Category Archives: Acceptance

Celebrated not condemned

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

I was drawn to a favorite verse today in the book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament. If you are like me, you may struggle with shame. I’m not talking about true shame. True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10). All of us experience this kind of shame because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

But what I am talking about is false shame which can be at the core of our being. False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was verbally or sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

True shame says, “I have done wrong.” But false shame says, “I am wrong.” Do you see the difference?  

When talking about false shame, we may believe deep down inside us that we are unacceptable or worthless before God. We may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but we do not believe it nor experience it in the deepest part of our being. Deep down we think we have to earn God’s love or that God would never love us as we are.

Shame-based lies keep us from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” “I don’t have what it takes to be a God-honoring child of God.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Our verse in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zephaniah 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

In the future, after King Jesus defeats all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation period (Zephaniah 3:15; cf. Revelation 19:11-21), He will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (Zephaniah 3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (Zephaniah 3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

Let’s get more personal in our application of this verse, especially as it relates to false shame. King Jesus has the “mighty” power to “save” us from shame-based memories or feelings from trauma in our past so they do not invade our present relationships, especially with those we care the most about. King Jesus “rejoices” over us, He does not reject us. He delights in us, He does not despise us. We bring King Jesus pleasure, not pain simply because we are His beloved children through faith in Him for everlasting life. King Jesus will “quiet” or calm us with His passionate “love” for us! His great love for us cannot be contained, but bursts into joyful celebration and “singing” over us.

King Jesus wants to celebrate us, not criticize or condemn us. He wants to delight in us, not despise us. Christ loves us, He does not loathe us. King Jesus rejoices over us, He does not reject us. He sings over us, He does not shame us.

Some of us are running from this false shame inside us. We stay busy to avoid these feelings of shame. We seek different coping behaviors to medicate our shame and fear inside us. They seem too overwhelming for us to face. But please hear me. Jesus wants to quiet your soul with His radical love. He wants us to stop running and rest in His loving presence.

For some of us, this may seem very disturbing because we have listened to shame-based lies all our lives. And if we slow down, we may start to feel unwanted emotions that we have buried under layers of self-protection. But King Jesus wants to walk with us through these painful emotions or memories to bring healing and restoration to our lives.

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:17-19; I John 4:9-11). We are His beloved. We are His delight. We are His precious possession by virtue of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be our true selves in the presence of God and other people.

Take a moment to picture in your mind what kind of look Jesus has on His face when His eyes are fixed on you. Does He have a look of anger and disapproval toward you? Does He look apathetic or distant? Or does He have a look of delight and love? Is He celebrating you by rejoicing and singing over you? If it causes you discomfort to picture the look on Jesus’ face, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus the way Zephaniah describes Him in our verse today. Christ can do this in your life through the Holy Spirit’s application of His Word and through Christlike believers who are overflowing with His love.

Prayer: Hallelujah, Lord God Almighty! Thank You for Your unchanging and everlasting Word. By Your Holy Spirit, please renew my mind this day as I focus on Your truth so I may see myself more as You do – as a beloved and prized child of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Please quiet my heart with Your radical love for me. Please enable me to see that You celebrate me, You do not criticize me; You delight in me, You do not despise me; You love me, You do not loathe me; You rejoice over me, You do not reject me; You sing over me, You do not shame me! Thank You my Lord and my God for showing me that I do not need to perform or work to earn Your love. Therefore, I will not seek to earn anyone’s love, because Yours is more than enough. Please fill me with more of You and the worth You alone can give to me so I am not threatened by what others say or think of me. Thank You King Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 7

“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” John 19:23

We are discovering lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Thus far we have learned the following:

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

Today we discover in the seventh picture the apostle John presents to us, that JESUS’ GARMENTS WERE REMOVED SO WE COULD WEAR THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION (John 19:23-24). The words “when they had crucified Jesus” (John 19:23b) refer to the time when they nailed Jesus to the crossbeam and set the cross in place. 1  While Jesus is writhing in pain on the cross, John informs us, “Then the soldiers… took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c).

Four Romans soldiers under the leadership of a centurion were assigned to each person being executed. “It would be the privilege of the soldiers conducting the execution by crucifixion to divide the personal property of the crucified among themselves. In keeping with custom therefore, the four soldiers took Jesus’ garments and divided them into four parts among themselves.” 2

It is significant to note that the Greek word for “garments” (hamatia) is plural. “When this word occurs in the singular it refers to the outer robe that most Jews wore. Here, because he used the plural, John evidently had in mind all of Jesus’ ‘outer garments,’ including His robe, sandals, belt, and head covering.” 3

The “tunic” (chitṓn) that was also removed from Jesus “was a garment worn next to the skin, but it was not what we would think of as underwear. It was more like a long shirt.” 4  The Jewish historian, Josephus, used this word to describe the high priest’s tunic that was woven in one piece (Antiquities 3.161). 5 This undergarment “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece,” and therefore, was more valuable. Not wanting to tear this expensive article of clothing, the soldiers “said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.’ ” (John 19:24a). What a contrast between the innocent Lamb of God who was nearly stripped naked before a watching world to bear the shame of all our sin while Roman soldiers ignore Him because they were more concerned about accumulating wealth.

The Bible often describes our behavior as the clothes we wear. For example, Peter encourages us to be “clothed with humility” (I Peter 5:5). King David writes of the wicked person, “As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment.” (Psalm 109:18). Garments represent character, and like His tunic, Jesus’ character “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c). Christ’s life was like His tunic: “uninterrupted perfection.” 6

When John says Jesus’ tunic was “woven from the top,” Lucado suggests it means  “Jesus wasn’t led by his own mind; he was led by the mind of his Father. Listen to his words: ‘The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise’ (John 5:19 NRSV).

“’I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge’ (John 5:30 NRSV).

“The character of Jesus was a seamless fabric woven from heaven to earth… from God’s thoughts to Jesus’ actions. From God’s tears to Jesus’ compassion. From God’s word to Jesus’ response. All one piece. All a picture of the character of Jesus.” 7

But when the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, Christ took off His tunic of seamless perfection and put on a tunic of shame. Imagine what it was like for Jesus to be stripped down to a loin cloth in front of His own mother and loved ones. He was shamed before His family.

Jesus was also shamed before His accusers. While Jesus hung on the cross for a few hours, it seemed as though the religious leaders were the winners, and Christ was the Loser.

Worst of all, Jesus wore the shame of sin. Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (I Peter 2:24a). He not only was shamed before His family and before His accusers, He was shamed before heaven. Although Jesus had never murdered anyone or committed adultery, He felt the shame of the murderer and adulterer. Though He never lied or gossiped about anyone, He experienced the disgrace of the liar and the gossiper. Though He never lost control of His anger, He experienced the embarrassment of those who do. Though He never had any pride or selfishness, He felt the shame of the proud and the selfish. Because He became our Substitute, He felt “the collective shame of the world.” 8

Jesus experienced the shame of all our sin while hanging on that cross in our place. Why? So we can wear the garments of salvation. His garments were removed so we can wear the robe of His righteousness. Only those who believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life can say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10).

The Bible tells us,But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). God clothes with His righteousness the person “who does not work.” Getting right with God is not based upon our works. It is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If our works could gain us the robe of God’s righteousness, then there was no need for Jesus to remove His garments and die in our place.

God puts His robe of righteousness on the person who “believes on Him who justifies the ungodly.” Getting right with God is not based upon behaving, but upon believing in Jesus Christ “who justifies the ungodly.” It does not matter how well you have behaved, you are still “ungodly” before a holy God. You may say, “Well, I’m not as bad as him or her.” You need to understand that God is not comparing your life to other sinful people. He is comparing your life to the only perfect Person who has ever lived on earth – Jesus Christ. And the Bible says, we  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). We all fall short of the seamless perfection of Jesus Christ.

The fact is that all people are “ungodly” sinners who deserve to be separated from God forever in a terrible place called the “lake of fire” (Romans. 3:9-23; Revelation 20:15). But the moment you believe in Jesus Christ alone, God gives you a right standing before Him as “your faith is accounted for righteousness.” He clothes you with His righteousness so that when He looks at your life, He sees the seamless perfection of His Son.

Even though it seemed like Jesus Christ had been defeated by wicked men as He suffered on the cross, John then reminds us that God is still in control when he writes, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:24b). The soldiers’ dividing of Jesus’ garments and casting lots for His inner tunic fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 22:18. Satan has not won a victory here. God used the wicked actions of wicked people to provide for our salvation. 9

Even though Jesus was shamed before His family, His accusers, and before heaven, He did not let this shame keep Him from finishing His work on the cross. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus “endured the cross” by “despising the shame.” The word “despising” comes from a compound Greek word, kataphronéō, which means “against, down” (kata) and “to think” (phronéō).” 10  Literally it means “to think against” or “to think little of.”

Jesus was able to endure the embarrassment or humiliation of the cross and the sins He bore by “despising the shame” associated with them. He simply did not pay attention to that shame because it was not His and it was contrary to God’s original design for humanity (cf. Genesis 2:25). This shame was of little consequence compared to the surpassing “joy that was set before Him” when He would sit “down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ endured the pain and shame of the cross because of the joy that awaited Him on the other side when He would sit down on His everlasting throne next to His heavenly Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-9).

Christ endured being abandoned by His closest friends, being falsely accused, being beaten, mocked, spit upon, stripped down to His undergarments in public, and nailed to a cross like a terrible criminal to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Matthew 26:47-27:44; John 19:1-24). Worst of all, Jesus endured being rejected by His own Father in heaven when the sins of the world were placed upon Him because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around sin (Matthew 27:45-46). Did Jesus enjoy this shameful treatment associated with His crucifixion? No!!! He despised or looked down with contempt toward the shame associated with His sufferings and our sins. Jesus is showing us that just because something bad happens to you does not make you bad.

Like Jesus, we may have experienced shame by being falsely accused. During our childhood we may have been told, “You are no good.” “You cannot do anything right.” “You will never amount to anything.” Or like Jesus, some of us have been abandoned by those closest to us. Perhaps a parent abandoned you physically at an early age or they abandoned you emotionally. They lived in the same house with you, but they did not provide the emotional nurturing and support you needed. Like Jesus, you may have been beaten physically by those in authority over you. As a result, the voice of shame told you that this happened to you because you are bad. You may have been mocked and verbally mistreated and the voice of shame said you deserved this. Like Jesus, we may have experienced the humiliation of being put on display with minimal clothes on (or no clothes on) in front of others.

Or may be you have been shamed because of your commitment to follow Jesus. Perhaps you have been abandoned by those closest to you, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of your love for Jesus. Please realize that Jesus understands how you feel because He has been through something similar (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Knowing He understands and sympathizes with us can embolden us to approach Him in prayer for His supernatural assistance. So instead of looking to our own shame whether it is based on our actions or the actions of others, we are to look to Jesus who despised the shame when He endured the cross on our behalf (Hebrew 12:2).

Prayer: PreciousLord Jesus, thank You for loving us so much that You were willing to have your garments removed so our shame could be replaced with the garments of salvation the moment we believe in You. Thank You for enduring the cross by despising the shame associated with it and the sins You bore, so we could be clothed with Your robe of righteousness. Knowing that You understand how we feel when we are abandoned by those closest to us or falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of our love for You, emboldens us to approach You in prayer for Your supernatural assistance to keep running the race You have set before us. We love You our Lord and our God. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 560.

2. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 482.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 354 cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pg. 625.

4. Ibid.

5. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 347.

6. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 73.

7. Ibid.

8. Adapted from Max Lucado’s He Chose The Nails, pg. 74.

9. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 347.

10. https://biblehub.com/greek/2706.htm.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” John 16:20a

As technology advances at exceedingly high rates, we may come to the conclusion that life should be easy. After all, we have all of these gadgets that are intended to make life easier for us. Things like automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens, central air-conditioning, garage door openers, GPS, cell phones, etc. Once we obtain these gadgets, we think we cannot live without them.

There is nothing wrong about finding ways to make life easier. But when we do, we can often shift this attitude into a demand that life must be easier. And when life does not comply with this thought, we can easily become angry or even bitter. Our grief over the problems in life can turn into depression.   

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. We discovered in John 16:16-19 that Christ can do this when we ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation. Today we see that our grief can be transformed into gladness when we ACCEPT THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PART OF LIFE (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a). Jesus assures His disciples (“most assuredly, I say to you”) that they “will weep and lament” over His departure when He dies on the cross. These words combine the thoughts of deep grief and the outward expression of that grief. Watching their Lord endure false accusations, beatings, mocking, and the shameful, humiliating death of crucifixion, would be extremely difficult for the disciples. Yet while they would experience great anguish at the crucifixion of Christ, the unbelieving “world will rejoice.” The religious leaders especially rejoiced over Christ’s sufferings and death because they had removed the One Who threatened their power.

When we see evil appear to triumph over good, we will experience grief and sadness. For example, when militant Muslims murder innocent Christians and boast about it on TV, Christians will feel deep sorrow over this. Believers must realize that being a Christian does not insulate us from grief and sorrow. Christ never promised believers that life would be easy. It is not sinful to experience grief and sadness since both Jesus and His disciples did (cf. Matthew 17:23; 26:22, 37-38; Mark 14:19, 34; Luke 22:45; John 11:33-35; 16:6, 20, 22). In fact, the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). So feeling grief and sadness is not ungodly. It is Christ-like.

There is some teaching in Christian circles today that says life should be easy if you are a Christian. If life is not easy for you, then you must be the problem because God wants all His children to have it easy. Is this true? No. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (16:33). He did not say “you might have” tribulation. He said you “will have” tribulation. The word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; it is an internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Christ uses this word to refer to “persecution, affliction, and distress.” 1

Jesus also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34b). Most people would agree with this. On Monday, your electric bill arrives, and it’s three times as much as you have left in your bank account. On Tuesday, your car won’t start. On Wednesday, your child is exposed to COVID and your entire family must quarantine. On Thursday, your spouse tells you they don’t love you any more. On Friday, you find out you have lost thousands of dollars in a poor investment. And the list goes on and on. Jesus did not say Christians would have it easy. He said life would be difficult. He wasn’t being pessimistic in these verses, He was simply being honest.

Life can also be internally difficult for us as Christians because there is this internal battle going on between our sinful flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). All people are born with a sinful flesh that has a bent toward selfishness, laziness, immaturity, distorting reality, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the pride of life, etc. (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 7:18; Galatians 5:19-21; I John 2:16). 2

The apostle Paul describes this battle when he says, 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” (Romans 7:15-21).

Paul is very clear in these verses that a battle raged inside of him between his sinful nature that operated in the flesh and the new person he was in Christ that operated in the Spirit. We may agree intellectually that life is difficult both externally and internally, but deep down inside the recesses of our minds we believe the lie that says life should be easy. So when life does take a turn for the worse, we can throw an emotional tantrum.

Christian counselor, Dr. Chris Thurman, shares how many of his clients come into his office believing this lie that life should be easy, and when life proves otherwise, they have a lot of intense anger that can turn into bitterness and resentment. They refuse to accept that their problems or disappointments are a part of life. 3

Accepting that life is difficult does not mean we must like the problem or be glad it happened. But you can choose to hurt over it and accept it. Thurman writes, “Accepting it means you have faced the fact that it happened (versus refusing to), understand why it occurred (versus being in the dark about why it did), have let it hurt (versus feel numb about it), and have come to a place of peace about it (versus still in turmoil over it).” 4

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to face my problems or run from them?” Satan “wants us to run from our problems, both foreign (external) and domestic (internal), because he knows our problems get worse and we end up suffering at a greater level when we do. God wants us to face our problems because He knows doing so resolves them and the suffering we experience helps us mature in Christ.” 5

If we tell ourselves that life should be easy, we are going to experience bitterness because our expectations are not realistic or biblical. We will either become very angry or discouraged and depressed when life does not match our expectations. The truth is life is difficult and the more we accept this truth, then the more we can move on from our past problems and experience the joy Jesus wants us to have, even when life is difficult.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this message really convicts me about my bad attitude. It is so easy for me to complain about problems in life and develop a lot of anger and even bitterness. Much of my anger is connected to believing the lie that life should be easy. Thank You for making it so clear that life is not always going to be easy. It can be very difficult. Even if I am living for You, Lord Jesus, You said I “will have tribulation” (John 16:33) because the world hates You and those who follow You (John 15:18-21). I pray You will help me replace this lie that life should be easy with the truth that life is difficult so I may accept that pain and suffering is a part of life. I want to invite You to walk with me as I face the pain and process it so I may move on and experience Your joy no matter what happens in life. Thank You for hearing my prayers, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. see https://biblehub.com/greek/2347.htm.

2. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 201.

3. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

5. Thurman, The Lies We believe (2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 209.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 2

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

We are learning from John 13:31-38 how we can impact our hate-filled world for Christ. Last time we saw that we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33). The second way to impact our hate-filled world for Christ is to COMMIT TO LOVING OTHERS AS CHRIST LOVED US (John 13:34-35). In “a little while” after His death and resurrection, Jesus would be gone and ascend to His Father in heaven (John 13:33; cf. Acts 1:9). In view of His departure, Jesus’ eleven disciples may have asked themselves, “What will we do while He is gone?” Jesus now tells them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). The believing disciples would survive in His absence by keeping “a new commandment.” This commandment is “new” in kind. It implies freshness, the opposite of being worn out. The command to love others was not new. God instructed His people in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39). The measure of love is what is new. Instead of loving others “as yourself,” Jesus says we are to “love one another; as I have loved you.”

Under the old commandment the standard for loving others was one’s love for self. Under the new commandment, the standard for loving others was as Christ had loved them. Jesus had just demonstrated His love by washing the disciples’ dirty feet (John 13:1-20). He did what no one else wanted to do. He put aside His own needs to minister to them. His love took the initiative. The word “love” (agapaō) refers to a commitment to do what is best for another person. This kind of love is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Do not wait for the feeling to reach out to others. Do not wait for people to reach out to you first. Take the initiative and reach out to them. This means getting involved in one another’s lives. This won’t always be fun because we will encounter dirt in ourselves and others. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He cleansed them by removing their dirt in a gracious way. He was not condemning or critical of them. He did not say, “Why did you walk in the mud or in the dirt?” He was understanding toward His followers. We also are to encourage one another to confess our sins (and we all have them – I John 1:8, 10) so we can experience God’s cleansing and healing forgiveness (James 5:16; I John 1:9). If we are to love one another as Christ loved us, we must be accepting, not accusing; compassionate, not condemning; helpful, not hateful; and loving, not loathing.

Christ’s love had brought Him from heaven’s glory to this fallen earth and made Him a servant. If we want to be leaders for God, our love for one another must lead us to be servants of one another. If we obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another, we will provide for one another what He had provided for others while He was on earth. As we love one another, Jesus’ presence will be manifested among us.

Each movement in Israel’s history had its peculiar identifying sign. “The sign that one was related to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. The sign that one was related to Moses and the Mosaic Law was the observance of the Sabbath. The sign that one was related to John the Baptist and his message concerning the coming of the Messiah was water baptism. The sign that one was a Pharisee was that he wore a phylactery either on his forehead or upper arm. These external signs all indicated a relationship to a particular movement in Israel.” Jesus now gives His disciples a new kind of sign.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). This was not merely an external sign that could easily be imposed, but rather it was a sign that would require an inner transformation. This kind of love would be a sign to “all” people, saved and unsaved, that the Eleven were Jesus’ “disciples.” Jesus is not saying we must love one another to possess eternal life and go to heaven. We must love one another to be a disciple – a committed follower of Christ. The only condition for being a Christian is simple belief in Jesus for eternal life (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; cf. Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). Our love for one another will be the strongest evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. Jesus can be made real to a hate-filled world through our love for one another.

Notice that Jesus did NOT say that all will know we are His disciples by how much of the Bible we know. Knowing the Bible is essential, but knowledge without love means nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-3). An unloving Christian undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because “God is love” (I John 4:8). How can unsaved people come to know God Who is love – both within the Trinity and to humanity – if His followers do not love one another!?! 2

Let’s face it, immature Christians can be just as hateful as non-Christians or worse. Why would a non-Christian want to be a part of a church where Christians are attacking one another and fighting with each other? Why would they want to go to a church where they are treated as “less than” by unloving church members. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus is teaching us here. One of the reasons unbelievers are not interested in going to church is because they do not want more stress and conflict with unloving Christians.

I am convinced that one of the major reasons the church is not impacting our hate-filled world very much is because the church has not applied what Jesus is teaching us here. We have not learned to love one another as Jesus has loved us. The disciples did not deserve for Jesus to wash their dirty feet. Nor do we deserve for Jesus to cleanse us of all our sins. Many of us know in our heads that Jesus loves us unconditionally, but we have not experienced His radical love for us in the secret places of our hearts and minds where we are deeply ashamed and broken. And until we allow Jesus’ love to heal those wounded areas of our lives we will not be able to love ourselves or others in the way Christ loves us.

Take some time to be alone with the Lord Jesus. Take some deep breaths and pay attention to your soul. What are you feeling right now? Talk to the Lord about it. Is there someone in your life that you are choosing not to love? You know who I am talking about. That person you avoid like the plague because everything about him or her repulses you? Did you ever think about why they repulse you? What about them triggers you? Do they remind you of someone who has deeply hurt you? Do they remind you of something about yourself that you dislike? Invite the Lord Jesus to speak to you about this. What would He say to you? You may be pleasantly surprised when You take time to listen to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am continually amazed by Your wisdom that is revealed in the Bible. Thank You for revealing to me where You want to work in my life so I may become more loving like You. One of my weaknesses is to focus on the faults of others to avoid areas in my own life where You want me to grow. I think I do this because of fear. I am afraid of being exposed or not measuring up. Deep down inside of me I feel so unloved and unworthy. Yet You already know this and still You keep accepting me and loving me. Thank You for never giving up on me! Thank You for accepting me instead of condemning me where I struggle. Lord Jesus, I need You to show me how to love myself with Your love so I can love others as You have loved me. Our world is filled with broken and wounded people who desperately need Your radical love. Please help me to show Your love to all people, Christian or non-Christian. Thank You in advance for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 435.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1800). B & H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

How can we recover from rejection? Part 2

“Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.” John 13:19

We are learning how to recover from rejection by looking at how Jesus responded to rejection from one of His own disciples. The first way is to look to the Bible for God’s purpose (John 13:18). Today we learn the second way to recover from rejection is to LET CHRIST DEEPEN OUR FAITH IN HIS PERSON (John 13:19). Jesus said, “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.” (John 13:19). The fact that Jesus knew all of this before it happened would help the disciples after Judas betrays Him. It would strengthen their faith in Him as God (“I am He,” cf. John 8:24, 28, 58). Keep in mind that the disciples had already believed in Jesus for eternal life (John 1:35-2:11). But when Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified, the disciples may have doubts about Christ’s identity. So He informs them “before it comesso that their faith won’t be shaken.

God has informed us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) so that when it happens we can know that He is God and is in control of what happens to us as we live for Him. God permits us to experience rejection to deepen our faith in the Person of Christ. This is what happened to the apostle Paul when he experienced rejection in the ministry. “But we suffered so that we would stop trusting ourselves and learn to trust God, who brings the dead back to life.” (2 Corinthians 1:9 – GW).

Instead of looking to people or ourselves to meet our deepest needs, we must learn to depend on Jesus, Who is God, to provide what people cannot consistently give to us – namely, unconditional love and acceptance. People may abandon us and reject us and even stop loving us, but Jesus Christ will never abandon us or reject us or stop loving us. If you have experienced a lot of rejection in your life from people, it may be difficult for you to believe Jesus will never reject you after you come to Him in faith.

Listen to what Jesus says in John 6:37: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith will never be “cast out” of  His family. Jesus remains faithful to His promises even if we are faithless. The Bible says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). God cannot deny what He “Himself” has promised. Jesus has repeatedly promised in the gospel of John that all who believe in Him will “never” perish, thirst, hunger, or die, but have everlasting life (John 3:15-16; 6:35; 10:28; 11:26). His promise is independent of our continuing belief in Him or anything we do or fail to do. 1  What a wonderful and faithful God we know and serve!!!

Knowing that Jesus will never abandon us nor reject us can give us the security and strength we need to release the pain of rejection to Him. We are not defined by how other people respond to us. We are defined by what Jesus says of us. And He says we are so valuable to Him that He will never cast us out of His family. We are His forever the moment we believe in Him!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I praise You for Who You are!!! You are the Messiah-God Who knows and controls the future. You knew in advance who would reject me in my lifetime. Since You are God, You always tell the truth so I never have to doubt Your promises. You guarantee never to cast out of Your family anyone Who comes to You in faith. So even when I experience rejection from others, I can rest in the security of Your unconditional acceptance and love toward me. Knowing that You will never abandon or reject me enables me to release the pain of rejection to You. Thank You for the healing this security gives to me. I can trust You because You know my future. Nothing takes You by surprise. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Wilkin, Robert; Bond, J.; Derickson, Gary; Doskocil, Brad; Hodges, Zane; Hunt, Dwight; Leach, Shawn. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (pg. 1203). Grace Evangelical Society. Kindle Edition.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” John 11:44b

Today we will look at the final reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. It is to GET CHRISTIANS TO HELP ONE ANOTHER DISPOSE OF THEIR GRAVE CLOTHES (John 11:44b). Jesus had just commanded a dead man to come out of his grave (John 11:43). And a living Lazarus walked out of his tomb wrapped from head to toe in burial clothes. Only Jesus can bring life to dead churches, marriages, families, and individuals. That is Jesus’ job. But look at the end of verse 44:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” (John 11:44b). Could Jesus have caused the grave clothes of Lazarus to drop off? Absolutely! If He could raise Lazarus from the dead, He could certainly cause his grave clothes to drop off. But why didn’t He do this?

That would have left Lazarus naked and caused him a lot of humiliation and shame. By having those around him unwrap Lazarus, Jesus was providing an opportunity for people close to Lazarus to help him lose his grave clothes without losing his dignity. Likewise, Christians need to help one another get free from their spiritual and emotional grave clothes.

Jesus gives life to people. That is His job. But it is our job, the people of God, to help one another get out of the grave clothes that keep reborn people from acting alive. We may still have the grave clothes of shame and self-righteousness. We may view ourselves and God in a way that keeps us from experiencing His resurrection life. There may be deeply ingrained habits or thought patterns that prevent us from living resurrection lifestyles. Or we may have the grave clothes of unconfessed sin or an unforgiving spirit which keep us from experiencing true freedom in our Christian lives.

The church needs to be a safe place where we begin to peel away the grave clothes that keep born again people from experiencing the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We cannot live victorious Christian lives in isolation from other believers. We need each other to experience the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.

How can churches become a safe place for believers to remove their grave clothes?

1. Ask others to help you remove your own grave clothes. Instead of jumping in like a spiritual superior to help remove the grave clothes of others, church leaders are to give others permission to help them remove what is keeping them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power more fully. After all, how can church leaders expect others to be vulnerable about their struggles if they are not vulnerable about theirs? This kind of mutual vulnerability conveys the gospel message that we are all imperfect sinners in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). If Christians will live in humble vulnerability with one another, they will create an atmosphere that gives every believer in the church the safety and freedom to shed their grave clothes on the pathway to experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.

2. Extend the same grace to others as Christ has given to you (Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:32). None of us deserved salvation, but God freely gave it to us by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. We must create an atmosphere of this grace that invites imperfect sinners to come out of the darkness into the light of Jesus’ love. I have attended Christian churches and/or ministries where believers were treated harshly for having grave clothes that kept them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power. They were belittled and bullied for having struggles, which only increased their fear and shame. They were viewed as an embarrassment to the church or ministry. According to them, since “true Christians” have no serious problems, no provisions were made to help them.

This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did with those who were broken and wounded. Christ fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 42:3 which says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (cf. Matthew 12:20). Jesus did not deal harshly with those who were already hurting nor did He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He came along side of them to strengthen them with His presence rather than step on them to advance His own plans. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He gave forgiveness to the fallen (John 8:11). Likewise, the more churches have this Christlike mindset, the more they will expect “true Christians” to have obvious problems and provide ministries that provide the safety and security to promote transparency, healing, and growth.

3. Focus more on the heart instead of behavior. God is not uptight about our sin and shame. People are the ones who are uptight about our sin and shame. God still loved us even though we were undeserving, ungodly sinners without any strength to reconcile ourselves to Him. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He loved us and died in our place. The Bible says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “Christ died for the ungodly,” not the godly. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. Christ looked beyond our sin to our hearts. He loved us no matter how often or badly we sinned.

Do our churches communicate this same kind of love to those the Lord brings to us? No matter how stinky a believer’s grave clothes are, do we love and accept that person as Jesus loves and accepts him or her? Do we take time to get to know the person, or do we stay preoccupied with their behavior and avoid them or judge them? It is Christ’s love that will embolden believers to remove their grave clothes and be transparent with one another, not focusing on behavior. After all, God’s “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). And fear and shame are two of the most common obstacles that keep people from being vulnerable with one another. But when we experience God’s incredible love for us through other believers who love and care for us no matter what we have done, we will respond with love toward our Lord and toward His children (I John 4:19).

4. Define believers by what God says about them, not by what they do. Christians are not defined by their grave clothes. They are defined by what God says about them. For example, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to Christians who were living in the city of Ephesus, a sex-saturated society that was the home of the temple Diana. Christians were enticed by temple teachings to live without restraint. Paul countered this godless culture by emphasizing the Christian’s new identity in chapters 1-3, followed by a call to live in a way that is consistent with who they are in chapters 4-6.

An example of this is seen in Ephesians 5:8-10. Paul writes,  “8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Notice that Paul starts with who they now are in Christ – “you are light in the Lord” (5:8a). The light of Jesus Christ now defined who they are, not the darkness of their sin. Paul then concludes, “walk as children of light” (5:8b). Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and His followers are defined by His light.  

Christian speaker and author, Dr. Tony Evans, writes, “His followers must reflect Him the way the moon reflects the sun—not as crescent-moon Christians but as full-moon Christians. And we can’t reflect His light unless we’re in the light. So, if you want to reflect Christ, you have to be absorbing Christ through cultivating an intimate walk and relationship with Him (see John 15:1-16).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. pg. 2110).

As we grow closer to Jesus and learn how He sees us, we will begin to live like children of light who produce “goodness, righteousness, and truth” as we discover what is “acceptable to the Lord” (5:9-10).  

If we want to see believers shed their grave clothes and experience the resurrection power of Jesus more fully, we must focus on what God says about them instead of on what they have done. Why? Because the more they see themselves as God sees them, the more He will transform their lives. After all, we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Our behavior does not determine who we are. At the very core of our being we are God’s children and God wants us to learn to start acting in a way that is consistent with who you are.

For example, if you see yourself as an addict at the core of your being, what will be the most natural thing for you to do? To stay sober or practice your addiction? Practice your addiction. What will be the most unnatural thing for you to do? Stay sober. But if you see yourself as a child of God at the core of your being (John 1:12; I John 3:1-2), what is the most natural thing for you to do? Stay sober. Satan wants to convince you that you are a sinner. Why? Because sinning is accepted as natural. But if you realize and believe you are a child of God at the core of your being, then you will come to the conclusion that sinning compromises who you are. Sin is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. The more a believer sees themselves as God sees them, the more they will realize their grave clothes no longer define who they are. In fact, wearing their grave clothes will seem unnatural and restrictive to them.

Prayer: Wow, Lord Jesus! Many times I have read the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but I had not noticed the last part of verse 44. What a powerful application this is for the church today. Yes, You gave life to Lazarus as only You can do. But You want Your people to help him remove his grave clothes so he can experience his new life more fully. Oh Lord, please awaken Your church to see their role in helping other believers remove their grave clothes in a way that preserves their dignity and enables them to more fully experience Your resurrection power in their lives. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 3

“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16

We can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd whenwe REALIZE HIS INCLUSIVE LOVE FOR OTHERS (John 10:16). During His earthly ministry, Jesus primarily ministered to the people of Israel. But He also loved Gentiles. Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16a). God the Father gave His one and only Son because He loved the entire world – all humankind, without exception (cf. Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). God’s love excludes no one, including you.

Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16). Christ has “other sheep [Gentiles] which are not of this fold [Jews].” Christ says that these other sheep (Gentiles) must be brought into the fold by Him which at the time was mostly Jews. Jesus did not come to give His life for Jews only. The “other sheep” that Jesus would save are Gentiles or non-Jews who would believe in Him so that the church (“one flock”), would consist of both Jewish and Gentile believers (cf. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:5-7).

This is consistent with the fact that Jesus is not only the Savior of Jews and Samaritans, but of the whole world. After the Samaritans came to Jesus and heard Him teach, “They said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’ ” (John 4:42). It does not matter to Jesus how wealthy or poor you are; how much or little education you have; what your skin color is or what religious community you belong to. He loves all people the same and He wants to save all people (I Timothy 2:3-5).

In Christ’s body, everyone is important and necessary to our “one Shepherd.” There are no distinctions. Listen to Galatians 3:26-28: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It does not matter if you are black or white, Jew or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Atheist or Hindu, rich or poor, male or female – if you believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of salvation, you are God’s child and you have equal privileges and worth in God’s family!

When we started a church in central Iowa several years ago, we planned to reach white middle class Americans because church planting experts said we would be most effective reaching people like ourselves. But God had other plans. After our Grand Opening, we began to see fewer white middle class Americans coming to our new church. Instead, the Lord began to bring people from other cultures who were seeking Jesus.

I think one of the greatest testimonies to Jesus Christ, our “one Shepherd,” is when He gathers people of different cultures and colors and unites them in one body, the local church. Church planting experts may say you cannot do that. And I would partially agree with them. People cannot do that on their own, but our “one Shepherd” can. Every time a church obeys Jesus and preaches the gospel to all people and makes disciples of those who believe (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15), we are getting a preview of what heaven will be like.

Listen to what the apostle John says about heaven in Revelation 7:9-10: “9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” Jesus Christ, our “one Shepherd,” can unite all people from all nations, tribes, people groups, and language groups into one family that loves everyone equally.

When Jesus says, “they will hear My voice” (John 10:16), it brings to remembrance Christ’s words in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” The way Gentiles will be added to God’s flock is the same way the Jews were added – by hearing and believing Christ’s promise of eternal life (cf. Acts 10:34-15:-17). There is no other way to become of a member of Jesus’ flock.

For centuries governments and educated people have failed to unite people of different cultures into one unified body. But Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, can unite people from all nations into one body because He has the power to change the human heart by His grace. Governments, educational systems, economic systems, and special interest groups like Black Lives Matter cannot change the human heart. But our “one Shepherd” can. He can change selfish hearts into serving hearts. He can change an angry heart into an accepting heart. He can transform a greedy heart into a generous one. He can make a bitter heart better. He can heal the broken heart. And all of us have broken hearts because we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

But when we understand and experience the all-encompassing love of Jesus Christ, we will be drawn closer to Him and we will begin to love others as He does. The world could use a lot more of this kind of love. And it begins by entering a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, you can receive Him into your life right now. The Bible says, 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 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.” (I John 5:11-13). Eternal life is a gift from God and it is found in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. You can receive this gift from God by believing in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If you will do that, the Bible says “you may know that you have eternal life.” Knowing you have eternal life is the foundation for growing in Jesus’ love for you and others.

Prayer: Lord God, I come to You now as a broken sinner. I am very distraught by all the division and violence in the world. Hatred towards people of different color and religion is rampant. No politician or professor or pastor or priest can unite all cultures and colors of people into one body. But You, Lord Jesus, can if we will come to You on Your terms. As best I know how, I believe You loved me so much that You were willing to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and rise from the dead as You promised. I am now believing or trusting in You alone, Lord Jesus (not my religion, or good life, or prayers), to give me everlasting life and receive me into Your family forever. Thank You my Good Shepherd, for the everlasting life and forever family I now have. Please use me to love others into Your family. In Your blessed name I pray. Amen.

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 2

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” John 10:14

I can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I REALIZE HIS INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF ME (John 10:14-15). “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep. Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us, but because He has an intimate knowledge of us.

Jesus repeats His “I AM” statement when He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” “I AM” was the name of the Self-existing God who had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Since Jesus is the Self-existing God, He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

In this technological age, it is easy to begin feeling like a number on a computer instead of a person. We are identified by our Social Security number rather than by our name. We receive junk mail addressed to “Resident” instead of personalized correspondence. Such impersonal methods may cause some people to conclude, “No one cares about me. No one knows where I am or how I am feeling.” But that is not true. Jesus cares. He knows you by name (John 10:3). He knows you intimately (John 10:14).

We never need to feel like the young student who felt slighted when Edward VII, the king of England from 1901 to 1910, was visiting a city to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital. Thousands of school children were present to sing for him. Following the ceremony, the king walked past the excited youngsters. After the king was gone, a teacher saw one of her students crying. She asked her, “Why are you crying? Did you not see the king?” “Yes,” the young girl sobbed, “but the king did not see me.” King Edward could not have taken notice of each child in that throng. Jesus, however, gives individual attention to each of us. Christ knows who you are. You matter to Jesus.

You may think God has forgotten you and that He is a thousand miles away. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you. There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never. He has seen every breath you have ever taken, every thought you ever had, every word you have ever said, everything you have ever done good or bad, and He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love. 

It is hard for us to imagine that Jesus pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eye on you. Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7 “…  God never overlooks a single sparrow. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head!” For some of us that is not very difficult! God loves you with a love you have never imagined. He has always paid attention to you. He has never taken His eyes off you.

The more we understand how intimately Christ knows us and loves us, the more we will want to “know” our Shepherd on a more intimate level like the Son knows the Father. “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:15). The Son must know the Father to follow His will, just like the sheep must know the Shepherd to follow Him faithfully. Jesus taught that the relationship the sheep enjoy with Himself is unique, as His relationship with His Father is unique.

Jesus’ intimate relationship with His Father is what enabled Him to obey His Father even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid down His life for the sheep. When Jesus was verbally and physically abused by His enemies, He did not retaliate. Instead, “He committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously” and He “bore our sin in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:23-24). Peter explains further why Jesus bore our sins in His own body. “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I Peter 2:25). When Christians face injustice and suffering, they can be reassured that they have a good “Shepherd” who cares for them and provides for them. This Good Shepherd is the “Overseer” of their souls who protects and watches over them.

I am reminded of a story I heard about a Christian woman who invited her unbelieving feminist female friend to church one Sunday. After the pastor finished preaching about the role of men and women in marriage from Ephesians 5:22-33, the feminist looked at her friend and said, “I could follow a man who is willing to die for me.” The Christian woman replied, “There is such a Man and His name is Jesus Christ.” Knowing the love that Christ has for us draws us closer to Him as our Good Shepherd. When you know that Someone genuinely loves you enough to die for you, you can trust Him to lead you and care for you.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, living in this time of COVID and social unrest, it can be easy to feel alone and unimportant. We may feel that You have lost our address and do not even care about us. But Your Word reminds us that this is not even close to the truth. You are our Good Shepherd and You know Your sheep intimately. Our feelings may tell us that we are all alone and unimportant to You, but Your voice of truth reminds us that You are always with us and Your eyes and ears never take their focus off of us. Your love for us is constant regardless of our past. You demonstrated this when You died for us even though we were still undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8). The more we focus on the truth of Your constant love and care for us, the more we will want to draw close to You. Your love casts out fear. Your love removes the barriers we have erected to protect ourselves. Though we were once lost sheep, we have now returned to You, Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We can now trust You to provide, protect, and guide His precious sheep so we can live to please You alone. The more we know You, the more we want to make You known. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.  

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 5

“Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:38

Unable to overcome the former blind man’s logic and the evidence of a miracle, the Pharisees answered and said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out.” (John 9:34). They were saying that this man’s blindness was due to specific sins in his life to shame him into silence and discredit his testimony. He could not teach them because he was a sinner and they were righteous. This is the fifth symptom of spiritual blindness – DISTORT THE TRUTH ABOUT THEMSELVES (John 9:34) – they perceived themselves to be superior to this former blind man and to Jesus for that matter. These educated religious leaders were unwilling to learn from a beggar. They continued in their stubborn rejection of Christ despite the overwhelming reasons to believe in Him.

“They cast him out” of the synagogue to silence him and limit his influence of others. This also served as a warning to others who are tempted to confess that Jesus is from God. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to the former blind man because now he would not have to listen to the works-salvation message of the Pharisees. He was now more prepared for his next encounter with Jesus. God can use the rejection of others to make non-Christians more open to hearing the gospel.

Perhaps you have experienced rejection from your spiritual leaders or religious community because of your interest in Jesus Christ. You have interacted with Christians and they have shown you love instead of hatred. In fact, they have shown you more love than the people of your own religion. And this increases your interest in Jesus.

The Bible then tells us that “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him…” (John 9:35a). Hearing of his excommunication, Jesus sought the former blind man out. Jesus did the seeking since the man had not yet seen Jesus.

Whatever opposition you have experienced for confessing Christ publicly, please know that this is not the last word. Jesus was aware of the former blind’s man’s excommunication, and He sought Him out. Jesus is also aware of your situation, and He seeks you out to reveal more of Himself to you. Your religious community or family may reject you for speaking the truth about Jesus, but Jesus will never reject you when you diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6b).

Now, for the first time, the former blind man could look at the One who restored his sight. Jesus is very direct with the man. “He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ ” (John 9:35b). This is the purpose for John’s gospel. John recorded these miracles of Jesus so you “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). This personal response is necessary for receiving the gift of eternal life.

Many people today believe that Jesus exists and died for them on the Cross and even rose from the dead, but they are not trusting in Him alone for this free gift. They are still depending on their own religious efforts to get them to heaven.

The former blind man “answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ ” (John 9:36). The beggar is willing and ready to believe, but he is ignorant. He wants the Son of God to be identified so he may believe in Him. Jesus identifies Himself as the Messiah-God when He says, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” (John 9:37). The words “seen Him” must have meant a lot to the man who up until that day, had never seen anything.

As soon as the man knew the identity of the Son of God he immediately responds in faith. “Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” (John 9:38). Jesus used the physical healing of this blind man to prepare him for his spiritual healing. Jesus had once again mixed His own divine DNA (His Word) with humanity (the former blind man) so that an even greater healing could take place. Out of gratitude for his physical healing, the man believed in Christ as the Messiah-God, which meant he now had eternal life (John 20:31)! This is the climax for the man in a process that has been taking place throughout the whole chapter. His insight into the Person of Jesus has been growing:

“The man who is called Jesus” (John 9:11).

“I do not know” (John 9:12).

“He is a prophet” (John 9:17).

“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know” (John 9:25).

The Man who has “disciples” (John 9:27).

“He has opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

“If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:33).

“Lord, I believe” (John 9:38a).

“He worshiped Him” (John 9:38b).

The man has been moving from darkness to the Light. After believing in Jesus, “he worshiped Him.” The word translated “worshiped” (proskunéō) is a compound Greek word meaning “towards (pros) to kiss (kunéō),” which refers “to kissing the ground as you prostrate yourself before a superior, to fall down on your knees to adore someone of superior rank.” The former blind man was honoring Jesus as God by worshiping Him (cf. John 5:23).

There is only one Person in the universe who is worthy of worship (Exodus 20:3-5), and Jesus did not stop this man from worshiping Him. If Jesus is not God, why would He permit the man to worship Him? God told Moses on Mount Sinai, “You shall have no other gods before Me… You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3, 5). The healed man was bowing down before Jesus to worship Him. When Jesus accepted the man’s worship, He was making a statement that He was God! This confirms what the apostle John said in John 1:1, “And the Word was God.” If Jesus was not God, then He was endorsing idolatry.

The former blind man could no longer worship God in the synagogue, but now he could worship  God to His face. And Jesus will never “cast out” of His family those who come to Him in faith (John 6:37). This is the fourth way to overcome spiritual blindness. DEPEND ON CHRIST ALONE FOR ETERNAL LIFE (John 9:35-38). Only Jesus can meet our deepest spiritual needs.

When we believe in Him, He gives us everlasting life which can never be lost (John 3:16; 10:28-29) and places us in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37)! We now have brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world! And we can begin to see Jesus in a more intimate way as we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Christ is our only source of life and acceptance. Let’s enjoy Him!

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I praise You for seeking me out when I experienced exclusion from my former religious community. Thank You for revealing my own sinfulness to me at that time so I could see my need for You and Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for accepting me into Your family the moment I believed in You for eternal life. Thank You for the new brothers and sisters I gained from all around the world at that moment of faith. What a privilege I now have to approach You in worship! The more I focus on You, the more the cares and concerns of this world fade away. Your light dispels the darkness in my own heart and gives me a hope that never ends. With You at the center of my life, I have joy beyond my own understanding! You are more than enough for me!!! Please use me to share Your light with those who are in darkness so they, too, may obtain everlasting hope and life in You. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.

I am totally accepted by God

I AM TOTALLY ACCEPTED BY GOD

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

When I was a teenager, I did some pretty crazy and daring things to try to gain the acceptance of my peers. Even though their acceptance may have been gained for a time, it was only temporary. It would soon fade and I would be back where I started. Does this sound familiar to you?

Let’s face it, human acceptance is often conditional and temporary. We accept those who accept us or are like us. But it is difficult to accept those who are different from us or who may reject us.

God’s acceptance of us is neither conditional or temporary. We learn in Ephesians 1:6 that God totally “accepted” us because we are placed or baptized “in the Beloved” Son of God, Jesus Christ, the moment we believe in Him (Galatians 3:26-27). And because Christ has received us and He is fully accepted by God the Father, we are fully accepted by God, too. Hence, when God looks at us it is as if He is looking at His Son.

My acceptance before God was bestowed upon me by God’s “grace” or undeserved favor through Jesus Christ. The Greek word for “grace” (charis) can have the meaning of “leaning toward someone to share benefits with him.” God pursued me with His grace through Jesus Christ Who paid the full penalty for my sins when He died in my place on the cross (John 19:30) so God the Father can now fully accept me, having no grounds to condemn me (Romans 8:31-34).  I do not need to change a thing about myself for God to accept me. My acceptance by God is not based on what I do, but on being in the Beloved as a result of trusting in Him as my Savior.

Think about the implications of this truth for a moment. When I believe in Christ alone for everlasting life, I am accepted by God in the Beloved. No matter what I have done or not done, I am accepted in the Beloved. Although I may commit a terrible sin, I am still accepted in Christ. If I spend more time in jail than I spend in church, I remain accepted in the Beloved. If I fall away from the Lord and die out of fellowship with Him, I continue to be accepted in Christ.

Since I am totally accepted by God through Jesus Christ apart from any merit of my own, I no longer need to try to earn the acceptance of others. I am free to be the person God made me to be by His grace. Being accepted in Christ does not motivate me to live like the devil, it motivates me to live for the One who provided my acceptance through His death on the cross.

Prayer: I praise You Lord God for leaning towards me to extend Your grace to me through the Lord Jesus Christ so that I am now totally accepted by You as a result of trusting in Jesus. Your acceptance of me gives me security that no human being can take away from me. I can now come to You with my deepest darkest secrets knowing that You will still accept me in the Beloved. I can share my greatest fears with You, being confident that You will not turn away from me. No matter what I have done or will do I am fully received by You, God, because You fully received Jesus’ finished work on the cross as sufficient payment for all my sins. I honor You, Lord, for granting me this great privilege. In Jesus’ name. Amen.