Tag Archives: eternal life

A Truly Good Life ~ John 3:1-21

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

“Life is good.” In the mid-1990’s an apparel line was launched by Life is Good, Inc. According to their website, the company’s mission is to spread the power of optimism as they remind us that life is not perfect, life is not easy, but life is good. Featuring their eye-catching logo (pictured here), the apparel line quickly grew in popularity; I had a few of their t-shirts myself. This is a good, relevant, and healthy message. I like it. But in the grand scheme of things it is not complete.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’” John 3:5-7 ESV

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is rich with meaning and insight. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leader in the Jewish synagogue. The Pharisees as a group had been badgering Jesus with trick questions and false accusations since He began His ministry. Here, at night, Nicodemus approached Jesus in private, as if something in his heart was leading him to believe that Jesus was something more than a carpenter who taught with authority (verse 2). Nicodemus seems genuinely curious about the Lord, but to approach Him in a manner offering credibility and respect in public would likely have resulted in great personal trial for Nicodemus.

These days, we tend to toss the phrase “born again” about rather casually. But this is a big deal, really. In this passage, Jesus describes a changed person; one who evolves from having been born of the flesh to one who is now born of the Spirit. This is a new life; a life with a focus beyond the things of this world. It is a life rooted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the overriding principles of Scripture is that the person who truly loves the Lord knows, first and foremost, that his salvation is solely rooted in the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. There is nothing any of us can do to earn our salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16-17 ESV

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Through Christ, God’s work of salvation is perfectly completed. We believers are the humble recipients of His mercy (not receiving the condemnation we rightly deserve) and His grace (receiving salvation from Him, even as undeserving as we are). What does this have to do with being born again? Having received the gift of salvation through Christ, our lives ought to change in response. When we are born again, our priorities ought to reflect God’s priorities, not those of the flesh: the sinful world in which we live. Sadly, however, this is not the case. If each of us is truly honest, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we still cling to the things of this world even as we live under God’s mercy and grace.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ~ John 3:19-21 ESV

Friends, these words of Jesus ought to give each of us pause; they certainly do me. I have complete confidence in the redeeming work of my Savior, but I still catch myself living in the flesh every day. When I examine my life in the light, I realize there is still a lot of darkness that needs to be dealt with. And I want to deal with it. I want to change the things in my life that point to the flesh, and instead, point to my Lord – not because it is a requirement of salvation (it is not), but as a product of my love and gratitude for my Lord.

Such change is difficult, for we face significant headwind from our society, which appears to grow more in love with the darkness with each passing day. But even worse is the trend we are seeing in some Christian churches to embrace some sins of the flesh over God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Don’t believe me? Consider, for example the casual approach to marriage and divorce in many churches or the trend towards legitimatizing LGBT relationships by practice and even by rite in some cases. The enemy wants us to reject a life under the Spirit and, instead, live by the flesh. Sadly, he has successfully influenced several major Christian denominations towards embracing such things. Indeed, living in the light under the Spirit is not easy, but it is what all Christians are called to do.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

As believers, we are not to stand quietly on the sidelines and wait for something to happen. We must arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with the knowledge that comes from reading and studying God’s Word. We must read our Bibles daily. We must be in prayer, asking God to reveal His eternal truth through His Word and arm us with the loving words of witness to people, even some within the Church, that so desperately need to hear the Truth. Living the Christian life is about humbly accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others, and living a holy and God-pleasing lifestyle in response; even in the face of criticism and persecution from secular society and misguided brothers and sisters in the church.

Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the Pharisee the fact that He is God and Lord, that He came to save the world from the eternal consequences of it’s sin, and that a life reborn of His mercy and grace is a different life, indeed. All believers are called to live that life. It isn’t easy and living under the Spirit does not make us perfect. But if you think that life is good living under the flesh, try putting yourself under the love, grace, authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is then that you will discover how truly good life can be.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to save me from my sins. Help me to respond by sharing the Gospel, even in the midst of deepening darkness, and by helping me live my life according to Your good and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Wedding Crisis Averted ~ John 2:1-11

It’s a wedding catastrophe, the prospect of which can give a bride and her mother prenuptial nightmares as they painstakenly plan each minute detail of the big day. Picture this in your mind: The vows have been repeated and the reception is well underway. The bride and groom have started to breathe as the stress of pre-wedding planning begins to fade into the past. The band is cranking out some great country music (remember, I’m from Texas), and the wedding guests have filled the dance floor. As the umpteenth guest compliments the bride’s parents on the lavishness of the day, and long before the reception is scheduled to conclude, the bartender sidles up next to the mother of the bride to quietly tell her that the supply of wine ordered for the reception has run dry. Can you visualize the look of horror that appears on her face as she processes that news? The bride, her parents, the bartender, and the venue manager look at each other, “how in the world did this happen? And what do we do now?”

As it turns out, Jesus and His disciples attended just such a wedding – sans the country music of course. As the celebration is well underway, Jesus’ mother, Mary, learns that the wedding host has run out of wine for the guests. She tells Jesus about the conundrum, clearly in a tone that only a mother can convey:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “they have no wine.” (John 2:3)

Taken in context, this is more than just an “oh, by the way” comment. This is a statement that expects action on the part of Jesus; an expectant statement that only a mother can deliver. Jesus caught the gist, for He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Jesus, honoring the wishes of his mother, commands that the wait staff fill six stone jars with water. They do so, and at His command they draw out a sample for the wedding host who declares, most likely with a huge sigh of relief, that the choice wine is now being served.

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11)

There you have it. With this, Jesus’ first public miracle, His earthly ministry is launched and His journey to the cross begins.

As we read John’s Gospel, it is important to remember that John, himself, was one of Jesus’ disciples and an eyewitness to the events he recorded for us in his account of Jesus’ time on Earth. Doubters and conspiracy theorists may dismiss this event as some sort of smoke & mirrors trickery, but nothing surpasses the credibility of an eyewitness account; just ask any trial lawyer.

I believe. Do you?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to live on Earth as a man and die on the cross in my behalf. Thank you for calling His disciples and for inspiring John to record his eyewitness account of your Son’s earthly ministry. I pray that You would bless my study of John’s Gospel, strengthening my faith and maturing me into the witness you would call me to be. For His sake and in His name I pray. AMEN.

Merry Christmas 2014

Well, here we are again. We are at the point of culmination: the culmination of all the decorating, all  the shopping, all the hustle & bustle, Christmas cards mailed, and yes – all of the waiting. What, waiting? Yes, waiting. You have been waiting, haven’t you?

Our home in Keller, Texas is beautifully decorated, thanks to the vision and creativity of my lovely wife. We have a beautiful Christmas tree beneath which lies a plethora of colorfully wrapped packages waiting to be opened. The sugar count in our kitchen is at an all time high with cookies and other holiday treats. Our staircase is decorated with faux pine garland interwoven with lovely white lights and our fireplace is decked out as well, complete with stockings hung by the chimney with care. The shopping is done – almost. I traditionally shop on Christmas Eve; not as an act of procrastination but because I enjoy it. Indeed, the Strege’s invest heavily in the traditions of the season and we enjoy it.

Some refer to the Christmas festival traditions as “trappings”. I understand why that is. If we’re not careful, Christmas becomes all about the trees, the lights, the goodies, and the presents. And while those things are fun and can bring some degree of happiness into our season, they are not what Christmas is all about for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus.

As a Christian, there is not a doubt in my mind that the true “reason for the season” was born of a virgin and laid in a manger in a town called Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. He died on a cross to save all who believe in Him from our sins, and was resurrected 3 days later. In Him and Him alone, death was swallowed up in victory! Without Him, my hope for eternity, and yours as well, is quite bleak. But through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the hope of eternal life in His amazing presence. Indeed, we are at the culmination of Advent – that period of anticipation as we wait to joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior.

This morning, as I prepare to embark on my traditional Christmas Eve shopping excursion, the birth of our Savior is at the forefront of my mind. I hope it is at the forefront of yours, too. I wish you and all for whom you care a very Merry Christmas indeed!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

Complaining Or Celebrating?

When we grumble and complain about our circumstances – whatever those may be – against whom are we really grumbling and complaining?

When I read about the history of Israel in the Old Testament, I am always struck by their grumbling and complaining. They complain they have no food. They complain that they are thirsty. They complain that Moses was on the mountain for too long. Each time they complain, Moses goes to God and He addresses their complaint. What they seem to forget, however, is where they came from. They came from bondage in Egypt where they were forced to labor in hard conditions. Through the power and intervention of Almighty God, Israel was freed from their bondage with the promise of a new land reserved by God just for them – a land flowing with milk and honey. But in the heat of the moment, all perspective is lost as the immediate circumstance takes center stage in their lives.

It’s easy for us modern day Christians to look down our noses at Israel’s lack of faith and perseverance. But, on closer examination, are we really much different from them? Of course, few of us come from a life of enslaved bondage. But think about this: God has delivered us from a different sort of bondage; a more sinister and evil bondage called sin. God tells us in His Word that all have sinned and have fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God, and a life of sin condemns us to an eternity of torment.

Just as God rescued Israel from their enslavement to Egypt, so He also rescues us from our bondage to sin – not because we are deserving; not because we are worthy – but because He loves us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). What amazing news!

So what does this have with Israel’s grumbling and complaining, or mine for that matter? Here is where the rubber meets the road: I grumble and complain often; don’t you? I complain about traffic rather than thanking God for my air-conditioned vehicle and the nice roads that take me to and from work each day. I complain about ownership changes to my employer rather than thanking God for a fulfilling career that enables me to provide for my family. I complain that my steak isn’t prepared exactly as I like it rather than thanking God for a full stomach. I complain about my shortcomings rather than thanking God for my strengths. Even knowing the reality of eternal life by my faith in Jesus, I find reasons to complain – just like the Israelites. My complaining is evidence of misplaced trust, just as theirs was. May God forgive me for my lack of faith.

This is Holy Week. This week we Christians remember and celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection that delivers us from the bondage of sin into His eternal presence. This week especially, let us not allow life’s circumstances to derail our worship and replace it with grumbling and complaining. Instead, let us pray that every time we are tempted to gripe or complain, God will remind us of the rich blessing we have through His Son, Jesus Christ as we celebrate the Good News of eternal life through Him.

A Quiet Witness

I often ponder what my outward life says to those around me. When people look at me, who or what do they see? In this age of social media, the question is even more impactful as I consider what every Tweet, every Facebook post and every Yelp review conveys to the world about who I am and what I stand for. I confess, I can have a quick tongue, or in the case of social media, a quick hit to the “Post” button before really considering how what I’m about to say will impact those who hear or read it.

But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

As I was leafing through my prayer book this morning, this passage that I wrote down a few years ago jumped off the page. What is this “quiet life” that Paul speaks of? What does it look like, and what does it convey to those “outsiders” he mentions?

Taken in context, Paul is praising the Thessalonians for living a life that honors God by loving their neighbors and sanctifying themselves by avoiding sexual immorality and other sins that tarnish the soul as they mislead unbelievers about what the Christian life is really supposed to look like. As Paul encourages them with this praise, he exhorts them to “excel still more” – to continue to strive to live holy lives as God instructed.

I know Christians who lead the “quiet life” Paul speaks about. These men and women are not recluses; they do not hide from the world. Indeed, they walk among us. Their very faith, their very resolve to seek to live for the Lord emanates from their being. The Christian who lives in this manner witnesses to the world (“outsiders”) without uttering a single word; the world sees Christ through these people. These people are not perfect; they sin just as I do. But they are so tuned in to the Savior that they have a sense of peace about them that draws others to them, often opening the door to a dialogue about sin, death, and the forgiveness and everlasting life that is available only through faith in God’s Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls each believer to witness for Him; to share the Good News of salvation that only He offers. By honoring Him with my life I am as available to witness as I can be. To dishonor Him by how I live or what I say discredits me and my witness is called into question.

I’ve taken a hiatus from Facebook during Lent. I’m using this time to reflect on my own life and what it conveys to the “outsiders” I meet every day. I pray that God will forgive my shortcomings as He leads me to that quiet life that speaks volumes to the world. Amen.

Help my Unbelief

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” ~ Mark 9:24

Have you ever felt this way? You know God is real, you know the only way to salvation is through His Son, Jesus Christ, you know anything is possible through Him – but that nagging doubt rears its ugly head at the most inopportune time. You doubt your belief even as you believe it. I have; I’m sure we all have.

This encounter with Jesus really struck me as I read it the other day. A man brings his son, who suffers from seizures, to Jesus and asks Him to drive out the demon that causes the seizures. The man explains that Jesus’ disciples could not drive out the demon and says to the Lord, “If you can do anything [there’s that nagging doubt at the inopportune time], take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22) Jesus seems rightfully indignant as He repeats the man’s words back to him, “IF you can?” and tells the man that all things are possible for those who believe in Him. The man then pleads his case, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

What does Jesus do in response? After all, the man’s weak faith was bared for all to see; Jesus could simply let him wallow in his doubt. But, notice what the man did. He confessed his weakness and asked the Source of faith to strengthen his faith, to help his unbelief. Jesus honored the man’s prayer for help and drove out the demon, thus healing the boy.

This, my friends, is our Savior – the One who loves us so much that He sacrificed Himself on the cross to bear all of our sins; even the sin of doubtful faith. Jesus knows our imperfections and our shortcomings, yet He promises to love us in spite of those things. He demonstrated His love on the cross of Calvary.

The Lenten season is upon us. Let us use this time to reflect on our sins and lay them at the feet of our Savior. Let us boldly approach Him and ask Him to help us with those nagging sins that we just can’t seem to shake on our own. And, once we’ve done so, let us trust Him to keep His promise; after all, He already has.

Here is the complete passage from the Gospel according to Mark:

14 When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” 19 And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately , “Why could we not drive it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” ~ Mark 9:14-29 [NAS]

No Guarantees? Not So Fast…

Yesterday evening, as I learned of a friend who passed away due to complications from the flu, I was reminded that life offers no guarantees. Alan leaves behind a loving wife and two lovely daughters of high school age. As I lift his family and friends in prayer, I can’t help but think about my own family and how they would feel if God called me home at a young age.

Goofing off, Thanksgiving 2012

Goofing off, Thanksgiving 2012

As I write this, several other people dear to me also come to mind: a pastor friend battling metastasized cancer, a coworker recovering from major surgery, and another business friend & colleague who passed away suddenly while on vacation over Thanksgiving weekend. Each of these people woke up one day expecting a normal day; by the end of that day things had drastically changed. They all have jobs and they all have family and friends who love them, and they are all about my age.

At times like this I am compelled to reflect on my own life. I tend to live my life as if none of these things could happen to me. I go to work, I watch my football, I enjoy my family and I count my blessings. I don’t eat as well as I should, I occasionally drink a bit too much wine, and I rarely exercise. I sometimes stress over circumstances, which compared to the trials these friends are facing, are really nothing more than short-term inconveniences. My family, friends and coworkers are precious to me also. I pray for those in need of healing and those facing trials, but I don’t pray enough. I live my life as if I have forever during which to live it, when in reality, my “normal” could change just as quickly as it did for my four friends. As I take my allotment of time for granted, I realize that I sometimes take the people God has placed in my life for granted, too. For these transgressions I ask God’s forgiveness.

Naples, FL Sunset - July 2012

Naples, FL Sunset – July 2012

I’m sad today for those whom my friends Alan and Bob left behind. As I contemplate my own life I realize it’s not too late to change some things, and I will prayerfully seek God’s guidance in this respect. But more than that, I thank God for the hope He offers – real hope that each and every one of us can grab ahold of and celebrate every day no matter what circumstances we face:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

Whether I live one more day or many more decades, my life on Earth will come to an end one day. So will yours. If I place my trust in the things of this world, it all ends the moment I take my last breath; I have no hope for eternity. God offers us so much more than that. He offers His Son as the perfect sacrifice to pay the price for my sins – and yours, too. God’s promise of eternal life comes only through faith in Jesus. While I enjoy life and the blessings God has bestowed on me, my hope for eternity is not in the things of this world. My hope is planted firmly in my faith in Jesus Christ. With that hope, even if my “normal” should change drastically today, I can live my life with no worries, for I know my eternity will be with my Lord. And with that hope, my last breath on Earth will not be the end; it will be the beginning of my eternal life in His presence.

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Until He calls me home, I resolve to live out my remaining days on Earth, whether one or thousands, with my eyes focused squarely on the Prize. I will breath more deeply, observe more thoroughly, and care more thoughtfully. I will be more diligent in prayer, more concerned about others, and more faithful to my Lord and Savior. Truly, I can do none of this on my own; but through Him I can succeed.

My Prayer for Today: Heavenly Father, as I go about my routine today, there are people dear to me who struggle with loss, illness, job transition, and so many other things. I pray for those who need comfort, those who need healing, and those in need of work. I pray that You would provide what they need. I also pray for those who don’t know Your Son, Jesus Christ. According to Your will, Lord, let me be a witness to this world that so desperately needs to know You. In Jesus’ name – AMEN.

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