Finding hope and security in trying times

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 17:8

When King David wrote Psalm 17, he was facing strong opposition from “the wicked who oppress” him and were seeking to kill him (17:9-13). Perhaps you have experienced similar opposition in your life. Many Christians around the world are experiencing life-threatening persecution for their faith. I cannot remember a time in my life where I have seen more hatred and violence against God’s truth in the USA as we are seeing right now.

In this one verse in Psalm 17, God’s Word offers us much hope and security. David prays to the Lord, “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 17:8). Many people, Christians and non-Christians, have used this phrase, “the apple of your eye.” But what does it mean?

The Hebrew word for “apple” (ishon) means “little man.” The phrase “the apple of Your eye,” refers to the reflection a person sees of themselves in another person’s eye when they are looking at them. For your reflection to be caught in someone’s eye and for you to be able to see that reflection they must have their gaze fixed on you, and you must be standing close enough to them to see that reflection.

To say to someone, “You are the apple of my eye,” is to say “You are more special to me than anyone else.” If something is the apple of your eye, then this refers to all the things that your eyes behold which get your special attention, your complete attention.

David is asking God to keep him as the object of His affection, attention, love, and protection. Like a parent who keeps their loving gaze on their prized child, so God keeps His eyes on us.

Do we realize that we are the object of God’s affection and love? We are always in His vision because we are extremely special to Him! He is constantly paying attention to us even when we may feel alone and abandoned.

But there is more! David prays, “Hide me under the shadow of Your wings.” The word “hide” here means to carefully conceal. David is asking the Lord to hide or conceal him under the shadow of His wings much like a mother bird protects her young ones under the security of her wings where no predator can harm them.

Jesus Himself used a similar expression when He said in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

When we see the word, “hide,” we may remember that Adam and Eve hid from the Lord when they disobeyed Him (Genesis 3:8-10). Because of their sin and shame, Adam and Eve were afraid, so they hid from the Lord Jesus Who would walk with them in the cool of the Garden.

But if we are believers in Jesus Christ, there is no need to try to hide from the Lord. Because of Jesus’ shed blood for our sins and His sufficient sacrifice on the cross (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:11-10:18; Revelation 1:5; 12:11), we can now hide in Christ instead of hide from Him. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). We are forever safe and secure in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death for our sins has removed our guilt and shame so we may hide in Christ rather than from Him.

Whether we know it or not, we all have enemies: our own sinful nature, Satan the accuser and deceiver, all the armies of fallen angels, and all the wicked men of this world who oppose the love of the truth. Despite this onslaught of evil, we can find protection and security in the constant loving gaze and covering of our Almighty God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so impressed with Your constant focus on me. I am constantly in Your line of vision because I am so special to You. Hence, there is no need for me to feel alone or neglected. I am constantly the object of Your love and affection. Satan keeps trying to deceive me into thinking You don’t care about me or love me. But Your Word brings me back to the truth that I am so special to You that You never take Your eyes off of me. Despite all the evil in this world, I can find rest and security under the shadow of Your wings. Thank You that I do not need to hide from You any more because You have forgiven my sins and removed my shame through Your shed blood. I can now hide in You, my Lord and my God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 1

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” John 8:2

Are you living under condemnation? Are you weighed down by guilt and anxiety about your past? Maybe you have done things which would embarrass you if they became public knowledge. You may have a criminal record or a moral charge or a domestic conflict that, to this moment, is private information. You may wrestle with a past that has been fractured and wounded by a mental or emotional breakdown. Futile attempts at suicide may add to the previous scar tissue and increase your fear of being labeled “sick” or “nervous.” It’s possible you live with memories of an immoral relationship, a financial failure, a terrible habit, a divorce or a scandalous involvement. You may be your worst critic of your past.

Many of us are driven by shame. We believe we are flawed at the core of our being. Yes, we hear preachers say that God loves sinners, yet we are convinced that we are still worthless and unloved. We live under condemnation whether it be of our own doing or the doings of others, including the master of condemnation – Satan himself (Rev. 12:9-10).

How can I overcome this condemnation that keeps me buried under a load of guilt and shame? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look at John 7:53-8:11 to discover God’s remedy for the condemnation that often plagues us.

The first way I can overcome condemnation is to REST UNDER CHRIST’S GRACIOUS TEACHINGS (John 7:53-8:2). After Jesus had freely offered eternal satisfaction to the people gathered at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39), John tells us, “And everyone went to his own house.” (John 7:53). The religious leaders had criticized Nicodemus after His attempt to defend Jesus’ right to be heard. They didn’t believe a prophet would arise from Galilee. More than a prophet would arise from Galilee, however, and offer everlasting hope to that region. “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 8:1). The religious leaders slept comfortably and late, but Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had no place to lay His head in Jerusalem.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” (John 8:2). The day after the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple and all the people came to Him. Why did all the people come to sit under Jesus’ teaching? Was it because He beat them up spiritually and emotionally and people love to be put down? No. I believe these people were tired of the demands of the religious leaders, and they were drawn to the gentle and forgiving grace of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 12:20).

Notice that the Bible says Jesus “sat down and taught them.” Although sitting down was a normal rabbinic practice, I think it is very significant that John tells us this. Jesus did not stand like He did the day before in the temple (John 7:37). He “sat” among them to teach them. He was on the same level as His audience. He longs to connect with people so they can begin to see themselves as He sees them – someone who is infinitely loved and valued by God.

As they sat under His teaching and discovered the magnificence of His grace, they were healed from the malignancy of their guilt! How precious and broad is Christ’s love they found, yet how petty and narrow is man’s legalism (trying to keep the Law to gain God’s acceptance). How refreshing is the Lord’s grace! Yet how rigid is the legalist’s guilt! Christ’s grace was setting them free from their guilt and shame. And He wants to do the same for you. “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come into the world to condemn us. He came into the world to cleanse. He did not come to rub our sin in. He came to rub our sin out.

We can be free from the plague of condemnation and shame by coming out from under shame-based religious systems. These systems may preach the love of God and that Christ died for our sins, but at the core of their teaching they believe: “You are bad, God is good, so try harder.”

As Christians we need to be under the grace and truth of Jesus Christ which teaches: “God is good, you are being restored, so come and be.” As we place ourselves under His teaching, we will begin to see the weight of condemnation lifted and the wellspring of Jesus’ grace settle into our hearts and minds so we can focus on being and not working to earn His love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am learning so much from You about who I am in the sight of God. I used to see myself as a worthless sinner who is saved by grace. But You are helping me to see I am a child of God who is infinitely loved and valued by You and my Father in heaven. Lord, my heart is deeply concerned about the millions of people who are under religious teachings that condemn and oppress broken people in need of Your healing grace. They have no hope of freedom from condemnation and shame. They need You Lord Jesus. Please show them how good and gracious You are. Help them to come to know Your saving grace that makes them a new person on the inside who is free from condemnation and shame. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Christ’s clarity in a confused world – Part 2

“The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ ” John 7:46

When the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to people in the temple on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, those listening to Him were confused. Not because Jesus was unclear, but because their hearts were unprepared. After Jesus had promised that those who believe in Him would have rivers of living water flow out of their hearts (John 7:38), we read, “Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Truly this is the Prophet.’ ” (John 7:40). These people were impressed with Jesus’ words and concluded that “truly this is the Prophet” whom Moses had promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-18.

“Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ ” (John 7:41a). These people dared to go further and said Jesus was the promised Messiah. But a third group objected to this. “But some said, ‘Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?’ ” (John 7:41b-42). “Jesus cannot be the Messiah because He came from Galilee, but the Scripture tells us the Christ will be from the lineage of David from the town Bethlehem.” This group had overlooked the facts about Christ as many opponents to Christianity do today. 43 So there was a division among the people because of Him. 44 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.” (John 7:43-44). Divided opinion about Christ postponed Jesus’ arrest. No one touched Him because it was not the Father’s time for His Son to be crucified.

45 Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why have you not brought Him?’ 46 The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ ” (John 7:45-46). Can you imagine how these religious leaders felt when the very officers whom they sent out to arrest Jesus returned, having been arrested by Christ? “Where is He?” the priests demanded. “You knew where He was. Why didn’t you bring Him?” We can almost hear the response of the officers, “Well, it is hard to tell exactly what happened, but as we were listening to Him He somehow got through to us. We became so wrapped up in what He was saying we forgot what we set out to do. We must say that we have never heard anybody speak like this man. Jesus is the best Teacher ever!”

Let me ask you, do you know Jesus in this way? Do you get so caught up in His words that you forget what you are supposed to be doing? Do you think through what He is saying to you? Have you found yourself arrested by the One whom men sought to arrest?

“Then the Pharisees answered them, ‘Are you also deceived?’ ” (John 7:47). “You haven’t let Him deceive you, too, have you?” Do you hear the anger and contempt in those words? “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?” (John 7:48). Their question expects a negative answer and reflects their pride. “No one who is spiritual or intelligent (like us) would believe in Jesus!” These religious leaders assumed no one could be right except themselves. If they didn’t believe in Jesus, then He must be a fraud. “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” (John 7:49). The leaders are saying those in the crowd who believe in Jesus are too ignorant to realize that Jesus was a deceiver. “No one with any intelligence would believe in Christ.” Sometimes people become too educated to come to Christ. They have intellectual barriers that keep them from seeing who Jesus really is.

The religious leaders had denied that any important leaders had come to Christ and immediately Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night (John 3:1), speaks up. 50 Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, 51 ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’ ” (John 7:50-51). The leaders said the crowd was ignorant of the Law and Nicodemus points to their ignorance of the Law. He is saying that it is unfair to condemn Jesus before hearing His side of the case. Now this is a very courageous act on Nicodemus’ part. We see that Nicodemus is starting to confess Christ and make his relationship with Jesus known to others in the midst of a hostile crowd.

The leaders respond sarcastically. “They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” (John 7:52). They thought only someone from Galilee could be sympathetic with Christ. Their anger toward Jesus blinded them to the fact that other prophets had come from Galilee including Jonah. But what strikes me the most about the various crowd responses is Nicodemus’ courage which says, “I will speak up for Jesus no matter what!” Jesus had given Nicodemus eternal life back in John 3. And now Nicodemus is starting to speak up for the Lord.

Do you know Jesus in this way? Are you willing to stand up for Christ in the face of opposition? May God empower all of us to speak up for Jesus in the midst of a confused and hostile world. From this study we learn that the best way to overcome confusion is to abide in the TRUTH. The less time we spend in God’s Word, the more confused we will become in our world today. But focus on God’s Word, and the fog of confusion will disappear.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your clarity in the midst of a confused world. Your Word is what causes me to forget what I was going to do or say because it captivates my thoughts and breathes new life into my soul. Thank You for giving me perfect peace when nothing else on this planet will. Please grant me the courage to speak up for You when no one else will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christ’s clarity in a confused world – Part 1

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37b-38

Christian author and evangelist, Larry Moyer, writes, “Some years ago, a commuter train stalled on the tracks moments before a freight train was due to arrive. A conductor ran to flag down the approaching train, and the passengers were assured that there was no need for worry. As they began to relax, the freight train suddenly came bearing down upon them.

“The engineer of the freight train narrowly escaped death by jumping just before the impact. He later testified in court why he had not stopped: ‘I saw a man waving a warning flag, but it was yellow. I thought he just wanted me to slow down.’ Examining the flag in question explained the confusion. The flag had once been red, but long exposure to the sun and weather had turned it a dirty yellow color. The cause of the crash can be stated in one sentence: The message was not clear.” Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], p. 13.) Confusion can destroy lives both now and in eternity.

In a remarkable book published some years ago, Canon Roger Lloyd, an archdemon instructs on an ancient and effective piece of Satanic strategy, “Insert yourself into the simple situations which call for plain and obvious duties and complicate them and complicate them again until at last no one involved in them can make sense of the confusion.” ( confusion-2). 

Satan’s strategy is to confuse the world about the identity of Jesus Christ to prevent Him from becoming more well known. We are going to study Christ’s clarity in a confused world in John 7:37-52. First, we will look at CHRIST’S CLARITY ABOUT ETERNAL SATISFACTION (John 7:37-39). The first thingJesus taught about eternal satisfaction is that it is free.

On each of the first seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles the priest led a joyous parade from the Temple area down to the pool of Siloam where a golden pitcher would be filled with water. The priest, leading the procession, would then return to the Temple where he poured the water into a silver basin by the altar of burnt offering. This was accompanied by the recitation of Isaiah 12:3: “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” This ceremony symbolized God’s grace in providing water for the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness and His provision of refreshment and cleansing in the messianic age to come. It also served as a confession of thirst and an expression of prayer for autumn rains after the long, dry season.

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying…” (John 7:37a). The “last day” was the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles. On the eighth day, this water ceremony did not take place which makes Christ’s offer for living water even more amazing. Jesus “stood.” Rabbis usually sat when teaching their disciples, but Jesus stood because of the importance of what He was about to say and so He could be seen and heard better when He gave this marvelous invitation. When Christ cried out this invitation, He was claiming to be the fulfillment of all that the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated. He announces that He was the One, the Messiah, Who could provide Messianic blessings. Jesus’ words compared His own Person to the rock in the wilderness that supplied the needs of the Israelites (cf. Exodus 17:1-7;  I Corinthians 10:4).

There is only one prerequisite to Jesus’ invitation. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37b). “If anyone thirsts…” Only thirsty people drink. God has created us with a built-in need for Him. We are all born with a thirst for God — a longing to know God. For some, there is a deep thirst for significance. They want to feel like they are important and belong. That they are somebody. People whom society overlooks, those who are not wealthy, or handsome, or have strong personalities, thirst to be regarded as important. Some are looking for power – the ability to accomplish things. Jesus says to such. “If that is what you want, come to Me. Enter a personal relationship with Me,” Jesus says, “And your thirst for power and significance will be satisfied forever.”

Physical thirst is the most powerful drive known to man. The sex drive can be contained, you can even deny satisfying hunger for weeks at a time, but one thing you cannot leave unsatisfied is thirst. It becomes a driving force that takes over all your life and makes you think of nothing else but satisfying it.

Like the man crawling through the Sahara Desert when he is approached by another man riding on a camel. As the rider approaches, the crawling man whispers through his parched lips, ”Water … please. Can you give … water?” “I’m sorry,” replies the man on the camel, “I don’t have any water with me. But I’d be delighted to sell you a necktie.” “Necktie?” whispers the man. “I need water!” “They’re only four dollars apiece.” “I need water.” “Okay, okay, two for seven dollars.” “Please! I need water!” the man exclaims. “I don’t have any water, all I have are ties,” replies the salesman, as he heads off into the distance.

By now the man has lost all track of time, crawling through the desert seemingly for days. Finally, nearly dead, with clothes tattered and skin peeling under the relentless sun, he comes to an oasis with a restaurant. Summoning his last bit of strength, he staggers to the door and confronts the headwaiter. “Water … can I get … water,” the dying man pleads. “I’m sorry, sir. Neckties required.” I know – bad joke.

But have you ever really been thirsty? When you are thirsty, there is not much else you can think about, like appropriate clothing attire for fine dining. When you are thirsty, you cannot get it out of your mind. It is all you think about. That is what Jesus means. If you feel yourself driven, wanting something, restless and thirsty and longing for satisfaction, then His invitation is, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37b). Jesus says, “If anyone…”Regardless of your background, education, ethnicity, intelligence, or social status, Jesus says to come to Him for eternal satisfaction and it is free. You don’t have to pay a cent. You don’t have to work for it. You simply come to Christ as you are.

The second thing Jesus tells us about eternal satisfaction is that it is by faith. “He who believes in Me…” (John 7:38a). The way to come to Christ is by faith alone apart from any good works. The word “believe” (pisteuō) means to  be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend on that something.

For example, years ago, three men were fishing on the Broadback River in northern Quebec. A violent storm arose and gale force winds overturned their canoe. The men knew they couldn’t save themselves. They noticed the large ice chest that had been in the canoe now floating on the water. They were convinced the ice chest could hold them up, so they pulled the ice chest underneath them, rested their weight upon it and trusted it to save them. And it did.

What Jesus is saying is we are to come to Him just as we are – as sinners, understanding that He died in our place to take our punishment and rose again, so that all we must do is believe or trust in Him alone for the free gift of salvation. The moment we trust in Christ alone for salvation, “As the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38b).

What “Scripture” is Jesus thinking of? I agree with Zane Hodges who argues that it refers to Ezekiel’s vision of the future Millennial Temple in Ezekiel 47 (Zane C. Hodges, “Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-39,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136:543 (July-September 1979):239-48). “Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east…south of the altar… it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep… And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.” (Ezekiel 47:1, 5, 9).  Ezekiel is talking about the Temple of God in the future 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth.

There is a link between the altar and the water ceremony which reminds us of Ezekiel 47. The waters issue forth at the right side of the altar of the Millennial Temple and the priest would pour water on the right of the altar during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Also, the waters of Ezekiel’s prophecy have similar properties as the rivers Jesus speaks of, “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.” (Ezekiel 47:9).  Those waters are properly described as living waters. This will be a life-giving river that flows from the Temple in the future kingdom that will bring blessings to all it reaches.

If the Millennial Temple was to become the source of living, healing waters, could the destiny of those who believe in Christ be any different? Jesus tells us that when we come to Him as we are and believe in Him as our only hope of heaven, out of our innermost being will flow rivers (not just a river, but “rivers”) of living water. The great thing about what Jesus offers is that it will never run dry. We will always have more than we need. When we are filled with the water Jesus offers, it does not stop with us. It gushes out of us! It keeps coming and touches those that we touch. We become, pipes, so to speak – pipes for Jesus – that in effect, allow Christ’s living water to flow through us to others.  We are former thirsty people who now show thirsty people how to get a drink. God wants these rivers of living water to flow out of our lives to bless others.

So the third thing that we see about the eternal satisfaction that Jesus freely offers, is that it focuses on others. When we come to Jesus and He more than satisfies our spiritual thirst, we start to show concern for others. The satisfaction that we found in Christ leads us to reach out to needy people around us and to minister to them. Why not be a pipe for Jesus and let His blessing flow through you as you step out in faith to share the gospel with those who don’t have Christ in their lives? Be the channel through which the unsaved can discover how much God loves them and wants to bless them with eternal life. God saved you so that you can become a blessing to others as His rivers of living water flow through you to satisfy the need of other people.

John identifies what the living water is. “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39). The living water is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not be given until after Jesus was glorified, that is, after His death, resurrection and return to the Father in heaven. This giving of the Holy Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost (cf. John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-13; I Corinthians 12:13). Jesus is announcing that the Holy Spirit would come on believers in a new way, namely, to regenerate (John 3:3-8; cf. Titus 3:4-7), baptize (John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5; I Corinthians 12:13), indwell (John 14:16-17; I Corinthians 6:19), seal (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30), and empower them (cf. Acts 1:8).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your clarity in the midst of a very confused world. You alone are the Messiah-God!!! You created me with a spiritual thirst that only You can quench. I once tried to quench my thirst through the things of this world, including religion. But they only left me more dissatisfied. Thank You for freely giving me eternal satisfaction the moment I believed in You. I now have rivers of living water flowing through my inner being which can never run dry. As I continue to abide in You and Your Word, Your rivers of living water can flow through me to others who are searching for Your eternal satisfaction. Please grant me the boldness and clarity to proclaim Your eternal satisfaction to those who would otherwise die forever in confusion. Thank You for hearing my prayer my Lord and my God. In Your holy and powerful name. Amen.

Who are you and where are you going? Part 2

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.’ ” John 7:33

In this article we will address the second question: Where are you going? To do this we will look at THE QUESTION OF JESUS’ DESTINY (John 7:32-36). When the religious leaders heard that people were believing in Jesus (John 7:31), they dispatched temple guards to arrest Christ. “The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.” (John 7:32). These religious leaders did not want more people to turn to Christ in faith and stop giving money to the temple where they served. So they sought to arrest Christ to bring His message of grace to a halt.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.’ ” (John 7:33). We see that Jesus is fully in control when He says, “I shall be with you a little while longer.” Even though these religious leaders wanted to arrest Him now so they could have Him killed, it would be six more months before Jesus would be crucified, buried, and raised from the dead to return to His Father in heaven who sent Him to earth. Christ assures them, “You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” (John 7:34). After Jesus’ return to the Father in heaven, the religious leaders will search frantically for His body to silence rumors about His resurrection. They will not be able to join Christ in heaven because of their unbelief.

“Then the Jews said among themselves, ‘Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?’ ” (John 7:35). Christ’s listeners concluded that Jesus was talking about physical matters and earthly places. These Jewish leaders surmise that Jesus was planning to leave Israel and go to Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Little do they know that their words are somewhat prophetic because Christ’s gospel message would spread throughout the Roman Empire to “the Greeks” or Gentiles after Jesus’ death and resurrection (cf. Acts 1:8ff).

Not only do these leaders misunderstand Jesus’ identity, but they also misunderstand His destiny. “What is this thing that He said, ‘You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come?’” (John 7:36). Christ’s words puzzled these leaders and made them uneasy. “Is He mocking us? Should we understand more?” they asked themselves. They cannot embrace the fact that Jesus will rise from the dead and return to His Father in heaven, which would show these leaders’ gospel message of salvation by works is untrue.

Because He knew who He was, Jesus also knew where He was going. Because He was the eternal Son of God He would return to His natural abode with His Father in heaven. But what about you? Do you know your eternal destiny? Do you know where you will go after you die? You can know for sure by listening to what John (the same writer of the gospel of John) says in I John 5:13: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

To whom is John writing? To those who believe in the name of the Son of God. What does he want them to know? That they “have eternal life.” You can know 100% sure that you will go to be with Jesus when you die because God says you have eternal life the moment you believe in Christ. That is good news, isn’t it!?!

When I preached this message a few years ago, I used a carved pumpkin to illustrate what Jesus is talking about. I asked for a volunteer from the audience to help me. I then said, “This pumpkin can remind us of what Jesus has done for us and who we are.” Next, I had the volunteer take off the lid of the pumpkin and then I said, “We need to open our minds to Jesus so we can learn from Him.” Then I had the volunteer pull out a bag of the pumpkin’s seeds and pulp and said, “When we trust Christ to take us to heaven, He forgives all our sins and cleanses our hearts… (I had the volunteer show the audience how clean the inside of the pumpkin is now) – just the way God cleans us.”

Then the volunteer took out the heart-shaped eyes and I said, “How can we see how much God loves us? Through creation, the Bible, and our families.”  Next, the volunteer took out the cross-shaped nose as I shared, “What does it mean to turn our nose up at something? It means we don’t like it. Sometimes we may think we know what we need better than God does. But when we remember that Jesus died on the cross for us, we know that God gave us all we really need.” 

The volunteer then took out the Bible-shaped ears and I said, “Do your parents ever have to tell you to do something more than once? Sometimes we don’t listen very well. Just like our parents, God wants us to listen to Him. The Bible tells us how much God loves us, how He has made us new people on the inside, how He wants us to live and how He will help us. We always need to listen to God’s Word.”

When the volunteer pulled out the fish-shaped mouth, I said, “Jesus told His disciples that they were not going to catch fish anymore, but instead they would fish for people by telling them the Good News about Jesus. We can also use our mouths to tell others about Jesus, too. We will give you gospel tracts to distribute to the unsaved.”

After the volunteer lit a candle and placed it inside the pumpkin, I said, “This candlelight represents the Holy Spirit who lives inside us. When we let Jesus open up every part of us, He can shine through us so others will see Him in us. Then our friends will want to have Jesus in their lives, too!”

Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us everlasting life the moment we believed in Christ alone. We are now Your beloved children who are bound for heaven. Please enable us to see ourselves as citizens of heaven in our fallen world so others can see Jesus in and through us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Who are you and where are you going? Part 1

“But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” John 7:29

In his book Grace Walk, Steve McVey writes: “When I was a student in high school, a hypnotist came to our science class. He brought four students to the front of the room and hypnotized them together. While they were in a trance he told them that when they woke up, they would each be an animal. One boy was told that he would be a monkey. Another would wake up as a dog. One girl would be a chicken and the other a turkey. The hypnotist said, ‘I will count to five and snap my fingers, and when I do you will wake up.’ He slowly counted to five, snapped his fingers, and they woke up like he had said.

“What happened next was quite a sight. They behaved exactly like the animals they had been told they would become. One hopped around all stooped over, with his hands swinging by his sides like a monkey. He jumped up on a desk and screeched like a Cheetah. The other boy started barking and running around the room like a dog. The first girl folded her hands under her arms and clucked as if she was trying to lay eggs. The other started around like a turkey, gobbling as aloud as she could and scratching at the floor with both hands. It was a comical sight to see people act like the animals they thought they were. After a while the hypnotist woke them up and let them come back to their real identities. You can imagine how embarrassed they were when we told them how they had behaved.

“Many Christians behave in ways they don’t understand. They want to be saints, but most of the time it seems that living like saints demands too much effort and attention. It is usually much easier just to ‘be yourself.’ That thought raises an important question. Who are you? … If we believe we are a dog, nothing can keep us from barking. If we believe we are a monkey, all the evidence in the world can’t make us behave like anything else. Through the power of suggestion many Christians have been deceived into believing that they are something other than what God has made them to be. Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free.’ Our identity in Christ is one of the most liberating truths we will ever understand.” (Steve McVey, Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life [Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2005], pp. 41-42).

We are going to answer two questions that are raised in John 7:25-36: Who are you and where are you going? In this article, we will look at who you are by focusing on … THE QUESTION OF JESUS’ IDENTITY (John 7:25-31). The people Jesus was speaking to in the temple were confused about His identity. “Now some of them from Jerusalem said, ‘Is this not He whom they seek to kill?’ ” (John 7:25). Some of the residents of Jerusalem heard a nasty rumor about the religious leaders’ plan to kill Jesus. Their question expects a negative answer: “This can’t be the guy they are seeking to kill, is it? Afterall – “But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?” (John 7:26). The crowd was impressed with Jesus’ courage to speak openly despite the plan to kill Him.

The people were wondering if perhaps the reason why the religious leaders had not sought to kill Jesus yet was because they had recognized Jesus to be the Messiah-God. “However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” (John 7:27). The crowd doubted Jesus’ identity as the Messiah because they could trace His origin from Nazareth in Galilee. Some of the Jerusalem residents held to a tradition which said that the origin of the Messiah would be unknown. But this was a smokescreen to avoid the obvious facts about Christ.

We live in a culture today that is very confused about the identity of Jesus Christ. According to Mormonism, Jesus Christ is a self-progressing deity who was created through procreation between the male and female earth gods. Jehovah Witnesses claim that Jesus was a created being who pre-existed as the angel Michael and then was changed into the mortal man Jesus. The Iglesia Ni Cristo cult in the Philippines believes Jesus was created by God the Father and is His highest creation, but He is not God. Many of today’s world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism view Jesus as either a prophet or a good moral teacher, but not God Himself. So the confusion that existed in John’s day still exists today. But when Jesus speaks, the confusion turns into clarity.

“Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, ‘You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.’” (John 7:28). “So you know Me and where I am from, do you?” They knew He was from Nazareth but they didn’t know the more important sense of where He was from. Jesus was sent on a mission by the One who is true, His Father Whom the crowd did not know. If they knew the Father, they would know the One whom the Father sent. Jesus continues, “But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” (John 7:29).But Jesus knew the Father because He has always been from Him – He was with Him from eternity past. Christ was sent by the Father to show people what God is like and to save them from their sins. We see from this that Christ’s claim to be the eternal Son of God calls for a response.

Some of the crowd rejected Christ. “Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.” (John 7:30). They sought to arrest Jesus because He claimed to be the Son of God but they could not touch Him because it was not God’s time for His Son to be crucified. The time of every man’s death has been fixed by God and no one can interfere with that (cf. Psalm 139:16). “And many of the people believed in Him and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’ ” (John 7:31). Their question expects a negative answer. In other words, they could not imagine that the prophesied Messiah would do more miraculous signs than Jesus had done. Hence, they were persuaded to believe in Jesus as the Christ because of the miracles He had done (cf. John 5:36; 10:25, 38; 14:10-11; 20:31).

So we see that Jesus knows who He is – the eternal Son of God sent by His Father to save mankind. Knowing who He is resulted in great boldness before a mixed audience (John 7:26). But what about you? How would you answer the question, “Who are you?” You might tell us your name, but if I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say then? If you are like most people, you will tell me what you do. “I am a student, an electrician, a construction worker, a customer service representative, a teacher, or a pastor.” You have sought value through your title or position.

Or you may say, “I drive a BMW or I own a $500,000 home.” Perhaps you have new stylish clothes thinking that these possessions will add to your importance. Or you may be a “name dropper” because you think that having an association with someone who is successful or famous will increase the value of who you are. Some of us may seek validation from our appearance. So we go to the fitness center to gain the “right” body image to increase our attractiveness thinking that it will give us a new level of importance.

Another common way we may try to establish our value based on performance is through our skills. In our American culture, we idolize actors, athletes, and musicians because of their skills. We believe that if we are great at doing something, it will increase our value. This also applies to mental abilities. We are convinced that if we are mentally gifted, people will admire us more. So we try to get the best test scores in school or demonstrate greater mental skills on the job to get a promotion. This area breeds perfectionism. Mistakes are not okay because they reveal weaknesses and bring shame on us.

We have been programmed to think of identity as inseparable from behavior. We have been taught that our value is based on what we do rather than who we are. Most people believe the lie that says, “I am what I do.”

But listen – God doesn’t look at it that way. God determines identity by birth, not behavior. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:3, 23). A person born into the family of God by faith in Christ (John 1:12) receives a new identity: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When you believe in Christ alone for His gift of salvation, you become a new creation. God created a new person when you were saved. You are not the same person you were before you became a Christian. When you were born into the family of God, you received the following family traits:

YOU ARE FULLY ACCEPTED BY GOD. The Bible says, “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6). It is difficult to warm up to someone if you think they don’t accept you, isn’t it? It is hard to have an intimate relationship with someone if you perceive they don’t like you. But because Christ has received you and He is fully accepted by the Father, you are fully accepted by God as well. You are totally accepted by God because you are “in the Beloved,” Jesus Christ. You don’t need to change a thing about yourself for God to accept you. Your acceptance by God is not based on what you do, but on who you are in Christ. You no longer need to withhold your true self from others. You are free to express who you are without shame.

YOU ARE GOD’S WORK OF ART. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). The word “workmanship” is the Greek word poiēma from which we get our English word “poem.” A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem—you have been specially created by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being “in Christ.” And God sees in you holiness… beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you. You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as His heavenly work of art – His masterpiece!!!

YOU ARE AN AMBASSADOR. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20). What is an ambassador? The highest ranking diplomatic representative appointed by one country or government to represent it in another country. When you become a Christian, you also become God’s representative here on earth. You are on this planet representing the King of kings and Lord of lords. This a great honor to be appointed this position. The more you see yourself as Christ’s ambassador, the more of His boldness you will have in living and speaking for Him. You represent the most powerful and important Person in the universe. He has your back (cf. Joshua 1:9; 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17; Psalm 118:6-7; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 28:20).

But you may be thinking, “I don’t feel accepted by God. I don’t see myself as a heavenly poem. I don’t behave like an ambassador for Christ.” I can understand this. But we must decide whether we will trust what we feel and think or what God has said in His Word. Satan has caused many Christians to believe that they are not really new persons in Christ. He tells them they should try to act like new creations because that is their Christian duty. But God says you are a new creation. When you come to believe that fact by faith, you won’t feel the need to act. You can just be yourself, allowing Christ in you to flow through your personality and out of your life. 

You may wonder, “Why don’t I act like who I am?” Remember the people who acted like animals when they were hypnotized? They acted that way because they temporarily believed a lie about their identity. When they were brought out of the hypnotic trance and understood reality, they began to behave like the people they really were.

Why do people who are holy act unholy? Why do many believers struggle with sins, constantly trying to overcome them? Because Satan has deceived them into believing they are the same persons they were before they came to Christ. And we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Satan, the great deceiver, has caused us to believe that at the core of our being, we are nothing more than rotten sinners. That describes what we were before we were saved, but not anymore!

If the hypnotist had been able to keep those four students believing his suggestion, they would still be barking, cackling, gobbling, and screeching! But they did wake up to the truth. That’s what needs to happen to many Christians today!

Have you been hypnotized to live under a false identity, so that you see yourself as nothing more than a saved sinner trying to serve God? Let this truth wake you up! You are not just a sinner saved by grace. You are a saint who has the life of Christ at the center of your being. A sinner saved by grace spends his time on the defensive against Satan. Someone who knows he is a saint goes on the offensive.

When those four hypnotized students woke up and realized how they had behaved, they felt pretty silly. That pictures the attitude of believers who wake up to their true identity in Christ. They will sometimes lapse into old patterns of living and will choose to sin. But when they do, they know that their behavior is inconsistent with who they are in Christ. And it won’t be long until they open their eyes and realize, “It’s ridiculous for me to behave this way!”

Prayer: Father God, so much of my life has been driven by shame. I have sought to hide or even numb my shame through my performance. I am realizing, that apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, I cannot break free from shame. None of us can. Thank You, Father, for changing me from a sinner into a saint the moment I believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. I am not the same person I used to be. But Satan keeps trying to deceive me into believing I have not changed. Please renew my mind about who I am in Christ. The more I see myself as You see me, the more I will live in a way that is consistent with who I am in Jesus. I want to speak boldly about Jesus just as He did in the temple in front of a mixed audience. Father, help me see myself as You do so Christ’s boldness will flow through me and people will come to faith in Him. In His powerful name I pray. Amen.

Comfort instead of Chaos

During this time of chaos and uncertainty, God has drawn me back to one of the greatest sources of comfort and hope that we have as Christians. It has to do with the next event on God’s Prophetic Calendar known as the Rapture or sudden removal of Christians from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus in the air to be with Him forever (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. John 14:1-3; I Thess. 1:10; 4:13-5:11).

When the apostle John, a member of the Church, was caught up to heaven, he saw “twenty-four elders” sitting on thrones around the throne of God. “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads” (Rev. 4:4).  These twenty-four elders represent faithful believers from the Church Age since “elders” in the New Testament are leaders of the local Church (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28;  I Tim. 4:14; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1).

The fact that these elders are already sitting on “thrones,” wearing “white garments” and “crowns” indicates they have already appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their rewards (cf. I Cor. 3:8-15; 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:4-5, 21; 22:12), which means the vision John describes in heaven takes place after the Rapture of the Church. This is supported further by the absence of the word “church” and any references to Christians on earth in Chapters 6-18 of Revelation, which describe the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth. The reason the Church is not mentioned in Revelation 6-18 is because it has already been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ to deliver her from “the wrath to come” as  taught by the apostle Paul in I Thessalonians 1:10.

The apostle Paul then explains how Jesus will deliver us from the coming wrath of the Tribulation period in I Thessalonians 4. “For if [or since] we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (I Thess. 4:14). The Rapture or Removal of the Church is just as certain as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At one point in time the death and resurrection of Christ were prophecy. But now they are history. We can believe the Rapture with equal certainty.

The apostle Paul expected the removal of the Church from the earth to take place while he was alive on earth and so should we. Paul wrote, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). The words “caught up” are from the Greek word haparzo which means “to snatch up or away suddenly.”Paul describes it like this I Corinthians 15:52“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet… the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” In the time it takes you to blink your eye, the Lord will snatch all believers in Jesus off the earth to meet Him in the air – not one will remain behind.

This sudden removal of all Christians from the earth is intended to comfort believers in Jesus. That’s why Paul writes, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thess. 4:18). If the Rapture of the Church is at the middle or end of the seven year Tribulation period of intense and unusual suffering on earth (Rev. 6-18), there would be little comfort and encouragement in this. But the prospect of Christ coming at any moment is a much greater comfort. Jesus could come back today for His Church. Are you ready? If not, here is how you can prepare for Christ’s coming for His Church.

You must receive Jesus’ free gift of everlasting life to leave this earth with the Church to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). You may ask “Why do I need everlasting life?” Because all people have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23) anddeserve death (Rom. 6:23) or separation from God forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). But Jesus Christ loved us so much He came to earth to die on a cross for all of our sins and rose from the dead, proving He is God (Rom. 1:3-4; I Cor. 15:3-6). Jesus now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone when He says,  “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). It does not matter how good or bad you have been. Jesus offers you everlasting life as a free gift if you would simply believe in Him alone for it.

When you believe in Jesus, He gives you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 3:16; 10:28-29) and He guarantees you a home in heaven when you die or when He returns, whichever occurs first (John 14:1-3). His Holy Spirit places you in the body of Christ, His Church (I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Ephes. 1:22-23). Christ wants to use you now to share this message of comfort and hope with those who are perishing without Him (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). 

Rather than focus on the chaos and social unrest of our unbelieving world which is trying to advance a cashless system and other ways to track people, let’s focus on the comfort of our Lord’s glorious coming for His Church. By doing so, we will be more motivated to share the gospel with the lost people of this world and prepared to face Jesus as our Judge at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:9-11; I John 4:17-19).

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 4

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24

The final way to stay focused on what is important to God is to ATTEND TO RELATIONSHIPS MORE THAN RULES (John 7:24). Jesus said to His Jewish audience in the temple,Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24). Christ doesn’t confront His listeners for judging His actions. He confronts the basis on which they judge His actions. “Stop judging people according to your superficial, legalistic rules. Instead judge according to what is right, according to the biblical facts. Nowhere does the Bible forbid healing on the Sabbath. So don’t take a superficial view of what I did when the lame man was healed and took up his bed and went home, but take a right view of the lame man who was mercifully healed and could walk again. Show more concern for relationships instead of your rules. Focus more on meeting the needs of people instead of yourselves,” Jesus says.

Christian author, Charlie Bing, writes, “Legalism is the abuse of grace that seeks to bring Christians either back under the Mosaic law or [under] some artificial standard for acceptance with God that has been created by others. The legalist insists on following a list of do’s and don’ts …. Legalistic Christians can easily fall under the expectations of others that make them feel guilty falsely. For example, they can be made to feel that they are not spiritual because of what Bible translation they use, how they dress, what they eat or don’t eat, what movies they see, what music they listen to, what church meetings they do or don’t attend—or any other issue which the Bible does not address directly.

“What the legalist fails to realize is that Jesus not only set us free from the Old Testament law (Rom. 6:14; 7:4-6; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-7) but He also set us free from artificial man-made standards that are not in the Bible. We are accepted by God because we are His children by grace (Gal. 4:7). We stand accepted by grace (Rom. 5:1-2) and are thus secured by His grace until the time that we see Him (Rom. 8:29-39). Since every believer is accepted on the basis of grace we should accept other believers who differ on issues not clearly defined as right or wrong in the Bible (Romans 14).” (from gracenotes.asp?id=12).

We need to look at life from God’s point of view, so that what He values is what we value, and we can make decisions that are in line with His. God doesn’t just smile at the old hymns; He also smiles on country… classical… Christian rock and rap music. We can approach God with just as much confidence in cut offs or blue jeans as we can in a suit and tie. God is more concerned about our hearts than our hair, our character more than our clothes, our motives more than our music, our disposition more than our decorations.

Chuck Swindoll writes in his book, The Grace Awakening, “One of my favorite stories comes from a man who used to be in our church. He and his wife were close friends of our family, but they have now moved to another part of the country. We really miss their joyful presence.

“When he was a youth worker many years ago in an ethnic community, he attended a church that had Scandinavian roots. Being a rather forward-looking and creative young man, he decided he would show the youth group a missionary film. We’re talking simple, safe, black-and-white religious-oriented movie. That film projector hadn’t been off an hour before a group of the leaders in the church called him in and asked him about what he had done. They asked, ‘Did you show the young people a film?’ In all honesty he responded, ‘Well, yeah, I did.’ ‘We don’t like that,’ they replied. Without trying to be argumentative, the youth worker reasoned, ‘Well, I remember that at the last missionary conference, our church showed slides-’

“One of the church officers put his hand up signaling him to cease talking. Then, in these words, he emphatically explained the conflict: ‘If it’s still, fine. If it moves, sin! You can show slides, but when they start moving’, you’re gettin’ into sin.’ ”

That church had lost sight of what is really important. This can happen to us as well in our Christian lives. When we lose sight of what God values we become more intolerant and prevent honest seekers from approaching God. We can stifle believers from growing in God’s grace. Love gets replaced by a long mental checklist so that the joy of friendship is fractured by judgmental attitudes. As a result, mere differences become right or wrong issues. So instead of the length of your hair or the type of music you like being just a difference, it suddenly becomes a right or wrong issue… a measure of spirituality.

May God help us to major on the majors… to focus on what’s really important to Him. May we be people who…

AVOID Hiding Behind Foolish Stereotypes

ASCERTAIN God’s Will By Doing It

ASSESS Those Who Teach US

ATTEND To Relationships More Than Rules

During this season of challenges, let’s focus on the Gift that matters most – the One Who gave His life so that those who believe in Him may have life that never ends!

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the gift of Your Son who offers everlasting life freely to those who trust in Him alone. Teach us to be more like Him by majoring on the majors. Forgive us for our misplaced priorities, and enable us to focus on the One who died in our place and rose from the dead. Keep us trusting Your word, understanding it, and seeking to obey it that we might focus our lives around what is most important to You – a living relationship with Jesus Christ and other people. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 3

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” John 7:18

So far in our discussion about how to stay focused on what is important to God, we have learned to avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16) and to ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17). Today we learn to ASSESS THOSE WHO TEACH US (John 7:18-23). We all have teachers. We should have those who disciple us. However, we must be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets or teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, they may appear to be Christians. They may be very gentle, kind, loving and quite popular, but if they are teaching a message that is contrary to Jesus’ message, they are false teachers and they are to be avoided.

Jesus gives us a clear warning – “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory.” (John 7:18a). Jesus gives us several things to look for in a teacher:

1.  Who is the teacher seeking to glorify? Himself or God the Father? Jesus sought to glorify the One who sent Him by teaching the doctrine His Father gave Him (John 7:16; cf. 5:19-20; 12:49-50). Jesus did not seek His own glory. What Jesus taught was always true. What Jesus taught was always consistent with what His Father taught. When a person advances the ideas of another person, it glorifies his teacher rather than himself. However, when he advances his own ideas instead of his teacher’s, it dishonors his teacher and glorifies himself. When we distort or mishandle God’s Word, we are seeking our own glory instead of God’s.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say my earthly father told me to invite people to meet him for a free meal at Mullets Restaurant in Des Moines at 8 am this Saturday by using the Dart Bus local route 6, but I told everyone I knew to meet him there at 8 am this Saturday by taking the Dart Bus route 52 because it is a more popular route (which does not go to that destination). Imagine the consequences!

First, no one would make it to the right destination because I had not communicated my father’s directions correctly. Second, all of them would miss out on a free meal. Third, they would think less of my father for sending them on a bus that took them to a destination where he was not present, thus wasting their time. By failing to communicate my father’s message accurately, I would damage his reputation and cause many people to miss out on his blessings. In addition, it would draw much attention (albeit negative) to myself from both my father and those I invited. On the other hand, if I had communicated his message accurately, many would enjoy a free meal and look up to my father for being so generous and gracious.

This is much more than semantics or splitting hairs. God has chosen specific words to communicate how to spend eternity with Him in Heaven (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; et al.). His word is truth (John 17:17), not our opinions. When we distort or mishandle His saving message by inserting unclear clichés such as “give your life to Christ,” “invite Jesus into your heart,” “surrender to Christ” instead of the words Jesus taught about how to obtain eternal life (believe or faith), we do not please the Lord even if that is our sincere desire. In addition, we are also making it easier for people to arrive at the wrong eternal destination. However, when we tell people the same condition for obtaining eternal life that Jesus taught (believe in Him – John 3:15-18; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38-39; 11:25-26; et al.), we are glorifying Jesus Christ and the Father who taught Him, and we are giving lost people the Good News they desperately need to hear.

2. Are they telling the truth about Christ and our need for Him? Jesus claimed something about Himself that could not be said about any other person – “But He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:18b). Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He is fully God and fully human. He never said, did, or thought anything wrong. Even His motives were sinless. He always sought to glorify His Father. Jesus’ listeners were the opposite of Him. They were sinners. “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19). This is true of all of us. None of us can keep all of God’s laws. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). No matter how well you keep the rest of God’s laws, if you fail at one point, you are considered a lawbreaker and deserving of eternal punishment. And the Bible tells us that all of us fall short of His glory or perfection (Rom. 3:23).  

So maybe you have never murdered anyone or committed adultery, but have you ever misused God’s name or have you ever failed to love Him more than anyone or anything else? Our innocence in one area does not excuse us in other areas. All of us are sinners and sinners need a Savior. Instead of looking to Jesus to save them, Jesus’ listeners were seeking to kill Him. If a teacher depreciates the Person and work of Christ (denies He is fully God who took the punishment for all our sin and rose from the dead) and denies their own sinfulness, and therefore denies the need to trust in Christ alone for salvation, they are not from God and should be avoided.

First Timothy 6:3-5 tells us: 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” In other words, there is a fungus among us and they need to be avoided. If a church or denomination ever goes down this slippery slope of depreciating the Person and work of Christ by denying His deity or distorting His gospel, it will be decision time. Will we follow Jesus and His teachings or will we follow people’s opinions and traditions?

We are living in an age similar to what Paul describes: “For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 Living Bible). We need to ask ourselves when we listen to teachers at church, on TV, the radio, the internet or even in a book, “Are these teachers telling us the truth, (which is sometimes painful) or are they telling us what they think we want to hear? Are they teaching salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone or are they teaching a faith plus gospel?” If a teacher is focused on glorifying God, if they seek to get across what God has said so that people might be delivered from sin’s penalty and obtain the free gift of eternal life simply by believing in Jesus alone who is the true God and eternal life, then you can trust that kind of teacher.

3. Are they living by a double standard? Instead of admitting their desire to murder Jesus, the crowd lies: “The people answered and said, ‘You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?’ ” (John 7:20). Because Christ’s grace conflicts with their legalistic understanding, they accuse Jesus of having a demon. 21 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?’ ” (John 7:21-23). The religious leaders accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath by healing a man who had been lame for 38 years (see John 5). However, these same people did not feel it was a violation of the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the Sabbath. According to their logic, it was right to make one part of the body right before God, but not the entire body. Their logic was falling apart. Jesus did more for that lame man than the religious leaders did for the boy who was circumcised. They thought their act was consistent with what God desired but they couldn’t see that with Jesus. That’s a double standard.

When I was having a discussion with another pastor a few years ago, he said to me that if I was humble, I would agree with his understanding of a particular passage of Scripture. And I did agree with him about that passage. And then I asked him if he was open to understanding another passage in a way that may be new to him, and he said, “No.” This same person, who was ready to accuse me of being proud for not agreeing with his understanding of Scripture, turned around and was very close-minded to a different interpretation of Scripture. That kind of double standard inhibits growth. If we are not teachable and open to learning new insights from God’s Word, we are going to remain spiritually stunted like the legalistic Jews that Jesus was encountering.

If we are going to stay focused on what is important to God, we must avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16), ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17), and assess those who teach us (John 7:18-23). If the person who instructs us does not magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ for the glory of God, then we are to avoid his or her teaching so we may remain focused on what is important to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in terms of whom I place myself under to receive instruction. Also, please enable me to resemble You in my teaching of others. May all of us who teach be consistent in teaching what You taught so You are most glorified and people will be most satisfied in You. Help us to magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man Who paid our sin debt in full so all anyone must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him alone. If other Christians depart from sound doctrine to follow those who teach what they want to hear, help us to remain faithful to Your words which give eternal life. Forgive us for closing our hearts off to Your instruction. Please give us an open heart that longs to gain new insights from Your Word so we may continue to focus on what matters most to You – Your glory and Your gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 2

“If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” John 7:17

The second way to major on the majors is to ASCERTAIN GOD’S WILL BY DOING IT (John 7:17). “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:17). If anyone was willing to do God’s will, not just to know God’s truth, God would enable that one to believe that Jesus’ teaching came from heaven. The most important thing then is a commitment to follow God’s will. Once a person makes that commitment, God begins to convince him or her of what is true. Faith must precede reason, not the other way around.

Although this promise applies to all that Jesus taught, it especially applies to what a person must do to have everlasting life. Everyone who is willing to do what God says will discover that anyone who believes or trusts in Jesus alone has everlasting life. Jesus said, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:40). Unfortunately, many of Jesus’ listeners did not want to do God’s will, so they never discovered the free gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus. Instead, they wanted to kill Jesus and bring His teaching to an end (cf. John 7:19-20).

We see this happening often today. The reason people do not discover the freeness of everlasting life through faith alone in Christ alone is because they are not willing to do God’s will. They are committed to doing their own will instead of God’s. Hence, they embrace a “faith plus” gospel that emphasizes good works to get them to heaven. But because this is their will instead of God’s, they are convinced that this is the right way to heaven. It is not until they are willing to do what God says that they discover that everlasting life is a free gift through believing in Jesus Christ apart from any works (John 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

The reason why so many people reject that Jesus is God is because they are not willing to do God’s will. If they were willing, God would enable them to believe that Jesus is the true God and eternal life (John 1:1; I John 5:20). Spiritual understanding and growth begins with our willingness to do what God says.

But those who do believe in Christ for salvation must be willing to apply what they know to grow in their faith. We learn by doing. For example, we can know how to share the gospel, but we will not grow in evangelism until we start sharing Christ with non-Christians. Likewise, you can know the steps to forgiveness, but you will not grow in forgiveness until you choose to actually forgive the people who have hurt you. You may be able to quote 1 Corinthians 13, but until you choose to work at loving your enemy and those who are difficult to love, you inhibit your ability to grow in love. You can know how important discipleship is, but until you begin carving time out of your schedule to study God’s Word and teach it to others, you will not grow further in discipleship.

With every act of obedience, the truth of what Jesus says becomes more and more persuasive to us. We know it is true, because God proves Himself true every time. This explains why some new believers learn and grow with incredible speed. They become grown up, mature believers, in a matter of months, while others who sit under the teaching of the Word for years hardly seem to grow at all; they are still Kindergarten Christians. Why is this? It is because they are not doing what they hear. Those who put into practice the truth they hear begin to grow immediately. They move beyond spiritual infancy and enter the spiritual infantry of Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, salvation and spiritual growth begin with my will. If I am not willing to do what You say, I will not discover the reality of everlasting through faith in You alone. If I am not willing to do Your will after I am saved, I will not grow in my relationship with You. Lord God, I want to become a doer of Your Word and not merely a hearer. Please help me to grow beyond where I am today by taking that first step of obedience to Your will. Every time I obey You, the truth of what You say becomes more persuasive to me. I grow spiritually by doing what Your Word says, not by hearing. I pray Your church will be filled with followers of Christ who are growing exponentially as doers of Your Word and not hearers only. As a result, You will receive more glory and the world will be a much better place to live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.