Author Archives: John Stone

Road to Emmaus • Devotion #2: What if God Showed Up?

Throughout all of history, the world has been eagerly waiting for God to reveal Himself. I try to imagine what it was like in Eden when God would come and walk with Adam in the evenings (Genesis 3:8-9). Eden, in its pre-fall state, certainly would have been breathtaking but could not possibly compare with a person-to-person relationship with Yahweh, the Creator God. In Exodus 33:18-19, Moses begged God to show him His glory. Like a truly loving Father, knowing that Moses needed the confirmation and encouragement, God covered him with His hand while allowing a brief glimpse as He walked past. Elijah called on God to reveal His power to the nation of Israel when the worshipers of Baal were persecuting him and seemed to have the upper hand. God responded in dramatic fashion with a consuming fire from Heaven and the people repented (1 Kings 18:20-39).

Generation after generation, faithful believers had looked forward in hope to the revealing of the Messiah (Hebrews 11:13-14, 38-39). He would be their Savior and free them from their slavery to the Law. Jesus Christ, the long-awaited One, came and fulfilled the perfect requirements of the Law by dying the sacrificial death to pay for sin (Hebrews 10:10-18). He was raised back to life, making a way for all who would believe (Romans 8:2-4). Even Jesus’ eleven disciples, after spending three years with Him, asked Jesus to show them the Father in order to prove Himself to them (John 14).

In the aftermath of His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared several times to different disciples and followers. In these situations, they badly needed encouragement that their belief was not in vain. God (Jesus), only days prior, had been walking with them and now Eden had been ripped away again. Persecution was just beginning and the forces of evil seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Jesus, knowing what they were about to face, came to them to provide confirmation of their faith and in-person proof of the Gospel message (John 1:1-4).

There are times in our Christian walk that, from our finite perspective, God is missing or is far away. One day we are skipping across mountaintops with Jesus and the next we are languishing in a dry desert, yearning for God (Psalm 63:1). These experiences can cause confusion, doubt, and a desperate need for confirmation. Just like the generations before us, we can get bogged down or dissolute waiting for God to show up and prove Himself. 

However, God has not gone anywhere. Like on the road to Emmaus, He has been walking beside you and me the entire time, whether or not we recognize Him. In John 16:7-15, Jesus tells His disciples that it is betterfor them that He leaves. How can it possibly be to their advantage for Jesus to leave and ascend to Heaven? It is because as He explained, He would send His Spirit throughout the world to encourage and help all believers. We have been given the Spirit of Christ to live inside of us! His mission is to reveal the truth about God’s Word (1 Corinthians 2:12-13) and give confirmation of our adoption into our Heavenly Father’s family (Romans 8:16). The very same Creator God who walked in Eden and walked the road to Emmaus walks with us!

We, as believers, need to recognize our Companion (The Holy Spirit) for who He is and step out confidently in His strength (Galatians 5:16). Instead of passively staring up into the sky (Acts 1:11) waiting for Jesus to return, we need to obey what He commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB). 

May we be among the blessed; those who our Savior praises in John 20:29 for believing with unseeing faith. May we boldly live for His glory alone, trusting that, although we do not see Him now, we can feel His presence and power in our lives and one day go and see Him face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and walk with Him for eternity.

The Triumphal Entry • Devotion #1: To Which King do you Bow?

The crowds are in a frenzy! The promised Messiah has arrived to take His throne! He is hailed as the “Son of David” and “King of Israel.” This is the Man who heals sicknesses and raises people from the dead. Not only that, He can multiply food to feed thousands. Finally, the Promised One is here to drive out the hated oppressor and free the people from their slavery. When Jesus walked the earth, many people’s focus was selfishly on what the Messiah could do for them, and sadly, the trend continues today.

Jesus Christ is King and Messiah (Philippians 2:9-10), but sadly, people have been trying to place Him on the wrong throne since the day He created a feast from the boy’s five loaves and two fish (John 6:9-15). 

Please do not misunderstand. Jesus did and still does all of those amazing things. He had true compassion and love for the suffering people He met just like He still does today. Christ came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and that mission continues. He promises to bless those who trust in Him, not with wealth and long, trouble-free life but by empowering them by the Spirit in unexplainable, counterintuitive ways (Matthew 5:2-12) and ultimately raising them in eternity to be like Himself (Romans 8:29). He came to free us from our slavery to sin and conquer death (Romans 6:16-23). Christians are given new hearts that desire Christ-focused, God-honoring things (Ezekiel 36:26-31). However, being a Christian is not all about us and what we want. It is all about a real relationship with Him. Although He is King and Lord of all creation, Jesus did not come to earth to establish a kingdom of worldly, material things. He is the “bread of life” (John 6:32-35), not a genie that gives us whatever our appetite demands. He is not interested in a large territory, an invincible army, or peace and prosperity. His kingdom is established in the hearts, souls, and minds of His people (Matthew 22:37). God desires that we be completely satisfied in Him and in nothing else. When we, who identify by His name, treat the Lord of the universe as some sort of divine vending machine, we place ourselves on the throne of our life and trample His grace, love, and mercy.

One day, according to Philippians chapter 2, every knee will bow to Jesus Christ. Those who did not submit to Him as king of their lives but used the name of Jesus for personal gain will bow in trembling fear before the throne of Heaven as He hands down their final judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). Those who humbly submitted to Him in heart, soul, and mind will be welcomed into eternal glory (Matthew 25:34). 

To which king will you bow? Is it the king of self with all its desires that lead to disappointment, despair, and eternal destruction or will you bow to the only wise King of kings and Lord of lords Jesus Christ? (Romans 10:9) He will graciously lead you in the way of eternal satisfaction if you will humbly submit yourself to His Word and trust only in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). Do so, not because He gives you your desires, but because He alone is worthy.

“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign,

the King of kings and Lord of lords,

who alone possesses immortality

and dwells in unapproachable light,

whom no one has seen or can see.

To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NASB)

Grow More and More • Devotional #6: “Hope”

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:18-21 (NASB)

What is the invisible quality that strengthens some to press on against all odds while others stumble and fall, exhausted and beaten? Where does that strength come from when every resource is gone?

We live in a world that is fallen (Genesis 3) and the effects of sin can be seen and felt everywhere. As Christians, we walk the road of this life, not as residents, but outsiders; not comfortable and satisfied, but on our way to our true home, our true satisfaction (Psalm 17:15). All around us the heartbreaking corruption and depravity can be felt as it weighs us down and presses in sticking to our feet like mud. Our walk can quickly turn into a tiring slog as we wade through the mess.

When we look around, what do we see? There are generations of people floundering in the pursuit of happiness, unaware that the things they are chasing are nothing more than a temporary anesthetic to dull the ache of hopelessness.

Ultimate, soul-satisfying, life-anchoring hope is what every person needs more than they need food, clothing, or health. It is invisible, unmeasurable. It gives endurance and purpose, joy in suffering, and contentment in little. True hope, unlike the temporary numbness the world offers, makes life worth living and, more importantly, worth living to the glory of God. He has given us everything we need to walk in full assurance (Hebrews 11:1) of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Our hope is not based on a Savior who died for our sins only, but on a Savior who was raised from the dead (Romans 1:4) after defeating death and Hell (Revelation 1:17-18) and is now ruling the universe from the right hand of the Father. He is the One on whom we base our faith and hope. This rock-solid foundation is only found through complete trust and reliance on the King of kings, the One Who Provides (Chronicles 29:10-17; Genesis 22:8). 

Sharing the life-transforming hope God has given us should be the driving purpose behind everything we do. As we are navigating this life, we should look with compassion and understanding at the desperate behavior of those who have no hope. Their destructive, empty attempts to find meaning and happiness will continue in vain until someone (you and me) speaks the truth of the Gospel to them (Mark 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 10:9-10) and by the grace of God, He transforms them. It is only by God’s grace that we as believers have hope of salvation, the hope of eternal life, and hope with purpose and meaning. We need to be the voice of hope in a hopeless world.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers,

about those who are asleep,

that you may not grieve as others do

who have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Gather • Devotional #1: “Walk Worthy”

“For you know how, like a father with his children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:11

God treating us like children is a common theme in Scripture:

  • “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John 3:1
  • “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
  • “You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” Deuteronomy 5:33
  • “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” Genesis 17:1
  • “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!” Psalm 128:1

A lot can be understood by how a person walks. Some stride purposefully with their heads high and shoulders back. Other people glance nervously around; moving hesitantly and carefully as though stepping through a minefield. Some swagger or strut confidently while others slink or shuffle. Kids run and bounce off walls. Each has their own style that inaudibly announces to the world what manner of person they are. Similarly, the way Christians walk should be a clearly understood indicator of who we and, or more importantly, “Whose” we are. 

What does the Bible mean by the word “walk?” It is used hundreds of times throughout Scripture and each occurrence paints a part of the picture that can help us understand God’s purpose for us. Of all the men in the first genealogy found in Genesis, Enoch and Noah are the only two who “walked with God.” Interestingly, God must have really enjoyed the fellowship because He took Enoch to Heaven as a relatively young man. Noah was chosen to preserve life in a foreshadowing of the work that Christ would do for us. The history of the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament is a rollercoaster of kings and priests who either “walked after” righteousness or after unrighteousness into judgment. We have the same choice. We can walk after our righteous Father or we can “walk around on the roof” open to sinful impulses like David (2 Samuel 11:12). We can “walk before” God in faith as Abraham did or we can stumble in sinful self-righteousness (John 8:39). We can run our race to win (1 Corinthians 9:4) or we can dig a hole and sit on the talents our Master has given us (Matthew 25:25). From the Garden to the Law of Moses to the Epistles, hundreds of commands and imperatives of how to walk can be listed. From the beginning, these lists separated God’s people from the rest of the world. Strict obedience was the indicator that these people were different, set apart. Because of the redeeming work of Christ, we are now free to joyfully fulfill all those commands out of gratitude to our Father. In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Christians are being begged to “walk after, walk before, and walk with” God; to walk worthy of Him. We are to bring glory to Him through our lives.

So, how do we actually do this? Jesus condensed all the lists down to one all-inclusive thing: love! It is love for God and love for others.

There are a number of examples from Jesus’ life of what walking in love looks like:

  • Jesus laid down His divine privileges and sacrificed Himself for us (Philippians 2:3-8). Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). We, like Christ, should humbly lay down our self-interest and put the needs of others first to the glory of God.
  • Jesus had compassion for those who were hurting (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13; John 11:35). Can we feel compassion and weep with those who are broken and hurting? We should have real empathy for the needs of others, feel their pain, cry at their sorrow, hurt at their loss, and help meet actual physical needs using our own resources. 
  • Jesus showed real caring and tenderness toward children. He rebuked His disciples openly for trying to prevent children from coming to see Him. It made enough of an impression that three of the Gospel writers recorded the event (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). Not only are we commanded by Christ to have simple faith in God the way a child does, but one of His strongest warnings of punishment is made against those who cause a child to stumble in their own walk after God (Matthew 18:3-6).
  • Jesus demonstrated a servant’s heart (Mark 10:42-45). Would we wash our enemy’s feet (John 13:5)? Could we face a crowd of hungry people and meet all their needs, while at the same time, knowing they were not committed, but just there for the free food (John 6)? 
  • Jesus interceded on behalf of His disciples and all believers (John 17:13-26). Do we love someone enough to ask our sovereign, all-powerful King to help them? To restore them? To protect them? To save them from their sins (James 5:14-20)?

May we be a people who can say with the beggar who Jesus healed, “I was lame but now I walk!” May we walk worthy of the One who has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness. May our walk be one that is easily recognized as different from the world; a walk of love.

“I have no greater joy

than to hear that my children

are walking in the truth.”

3 John 1:4

Persecuted • Devotion #5: The Examples

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (NASB)

As I studied this verse, I found that it has many layers and more than one way that it can be applied. From the context, I believe Jesus was using the example of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 5:12; Luke 11:49-51) to encourage His disciples to face the trials He was preparing them for. Fast-forward a short time, and Jesus has fulfilled the words of those prophets by dying on a cross and rising again, paying the penalty for sin (Isaiah 53:10-12). In Acts chapter 5, the disciples have been publicly defying the Jewish rulers by preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As a result, they are arrested and threatened before being beaten and released. In verse 41, we see a very strange thing – they are rejoicing (Rejoicing!) for being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. Jesus told them that they would be persecuted and hated by all for following Him. History tells us that all of the Apostles would suffer gruesome deaths and yet they continued to boldly share the Gospel, persevering through ridicule, betrayal, and beatings. Why would anyone continue to face such hardship when they could just stay quiet, live a comfortable life, and wait to see Christ? 

In one of the strangest encounters in the Bible, Jesus confronts one of His sworn enemies on the road to Damascus. He shows him how he will suffer persecution and death for faithfully preaching the Gospel (Acts 9:15-16). Once he recovers from coming face to face with the Creator God, the man we know as the Apostle Paul immediately starts down a path of some of the worst sustained persecution and suffering ever recorded (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). This drastic switch in behavior needs an explanation. In his own words, he writes, “But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NASB). The result of his perseverance was the introduction of the Gospel to an entire continent. According to “Foxes Book of Martyrs,” Paul was later beheaded at the order of Nero, Emperor of Rome.

Christians have been, and still are, hated just as Jesus said they would be. This treatment by the world should not be surprising (1 John 4:13). God’s chosen people have been a hated target from the beginning, many times by those whose fake religiosity is exposed and threatened by the light of true righteousness (Genesis 4:3-4; Acts 7:52). Should this hatred and threat of persecution or even death cause us to shrink back and hide? Absolutely not! If we are truly a regenerated child of God we will not be able to hide, at least not for very long (Jonah 1:3; Matthew 5:14-15).

There are many astonishing examples throughout Christian history of people who chose not to hide, not to back down in the face of persecution, and not to lose faith. Through the power of the Spirit and the grace of God they demonstrated with their lives that Christ is more valuable than anything the world has to offer:

  1. Abel, the second man ever born, was murdered by Cain his older brother because God approved of him and not of Cain (1 John 3:10-12).
  2. The Old Testament prophets called “blessed” by Jesus: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel murdered by their own people (one sawn in two) for publicly condemning unrighteousness and calling for repentance.
  3. First-century believers in Rome, singing praises to God as they were led into the Colosseum to be killed as macabre entertainment. 
  4. Japanese families in the 1500s were crucified head-down on the beach and allowed to drown as the tide rose because they refused to recant their belief in Christ.
  5. Oregon Community College students in 2015 lined up and shot in the head for answering “yes” when asked if they were Christians.

Under threat of torture and death, these amazing Christians refused to compromise or deny their Savior and were summarily executed, some in the most excruciating ways possible. After they had suffered for a short time, they were introduced to their Heavenly Father and it was all worth it (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:22-23).

Do you and I have what it takes to be called blessed by our Savior? Would we persevere to the end if our Disneyland life were turned upside down by the threat of persecution or death? What if you were the sixth student standing against the wall and the first five were already lying crumpled on the floor? What if you were on the beach watching your family being nailed to crosses and the soldiers were walking toward you? Would you stay focused on your Savior (Hebrews 11:27; Acts 7:55)? Could you endure to the end and gain your life? Could I? Jesus said that anyone who denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father (Matthew 10:33). That is a serious consequence, infinitely more serious than an entire lifetime of suffering and persecution. Will we value Him above our own fleeting life and gain what is truly valuable (Hebrews 10:29; Philippians 3:8)? Will we be the example an unbelieving world needs to see (Colossians 1:24) so that they may understand the price Christ paid for their souls?

Not all Christians are subjected to persecution or martyrdom. Some live quiet lives in holiness and humility (Micah 6:8), walking with the Lord until He takes them home. Other believers boldly challenge the world with fiery sermons, calls for repentance, and unrestrained passion only slowed by time and old age. However, there is another type. It is one that Jesus calls blessed. It is one who discovers that God has found them worthy to suffer and they rejoice at the opportunity to glorify their Savior with their blood. They persevere through the power of the Spirit knowing that God is faithful to sustain them through whatever may come and carry them home to His Kingdom in which they share.

I pray, “Lord, please count me worthy of bearing my cross. Allow me to see beyond the vapor of this life, to gain a tangible understanding of what is truly important. Strengthen me to unashamedly proclaim Your name like a banner; may my life reflect the faith and hope You have given. Help me to make war on my sin; purify for Yourself this unworthy sinner. When my day comes, if it be Your will, let me endure with joy the pain and suffering You have appointed as my share. Glorify Yourself through my death that others may find life.”

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