About jwells1030

I am a proud Christian father, grandfather, Georgia Tech fan, golfer, sports enthusiast, and the luckiest husband in the world!

When Jesus Prayed from the Cross

A very powerful Easter message from a local pastor gives a fresh perspective on Jesus’ prayer from the cross. Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen, indeed!

Typestry

Of all of Jesus’ prayers, Matthew 27:46 may be the most bracing.  Every syllable of these few words scream a sense of separation, brokenness, and unrelenting doubt. Reading only those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” conjure up a whole range of the worst emotions: fear, anxiousness, defeat, regret. The Son of God seemingly doubts His Father. The Father apparently casts off the Son. My whole life in and around church, I have heard sermon after sermon and lesson after lesson explain that in this moment, as Jesus became sin for us, His Father could not look upon Him and had to turn away. Certainly theologically, this answer rings of truth.  In those moments of darkness around the cross, mocking voices at His feet, evil appearing to have its way, Jesus may very well have felt a spiritual distance from His Father because of our sins…

View original post 1,002 more words

Reflections From the Upper Room

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1 NIV)

On the night before his crucifixion Jesus gathered with his disciples in a room that has become simply known as “The Upper Room”.

Knowing that the events of the next 24 hours would severely challenge their faith and that he had limited time to prepare them to carry on in his absence, Christ poured out his heart to them in a way that is unmatched in all of Scripture.

In fact, some have referred to the Upper Room Discourse detailed in John 13-17 as the “Holy of Holies of Scripture”. As we approach Easter, my next few posts will be anchored in those chapters.  

There are times in our lives when we all need to be reminded of the truths our Lord shares with his disciples that fateful night – times when our faith is being tested; times when God’s ways do not line up with our expectations; times when we need to rest in the perfect love, infinite wisdom, and sovereign control of our Heavenly Father.

In my mind, the Upper Room Discourse contains some of the deepest theology found in God’s Word – theology that is pivotal to understanding and practicing the Christian faith in a world that is often hostile to our message:

  • In Chapter 13, Jesus gives us a new command: “Love one another”, demonstrating his own love toward the disciples in an act normally performed by the lowest slaves – the washing of their filthy feet.
  • In Chapter 14, he speaks of the place he has prepared for us – words that have comforted countless people through the years, knowing that loved ones who have died in Christ are with Him, and that as fellow believers, we will join them there when the Lord calls us home.
  • In Chapter 15, Jesus describes himself as “the true vine”, with the Father as “the gardener”, while we are “the branches”, employing a memorable metaphor to illustrate perhaps the most important key to living the Christian life – staying connected to the vine.
  • Chapter 16 defines the role of the Holy Spirit in maintaining that connection, reminding us of Christ’s words, convicting us when we fail him, and guiding us into even deeper truths than the disciples were able to bear at that time.
  • Chapter 17 contains the longest prayer of our Lord recorded in the Gospels as he prays for himself, for his disciples, and lastly, for all of us who would come to faith through their message. 

Just as these words of Christ were carefully crafted to equip the disciples to carry on in his absence, they equip us to live the life we are called to live as his followers, drawing from the supernatural strength of the Holy Spirit to be bold in our witness, loving to one another, and faithful in following his commands. 

A few blog posts will cover only a small portion of the 155 verses in these chapters, just scratching the surface of the vast treasure that is stored there. I encourage you to find a quiet place and explore further into the depths of the Upper Room Discourse with me. Feel free to add your insights and comments.

There may be no better way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:17-18 NIV)

(For quick access to my five most recent posts or archives of older posts, <Click Here>.To receive future posts by email notification, subscribe from that page by clicking “Follow” and submitting your email address.)

Bible Reading Plans

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. … I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. … Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:11,15,105 NIV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. Fittingly, it is focused on the blessings of knowing and applying the commands and principles of God’s Word. 

Perhaps some of you resolved to read your Bible cover-to cover in 2017. Countless reading plans are available to keep you on pace toward accomplishing that goal.

Through the years, my personal Bible reading plan has grown increasingly ambitious until it now looks like this:

  • One Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) each month
  • Remainder of New Testament: Every six months
  • Psalms and Proverbs: Every six months
  • Remainder of Old Testament: Once each year

Bible reading plans designed to cover the entirety of God’s Word in a year are not without benefits, especially if you’ve never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Following them will certainly help ingrain the discipline of reading God’s Word into your daily routine.

But annual Bible reading plans are not without their pitfalls either. They can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While you might accomplish your reading goal, God’s greater goal of molding you into the image of his Son often suffers.

Recently, I downloaded a devotional Bible to my iPad. Described as a “cover-to-cover journey through the Bible”, it is organized into chapter readings covering six days a week for a full year, with each reading followed by a devotion. One of those daily readings covers chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, which detail the events and the compelling teachings of our Lord as he gathered with the disciples in Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.

Given their importance, I spent two months on those five chapters when I taught the Gospel of John several years ago. While I can certainly read John’s account of the Upper Room Discourse in one sitting, I can’t imagine adequately grasping its content and application for my life in one morning Bible study. A 500-word devotion cannot scratch the surface of the important lessons Christ conveys to his disciples that night.

The written Word is God’s primary means of communication with us. It is too important to rush through in order to accomplish a New Year’s resolution while ignoring its application for our lives. I encourage you to read your Bible daily, but do so prayerfully, patiently, attentively, and systematically. 

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and comprehend the wonderful things contained within the Scriptures. (Psalm 119:18) Read with the expectation that God will answer that prayer and respond appropriately when he does. Highlight or underline those passages that particularly pierce your heart. Make notes in the margins or in a separate journal. A marked-up Bible, like the one shown above, is one that has been digested rather than merely read.

As for that Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, I can’t think of a better place to spend some quality time over the next couple of weeks as we prepare our hearts for Easter, reflecting on the final teachings of our Lord before he went to the cross. I hope you will join me on that journey.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. … Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130,133 NIV)

(For quick access to my five most recent posts or archives of older posts, <Click Here>.To receive future posts by email notification, subscribe from that page by clicking “Follow” and submitting your email address.)

Forbearance

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

These verses are so familiar to me that when I encountered them in my morning Bible reading recently, I almost missed the change that was made in the 2014 update to the New International Version (NIV) of the Scriptures. The word patience had been changed to forbearance. My immediate and instinctive reaction was “There they go again! Why don’t they leave well enough alone?”

Having memorized these particularly verses many years ago, I often quote them in my teaching and in conversations regarding spiritual matters. These traits of the fruit of the Spirit identified by the apostle Paul have provided a useful checklist to gauge whether my inclinations are driven more by my flesh or the Holy Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I typed those words without looking at the text. They flow together so well and are easily memorized. Replacing patience with forbearance disrupts that flow. I stumble every time I try to quote it now. Why change such a powerful and poetic list?

Then I quickly realized that my negative reaction to this change was being driven by my flesh as the Spirit revealed to me that the word forbearance better conveys his intent when Paul penned his letter to the Galatians. According to my Wycliffe Bible Commentary, the Greek word Paul used literally means long-spiritedness. The King James Version (KJV) translates it as “long-suffering”.

The word patience has a very broad application whereas the word forbearance relates specifically to our attitude toward others. According to Wycliffe, the word Paul used “involves a refusal to retaliate or work vengeance for wrong received”. My KJV Study Bible describes it as “a disposition quietly bearing injury”. Webster’s defines forbearance as “the quality of someone who is patient and able to deal with a difficult person or situation without becoming angry.”

As I reflect on these definitions, it becomes clear that forbearance is sorely lacking in our world today. Perhaps with a little more forbearance, our elected leaders might be better able to work together to develop solutions to the many problems facing this nation. With a little more forbearance, maybe Christians could overcome some of our denominational differences and present a more unified message to the lost people outside our church walls. (Are you listening, Southern Baptists?)

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (NIV) Aren’t you thankful for God’s forbearance? How can we fail to practice forbearance toward others while enjoying God’s forbearance toward us?

In our fleshly pride, forbearance does not come naturally. While we can sometimes fake some aspects of the fruit of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians 5:22-23, forbearance may be our best indicator of who is winning the ongoing battle for the control of our heart – our flesh or the Holy Spirit.

May we all display a little more patience forbearance with those whom God places in our paths this week. (Old habits are so hard to break!)

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9 NIV)

(For quick access to my five most recent posts or archives of older posts, <Click Here>.To receive future posts by email notification, subscribe from that page by clicking “Follow” and submitting your email address.)

Does It Matter?

imageA headline in the online edition of Christianity Today last week caught my attention as it declared “Americans Warm Up to Every Religious Group Except Evangelicals”.

Without getting mired into the details of the Pew Research Study upon which the article was based, (If you’re interested, <click here> ) I will just note that it was based upon a recent survey of 4200 Americans as to how favorably they viewed various religious groups: Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Atheists, and Muslims.

The main point emphasized by the article was that every religious group received a notably more favorable rating than it had received in 2014 with one glaring exception – evangelical Christians, who remained steady at 61% favorability.

On the surface, that might not sound so discouraging unless you drill a little deeper into the results. Removing the responses of evangelical Christians, who rated themselves very highly, drops the favorability rating of evangelicals down to just 32% among non-evangelicals. Additionally, the research revealed that respondents from the Millennial generation viewed evangelicals equally favorably as they viewed Muslims and atheists. Take a moment to let that sink in!

Several suggestions were offered concerning the meaning of these results. Personally, I believe there is increasing confusion over the very term “evangelical Christian”. Among the American population in general today, it often carries more of a political meaning than a religious one.

But what concerned me perhaps more than anything in the article was a statement at the end by sociologist Brad Wright, who was quoted as saying,

Ultimately, evangelical Christians might do well not to spend too much time worrying about what others think of us. Christians in general, and evangelical Christians in particular (depending on how you ask the question), are well-regarded in this country. If nothing else, there’s little we can do to change other people’s opinions anyway.”

I can’t help but think that such attitudes might be contributing to those disappointing results revealed above – especially among Millennials. Does it matter what others think of us? Is there anything we can do to change others’ opinion of us? On both counts, I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes!”.

In the span of four chapters in 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes three statements that we ought to keep in mind in our daily interactions with those who cross our path:

  • “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NIV)
  • “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV)
  • “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NIV)

Taken together, these passages paint a beautiful picture of lifestyle evangelism – the kind of life that prompts questions about the source of our hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

Does it matter what others think of us? … Absolutely! As his ambassadors, what others think of us reflects upon the Christ we represent. As letters from Christ, what others think of us either opens doors for witnessing or closes ears to our message. And the aroma we project will either draw others to Christ or drive them away. If it drives them away, it is probably not the pleasing aroma of Christ we are projecting.

Does it matter? … Maybe we should ask a Millennial.

“When people sense a Jesus-like attitude and spirit from us, it clears the path for relationship; and perhaps for a testimony that just might be heard without defensiveness.” – Dave Desforge

(For quick access to my five most recent posts or archives of older posts, <Click Here>.To receive future posts by email notification, subscribe from that page by clicking “Follow” and submitting your email address.)