How can I live above average? Part 3

“Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” I Chronicles 4:10ac

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God gives us His blessings, He wants us to share those blessings with others. So we are to ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b) so we can pass His blessings on to other people.

But as God increases our territory or influence for Him, we may start to feel overwhelmed with all the opportunities He gives us to impact others for His glory. Perhaps the expansion of your business opportunities starts to deplete your energy and resources. Maybe the ministry opportunities God gives you seem to be more than one person can handle. If you prayed for your family to impact more people, you may start to see more teenagers gathering in your dining room than you thought possible. And you notice their negative influence seems to be greater than your positive influence. When this starts to happen, Christians can start to feel misled, inadequate, scared, frustrated, or even angry with the situation.

When this happens, we need to pray like Jabez prayed: “Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” (I Chronicles 4:10c).As God gives us more opportunities to influence others for Him, we start to realize, “This is more than I can handle. This is beyond my abilities and resources.” This is a good place to be because it shows us our dependence upon God.

Hence, the third principle for living above average is to ASK GOD FOR POWER TO ACCOMPLISH HIS DREAM FOR YOUR LIFE (I Chronicles 4:10c). God loves to use ordinary people who trust Him. Jabez’ faith caused him to believe that God would help him with his goals and dreams. There is something more important than being talented or educated – it is faith. It is believing that God will work in and through you.

Even though Jabez’ mother named him “Painful,” his faith kept him going. He may have had some kind of handicap or disability to be given this name. But he did not let his painful past keep him from looking ahead in faith and being used by God. What is your handicap? Is it physical? Spiritual? Emotional? Is it a traumatic childhood? A frustrating job or problem in your marriage? Is it a health limitation? An illness? Whatever it may be, Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23).

When we pray, “Oh, that Your hand would be with me,” “we release God’s power to accomplish His will and bring Him glory through all those seeming impossibilities… Notice that Jabez did not begin his prayer by asking for God’s hand to be with him. At that point, he didn’t sense the need. Things were still manageable. His risks, and the fears that go with them, were minimal. But when his boundaries got moved out, and the kingdom-sized tasks of God’s agenda started coming at him, Jabez knew he needed a divine hand—and fast. He could have turned back, or he could have tried to keep going in his own strength. Instead, he prayed.” 1

In Acts 11:21 the Bible describes what happens when the hand of the Lord is with His people: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” As we surrender to God and rely on His Holy Spirit, we can receive “a fresh spiritual in-filling of God’s power” 2 that enables us to accomplish His will for His glory. God’s presence is manifested in supernatural ways as we look to Him to supply the strength that is needed to fulfill His plan for our lives.

Jesus promised in Matthew 28:19-20, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… 20 and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” No doubt Jesus’ followers felt overwhelmed when He commanded them to “make disciples of all the nations.” That was a “God-sized” task for these first century disciples and it still is for us today. But Christ guaranteed them (and us) His presence (“and lo, I am with you always”) to provide all that they needed as they made disciples of the nations.

Even today, if we need more people, Christ’s presence can provide more people. If we need courage or protection, His presence can provide them. If we need wisdom in making decisions, Jesus’ presence can give us that wisdom. If we need more resources, the presence of our risen Lord Jesus can supply them. Whatever we need to fulfill His dream for our lives, His presence is more than adequate to provide.

Can you picture God doing this where you live? Can you see His hand causing people to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of salvation and begin to experience a new life as His disciples? It all begins when we seek God’s blessings, we ask for more influence, and we rely on His presence to give us the power to accomplish His will all for His glory.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we admit we have a great need for Your presence in our lives as You pour out Your blessings to us and give us opportunities to share them with others. Without You, Lord, we can do nothing of eternal value. We cannot do what You have called us to do in our own strength. We desperately need You to supply what we lack. Thank You so much for God the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us the moment we believe in Jesus. This same Spirit Who brought Jesus back to life can give us resurrection power. Through Him we pray You will enable us to continue to share Your blessings with those You bring into our lives. Thank You for being with us, Lord God. Thank You for wanting to use us for Your glory. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 48-49.

2. Ibid., pp. 55-56.

Remaining confident when facing extreme chaos

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

When we returned to the USA from southeast Asia in February 2020, we were blindsided by “the deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse…  a society-wide reckoning over racism,” followed by “an election in which voter suppression, foreign interference, online disinformation and a bitterly contested supreme court vacancy” all offered a recipe for chaos. 1

Christians are facing challenging times. Jordan Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Executive Director writes in a recent email, “our freedoms to worship and pray and live our faith out loud are under attack, especially under a new Administration and an increasingly hostile radical Left.

“From our workplaces to our taxpayer-funded public schools, our military, and now inside our houses of worship – as government officials banned churches from singing during the pandemic – our constitutionally protected rights as believers are being challenged…

“Internationally, Christians are being persecuted at an alarming rate. Churches are being shuttered. Believers are being harassed. Pastors are being arrested and imprisoned…” 2

In another recent email, Jay Sekulow states, “President Biden is emboldening and empowering the Biden Deep State. It’s becoming more dangerous.

“… From national security leaks and cover-ups to major corruption, we’ve been cautioning you just how bad it was going to get.

“Withholding information on a Chinese communist spy’s connection to a senior far-Left Member of Congress, hiding terrorists crossing our southern border, funding abortion experimentation, covering up Biden’s Press Secretary’s ‘shut . . . down’ email on the Obama-Biden Iran deal lie – which we just unearthed in federal court – and deleting details about Palestinian terror from a congressionally mandated report.” 3

With corruption and chaos increasing in our country and world, where do we turn to renew our confidence? Where do we look to renew our sense of hope and strength?

I believe we would be wise to turn to a prophetic promise found in the book of Isaiah. When the prophet, Isaiah, wrote Isaiah 41, his readers were not yet in captivity in Babylon. But he addresses questions that his readers would have about this coming captivity. Could God deliver them? Would God save them from the coming disaster? God reminds His people in chapter 41 that because He is a great and gracious God Who will deliver His people from disaster, they can still trust in Him.

The Lord, through His prophet, Isaiah, assured the fearful nation of Israel that it did not need to fear the nations of the world (Isaiah 41:1-7) because God remained committed to His people and would use them to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 41:8-20). What really caught my attention in this section was verse 10 where the Lord says to His people, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse is filled with encouragement for us during these chaotic and uncertain times.

“Fear not, for I am with you” – We are often afraid when we perceive ourselves to be alone amid chaotic times. As we deal with the effects of COVID, an increase in corruption, and unrest in our society, we may think we are all alone with our fears. But God assures us that there is no need to fear because HE IS WITH US. God’s presence in our lives replaces our fears with His peace. Because no one and nothing is greater than our God, we can be free of fear even when life seems to be out of control.

“Be not dismayed, for I am your God” – God says not to be dismayed or discouraged because He is our God. As Christians, we are not immune to trials and difficulties (cf. John 16:33). We can experience confusion as we face major challenges. We don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. You may lose your job or your health. A loved one may die. You may be falsely accused of wrongdoing. When faced with confusing situations, God says not to “be dismayed.” Why? Because He is our God! The God Who created the universe with His spoken Word is in charge (Genesis 1). Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:17). God does not always give us answers to our “Why” questions. Instead, He gives us something much better. He gives us Himself.

“I will strengthen you” – Do we feel our strength slipping away during these chaotic times? WE may feel as though we cannot hold on much longer. When we are weak, we are more susceptible to fear and discouragement. Don’t give up. Give in to God. He says to us, “I will strengthen you.” It is God who strengthens us to face each day. When we don’t have the energy needed to live above our circumstances and insecurities, God does. He invites us to wait upon Him to renew our strength (cf. Isaiah 40:31). He is there for us.

“Yes, I will help you” – Have we been let down by others? Are we the recipient of broken promises from those who said they would be there for us? God says to us, “I will help you.” He does not say, “I might help you.” Nor does He say, “I will try to help you.” He says, “I WILL help you.” This help from God is an absolute certainty! Our confidence does not need to be shaken when we see society collapsing around us because God has not changed. He still helps us amidst the chaos and social unrest.

“I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” – Are we growing weary listening to our society call wrong right and right wrong? Do we sometimes feel like we are drowning under an avalanche of change? Does it seem like we have been treading water for months and we can no longer stay afloat? God wants us to know that there is no way He is going to let us drown. He guarantees to “uphold” or support us with His “righteous right hand” that does what is right when others constantly do wrong. The same fingers that placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky (Psalm 8:3) will not let go of us. Our confidence can remain strong when we face chaos because God’s grip on us remains firm (John 10:28-29).

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, thank You for encouraging us with Your unchanging promises. We don’t like to admit it, but our faith can easily be overrun with many fears especially when we take our eyes off You and focus on the chaos all around us. When we feel overwhelmed with loneliness and fear, please redirect us to the fact that You are with us. Nothing and no one can separate us from Your love. When our lives are filled with confusion and unanswered questions, You don’t always give us answers. You give us something much better. You give us Yourself. Thank You for the strength Your presence gives us as we face our fears and insecurities. When others break their promises to us, You keep Yours. We can always count on You to deliver on what You have said. We appreciate the constant support You give to us. Your righteous right hand continues to do what is right when others constantly do what is wrong. Thank You for the never-ending strength and support that You give to us. Our confidence can remain unshaken because Your grip on us remains firm. In the mighty name of Jesus, we praise You and thank You. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David Smith’s article “Recipe for chaos: 2020 election threatens to snap a US already pushed to the limit,” The Guardian, September 27, 2020.

2. Jordan Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director in an ACLJ July 14, 2021, email update.

3. Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel in an ACLJ July 12, 2021, email update.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 5

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Growing up in the 1960s, sports were a major part of my life. I remember watching the introduction of the TV show called “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Every week, the host of the show, Jim McKay, would say, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” To represent “the agony of defeat,” a film clip of Vinko Bogataj was played of him crashing off a ski-jumping ramp. For decades viewers watched this terrible crash. Thankfully, Bogataj was not seriously injured. But his wipeout representing the  “agony of defeat” was immortalized by this show.

Can you imagine having your failure replayed for decades before millions of viewers!?! None of us want our names to be connected with “the agony of defeat.” We would much rather be associated with “the thrill of victory.” With this in mind, we are going to look at the fifth and final way to face challenges with courage. So far we have learned from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, that we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).

– Rest in the Father who will never abandon us (John 16:31-32)

The final way to face challenges with courage is to RELY ON CHRIST WHO HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD (John 16:33). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). When Jesus says, “these things I have spoken to you,” He is probably referring to the many promises He has given to His disciples in the Upper Room discourse which included preparing a place for them in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3), answered prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:7), the sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:5-15, 26), fruit-bearing (John 15:1-17), and unending joy (John 16:16-24). Christ ends His discourse on a note of peace and victory.

There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:

1. “in Me” vs. “in the world” – Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”)and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation” (thlipsin). This word refers to “pressure or distress brought about by outward circumstances.” 1

2. “you may have” vs. “you will have” – in the spiritual realm the disciples “may have”  peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 2  they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 3  that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples (and we) will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 4

3. “peace” vs. “tribulation” – If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.5

The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (John 15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation” (thlipsin) “is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.” 6

Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation,” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (John 15:18-16:4). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.

After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.

The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to have courage.” Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” The word “overcome” (nenikēka) means “to overcome, conquer, be victorious” and it is in the perfect tense. So Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!

It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world,” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord!

To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win with Him as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly. Have you heard this before? It is true, but it is not quite as simple as it sounds. One does not become an overcomer by simply saying with confidence, “I am an overcomer!”

The verb “to overcome” (nikáō) is used by John only here in the gospel of John, but he uses it six times in I John (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) and sixteen times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 17:14; 21:7).

John’s use of the word “overcome” in I John is used of all Christians who are “overcomers” through their single act of faith in Christ at the moment of salvation which overcomes the world’s system’s hostility toward saving faith (I John 5:1, 4-5; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). However, the statements in I John about overcomers are not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers.

In Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

The Book of Revelation deals with persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15) and not a single act of faith for salvation from Hell. For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:8) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14a). Revelation is talking about Christians being “overcomers” through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives, so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

In John 16:33, we see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. Christ has already won the victory over the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.

In the Philippines when I would watch NBA basketball, I enjoyed the Dallas Maverick’s team. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings while living in the Philippines when they were televised live in the States. So I would watch the replay of their games in the evening. Before I did that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks won before sitting down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.

The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges. At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! Therefore, we can fight “from” the victory Jesus has already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, regardless of how the world beats us down, we have reason to live with courage because You are the Sovereign King over the world. You have defeated sin, death, and Satan through Your death and resurrection! Because of this, our eternity is secure in You if we have believed in You for Your gift of eternal life. We can now fight “from” the victory You have already won, instead of fighting “for” victory as though it all depended on us. Lord Jesus, You have the power to overcome our circumstances here on earth. Knowing this truth and staying connected to You in an intimate relationship will greatly change our perspective as we face challenging times on earth. Thank You for giving us peace and courage in the midst of life’s storms. You are an amazing Lord and God! In Your victorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),  pg. 362.

2. https://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

3. tps://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

4. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.

5. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 440.

6 J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 297.

7. BAGD, pg. 352.

8. Ibid., pg. 539.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 4

“Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32

During the global pandemic, many people are feeling alone and abandoned. Due to COVID restrictions, we are not able to connect as easily with one another. Worse yet, some of us may feel abandoned by God during this difficult time.

We are learning from the Lord Jesus how we can face challenges with courage. We have discovered that we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).

Today Jesus teaches us that we can face challenges with courage when we REST IN THE FATHER WHO WILL NEVER ABANDON US (John 16:31-32). We see that the disciples’ understanding and belief were still immature. After they affirmed their belief that Jesus “came forth from God” (John 16:30), Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’ ” (John 16:31). Jesus’ question expects a negative response. Christ was questioning what they would do in the near future when they would face difficulties and danger? “Will you believe in Me then?” Jesus asks. Christ knew them better than they knew themselves.

Jesus then explains, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32). Christ knew their faith would be tested before the night was over. When Jesus was arrested these men would “be scattered” and stricken with fear (cf. Matthew 26:56), going in every direction, much like the people in Madrid, Spain, when the bulls are released and scatter throngs of people. When Jesus needed His disciples the most, they abandoned Him after confirming their faith in Him.

What Jesus is saying to these men is, “ ‘You don’t believe as strongly as you think you do. Now, while all is quiet and safe, this is easy for you to say. But very soon you’re going to forget your fragile faith and run for your lives.’

“Have you ever made a vow to God during a church service only to back away from it later—perhaps as quickly as when you left the church parking lot? It’s easy to boast about our faith; it’s harder to live it, as Peter would soon discover (18:15-18, 25-27). This is one of the reasons why God causes us to experience challenges. Through them, we come to see how brittle our faith is and how mighty our Savior is, and thus our faith is made a little stronger.” 1

Although the disciples would abandon Him, Christ assures them, “yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” Jesus may have felt lonely at that time, but He knew He was not alone.

A young woman’s brief note spoke volumes. “I am a handicapped person in a wheelchair,” she wrote. “I am very lonely even though I know I’m never alone. God is always there. I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to.”

Loneliness has been termed the most desolate word in the English language. It is no respecter of age, race, economic status, or intelligence. Albert Einstein said, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”

God made us for intimacy and companionship with others. Even before sin entered the world, God declared that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). That is why many people often feel so empty inside. 

Christ most likely felt lonely when the disciples abandoned Him at the time of His arrest, but His Father’s presence more than compensated for this, however. Christ said, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” We can lessen our feelings of loneliness by reaching out to others. But even more important, we must reach out to the Lord who will never abandon us.

Yes, people may stop loving us and even abandon us, but God will never stop loving us (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:38-39) and He will never forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5). Christ probably felt disappointed with His disciples for not supporting Him. But we are no different than the disciples. We also fail the Lord. But God never fails us. Psalm 118:8-9 say, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Why is it better to trust in the Lord than to trust in people? Because He is always there for us. I cannot be with you twenty-four hours a day nor can you be with me every hour of every day. Only God can be there for us all the time. 

Evangelist D. L. Moody loved to tell the story of a preacher he knew in Scotland who would go once a week to a children’s hospital to try to comfort sick little ones. On one trip, he met a boy of six who was facing the amputation of his leg. The preacher asked if the boy had anyone to stay with him as he waited for the surgery. The boy explained that his father was dead, and his mother was too ill to leave their home. Feeling sorry for him, the preacher talked about how caring and loving the hospital staff were, trying to find some way to offer him comfort. Then the little boy said, “Jesus will be with me.”  2

We never have to face challenges alone because God is always with us. There may be days when we do not “feel” His presence as we would like, but there will never be days when He is not there. Rest in the arms of His presence and He will give you the courage to face whatever challenges come your way.

Prayer: Father God, during these challenging times I am realizing that my feelings often lie to me. They tell me I am all alone and unloved. But Your Word tells me that You are always with me and that You will always love me even when others abandon me or stop loving me. Your grace toward me is truly amazing. Even when I abandon You or fail to love You back, You do not leave me nor stop loving me. Your constant presence in my life gives me the courage to face difficult situations. Thank You for being such a gracious and loving Father. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1812.

2. https://www.dailyintheword.org/rooted/finding-courage-in-god’s-presence.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 3

“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage.Thus far we have learned we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

We can also face challenges with courage when we RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS IS IN CONTROL (John 16:28-30). Christ said to His believing disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28). Jesus plainly declares His heavenly origin (“I came forth from the Father”), His humiliation (“and have come into the world”), and His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (Again, I leave the world and go to the Father”). He has come from heaven to earth and is going back again to heaven. Jesus’ departure will not change the fact of His incarnation and its continuing results. This is underscored with the use of the perfect tense verb (elēlytha) translated “have come,” which means that Christ came to earth as the God-Man in the past and He continues to this day to be the God-Man. 2

“His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!’ ” (John 16:29). Now the disciples thought Jesus had “plainly” answered their questions about where He was going. “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:30). Jesus’ knowledge of the future, especially regarding His return to heaven, convinced them that He knew “all things.” They had full confidence in Christ. When they said Jesus had “no need that anyone should question” Him they were referring to His supernatural insight into their hearts which enabled Him to answer their questions before they even asked Him. His complete knowledge reconfirmed their faith in Him as having come “forth from God.”

Jesus’ infinite wisdom assures us that He has a complete grasp of the difficulties we face so we can rest assured that He will never fail us. Knowing He is in control of our future – that everything happens according to His plan – can increase our courage. The more you believe Christ is in control, the more courage you will have.

God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot change? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and God can melt that heart of stone. We can lose our courage because we have lost sight of how big our God is. God knows everything. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He invites us to trust Him even when we face major challenges. And as we do, He can supply us with the courage we need to rise above our feelings and circumstances to make Him known to a lost world.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You demonstrated Your omniscience by alerting Your disciples to Your return to the Father. Your supernatural knowledge of the future and the disciples’ questioning hearts reassured them of Your identity as God and that You are in control. Knowing that You are in control of our future and that everything happens according to Your plan and purpose, increases our confidence in You. The more we believe You are in control, the more courage we will have to face these challenging times. Lord, You know the people in our lives who seem so difficult to reach with the gospel. Their hearts seem so hardened. Thank You for reminding us that no problem or person is beyond Your life-changing touch. Please use us as You deem best to share Your life-giving gospel message with all who will listen. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 671.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 296.

3. Ibid.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 2

“For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” John 16:27

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage. Yesterday we discovered we can do this when we resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26). Today we learn we can also face challenges with courage when we RECEIVE THE FATHER’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR US (John 16:27).

Jesus explains why the disciples are to go directly to the Father in prayer after He goes to the Father following His resurrection and ascension. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:27). The disciples could go directly to the Father because of His special “love” (philéō) for them. This word for “love” refers to a warm, affectionate, friendly kind of love. This special love for them was based on their relationship with Christ.

Jesus said that the Father’s love for them was, “because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God.” The words “loved” (pephilēkate) and “believed” (pepisteukate) are in the perfect tense which means they loved Jesus warmly in the past and still love Him warmly in the present, and they believed Jesus was from the Father in the past and still believe He is from the Father now.

Christ is referring to discipleship or fellowship with God here, not  salvation from hell. This special kind of love from the Father is based upon our obedience to Christ which follows belief in Him (cf. John 14:21, 23). We saw in John 14:21 that when a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special or more intimate way (John 16:27; cf. 13:23; 14:21, 23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with God the Father and God the Son. It can also be said that unloving and unbelieving Christians will not experience this special kind of love from the Father.

Wilkin writes, “For a believer to abide experientially in the love of God, he must hold fast to the faith both doctrinally and morally (cf. 14:15; 15:14; cf. Jude 21).” 2 We cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely on God the Father through prayer to remain faithful to the Christian faith (cf. John 16:23-26).

God often uses troubling times to deepen our experience of His love for us. This was what happened to missionaries, Charlie and Frauke Schaefer, who were serving the Lord in Germany. One morning, when Frauke was getting ready to leave for a conference and Charlie was out on a run, Charlie did not return home. Frauke became alarmed and went looking for him in likely places, but he was not to be found in any of them. After she called the police, she learned that Charlie had been taken to the hospital after collapsing during his run. There was bleeding of an unknown cause inside his skull.

“After Charlie’s collapse, Frauke felt distant from God and was evading His presence. Although communication between her and God was good, she had gnawing questions when she slowed down. Why did this happen when we were doing what we believed God wanted us to do? How could Charlie’s collapse fit into God’s plan. Why were we unable to lead the retreat that was so diligently prepared and prayed for? After a while, Frauke gained courage to direct these questions to God. An immediate response came through the peace of realizing God was assuring her, ‘I am with you and I know.’ God also seemed to be saying that deepening our love and trust in Him was more important than ministering to others at the moment.” 3

Instead of doubting God’s love for us when we face challenges, we are to embrace the truth that God may allow personal suffering in our lives to take us where He knows we must go to experience the fullness of His love for us. God does not just want to tell us that He loves us. He wants to show us that He loves us and this often takes place in the context of pain and suffering. Knowing we are warmly loved by the Father, can give us courage during those difficult times.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for not just telling me that You love me, but for permitting me to go through challenging times to deepen my experience of Your unfailing love for me. Much of my Christian life I have known intellectually that You love me, but in recent years You are showing me how much You love me as I go through various difficulties in life. The more I experience the warmth of Your love, Father, the more I can face opposition and painful trials with courage. Thank You for fighting the battles I could never fight or win on my own. Thank You for being my best Friend. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 271-272.

2. 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. 542. 

3. Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., Trauma & Resilience: A Handbook, (Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., 2012) pp. iv-v.

4. Ibid., pg. 1.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 1

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26

Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?” 1

After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.” 2

Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans. 3  In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4

Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.

When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.

First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.

Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.” 5

Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.

This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).

All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”

This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.

Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”

Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.

4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.

SHARING GOOD NEWS IN A FAKE NEWS SOCIETY

“Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” John 8:14

We are living in a “post-truth” era whereby objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals (see Tony Watkins’ article entitled, “CONTENDING FOR THE TRUTH AMIDST THE FAKE NEWS EPIDEMIC,” LAUSANEE GLOBAL ANALYSIS, July 2017, Volume 6/Issue 4). I am amazed at how much influence the media has over people today. People are more interested in fake news on social media than they are facts offered up by established news sources.

When emotional appeals take over from truth, a society is in big trouble. Katharine Viner says, “This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means … that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.” (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth).

The religious leaders that Jesus spoke to in the temple were not interested in the facts about Christ. They were more interested in themselves and keeping their followers. So rather than examine the facts about Jesus, they wanted to relate to Him according to their preconceived thoughts which were not based upon the truth. They were not about to adjust their beliefs about Christ to align with the facts.

With this said, we are now going to look at three implications from Jesus’ wonderful claim to be the light of the world (John 8:12). First, CHRIST’S CLAIM DEMANDS THAT WE DEAL WITH THE FACTS (John 8:13-20). In the verses that follow we can see something of the darkness that was keeping these men from coming to the light of Christ. It is interesting to note that the Pharisees do not focus on Jesus’ claim, but upon a legal technicality. “The Pharisees therefore said to Him, ‘You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.’ ”(John 8:13). The Pharisees said that Jesus’ witness was not valid, because He was bearing witness of Himself. Therefore, the testimony had no weight and was of no legal worth. But, was that the real issue? Was Jesus at court? No.

You know, it is hard to get the facts right when you don’t have the right information beforehand. This is definitely a problem the Pharisees had. And it is time they got the facts right. Like the Pharisees, millions of people are held in darkness due to ignorance of the facts about Jesus. Many have never heard of Jesus, and many of those who have heard of Him have heard a distorted, twisted, unreal picture of Him that makes Him appear to be what He is not in the Scripture. This should not surprise us because the Bible warns that in the latter days there will be many false teachers and prophets who misrepresent Jesus Christ and mislead people away from Him (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:4-5, 11, 23-26; I Timothy 4:1-2; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; I John 2:18-19, 22-23; 4:1-6). Because of this, it is very important that we see the true Jesus… that we get the facts right about Him.

Christ responds to the Pharisees, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” (John 8:14). Jesus says,“First of all, My testimony is valid because it is true. Even if I claim to be God Himself, that is no reason to reject Me. What you need to do is look for more evidence. Secondly, My knowledge about Myself is much greater than your knowledge about Me. I know more facts about Me than you do. I know who I am. I know where I have come from, and I know where I am going, but you are ignorant of these things”.

Have you noticed that people who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going, always seem to have a sense of confidence and security that enables them to stand up against the assaults and even the accusations of others? But people who don’t know who they are, who are not sure exactly where they came from and where they are going are wobbly and wishy-washy, uncertain and undependable. This is certainly true of Christians.

When Christians really believe what God says about them, when they refuse to listen even to their own feelings that lie to them about who they are, but they believe God has made them new creatures in Jesus Christ and they are free from the old life, the old sinful habits, they always have a tremendous sense of security and effectiveness in their lives. This is what our Lord had. What marvelous assurance He displayed as He moved with confidence and courage through all the opposition and strife that He lived through! That is why He can say to these Pharisees, “I know who I am but you do not.”

The third thing Jesus tells these men is, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” (John 8:15). Jesus is saying,“You reject My claims because you look only at appearances. You judge according to the flesh. You think I came from Nazareth, in Galilee, and for that reason you say I am not the Messiah. But you never investigated and found that I was born in Bethlehem, according to the word of the prophet. You don’t know Me at all. You judge by superficial things. You think that as the Messiah I am supposed to lead a revolt against Rome – and I will, in God’s time – but you never read the Old Testament that says many things have to come before that. I did not come to judge, but to save people.” Like many people today they were saying “No” to Jesus because of their ignorance of the facts.

Jesus continues,16 And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. 17 It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (John 8:16-18). “Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true because I do not act alone but in oneness with My Father. According to your Law, two witnesses are needed for a valid testimony in a court of law (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). I do have two witnesses – Myself and My Father, who is always with Me. If the witness of two men is valid, how much more the witness of God the Father and God the Son? So even if we do this according to your own rules, My testimony still proves valid,” Christ says.

Now Jesus has thoroughly answered their complaint. What will they do?  Will they humble themselves and say, “Surely this is the Son of God, I will bow to Him and trust in Him as the Messiah?” No, they try again to trap him. “Then they said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ ” (John 8:19a). “Well then, let’s see Your witness, let’s see Your father—if He’s the one validating your testimony.”

“Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’ ” (John 8:19b). “You wouldn’t know Him if I did show Him to you because You don’t know Me. Your mind is made up and you are not seeking the truth.” Their ignorance of Jesus proved that they did not know His Father. We know at that point their hearts were completely hardened against Him and they had every desire to kill Jesus on the spot. But they couldn’t – “These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.” (John 8:20). The “treasury” was part of the court of the women where thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes were kept for receiving the half-shekel temple dues. Even though Jesus spoke out in public right in the temple courts where the offering was taken, where everybody had to pass through, yet no one could arrest Him because the Father was with Him.

One of the amazing things about this account is that, although these men were claiming to know God, they really did not know Him. I find this is the problem with many people today. They say they know God, but the god they are talking about is a god of their own imagination. They are merely projecting an idea about God that is not real; consequently, they do not know God at all. Neither do they worship God; they are worshiping a figment of their imagination.

People will say, “I cannot believe that God would ever punish someone for eternity because they never believed in Jesus.” In other words, God does what they believe He ought not do. This is a false and blasphemous view of God! It is utterly untrue and unworthy! Yet this is the new paganism of today.

We have religious leaders reconstructing a different Jesus than is presented in the Bible. They have created a Christ that is made in their own image instead of the One portrayed in the Scripture. Why? I believe the primary reason is pride. If they accept the facts about Jesus – that He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1, 14) Who died for their sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6) – then they are accountable to Him for everything. They must come to grips with their own sin and its penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). And they must trust in Someone outside of themselves to save them (Acts 16:31) from an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). And many people are too arrogant to accept this.

In a world that pursues feelings more than truth, I believe Christians can make a big difference by pursuing God’s truth and wisdom once again. Will we lovingly share the facts about Jesus Christ with those who are perishing without Him? Or will we allow fake news to shipwreck our own Christian faith? Abiding in the truth of Jesus Christ will be uncomfortable and it will take courage in this “post-truth” world. But it will bring freedom from the lies that keep people enslaved to their sinful and shame-filled patterns of living (John 8:31-32). We must be ready to confront the many false assertions about the Jesus of the Bible and offer the hope and purpose that only He can give. This is only possible as we rely upon the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us into all truth (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8).

Prayer: Lord God, so many people have misinformation about Jesus Christ today because there are more false teachers sharing their fake news about Christ than there are Christians sharing the truth about Him Who is the truth (John 14:6). Please raise up a passionate army of believers who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going so that Christ is boldly shared with a world that is driven by emotions. In Jesus’ name, I ask that You give us the boldness and strength to make Christ known to our families, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances, and to people online. May we love Jesus more than our own lives. May we long for His approval more than peoples’. May we know Him and His Word so well that we are ready to answer the questions that people have about Him. In Jesus’ powerful 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.

When the Lord is my Shepherd I have no want for courage

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.” Psalm 23:4a

As we have seen the last few days, the greatest king the nation of Israel ever knew, David, pictured his relationship with God as that of a sheep to a shepherd. David placed himself in the position of a dependent, defenseless, and dumb sheep when he wrote in verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” When David trusted the Lord as his Shepherd, he had no want for:

– Rest because his Shepherd made him lie down in green pastures.

– Refreshment because his Shepherd led him beside still waters.

– Restoration because his Shepherd restored his soul when he wandered away from Him.ui

– Righteous living because his Shepherd guided him in the right paths.

Probably the most familiar verse in this Psalm is verse 4. When David wrote the words of this verse, he was probably thinking of an actual place in Palestine called the valley of the shadows or “the valley of the deep darkness.” This was a deep and dark ravine with steep sides and a narrow floor.

Notice how the beginning of verse 4 is related to the end of verse 3. David wrote in verse 3b, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” But then he goes on to say in verse 4a that one of the paths of righteousness that the Lord leads him in is “the valley of the shadow of death.” Early in the year in Palestine, the flocks graze in the lowlands. But as the summer comes and the hot sun melts the snows on the mountainsides, the shepherd leads his flock to better grazing on the mountains high above. To take the flock to this better land on which to graze, he must lead them through some dangerous and dark ravines.

On one side of the ravine, huge trees reach up to block out the sun, making noontime as dark as twilight. On the other side, a deep precipice leads down to a riverbed where the water foams and roars, torn by jagged rocks. Hidden in the shadows of the dark pathway are dangers such as poisonous snakes coiled to strikeand wolves or mountain lions ready to pounce upon a sheep to destroy it.

Yet the sheep go through this dangerous ravine of darkness because the shepherd has led them there. It took courage for a sheep to follow the shepherd through this dangerous ravine and the sheep gained courage by relying upon their shepherd. The sheep’s only safety lay in keeping close to the shepherd’s side and in obeying his commands.

What David is saying is that he had courage to go through the fearful experiences of life because he had a Good Shepherd Who led him into those experiences and Who would defend him from their dangers. Most of us may be afraid of tomorrow because of the coronavirus. Afraid that we may lose our jobs or keep them. We may be fearful of losing our health or loved ones. Afraid that government officials may make poor decisions. Afraid that our children may turn out wrong or if they grow up, that they may be blown up in a war. Afraid of disapproval or rejection. Afraid to live and afraid to die.

Where do you get your courage? Where do you get the stamina to stand up to life? For David, courage does not come from whistling in the dark or from believing that we can defend ourselves. As sheep, we are helpless to fight our enemies. The most courageous sheep in the world would be an easy meal for the smallest wolf or mountain lion.

As sheep, we need courage to trust our Good Shepherd. When a mountain lion comes to attack the flock or a wolf lurks close by, the sheep needs only to look up to be sure that the shepherd is near. Then it can go back to grazing. And that takes courage! We must learn that we cannot fight our spiritual battles by ourselves. We are just helpless sheep, and unless the Shepherd defeats our enemies, we will be found some place out in the desert of life, torn and bleeding. When we encounter the frightening events of life, we must learn to trust our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must turn the struggle over to Him and go back to feeding again. That takes courage; but it also gives courage.

As I read through this Psalm, I noticed the change of pronouns in the middle of these verses. In verses 1-3, David has been talking ABOUT the Shepherd. But suddenly in verse 4, David begins to talk TO the Shepherd. The Psalmist has changed his song from praise to prayer. When David felt the clammy hand of terror squeezing his heart, he wrote, “I will fear no evil; For You are with me.” When David thought about the rest, refreshment, and sunny green pastures, he talked ABOUT his Shepherd. But when he thought about the dark ravines in his life through which he had passed and through which he was sure to go, he spoke directly TO the Lord.

Are we any different? It is nice to talk about the Lord as long as things are in the sunshine. But when the darkness comes we no longer talk ABOUT the Lord, we talk TO Him. What are you going through today? What shadows seem to lie across your tomorrows? The Shepherd knows them all, and you can have courage as He leads you through the dark valley – if you trust Him. Talk to Him about your fears so that His presence can give you courage.

Death is the darkest valley that lies before us. We are fearful when our loved one goes through it and more fearful when we face it ourselves. Of all our enemies, death is not only the last, but the worst. We show fear by not facing up to death. We spend a lot of time thinking we won’t go through death. As our age climbs, we fight to push it back by going to hairdressers and health clubs, and by applying lotions and dyes. We try to disguise death at funerals with flowers and soft music.

In Revelation 1:17b-18, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am He Who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” The exalted Lord Jesus “laid His right hand on” the apostle John and commanded him, “Do not be afraid” because He is the eternal God (“the First and the Last”), the resurrected One (“I am He who lives, and was dead, and … I am alive forevermore”), and the One with authority over death and the dwelling of the dead (“I have the keys of Hades and of Death”). This same Jesus wants to give us courage to live triumphantly through His presence in our lives, both here and in the hereafter. Will you let Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it gives me great confidence to know that as my Good Shepherd, one of the paths of righteousness that You lead me in goes through dark and dangerous ravines. I realize now that You do not abandon me in those dark places of life. You are there with me to give me courage and strength. My greatest safety and security is staying close to Your side. Right now I invite You into the places of my soul where fear has frozen my feelings and hardened my heart. Your loving presence casts out my fear. Thank You gentle and loving Shepherd for not leaving me or rejecting me when I am afraid. Please help me focus on Your powerful and loving presence today. You are in control of all that happens. My trust is in You my loving Shepherd to lead me triumphantly through the valley of the shadow of death. The battles I face today belong to You. My hope is in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.