Can you hear me? Lesson 1

Yes, action speaks louder than words. Who you are is defined less by what you say and more by what you do. Jesus said a lot of things that many church people can rattle off on command. The question is: Was it what He did or who He was that validated what He said? I believe it’s both. His true character and resolve appeared in His journey to the cross. He said a lot without uttering many words. His question to us is: Can you hear Me?

Read John 18:19-26

Sometimes we forget that Jesus was a Jew, born and raised. Can you imagine growing up in a religion, your parents being in the religion, only to have the religious people turn on you? Maybe you’ve had this experience. I’m praying healing over you as I write these words. We at Message would love to hear your testimony. Share with us via social media using #messagemag.




With Friends Like These . . .

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of the days leading up to the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus. In meditating upon His sacrifice for us in this “thoughtful hour”, we pray that you will sense your connection with all of heaven. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemag. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


P eter wiped drool from his sleeve, stretched and glared at his Friend. Peter tried ignoring Him and turned over, but that didn’t work. His friend just wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Why you sleep’, man?” This time Peter played dead and waited. In a minute He was gone again until he felt another nudge – harder this time.

Again? “What?” Peter snapped. “Can’t a man have a moment’s peace around here?

“Man I need you. I’ve gotta do this. Can’t you stay awake for a few minutes, man?” Jesus sounded disappointed, so Peter sat up. Grouchy, he muttered something about coffee. Everyone knew when it came to sleep, he needed his. He rolled his eyes, then focused to where Jesus was praying. Now what was so important at this time of night anyway? He scratched his head. A few minutes later, Peter was snoring.

Was that another nudge? A few days earlier, we see the silhouette of a man as he walks down an empty, cobblestone street in the late evening. It is obvious the man is distinguished—note his dress and poise. Streets are empty and it’s late, sunset perhaps. He walks fast, glancing furtively left and right. Finally, he disappears into the temple. To pray? No. To make a deal.

Several priests are at a conference table talking, joking, eating. Judas enters. “Judas, come in!” One of the high priests with a playful smile on his lips says, “What can we do for you, Brother?”

Judas hesitates noting the sarcasm. “I need to make a trade!” he snaps. “For?,” a man seated at the head of the table seems interested. “For what?,” the guy blurts out. All attention turns to Judas. After what seems like forever, Judas timidly responds, “Jesus!”

Mark 14:32-42; 66-72; Matthew 27:5-10

Fast forward to the loft of a local home. Jesus is surrounded by His friends– twelve of them. You know the names. They eat, have bread and wine, but before that, they do the cultural stuff—foot washing. Jesus, towel in hand brings a pan to Peter, who doesn’t want it. Jesus pressures him and washes Peter’s feet anyway, and water trickles down Peter’s feet. Judas watching and the expression on his face could be anger, or guilt, already knowing he had made a deal that was about to go down. Why were Peter’s feet being washed first?

It’s Passover, family time, a special time for Jewish families. Jesus had decided to have a Passover supper with just His guys. Right time, right place. Everyone’s bonding, eating together. Then, Jesus drops it: “One of you guys is going to let me down!”

Jaws drop, eyebrows raise as everyone’s eyes and fingers scan the room. But according to the Apostles, it was loud-mouthed Peter, who just had to ask the question.

Mic on: “You’re talking about me, right?” Me? They will”, he says pointing. “Not me. I would never betray you! Who do you think I am?”

Shake your head and smile, because in a few hours, he does just that– not once, but three times. On the other hand, there’s Judas sitting, eating, and saying little. He can’t, because he knows Jesus knows. Jesus always knows. Just a couple of days ago he made a deal with the priests. He was smart, see: his friend for half a year’s salary. Well, that didn’t sound right, but yes, he sold his friend out. So yes, he probably squirms a little (actually a lot) when Jesus makes His remarks. Finally, not able to take the guilt anymore, he says: “Hey guys, I cant’ stay; gotta go!” His exit is quick, leaving the rest of the disciples to wander had just happened.

Hours later in the wee hours of the morning Peter and Judas—these friends of Jesus—faceoff in a charming, little garden nearby. Jesus is in His usual spot. He likes to pray there because there in solitude He can finally talk to His Father, without all the noise of the people, Pharisees, or disciples. It’s a perfect retreat for a busy time, and as mentioned in the Desire of Ages, the Passover always had wall-to-wall people. It was spring and the Garden of Gethsemane was blooming and fragrant. Most of all, it was midnight and quiet. No one is there but them, and so as Jesus meditates, the plot thickened.

Two characters, one night of joy, pain, anticipation, conflict, denial, and guilt.

This is the story of Jesus and his friends in the garden. However, focus in on a few of His “true-blue” friends. Peter, James, and John are supposed to stand by Him, but they just sleep by him. Jesus has one desperate need—a quiet moment alone to pray. But like us, He needed the support of His people. This time is crucial. It is time to agonize, to plead: “God, please, I don’t want to do this, but if you really want this, then . . .” He checks on his buddies, begs them to stay awake, but they are asleep. One, Two, Three times. Asleep every time.

Finally, for the last time, Jesus states that poignant line: “It’s time!” This loaded statement, a nagging reality that they blew their last chance to stand by Jesus, the ultimate fail. For our star guys, Peter and Judas, it will be a long night to make a complete fool of their friendship with Jesus, and ultimately themselves.

So many comparisons between these two leading men:

Both were quick thinkers: Judas makes the deal to betray Jesus and give a secret signal so as not to give himself away. At Jesus’ arrest Peter chops off a guy’s ear in a impulsive show of support.

Both were disloyal: Judas’ trade with the priests, and the signal kiss to Jesus both speak of bad intentions. Peter’s not much better, with his colorful display of expletives to prove he wasn’t one of the disciples.

Both showed remorse: Judas couldn’t deal with the fact that his kiss led to Jesus’ death, so he returned the cash. He eventually committed suicide after he realized it was a done deal. Peter fell apart when Jesus looked at him after he had denied Him for the third time. He had no peace until he saw Jesus again.

Yet, they were from vastly different backgrounds: Judas seemed to be white-collar, educated, reserved, and a calculating accountant; Peter, was a streetwise fisherman, brash, foul, impulsive, excitable, warm, expressive.

The paradox: Jesus was rabbi, but the lesson was taught by these two guys; not by priests, the mob, or even the rest of the disciples. Two men, two very different encounters with Jesus. One driven to suicide. The other to Martyrdom. Both touched by Jesus. Like Judas and Peter, Jesus will come to you. But at the end of the show, lights off. It will be your choice, your story.


HILARY CAMPBELL, writes from Beltsville, Maryland.


ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), the most translated female author in history and recently named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlinebooks.

With Me or Against Me?

How blind is love? Is it blind at all? What about its other senses? If God is love and Jesus is God, what was Jesus looking at as He reclined at the table with His disciples, at what has come to be called the last supper? Brothers looking for upward mobility and tension that could be cut with a butter knife was the atmosphere with which we find Jesus before He takes the walk that would secure our journey in this life. Join us as we explore how the Lover of our souls dealt with those who were both with Him and against Him.

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Day 1 - Read Matthew 25:1- 26:19

Before we get to the last supper it is important to get the context of the conversation. Jesus has just told some of the sharpest and most divisive parables, relaying the message that those who think they’re making it in the Kingdom need to reevaluate what is giving them assurance of their place in glory. What do you think Jesus meant by the parables he told? Tweet us about it here at Message using the hashtag, #MessageMag


Day 2 - Read Matthew 26:20-21

Some awkward things can happen at a dinner table. I don’t know if anyone can begin an evening with a more disconcerting statement. “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Can you imagine what went through the disciples’ minds? Can anyone stand being accused of being something that you are not? Has anyone ever thought something about you that was completely wrong? Has there ever been a rumor spread about you that was fully false? Tell us about it here on social media using the hashtag #MessageMag


Day 3 - Read Matthew 26:22-23

One of the hardest things for some people to do is admit when they are wrong. I submit to you that there is spiritual maturity in being able to point out your own shortcomings. It’s completely normal to mess up, but a little extraordinary to be “fess up” to it. The disciples shared this struggle, as each of them had “dipped his hand in the bowl” with Jesus. Has there ever been a time where you realized you were wrong, knew you should admit but just couldn’t? If you are willing tell us about it, use the hashtag #MessageMag

Day 4 - Read Matthew 26:24-26

Now that we’ve looked at our own wrongs, I know we that all of us have had others do us wrong as well. Herein lies the challenge. Jesus ate with the one who was going to hand Him over! If Jesus is the epitome of love, then His actions challenge us to be willing to not only tolerate whos who harm us, but to be hospitable to them? Tell us your thoughts: Do you think it’s in you to do this? #MessageMag

Day 5 - Read Matthew 26:27-28

Jesus has overstepped His boundaries at this point. Not only is He at the table with the one who will betray him, but He’s sharing with him the representation of the sacrifice He is about to make. In other words, He knows that Judas is about to betray him but in response He is still willing to give everything for him. How hard is it be around the people who don’t have your best interest at heart? How hard is it to go out of your way to look out for them? Have you ever had family, “friends,” or even co-workers who had ill-intent concerning you, yet something in you kept you positive? Share that with us, using #MessageMag.

Day 6 - Read Matthew 26:30

What a way to end a tension-filled evening—singing a hymn. Just from a surface look at this we can see that even when things are about to come to a boiling point Jesus is still the Prince of Peace. Does anyone desire to be able to have peace even when you cannot tell who is for or against you? The fact is that eventually all the disciples would betray and abandon Jesus, but in spite of this Jesus took joy in being able to sit down and eat with them one more time. I pray that you, as you navigate the maze of personalities this life can throw at you, are able to be at peace whether they are with or against you.

 

 

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Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Ozark, Alabama. He also pastors the Mt. Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dothan, Alabama.

 





You Will Like Me When I’m Angry

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of the days leading up to the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus. In meditating upon His sacrifice for us in this “thoughtful hour”, we pray that you will sense your connection with all of heaven. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemag. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


I loved watching the popular television show, “The Incredible Hulk.” The mild mannered Dr. David Banner has a condition that causes him to change into a huge, menacing, green, rampaging character—the Hulk. The Hulk would then go about righting wrongs and dishing out vigilante justice.
One line Banner would use to caution people who took his calm demeanor as a license to take advantage of him was, “You don’t want to make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”
As I read Matthew 21:12, I see a different side of Jesus than the one we are accustomed to seeing. The verse says: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”
This is not the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” that some of us recited in our prayers as children. This Jesus is turning over tables and chasing people out, and breaking up stuff. Tables flying everywhere. People clearing out. This is not a polite display of asking permission. Jesus acts first and talks later.
This Jesus seems angry. Why?
Jesus? Angry?  
Angry man with reeds in fistThe reason Jesus seems angry is because Jesus is angry. I know the picture we sometimes cling to is that of the Savior who was void of human emotions, such as anger. This passage indicates that there is nothing wrong with anger; Jesus was angry. There is nothing wrong with being angry about the right things, and in the right way.
So what was Jesus angry about? Well we do not have to guess. He tells us in verse 13: “And He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Jesus quoted a popular verse that day from Isaiah 56:7 with which they were familiar. He said, essentially, you have taken this place that was intended for one thing and turned it into another. A place that should have been a house of prayer has become a den of thieves.
In a poignant and powerful symbol to address sin, God established a system that required the sacrifice of an animal. For those who did not have such an animal, well, they were conveniently sold on the premises. And, as with any system that is created, we human beings have the potential to corrupt it and use it for our benefit.
Recognizing they had a captive audience, the animal brokers by the temple gate jacked up the prices. Because of this, poorer folks could not afford to buy the animals so they were kept away from the temple. They were kept away from the house of God. They were kept away from the place where the grace of God was being ministered.
Isaiah 56:7, 8, the passage Jesus cited, helps us see the power of what made Him so angry.

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says,
‘Yet I will gather to him
Others besides those who are gathered to him.”

All
The word that sticks out is all! God’s house was to be a house of prayer, and it was to be for all people. No one was to be excluded because of anything they did not have or even their ethnic group or disabilities. And Jesus got angry because people were being denied access to God. I think He still gets angry when people are denied access to God because of socio-economic reasons or their disabilities, or even their hang-ups and issues.
Jesus was so angry about what was happening in the temple that day that He did something about it. He cleared out the system standing in the way. And the next verses show the results. It says “Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.”
Wait, Jesus just flexes his muscle and throws His weight around and the blind and lame come to Him? They are not afraid of Him? Even the children sing Hosanna in the temple and are drawn to Him. They are joyful because finally they had access to the temple to be able to connect with God in a way that they could not before. And they loved this Jesus who got angry, because He did something about the things that kept them away from God.
I am glad that Jesus saw another system keeping us away from God. It was one that we brought on ourselves as humans. One called sin. And He came down to earth and did something about it. He took it on, head on. He took it on and destroyed the system that kept us out from the grace of God. But it cost Him His life to do it.
Today Jesus will not let anything or anyone keep you away from Him. Anything that tries to, He gets angry about it and does something about it. And you will love Him for it.


KYMONE HINDS, his wife, and their three energetic children live in Memphis, Tennessee. He pastors the Overton Park and Journey Fellowship Seventh-day Adventist churches. He also speaks and blogs regularly on different life issues. You can connect with Kymone via twitter@kymonehinds, or on his blog at comejourney.org.

TOO GOOD FOR GOD

What does Jesus want out of our relationship with Him? Love? Commitment? Service? I’m sure you have wondered if your relationship with Jesus is what it should and could be. Do I pray and have devotion enough? Am I in my Bible the way I should be? We’ve all had those questions. I wish to submit to you that unknowingly we are trying to be too good for God.

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Day 1 - Read Mark 11:7-11

Many of us know what it’s like to have someone smile in our face one moment only to stab us in the back the next. What do you think is going through Jesus’ mind as He is entering into Jerusalem? We want to know your thoughts here at Message. Share on Social Media using the #MessageMag.


Day 2 - Read Mark 11:12-14

Have you ever experienced God do something that didn’t make sense. Why would Jesus curse the fig tree that was out of season? What has God allowed to happen to you that you have felt has been out of season? Share it with us on social media using the #MessageMag.


Day 3 - Read Mark 11:13

Notice that the Bible says the fig tree was in leaf. When a fig tree is in leaf it is supposed to have fruit. Therefore this fig tree looked like it was being fruitful but was just putting on a show. Is it possible to look like you have everything together and really be nothing but show? Do you know anyone like that? Are you like that? Don’t share it with us. In your time with God I invite you to pray about the places in your life that may just be show.

 

Day 4 - Read Luke 7:40-46

There is another side to the coin. Some people see it as disruptive when other people go after God in the way they feel inspired to. This is how Simon responded. Because the woman went to Jesus in a way in which he and others did not approve, he spoke condescendingly about her. Be honest now: Can you think of a time when you were being a Pharisee, looking down on someone for something you did not like? Share it with us using the #messagemag.

Listen
In preparation for the next section I invite you to listen to “Intercession” by Kirk Franklin. Allow your mind to drift to your need for Christ.

Day 5 - Read Mark 11:15-17

Jesus seems to be out of character in this portion of the Bible. Irate and enraged is the Lamb of God who is usually meek and mild. What caused Him to act this way? If we pay close attention to the personality of Jesus, nothing sets Him off more than people being mistreated. The church had gotten so bad that the place used to connect with God is now being used to take people’s money and resources. The thing is, aren’t we supposed to help people connect with God, but sometimes we drain or get drained by people who were supposed to help us get closer to Him? Have you experienced this? Tell us about it on social media using the #MessageMag

Day 6 - Read Mark 11:19-20

I once thought the stories of the fig tree and Jesus flipping tables were disconnected. But when I took into account the detail of the tree having withered from the roots I realized Jesus was being very intentional with His perceived discontent. God is turned off by those who act like they’re connected when they are nothing but show. The fig tree didn’t have fruit because the roots weren’t connected to anything of substance. Jesus kicked the people out the temple because they were hindering connection to God. Take time to evaluate your connection to God and if your life facilitates other people making connection to God.

 

Day 7 - Read Mark 11:22-26

Jesus is simply emphasizing prayer. Some of us are so focused on acting right and behaving correctly that we neglect our connection to God that truly makes us productive. Let us be mindful and prayerful that we don’t focus on acting so good that we are too good for God and the people He’s truly trying to connect with.

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Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Ozark, Alabama. He also pastors the Mt. Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dothan, Alabama.

 





Fragrant Anointing

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of the days leading up to the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus. In meditating upon His sacrifice for us in this “thoughtful hour”, we pray that you will sense your connection with all of heaven. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemag. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


Excerpted from the classic The Desire of Ages, p. 558-563 “The Feast At Simon’s House.”*
At the table the Saviour sat with Simon, whom He had cured of a loathsome disease, on one side, and Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead, on the other. Martha served at the table, but Mary was earnestly listening to every word from the lips of Jesus. In His mercy, Jesus had pardoned her sins, He had called forth her beloved brother from the grave, and Mary’s heart was filled with gratitude. She had heard Jesus speak of His approaching death, and in her deep love and sorrow she had longed to show Him honor. At great personal sacrifice she had purchased an alabaster box of “ointment of spikenard, very costly,” with which to anoint His body. But now many were declaring that He was about to be crowned king. Her grief was turned to joy, and she was eager to be first in honoring her Lord. Breaking her box of ointment, she poured its contents upon the head and feet of Jesus; then, as she knelt weeping, moistening them with her tears, she wiped His feet with her long, flowing hair.

Woman with long Hair
She had sought to avoid observation, and her movements might have passed unnoticed, but the ointment filled the room with its fragrance, and published her act to all present. Judas looked upon this act with great displeasure. Instead of waiting to hear what Christ would say of the matter, he began to whisper his complaints to those near him, throwing reproach upon Christ for suffering such waste. Craftily he made suggestions that would be likely to cause disaffection.

Mary heard the words of criticism. Her heart trembled within her. She feared that her sister would reproach her for extravagance. The Master, too, might think her improvident. Without apology or excuse she was about to shrink away, when the voice of her Lord was heard, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her?” He saw that she was embarrassed and distressed. He knew that in this act of service she had expressed her gratitude for the forgiveness of her sins, and He brought relief to her mind. Lifting His voice above the murmur of criticism, He said, “She hath wrought a good work on Me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but Me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying.”

The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead body of the Saviour, she poured upon His living form. At the burial its sweetness could only have pervaded the tomb; now it gladdened His heart with the assurance of her faith and love. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus offered not their gift of love to Jesus in His life. With bitter tears they brought their costly spices for His cold, unconscious form. The women who bore spices to the tomb found their errand in vain, for He had risen. But Mary, pouring out her love upon the Saviour while He was conscious of her devotion, was anointing Him for the burial. And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever.

Many there are who bring their precious gifts for the dead. As they stand about the cold, silent form, words of love are freely spoken. Tenderness, appreciation, devotion, all are lavished upon one who sees not nor hears.

Had these words been spoken when the weary spirit needed them so much, when the ear could hear and the heart could feel, how precious would have been their fragrance!

Mary knew not the full significance of her deed of love. She could not answer her accusers. She could not explain why she had chosen that occasion for anointing Jesus. The Holy Spirit had planned for her, and she had obeyed His promptings. Inspiration stoops to give no reason. An unseen presence, it speaks to mind and soul, and moves the heart to action. It is its own justification.

Christ told Mary the meaning of her act, and in this He gave her more than He had received. “In that she hath poured this ointment on My body,” He said, “she did it for My burial.” As the alabaster box was broken, and filled the whole house with its fragrance, so Christ was to die, His body was to be broken; but He was to rise from the tomb, and the fragrance of His life was to fill the earth. Christ “hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” Ephesians 5:2.

“Verily I say unto you,” Christ declared, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” Looking into the future, the Saviour spoke with certainty concerning His gospel. It was to be preached throughout the world. And as far as the gospel extended, Mary’s gift would shed its fragrance, and hearts would be blessed through her unstudied act. Kingdoms would rise and fall; the names of monarchs and conquerors would be forgotten; but this woman’s deed would be immortalized upon the pages of sacred history. Until time should be no more, that broken alabaster box would tell the story of the abundant love
of God for a fallen race.
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ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlinebooks.

 

DIVINELY DISRUPTIVE

No one likes being in a place where they are not wanted. Few things are more uncomfortable than knowing the people around you do not want you there. Is it possible that God is looking for people who are comfortable being uncomfortable? I want to invite to explore what it means to be divinely disruptive.

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Day 1 - Read Luke 7:36, 37
Where is this woman’s invitation? Where did she get the idea that it was okay for her to crash the party? Can you recall a time where you were in a place that no one invited you to, but you knew you had to be there? We would love to hear about it. Share with us on social media using the #messagemag hashtag.


Day 2 - Read Luke 7:38

Isn’t she just asking to be judged? Isn’t she flirting with criticism? Sometimes in our most passionate times with God we are also in our most public revelation. Can you remember a time where your passion for Jesus overpowered your concern for your reputation? Just use #messagemag to respond.


Day 3 - Read Luke 7:39

Notice that the attention actually shifts to Jesus, and the woman is only the evidence used to show his lack of authenticity. People will always try to disprove God by the actions of others, but praise God that He doesn’t shy away from these situations. Jesus doesn’t mind standing in the gap—taking a hit—because of someone’s past mistakes. He doesn’t allow anything to come between you and Him.

Take a moment to meditate on the words of this old Hymn.

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.

Refrain
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor;
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Verse 2
Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
Habits of life, though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him ever sever;
He is my all, there’s nothing between.

Verse 3
Nothing between, like pride or station;
Self or friends shall not intervene;
Though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved, there’s nothing between.

Verse 4
Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between.

Day 4 - Read Luke 7:40-46

There is another side to the coin. Some people see it as disruptive when other people go after God in the way they feel inspired to. This is how Simon responded. Because the woman went to Jesus in a way in which he and others did not approve, he spoke condescendingly about her. Be honest now: Can you think of a time when you were being a Pharisee, looking down on someone for something you did not like? Share it with us using the #messagemag.

Day 5 - Read Luke 7:47

Max Lucado in his book, A Love Worth Giving, points out that it is hard to give what you do not have. Jesus brings attention to the great love this woman has poured out on Him, and specifies that it is because she has received great love in the form of great forgiveness. This should cause you to wonder if you are really open or aware of the love God shows you. In your personal time with God, ask Him what loving action He is doing for you that you may not be receiving?

Day 6 - Read Luke 7:48-50

I believe that God is looking for people who are not afraid to be disruptive, people willing to sacrifice their comfort zones for the sake of having an encounter with the Christ. Talk to God about the comfortable places in your life that He wants to disturb. Talk to Jesus about your life and those that you are around whom He wants you to disturb. Maybe one day you will look back and realize that God used you to be divinely disruptive.


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Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Ozark, Alabama. He also pastors the Mt. Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dothan, Alabama.

 





The Greatest

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


The arena was a hill called Calvary. In this corner, a Roman soldier. But he was not just any soldier. He was one who had faced many foes and fought many battles. His discipline in training, courage in combat, loyalty to his superiors paved the road for his rise through the ranks. For his greatness he was rewarded with the rank of centurion, captain of 100 soldiers. He wore his fancy helmet and armor like a heavyweight belt and carried the short vinewood staff, a symbol of his rank, like a trophy. These were his tokens of greatness.
In the other corner, well, that sight was not so pretty. There stood a pitiful peasant rebel, claiming fulfillment of a silly Jewish legend about some coming King. This “Messiah” came to deliver the people and destroy the Roman empire, he’d been told.  He was an enemy of the state and any enemy of Rome was an enemy of his. It was not enough that He be defeated. This level of insolence demanded humiliation as well. And so, as if pouring on points in a blowout, the captain stood aside, allowing his soldiers to have their way with no limitation.
But his humiliating tactics produced unusual results. Instead of the usual cries for help or mercy, the centurion heard Jesus give instructions for the care of His mother, and the centurion watched as He recruited a thief. In the bloody face of the Man across the ring the centurion saw resolve. His bloodshot eyes screamed defiance; His countenance flashed determination. This was familiar. He had seen it somewhere before. He was seeing discipline in training, courage in combat. He was witnessing a soldier defiantly determined to obey His Officer’s command. This great man was now a spectator to greatness and he knew it.

Eye of the Tiger
Insert the soundtrack from Rocky
right here? Two great fighters in one public ring, with only one possible victor. Like Apollo Creed, this Roman captain probably wondered why this Man fought with such resolve.
“Why won’t He just give up? Stay down. Take off the gloves. Stop fighting!” he thought. But Jesus would not stop. John tells us He did not stop until He declared “It is finished.” There was a reason for Him coming to this world. There was something He was assigned to do. And until He had finished His task he would not take His last breath.

In the bloody face of the Man across the ring the centurion saw resolve. His bloodshot eyes screamed defiance, His countenance determination.


There is an assignment, a purpose for which you were born and that task is no easy one. Unfortunately for many of us, our assignments lead to difficult situations in an arena called Calvary. And Calvary is a very public place. So not only do we suffer and struggle but, oftentimes we do it while people look on and wonder why we do not just give up. Forget this God thing! Give up on faith! Stop fighting! But if we stop fighting there is a centurion somewhere that will never start believing.

Finished
What an amazing feeling. To be able to declare that you completed the task to which you were assigned. That you did not give up. To be able to say, “Father I did what You asked me to do. It is finished.”
Not only did the centurion hear Jesus say that He finished His task, but both Matthew and Luke record that He also witnessed the response. Soldiers who valiantly perform in battle usually receive a medal, or they are thrown a parade. However, the affirmation that followed Jesus was one that the centurion had
never seen.
All of creation responded to the completed work of Jesus. The earth shook and the sun refused to shine. The veil that hung in the temple ripped from the top down, exposing the inner chamber of the Most Holy Place. God the Father needed this Roman captain—and everyone around—to know that His Son had completed His mission.
There are no pictures of this moment, yet the mind can envision the great Roman Centurion—fancy helmet removed, no trophy in hand—kneel before Jesus whom He now recognizes was so much more than the greatest Soldier that ever lived.
He declares breathlessly, “This must be the Son of God.”
Because Jesus finished the task, the soldier finally saw the Savior. It is tough. You are going through it. You want to quit, but remember there is someone who is watching you and they will only follow your Commander if, even through pain, you finish your task. So fight the good fight, finish your race, and keep the faith. Do not stop fighting!

STUDY AT THE CROSS

How long does it take to know who Jesus is?
Many talk about sanctification—or becoming holy—as the work of a lifetime, but is it possible to know Jesus in an instant? With a character and work as deep and wide as the ocean, Jesus does not seem to be the most comprehensible person in the history of the world. Join us as we explore what is possible in an initial encounter with the incarnate God.

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Day 1
Do you know Jesus? Do you think you know Jesus? Can you describe Him to someone with the same specificity and endearment as you do a family member? I invite you try. Grab a pen and paper, or open a new note on your phone and tell about the Jesus you know. Share it with us here at Message by posting to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook using the #MessageMag. We look forward to reading your responses.


Day 2 - Corinthians 13:4-7

Look back over your description. How long has it taken you to know that about Jesus? I have noticed that a lot of what I know about Jesus has been taught to me through my own personal shortcomings. Max Lucado suggests an exercise in his book, A Love Worth Giving, in which you insert your name wherever it says love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Try it. Share it with us here at Message by posting to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook using the #MessageMag. We look forward to reading your responses.


Day 3 - Read Mark 15:39

In this verse we encounter a centurion, a Roman soldier in command of 100 men. The centurion was not Jewish, more than likely not acquainted with Scripture, and definitely not a follower of Christ. Many of us encounter people like him everyday. The question is do we see them as one step away from being believers? I invite you to think of someone who can be your accountability partner in praying that God makes you a kingdom-minded person, a person who sees everyone as a potential resident of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Day 4 - Read Mark 15:39

Awe-inspiring, right? There had to be something awe-inspiring about Jesus’ death. Read the surrounding verses, and make
a list of the details about of how Jesus died that led the centurion to react the way he did.

Day 5

The way we die can stir more conviction than the way we live. What I mean by that is, the way we go through things can have more impact on people than the way we come out. Have you ever gone through something in your life and did not know that you were being observed, and someone was blessed by how you conducted yourself? Share it with us here at Message by posting to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook using the #MessageMag. We look forward to reading your responses.


Have you ever thought about the possibility that the calamities in your life may be the only encounter with Jesus people have? The shaking and storms that you experience can be the testimony someone needs, to know who Jesus is. Pray with the your prayer partner from earlier that all that you experience will help lead someone to Jesus.

Day 7

The Centurion exclaimed after being with Jesus only a few hours something that takes many of us a lifetime to get: “Surely, this is the Son of God.” We must keep in mind that at the cross, anyone, regardless of time in the faith, can come to the same conclusion: Jesus is who He said He is.

 


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Ozark, Alabama. He also pastors the Mt. Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dothan, Alabama.

 





Covered

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


The covers were pulled off. Naked and surprised, a young woman is grabbed from a man’s bed and snatched into the damp dawn of morning. Head spinning, hair matted, half naked, tears spill down her cheeks to the thin sheet she managed to wrap around herself.

“Adulteress!” they shouted, spewing hatred at her as they dragged her out of the bedroom. As dawn broke and the sun rose, she was again grabbed from the cell where she had been held, leaving the sheet behind. But no sheet could cover her shame. Not a blanket in town could hide her from the death sentence she deserved.

But where were they taking her? Why her? Why now? Why couldn’t they have just let her go? Where is the man who had invited her over? Why was she the only one being dragged through the streets, adding to her shame?

Feelings of betrayal and anger, humiliation and remorse rose in her throat until she choked on both her guilt and her tears. Oh, what she would give to have back in her grasp the small sheet to cover her and the nakedness of her condemnation. As she walked behind the priests, she recounted the events of the night. It was supposed to be fun. She could taste the salty tears drawn from the well of virtue she had traded for shame. Although the Pharisees may have trapped her, she knew deep inside it was a bed she had made for herself. It was in fact her fault. She had indeed committed adultery, and was by law condemned to die. But like this? Here, in front of the temple? Was it not her husband’s job to bring an accusation, not these people who looked at her as dirt?

Then she heard His voice, the One they called Teacher, the One who both healed diseases and fed the masses. Why would they bring her to Him? A sudden wave of terror raced through her veins and stalled her feet until the Pharisees were dragging her to the front of the crowd. They threw her down at the feet of Jesus.

It was bad enough to be shamed before her friends, and paraded as an adulteress through her community, but now to be thrown before Jesus, the Teacher? She could not look up. She wept and trembled, and felt the eyes of everyone on her. A harlot. An adulteress. A sinner. The law said to stone her. But, then she was a sideshow for the Pharisees. They treated her shame with indifference and focused only on trapping Jesus.

“What should we do with this woman caught in adultery?”

She was still cowering, but Jesus bent down, eye level, and wrote in the dust. Confusing and even angering the Pharisees, they want Him to engage, take a position.

“What should we do with her?”  Air is thick with anticipation and judgment, and at fever pitch, accusers silently, and in disbelief looked down to see the guilty secrets of their own private lives spelled out in the dust.

Jesus said decidedly, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

With judgments in hand, but the truth at their feet, no one picked up a stone. No one could. Did He write their individual sins, or a single statement that caused them to do some introspection about their own unrighteousness? The Bible does not tell us, but what we do know is that they all began to leave, one by one, starting with the oldest down to the most pious.

She braced herself and awaited the judgment of her fate, but Jesus calls her attention to His ruling.

“Where are your accusers?” He asked gently. She looked up, maybe expecting to see angry eyes, but instead saw no no one—only compassion. In Jesus’ eyes she found relief, and gentleness unlike anything she had ever experienced. It was a kindness, unattached to physical expectations and lust. It was pure, unmatched mercy.

Death is what we deserve, but in the dust of defeat we find the mercy of Jesus.

Surely, the Pharisees had left, but what about this Teacher? He alone could condemn her, but instead she finds more mercy, more grace, an abundance of forgiveness, and a pardon for her sin’s deserved punishment. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

When tossed before the feet of the Savior, the sinner finds no condemnation. She no longer needed the sheet to cover her sins, because she found comfort and covering in the redemption of Christ.

Within this story is the summation of the gospel: confirmed sinners caught daily in the act of falling short of the righteousness of God; paraded through the communities of heaven as the beloved creation who fell; accused by Satan, and brought before God, condemned to death. Death is what we deserve, but in the dust of defeat we find the mercy of Jesus. Jesus, the Redeemer. Jesus, the Rescuer. But the gospel doesn’t end at forgiveness. He tells the woman to go and sin no more. This is evidence that an encounter with Jesus doesn’t just end with forgiveness, but it leads to life transformation.

She longed for earthy covering from her sin. But God had offered her more than a temporary cover. He offered her freedom. While Jesus does not condone sin, nor lessen the sense of guilt, He seeks not to condemn, but to save (John 3:16, 17).

The world may have accused you.

Your family and friends may be against you.

The writing in the dust covers that.

Your sins may be haunting you.

You may be struggling right now, consumed with guilt and shame.

Find yourself at the feet of Jesus.

The Blood of the cross covers that.

You may be broken and ashamed, hiding under the sheets where you hope no one can see.

The Mercy of Jesus covers that.

You may feel condemned, because
of a mess you may have gotten yourself into.

The Love of Jesus covers that, too.


And whom the Son sets free is truly free indeed. (John 8:36).

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Kimberly Mann is an associate chaplain with the Office of Spiritual Life at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.

By Any Means Necessary

Tenacious. Unstoppable. Perseverant. Usually these are words used to describe many sports heroes. Have you ever in your prayers or testimonies described God with one of these? Are they not accurate? I believe the Bible is full of stories of a tenacious, unstoppable, perseverant God.

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Day 1 - Read John 8:2,3
This is a dramatic situation and would be unacceptable in our time. Do you see the extent to which the teachers of the law and Pharisees are after Jesus? Have you ever wanted to prove someone wrong that badly? Has anyone ever gone the extra mile to expose you? Tell us about your experience on social media using the #MessageMag.


Day 2

Is it our “duty” as Christians to point out sin and pull the veil off wrongdoing? Were the Pharisees and teachers wrong for what they did? Why or why not? Share your views using the #MessageMag tag.


Day 3 - Read John 8:4-6

When we encounter people who don’t have our best interest at heart, the temptation is to see ourselves as the victim and ask, why me? What is interesting here is that the text specifies that this had less to do with the woman, and more to do with Jesus. Have you ever been through something you thought was about you, only to find out you were just a bystander, collateral damage? Has God ever taught you that it is not about you? Tell us about that on social media using the #MessageMag tag.

Day 4 - Read John 8:7,8

Once in a while God blesses us with a tough moment of clarity. Have you ever been overwhelmed with your own shortcomings? Isn’t it usually followed with an awe-inspiring view of God’s grace? The people here didn’t seem to have that, but we at Message want to know if you have. Let us know on social media using the #MessageMag tag.

Day 5 - Read John 8:9

This verse is quite curious. Why did the people walk away? Why did they leave in descending age order? Pray and contemplate this, then let us know your thoughts via social media using the tag #MessageMag

 


Day 6 - Read John 8:10,11

Sometimes it’s of value to note what Jesus didn’t say or do. He doesn’t point out that she made a mistake. He doesn’t point out that her situation is her fault. Instead He draws attention to the fact that there’s no one pointing out her faults anymore. Is that a part of our role as Christians? Showing that there’s “no condemnation”? Search, speculate, and share your thoughts with us with tag #MessageMag.

Day 7 - Read John 8:2-11

An observation you may have made was that there were many people who were in the presence of Jesus on this day, but only one found forgiveness. Is it possible that this woman would not have ended up at the feet of Jesus if she hadn’t been in the compromising position she was? Is it possible that her shortcoming was the means by which God orchestrated a confrontation? Has there been a time in your life when God took one of your dark yesterday’s and turned it into a bright tomorrow? Share your testimony with us using the #MessageMag.

I believe that God will do whatever He must to get us to the feet of Jesus. There are no means too dark, dank or despondent that God cannot or will not use. He will save us by any means necessary. Those means will always be Jesus.


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Ozark, Alabama. He also pastors the Mt. Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dothan, Alabama.

 





Hometown Hero

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


Good coming-home stories take us back to the place where it all started. The rags-to-riches stories of successful athletes, business owners, physicians, or musicians that nobody thought would make it, all defy the limits. We often learn of the teacher who believed, or a coach who saw the talent beyond the circumstances at home. These redeeming stories of hope inspire the soul and are an all-out assault on labels placed on people.
When Jesus went home He was not the same person who left. Now He was a rabbi, a healer, and hope-giver who has followers. He knew what He was about, and His reputation preceded Him. But this is the latest download and update for those at home. They knew who He was; they knew His sisters; they knew the house He grew up in, but who is this guy? No, at His homecoming, Jesus received no celebration, pats on the back, smiles and waves from the neighbors, or a key to the city. Even the homies from around the way didn’t bother to throw a party.
Instead, they doubt and question Jesus. Mark writes the story this way in chapter 6:
“And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” (ESV)*
In other words, “Who is this guy?”
He is the founder, CEO, and lead attorney of earth’s Innocence Project with the sole mission to be an advocate for those who have sinned, and to save through His grace those who come to Him in faith. He is unbeaten on the road, flawless in His execution, and has found His niche.
Don’t hate, He is simply about His Father’s business. Being on the road changed Jesus, but doing His Father’s work, and living His purpose changed Him more. He was unrecognizable. And that was a good thing for the world.

The “haterade” flowed like water at home though. Who do you think you are? How dare you return home and speak like this?

It is out of our emptiness that we fill ourselves with the blood of others who we have limited, and even killed with labels we have placed on them. Humans were labeling pros in the time of Christ, and today we carry on the tradition. We even do it to ourselves. Labels on birth limitation, and they often shackle their captives emotionally without the possibility of parole. We limit each other. We incarcerate each other. Those who take the risk of a prison-break are sometimes tried by a jury of peers and found guilty of attempting to exceed expectations. Jesus had broken free, and wanted the people in His hometown to be free as well. They, however, could not be. They would not be.

Who is this guy?
Deeper yet, what happens when the blessing we need does not appear the way we expect? Jesus simply came to be a blessing, and the limits of his community, and His home stood in the way because He is not Jesus talking with a manwhat they expected. We treat our retuning children this way. We miss blessings because the person or vision did not fit the description. Too young. Too bold. Too much. Labels. Limits. We are missing out! How many years will we waste because we have no faith in the generation that is coming home? How long will we let our best minds, and most talented give their best outside of the city walls?

Who is He we ask?
An earlier chapter in Mark says that while in a storm that threatened shipwreck, and the lives of all aboard, Jesus is sleeping. He is labeled as not caring. All they could see was imminent destruction, but Jesus reminds them that He is not limited by storms and waves, and the fear of losing His life. He simply says, “peace be still.” Who is this guy? He speaks and nature listens.
Jesus then steps on the shore and strips off the label of “crazy demon-possessed man” from an outcast who was living among the dead. Jesus gave this shackled man unfettered freedom of life. Who is this guy, that even demons obey Him?
Jesus then rips the label of “incurable” from a woman by the mere touch of her hand to His garment. He is not done yet, because He deals with the biggest label of all, death. He rips the label of death off of Jarius’ daughter and she is brought back to life.
If I were there that day, I hope that I could say, “Jesus I want you to do your thing right here. You are always welcome here. Here is the key to the city, and I can’t wait to see what you will do right here at home.”
Who would He be then? The Savior of the world, the slain Lamb of God, and the coming King. The One who can free us from our limits and labels. Jesus/Savior.

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Baron A. Sovory is a pastor, husband, father, and youth leader in Southern California.

*Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Too Much Jesus

Too much religion. Too much church. Too much Jesus? For many it is hard to drive to the store without running into some sort of ministry. Steeple after steeple, cause after cause. It seems as if someone is always trying to find a way to spread the “Word.” Have you ever wondered if someone could have too much Jesus? Can you be around Him so long that you get weary of His presence? Let me ask a question that may be more relevant: Is there a time when you can get so familiar encountering Him that He no longer influences your life in the miraculous way He is capable of? As we continue exploring the different encounters people have had with Jesus, let us look at those who were exposed to Him the most.

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Day 1 - Read Mark 6:1

Sometimes it is hard to think about the reality of “God with us.” This verse uses a very interesting word when it comes to describing where Jesus was going: hometown. Can you imagine what it was like to live in the same town and see the development of the One who was to save the world? Have you ever wondered? Tell us what you think about this. We at Message would love to hear it.


Day 2 -Read Mark 6:2

I must admit that in writing this, it just dawned on me that Jesus not only had a hometown, but also a home church. To get a real feel for the amazement that those who were in the synagogue experienced, the next time you go to church, look at one of the children in your congregation and try to see them as the King of the universe. Envision them as having all power and authority. Tell about this exercise. Can you do it? Does it make you chuckle? Tell us about it.


Day 3 - Read Mark 6:2,3

From the last section, are the questions that were asked truly preposterous? There is something to be said about the effect of familiarity. Has God become familiar to you? When was the last time Jesus truly blew your mind, or caught you off guard? Read Hebrews 13:8, Romans 11:34, and Isaiah 55:8, 9. How do these fit together? What do they say about being “familiar” with God?

 


Day 4 - Read Mark 6:4

It seems as though the hardest setting to share and live the Gospel in, is around those who call you family. The ones that know you the best are often the hardest to reach, because either they know your story, or are not open to what you have to say because of history. Jesus seemed to experience this also in Nazareth. The people believed they knew Him so well that it was a foreign possibility for this man to be the Messiah. Is there someone who has been trying to talk to you, but you do not listen to them because you are close? Is there someone God has put on your heart to reach out to, but you are hesitant to do so with because of the nature of your relationship? Write out a prayer. Do not say their name if you do not want to, but write it out, and if you are willing, share your prayer so we at Message can pray with you for that situation.


Day 5 - Read Mark 6:5

It may amaze you, but you have the power to stifle God’s power in your own life, and those around you. The people of Nazareth somehow found a way to get the Bible to say “He [Jesus] could not . . .” Is it possible that God has intended to do some things in your life, but your expectation of Him is that He will be and do what He always has? And has that perspective limited what actually happens? Can you by the power of the Holy Spirit identify something you may be limiting God from doing? Let us know here at Message. We would love to pray for you in this.

 


Day 6 - Read Ephesians 3:20

Make a list of the things in your life you are looking for God to show His power in. Then make a list of what you think the best outcome would be. Read the verse above again and erase, or rewrite your answer. I am convinced that no matter how fantastic our scribbling get, God can exceed them. In your own way, praise God for what He is going to do with your list. If your praise takes the form of a song, poem, picture, or anything else that is shareable, we would love to be blessed by your praise here at Message. Share it with us.

Day 7 - Read Mark 6:6

I pray that God takes you and me to a place that our name can never appear in this verse. If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, I look forward to God dispensing His word in such excess that we will amaze Him with the abundance of our faith.


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is the associate pastor of the Progression church, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 





Undercover Boss

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


There is a popular television show called Undercover Boss in which high-level corporate executives leave the comfort of their office and secretly take low-level jobs in their company. It is riveting television. These bosses, using disguises, infiltrate their own company to study it to see how things work, and how their employees feel about their jobs and the company. It is funny at times to see the CEO of a company putting on a wig, mustache, and glasses, and then taking out the trash. As we read John 3:1-20, it seems like an episode of Undercover Boss. Nicodemus, the guy in the passage is a boss. In verse one he is called a “ruler of the Jews.” He is a powerful and well-recognized man in his society. But he wants to ask questions of this young, up-and-coming new teacher. And it probably is not a good look for a ruler like him, a boss, to be seen asking questions of this young guy.

So he goes undercover. Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night so that he cannot be seen and recognized by those in his fan club—by those who follow him. This ruler is in a weird position because in most circles he is the teacher. But here he comes to Jesus to ask questions and inquire about things.

The initial dialog portrays Nicodemus as trying to engage in cocktail party, networking talk. He said to Jesus, in essence, in verse 2, “I’ve been checking out your references and your reputation, and it seems like you have it going on.” Now the usual way this dialog works is that the person who received that compliment should reciprocate. Jesus should have said to Nicodemus how much he admired him and his body of work as well.

But Jesus took this conversation in another direction. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (verse 3). These are confusing metaphors and quite contradictory. Being born, which is a quite powerless image, and entering the kingdom, which represents a place of power. You can see how confusing it was to Nicodemus by his reaction. He wondered if he had to go back into his mother’s womb and come back out.
Jesus was having a conversation with an undercover boss, and showed us some powerful things about the Christian life by His imagery. In speaking to someone who understands having power and knowledge, and who is accustomed to depending on human strength, Jesus used surprisingly powerless images.

Jesus compared the start of the Christian experience to birth. If I remember anything about when I was first born (and I do not) it was my most helpless and vulnerable time. I was completely dependent on someone else for everything. We are so helpless that our entrance into the world, the birth process comes about because of the efforts of the mother and those delivering the baby. The baby does not give birth to his or her self, which is a telling lesson for us as we consider how the process of conversion happens. It is through the power of Christ that we are born again. We do not birth ourselves spiritually (so stop pushing).
As if He had not confused Nicodemus enough, Jesus then used another image that showed lack of effort. In verse 8 Jesus described wind blowing and not seeing it. Wind? Seems weak, right? But if you have ever seen wind move a seemingly immobile piece of debris and deposit it in some far-off place you understand its power. Maybe Jesus was trying to help Nicodemus and us—to understand the process by which we grow. We are not the wind; we are the piece of paper on the floor. And God’s spirit moves on us gradually and slowly, and causes us to be moved. Sometimes we wish it was a tornado, but Jesus describes a calmer wind. But I guess the good news for us is that the wind still moves things. And God’s spirit still changes us, even if it is not as fast as we may want it. Nicodemus, the undercover boss, did not expect this. He had come to depend on his own strength, but Jesus kept pointing to being powerless under the control of God. It makes us uncomfortable as well. We are accustomed to getting things, and accomplishing things based on our knowledge, capabilities, gifts, and connections, but in this system that Jesus is describing all of them go out the window. The Christian life is based on the acknowledgment that we are powerless, and

God is all-powerful. He is the One who is able to save.

Recently I saw a real tear-jerking episode of Undercover Boss. At the end of each episode, the boss reveals who he is and gives promotions, gifts, and awards to some of his or her employees. Well, in this episode, after the boss revealed his identity to an unsuspecting dedicated worker he then gave her a new home. She was homeless with her kids. His act of kindness blew her away.

The twist in this Bible passage is that even though Nicodemus comes in as the Undercover Boss, he discovers that Jesus is the real boss. He is the one in full disguise and Jesus is the one doling out gifts. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus is God under the cover of humanity. And in Him God gave, and gives us, the best gift He can ever give—
His Son. He extended that gift not just to Nicodemus, but also to all of us. And anyone who accepts that gift gets another gift, eternal life. To think about it, it almost blows you away.

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KYMONE HINDS, his wife, and their three energetic children live in Memphis, Tennessee He pastors two churches, Overton Park, and Journey Fellowship Seventh-day Adventist churches. He also speaks, and blogs regularly on different life issues. You can connect with Kymone via twitter@kymonehinds, or on his blog at comejourney.org.

THE SECRET OF SEARCHING

Deep and wide: A familiar description that accurately depicts the real estate of being a Christian. We all from time to time have the unction to go deeper. It also dawns on us periodically that our God is wider than the breath of our imagination. Hopefully this drives us, like it did Nicodemus, to have a confrontation with the Christ. Talk to us about your thoughts via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, by #MessageMagazine.

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Day 1 - Read John 3:1, 2

Is it not immediately interesting that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? What would cause someone to have a conversation with a stranger after dark? Curiosity? Fear?


Day 2 -Read John 3:3

Is it just me, or is Jesus making a statement that has nothing to do with what Nicodemus just said? Has it ever seemed as though what God has allowed to happen in your life has nothing to do with what you pray about? You talk to Him about peace and you always deal with stress. You converse with Him about love and you are always lonely. Do you have any experiences like that?


Day 3 - Read John 3:4

I believe that in my lifetime I have had some legitimate observations that God did not consider. There were some things I thought should happen that did not happen. I believed a certain way should have been taken that He closed off. Have you ever disagreed with God?

 


Day 4

Job was one who had an observation for God. God also had a response for Job. Listen to the beauty of God’s way. Watch Bob Sorge— God could have left Job. http://youtu.be/9FZ5uM_YfB4


Day 5 - Read John 3:5-8

Jesus explained what it is to be born again.
The struggle Nicodemus was having is one that most of us have had. How do we, who are not naturally attuned to the spiritual, decipher the spiritual? Jesus uses something comparable to try to make it clear. He says, “We must be born again.” We must have a spiritual awakening from the womb of our previous mindsets. Have you had any “awakenings?” Talk to us via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, by #MessageMagazine.

 


Day 6 - Read Philippians 2:5-11 & John 3:9-15

It cannot be overemphasized how central the Gospel is to be in Christianity. Look at what Jesus did, and then look at what Jesus says as His words conclude. Can you see what searching leads you to?

Day 7 - Read John 3:16, 17

Very often our seeking out of God is rooted in selfish desires and yearning for personal comfort. I believe God has to sometimes make our journey an adventure so that we can loose ourselves in the process. It’s only when we loose ourselves that we are truly ready for the secrets of God. He gave all so
that we can have more


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is the associate pastor of the Progression church, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 





Don’t Wait Your Turn

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


So a few years ago I ventured out into the wild unknown for a dangerous hunting trip—Black Friday. I camped out the night before to secure my spot in line. I had my eye on a digital camera that was on sale. I had to have it. After I waited what seemed like an eternity, the doors opened, and I was pushed and shoved aside by others who wanted the camera too, but were too impatient to wait their turn. It still bothers me that they got the deal  and I did not, all because they did not wait their turn.

But those hijackers had something in common with the mother in Matthew 15:21-28. She was after something, and  what she was in search of was so important to her that she was willing to go to great lengths to get it. In fact, the best word to describe her situation is desperate.

Her daughter was oppressed by a demon—by something bigger and stronger than they could ever dream of fighting off—and this was breaking the heart of this mother. There is nothing harder for us than to watch someone we love suffer, and feel helpless because there is nothing we can say or do in the moment to make things better. But truth be told, if we could we would go to any lengths to fix it.

We could imagine that this mother had tried all of the things that were at her disposal (visiting top professionals, trying the home remedies her friends recommended) with the great hope of resolve, but still nothing. And just when she was at her breaking point, Jesus came to her town.

Yes! she must have thought. Here is where the good news starts, healing happens, problems get fixed, and we all get happy, right? Jesus is in her town. But when she cried out to Jesus (verse 22), He ignored her (verse 23).  Rather than flinch at His rejection, however, she kept on pressing Him so much that the disciples asked Jesus to tell her to knock it off.

What happens next is quite shocking.

Says Jesus: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24). Say what now, Jesus? It appears that even though He came to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, He had a special mission to the people of Israel first. And while that may seem difficult to read, He was fulfilling the assignment on which He was sent.  His disciples would be dispatched later to minister to those outside of the nation of Israel. Jesus was not being exclusive here, but focused.

He had focused His earthly ministry on reviving within Israel an understanding of God and His mission for them. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:6 when He sent them out,  “go. . . to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus prioritized His mission to Israel so that He could send them out to everyone to carry this good news!
So here Jesus tells this mother who is in a desperate situation that He was not sent to her people—in other words, Jesus was saying to her, “Woman, wait your turn!”
What would you have done? Would you have gone home and taken your pager with you so that you would have something to alert you to your turn?
Not this mother. Her desperation releases a faith that will not be denied: “Lord, help me!” (verse 25). Clearly, she was not leaving Jesus’ presence without the blessing she sought.

Jesus said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (verse 26).
Say what now, Jesus? Did you
just compare me to a dog?” she must
have thought.

Growing up, my best friend had a dog. She loved that dog, and I did too. We played with him and enjoyed his company, and when she got married, he made an appearance in the bridal party. I had always noticed that when I stayed for meals, he always ate when we ate—in fact, we would toss food to him. He was part of the family.

Was Jesus priming the woman’s faith somehow? Was He hinting at something? Was He hoping to signal something such as “You’re a part of the family”?
Her response? “Jesus, if all I can get are the crumbs, I’ll take it!” (see verse 27).

This mother’s desperation released a faith that caused her to be persistent, to not wait her turn, and to see even the crumbs of Jesus’ blessing as more than enough! She affirmed Jesus’ power. If all He gave her were crumbs, that would be more than enough. Jesus was so impressed, that He rewarded her faith and healed her daughter.

Are you desperate enough for God’s blessing in your life that you are willing to not wait your turn? Can you imagine how our lives would be affected if we exercised faith like this mother, persistent pressing into the presence of God until something happens?

I read somewhere that “well-behaved women rarely make history,” and I think that this could be translated: “to be world-changers, we must have faith to not wait our turn!”

What situations in your life are telling you to be passive, to wait and just accept things as they are? Do you have a family member who has hurt you, made a shipwreck of their lives, and you sit by and watch them while harboring the pain inside? Maybe God is challenging you to not listen to the whispers of life that are saying, “Wait until they come around.” This may be your time to cut to the front of the line and exercise desperation, and cry out to God for Him to deliver, and not leave until you hear from God.

What issues internally are you struggling with that you have told yourself, “I’ll grow out of this; time will make me lose my appetite for it”? What if God wants you to recognize your desperation, refuse to wait your turn, and consistently and persistently seek Him for the power to overcome now?

What assurance of God’s salvation in your life are you hoping to experience later in life, and feel as if it cannot be yours now? You think you have to wait until Jesus returns to feel the peace of knowing you are covered by Him. And maybe God is saying, Do not listen to your own internal dialogue. You do not have to wait to experience the joy of salvation. You can have it now!

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Chanda Nunes is a pastor and evangelist from Kansas City, Kansas.

 

CONFRONTATIONAL CHRIST

Many of us know that God speaks, but how many of us have experienced Him responding? Have our prayer monologues turned into conversations? Most can testify that God hears, but what happens when our encounters with Him necessitate a response? These are all questions that I believe His word can address. Join us as we investigate an encounter a woman in a dire situation had with the Savior of the World.

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Day 1 - Read Mark 7:24, 25

Today it is very important to know that God is real. Sometimes He can seem far, and the stories of Him can be perceived as dated, making it feel as if there is a chasm between the Jesus of the Bible and the one we can talk to daily. That is why the description Mark gives of Him is worth noting. Have you ever not wanted to be bothered, or just wanted some time to yourself? Jesus, the very personification of love, appears to want a breather. Have you seen a side of God that was very real to you? We’d love to hear about it here at Message. Send us your thoughts.


Day 2 -Read Matthew 15:21-23

I have a tough question to pose. Has God ever come across as rude in His dealing with you? Was there a time you wondered if He was giving you the cold shoulder? In these verses we see Jesus do something that we do not see Jesus do very often. See if you can spot it. Let us know if you see it, and tell us your thoughts on it.

Let us know your responses: #messagemagazine.


Day 3 - Read Matthew 15:23

Have you ever been introduced to the Jesus who will ignore you? If you notice, the woman who comes to Him is not dealing with what we would call a small issue. Her daughter is dealing with demonic possession, yet Jesus seems unconcerned. Have you been through a stressful or worrisome situation and felt that God did not respond to it with the same passion and expedience that you would have liked?

Do you mind sharing it with us? Make
a short video, if you can, and upload it to our website.

 

Day 4 - Read Matthew 15:24


While growing up in the church I would often hear people say, “God is not a man.” Jesus’ response to the disciples when they insisted that the woman be sent away is a perfect example of this. Though He did not initially respond to the woman, He said to the disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” suggesting that He was not sent to people such as the woman in the passage. Is it possible that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples something through the actions of this “heathen” woman? Has God ever used an unlikely method to teach you something? We would love to hear your story.


Day 5 - Read Romans 8:28

It may not seem like a verse that is connected to our story of study, but I ask that you take notice of something. Here is the verse in the King James Version:  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
It dawned on me a while ago that I have a tendency to interpret the Bible in a selfish way. I like to apply verses like this to myself and not as they really are. Yes, I believe that God will work out things for my good, but that is not what is really being said here. Instead, things will work together for the good of “them.” “Them” may or may not be “me.” Something may happen to me that is for the good of someone else, and vice versa. This woman was “ignored” by Jesus so that the disciples could see an example of real faith.

 


What happens in these verses is profound. It is of note that this woman is a Syro-Phoenician. Syro-Phoenician people tended to be Baal worshippers. Jewish people in those days would not customarily speak to them, much less women from that region. Finally, it was traditional for females from that area to be called “dogs” by Jews. The faith of this woman gave her the victory over being treated the way her god had more than likely treated her. It gave her victory over being treated and talked to like every other woman from her region had been by Jewish men. To top it off, this was coming from the Lily of the Valley, Jesus the Christ. No wonder Jesus was enthralled by how she responded.

Day 7 - Wrap Up

I invite you to pray and examine how you respond to the things that God allows you to encounter in your life. Is your response one of rare faith that warrants the attention of Heaven?
Will you cause God to smile because of the special faith deposit now working inside of you? I look forward to hearing your “rare response” to God’s unexpected revelations in your life.


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is the associate pastor of the Progression church, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 


 




When Jesus Says Goodbye

Our Bible study this year recalls the details of some life-changing, biblical personal encounters with Jesus. Feel free to post your thoughts and reactions to things you have read and experienced in the study, #messagemagazine. Above all, it is our prayer that you get to know Jesus and experience His life-changing power for yourself.


John 21:15-17

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

Saying goodbye is hard to do when you know that it could be the last goodbye. It is in the last goodbye that the reality of the status of our relationship with a friend, parent, child, or spouse stares us in the face. This goodbye needs hope, comfort, and understanding.

It was by faith in God the Father that Jesus believed He would live again. His last goodbye to His mother is a touching one. Jesus—with the salvation of the world resting on His shoulders—reflected on what would happen to his mother once He was gone. He connected her to one of His disciples and a close friend, John, to make sure that she would be taken care of. Jesus said goodbye, but He didn’t do it without making sure that she was cared for.  This is the way Christ is, He leaves nothing undone. He takes care of business. Even after He rose from the grave, He folded His burial robes. He left no loose ends.

So when it came to Peter, Jesus saw some loose ends. Peter had walked on water, had declared that Jesus was the Son of God, and had tried to defend Jesus forcibly when He was arrested.  But Peter had created a rift between the two of them. In the critical and dramatic moments after Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and led away like a common criminal, Jesus’ friend Peter denied even knowing Him.

This was no minor break in friendship; it was major. This is the kind of break most relationships do not face, let alone come back from.

Jesus died on the cross the next day, carrying with Him the debt of the world. He rose again three days later in glorious power. Then, to confirm in their minds what they had learned, heard Him teach, and witnessed for themselves, He appeared to His disciples three times. On the third visit, however, Jesus would soon return to His place at the right hand of His Father. It is during this visit that Peter and Jesus spent some time talking. Before He said goodbye, Jesus sought to tie up a loose end.

Imagine the chilling guilt surging through Peter as Jesus looked at him.

“Peter, do you love Me?” Jesus asked.

Jesus was not asking if Peter loved Him the way we love food, TV, or our mobile phones.  He was asking him do you “agape Me?” the highest form of love. Do you love me above everything else?

“Yes, I do love You,” Peter said.

The love that Peter responds with, assents to, commits to, however, is not that same love Jesus asked about. Jesus asked about agape love, yet Peter responds with a phileo love. In other words, Peter is saying that the love he has for Jesus is a friendship love.

The status of their relationship has just gotten real.

Peter had love to give, but it was not a love above everything. Instead of Jesus rejecting it, He gives Peter the responsibility to watch over His lambs, those who would come to Jesus after He was gone.

Jesus repeats His question to Peter twice more. The second time, asking Peter if Peter has agape love for him and, similarly to the first time, He told him to “tend his flock.”

However, the third time, Jesus does something that is so amazing.

This third time asking Peter if he loved Him, He acknowledged where Peter was.

“Do you phileo Me, Peter?”

In order to restore this relationship, heal the injury, Jesus did not need a grand profession that they would always be “besties” or a profession of other great things that Peter would do for Him in His name.  He needed the truth. He asked this based on where Peter was, and not where He wanted him to be, or even where he will be ultimately. Jesus still loved him and He accepted what Peter had to give.

Jesus will not leave loose ends for us. Though He knows many are not yet sold out for Him, He meets us all where we may engage in relationship to Him. Though we are imperfect, and often overconfident in our commitment to Him, He has not cut us off. He knows where we are in relationship to Him, He just wants to get us to His agape so that when He comes back, we can together say goodbye to this world.

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ERIC PENICK is an associate youth director for junior high, senior youth, and young adult ministries for the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

CONFRONTATIONAL CHRIST

Raise your hand if you like confrontation, intense encounters to resolve an issue or to get a point across. Those are the meetings that can many times come across as an intervention or attack for those involved. It can be invasive, uncomfortable, and nerve-racking, but for some reason being confrontational seemed to be an integral part of the personality of the Prince of Peace. Jesus was always initiating conversations that would make the air in the room thin. Why? In this new series in which we ask the question “Have you met Jesus?” we will explore the encounters some had with the Man who was a walking turning point.

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Day 1

Just to show that I am not making it up, I invite you to read the following passages. As you read, ask a few questions. Was Jesus invited to intervene? Was something said that prompted His words? Could Jesus have walked away or walked by? Why did He do or say what He did?

John 9

Mark 2

Luke 15

Matthew 5

John 5


Day 2 -Read John 21

Read John 21

This is an interesting confrontation because it is not with an unfamiliar individual but someone who Jesus has been with for almost four years at this point. It can be extremely frustrating to have someone ask you a question that you think they should know the answer to. To add to the intensity of the conversation, all of the disciples were also sitting around the fire eating and listening. What comes to your mind when you read this story? What do you think was going through the mind of Peter? Why was Jesus doing this?

Let us know your responses: #messagemagazine.


Day 3

Atlanta pastor Wesley Knight recently crystallized a point I believe would be beneficial for our study here. He made note of what Jesus called Peter, both when Jesus found the disciples fishing, and also in the midst of the conversation about Peter’s love for Jesus. Why is this significant? Read John 1:42.

Jesus found Peter not acting like Peter but acting like Simon. Peter was an apostle, but Simon was a fisherman. Peter had seen and performed miracles, while Simon lived on a boat for a living. When God confronts us, is it possible it is because we are not what He has called us to be? He wants more of us, but we are trying to relapse into what is comfortable. What in your life has God moved you from that you find yourself falling back into?

Let us know: #messagemagazine.

Day 4

It seems with this particular instance that Jesus’ confrontation with Peter had to do with his character. This still doesn’t make clear the line of questioning that Jesus takes up once the disciples get on shore. What would your response be if Jesus asked you if you love Him? Honestly. Imagine the Creator of the world and you, the one who has provided all your needs and kept you sane, sitting in front of you asking, “Do you love me?” Read John 21:15-17, and tell us how you would feel and how you would respond.


Day 5

Gary Chapman has a series of books focused on what is called “the five love languages.” He suggests that we all have love languages, or the ways we feel and show love. Chapman distills those ways into these most common profiles: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gifts.

Is it possible that God has a love language? If you have been in the church for a while you can get the idea that there are many ways to love God, and it is true. What I wonder is if there is a particular way that makes His heart flutter more than anything else? It makes me want to examine more what Jesus’ response to Peter really means. “Then feed My sheep” is what Jesus says. What does that really mean? To help guide you, I invite you to read 1 John 4. Focus on verses 17-21. Talk to us


Day 6

Here’s what I want you to do. If you have done it already, you can skip this portion. Write out a list of people that God has allowed to be in your circle of influence. Then look over the list and write out a list of people that do not necessarily go to church or seem religious, but who are in your circle. This is your new prayer list. The first list is for you to pray to be a spiritual support to those who are already consciously on the journey with Jesus. The other is a prayer list for you to pray for those who you want God to teach you how to love and “feed.”

Day 7 - Wrap Up

As we explore the encounters that different people have had with Jesus we must keep in mind that Jesus is making a perfect people for that place made perfect. He is always looking to refine character and grow faith. I pray that you will examine who you are and what Jesus has called you to be. I hope that you are more cognizant of the sheep that Jesus has blessed you to have the ability to feed for the love of Him.


 

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*Scriptures quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rashad Burden is an associate pastor for youth at the Buckhead Fellowship church in Buckhead, Georgia.