a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 77
It had been a long night. Their muscles ached, tempers were short, nerves frazzled, and their stomachs were growling from hunger. They had spent the entire night on the Sea of Tiberias, but to no avail. It was as if the large lake had strangely been drained of every fish it ever held, and the experienced fishermen were hauling up empty nets.
Out of the remaining eleven, most were there. Peter was, as usual, in charge; it had been his idea to go fishing in the first place. He was joined by six more of his brethren, including Thomas and Nathanael, John and James.
Dawn was just breaking when suddenly a lone figure appeared on the shore. Where had he come from? And who would be sightseeing so early on a damp, chilly morning.
"Children," the stranger called out to them, "you haven't caught anything, have you."
Peter bristled at the impertinence. He was in no mood to be referred to as a child by some stranger who also seemLove expresseded to be poking fun at their empty nets.
"Listen," the man called out again, "cast your net on the right-hand side of the boat. That's where the fish are."
"Who is this telling us how to fish?" Peter said angrily. "Let him come out here and do it himself."
"Why not try what he says?" Nathanael said, heaving his section of net. "It's not like we've been so successful on our own."
So they cast it over starboard, and suddenly the boat pitched to that side as the net was overwhelmed by thrashing fish. And the lot of them were unable to haul it in.
Straining together against the weight of the catch, John leaned over to Peter and, motioning toward the shore said, "It is the Lord."
Later that morning, as they reclined around a fading fire with stomachs now filled with roasted fish, Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Simon bar Jonas, do you love me more than these?" Peter's reply was quick. "You know that I do, Lord."
Twice more Jesus asked, and twice more Peter assured his Lord that he did indeed love Him. Each time Jesus told Peter that He expected him to then demonstrate that love:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." John 21:15-17
Love expressed but poorly demonstrated is a hollow affection. I recall years ago working for a man who professed undying love for his wife and children, yet who, nonetheless, each week kept an appointment with his mistress. The words came easily, but the truth dwelling in this man's heart was betrayed by his actions.
It's easy for us to proclaim our love for the Lord.
True love, however, is demonstrated.
Take my life and let it be consecrated,
Lord to Thee;
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of Thy love.
Frances R. Havergal
From the earliest days of my own, I've been told that a good marriage requires work--some people even went so far as to declare that it takes arduous, backbreaking work. While I've not found this to be true in my own experience (at least as regards the institution of wedded bliss) the principle has proven to be more than valid in the relationship I and others have with their Maker.
We are not naturally drawn to God and His ways, so any relationship with Him--and especially a healthy, profitable one--will be something outside of our inclination. It will be, for us, an unnatural act. Regularly I receive correspondence from people expressing their frustration over their inability to sustain a positive, ongoing relationship with Christ. The plea is common, and worded variously as" . . . I struggle with my Christian walk with God . . . " " . . . become impatient with God and do not trust Him to . . . " " . . . struggle with my growth in Christ . . . " " . . . I wish I would spend more time with Him."
Implicit in their remarks is the belief that this somehow reflects a deficiency in their character--or at least in their Spiritual capabilities. They think something is wrong, since they find no consistent desire for God being played out in their life.
But the truth is that the relationship, though desired, does not come naturally to any human being, because it is not how our race is made.
Love for Christ means that we have a relationship with Him. Since He is ever unchanging, the quality of that relationship will depend on the quality and expression of our Love for Him.
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly. "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Mark 14:3-9
"What this woman did she did to Christ. Jesus had saved her soul, had saved her brother and sister, and she felt that she could not do too much for Him. She brought an alabaster box of ointment, very costly, and broke the box, and poured it on His head. No doubt she loved His disciples--holy John and frank Peter--yet still she loved Christ more. No doubt she loved Christ's poor, and was often kind to them; yet she loved Jesus more. "On His blessed head, that was so soon to be crowned with thorns--on His blessed feet, that were so soon to be pierced with nails--she poured the precious ointment. This is what we should do. If we have been saved by Christ, we could pour out our best affections on Him. It is well to love His disciples, well to love His ministers, well to love His poor, but it is best to love Himself." Robert Murray McCheyne
The mistake many people make is that they think a passion for Christ and the things of God comes automatically with salvation. Without being told, they believe in the notion that there is a logical sequence to the Christian life: walk the aisle; experience a warm, satisfying glow; spend the rest of one's life living a holy life and being desperately, passionately in love with Jesus Christ.
But that's not how we're made.
"This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes." Eccles. 7:29
Since Adam's fall, mankind has lived in opposition to God, and that essential contrary nature does not magically vanish at the moment of our salvation. What does vanish is our involuntary servitude to sin--we now have a choice. But it still remains for us to make that choice.
Mothers know. Mothers know all about unrequited love. They know what it's like to sit by a silent phone, to check an empty mailbox, to watch out the window for sign of a loved one. Mothers know all about unbalanced relationships.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." John 15:9
Jesus, too, knows all about waiting. He waits for our affection, our love. But he never grows impatient, He never delivers a lecture when we, at last, show up. But He waits. Many, declaring their love for Him, say they long for a closer relationship with Jesus. But the longing isn't enough.
Our responsibilities to Christ are the same as in our human relationships. We may `long' to be with a friend, but if we are never the one to pick up the phone, or write a letter, or pay them a visit-- what kind of friendship is that? We may desire the relationship, but if we do nothing to satisfy the longing, then we are only being dishonest-- both to our friends and ourselves.
Perhaps you are the one being waited for, or perhaps you are the one doing the waiting. Do you enjoy having relationships with people who never reciprocate your friendship? What do you think of people who refer to you as their friend, but never have you over for dinner, never ring you up just to see how you're doing, never have a kind word for you in the company of others?
Jesus waits. He waits to receive our affection. He waits to enjoy the relationship, the friendship. And while He waits, so many of us just 'long.'
This woman in Bethany did something more than just long for Jesus. She did something about it. She went to Him--she went directly to where He was. She didn't even ask for Him to pay her a visit: She went to Him.
When the woman got there she wasted no time in expressing her adoration. In her own way--and in the manner of the times--she anointed him with very expensive perfume. It was an extravagant gift; imagine, whatever is your annual salary, that's how much the woman spent to demonstrate her adoration of Christ.
"When all my endeavour is turned toward Thee because all Thy endeavour is turned toward me; when I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love's self hast turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me?" Nicholas of Cusa
No matter whether the period of absence has been a week, a year, or a decade, my first response to longing for a friend is typically to remember something about the person, to paint a mental mural of the object of my longing that will pass before my eyes. It is a remembrance, and a most pleasant pastime.
Whenever I remember a friend, one of the first things recalled is what this person did for me. Maybe this friend performed some distinctive kindness, maybe he or she brought laughter and joy into my life; maybe the person possessed a strong personality that had a great impact on my life, or maybe my friend was just fun to be around; maybe I can thank this person for contributing to my Spiritual upbringing, or maybe he was a profound physical help when it was really needed.
Whatever the point of remembrance may be, it's only human nature that what pushes forward to the front of our memories of this friend would be the event that had the greatest impact on our own life. Jesus told us to do the same when we think of Him.
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you [Paul wrote]: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Cor. 11:23-26
When we think of Jesus, our first thought should be about what He did for us. Our remembrance of His life should begin with the event that had the greatest impact on our own: Calvary.
On this morning Golgotha seemed the most depressingly imposing site on earth. There was nothing grand about the execution field. It was little more than a sad, trampled expanse of rock and thin soil just outside the city wall, upon which people died in hideous torment--and with alarming regularity.
The place called "The Skull" was littered with the fragmented sticks and poles of past deaths. The used and reused wood was coated with old blood reduced to many shades of ochre by the burning Judean sun. Below the old upright poles were heavy stones jammed into the soil for support; they, too, were splattered the same ugly shades.
We hung back, Peter and I, still fearful for our sorry lives, but we saw everything. We saw too much. We saw things that are now burned permanently into our brains--images and memories that will be our companions until we die.
The soldiers pushed Jesus down and laid Him out over the ground. While several held Him there, one brute with practiced strokes drove thick rusted spikes through each of His wrists and into the crosspiece timber. Jesus was silent throughout. I would have cried out, pleading for mercy, saying anything that might help me avoid such an awful death. But Jesus, though experiencing every bit of the pain, accepted it silently. He would not revile those who reviled Him.
Several picked Him up, pinned now to the beam, and attached the crosspiece to the top of the upright pole. It dropped into place with a sickening thump. While two soldiers braced against the backside of the cross, a third shoved Jesus' lower legs up until both knees were bent and pushed out to one side. Then the executioner drove one last spike that passed through both his ankles.
The sight of His tortured body hanging before us stabbed into my heart like a slowly twisting knife. I wanted to be anywhere else but there-- but I was compelled to remain, as if this silent vigil would somehow relieve me of my complicity in His death.
We begin at the point of our meeting, for our friendship with Jesus began at the cross. Then we face the first point of decision: How does a friend respond to such an unselfish act of sacrifice? This one who taught
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
actually did lay down His life. These weren't just words; He actually did it. What are we to do with this memory? Every day we must ask ourselves, when we recall what our Friend did for us, What am I to do for Him?
"We have no right in Christian service to be guided by our own interests and desires. In fact, this is one of the greatest tests of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my Friend, Jesus. I don't throw my life away, but I willingly and deliberately lay it down for Him and His interests in other people. And I do this for no cause or purpose of my own. If we are totally surrendered to Him, we have no goals of our own to serve. [Paul] stated, `I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren . . .' Had Paul lost his ability to reason? Not at all! For someone who is in love, this is not an overstatement. And Paul was in love with Jesus Christ." Oswald Chambers
Whenever I get to thinking about how much I miss someone, my second inclination (after filling my mind with their memories) is to make contact with that person. Maybe I'll write them a note or call them on the telephone, or actually pay them a visit, but in one way or another I'll do something to extend myself in their direction.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13
Where does Christ dwell? Where must we go to make contact with Him? And how do we establish that contact?
Because Jesus is all of God, He is never in only one place or time at one moment.
"Canon W.G.H. Holmes of India told of seeing Hindu worshipers tapping on trees and stones and whispering `Are you there? Are you there?' to the god they hoped might reside within. In complete humility the instructed Christian brings the answer to that question. God is indeed there. He is there as He is here and everywhere, not confined to tree or stone, but free in the universe, near to everything, next to everyone, and through Jesus Christ immediately accessible to every loving heart. The doctrine of the divine omnipresence decides this forever." A.W. Tozer
Physically--literally in physical form--Jesus Christ is in heaven.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts 7:55-56
The person of Jesus that ascended into heaven before the disciples was one that could be touched and held, one that could eat fish and bread. Standing at the right hand of Father God is a physical person.
And what is He doing?
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Hebrews 4:14-15
Jesus is our high priest, our advocate before the throne. As a human attorney will plead his client's case before the high judge, Jesus pleads our case before the Father. So when we need Him, when we need a strong advocate, we know where we can find Him: at the Father's right hand.
... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20
In a more mystical, less physical sense, Jesus is our constant companion even while we are on this earth. His spirit envelops and indwells us; He is the one to whom we turn seeking immediate solace against the trials and frustrations of living. For He has been there; He is the one member of the Godhead who has lived through what we live through.
Even the name He was given at the announcement of His birth signified the role He would play.
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." Matthew 1:23
Jesus is God here, and that role did not cease at the ascension, but just changed in character. No longer here in flesh, His spirit nevertheless dwells with us. He is a friend, a brother we can depend on, always within arm's reach.
The disciples had the physical Jesus who walked the dusty roads with them, slept and ate with them. They heard the sound of His voice, saw His mannerisms, His gestures. They watched Him minister to others as well as themselves, and they gazed upon the gentle beauty of His face.
Today we no longer have His person, but we move through our lives with His attending presence, and the memory of who He was.
In holy Scripture, however, we have a form, as it were, of the two combined.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31
We may no longer enjoy His literal presence, but we do have a faithful record of His life from the gospels. More than that, in the gospels as well as the rest of the New Testament, we have a record and explanation of His teachings. Finally, we have Jesus Christ's and the Spirit's stamp of witness and completion.
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. Rev. 22:16-21
So whatever our situation--whatever our personality or disposition--we have a way to reach out and make contact with our Lord and Savior. We need not settle for the `longing', but can act on that plea for communion.
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.
Whether or not we are satisfied with our relationship with Jesus, it still all boils down to the choices we make. We live in an alien land; our natural bent is away from God and His Son, Jesus Christ; so if we are to enjoy a full, rich relationship with the Lord, we must go out of our way (for our natural way is in the opposite direction) to make the proper choice.
There's nothing new under the sun. His followers have had to make the same choice from the very beginning. And we hold no monopoly on obstacles to His righteousness; the world was just as depraved, just as sinful in the first century as it is now.
If we are to love Him, we must make the decision. We must make the effort.
The Time: 2 days after the Crucifixion of Jesus
The Place: Home of Thaddaeus
Thaddaeus, the apostle, and his wife, Keren-Happuch, are at home. Thaddaeus is a quiet, thoughtful man who chooses his words deliberately. He is saddened by the latest turn of events--almost dejected. He is trying to understand what Jesus and His teachings meant in light of His recent death on the cross. What will be his (Thaddaeus') role now?
Keren-Happuch is a woman of abrasive opinion and thoroughly opposed to the teachings of Jesus. From the beginning she hated Jesus and the easy way His work seemed to preoccupy her husband. Now with the death of Jesus--and His work seemingly over--Keren sees a perfect opportunity to pry her husband loose from what she has seen as a most foolish occupation.
[Thaddaeus and Keren-happuch enter, briskly, already in conversation.]
You don't know. You weren't there.
What's to know? The Romans finally caught up with your heretic teacher. I say we're better off.
It wasn't that simple.
Look, it's over. You had your fun for awhile. Now back to the real world.
He spoke of love, compassion ... of a God who is a forgiving Father.(more direct; to Keren) For that He dies?
He didn't fit in.
Neither do you, my dear.
Thaddaeus, it's time you came down off your cloud. Time to stop roaming about the countryside with a bunch of unwashed fishermen . . . trailing after some modern-day prophet.
He told us many things that last night. (working through it) Jesus said that He and God were the same. He said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
There's proof! The man was living, breathing blasphemy! Oh, I wish I had been there. I wouldn't have been taken in.
Keren! It's you who blasphemes!
Everyone in all the Roman Empire knew this Jesus was only a troublemaker. Everyone, that is, but my husband. (with contempt) You were born stupid and simple. (gleefully) Everyone around you knows the truth, yet you persist.
I loved Him, Keren. You won't change that. His death won't change that.
Stupid and simple!
He spoke of His death. He knew it would happen. (the light bulb is beginning to glow) He spoke also of coming back to life--of finding a way out of the grave.
Oh, sure. And did He? Did this ... magician raise Himself out of His tomb? (pause; drilling into Thaddaeus) Well, did He?
You know, we all scattered so fast, I really don't know.
What a coincidence! Oh, He was a smoothie, all right. (contemptuously) He had you all fooled.
I know He was the Son of God. I know it in my heart. (the light bulb is glowing brighter) Even before I admitted the truth to myself, I knew it in my heart. (pause; turning to go) I have to go back.
Give it up! It was a strange faith. (heavily) And now it's dead.
The faith will live on. (sadly) It's you who are dead. (pause) No one but the Son of God could have given health to the sick, sight to the blind ... raised the dead. (still in the process of convincing himself) He did it for others why not for Himself.
For three years I stood by Him. I won't let Him down now. What good was my time with Him if I fail to believe now? What good was His teaching if there's no resurrection?
All right. He was a good teacher ... and you served Him well. But you have a family. You must serve them now.
We were only the first. There are many more to become disciples of Jesus. And He's given us the task of reaching them. (moving toward exit) The rest will be expecting me.
You mean he taught you to abandon your families?
He said our love for Him must be greater than the love we have for our family. (pause; with just a glimmer of suppressed resentment) He also said a man's enemies will be those who live in his own house.
But He's dead.
No, He's alive. I expect to see Him when I get back to Jerusalem. And when I do, Keren, I'll fall on my knees and beg His forgiveness for doubting--doubting even for a moment.
[Thaddaeus exits with joyful determination. Keren watches him leave, then dejectedly turns and exits opposite.]
The Time: Later that same day
The Place: On the road toward Jerusalem
[Thaddaeus enters briskly. He is traveling the road back to Jerusalem. Keren enters with agitation, searching for him. She sees Thaddaeus and calls out to him.]
[Thaddaeus turns slowly. His reaction is bland: not angry, but not encouraging, waiting for Keren to make her own decision. He faces her.]
I didn't think you'd actually leave.
[Thaddaeus remains passive, trying to be good-natured without dissuading Keren from any decision she has made or needs to make.]
The moment you left ... (into his eyes) I can't take the emptiness.
My leaving didn't cause that.
It's all so confusing. All this time I've lived off of my hatred for the things of your Jesus. It's consumed me--sustained me when you'd be gone for so long. (turning back to Thaddaeus) Now it's gone--the hatred is gone--but nothing has come to replace the void. It's bad enough, but if you leave, I won't be able to live this way.
Your living--or dying--doesn't depend on me. It depends on you.
[Keren looks up at him with increasing respect.]
You're right. You won't be able to live--in fact, you're already dying--unless you see Jesus as I have. (making his point firmly) He's not a fraud; He's not a magician. He's not just a good teacher. Jesus is the Son of God--and without Him you'll not be able to live. You can die for eternity or you can live for eternity. It's your choice.
The things I said--
--are in most peoples' hearts.
He won't be able to forgive me.
He already has. (pause) Come with me, and see for yourself.
[They exit together.]
Every morning we rise to the new day. Every morning we begin a day filled with choices and the decisions we will make.
For every Christian there was one day when we made the most fateful decision of our life--the day we chose Jesus Christ as our Savior. On that day we decided that we loved Jesus more than the world.
But in many less-fateful ways we make that decision over and over again. Every Christian rises to each new day faced with choices, and many times over in each day the Christian must decide whether he or she loves Jesus more than the things of this world.
Each day brings with it moments in which we must decide whether or not we wish to speak with Jesus, read His words, listen to His counsel; each day the world holds out its arms to us, enticing us into its embrace.
Jesus, too, holds out His arms, saying "Come unto me . . ." His love for us is unconditional, perfect, complete. The expression of His love for us never involves a choice--He never needs to decide whether or not to demonstrate His love: it is always there. Always.
But for us there is a choice. We can demonstrate our love for Jesus, or we can pass Him by. It is our decision to make.
The truth of the matter is, however, that the choice we make will have a direct and immediate impact on the quality of our continuing relationship with Jesus Christ.
What is it like being friends with someone who never calls, never writes? What is it like being friends with someone who never puts forth any effort toward the relationship?
Jesus waits, always available to us. The perfect friend, saying only, "Lovest thou Me?"
Issue No. 77
[1.] Or, Sea of Galilee. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] 2. Or, Simon, son of John. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] The Vision of God (E.P. Dutton & Co., 1928), taken from The Pursuit of God (Christian Publications), by A.W. Tozer. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House, 1992).(return to footnote 4)
[5. The Knowledge of the Holy (HarperCollins, 1992), p117f (return to footnote 5)
[6.] A Greater Love (from The Twelve) by David S. Lampel; His Company Catalogue order #sk06. (return to footnote 6)
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