How can I experience eternal satisfaction? Part 1

“And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” John 6:41

A few years ago, we drove past a store in central Iowa that had the following words on the side of its building: “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” What does that mean? I took it to mean that I would be satisfied with their customer service and products. But that is quite a statement isn’t it? Satisfaction guaranteed? For how long? One minute…  an hour? … a day?… a year?… a decade?… a lifetime? What about eternity? No way! Could they guarantee my satisfaction for eternity? The next few days, Lord willing, we will look at Someone who does and can guarantee eternal satisfaction in John 6:41-59. We will discover four ways to experience this eternal satisfaction.

I Can Experience Eternal Satisfaction When … I COMPREHEND THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD (John 6:41-42). In verse 34, when Jesus spoke of the bread that came from heaven that would give life, the crowd begged Jesus for the bread. Now that Jesus reveals that He is the bread that came from heaven (John 6:33-40), the crowd isn’t too eager to take Him up on His offer. 41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ 42 And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42). This crowd knew Jesus was something special or they would not have tried to make Him king the day before after He miraculously fed thousands of people.

But these people could not comprehend Jesus’s claim to be from heaven when they knew He was the son of earthly parents. “We know Him. He grew up in Nazareth right over the hill. We know His parents, Joseph and Mary. He is a carpenter’s son. He is just like one of us.” Like many today, these Jews were the victims of incomplete facts. They did not have all the evidence they needed nor were they looking for it either. They knew Jesus grew up in Nazareth just like anyone else. But they did not know the rest of the story.

This is the reason for so much doubt about Jesus today. People have never examined all the evidence – the eyewitness accounts of what Jesus did and said. In secular circles, people often take the position that Jesus was a good, moral teacher who knew a great deal about life, but He was nothing more than an ordinary man. Among the various religions of the world that deny Jesus is God, they only read the Bible with one eye open. They focus on verses in the Bible that teach the humanity of Jesus, but they ignore the verses that teach Jesus is fully God.

For example, just yesterday an individual wrote on our Facebook page that Jesus cannot be God because He said of His return in Mark 13:32, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This individual concluded that Jesus cannot be God because God is omniscient and this verse clearly shows that Jesus is not.  

I replied in a private message to this individual that I applauded him for recognizing that God is both the Father and the Son. This was a big admission for this person who comes from a religion that denies God is both Father and Son. But instead of focusing on the fact that Jesus is God’s Son which means Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father, this person takes this verse out of context to prove to himself and any naïve readers, that Jesus cannot be God.

I also pointed out to this person that his conclusion that Jesus cannot be God because He is ignorant of the exact day and hour of His return fails to consider the difference between the nature and role of a Person. This is a common mistake made by Islam and other false religions who deny that Jesus is God and have to take verses out of context to come to this conclusion.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13), but it also says Jesus is subordinate to the Father (Mark 13:32; 1 Corinthians 15:28). Both are true. It will do no good to ignore or distort the former to make sense of the latter.

It is important to realize that Jesus was speaking to His Galilean disciples in Mark 13:32. If you know anything about Galilean culture, you would understand why Jesus says only the Father knows the exact day and hour of His Son’s return. Jesus’s reference to only the Father knowing the exact time of His return is consistent with Galilean wedding customs in Jesus’s day.

In the Galilean culture of that day, the groom goes to the bride’s house to present a wedding contract to the bride. When he proposed marriage, he would offer her a cup of wine. If she drank it, she was accepting the betrothal. He would then inform her that he was to go to his father’s house to prepare a place for her. She would typically respond, “When are you coming back?” The prospective groom would reply by saying, “Only my father knows!” The groom then returns to his father’s house to prepare for his marriage by adding a room to his father’s house where he and his bride will live. In Galilean culture, his father determines the exact time when his son returns to his bride’s house to bring her back to his own.

Jesus’s reference to only His Father knowing the day and hour of His return was consistent with Galilean wedding customs in His day. Saying “only my Father knows” does not mean Jesus is ignorant, but rather submissive and respectful to His Father’s authority.

This is substantiated further in Acts 1:6-7, “6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.’” After Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples ask Jesus a similar question they asked Him in Mark 13. Only this time Jesus does not say He does not know, He says it is not permitted for His disciples to know. Why does Jesus exclude Himself this time? Why doesn’t He say, “It is not for us to know”? This indicates that Christ knew the end, but was not permitted to disclose it to His disciples by the Father. Jesus acknowledges that the time of His return “the Father put in His own authority.” Nowhere did Jesus say in this verse that He didn’t know the time when the Father would restore the kingdom. He simply said, it is the Father’s authority.

Again, this does not deny the deity of Christ. It means Jesus is submitting to the role of His Father who determines the exact time of His return. Although Christ was fully God during His life on earth (John 1:1; 4:25-26; John 8:56-59; 10:30-33; 20:28; Acts 16:31-34; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), He lived His life as fully man (Matthew 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:14; 2:12; 4:6; 7:3, 5; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; 21:12; Philippians 2:6-8; I Timothy 2:5) – demonstrating to you and me how we are to live our lives – in total dependence on Him!!!

If we want to truly understand who Jesus is, then we need to look at all of what Scripture says. Those who deny the deity of Christ read the Bible with one eye closed. They only look at isolated verses here and there which focus on Christ’s humanity while ignoring or distorting clear passages that teach the deity of Christ. However, all of Scripture must be consulted if we are going to have an accurate portrait of Jesus. And when we read the Bible with both eyes open, we see the incarnate Christ as equal to the Father in His deity (John 1:1; 4:25-26; 5:17-47; 8:56-59; 10:30-33; 20:28; Acts 16:31-34; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), but also in submission to the Father in His role (Mark 13:32; I Corinthians 11:3; 15:27-28).

I believe one reason why so many today reject that Jesus is God is because they do not want to be accountable to Him as their Judge. It is much easier to view Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem or as a mere man or prophet than to face Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords Who will return to earth one day to destroy His enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:11-21). People want to be in control of their own lives rather than answer to Someone else. Eliminate the deity of Christ and you have no one to answer to but yourself.

In John 6, Jesus makes the claim to be the one and only Son of God who was sent from heaven. We can try all the tricks, gimmicks, tactics or whatever else we want to try, but until a person realizes who Jesus is, they will never find eternal satisfaction.

There is also a lesson here for those of us who know Jesus. Familiarity breeds apathy and indifference. When we become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible we can miss out on the new things that God is wanting to teach us. We start to hear familiar teachings from the Bible and we automatically tune out and start thinking about something else. We have this attitude that says, “What can God teach me that I don’t already know?” This is a very dangerous attitude to have because we can miss out on the new things that God is wanting to teach us and do through us if we let familiarity produce apathy in our lives.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I must admit that my familiarity with the Bible has sometimes desensitized me to the new things You are wanting to do in my life. Please open my heart to the wonderful truths in Your Word for me to discover. I also ask that You remove whatever keeps me from joining You in the new things You are wanting to do in and through me. I need Your wisdom and discernment in answering the many doubts people in the world have today about Your identity. Satan is confusing and deceiving so many to believe that You are merely a figment of the imagination, or at best, a good moral teacher or prophet. No wonder their lives lack eternal satisfaction in You. It is no surprise that they are either empty and without purpose or they are filled with hatred toward those who differ with them. They need You, Lord Jesus. Please lead me to those whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe Your gospel message. In Jesus’s name. Amen.   

How do we reach the materialistic for Christ? Part 3

“And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’ ” John 6:35

The third and final way to reach a materialistic person is to CHALLENGE THEM TO TRUST THE SAVIOR (John 6:35-40). Jesus tells the crowd how to do this using two simple things everyone understands: hunger and thirst. “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’ ” (John 6:35). The materialist hungers and thirsts for power… possessions… and popularity! But the greatest hunger and thirst of all is for immortality. Jesus says to look to Him to satisfy our hunger for immortality. Look to Him to quench our thirst for eternal life. What do you do when you are hungry? You eat. What do you do when you are thirsty? You drink. Jesus says that if we come to Him in faith, we will never hunger for eternal life again. If we believe in Him we will never thirst for eternal life again. One bite of the bread that Jesus’ offers an one drink of the water that Jesus offers, satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst forever.

What if a person stops believing in Christ? Will he hunger or thirst for eternal life again? No. Because the spiritual need which Jesus meets can never reoccur. Once you receive eternal life, you have it forever. After all, how long is “never”? It is forever, right? If a person could hunger or thirst for eternal life again after believing in Jesus, then Christ just told a lie. Jesus says one bite… one drink satisfies for eternity. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we don’t keep on believing.

Jesus said, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” (John 6:36).Not all who see will come to Christ. Although they had seen His miraculous power and had heard His claims, this crowd still refused to believe in Jesus alone for eternal life. They were not convinced He could give them eternal life simply by believing in Him. This is hard for the materialist. He has always provided for his own needs, and now he is being challenged to trust someone outside of himself for his most important need.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” (John 6:37a). The reason these materialists wouldn’t believe in Christ was because the Father had not given them to Jesus. No matter how much we have prayed and planned… no matter how persuasive we are in sharing the gospel… people will not come to Christ unless the Father has given them to His Son. Does this mean that no one can get saved if the Father has not given them to Jesus? Some Calvinists refer to this verse as proof of unconditional election.

But I believe there is a better explanation. Anthony Badger astutely observes that Jesus spoke the words of John 6:37-39 just before speaking of building His church in Matthew 16:18. Because of Israel’s final rejection of Christ (Matthew 12:22ff), Jesus “anticipated an end of the Dispensation of the Law and a transfer into the Dispensation of Grace… Jesus spoke the words of John 6:37-39 at the time of His final rejection by the nation. He certainly knew that Israel was to be judged for their rejection and that the Church age intercalation was at hand. Israel would be temporarily set aside, and the Church would become God’s select, corporate instrument for His service during the Dispensation of His Grace. And it will continue to be so until its translation/rapture prior to the coming Tribulation period (the 70th week of years spoken of in Daniel 9:24-27. At that time God will resume His plan for national Israel). Prior to this transfer of believers from Father to Son in anticipation of the new age, they belonged to the Father by faith. The transfer (the Father giving believers to the Son) merely acknowledged the reality of the coming Church Age.”

“This fits contextually as well. When Jesus began to set His face toward Jerusalem (Mt 16:21) it was evident that a new day was coming. No longer could the old ways be continued. New, fresh, rejuvenating wine cannot be stored in old, outdated, dry, cracked wineskins. A transfer of ownership of Old Testament believers to Christ was necessary. God the Father putting all things into the hands of His Son. This is further supported in Jesus’ discourse with the disciples in John 14-16. Believing Jews who belonged to the Father, having only the promise of the Messiah, were at this point delivered over into the Son’s hands for keeping. Now they belonged to the Messiah. The lack of dispensational understanding of Calvin, the Reformers, and Reformed Theology allows them to misunderstand John 6:37-39.” (Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology [Anthony Badger, 2013], pp. 185-186).

Jesus than said, “And the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). The phrase “I will by no means cast out” is emphatic in the Greek language (οὐ μὴ ἐκβάλω ἔξω). Literally it means, “I will no not ever cast out” the one who comes to Me. No matter… what your record or what you have done… where you have been or how proud, arrogant and self-sufficient you have been, when you come to Christ you will be welcomed by Him. You will not be cast out. Jesus will never reject you no matter what you do after you come to Him. This is God’s amazing grace. It cannot be earned and it cannot be undone. Once you come to Christ in simple faith, you are God’s child forever.

Some of us come from backgrounds which are filled with rejection. The main reason some of us have a hard time trusting people today is because we have experienced so much rejection while growing up. Perhaps a parent criticized us for everything we did… a teacher humiliated us… a friend betrayed us… a spouse left us… an employer terminated us. Jesus guarantees you will never be rejected by Him. His love and acceptance of you is unconditional. The materialist needs to know this because he has grown up trying to buy or earn people’s love. But now he is challenged to believe in Someone who loves and accepts him regardless.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38). And what is the will of the Father who sent Jesus? “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:39). Is staying saved a matter of a Christian doing the Father’s will or of Jesus doing His Father’s will? Jesus doing His Father’s will. If Jesus lost one person who believed in Him, then He would have failed to do the will of His Father. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God.

But listen to me. Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father. This is the ULTIMATE SECURITY. Something every materialist (and every person) needs. The materialist lives in fear of losing his possessions, power, and popularity. But when he comes to Jesus he is safe forever. We need to get a grip on this. Too many believers are being taught that you cannot know for sure you are going to heaven because they are taught that it is based on your performance instead of Christ’s. This contradicts what Jesus is saying here. Assurance of your salvation is not based on you doing God’s will, but on Jesus doing the Father’s will.

Jesus concludes, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40). Does the word “everyone” mean everyone? Does Jesus include all the homosexuals, drunkards, drug addicts, liars, psychics, terrorists, the wealthy, and the most moral people who see the Son of God and believe in Him? Absolutely! God’s gift is for everyone who will receive it by faith.

Has your thirst for immortality been quenched? Do you know for sure that you have eternal life? If not, why not take Jesus Christ at His word right now? Place your trust solely in Him to save you. Give up confidence in anything else: your prayers, giving, church attendance, baptism, obedience, commitment, or  the reformation of your life, etc. Jesus Christ guarantees eternal life to all who trust in Him as their Savior.

Let us share this message gladly and often. It is glorious news! It is the greatest news! Don’t worry so much about method. Concentrate on the message. Tell people eternal life is a free gift and that the sole condition for receiving it is believing or trusting in Christ alone. Leave the results to God. After all, eternal life is the gift of God. He is the One giving the gift.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible free gift that lasts forever! Please give me a love for the materialistic people in my life. I need Your Holy Spirit to help me to confront their selfish desires, to correct their misconceptions about salvation, and to challenge them to trust the Savior for eternal life so that they can discover the joy of everlasting security in Jesus Christ. Security that cannot be lost or taken away. Lord, I pray that those of us who know You will seek satisfaction in our relationship with You and not the things of this world. Enable us to live in light of eternity. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

Inspired by a true story, the movie Rugged Gold is about a pregnant newlywed named Martha Martin who is separated by an earthquake from her son and miner husband in 1950s Alaska. This is a story about survival – staying alive under horrible circumstances. Martha Martin overcomes severe injuries, delivers her own baby, faces off with a Grizzly and wins, and endures a brutal winter with the hope of being reunited with her son and newlywed husband. Martha did everything she could to keep herself alive.

As we face all kinds of challenges this year including COVID-19 and social unrest revolving around the color of a person’s skin, it is essential that we as Christians be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our faith alive.

But how does a Christian do this? How does a believer in Jesus Christ keep their faith alive and energized? Turn to James 2:14-26 and find out. Many people have understood James 2:14-26 to teach that good works are necessary for eternal salvation. These verses are misunderstood by some to be written to professing Christians whose faith must be tested to see if it is genuine. But James is not addressing the eternal destiny of his readers because they are genuine Christians. James describes them as… “brethren” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; et. al.), those who are “born from above” (James1:17-18), and those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James understands, however, that it would be easy to downgrade works where it was taught that justification before God was by faith alone in Christ alone.

Although these were genuine Christians, they were immature and disobedient (cf. James 3:1-5:6), and they were in danger of experiencing both the damaging consequences of sin now (James 1:15-16, 21; 5:19-20) and an unfavorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13; 5:7-9). To preserve their souls/lives from the ruin of sin now and a negative assessment at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future, they are to obey God’s Word (James 1:21-25). So James is writing to them to help them put their faith into action – to keep their faith alive.

How do we keep our faith alive in these uncertain times?

1. GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-17). “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). This verse has caused a lot of concern for many people over the years. Martin Luther was so distraught over this verse that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works. Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.

But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.

The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two different groups.  When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Romans 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to. Christians or non-Christians? “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase,  “My brethren…” These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So when James talks to saints about how to experience the God who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.

So do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.

So what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14? Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozo) in the New Testament doesn’t always refer to salvation from hell. In fact 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example,  when Jesus’s disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. So Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is,  she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.

What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says,19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).  If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.

Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now, then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future. So can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James then gives an illustration of this. 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.

You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.

For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.  

Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.

If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.

Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17).Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is dead – useless, unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.

If all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now in the midst of these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephesians 2:8-18).

A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.

What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.

In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works in order to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”

Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”

Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God, but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. Let me point out some things to note about James 2:19:

1. Jesus did not die for demons, He died for people (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41), not because they lack insufficient faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

2. Belief that God is one is not saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons do really believe there is only one God, but believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. There are many world religions and cults that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. Since the words of James 2:19 belong to a skeptic, they should not be used to prove such an important theological point. Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication. 

The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to 2. GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.

He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Romans 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Romans 4:5-6).

James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says,17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved. This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause. Thus it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Romans 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; cf. Genesis 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.  

We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from Hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.

A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.

If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?

Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

How do we reach the materialistic for Christ? Part 2

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’ ” John 6:29

The second way to minister to the materialistic person is to CORRECT THEIR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SALVATION (John 6:28-34). When the people realized that Jesus was talking about something other than physical bread, and He was talking about laboring for that, they said to Him, “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ ” (John 6:28). This question is often asked today, almost always by someone who has begun to realize that life has a spiritual dimension to it. It is a religious question: “What can I DO to make God happy? What good works must I do to get to heaven?” This marks a common misconception among materialists today. They think God owes them.

One of the questions God will not ask us in determining if He should let us into heaven is, “How many good works have you done?” Why? “But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). Why doesn’t God accept human works as even a partial payment for our salvation? “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” (Romans 4:4). If God accepted us based upon any good work we have done, He would be paying a debt – but God is not in debt to anyone. He doesn’t owe us anything. After all God is perfect and we are not. He is holy and we are sinners. We owe Him.

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’ ” (John 6:29). The Lord Jesus makes an important distinction between “the works” (plural) about which they ask (6:28) and “the work” (singular) God actually requires (6:29). Anyone who believes in Jesus has done “the work” (singular) God requires. Believing in Jesus is a work in the sense that it is an act. But it is a passive work as John 4:10 shows: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ ”

Believing in Jesus is not a work in the sense that Paul talks about: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul is thinking of active works (plural) of obedience to God’s commands, not a passive work whereby we receive a free gift by faith in Christ alone.

The word “faith” means to trust or depend upon. The materialist has always relied on his own abilities and resources to provide for his needs. But now Christ tells him to rely on someone outside of himself to give him the gift of God which (unlike their material possessions), lasts forever.

But the materialist is still thinking about satisfying his own selfish desires:30 Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” (John 6:30-31). The crowd is asking,“Why should we believe in You? Sure, You made more bread and fish, but they come from earth. Manna, though, comes from heaven! Can you top that?” They want just one more proof. They want the evidence that Jesus is better than Moses. When the evidence is in, then they will believe. That is their attitude.

32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32-33). Jesus immediately corrects them. It was God that gave the manna, not Moses. I’m amazed at their interest in manna. Manna tasted very much like corn flakes. Imagine eating corn flakes morning, noon and night for forty years like the Israelites did in the wilderness, and thinking that was wonderful! The word “manna” itself means, “What is it?” Can you imagine eating “What is it?” for forty years, every day, without fail, and then looking back on that as a great experience?

“No,” Jesus said, “You are quite wrong! Moses did not give you that bread. Furthermore, what came in the wilderness was not the true bread from heaven — it was only a picture of the real thing to come. The real bread from heaven is Me! (Jesus says) I came down from heaven to satisfy the spiritual hunger of people forever. The true bread is He who came down from heaven who will give His life (not merely for Israel, as Moses did with the manna), but who will give His life for the whole world. Anybody of any ethnicity at anytime, can find the true bread from heaven.” And by the way, this bread is much better for you and much tastier than corn flakes.

“Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ ” (John 6:34). When the crowd began to understand that Jesus was talking about something better than physical bread they immediately wanted it. Isn’t this true of people all over the world? You cannot go anywhere on earth today without finding people hungry for something more than a full belly and a comfortable home. There is a restlessness in us that cries for more. Jesus recognized this. Everyone in this crowd wanted whatever it was He was offering. They did not understand what it was, but they wanted it.

People are no different today. They sense there is more to life than bread… than working 40-60 hours a week to make payments on a new home or new vehicle. Christ’s example reminds us to confront the materialist’s selfish desires and to correct their misconceptions about salvation so they can believe or trust in Jesus alone for their salvation.

Prayer: Father God, please give me a love for the self-sufficient people of this world. Increase my burden for the materialistic people of my community. I need courage from You to confront their selfish desires and correct their misconceptions about salvation so they can believe or trust in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life. So many people in the world today think they can work for their salvation as I once thought. Please use Your Word to convict people of their need for Jesus’s work on the cross, not their own, for salvation. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

How do we reach the materialistic for Christ? Part 1

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’ ” John 6:26

America has been blessed with incredible prosperity. We give a lot of attention and worth to that which is not eternal. Our inflated value system lets sports figures and movie stars make far more money than a governor, a doctor, or even the President of the United States. We have become gluttonous not only for food, but gluttons for sex, drugs, money, and power. And as a nation, we are becoming less aware of our need for God.

As a nation , we spend long hours at work to accumulate things. Many Americans have learned how to make money, but they have not learned how to live. Something is missing from their lives. How do we minister to people who are more concerned about temporal things than eternal things? How do we reach those whose wallets are full but whose hearts are empty? In other words, how do we reach the materialistic for Christ? We follow the example of Jesus who was speaking to a materialistic crowd in John 6:22-40. The first thing Jesus does to minister to the materialistic is to…

CONFRONT THEIR SELFISH DESIRES (John 6:22-27). If we are going to be effective in reaching the materialistic people of our society, we must confront their selfish desires. Remember in John 6:1-13, while on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus miraculously fed thousands of men, women and children with  five loaves of bread and two sardine-sized fish? Well, what happened to that crowd? After Jesus walked on water out to the disciples’ boat and miraculously transported the boat the remaining two miles to the other side of the lake (John 6:14-21), we read: 22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone— 23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks— 24 when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You come here?’ ”(John 6:22-25).

Upon reflection, the crowd realized that there was no way by which Jesus could have crossed the lake. But instead of asking Jesus how He got to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowd asks Him “When?” Their failure to ask the right question shows that they didn’t seek to understand Jesus’ miracle of walking on the water to get to the other side of the lake. Jesus ignores their question and moves straight to the real issue.

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’ ” (John 6:26). Jesus says, “You came not because you understand Me to be the Messiah but because you wanted another free meal.” They were more interested in Jesus’ ability to satisfy their physical appetites than their spiritual appetites. I noticed during our church planting experience in South Des Moines, Iowa (2003 – 2006), the best attendance at our outreach events was when we offered free stuff. For example, at our Family Fun Fest, we had a good turnout for games, food and entertainment. But when I got up to share the gospel after we announced the winner of the Grand Prize drawing, people were out of there in a flash. No good bye or thank you – no nothing. That experience reminds me of this crowd Jesus is speaking to. What do we say to these kinds of people?

Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (John 6:27).Jesus is not saying, “Do not work for a living.” Many might take these words literally and go on welfare! But Jesus is not advocating that. What He means is, “Don’t work merely to get food that does not last.” Food is important. It is necessary for life, and you must earn it. But don’t let that be the sole reason for your working. Rather, “Work for the food which remains forever and produces life that lasts forever.” Jesus can give eternal food “because God the Father has set His seal” of approval on His Son. This crowd was like many people today. They felt that the most important thing in life is to keep alive, to be healthy, strong and economically sufficient. That was what life was all about, they thought. Yet they were starving spiritually.

In an essay written by George Orwell, he describes a wasp that (as he puts it) “was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”

This wasp and people without Jesus have much in common. Severed from their souls, but greedy and unaware, people continue to consume life’s sweetness. Only when it’s time to fly away will they grasp their dreadful condition. Jesus encourages the materialist to seek after something better. To seek after bread which lasts and produces life which never ends.

Prayer: Lord, before I knew You as my Savior, I sought after food that perishes rather than food that lasts. Life revolved around me and my selfish desires. Thank You for confronting my selfishness at the age of nineteen, so I could see my need for You and Your gift of everlasting life. Lord, there are so many people in the USA whose wallets are full but their hearts are empty without You. They are angry and searching for meaning in their lives. Please break through to them so they can see that what they need is You, not a politician who makes empty promises. They need a Savior who always keeps His promises and gives life that never ends the moment they believe in Him. Thank You my Lord and my God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 3

“But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ ” John 6:20

The third reason why God allows us to struggle is to ENCOURAGE US TO RELY ON CHRIST’S POWER (John 6:19-21). “So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” (John 6:19). The disciples battled this raging storm through the long hours of the night. Mark says they were “straining at rowing” (Mark 6:48). By 3 a.m. they had rowed only 3-4 miles with about 2 miles to go. Even though these men were exhausted, they faithfully kept trying to row across the Sea. And when they looked over their shoulders, they were “afraid” or literally they were “terrified” to see a ghostlike form walking on the water toward them. These men were expecting to die, and they thought the angel of death was coming to take them. But this was no ghost. This was Jesus walking across those waves. And He was using those immense waves as pavement for His feet. The sea that had impeded the disciples’ movement, was no obstacle for Christ, and all that they feared brought no fear to Jesus.

Above the raging storm the disciples heard a familiar voice bring a word of comfort. “But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ ” (John 6:20).When Jesus says, “It is I,”He identifies Himself as “I AM”(cf. Exodus 3:13-14) in the Greet text (egō eimi). The verb (phobeisthe) translated “do not be afraid” is a present imperative and means “Stop being afraid.”What Jesus is saying is, “That which scares the living daylights out of you, this strange form walking across the stormy sea, doing what is absolutely impossible for men to do, that is Me – the Eternal God! And the very waves that are over your heads I already have under My feet. I am in control of these events, therefore there is no need for you to fear. Simply trust Me to take you where you could never take yourself.”

Jesus silences our fears with His Word. And there is tremendous power in the Word of God. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6, 9). The same voice that spoke this universe into existence out of nothing, can also calm our fears in the midst of the storms of life. This same voice can give us the power to overcome problems that we could never overcome in our own strength.

Life is filled with fierce storms. Where do you turn when you just discover your son is a practicing homosexual… your mate is talking separation or divorce… you’ve lost your job and it’s your own fault… your parent is an alcoholic… your spouse is having an affair… you flunk your entrance exam or you messed up the interview… your faith is persecuted? Where are you going to turn when the storms of life batter your soul? The disciples turned to Jesus.

“Then they willingly received Him into the boat.” (John 6:21a). Recognizing His voice, the disciples want to receive Christ aboard their boat. The New King James inaccurately translates the Greek phrase as, “They were willing to receive Him into the boat”(ēthelon oun labein auton eis to ploion).A better translation would be, “They wanted to receive Him into the boat.”

The moment the disciples recognize Jesus, based on His word, they want to receive Him into their boat. Then a second miracle took place. … And immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” (John 6:21b).  The moment the disciples wanted Jesus in their boat, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. Nothing is said about Jesus stepping onto the boat. Matthew says the wind stopped (Matthew 14:32). There was peace on that lake and in the disciples’ hearts. The boat traveled the two remaining miles in an instant as Christ brought them safely to their destination.

There is a message here for non-Christians. Like the disciples, many people work hard to get to their final destination. They think that getting to heaven is based upon their own efforts and works. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, they are not willing to come to Jesus to have life (cf. John 5:39-40). If they were willing to believe, they would recognize who Jesus was (the Christ or Messiah-God, John 20:31) and then, immediately, they would have been safe in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37; 11:25-26)! Their destiny would have been assured by none other than Jesus Himself. In the discourse to follow (John 6:22-58), Jesus will not only stress His eternal sufficiency as the Bread of Life, but He will also emphasize the believer’s absolute certainty of reaching a safe eternal destination. Jesus will “raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

There is also a message here for Christians. Some of us may face some very frightening circumstances in our lives in the months ahead. Disease, disappointment, death, an accident, desertion or divorce, loss of religious freedom, or even persecution may take their terrible toll on our lives. We may all find ourselves in a sea of trouble like these disciples. But what Jesus is saying to the disciples (and to us) is, “That which frightens you, that very thing which scares you, is Me. I am coming to you in and through that circumstance, so you don’t need to be afraid. I am in charge of it. I have chosen it for you, therefore you do not need to be afraid. Simply trust Me to do through you what you could never do on your own; and if you do that, you will experience My peace.”

Whatever storm you are facing, are you willing to permit Jesus to come to you in that storm? Are you willing to ask Him, “Lord Jesus, what do You want to say to me in this storm?” His answer may surprise you and it can calm the raging storm inside of you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You promise that I will face storms or tribulation in this world (John 16:33). I may face tremendous toil and trouble, heartbreak and heartache, and yet in the midst of it, Lord, You have promised to be there, and You can come through the darkest night and over the most troubled waters into the boat of my life. May the eyes of my faith be fixed upon You, Lord. Instead of trying harder, may I start trusting in You because You are in charge of the storm. Help me to be still so I can hear Your voice say to me, “It is I; Do not be afraid.” You are in control of my past, present, and future. Thank You for calming my fears and replacing my storm-tossed feelings with Your powerful presence. Your voice is enough to calm my storms. You, my Lord and my God, are more than enough. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 2

16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.” John 6:16-17

The second reason why God allows Christians to struggle is to EDUCATE US ABOUT HIS PLAN (John 6:16-18). “16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.” (John 6:16-17). The disciples were being obedient to Christ. He commanded them to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” (Matthew 14:22). This was His plan for them while He went up on the mountain to pray (cf. Matthew 14:23).

So the disciples started to cross over the Sea toward Capernaum, but trouble was coming. A story is told about a tourist who was sports fishing off a Florida beach, and he capsized his boat. He could swim, but his fear of alligators kept him clinging to the overturned craft. Spotting an old beachcomber standing on the shore, the tourist shouted, “Are there any gators around here?!” “Naw,” the man hollered back, “they ain’t been around for years!” Feeling safe, the tourist started swimming leisurely toward the shore. About halfway there he asked the guy, “How’d you get rid of the gators?” “We didn’t do nothin’,” the bum said. “The sharks got ’em.”

Just like this man, the disciples were in a heap of trouble. It was getting dark, but more importantly, Jesus had not come to them. They had started rowing across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, but stayed close to shore, because they were going to pick up Jesus along the way. But it was not working out that way. “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.” (John 6:18). A strong northwesterly wind began to blow, driving them farther and farther south, so much so, that they lost sight of shore and the possibility of picking up Jesus.

The sea of Galilee is 600 feet below sea level, in a cuplike depression. When the sun sets, the air cools and rushes down over the hillside, resulting in winds churning the sea. Since the disciples were rowing toward Capernaum, they were heading directly into the wind, making very little progress. Matthew is very graphic in describing the storm. “But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” (Matthew 14:24). The storm was raging. The wind was against them. The waves were immense. The sea was engulfing their boat and threatening their lives. Although these fishermen had experienced storms before, their experience probably taught them that you don’t go out on the lake in this kind of weather!

Imagine how the disciples must have felt. Here they were trying to cross the sea just like Jesus told them to do, but the storm prevented them from fulfilling Christ’s command. They were exerting themselves to the max against the winds and the waves, yet they were unable to make any headway. They must have felt alone. After all, Jesus had sent them out here. Did He somehow forget all about them? Didn’t Jesus care about the fact that they could lose their lives in this storm? What was going on?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wanted God to use you only to have your life become more difficult? You know what God wants you to do, but circumstances don’t allow you to do it? You try with all your might and strength to obey the Lord, but you can’t go where God wants you to go. You can’t do what God has told you to do. And you feel as though God has betrayed you. Like He has played some mean trick on you and set you up for failure. Why does this happen? Why do people who want to be used by God find themselves facing more problems? Problems too big to overcome in their own strength. Because God is trying to teach us about His plan. His plan cannot be carried out without His power. As long as we keep trying to do the will of God in our own strength, we will fail.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).  God never expected us to live the Christian life on our own. We must let God live the Christian life through us. What this means is you must come to the end of yourself. And often times a storm will bring us to that point where we give up on ourselves and give in to God.

When I was about seventeen years of age on a canoe trip in Minnesota’s boundary waters with my church youth group, my Dad and I had to paddle across a large lake with two passengers in our canoe. I was in the front of the boat and my Dad was in the rear, with our passengers on the floor of the canoe between us. One of our passengers had accidentally made a deep cut across her hand while whittling on a piece of wood at our campsite. We left half of our camping group at the campsite to take the woman to a ranger’s cabin to radio for medical assistance. When we were in the middle of the lake about a half mile from the shore, I looked behind me to see a storm heading toward us with a wall of torrential rain. The wind was blowing extremely hard now, causing the waves to rise above our canoe. I felt helpless and out of control. My only recourse was to cry out to God for help.

When I did, my Dad and I could see a light swinging from the ranger’s cabin on the shore, about a quarter of a mile from us. Eventually we were able to safely arrive at the shore only to discover that the ranger cabin had been vacated. After the storm passed, my Dad and I paddled all the way back to our campsite with our passengers. I will never forget God’s presence with us in that storm.

God allows storms in our lives to educate us about His plan for our lives. He uses difficulties to bring us to the end of ourselves so we will surrender more fully to Him.

Prayer: Gracious Lord of the universe, thank You for teaching me about Your plan for my life through the storms You send my way. Many times I have set out to do Your will only to be impeded by a storm. Each storm has a common theme – to bring me to the point where I give up on myself and give in to You. You alone have the power to carry out Your plan for my life. Every storm reminds me of this important truth. Apart from You I can do nothing of eternal value. Right now my Lord and my God, I surrender everything to You. I give all that I have to You, Father, to You, Jesus, and to You, Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Why does God allow Christians to struggle? Part 1

14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” John 6:14-15

Some Christians are taught that once you come to Christ, you will not experience hardship or suffering. However, the apostle Paul would not agree with this conclusion. He writes, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Being a Christian does not exempt us from suffering in this life.

What about you? Have you experienced some storms in your life? The storm takes many different forms, and affects our lives in many different ways. But all storms contain some common elements: they usually come on rather suddenly, they take us by surprise, they tend to fill our hearts with fear, and they test our faith.

Think of some of the storms of life which have invaded your life or someone’s you know: the storm of illness – sudden or prolonged death – the death of a loved one – a child, a partner – especially one not expected to die; rejection – divorce, separation, abandonment; unfair criticism; emotional trauma – hatred, anger, resentment, bitterness; the storm of physical loss – loss of home, loss of job, loss of money, loss of security;  an accident, or some event which may change the course of your life in an instant of time.

You may wonder why does God allow Christians to struggle or suffer? Why does He allow me to suffer? Perhaps you have asked the Lord to use you for His glory, and life has suddenly become tougher for you. Take heart: the disciples of Jesus were not exempt from difficulties either. They, too, struggled. In fact, it was Jesus who sent them into the storm. Let’s look in John 6:14-21 to discover the lessons God wants us to learn about suffering. Why does God allow me to struggle?

TO ELIMINATE MY PRIDE (John 6:14-15). After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with a happy meal, the crowd perceived that Jesus was the Prophet whom Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:15. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” (John 6:14-15). Now the crowd wanted to make Jesus King by using force. They were seeking a political leader with power who could lead them against the oppressive Roman government. They weren’t ready to trust Jesus as the Messiah-God, but they were willing to use Him to accomplish their own agenda. They focused on Christ as someone who could serve their physical needs, but they had no interest in Him spiritually.

But don’t we do the same thing? Have you ever become angry with God because He didn’t give you what you wanted? I don’t know if you have done that, but I have. I have been very upset with God sometimes because He did not do what I asked Him to do. I am ashamed to admit this, but it is the truth. This event in John 6 is given to teach us that this is not the kind of relationship that we are to have with God.

Jesus was not tempted to yield to the crowd’s desire to make Him King, but the disciples may have been tempted. After all, they saw the huge crowds following their Lord; they saw His miracles of healing and multiplication of food; and now the people wanted to crown their Jesus as King. So what does Christ do? Matthew tells us, “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” (Matthew 14:22). Jesus sent them into the storm. Why does our Lord do this? Because He wanted to eliminate their pride – to keep them from thinking that they had something to do with His growing popularity.

The apostle Paul states, “So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to … keep me from being too proud.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NCV).  God allows struggles in our lives to keep us from thinking to highly of ourselves. Maybe you have battled an ailment for years that causes you pain and limits your ministry. You have asked the Lord to take it away, but He has chosen not to and it may be because this ailment keeps you from becoming arrogant and self-sufficient. It reminds you of how much you need the Lord Jesus every day just to do what He has called you to do.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the most powerful preachers in the Victoria Era, had a lifelong battle with depression. He viewed his depression as God’s instrument to keep him dependent on the Lord and more compassionate toward others who suffer pain. It was in his weakness that he experienced the compassion of Christ. Again and again, Spurgeon would speak about the tenderness of Jesus. He longed for any in his audiences who were discouraged or prone to give up, to approach the Lord Jesus for His gentle and healing touch.

It is through suffering that we not only draw closer to Christ, but He also draws near to us to walk with us through the storm. He is a compassionate and gentle Savior who knows how to comfort and console those who are alone in their pain. He also was alone in His pain when He died in our place on the cross. Through His sufferings, He was equipped to be our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15). He understands our struggle and He invites us to come to Him in the midst of our storm (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I look back on my life, I see Your gentle and thoughtful orchestration of many storms in my life that were intended to take me deeper in my relationship with You. Some of those storms were much worse than others because of my prideful resistance to Your leading. Thank You for not giving up on me during those times when I was so stubborn. Without Your intervention in my life, my pride would have destroyed me. Thank You for sending me into those storms which eventually removed my pride and brought me closer to You. You are a good and faithful Friend. I am so glad I have You in my life. In Your name. Amen.

Multiplying followers of Jesus – Part 3

“And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” John 6:11

When I hold a basketball in my hands, it is merely a basketball, but when the same ball is in the hands of Michael Jordan, it turns into collegiate and professional championships. Put a golf club in any of our hands, and it is merely a golf club, but when you place that same golf club in the hands of Tiger Woods, it turns him into the best golfer in the world. A paintbrush in my hands results in an average picture if I paint by numbers, but when a paintbrush was placed in the hands of Renoir, it turned into incredible works of art. How is it that the same instruments and the same tools can bring about such differing degrees of results? It all depends upon who is holding them and how they are being used.

In John 6:1-13, we learn what can happen when we place what we have in God’s hands. The Lord Jesus commands His church in Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples of all the nations.”  We have learned so far that if the Lord is going to multiply disciplers of His grace and truth, we must admit that we have a need (John 6:1-7) and assess what we already have (John 6:8-10). Today, we will also learn that we must ALLOW GOD TO TAKE WHAT WE HAVE AND MULTIPLY IT (John 6:11-13).

This little boy’s lunch was not much (John 6:9). Five small barley loaves and a couple of sardine-sized fish – about the size of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Now, I’m sure in a crowd that size someone else had a bigger and better meal. But it was this little boy who admitted his need to give, assessed what he already had, and then offered it to Jesus.

Let’s look at what happens when what we have is placed in Jesus’s hands. “And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” (John 6:11). Imagine you are among those disciples distributing the food. You start handing it out on the front row. Just a token piece. But at the end of the first row you notice that nothing in your hand has gone away. You still have as much as you started with in your hand. As a matter of fact, it seems to be even larger.

As you get to the second row you are starting to give out bigger pieces. You are getting bolder now because the food in your hand is not decreasing. By the time you get to the third row, you are doing everything you can to get rid of the food and you cannot get rid of it. By the last row you have given away more than you could have carried, but you still have bread and fish in your hands. So you go back to the first row again and start giving everybody all they can eat. Suddenly, you realize that something supernatural is happening – for you can feed as many as you want and still the bread and fish will not go away! All you have to do is give it away to make it stay.

Imagine that Jesus sends you back into this crowd of twenty thousand people and you fill twelve laundry baskets with leftover food! How would you feel? Do you realize that is exactly what happened when Jesus’s disciples gathered the leftovers? 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13). If you were a disciple, what would you learn about Jesus by gathering up that much bread? He is One Powerful Person – powerful enough to meet everyone’s needs if we would give Him what we have. We can have little and it will remain little as long as we keep it. But if we have little and give it to Jesus — He will multiply it.

This miracle shows us what can happen when we place what we have in God’s hands. Young people, you may think, “I’m too young, there’s nothing God can do with me.” That is not true. What do you have that you can give to Jesus so He can meet the needs of others? Your time? Your talents? Your cell phone!?! God can even use you to introduce Jesus to people who do not know Him. Nor can you adults say, “Well I don’t have anything to offer,” or “What I’ve got isn’t very much.” Nonsense! This boy had a happy meal… a small lunch… five barley loaves and two sardines. That is not even potluck material at our home church, yet he was willing to place it in the hands of Jesus. He said, “Here, Lord, take it and use it.”

God does not expect you to solve all the problems in your church or in your life. But He does expect you to place yourself in His hands, and leave the rest up to Him. It is like the Greyhound bus motto, “Leave the driving to us.” Place it in God’s hands and let Him take care of the rest. Twenty thousand people went home that day challenged, renewed, and refreshed in part because of the faithfulness of one child. I want you to think about this — how many people will be fed, clothed, loved, encouraged, introduced to Jesus Christ, and discipled in your city or town and beyond because of your faithfulness to give Christ what you have?Sometimes all God wants is for you to be willing. Will you give what you have to Jesus?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this is such a powerful reminder of what You can do with what we have if we will simply place it in Your hands! Some of us may think or feel that we have nothing to offer You to meet the needs of others. But if you can use a little boy’s lunch to feed thousands of people, you can use whatever we have to meet the needs of people around the world. Lord, I know I have blind spots in my life. If there is something that I have that You want to use to spread Your gospel message around the world and disciple those who believe in You, please show me so I can hand it over to You to multiply followers of You for Your glory! In Jesus’s matchless name I pray. Amen.

Multiplying followers of Jesus – Part 2

“8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” John 6:8-9

If the Lord is going to multiply disciplers of His grace and truth (Matthew 28:19-20; John 1:14), we must also ASSESS WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE (John 6:8-10). “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8-9). Think about it, there were five thousand hungry men on that grassy meadow near the northeastern side of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1, 10). But that is just the men. There were also women and children there (cf. Matthew 14:21). Let’s say there were also five thousand women and ten thousand children there, too. That is twenty thousand people! How much would it cost to feed twenty thousand people?

I checked with McDonalds near where we live and it is $3.49 per person for a Hamburger Happy Meal. To feed twenty thousand people this Happy Meal, it would cost a grand total of $69,800.

But not everyone likes McDonalds, so I checked with Mullets Restaurant near the river. I figured a Wild West Burger with a soda is $14.58 per person. So for twenty thousand people that would be a grand total of $291,600!

Come on now. This is Father’s Day! No burgers for Dad. Jesus is taking everyone to the Outback Steakhouse in the northern part of our city where people go to eat their delicious 8 ounce Victoria’s Filet Mignon Steak with Grilled Shrimp and a Bloomin’ Onion for $42.27 per person! The grand total is $845,400! Where were the disciples going to come up with $845,400!?!

They probably gathered around and pooled all the money they had. Peter had fifty cents, Andrew another seventy-five cents. They were near Phillip’s hometown so he had a cousin in the crowd. He borrowed five dollars from him. When they totaled it all up, they had $8.53, two sandals, and one cell phone. They knew they couldn’t feed twenty thousand people with $8.53, two sandals, and one cell phone. 

While the disciples put all their money together to see what they could do, one little boy said, “Hey! I’ve got my lunch here!” While everyone else is thinking this situation is hopeless, this little boy was thinking, “Here, take this. See what Jesus can do with what I have.” Jesus wants to use every Christian in ministry, including you. 

“Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.” (John 6:10). This may have been an interesting command to the disciples. “Sit down to eat? Eat what?” the disciples must have been thinking. “We are not going to get very far on this boy’s lunch.” But Jesus has the solution.

Do you realize that your church has every resource you need, to do what God wants you to do right now! Do you believe that? Those resources have already been divided up among each of you. He has given some of it to you… and to you… and to you… and to you. That is why we all need to step back, every now and then, and take an inventory of the resources God has given us and then step forward to do our part.

I don’t know all of you who read these articles, but I would guess some of you are leaders… speakers… handymen or women… organizers… counselors… encouragers… some of you are great at working with children… teenagers… young marrieds… mid-lifers… and seniors. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has gifted you to do your part in carrying on His work here on earth. As believers, we need each other to step up and do our part (cf. I Corinthians 12:1-31). So first, admit you have a need (John 6:1-7) and assess what you already have (John 6:8-10).

When Andrew and the other disciples assessed what they already had, including the boy’s lunch, they knew that their resources alone were not enough. This assessment prompted them to look to Jesus for the solution. Will we do the same when we realize that what we have is not enough to satisfy the needs of all the people around us? It does not matter how gifted and talented we are, we cannot meet the deepest needs of people. Only Jesus can do that. Will we step up and do our part by bringing their needs to Him in prayer?

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, every day I see or hear evidence of how broken and wounded people in the world are, including me and those closest to me. As much as I would like to fix all the anger, division, and pain that people are facing, I am not capable of such a task. Because at the root of all this chaos and confusion in the world is a deeper problem that only You can solve. Only You can transform and heal our wounded and wicked hearts. Human governments, activists, and healthcare workers cannot perform this kind of surgery on the human heart. But You my Lord and my God can and You will when we implement Your discipleship process in our lost and broken communities. Right now my Lord, I ask You to heal the brokenness in me that has wounded so many other people in the past. Please show me how I can be a channel of Your healing grace and mercy to others who are reeling in anger and pain. Lead me to those who are prepared to hear and believe Your gospel message, and then be taught to follow You as Your disciple. In Jesus’s name. Amen.