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Devotional

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"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
—John 16:31-33

I believe in the Lord – not just that he exist – but that he died bearing all the sins of the world past, present and future. I believe that by believing that and asking his death to count for my sins and asking his resurrected life to become my own, that Jesus becomes my Lord and my very life rather than Satan or myself. This is my faith. This I believe.

Yet, like my brothers, the disciples, how often do I leave Jesus alone and go back to my old home and old haunts. I paint pictures of Egypt and leave out what it lacks (see Sara Groves’ song, Painting Pictures of Egypt). “The time is coming and has come”, Jesus says-and so it goes with me. I am scattered by these fears and pains and I run. As Sara adds, it not about losing faith or trust – it just about being comfortable. That old home is so known and comfortable even though it is meaningless and futile. It can no longer fulfill me but it is so easy to escape to.

In 2000, I took a 10 day journey through the back country of Philmont Scout Reservation with my oldest son, Justin, and a group of Boy Scouts and adult leaders. We had to carry everything we needed for the entire journey on our backs. Our trek led us away from base camp to the furthest point away before bringing us back. For us the furthest point away was climbing to the second highest mountain in Philmont, Mt. Philips, and staying the night. The climb was well above the water line so we would have no access to water from the base camp the day we started until after the descent the next day.

As a result, we split gear from one of the adults, my friend, Gary, and he carried half his gear plus 5 gallons of water on his back. It was a very difficult thing for him to hike up the mountain as he had suffered knee issues before. He slowly kept going at an even pace even when the scouts would sprint faster ahead then rest from exhaustion. It was like the tortoise and the hare all the way up. The air was so thin at the top of the mountain that you would wake up from sleeping feeling as if you were suffocating. It was a difficult part of our trek.

Gary and I found a great analogy to our half-hearted walk with Christ in that place. Being at the half way point, any accident we would have encountered – it would take just as long to press forward as to go back. There was no escaping the difficulty of the journey. Gary kept pressing on because there was no option. But in our Christian adventure, we can walk in the spirit, but when we feel overwhelmed by that, we can turn our minds and hearts from him and simply return to the comfort of the couch, the TV and the tangible.

We may leave Jesus alone, but he is not alone – his Father is with him. We may feel we are alone and long for home, but we are not – our Father is with us. We need to learn to weep in those moments as men longing for our real home as the late Rich Mullins shares in his wonderful song, If I Stand. Sara gets to this idea too – “The place I had wasn’t perfect But I had found a way to live It wasn’t milk or honey But then neither is this”. We think that part of our longing for comfort is the desire to get back to what we know – but when we examine it, we find “the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I"ve learned” and that our real longing is to fully know him who we can only see dimly now.

Recognizing that we are our weeping is a longing for our heavenly home is helpful. It isn’t so much that we want those old, familiar death clothes – that we want to return. It is that we long to see Him face-to-face. Proverbs 13:12 clarifies this, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Don’t we really long for the tree of life? Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”. Also, we are longing to be free from sin and this longing that pulls us back – and on that day, our flesh and the world and God’s adversaries will no longer plague us. It is helpful to identify our longing, not for the comfort of what was behind but for the glory that is before us so we can set our minds in that direction. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Galatians 5:5

Perhaps the most fascinating thing Jesus says to the disciples in this passage is, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” If we were telling our friends that they were going to abandon us in our time of need, it would be likely that they would feel shame, incredulousness, or maybe fear. Our master has caught us in our selfishness and accused us of betrayal. But Jesus tells them that he is sharing this with them that they may have peace. He says that peace is in Him. When we get scared or overwhelmed and we look back to Egypt and to our comfortable living room couch and we scatter and leave Jesus alone, we may find a temporary comfort but we do not find what we are longing for. And we also find, amidst our comfort-seeking distractions, a voice of guilt and accusation. This voice that says, “See! That adventure toward Jesus is really not for you. You were wise to save yourself from that discomfort.” But the truth is we’ve buried our head in our comforts but that does not make our troubles go away. Jesus told the disciples to remember that, “in me you may have peace”, and he then tells them, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

We turn back to our comforts, we find that they do not fit us anymore and we find our adversaries ready to plague us. Shortly, we find that we long for peace more than comfort and we race back into the arms of our Savior, the source of peace and life. We are discovering our dependence on him. We cannot make our world work or find what we need – but Jesus, and Jesus alone, has overcome the world.

In another place in the Gospel of John (6:67-69), many disciples of Jesus decide to leave him and Jesus asks the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” and Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”. Indeed! If we KNOW in our heart of hearts that Jesus is the Holy One of God – to whom shall we go?

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Cor 7:10 NIV

Sorrow, remorse, regret is always a component of repentance but repentance is not necessarily a component of sorrow, remorse or regret.  Is the sorrow your feeling leading you to repentance.  If so, God is in it.  If not, then the voice of sorrow is coming from the flesh, the world, the devil – and is only producing death.  It is a sorrow that is not focused on sin and how it separates us from God but on the consequences that we’d like to avoid impacting us.

But if you see this, you can pray to God to help you renew your mind. Doing this, you are already moving from worldly sorrow that is powerless and a waste of time to repentance because you are turning to God. Repentance means to turn again to your right mind – the mind of Christ – to God.  This movement – this turning – is a movement forward again, rather than back.  St. Paul tells the Philippians, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 3:12-14

This turning toward the forward focus on God is what transforms your life – renewing your mind to that of God’s.  If you can see that your sorrow is not God’s, you can choose to turn from that self-oriented sorrow to God and ask for him to show you his sorrow, rather than your own. This choice elevates us back to the seat of Christ – taking our sorrow from the selfish sorrow of our action’s impact on us to the Godly sorrow of how sin and separation from God ravishes God’s children and does nothing to showcase God’s glory.  From this vantage point, your sorrow is now transformed to bring true repentance mingled with Godly sorrow and the motivation that is able to overcome evil – not by focusing on evil – but by focusing on and moving toward God.  Father, please help us to distinguish the hurt pride, worry, and vanity of self-oriented sorrow and to choose to turn away from this dead-end to get back onto the course with you as our guide and very life which is always your will for us and always in our best interest and always a real demonstration of your glory.  Thank you, Father, for always being there when we turn away from sin to look into your beautiful eyes full of grace and mercy.

With your mind renewed to God’s perspective, your life is transformed.  Then you are able to see clearly and understand God’s good, pleasing and perfect will and have the power to walk in it.

For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief (the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world) is deadly [breeding and ending in death]. 2 Cor 7:10 AMP

Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. 2 Cor 7:10 MSG

John 6:16-21

We ought to wait on Jesus – remain in sync with him – but sometimes we don’t. Maybe we do this because we are confused. He does something amazing and we read into it that he wants us to head off into some direction that he did not tell us to go. We get excited and forget to ask him and take the lead. We think that he is like another person and if we take off, he may follow our lead. But Jesus is always following the Father in submission so submission to him is what is always required of us.

We take off without him and find that the waters are rough. We use our strength instead of calling on him until we find ourselves in the middle somewhere in the dark, exhausted with storms raging. Fortunately for us, God’s mercy is always toward us and his glory is unshakable.

If Jesus was a mere man and we had left him behind and navigated half a journey, then realized our need, we would have no choice but to return to the beginning. The quickest way to get back on track if you’ve gone the wrong way is to turn around. But Jesus is not a mere man. He has authority over everything – even nature (including time and space) and death. He comes to us and meets us where we are. And his presence has an immediacy. By his authority, nature yields. Storms subside and we often find he immediately moves us to the place we need to be. But he does all this for his glory – which also happens to be for our best good. He alone knows our best good even if we forget this and take off without him.

We look at our good in very limited terms. We look at our most basic needs and mix this up with wants (lusts) and our glory (pride) and forget about life eternal and abundant. We are so consumed by our own limited point of view that we barely grasp just how much God wants for us and offers us, much less the endless magnificence of his glory. But Jesus is not a rabbits foot to provide us good luck, or a food stamp program to meet out basic needs or even a life coach or mentor to guide our success in the world. He is the bread of life and we must partake of that bread – the very word of the Father. It is hard for us to understand this or to take it. We want to be offended. Men don’t like grace because it highlights their unworthiness and their lack. Still, to whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life and Jesus alone can meet all our needs.

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