Author Archives: Mark O'Connor

Praying at Gethsemane • Devotion #5: Jesus Knew

What would you do if you had a few days left to live? I asked this question of our students the other day. I got a lot of the answers that you would expect:

Spend time with friends and family.

Doing exciting things.

Traveling to a place they have always wanted to go.

Only one said they would commit a crime, so that was good.

Then I asked them what they would do if a loved one was sick and they could trade their own life so their loved one could live. There were not as many quick answers. I would like to answer that question very quickly but I am not sure that I would react as I hope. Would your friends or family be willing to lay their life down for you? I am not sure.

As Jesus returned to Jerusalem that week, He knew what awaited Him. He had told His disciples already what was to happen to Him. As He rode that donkey and people cheered, He knew that in just a few days many of those same people would be calling for His blood. As He washed His disciples’ feet and ate the Passover meal, He knew that Judas was going to sell Him out in a short time. He explained to His followers again what was going to happen but they still could not grasp it. They argued about who was the best among them. As Jesus watched and taught, He knew in just a few hours that the events that would lead to His death would be set in motion. Still, He loved and taught. He did not run; He did not leave. He could have.

Feeling the weight of coming events, Jesus did what Jesus so often does. He seeks the Father. He goes to pray in the Garden. There, He asked those He loves to watch. They did not. They fell asleep. As Jesus prays with longing to not endure what is to come, He submits as He calls us to do. He could have done His will. He has the power and ability at that moment to not go on that cross. Luke describes the agony that Jesus felt as though He was sweating drops of blood. He could have chosen differently. Knowing that His death was the only way to bridge the gap between us and the Father, He willingly laid down His life for you and me.

Just as the disciples did not understand what was going to happen, it is hard for us to comprehend the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Just as His disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed in that garden, we sometimes fall asleep in our walk with Him. Despite that, knowing how miserably we would fail Him, He went to that garden and prayed. He went to that cross for us. Though sometimes we may lose sight, let us never forget what He did for us that day.

Mourn • Devotion #6: Sufficient Grace

There is a difference between happiness and being blessed. They simply do not always go together. When we typically feel like the Lord is blessing us, it is quite frankly because things are going well in our lives at the moment.

As we read the Beatitudes, and as I have experienced in my life, we see that we are blessed even in the worst of times. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Those who mourn are by definition, not happy. However, they are blessed.

Before full-time ministry, I had not experienced an abundance of death. Three of my four grandparents had passed away in my teen and early twenties. This surely affected me but they were all before I had really come to know Jesus. We were, for the most part, as prepared for them as we could be because they were not very sudden deaths. We knew they were coming as a result of cancer or dementia.

Then I came to work for the church. I have experienced more tragic and unexpected loss of life in these four years than I imagine most do in a lifetime. I have also witnessed God do incredible things in the midst of tragedy. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. I have wept. 

I have also seen Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 12:9 at work in the darkest of times. It says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

If we are with the Lord, that is knowing who Jesus is and what He did for us with absolute certainty, the blessing of His grace will carry us through any challenge that can be thrown our way. It is in mourning, when we may be at our weakest, when His grace is shown the most.

I have seen the widowed wife stand tall and brave. I have seen the child who lost a parent collapse into a ball. Both have found comfort as a blessing from the Lord.

In Him, and through no work of our own, we find blessing and comfort in mourning. Happiness will come again in time but the blessing of comfort will be there through the entire process when we turn to Jesus and look to Him for strength.

Lesson Seventeen • Devotion #1: Boasting

“I am not one to boast, but…”

These words usually precede the telling of a story that makes the person speaking very proud of themselves. It is usually a quite prideful and self-inflating story consisting of a “look what I did” or a “look how great I am” theme. We see in 2 Corinthians 11:16, Paul begins the section with these words, “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.”

Our boasting is typically foolish. We live in a culture that focuses on look at what I did and how much better I am than you. I am as guilty of it as anybody of the one-upmanship of boasting to tell a bigger or better story compared to someone else’s.

Paul is speaking a little differently here. We see earlier in this letter that the validity of Paul’s ministry and claim as an Apostle was being challenged. Earlier in chapter 11, Paul addressed the false teachers that were being given a stage to teach a misleading and false gospel that did not line with the teaching of Jesus or the message spread by Paul in his preaching. In verse 4, he says that they “put up with it readily enough.”

So, in verses 16-33, we see Paul do something that he never does. It seems a challenge to the Church in Corinth. They sit listening to Paul’s teaching as he kind of goes into a passive-aggressive rant. In essence, he says, “You want to listen to these people and the boasting, well listen to my resume.”

He goes on to list the things he could claim as superior to those around him, starting with his lineage, his education. Paul lists his imprisonments and beatings. He tells of his shipwrecks and dangerous escapes from cities all to be able to continue the work of the Lord.

He basically says, “You want to listen to people boast? Here it goes.” No doubt as the people of the church heard this, they were impressed with Paul’s resume. More to the point, none of those who came through boasting of themselves before Paul could live up to that resume. Most would have given up after the first imprisonment or the first shipwreck. Paul pushed on.

Then Paul brings it back. He mentions his anxiety and worries for the churches. In verses 30-31, he says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”

God uses us in our strengths and weaknesses. It is in that weakness that He tends to use us for the greatest things. When we allow God to take control and we let Him work in all areas of our lives, we see Him use our weakness. Then we cannot possibly boast about how great we are. Not that I have arrived or speak or teach at a high level, but if you had seen me speak in front of hundreds of people ten years ago, you would have felt sorry for how poorly I did and how uncomfortable I looked. It is only by God’s grace and power that I can stand on a stage and string together ten sentences. Allow God to move in your life and you will begin to see how little you and your accomplishments mean and you get to let the Lord use you in both your brokenness and your weakness. 

Lesson Fourteen • Devotion #2: Faithfully and Cheerfully

If there is a topic that is more uncomfortable to talk about than giving, I do not know what it is. I would rather sit and talk about lust and sexual sin all day. I prefer to talk about foolishness, folly, gossip, and murmur. However, giving, it is tough. It is easier in a one on one conversation, but addressing it to the church? No, thank you. That being said, it is a hugely missed and neglected thing in the church today. Doing ministry takes money on so many levels. Paul addresses it in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 

There are three points in this statement that stick out to me. 

First, is the concept of sowing and reaping. This is not the first, nor the last time we see this concept in Scripture. Jesus uses it in parables and Paul continues to teach it. It is a concept that we use in our culture for various examples. Do you want to be good at a sport? You have to put in the practice. Do you want to be a good student? Study hard. Do you want to make good money? Work hard in college and your subsequent career. Yet, when it comes to God’s blessing, we do not necessarily want that work and effort. Do you want to grow as a Christian? You need to study the Bible. This is not to say God’s blessing is conditional based on your giving, but there is something to giving faithfully. I have seen it both ways in my life. By no means have I experienced wealth as a result of my giving, but my needs have been met and that is a promise of the Lord.

Second, is how much we give. There is the staple of Scripture that states you give your first ten percent to the Lord. If you do that, fantastic. It is what you have decided in your heart. Some can do more. Also, fantastic, just do not let it go to your head and make it about how much better you are for giving so much. Some just cannot give that much. 

This is where the second and third concepts meet. I was taught as a young Christian to give faithfully and cheerfully. Also as a young Christian, I had a wife and three kids. We did not have much income to spread around but I decided on a number to give. I understood that giving ten percent was the gold standard but I also needed to feed my family. I chose a percentage to give and I did that faithfully and cheerfully. Sometimes it hurt to put that money in the safe, not knowing what the weeks ahead held for us. Yet, we did it. God has continued to bless our home in that faithfulness. Again, that is not to say things have always been great or abundant, but we have had our most dire needs met at the most unexpected times and by the strangest of sources.

Have that tough conversation with yourself or your spouse. How and what can we choose as the starting place to give faithfully and cheerfully? When you do, you will start to see changes in your life. Things will begin to fall in place a little bit better than they have and you will see God do some incredible things. I am not saying God will give you all the desires of your heart (which is really your flesh speaking) because you will still face trials and tribulations. I am saying you will be in a better place and better equipped when those times come.

Lesson Eight • Devotion #2: Afflicted

Afflicted. It is a word that we can relate to all too well right now. It is currently early in May of 2020. We are amid a global pandemic. Our adversary is Covid-19. Along with many in our country and the rest of the world, Michiganders are being asked to say home. Our friends, loved ones, and even ourselves are being afflicted with and by this virus. I can say for our family this has been a mix of highs and lows. There are good days and bad days. As we live in what before 2020 only could have been imagined by most of us as a science fiction movie, I find myself thinking of how good we have it and what it means for our faith. 

I have had students and adults alike ask how this could happen if God is there. The simple fact is that God never promised our lives would be without challenges and affliction. Psalm chapter 34 tells us that many are the affliction of the righteous man. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

We are not going to have a life that is just sunshine and rainbows at all times. The CSB uses the word adversities instead of an affliction. Imagine your favorite movie where the plot had no adversity. The Marvel movies would be quite lame if it were not for the villain and adversity they face and overcome. One of my favorite sports movies is Miracle on Ice. It tells the story of the US hockey teams’ Olympic victory over the Soviet Union. If the Soviets had not dominated and were not seen as the villain that could not be defeated, the movie would never have been made and there would be no amazing story to be told.

So it is with us. The story of our walk with the Lord would not be anything to talk about, let alone share with others, were it not for our adversities. We are good. We will get by. Paul reaffirms this to us in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

We are to rejoice in suffering. It builds up our character and maturity in Christ. These are the things we will need to pursue the mission we are given to share the Gospel to those who do not yet know Him. James tells us to count it joy when we face trials and tribulations. It is ok if you are going through some stuff. We will be alright. You will, if you rely on Jesus, get through it because as Paul goes on to tell us, no pain or suffering can outweigh the glory that will be revealed to us in the end.

Romans 8:18 adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

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