Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

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

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 1

“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?’ ” John 16:19

Did your parents ever tell you about your birth experience? What it was like for them? My mother informed me when I was an adult that she was in labor during her pregnancy with me for twenty-four hours and then the contractions suddenly stopped. To try to get the contractions to resume, the nurse gave her caster oil (which tastes awful) to start the labor again, but it did not work. Eventually they gave her a drug to start the contractions again, and it caused much discomfort because it was administered too fast. Since my birth was a week before Christmas, many hospital workers were gone on vacation, including my mother’s doctor. My mother said she was given an old army nurse whose bedside manner was less than to be desired. To make matters worse, my Mom said my Dad, who was a dairy farmer at that time, joked about having babies as easy as cows having calves. Such comments can be dangerous to a husband’s health!

When it was time for me to be delivered, the delivery room doctor discovered that my foot was caught in my mother’s womb, preventing me from entering the birth canal. So he had to give my mother ether before going in to pull my foot down and deliver me feet first. They had to pack my mother’s insides with gauze afterwards because she was bleeding heavily. Because of the bleeding, she had to stay in the hospital five days. Mom was in labor a total of about twenty-eight hours with me. She was very glad when I was born. She said, “The Lord erases the delivery room woes until the next time. You forget the anguish because the joy of a newborn baby overshadows the pain.

Jesus will use the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach us to endure pain so that He can transform it into joy. After all, Christians will experience pain and suffering this side of heaven. The disciples experienced sadness after Jesus announced His departure (John 16:5-6).

For believers today, our sadness may involve the many losses we experience because of COVID-19. These losses may include the death of a loved one, the loss of our own health, the loss of a job or financial security, the loss of social connections, or even the loss of a sense of control. Our sadness may be related to a broken relationship or a rebellious child. We will face circumstances in life that are painful, but Jesus offers us lasting joy amidst those painful times.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus is going to prepare His disciples for the overwhelming sorrow they are going to experience in the next few hours when they watch Him be arrested, mocked, scourged, and crucified on a cross. From Jesus’ interactions with His disciples, we will discover how He can transform our grief into gladness. How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness?

The first way is for us to ASK CHRIST TO HELP US PROPERLY UNDERSTAND HIS WORD AS IT RELATES TO OUR SITUATION (John 16:16-19). In the context, Jesus had just spoken to His disciples about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit during His absence (John 16:7-11). Christ would depart to go to His Father in heaven after His death and resurrection, and then send the Holy Spirit to them to guide them into all truth and glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14).

Then Jesus said to them, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” (John 16:16). The phrase “a little while” refers to the time interval between Jesus’ death and burial (“you will not see Me”), and His resurrection (“you will see Me”). Christ was trying to console them that He would not be gone long after His death. Three days later He would appear to them alive after His crucifixion. This last phrase, “you will see Me,” also seems to include the sending of the Holy Spirit since Jesus said, “because I go to the Father” (cf. John 14:28-29; 16:7). Jesus’ resurrection must take place first before He could go to the Father. The disciples would also see Jesus spiritually when He returned to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and reveal Christ to them (cf. John 14:18-21; 15:26; 16:7, 13-14).

“Then some of His disciples said among themselves, ‘What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” (John 16:17). The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant. They were confused about the time interval and seeing Jesus again because He goes to the Father.

“They said therefore, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.’ ” (John 16:18). The words “They said,” translate a verb (elegon) that is in the imperfect tense, meaning,  “They kept saying….” The disciples had a lengthy dialogue with each other about what Jesus meant by “a little while.” The disciples confess their complete ignorance to one another, but they do not confess it to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to ask Jesus what He meant since they had recently inquired four other times (cf. John 13:36-37; 14:5, 8, 22).

“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” (John 16:19). The Lord Jesus, being God, already “knew that they desired to ask Him” about what He meant even though they had not voiced it to Him, so He takes the initiative. He does not seek to embarrass them further.

Christ could have scolded His disciples for not understanding what He was saying. After all, He had repeatedly told them earlier that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die (Matthew 16:21; 17:12; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:12, 22; 17:25; 22:15), yet they still did not grasp this. It was difficult for them to conceive of a Messiah who would suffer and die (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53) instead of rule over Israel’s enemies in His kingdom (Psalm 2:6-9; 68:18; 110:1; Zechariah 14:1-15). Likewise, we do not understand the totality of God’s plans recorded in the Bible. We need Jesus to help us understand the Scriptures when we are confused about something.

During my elementary and high school years, I learned the most from teachers who did not embarrass students for asking questions or misunderstanding their teaching. Their approachability encouraged me to seek a better understanding of the material they were presenting to us in class. I wanted to learn what they were teaching us because I sensed that they cared more about us than their materials. A good teacher understands that their students need them more than they need their information in class.

Jesus is a “gentle” and humble Teacher (Matthew 11:29) Who welcomes questions from His students. He cares more about His followers than any human teacher ever could. Knowing how much Jesus cares for us and loves us, motivates us to go to Him with our questions and confusion (cf. I Peter 2:2-3).

We can be a lot like the disciples who talked to one another about their confusion instead of going directly to Jesus about what He said. When we fail to understand God’s Word, how easy it is for us to  go to others first, instead of to the Lord? We may go first to a pastor, a teacher, or to commentaries and other books before we turn to the Lord for understanding. If we are going to let Christ transform our grief into gladness, we must acknowledge our pain and confusion to Him. We cannot hide our private conversations and thoughts from Jesus, because He already knows them since He is God.  As we open our hearts to Him, Christ can give us insight from His Word through His Holy Spirit to help us process our grief and confusion.

For example, in the summer of 2018 when I was seeking direction from the Lord and His answer did not come to me right away, I thought there must be some sin in my life that kept me from hearing from God. But the Lord then revealed to me why His answer was delayed.

We were visiting a church in Omaha, Nebraska, one Sunday, and the pastor was talking about spiritual warfare. In Daniel 10, when the prophet Daniel had been praying and fasting to God for three weeks, an angel of God finally came to Daniel with God’s answer (Daniel 10:1-10). The angel explained that God received Daniel’s prayer the moment he began to pray and fast (Daniel 10:11-12). But the reason why God’s answer did not come to Daniel from the angel until three weeks later was because of the battle taking place in the spiritual realm between the angels of God and the fallen angels of Satan (Daniel 10:13-14). God comforted my heart when I gained this insight from the book of Daniel. It helped me process the ache in my heart and wait on the Lord for His leading. 

It is important for us not to be be upset when we don’t understand what Jesus is doing in our lives. After all, Jesus’s first disciples were confused, and they had Jesus right there with them! Instead of avoiding Christ, choose to pursue Him in the midst of your grief and confusion. 2

The Bible tells us in Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” We can share the deep pain in our hearts with the Lord Jesus because He “is a refuge for us.” Our secrets are safe with Him. Christ will not shame us or share our burdens with others. He will walk with us through the pain so He can transform our grief into gladness once again.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how often I am so much like the disciples who talked with one another about their burdens and confusion instead of turning to You for insight. How prone I can be to wander from You when I need Your counsel. Thank You for pursuing me even when I do not pursue You. I am so appreciative that my private struggles and burdens are safe with You. Please bring to my awareness any deceptions in my heart that keep me from handing the burdens of my grief and pain over to You. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 329.

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

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 2

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” John 15:2a

We are learning the secrets of becoming fruitful for our Lord. The first way is to realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1). The second way for us to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RECEIVE JESUS’ ENCOURAGEMENT FROM HIS WORD (John 15:2a). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” (John 15:2a). The phrase “every branch in Me”refers to Christians connected to Christ in fellowship. “Every branch” refers to Christians because they are in Jesus (“in Me”). “The Vine (the Son) feeds the branches, and the Gardener (the Father) tends the branches. God’s goal for every Christian is to increase in fruit bearing. We are to pro-gress from producing no fruit (15:2) to some fruit (15:2) to more fruit (15:2) to much fruit (15:5) to remaining fruit (15:16). Fruitfulness is a life of spiritual usefulness and productivity for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s the proof of true discipleship (15:8). 1

Dillow writes, “The phrase ‘in Me’ is used 16 times in John’s Gospel (6:56; 10:38; 14:10 [twice], 11, 20, 30; 15:2, 4 [twice], 5-7; 16:33; 17:21, 23). In each case it refers to fellowship with Christ. It is inconsistent then to say the phrase in 15:2 refers to a person who merely professes to be saved but is not. A person ‘in Me’ is always a true Christian.” 2  

This interpretation also finds support in the analogy of the vine and branches. “Branch(es)” (klēma, lit. tendrils) of a vine share the life of the vine. Jesus taught that some believers in Him do not bear fruit (cf. Luke 8:14). Fruit-bearing is the normal but not the inevitable consequence of having divine life. This is true of grapevines too. Grapevines have branches that bear fruit, but they must also have some branches that presently bear no fruit, but are growing stronger so they will bear fruit in the future. There can be genuine life without fruit in a vine, and there can be in a Christian as well.

“No plant produces fruit instantaneously; it takes time for a plant to grow strong enough to bear fruit. The New Testament teaches that God effects many changes in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus for salvation. Lewis Sperry Chafer noted 33 things that happen to a person the moment he or she trusts Jesus Christ as Savior. However, these are all invisible changes.” 3

How does God respond to believers who do not bear fruit? Jesus says that He “takes away” that branch. The word for “takes away” (airō) can also mean “to lift up.” 4 This was the common practice among ancient vineyard growers during this time of the year. 5 Vineyard growers would lift up fruitless vines which were on the ground in order for them to become fruit-bearing again. Lifting the branch off the ground prevents unhealthful secondary roots from growing into the ground and also allows air to dry the branch and keep it from becoming moldy and diseased. 

This understanding of airō fits the context very well. Jesus is speaking to His believing disciples and they may have been like branches on the ground (discouraged) when Jesus told them He would be leaving them, and that Peter would deny Him (John 13:33, 38). God the Father, the Vinedresser, “takes them away” from the ground by lifting them up or encouraging them through Jesus’ promises about heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27) so they can become fruitful for Him.

When we become discouraged, and all of us do, we need to receive Christ’s Word so God can lift us up through the promises of His Word or through another believer who shares those promises with us.

Do you feel that God is against you during the COVID pandemic? Refocus on Romans 8:31-32 [GNT]: “In view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? Certainly not God, Who did not even keep back His own Son, but offered Him for us all! He gave us His Son—will He not also freely give us all things?”

Do you feel separated from God’s love during this difficult season? Embrace God’s promise in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you feel “less than” or lacking? Meditate on Colossians 2:10: “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”

Do you feel all alone? Listen to Isaiah 41:10: “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.”

Do you feel abandoned or rejected? Receive this encouragement from Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”

Are you feeling defeated by shame? Listen to Romans 10:11 [NLV]: “The Holy Writings say, ‘No one who puts his trust in Christ will ever be put to shame.’ ”

Do you feel overwhelmed with anxiety? Open your heart to I Peter 5:6-7 [GNT]: “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that He will lift you up in His own good time. Leave all your worries with Him, because He cares for you.”  

The more we receive Jesus’ encouragement, the more loving we can become toward others (and ourselves), and then reach the lost with the life-giving gospel of Christ!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, during these difficult times I can become like a fruitless grapevine on the ground that needs to be lifted up or encouraged by Your promises. Please use Your Word to breathe new life into my soul today. I need You, my Lord and my God, to help me see myself and my circumstances from Your perspective so I may love others, including myself, with Your love. Then I will be more motivated to share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You in their lives. Thank You in advance for hearing my prayers. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1805.  

2. Joseph C. Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147:585 (January-March 1990), pp. 44-53.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 281-282; cf. L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol III (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947- 48), pp. 234-65.

4. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 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. 24; The Nelson Study Bible, edited by Earl D. Radmacher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), pg. 1794; J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 441.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282; see Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):34-52; and John A Tucker, “The Inevitability of Fruitbearing: An Exegesis of John 15:6 — Part II,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 15:45 (August 2011), pg. 52.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 1

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” John 14:16

A few years ago I watched the movie “Spotlight” which is based on a true story of how the Boston Globe newspaper’s spotlight team uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The many victims of abuse had been ignored by the Catholic Church and the Boston community. Near the end of the movie, many victims called in to the Spotlight department after they ran an article entitled, “Church ignores abuse by priests for years.” For years victims of sexual abuse were abandoned by people who knew about the abuse but turned the other way.

We might think, “Well, that is just the Catholic Church. That would not happen among true born-again Christians.” Evangelical churches would not ignore the victims of such abuse, right!?! Mission agencies would not tolerate such horrific treatment of their own people. Right?! Wrong! These assumptions are one of many factors that has hindered evangelicals and Bible-believing mission agencies from dealing with sexual abuse among their own people.

Former gymnast, Rachael Denhollander, says she was fifteen-years old when US Olympic team doctor, Larry Nassar, started sexually abusing her. In an interview with Christianity Today, she says, Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church… 1

Mission agencies that once denied the possibility of sexual abuse among their missionary families have had to come to grips with the harsh reality that such abuse has and does take place among conservative evangelical missionary families. In fact, I was told by one mission agency leader in the Philippines, that sexual abuse takes place in every culture and subculture, Christian or non-Christian. All people are fallen and broken because of sin.

Sexual abuse victims are often isolated and left alone to deal with their pain and shame. Those who are abused within the church are wanting to know, “Where is God in all of this? Has God abandoned me? Why did He permit this to happen to me?”

The feeling of being left alone, not only haunts victims of sexual abuse, it also haunts the “divorcee in that apartment… or the one who just buried his or her life’s companion… or the couple whose arms ache for the child recently taken… the young nurse in 1967 who, after a shattered romance and broken engagement, went back to the Midwest to start over… like the disillusioned teenaged girl, away from home and heavy with child – wondering, ‘How can I face tomorrow?’” 2  Because of COVID-19, many people are experiencing abandonment by family, friends, colleagues, and churches. Some of you reading this article may be feeling as though God has left you or abandoned you.

The disciples of Jesus may have asked that question, “How can I face tomorrow?” After Jesus announced His departure to His disciples, they became troubled (John 13:33-14:12). They were afraid to be left alone without Jesus present. They did not want to fight battles and face issues alone.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we may struggle with the fear of abandonment. A word, a tone of voice, or gesture or lack of it can drive us to act in ways that we think will prevent someone from leaving us. But we do not have to yield to our fear of abandonment because Jesus has provided a Helper to encourage us during His absence.

In John 14:12-14, Jesus had promised His disciples that if they trusted Him, they would do greater works than He had done because He would go to the Father. Even though Jesus was leaving them, they were to continue His ministry of revealing the Father. Christ’s disciples would reveal His Father to a greater extent than He had done while He was on earth if they had faith in Him to work through them. The power to reveal the Father would be obtained through prayer in Jesus’ name.

For the next few days, we will learn how we can overcome the fear of abandonment. We can overcome the fear of abandonment by focusing on… THE PROMISE OF ANOTHER HELPER (John 14:15-16). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15). While Jesus was gone, the disciples would have an opportunity to show Christ just how much they loved Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The present tense of the first verb, “love,” (agapate) could be translated, “If you keep on loving Me…” 3 They could reveal their love for the Lord through their ongoing obedience to Him.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “If you fear Me, keep My commandments.” The fear of Jesus is not the motivation for obedience to Him. Instead, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Love for Jesus is the strongest motivation for obeying Him. Our obedience to Christ is the outgrowth of our love relationship with Him. First John 4:18-19 say, 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.”The more I experience the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, the more my love toward Him will increase and express itself by obeying Him.

Some people may claim to love Christ while living in disobedience to Him. They may misconstrue that their love for the Lord is a feeling. But Christ makes it clear that our love for Him is revealed through our actions. Jesus taught His disciples that answered prayer is dependent upon obedience to Him (John 14:13-14; cf. 15:7). John writes in his epistle, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”(I John 3:22). We can say we love the Lord, but what truly communicates our love for Him is obedience to His Word (cf. I John 3:18).

Think about this for a moment. If Jesus just told us with His mouth that He loved us and never took action, we would still be dead in our sins. God’s love involves the commitment to do what is best for others. Our love for Jesus is expressed through our obedience to Him.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16). Jesus recognized the weaknesses of His disciples and their inability to fulfill the ministry of revealing the Father through their obedience to His commands, so He promises that the Father will send “another Helper.” The word “Helper”(paraklétos) literally means, “One who is called alongside to help.” 4 The disciples had been sent out to minister while Jesus was here on earth. But now they were being sent out to be His witnesses during His absence from the earth. Jesus had been their Helper while He was with them. In His absence, He would send “another Helper.”

This verse has much to say about the Trinity. Laney observes that “it is noteworthy that in vv. 13-14 Jesus commands His disciples to ‘ask’ (aiteō), the word used of an inferior asking a superior. But here Jesus uses the word erotaō (‘ask’), a word used of a request made to an equal. This has significant implications in terms of Jesus’ deity. Although submissive to the Father, Jesus regarded Himself as an equal (cf. 10:30; 14:9)5 to the Father.

Christ also considers the Holy Spirit to be equal to Himself by using the word “another” (allon) which means “another of the same kind.” 6 Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another just like Myself.” According to Christ, there is equality among the Godhead (see diagram below). The Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in every way as God, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity.

Christ is saying in this verse that the Holy Spirit will do for them all that He had done for them while He was with them. So they would not be abandoned or left alone to their own wisdom and strength. This Helper would be with them “forever.” There would never be a time when this coming Helper would be taken away from them in the way Christ was now being taken from them through His death and eventual ascension to heaven. 

You may ask, “If God the Holy Spirit is with me, why do I still feel all alone?” Because the Holy Spirit is not a feeling, He is a Person without a physical body. Rather than focus on our feelings to determine if we are alone and abandoned, we are to focus on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that this “Helper” will “abide with you forever.” The word “forever” is the English translation of three words in the original language and literally means “to the age” (eis ton aiōna). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will continue with them (and us) until “the end of the world or time” itself to provide constant comfort, guidance, leading, power, protection, provision, and teaching. Unlike Christ who spent three and a half years with His disciples and then left them, Jesus now promises another equal Helper Who will never depart from them.

Think about this: how long is “forever?” It is permanent, isn’t it? It never ends. Even though you may feel alone, the truth is there will never be a time when the Holy Spirit is not “with you.” Feelings can lie to us. We may conclude, “I am alone because I feel alone.” That is a lie. We must not give our feelings more authority than God’s Word. Will we focus on a lie or on the unchanging truth of God’s Word? The choice is ours. If we feel alone it is because we are focusing on thoughts or feelings of loneliness which are contrary to the truth of Jesus. We need to follow the example of the Psalmist when he prayed to the Lord, “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” (Psalm 119:29).  We can ask the Lord to remove this lie from our thinking and to graciously renew our mind with this truth that God the Holy Spirit is always with us to provide constant assistance and strength whether we feel this way or not.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending God the Holy Spirit to supply our needs in Your absence. I must admit that I have given my feelings more authority than Your Word when I believe I am all alone. Thank You for reminding me that I am never alone, Lord Jesus. Your Holy Spirit abides with me forever! Holy Spirit, I want to give You everyone and everything in my life right now. Please restore my union with You and guide me into a deeper connection with You, the Father, and Jesus. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. http://www.christianitytoday. com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html.

2. Adapted from Chuck Swindoll’s Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 164-165.

3. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 260-261.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 438.

5. Laney, pg. 261.

6. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 252.

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.

A word of encouragement

“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 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 or 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 loaded with encouragement for us during these uncertain and turbulent times.

“Fear not, for I am with you” – We are often afraid when we perceive ourselves to be alone in the midst of uncertain times. As we have to deal with social distancing 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.

“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! God does not always give us answers to our “Why” questions. He gives us Himself.

“I will strengthen you” – Do you feel your strength slipping away? You feel as though you cannot hold on much longer? Don’t give up. Give in to God. He says to you, “I will strengthen you.” It is God who strengthens us to face each day. When our resources are depleted, we can easily fall victim to fear. We don’t have the energy needed to live above our circumstances and insecurities. But God does. Wait upon Him to renew your strength. He is there for you.

“Yes, I will help you” – Have you been let down by others? Are you the recipient of broken promises from those who said they would be there for you? God says to you, “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” – Do you feel like you are drowning under an avalanche of change? Does it seem like you have been treading water for months and you can no longer stay afloat? God wants you to know that there is no way He is going to let you drown. He guarantees to “uphold” or support you with His “righteous right hand” that does what is right when others constantly do wrong. The same hand that placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky (Psalm 8:3) will not let go of you. His grip on us remains firm even when we waver in our walk with Him (John 10:28-29).

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, thank You for encouraging me with this one verse. I don’t like to admit it, but my faith can easily be overrun with many fears especially when I listen to the sensationalism of the media. When I feel overwhelmed with loneliness and fear, please redirect me to the fact that You are with me. Nothing and no one can separate me from Your love. When my life is filled with confusion and unanswered questions, you don’t always give me answers. You give me something much better. You give me Yourself. Thank You for the strength Your presence gives me to face my fears and insecurities. When others break their promises to me, You keep Yours. I can always count on You to deliver on what You have said. I appreciate the constant support You give me. Your righteous right hand never lets go of me. Thank You for holding me up when I am ready to collapse. Bless Your holy name my Lord and my God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.