Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 4

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ ” John 11:14-15

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. We have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

The fourth reason the Lord may delay His answers to our prayers is to DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM (John 11:11-16). “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ ” (John 11:11). The Lord Jesus views Lazarus’ death as “sleep” because from His divine perspective, death is harmless and hopeful. When Jesus said, “I may wake him up,” He was referring to when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Since the coming of Christ, the death of a believer is regularly called “sleep” (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Dead Christians are asleep not in the sense of an unconscious “soul sleep,” but in the sense that their bodies appear to be sleeping.

But the disciples did not understand Jesus. “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ ” (John 11:12). The disciples misunderstand Christ and think He is speaking of natural sleep. “Why risk Your life, Lord, to arouse a man from a night’s sleep especially if he is on his way to recovery?!”

“However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:13). Death is not a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep” as some teach. When believers in Jesus die, they go directly and consciously into the presence of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24). Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).

This is why Paul writes, 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.

In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22) as are all believers in Jesus who have died (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24).

“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:14). The Lord “plainly tells His disciples that “Lazarus is dead. But then Jesus says something that is very shocking. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:15). Christ says He was glad He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! What is there to be glad about in Lazarus’ death or anyone’s death for that matter?!

When Jesus said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death, “that you may believe,” He was not talking about their salvation. His disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 1:35-51; 2:11; 6:69). Jesus’ joy is for the disciples’ faith which would be strengthened when they would behold Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What would the disciples’ faith have been like if they did not witness the raising of Lazarus? Their faith would lack content. And they would have less courage when they would face life-threatening situations.

God allows disappointment in our lives to strengthen our faith. We look at other people and think, Lord, how can You do this with this type of person? How can You do the impossible? Death is final! How about people we do not think God can change? We may have doubts about God changing a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. We may even doubt that the Lord can change us! But God can make a difference!

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). Thomas looked death in the face and chose death with Jesus rather than life without Him! This is not the kind of commitment or courage we may have expected from this doubting disciple. Thomas’ comment, “that we may die with Him,” is intriguing because history tells us that eventually all but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for their Lord.

Even though Thomas expressed great courage and confidence now, he would express doubt over Jesus’s resurrection later (cf. John 20:24-29). But for now, he was ready to die with Jesus! This tells us that those who are spiritually confident today may find themselves in the depths of despair and doubt tomorrow.

What about you? Are you willing to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost? When people ridicule you or mistreat you, or even threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus? Thomas expressed this kind of commitment now even though he did not know for sure how safe or unsafe he would be going up to Judea again. When non-Christians encounter this kind of courage among believers, it can cause them to consider their own eternal destiny.

Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:27-28: “27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” This kind of boldness in the presence of one’s enemies assures the believer that his message his true and proves to his opponents that their defeat is certain.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You delayed Your coming to Martha and Mary, You were wanting to strengthen the faith of Your disciples and all who would witness what You were going to do at Lazarus’ grave. It may be difficult for us to understand this at the time of our own disappointment and loss. But You do not waste our fears and pain. You want to transform our anger into acceptance, our fear into faith, our grief into gladness, and our despair into hope through Your resurrection power. The more convinced we are of this resurrection power, the more courage we will have to face those who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. This boldness before our enemies assures us that Your message is true and it proves to our enemies that their defeat is certain. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for this assurance You give us when our trust is in You. In Your powerful name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Since eternal life is free and can never be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord?

In John 10:28-29, we discovered that believers in Jesus are secure forever because eternal life is a gift which can never be lost. But someone may say, “Since eternal life is free through believing in Jesus and cannot be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord? What is to keep me from living like the devil since I know I will go to heaven after believing in Jesus? There are several incentives for living a godly life after believing in Jesus for the gift of eternal life. We will look at four of them:

1. GRATITUDE: When a sinner believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life, the most natural response is a heart full of thanksgiving.  The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). When you are convinced God loves you no matter what and that His arms of grace are always open for you no matter how badly you fail or fall, you will want to do what He tells you to do out of gratitude and because you know He wants the best for you (2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).

For example, let’s say you are drowning in the ocean, and a man on the seashore hears your cries for help and swims out to save you from certain death. After he brings you safely back to shore, you ask him, “How can I ever thank you for saving me?” He replies, “You would have done the same thing for me,” and then he drives off on his motorcycle. Two weeks later you are driving your car down the highway and you notice the same man standing beside the road next to his motorcycle which has two flat tires. The man is frantically waving his hands to get you to stop, but you just wave at him and keep going. That, my friends, is no way to thank the man who saved you from drowning. Likewise, when we fail to live for the Lord, we are still saved, but that is no way to thank our Savior who saved us from an eternity burning in the lake of fire.

2. GOD’S DISCIPLINE: Just as an earthly father disciplines his wayward children, so God will discipline His disobedient child (Hebrews 12:5-11). It is possible for a believer to be more miserable living outside of God’s will than it would have been to remain a non-Christian. If a believer continues in sin long enough, God may even take his or her physical life (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-32). Knowing the price of sin in a Christian’s life ought to be a strong motivation for godly living. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

3. YOUR NEW IDENTITY: When a person believes or trusts in Christ for the gift of eternal life, God’s grace gives him a new identity or capacity to overcome sin and live for the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; I John 3:1-9). Romans 6:14-18 says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When we become Christians, we are under a new authority. We are now under God’s grace, not the law. When we realize and submit to Christ’s rule over us, regardless of our feelings, our sinful flesh progressively loses its domination over us, and the grace of God is activated in our lives. We then obey because of our relationship with Jesus. Some immature Christians might think that living under grace means they can go on sinning. But Paul refutes this thinking. If you are living under grace, you will actually keep the law. And if you don’t keep the law, it only proves you’re not operating under the grace of God. Christians obey the standard, but the motivation isn’t the standard. The motivation is God’s grace. The more believers experience the grace of Jesus, the more he or she wants to live in way that is consistent with his or her new identity in Christ.

At this juncture, I believe it is important to talk about sanctification. Sanctification is being “set apart” or made holy to God. The Bible alludes to pre-conversion sanctification whereby the Lord sets apart the unbeliever for salvation and/or service (Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 9:15; Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2).

For the Christian, sanctification is realized in three ways. All believers are positionally sanctified when they first believe by virtue of being in Christ (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:10, 14).  That is, they are completely and permanently set apart from their sin and shame, and placed into the body of Christ. God totally accepts the believer at the moment of faith in Jesus regardless of how much or little they manifest His holiness.

Christians are personally or progressively sanctified as they allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives, and begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 15:1-8; 17:17; Romans 6:12-23; 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 1:15- 16; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  Therefore, obedience to the Word of God, while not necessary for obtaining everlasting life, is the essential responsibility of each Christian to grow in the Christian life (Romans 6:12-23; Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4). However, the Bible does not teach that this obedience will be manifested in all believers. If a believer does not yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his experience, failure will result, evidenced by sinful acts or even prolonged disobedience (1 Corinthians 3:1-15; 10:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21).

Christians will be ultimately sanctified when they become completely conformed to the image of Christ in His presence (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; I John 3:2-3; Jude 24- 25).  There will be no more sin in their words, thoughts, actions, or motives.

For example, the apostle Paul in writing to the church at Corinth, says, “To those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (hagios).” (I Corinthians 1:2). Paul calls them “saints” which means, “set-apart ones” (I Corinthians 1:2). He was not referring to their behavior because they were acting very immature and disobedient (I Corinthians 1:11-6:20; 11:17-32; et al.). He was obviously talking about their identity or their position in Christ, which was sourced in their spiritual birth. Paul calls them “saints”(positional sanctification) in chapter 1 and then challenges them to act like the saints they really are (progressive sanctification) in the remaining chapters of the book.

When the Corinthians were committing sexual immorality with prostitutes he questions their knowledge about their new identity in Christ, not their salvation (I Corinthians 6:13-20). Paul describes believers’ future resurrection bodies which will be “raised in incorruption” and “put on incorruption” (ultimate sanctification) to encourage Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in the present (I Corinthians 15:42, 53). Because Christians will receive future resurrection bodies that no longer yield to sin, they are to abound in the work of the Lord now knowing He will reward them for their faithfulness in the future (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. 3:8-15; 9:24-27).

4. ETERNAL REWARDS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST: The last book of the Bible (Revelation) provides an outline of future events (see picture) beginning with the current church age to the eternal state…

1. We are living in the Church Age which began at Pentecost (Acts2) and will end with the rapture or removal of the Church from the earth which could take place at any moment (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4-5). Knowing that Christ could come for us at any moment motivates Christians to live faithfully for Him so they are prepared to face Him as their Judge.

2. Soon after the Church is taken in the Rapture, seven years of Tribulation begin on the earth.  This period begins when the Beast of Revelation makes a covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:26-27). This will be an awful time of death, disease, hunger, famine, earthquakes as never seen, warfare, entire seas turned to blood, darkness, scorching of the sun and multiple other judgments (Revelation 6-19). It will end when Jesus returns to earth with His Church and Christ will destroy His enemies (Revelation 17:12-14; Revelation 19:11-21). At that time, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) and the Devil will be bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3).

3.  Then Jesus will reign as King over the entire earth for a thousand years from the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6). This period is called the Millennium which means “one thousand.”

4. At the end of the Millennium God will destroy the entire creation (2 Peter 3:10). Every person who did not believe or trust in Christ alone for the gift of salvation will stand before God as He sits on the Great White Throne to judge each unbeliever according to their works to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan will receive his final judgment in the Lake of Fire at this time.

5.  Then a New Heaven (Universe) and New Earth are created which are perfect and beautiful (Revelation 21-22). This will be the eternal home of believers in Jesus.

Knowing the future should motivate Christians to live for what is eternal and not what is temporary. Why? Because there is another Judgment. During the Tribulation, in heaven, Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ. While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21).  This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12). Every Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” things he has done since becoming a Christian. The word “bad” (kakon) means “worthless, wicked, and evil.”

Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient  motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Knowing that we can earn eternal rewards should motivate believers to live for Christ now. Christians can earn heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) by giving a cup of cold water to God’s servant (Matthew 10:42), doing a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3- 4), praying in private (Matthew 6:6), and fasting in private (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christians who remain faithful in their service to Christ to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing special white garments (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

Christians can also earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.

Knowing we have eternal life which can never be lost does not give Christians a license to sin or live like the devil. God did not save us to live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have looked at several motivations to live for Jesus untill we go to be with Him in heaven.

I will close with some thoughts from Dave Breese in Living for Eternity said, The child of God is a creature of eternal destiny. For him no day is without consequence, and no fleeting moment can be called incidental or unimportant. The hours he spends and the decisions he makes have implications that carry on into eternity. What he does today will matter a thousand years from today.” (Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], pg. 145).

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 4

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” John 10:17-18

We can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when we INITIATE OBEDIENCE TO HIM (John 10:17-18). Jesus said,Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17a). God the Father has a special love for His Son who sacrificially obeyed His will. Jesus did not mean that the Father’s love resulted from the Son’s performance. The Father’s love for Jesus would still have existed if Jesus had failed to obey Him completely. The Father loved the Son unconditionally in eternity past (John 17:23-24). However, the Son’s full obedience to the Father’s will resulted in the Father having a special love for the Son that obedience under testing brought out.

Likewise, God loves all believers unconditionally, but when they obey Him, they enjoy an intimacy with Him that only obedience can produce. Christ said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” For Christ to disclose or “manifest more of Himself to a believer, the believer must be trustworthy and obey Him. Intimacy or friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself. Intimate fellowship with Christ requires obedience to Him. When believers initiate obedience to Christ, they draw closer to Him and experience an intimacy with Him that is absent among disobedient believers.

Some people may ask, “If Jesus is God, how can He die? God does not die.” I like to respond to this question by asking a question. “When humans die, do their spirits or souls stop existing?” They respond, “No our spirit or soul does not die,” to which I reply, “So even when we die as humans, it is the body that dies, not our spirit or soul. We do not stop existing altogether.” The same is true of Jesus. Though His physical body died on the cross, He did not stop existing as God. Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when He died. Therefore, He did not stop existing as God.

Then Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17b). The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rise again, enriched with resurrection power. From Jesus’ perspective, death was only the beginning, not the end. Christ knew He would not remain dead. Christ said, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:18). We see that Jesus’ death was voluntary (cf. John 10:11, 14, 17-18). Jesus was under no obligation to sacrifice Himself for sinners. That’s why it’s called grace.

Although the Jews would hand Him over and the Romans would crucify Him, this was only possible because He let them (cf. John 19:10-11). An unbelieving observer may conclude that Jesus was overpowered by the Jewish authorities and crucified. But Jesus makes it clear that no one took His life from Him. He chose to lay it down. He also had authority to lay down His life and take it up again. Christ had the power to call upon thousands of angels to destroy His enemies and deliver Him from death (Matt. 26:53), but He chose to endure the cross out of love for us and His Father (Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:6-8). The Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life and take it up again and Jesus submitted to His Father.

Anyone can lay his or her life down in death sacrificially, but only Jesus Christ could “lay it down” and then “take it [up] again” in resurrection! This is what separates Jesus Christ from all other religious leaders and founders. All other religious leaders and founders in history are still dead in the grave. But Jesus Christ is the only One who had the authority to take up His life in resurrection, proving that He is God (Romans 1:4) and that He has defeated sin, death, and the Devil (cf. Romans 6:5-14; 8:11; I Corinthians 15:54-57; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15). The New Testament writers attributed Jesus’ resurrection to all three members of the Trinity: the Father (Romans 6:4), the Son (John 2:19), and the Spirit (Romans 8:11).

The One Who voluntarily laid down His life for us and took it up again in resurrection loves each of us very much. He wants to give us the same power that raised Him from the dead to enable us to live a life that obeys and honors Him (cf. Ephesians 1:18-20)! The more we give Him our obedience, the more He will reveal Himself to us in intimate ways.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is no one like You. You loved me so much that You voluntarily laid down Your life for me and took it up again in resurrection to honor Your Father’s will. Your obedience to the Father reminds me that when I give You my obedience, You will reveal more of Yourself to me. Right now my Lord and my God, I want to give You everyone and everything I have. I look forward to what You are going to teach me about Yourself today. In Your everlasting 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 grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 1

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

Pharisaism replaces rest in Jesus with demands for spiritual performance. People under a Pharisaic system can develop a distorted image of God. In John 10:11-21, we will discover that our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is on our side and not against us.

We saw in John 10:1-10 that we can trust Jesus as the true Shepherd because of …

– His prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– The doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– His personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

– His competent leadership (John 10:3c-6)

– His completely free offer of salvation (John 10:7-9a, 10b)

– His constant provision of nourishment (John 10:9b, 10c).

The Pharisees had not entered the sheepfold in the prescribed manner, that is, through faith in God’s Promised-Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Messiah and God’s provision of salvation through Him was a gracious gift not to be earned through compliance with the Law. Because of their unbelief, the Pharisees were false shepherds who misled their followers onto a treacherous path of dependency upon their own efforts to save themselves. Since they led the sheep along the wrong path away from the life Jesus offered, Jesus called them thieves and robbers of God’s sheep.

Being under a Pharisaic system can hinder believers from growing closer to the True Shepherd. The next few days, Lord willing, we will learn how to grow closer to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, when we realize who He truly is. Those under a Pharisaic system may have a distorted view of Christ which keeps them from growing closer to Him. The remedy? Discover the truth about Jesus. He is a good, trustworthy Shepherd. I can grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I…

REALIZE HIS SACRIFICIAL INTEREST IN ME (10:11-13). Beginning in verse 11, there is a stark contrast between the Good Shepherd and the thief. Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). This is another “I AM” statement by which Jesus claims to be the same God Who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14.

Notice that Jesus is not a mere shepherd, but “the good shepherd.” What does  “the good shepherd” do? He “gives His life for the sheep” so the sheep might live, but the thief comes to kill the sheep so he might live (John 10:10a). False shepherds come to take from others, but the Good Shepherd comes to give His life for the sheep. Jesus has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He laid down His life so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “for” in John 10:11 refers to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died “for” us or “instead” of us. He died in our place so we may live.

The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since God is a holy God, He must punish sin. God says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The word “death” here refers to eternal separation from God. All people deserve to die forever in the Lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

God could have permitted us to take our own punishment. But instead, 2,000 years ago, God’s perfect Son took our place on the cross and died as our Substitute. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A California newspaper reported that a man fired a gun into a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. To shield a three-year-old boy from the hail of bullets, a twenty-nine-year-old apartment manager grabbed him and ran back into the building. Carrying the boy, he ran up a flight of stairs before collapsing from two bullet wounds in his chest. A policeman observed, “He brought the boy out of the line of fire and died because of it.” 1

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ took what caused our death, our sin, and died for us before coming back to life three days later. By dying in our place, Jesus satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins. Jesus is alive today and He has the power to save us from hell and give us eternal life. Jesus is the one and only “door” (John 10:9) for the sheep. He is the only One

Who paid the penalty for our sin when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead. There is no other way to get to heaven (John 14:6) except to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:15; 6:68-69; Acts 4:12).

Have you ever come to the point where you accepted Jesus’ death on your behalf? If not, would you like to now? Simply take Christ at His Word when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The moment you believe or trust in Jesus alone, He gives you eternal life which can never be lost or taken away from you.

Jesus is contrasted with the hireling who does not share the concern of the shepherd for the sheep. “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” (John 10:12).  When the flock gets too large, the shepherd hires a man to help with the sheep. The hireling watched the sheep at night when danger lurked – lions, wolves, panthers, leopards, bears, and hyenas – in the countryside.

“The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.” (John 10:13). When danger approached, the hireling fled because he doesn’t have personal concern for the sheep like the shepherd has. He only works for money with no sacrificial commitment to the sheep. Since he is a hired man, he also has no personal affection for the sheep.

The shepherd, on the other hand, owns the sheep and cares for their safety enough to even die for them (John 10:11). Christ loves His sheep so much that He was willing to purchase them with His own blood. The hireling is like the religious leaders who only cared for themselves. They used the peoples’ religious performance to meet their own spiritual needs instead of really caring about the needs of the people.

We can act like a hireling when we put our own needs ahead of the people God wants us to serve. For example, when a brother or sister in Christ is opposed by others because of their Christian faith, will we identify with them and support them at the risk of being attacked ourselves? Or will we withdraw from them to protect ourselves? Our Good Shepherd was willing to take a stand and fight for us against the forces of hell when He went to the cross on our behalf. As we grow closer to Him, He can help us put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Prayer: Your goodness, my Lord Jesus, was clearly and powerfully demonstrated when You gave Your life for the sheep. Unlike a robber or a hireling that cares more about himself than the sheep, You were willing to sacrifice Yourself so we may live forever with You after believing in You. False shepherds come to take from others, but You came to give. Knowing You have my best interest in mind invites me to grow closer to You. This can be difficult for me at times because I let my past wounds from spiritual leaders interfere with my view of You now. I pray Your Holy Spirit will remind me that since You gave me Your best when I was at my worst, how much more will You do now that I am in Your sheepfold (cf. Romans 8:31-32)!?! Please live Your life in and through me so others may experience Your goodness as a result. Thank You my Good Good Shepherd. I love You. In Your name I celebrate! Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1.   From EvanTell’s 2010 “What are you depending on…” gospel tract.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 3

“His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” John 9:22-23

As we continue to look at the man born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9:1-12), we will discover a third symptom of spiritual blindness. After the parents of this healed man testified that this was their son who was born blind (John 9:20), they would not tell the Pharisees how their blind son gained his sight. They said, “But by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” (John 9:21). They said nothing about how or by whom he received his sight because they were afraid of being excommunicated from the synagogue. They evade this issue by saying their son was an adult capable of answering for himself.

22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” (John 9:22-23). The parents say nothing of Jesus. If these parents allowed their son to beg, then it was unthinkable for them to confess Christ before the Pharisees. Because no one could conduct business with a person who was excommunicated from the synagogue.

The Jews had three types of excommunication:

1. The Nezifah (“reproof”), the mildest formwas applied “when someone had insulted a prominent or learned person. It lasted seven days and the offender could not appear before the one he displeased. He had to retire to his house, speak little, refrain from business and pleasure, and manifest his remorse.” 1

2. The Niddui (“separation), was imposed when “the offender was first publicly warned three times at the regular service in the synagogue. During the period of discipline … (30 days according to the Jerusalem Talmud) no one except the members of his immediate household were permitted to associate with the offender, or sit within four cubits of him, or eat in his company. He had to observe all the laws that pertained to a mourner and could not be counted among the number necessary for the performance of a public religious function.” 2

3. The Barem (“ban”), “was the most rigorous form of excommunication. This extended for an indefinite period during which no one was permitted to teach the offender, work for him, or benefit him in any way. It meant exclusion from the religious community and intercourse with Jewish society.” 3

Whatever form of excommunication was enforced then, the threat was serious enough to keep the parents quiet about the identity of their son’s Healer. This is the third symptom of spiritual blindness – DESIRE THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TRUTH (John 9:21-23). The parents of the former blind man withheld the truth about Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue and lose the opportunity to do business with others. In other words, they wanted the approval of the religious leaders but not the approval of God.

How many people have avoided the truth to please others? Maybe you come from a strong religious background and if you embraced the truth about Jesus Christ, you would suffer persecution from your family and religious community. Believing in a generic God is safe, but confessing Jesus Christ as the Messiah-God will bring opposition ranging from ridicule and mockery, to possible torture and death.

The sad part of this is people can end up in hell because they sought to preserve their own lives and livelihood like the parents of the man born blind instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. Let’s put this in perspective. Would you rather avoid temporary sufferings on earth by rejecting Jesus Christ and then experience eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire after you die or would you rather endure temporary sufferings on earth now by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life to possess eternal bliss and joy in heaven with Jesus after you die? Is your comfort now more important than your comfort in eternity? Many people will be separated from God forever in the lake of fire because they sought the approval of people instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. What will you choose?

The Bible says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Heaven and hell are in the balance my friends. If you do not believe or trust in Christ alone as your only hope of heaven simply to avoid suffering on earth now, you will regret this forever as you suffer torment in the lake of fire. On the other hand, if you will transfer all your trust onto Jesus Christ, Who died for your sins and rose from the dead, for His gift of everlasting life now, you will enjoy Jesus’ presence forever in a perfect and problem-free place called heaven.

If you are a believer in Jesus, it is possible to have a reluctance to express that faith publicly for fear of persecution. For example, many of the ruling Pharisees had saving faith but were afraid to express that faith to others because they loved the approval of people more than God’s approval: 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:7; 2:22-23; 4:15). When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (I John 4:15).

It is important to understand that confessing Christ before others is not a condition for receiving eternal life. Only believing in Jesus is necessary for salvation from hell (John 3:14-16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). God can see our faith in Christ alone apart from any good works or outward manifestation (Romans 3:21-4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7). But confessing Christ before others is necessary to grow in our Christian lives.

Romans 10:9-10 is referring to believing in your heart “unto righteousness” which is justification before God (Romans 3:21-5:9a) and confessing with your mouth for salvation from the present-day wrath of God (Rom. 1:16-32; 5:9-10) which is sanctification or growing in the Christian life (Rom. 5:9b-8:39). Failure to confess Christ before others now, will result in the loss of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, particularly, the loss of ruling with Christ in the world to come (Matthew 10:32-42; 2 Corinthians 5:8-11; 2 Timothy 2:12). 

Let’s make every day count for eternity. As a Christian, live for the audience of One, Jesus Christ, and He will make your life eternally worthwhile (Colossians 3:23-24; Revelation 22:12).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding me that my choices now will determine what my eternity will be like. The most important decision anyone can make is what they will do with You, Lord Jesus. Will they believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life and enjoy eternity with You in heaven or will they choose not to believe in You and suffer torment forever separated from You in the lake of fire!?! I beg of You, my Lord and my God, to remove the blinders from those who are more concerned about their comfort on earth than about their comfort for eternity. Help them to believe that You, Jesus, are the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have eternal life in Your name alone. For those of us who believe in You, Jesus, please enable us to live for Your approval and not the approval of people. In Your everlasting name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 177-178.

2. Ibid, p. 178.

3. Ibid.

The Light of the World

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ ” John 8:12

The setting of John 8:12 is back in chapter 7. It is the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the very special events during this feast was the “Illumination of the Temple.” This ceremony took place each evening in one of the courts of the Temple – the Court of the Women. In the center of this court four giant candelabra were set up (the many-branched candlesticks used by the Jews). Some accounts say that these golden candelabra were as high as seventy-five feet. At night, they were lit and they brought light to the whole temple area and most of Jerusalem. It was spectacular, and people would celebrate all night.

The reason they did this was to remember another wilderness experience. It was the pillar of fire. During the exodus from Egypt, God protected and guided the people of Israel through the wilderness with the pillar of fire. God was with them.

At the end of the feast, the lights were purposely put out. Why? Because the Messiah had not come yet.

It is in the same temple area where the lights were put out the night before that I believe Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12a). It is as though Jesus is saying, “Do you remember the pillar of fire that came between the Israelites and the Egyptians near the Red Sea, the pillar that protected them and led them on their wanderings in the wilderness? That was My presence with them. I was God with them and I am God with you! It was I who protected them. It was I who guided them through the wilderness. I am the light of the WORLD – not just the light for the nation of Israel, but the light for the entire world. I offer hope to every one of every country, culture, and color.” What a statement! Jesus is claiming to be God.

The phrase “I Am” is how God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I Am” is also how Jesus will continue to state His own identity to the people of Israel. Jesus has already stated, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Later on, He will identify Himself with more “I am” statements: “I am the door” (10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (14:6), “I am the true Vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that He was and is God.

Because Jesus is God (cf. I John 5:20), there is no darkness or sin in Him. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Since Jesus is “the light of the world,” He can offer hope and life to every person of every country, culture, and color. Christ does not favor one particular culture or color of people over another. He loves every person equally and longs to have a personal relationship with each one.

So much emphasis is placed upon the color of a person’s skin today which leads to much hatred toward those who look differently. This is not from the Lord (cf. I John 2:9-11). God created all people of all colors and we are to praise Him for this. The real problem in the world today is not skin, it is sin. All people of all colors have a problem called sin (Romans 3:23). This is why some people think they are superior to others. This is why some people allow their own prejudices to mistreat others. This is why there is racism in the world. Until we stop focusing on skin and start dealing with our sin, there will be no lasting reconciliation among the different cultures and colors of people in the world today.

God has provided the solution to our sin problem by giving His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world (John 3:16a; 4:42). Christ loved us so much He died in our place on a cross to pay the full penalty for our sin, and three days later He rose from the dead and He is alive today (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus invites us to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life. When we do, we become “sons of light.” Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36).

Notice that Christ says we can become “sons of light” simply by believing or trusting in Him alone for His gift of salvation. This verse does not say we become “sons of light” by going to church, being baptized, confessing our sins, praying five times a day, living a good life, or by keeping the sacraments. The only condition is to believe in the Light which is Jesus Christ.

After believing in Christ, we are no longer defined by our sin and shame. We are defined by the Light of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8). How do we live as children of light?

Jesus explains, “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12b). This is such a wonderful promise. There is nothing we need more in this world than light on our path. Many people are walking in the darkness of sins today. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. But how does a person break loose from the bondage of sin? How can we come out of the domain of darkness and its influence into the domain of God and the influence of His light and purity? Simple. By following Jesus!  “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” That tells me two things: 

1. Jesus will never lead me into darkness. He will never lead me into sin. So if I will just follow Him like a sheep follows a shepherd, I will not find myself in darkness but in “light” (holiness and hope) and “life” (relationship with God). On the other hand…

2. If I am living in sin, if I am walking in darkness, I must not be following Jesus—because that’s not where He is going. I can never blame Jesus for my sinful lifestyle or hopelessness. Because He is the antithesis of both! If I am letting Him lead me, I will have holiness and hope in my life.

I have had those who are opposed to Christianity try to justify their rejection of Christ by referring to all the horrific things done in the name of Jesus Christ, such as The Crusades or the atrocities of Adolph Hitler. I assure them, that those who have done terrible things in the name of Jesus Christ are not representing biblical Christianity. When people murder or mistreat other people because of their different skin color or religion, they are not following the example of their Leader, Jesus Christ, Who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies by blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 10:27-37). Jesus Christ is not responsible for those who misuse His name to justify their own sinful choices. Those people will answer to Christ for the wrongs they have done.

Notice how positive the solution is in John 8:12. It is not that I fight off my horrible lust, prejudices, selfishness, and greed so I can follow Jesus. That would be impossible for me to do. But if I will choose to follow Christ and obey His Word, and continue in that choice no matter how imperfect or how weak I may feel my walk with Him is — that choice lived out day by day will take me where I need to go. Can you say with firm conviction, “I have decided to follow Jesus”? Peter didn’t follow Jesus perfectly, but he followed Him as a choice of life. James and John and the other disciples were slow learners like some of us are. But they were followers of Jesus and that journey led them out of darkness into light.

What the world needs today is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can transform the sinful human heart so that hatred is replaced with love. Until people find peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:1), they will not be able to live peacefully with themselves or others (Ephesians 2:13-18). Governments and politicians cannot do this for us. Only Jesus Christ can and does when we come to Him on His terms.

I read a story about a grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment and the grandfather asked, “Do you know where we are?” The little boy said, “No!” The grandfather asked, “Do you know where we’re going?” And the little boy again said, “No!” The grandfather chuckled and said, “Well, I guess you’re lost then.” The boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “No, I’m not lost. I’m with you.” When you are with Jesus, when you are following Him, you will never be lost and you will arrive where you need to be.

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the world today, I see people wandering in the darkness without any lasting hope. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. I was once one of those people. But when You removed the blinders from my mind, I was able to see the light of Jesus’ glory so I could believe in Him (2 Corinthians 4:4). And at that moment, You transferred me from the domain of darkness into the marvelous light of Your Son’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13; I Peter 2:9). I am no longer defined by my sin and shame, but by the Light of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:8). I now have a choice. I can choose to follow Jesus, the Light of the world, and no longer abide in the darkness of sin, or I can follow my own sinful flesh and the course of this world which leads to the darkness of sin, hate, and death (John 8:12; 12:35; I John 2:9-11; 3:11-15). Thank You, Lord Jesus, for never leading me into darkness when I follow You. Forgive me for the many times I have blamed You for my own sinful choices. How foolish I was to do such a thing! But even then, You did not stop loving me nor did You give up on me. You still loved me and patiently waited for me to turn back to You. Thank You so much for the hope I have when my eyes are fixed upon You. Please lead me to those who are abiding in darkness that I may share the Light of the world with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVOID Hiding Behind Foolish Stereotypes

ASCERTAIN God’s Will By Doing It

ASSESS Those Who Teach US

ATTEND To Relationships More Than Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 1

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.’ ” John 7:16

God wants us to major on what is important. He wants us to focus on relationships, especially with Him, and internal attitudes, not ourselves and external appearances. But how do we do that? How do we major on the majors? How do we stay focused on what is important to God – our relationship with Him and doing His will during this season of chaos and uncertainty? Let’s look at John 7:14-24 the next few days and find out.

The first way to stay focused on what is important to God is to AVOID HIDING BEHIND FOOLISH STEREOTYPES (John 7:14-16). In John 7:1-13, Jesus’ half-brothers tried to persuade Him to go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles to make Himself known as the Messiah. Jesus refused to follow His unbelieving brothers’ advice. Instead, He waited until the Feast was half over before going up to it. 14 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, ‘How does this Man know letters, having never studied?’ ” (John 7:14-15). The word “letters” refers to the Scriptures. The crowd was amazed that Jesus could teach with such authority since He had no formal education. He had not gone to the proper rabbinical schools. Yet, He took the ancient prophecies, and expounded and explained them. This was so different from the other rabbis. They taught from authorities, but Jesus taught with authority. Christ was a refreshing difference.

These people were not admiring Jesus – they were finding ways to avoid the impact of His message. They were doing what many of us do today – they were hiding behind foolish stereotypes. That way they would not have to deal with what Jesus was saying. We can often dismiss uncomfortable teaching because the teacher is either: not very educated (and so couldn’t possibly have anything to teach me) or, they are too educated (and surely parroting what they have been taught rather than making an informed decision based on the scriptures). Have you ever done that? I know I have. We stop listening to people because of their incorrect grammar, background, their past failures, their appearance, and a host of other reasons.

Jesus tells the people –  “Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.’ ” (John 7:16). Jesus did not receive His message from men nor make it up Himself. Many people who have not gone to school are still proud of their knowledge. They say, “I studied and taught myself.” There is a lot of pride lurking beneath such a statement. But Jesus does not say that. “I am not even self-taught. My teaching is from Him who sent me.” In other words, the issue is not the Person who is speaking, but the message that is spoken.

God can and does speak to us in a number of different ways. He can speak to us through the words of a child, a grandparent, even a new believer. However, we must be open to instruction. We must stop hindering God’s Spirit by refusing to listen to someone because of our foolish stereotypes. I believe that most people today want to hear from someone who has been taught by God. Isn’t that true? Hopefully you didn’t start reading this article to hear from me. You have come to this article because you wanted to get a word from the Lord. That’s why those of us who teach God’s Word need your prayers. Pray for us to hear from God each day – to get fresh insight from His Word.

Prayer: Father God, I am certain I have often missed out on Your message in the past because of my foolish stereotypes. I have stopped listening to Your messengers because of their incorrect grammar, background, their past failures, their appearance, and a host of other reasons. Oh how I regret hiding behind such stereotypes to avoid the impact of Your Word in my life. I have forgotten how You use unexpected people to communicate Your message of grace and truth. During this time of great chaos and uncertainty in our world, I desperately need to hear from You, my Lord and my God. Please open my eyes and heart to see wonderful jewels in Your Word. Holy Spirit, please give me the ability to understand and apply the truth of God’s Word to my life. Please give me an open heart to those whom You have raised up to speak to this current generation. Help me discern fake news from Your news. In the precious name of Jesus I pray. Amen.