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Revelation 0 comments Add comment

    “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
    These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
    (Revelation 2:8)

     Last night I heard someone on the radio talking about “hanging out” with Jesus. “He’s my best buddy,” the man said. I understand what he was trying to say, and Jesus does indeed relate to us in very personal and intimate ways. However, something about the phraseology just didn’t sit right for me, and I think it’s because we’re going through this series on Revelation.

    As Joe Duncan noted in his devotionals a couple of weeks ago, the Jesus we encounter in this book is not the soft-spoken “best buddy” that we often see in movies or television shows, but a conquering King, majestic in splendor, filled with radiant glory and power. How does John respond when he sees Jesus in this revelation?

    “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17)

    You don’t “hang out” with the God of the Universe, you worship at His feet. You sacrifice your entire life in order to bring Him glory and honor and praise. You humbly obey Him because He alone is Lord.  May we never abuse God’s gracious reaching out to us by diminishing His absolute divine sovereignty!

    There is more here though, for in Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna, He reminds them that He is “the First and the Last,” echoing the rest of Revelation 1:17

    When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

    Jesus is the beginning and the end of all things. He was present before the dawn of Creation and will remain after the end of all time. Nations, kingdoms, rulers may come and go, but He remains the same. Moreover, while I may personally feel it’s a bit too casual to say Jesus is my “buddy,” it is true that He knows every detail of my past, is aware of every part of my present, and already controls every facet of my future. We may falter in the face of fear and suffering and pain and doubt, but Jesus has conquered death, the great enemy, and is “alive for ever and ever!” We can trust Him in every aspect of our lives because He holds “the keys of death and Hades.”

    The Jesus we serve is imbued with astonishing power and unprecedented authority over all things. And yet, incredibly, He stoops down to our level, reaching out to us patiently, carefully, and consistently. The power He wields is wrapped up in a love that we can only begin to understand. That’s the Jesus I serve. That’s the Jesus I pray to. That’s the Jesus whose name we invoke in every prayer throughout each day.

    FriFridayJunJune21st2013 Don't Go Solo
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.
    (Proverbs 12:15)     

    The righteous choose their friends carefully,
    but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
    (Proverbs 12:26)

    Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

    (Proverbs 10:23-25)

    The path that leads to life is narrow, and there are evils that assail us every step of the way. The challenges we face are massive. And most of them we face alone. The spiritual battles often seem to rage most intensely inside our hearts and minds, quietly, completely hidden from the view of others. Occasionally things may bubble to the surface, but, like an iceberg, the majority of our sanctification remains out of sight to those around us.

    Perhaps this is why there are so many commands in Scripture to resist the temptation to go it alone. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, our default mode is to hide. It takes effort to turn the other way and open ourselves up to life in community. “The wise listen to advice,” suggests the author of the Book of Proverbs. That’s impossible to do as long as we trundle along in splendid isolation.

    We could, if we wanted to, come up with a hundred reasons not to get into community. It’s messy. We’ve been hurt by people before. Confidences get betrayed. Prayer requests seem to get ignored. Some people seem to get all the help while others get none at all. Meeting together, breaking bread together, loving one another, forgiving each other--these are all hard things.

    But the blessings are evident throughout the Bible. Some of our best guides on the path to life are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, that’s part of our job! We are to encourage each other, to challenge one another, to hold each other accountable, to comfort one another and to lead one another. For all the struggles and difficulties that getting into community can present, the blessings outweigh them all.

    “The righteous choose their friends carefully.” The men and women walking the path of life may be selective in whom they choose to do life with, but one thing’s for sure, they don’t go solo.

    Who has your back?

    ThuThursdayJunJune20th2013 Fear the Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
    (Proverbs 1:7)         

    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
    (Proverbs 9:10)       

    The fear of the LORD adds length to life,
    but the years of the wicked are cut short.
    (Proverbs 10:27)     

     Whoever fears the LORD walks uprightly,
    but those who despise him are devious in their ways.
    (Proverbs 14:2)

    “Fear” is not a word we usually associate with God. We know that Jesus loves us and calls us His children. It seems odd, therefore, to think of fearing the one whom we are supposed to think of as “Our Father in Heaven.” Yet, the Book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions to fear the Lord. Why? Because, apparently, this is “the beginning of wisdom.” It’s “the fear of the LORD [which] adds length to life.”

    So how do we fear the Lord? On the one hand, we know that because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin once and for all, we no longer have to live in fear of judgment. The old systems of sacrifice have been fulfilled in Christ. The curtain has been torn in two and there is no longer a division between us and God.

    Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

    This is all true, of course, and we should celebrate this incredible gift from God. His grace extended into our lives is more precious than we imagine. However, while celebrating God’s goodness, let’s us never forget His greatness. Just a couple of verses earlier in the Book of Hebrews, we read the following:

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

    A “fear of the Lord” recognizes that God is the sovereign creator of everything in existence. He made light. He created time. He alone is perfectly holy. We bring nothing to the table other than humble obedient worship. A fear of the Lord leads to life because it re-directs our hearts away from petty idols and foolish distractions and points us back at the Author of Life. Where is your heart focused today?

      Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
       and for their children it will be a refuge.
    The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
       turning a person from the snares of death.
    (Proverbs 14:26-27)            

    WedWednesdayJunJune19th2013 Grace For Our Failures
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    Today, you will fail. And so will I.

    In ways big and small, we will all fall short of the glory of God. We want to start the day with prayer and Bible reading, but toss and turn so much during the night that we wake up exhausted and barely able to get out the door in time for work. We want to engage a co-worker in conversation in the hope of inviting them to church, but by the time we get done listening to voicemail and working through email, eating lunch alone is far more appealing than “working” at sharing Christ with someone else.

    The list goes on and on. There are moments where our good intentions will be thwarted by poor planning, lack of judgment, or the unavoidable consequences of actions by other people. There are other times when, if we’re really honest, our intentions won’t be all that good to begin with. We are sinners walking the path of sanctification, slowly being purified by the power of the Holy Spirit, enduring all kinds of ups and downs as we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). Some days it’s slow going indeed.

    Reading the Book of Proverbs can, if we’re not careful, lead us into a works-based mentality, where our standing before God becomes increasingly dependent upon our ability to follow through on all these little tidbits of advice about how to live wisely. The truth is that we can’t do half of it, and the rest we will do poorly or inconsistently. This doesn’t mean we’re on the path that leads to death. This doesn’t mean we’re lesser Christians, or failures in some way. It’s simply the reality of life as fallen creatures living in a fallen world.

    So, as we work through the Book of Proverbs we need to continually keep an eye on the gospel. That is, we must remind ourselves daily that although we may be sinners, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die to pay the punishment for all those ways in which we fall so far short of the mark. Not only that, but as we put our trust in Him, we are counted as His children, beloved members of a royal family. So when we trip and fall and land flat on our face (again), there is hope for us after all.

    So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4, NLT)

    TueTuesdayJunJune18th2013 What's In Your Heart?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    So, after yesterday’s devotional we are all agreed that we want to be on the path that leads to life, right? Who wouldn’t want that. And we have this great book of principles to guide us, and lots of things we can do (or not do) to help us stay on the straight and narrow. So, we’re set now, right? Just plug-and-play. Connect the dots. Do the good, avoid the bad, and away we go.

    All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the LORD.
    (Proverbs 16:2)       

    Sadly, the answer is far more complicated. We can “do” all the right things and still fall short of the mark when it comes to worshiping God and walking with Him on the path that leads to life. It’s possible for us to look and act like good people, and yet still miss the boat when it comes to righteousness. Why? Because however good we like to think we are, in the end all our “motives are weighed by the LORD.”

    While warning his son to avoid “another man’s wife,” the author of the Book of Proverbs says,

    For your ways are in full view of the LORD,
    and he examines all your paths.
    (Proverbs 5:21)

    While only some of the things we do and say are visible to other people, every single thing we say, do, think, and feel is “in full view of the LORD.” The way that leads to life is not marked out by good deeds and clean living. Those are undoubtedly good and helpful, but by themselves do nothing to bring us closer to God. However, a heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, which lives in complete trust in the Lord, is what matters most to God.

    Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
    (Proverbs 4:23)        

    MonMondayJunJune17th2013 Which Path Are You On?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
    but the folly of fools is deception. (Proverbs 14:8)

    When was the last time you gave thought to your ways? Everything about our lives is structured to keep us from ever slowing down or pausing long enough to reflect on who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. If “life is a highway,” then it sometimes feels as if the rest areas are few and far between. We may grab odd moments here and there, late at night as we drift off to sleep, or first thing in the morning as we wait for the coffee to cool down enough to drink, but the rest of our days are filled with activity, and it’s non-stop.

    The Book of Proverbs is packed with advice for living, covering topics ranging from parenting to finances to marriage to table manners. In fact, there are so many proverbs it can sometimes be hard to see the forest for the trees. The big picture, however, is clear. There are two potential paths we walk down in life: the way of wisdom or the way of foolishness.

    The way of wisdom leads to life. The way of foolishness eventually leads to death. We’re all walking down one path or the other. There is no sitting on the fence. “Not choosing” is, in fact, still a choice. We tend to give all our attention to the “big issues,” but the truth is that life is more like a series of little decisions that either bring us closer to God, or take us further away.

    In the way of righteousness there is life;
    along that path is immortality.
    (Proverbs 12:28)     

    There is a way that appears to be right,
    but in the end it leads to death.
    (Proverbs 14:12)     

    Your day lies ahead of you. A hundred decisions need to be made, and however mundane they may seem, they add up to the totality of the content of your life. One path leads to life. The other leads to death. Which path are you on?

    FriFridayJunJune14th2013 A Heart At Peace
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs Self-control 0 comments Add comment

    A heart at peace gives life to the body,
    but envy rots the bones.
    (Proverbs 14:30)

    Jesus said that He came “that [we] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He came so that we might be set free from the penalty of sin and given new life, abundant life. He came so that we might be set free from addictions and despair and given hope instead. He came to redeem and restore what was lost. He came so that we would no longer have to live in shame and isolation, but instead be free to live life with meaning and purpose in community with others.

    The only way in which our hearts will be “at peace” is when we give them over completely to Jesus. Which is just another way of saying that we cannot experience peace in our hearts unless we have put our trust and faith in Jesus to save us from our sins. He alone has the power to bring us life.

    As long as we look to fill that void in our lives with new gadgets, or new clothes, or new relationships, or new toys, or a new job, or a new house, or more wine, or another episode of our favorite show, or another meal out at a great restaurant, we will always come up short. Our desires will never be fulfilled. Our “envy” or desire for other things will “rot the bones.” We will starve to death gorging ourselves on food that can never satisfy. We will slowly die of thirst as we chase mirage after mirage, looking for something bigger, better and brighter.

    And all the time Jesus is standing there, offering us Himself.

    “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

    What are you hungering for right now? Where are you looking for sustenance? How are you filling that void in your life?

    ThuThursdayJunJune13th2013 Keep Calm and Carry On
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs Self-control 0 comments Add comment

    The wise fear the Lord and shun evil,
    but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure.
    A quick-tempered person does foolish things,
    and the one who devises evil schemes is hated.(Proverbs 14:16-17)

    Recently you may have seen people wearing t-shirts or drinking from coffee mugs bearing the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” (or some witty or clever variation thereof). This was originally a piece of propaganda put out by the British government during World War II in order to encourage the general population to keep doing their work and not let the anxiety and fear of war become all-consuming.

    How effective it was at the time is perhaps debatable, but it does serve very well to capture one aspect of our faith as followers of Christ. There are many times when our emotions can run wild, and our hearts can pull us in twelve different directions at once. We are emotional creatures, and retaining self-control and a sense of composure can be difficult during times of stress and anxiety. However, I love the simplicity of the following verse: “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil.”

    How do we “keep calm and carry on” when it feels like we can’t control what our heart is doing? “Fear the Lord and shun evil.” That’s the bottom line. If we can re-calibrate around that core, we will always be able to find a way out of whatever mess we find ourselves in.

    If we fear the Lord, we recognize that He is who He says He is. He is God. The God. He is the only One, omnipotent and omniscient. He is the God who holds all things together. He is the only uncreated being in existence. Try to wrap your head around that! Such a being deserves, not just respect (as we might give our grandfather or a teacher), but awe, reverence, worship, and absolute obedience. We should, to some extent, shudder at His raw power. Imagine the feeling of tininess and insignificance you get seeing the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, and then think about the God for whom those are just a drop in the ocean. And yet, despite our tininess, He loves us! We are made in His image! He delights to call us His children! When we fear the Lord we are floored both by God’s greatness and His grace. And that alone gives us the power to shun evil and choose instead the path that leads to life.

    WedWednesdayJunJune12th2013 The Danger of Addiction
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs Self-control 0 comments Add comment

    Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaints?
    Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
    Those who linger over wine,
       who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
    Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
       when it sparkles in the cup,
       when it goes down smoothly!
    In the end it bites like a snake
       and poisons like a viper.
    Your eyes will see strange sights,
       and your mind will imagine confusing things.
    You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
       lying on top of the rigging.
     “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
    They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
    When will I wake up
       so I can find another drink?”
    (Proverbs 23:29)   

    Whatever your personal opinions about alcohol and whether or not it’s acceptable for Christians to drink, the Bible is crystal clear regarding the dangers of over-drinking. In fact, drunkenness and alcoholism are thoroughly condemned throughout the Bible. However wonderful wine may look and feel in the moment, in the end excessive consumption “bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.” There is no escaping the effect of too much alcohol. If you invest yourself in the pursuit of alcohol, you will reap the awful consequences down the road.

    However, this passage is not just a warning regarding the dangers of alcohol, but a warning regarding all kinds of addictive behaviors. Experiences or substances that are designed to bring us pleasure can quickly become all-consuming desires that drown out the Word of God and drain us of all sense of reason and common-sense. It’s hard enough to exercise self-control and restraint when we are fully in control of all our faculties. It’s almost impossible if we have ceded control of our hearts to the life-destroying power of an addiction.

    Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

     The way out for us is found not through our own will-power or strength of character, but through the Holy Spirit. He alone can re-orient our hearts towards God and cleanse us of the toxic effects of addictive behaviors in our lives and the lives of those around us. You may never even touch wine, but what are you tempted to over-consume? We are all wired differently, and all face different temptations as a result. Finally, what steps are you taking to ensure that your life is filled with the Holy Spirit?

     

     

    TueTuesdayJunJune11th2013 The Pursuit of Pleasure
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Proverbs Self-control 0 comments Add comment

    Whoever loves pleasure will become poor;
    whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.
    (Proverbs 21:17)     

    Listen, my son, and be wise,
    and set your heart on the right path:
    Do not join those who drink too much wine
    or gorge themselves on meat,
    for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
    and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
    (Proverbs 23:19-21)  

    God created us to experience pleasure. We have five senses that are highly attuned to the slightest changes in our environments. Moreover, we don’t “just” receive input through these senses, we interpret, analyze, classify and qualify that data. We make judgments and assessments. We have been given an aesthetic sensibility. We don’t just eat food for energy, we relish flavors and colors and smells, constantly looking for new and interesting combinations and varieties.

    However, our senses, like everything else, have been corrupted by the fall and the corrosive influence of sin. The delight we take in delicious food can quickly slide into gluttony. The pursuit of beauty can damage relationships and lead us into temptation. Things that feel good can become obsessions that lead us away from God.

    Pleasure by itself is not a bad thing. However, someone who is driven by the pursuit of pleasure is headed for disaster. As the author of the Book of Proverbs says, “whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” Note that this is a heart issue more than anything else. Wine and olive oil by themselves are not bad. It’s our obsession for them that is bad.

    As the author warns us, “Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path.” God is less concerned with giving us a long list of do’s and do not’s, and far more concerned with the state of our heart. We may focus on behaviors, but behind our actions lie a core set of beliefs, wants and desires that drive everything we do. Our heart is ultimately in the driving seat, and we can’t fix our behavior or alter our attitudes until our hearts are aligned with God.

    What is your heart yearning most for right now? As you drive home in the evening, what are the things you feel “have” to be in place? What do you feel that you have a right to enjoy, whatever that may cost?

    How might God be challenging some of your core beliefs and assumptions about what is right or appropriate in your pursuit of pleasure?

    MonMondayJunJune10th2013 Self-Control
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Like a city whose walls are broken through
    is a person who lacks self-control.
    (Proverbs 25:28)

    The walls of a city are critical for self-defense and protection against enemies. If the walls are breached, defeat almost always follows. When Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, the city of Jericho fell when God moved to destroy the walls. When the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after the Exile, Nehemiah led them in rebuilding the walls to protect them from their enemies.

    Here we read that the person who lacks self-control is “like a city whose walls are broken through.” In other words, they are teetering on the edge of disaster. What was previously only a looming threat has now become a very present reality. Unless drastic, dramatic steps are taken, the consequences will be severe.

    Self-control is such a pressing concern for the author of the Book of Proverbs because it impacts our ability to walk safely and consistently on the path of wisdom that leads to life. Every day we are faced with a stream of choices, and opportunities abound to either walk in the fear of the Lord, or gratify the desires of the flesh. This is indeed that black and white. As Jesus would say later, we cannot serve two masters—either we are serving God or we are serving ourselves. Self-control is the gate that lies between the two. How closely are you monitoring it?

    FriFridayJunJune7th2013 Humility Leads to Life
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Humility Pride Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD,

    and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

    Humility is the fear of the LORD;

    its wages are riches and honor and life. (Proverbs 22:4)

     

    We’ve talked at length this week about the sin of pride and the dreadful impact it has on our lives and our communities. Today we talk about its polar opposite, humility. Pride comes before a fall, but “humility comes before honor.” Pride leads to judgment and destruction, but humility leads to “riches and honor and life.” Pride and humility are like spiritual oil and water.

    But what is humility? Does it mean pretending we’re less than we are? Does it mean refusing any kind of compliment or accolade? Does it mean putting ourselves down in some way? Can only quiet introverts be humble? How should we respond when we do something good, or right, or noble, or successful?

    To answer those questions we have to zoom out a bit first, because every situation is unique and each individual is a complex web of competing emotions, thoughts, feelings and intentions. According to the Bible, at least in the two proverbs above, it’s clear that humility is rooted in a fear of the Lord. Whatever else it is, however else it may play out in our lives, humility begins first and foremost with a heart that fears the Lord.

    Humility, then, is as much an orientation towards God as it is anything else. Our hearts have to be right before God before we can even hope to live in right relationship with others. That takes a work of the Spirit in our lives. Something He delights to do as we turn to Him and humbly ask for His help.

     

    In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

    “God opposes the proud

        but shows favor to the humble.”

    Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

    (1 Peter 5:5-7)

     

    ThuThursdayJunJune6th2013 Pride Will Be Punished
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Pride Proverbs 0 comments Add comment

    The LORD tears down the house of the proud,
    but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.
    (Proverbs 15:25)

    Pride brings a person low,
    but the lowly in spirit gain honor.
    (Proverbs 29:23)

    Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.
    (Proverbs 16:18)

    Whether we admit it or not, we have all struggled with pride at one point or another. Maybe we “got away with it” in the moment. Perhaps it was simply a thought or feeling that flashed briefly across our heart and then was gone. Or possibly it lingered, settling in, taking root, twisting our perceptions an