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 overcome spiritual blindness? Part 6

For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” John 9:39

Today we will look at the last symptom and solution of spiritual blindness in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John. After the former blind man discovered Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and believed in Him, he worshiped Christ (John 9:35-38). Jesus then said to the healed man, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” (John 9:39). Jesus came into this world to bring “judgment” based on how people respond to Him. “Those who do not see may see” refers to those who like the former blind man, humbly admit their spiritual blindness and sin and call out to Christ to heal them of their spiritual blindness so they might see and believe the gospel. Jesus is saying that humility leads to sight.

This is the fifth solution to spiritual blindness: DECIDE TO AGREE WITH CHRIST ABOUT YOUR OWN SINFULNESS AND NEED FOR A SAVIOR (John 9:39a). Christ will give spiritual sight to those who humble themselves and admit their spiritual blindness and their need for God’s forgiving grace. He will forgive those who come to Him in faith like this healed man did.

When Jesus said, “Those who [think they] see may be made blind,” He is referring to the self-righteous, like the Pharisees, who refused to humble themselves and admit they were spiritually blind. They thought they already could see spiritually. Jesus came to show unbelievers like these religious experts that they were spiritually blind. Their works-salvation was spiritual blindness. Christ does not forgive the self-righteous because they do not see their need to come to Him for forgiveness. Instead, they are deceived by their own sin into thinking that they can be saved by their own works.

This is the sixth symptom of spiritual blindness. DECEIVED BY THEIR OWN SIN (John 9:39b-41). In this case, Jesus promised the “judgment” of becoming more spiritually blind because they refused to humble themselves and admit their own spiritual blindness. They were puffed up with pride and Jesus is saying that pride leads to more blindness.

“Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ ” (John 9:40). Their question expects a “No” answer. It does not occur to them that they are spiritually blind. They don’t acknowledge their own sin, guilt, and need for forgiveness. “Certainly, we of all people have spiritual perception!” Pharisaical people deceive themselves from seeing their own sinfulness. The deceitfulness of sin often makes self-righteous people, who are in the greatest need of God’s help, think that they are the most spiritually enlightened people. Only God’s Spirit, using God’s Word, can break through that deep darkness, to bring conviction of spiritual blindness, and to create openness to the gospel.

If these religious leaders had been willing to admit their own blindness and sinfulness, Jesus would have given them grace. But they did not. So Jesus gives them truth. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.’ ” (John 9:41). Christ is saying, “If you recognized your spiritual blindness and acknowledged your sin and guilt, you would have come to Me for forgiveness. And I would have forgiven you so ‘you would have no sin.’ But because you claim to have spiritual sight and deny your own sin, and refuse to come to Me for forgiveness, ‘your sin remains.’ ” These leaders refused to admit their sinfulness and need for a Savior. Since they refused to believe or trust in Christ alone for His forgiveness, they remained in their sins, guilty before God. They were swollen with pride. They loved the darkness and hated the Light. Their treatment of the Son of God confirmed their spiritual blindness. When we think that nothing is wrong with us (I John 1:8), everything is wrong with us.  

Someone once said, “The same sun that melts butter, hardens clay.” Light gives sight to some and it blinds others. Jesus has the same effects. The physical and spiritual healing of the man born blind reveals the healing power of Jesus Christ toward those who respond in faith toward Him (John 3:36a). But it also reveals the condemning power of Jesus Christ toward those who refuse to believe in Him (John 3:36b).

There may be someone in your life who seems like clay but is turning into butter. Pray about a time to share the gospel with him or her. On the other hand, you may know of a person who seemed like butter, but is now turning into clay. Pray for the Lord to melt their resistance to Him. Ask God to show you how to best minister to him or her. 

I wonder how many of you are experiencing Christ’s healing grace so that He can live through you in such a way that you help others to see Him more clearly. The blind man experienced Jesus’ healing grace on a physical and spiritual level. As we experience God’s grace in our relationship with the Lord, it will carry over in our relationships with one another (cf. Ephes. 4:32). In an age when hatred is more common than love, we could all use greater doses of God’s love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my default setting is to think first of myself and then about others, including You. Thank You for exposing this selfishness in me that I still battle daily. I was once spiritually blind and proud of it. I thought I could get to heaven through my own good works and therefore I had no need for a Savior. But You still pursued me and gradually revealed to me the depth of my sin and arrogance which had deceived me into thinking this way. I am eternally grateful that Your light exposed my darkness and led me to believe in You alone as my only hope of heaven. As a believer in You for everlasting life, I can still be deceived into thinking I do not need You in my daily life to grow and become more like You. Please, my Lord and my God, help me to melt like butter rather than harden like clay when exposed to the Light of the Son. I pray that Your light will also have the freedom to shine through me to others so they may be drawn to You. In Your magnificent name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus? Part 4

“Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” John 8:55

A fourth way we can overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus is to APPEAL TO OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD (John 8:54-55). Jesus explains “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.” (John 8:54). Christ was not trying to glorify Himself when He claimed to be able to deliver from death those who keep His words (John 8:51) because self-testimony alone is not valid. Although Jesus does not seek to glorify Himself, that does not mean He is without glory. His Father “honors” or glorifies Him. Ironically, Jesus’ opponents, who claimed to know God, did not perceive that this is how God was working in their midst. Their relationship with God was formal, but Jesus’ relationship with God was personal.

Jesus says, “Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” (John 8:55). In reality, they did not know God the Father, but Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Father. Christ is saying, “You have not come to know God by your personal experience or observation (ginosko), but I know (oida) Him inherently and intuitively.” For Jesus to deny knowing God would reduce Him to being a liar like they were liars. If Jesus’ audience would keep Jesus’ word by believing in Him for everlasting life, they would come to know God the Father.

When Jesus says, “But I do know Him and keep His word,” we learn that Christ’s knowledge of the Father results from keeping His Word. Likewise, as believers in Jesus learn to obey Christ’s Word, they will come to know Him in a deeper, more personal way. Jesus said, “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.” (John 14:21). As we demonstrate our trustworthiness to Jesus by obeying His Word, He will manifest or reveal more of Himself to us. Friendship with Christ requires obedience to Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). The closer we grow to Christ, the more boldness we will have when facing opposition to the truth about Him. We see this in Acts 4 when the apostles boldly preached Jesus to their persecutors who were their educational superiors.          

As Peter and John boldly spoke of Jesus before this educated crowd, their listeners could discern that these men had spent time with the Savior. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13). These two, lowly fisherman were not intimidated by all the intellectual knowledge and training of these men. They were more impressed with Jesus and they wanted this group to know Him in a personal way. This elite religious group acknowledges the boldness of Peter and John while noting their lack of education.

Often a person’s boldness for Christ shrinks as his education increases. He or she becomes “too sophisticated” to be excited for Christ!! It is better to possess boldness and lack learning, than to possess learning and lack boldness. And it is one thing to be bold with our social equals, but it is an entirely different thing to be bold – as Peter and John were – with our social and educational superiors. True boldness knows no respect of persons.

Boldness does not arise from having a theological degree or a vast knowledge of the Bible. The key to boldness is spending time with Jesus Christ. Peter and John had been in a discipleship relationship with Jesus for over three years. His heart became theirs. So, the closer we get to the heart of Christ, the closer we get to the people for whom He died.

Jesus’ heart bleeds for the lost. Luke 19:10 explains: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The heart of our Lord is a seeking heart. Aren’t you thankful for that? We would still be lost in our sins if Jesus did not seek us out. Look at God’s heart in I Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God created hell for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), not for people. God desires that all people go to heaven regardless of their background, education, culture or color of skin, and He wants to use you and I to introduce them to the Savior who can get them there.

Are we willing to go to the people who need Jesus even if they do not know they need Him and are hostile to the truth? I believe the more we know Jesus’ heart for the lost, the more we will love those for whom He died. And the more we love them, the more motivated we will be to introduce them to the Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, I can relate to Jesus’ audience approaching Him formally instead of personally. Before I became a Christian, this was the way I approached You through my religion. But the moment You rescued me from my own sin and gave me everlasting life, You began a new work with me that was internal, not external; it was relational, not religious; it was personal, not formal. I can still engage in the formalities of religion. But that only leaves me empty and without direction. But the closer I grow to You, Lord Jesus, the more Your heart for unbelievers becomes my heart as well. When I face opposition from people whether they be unbelieving or believing, help me to see them through Your eyes as broken and wounded sinners who need You more than anything or anyone else. Only You can understand and meet their deepest needs. Please use me to point them to You so You can show Yourself to them in ways that will enrich their lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:19, 21-22

We learned last time that the temple of God is located in every believer in Jesus Christ now (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). You may wonder, “How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?” The next several verses in John 2 explain.

“Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’” (John 2:17). Jesus’ zeal or enthusiasm for God would ultimately lead to His death. Do we have this kind of zeal for God’s kingdom? God’s work? Are we willing to risk our lives or reputations for the Lord? This kind of enthusiasm comes from a dynamic relationship with the Lord. We cannot manufacture this kind of zeal on our own. It comes from knowing and loving Jesus!

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ ” (John 2:18). The Jews did not question Jesus’ actions, but they did question His authority. Who does He think He is by doing this? They demanded a miraculous sign to prove He has the right to take such action. I love Jesus’ response here. He confuses them even more. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (John 2:19). He used this statement to stimulate the thinking of these Jews. “Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ ” (John 2:20). Such a massive and enduring structure was not likely to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Thanks to John’s post-resurrection perspective we know that Jesus is not speaking of destroying the literal temple, but rather He is talking about His own body – that it will be destroyed and then raised back to life. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:21-22). It is not the Jerusalem temple but the human body of Jesus that represents the presence of God. Let me remind you of something. Christianity is not about buildings. It is not about a church building. It is not even about a philosophy of life. Christianity is about a relationship with the One who died and rose again for our sins so we can have eternal life.

So the reason a holy God can come into our contaminated lives full of sin is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but His heart desires that the sinner be pardoned. Hence, God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment you and I deserved.

The United States was shocked in 1998 by the tragic news of two young boys who opened fire on schoolchildren as they ran from their building in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Four children and a teacher were killed and five others were injured. The teacher died when she stepped forward to shield one of her sixth graders. She saved the girl but lost her own life. The teacher became her substitute and died in her place.

Jesus Christ died as our Substitute. Just as the teacher took the bullets for the young girl, Christ took the punishment for our sin and died in our place. Jesus Christ did what our good works could never do. We are saved by Christ’s dying, not by our doing. Three days after His death Jesus came back to life. By rising from the grave on the third day He proved He had conquered sin and death and that He is God (Romans 1:3-4).

Christ’s death and resurrection make it possible for a holy God to live inside of us. Praise Jesus for laying down His life so we may enjoy fellowship with Him both now and forever! While going to heaven to live with Christ in the future is extremely important, it is also important to know that Jesus wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives now. He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His indwelling resurrection power to help us say “NO” to sin and “YES” to the Savior.

Prayer: Precious Savior and Lord, it is mind boggling to know that the holy God of the Bible indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, including me!!! Thank You, Lord Jesus, by making this possible through Your shed blood on the cross which not only paid the penalty for all of my sins (John 19:30), but also continues to cleanse me of my daily sins so I may enjoy closeness with You (I John 1:7). Thank You for Your resurrection power which is always available to help me to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to holy living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What do you seek in life?

38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), where are You staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).” John 1:38-39

There is a transfer of focus now in Chapter 1 of John from John the Baptist to Jesus. In the preceding verses (John 1:24-34), John the Baptist was the first witness of who Jesus is. John pointed others to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; the Pre-existent One; the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; and as the Son of God. John identified himself as a voice to prepare the way for Jesus.

John the Baptist humbly points “two of his disciples” to Jesus, “the Lamb of God” (John 1:35-36). So John’s two disciples “followed Jesus” or go along with Him (John 1:37). This means nothing more than they are accompanying the Lord. “Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ ” (John 1:38a).

Jesus may be asking us right now, “What do you seek” in life? Attention…fulfillment…love… recognition… safety… security… soothing… relationships… money… a job… fame… healing? What is it you are seeking at this time? Are you seeking Jesus? Only Jesus can meet our deepest needs. Only Jesus can give us the acceptance… attention… fulfillment… love… safety… security… soothing… healing… and forgiveness that we crave.

Jesus was who John’s disciples were seeking. 38 They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour)” (John 1:38b-39). Christ invited these seekers to “Come and see.” And He does the same with us.

The words “staying” and “remained” come from the Greek word menō, which John uses forty times in his gospel to describe close fellowship with Christ. It means “to stay, remain, abide” or literally “to make one’s home at.” We need to constantly make our home in Jesus’ presence. Where we make our home is where we spend our time. We must make the effort to reside in the truth of the Bible about Jesus and His love for us.   

How at home with Jesus are we? Are there certain areas of our lives where Jesus is not welcome? Or are we cultivating a closer relationship with Him by spending time with Him in prayer, the study of His Word, and hanging out with other Christians? Are we inviting Jesus into the secret areas of our hearts where no one else is allowed? Areas of darkness and wounds? Areas of fear and shame? Jesus is gracious and merciful. He wants to bring healing and hope to these forbidden compartments in our lives.  

COVID-19 has greatly simplified our lifestyles. Perhaps now is the time to carve out an hour or two to be alone with the Lord. When we spend time with Jesus, our lives will never be the same. He can cleanse us of the shameful secrets that we have hidden for decades. He can restore hope to our lives as He brings healing to the areas of our brokenness and wounds.

When we grow closer to Jesus, His heart for the lost will become ours. We will begin to see those who need to hear the gospel the same way that Jesus does – as someone worth dying for.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are my greatest need. I seek You, Lord, in the midst of these changing times. You are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What would You say to me now? I am listening. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Come home

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b

Do you ever have a disconnect from the way God is portrayed in the Bible and your perception of God based on your own experiences or feelings? We may think that God will resemble our parents or authority figures from our childhood (cf. Psalm 50:21). For example, if you had a rigid and perfectionistic father or father figure, you could never measure up to his demands no matter how hard you tried. Because of this, you view God as Someone who is impossible to please. He does not forgive nor forget sins. And when you mess up!?! Watch out! His cruel side is manifested. He seems to delight in sending financial disaster or physical disease to emphasize His intolerance of your spiritual failures. Understandably, it is difficult for you to approach God and experience His forgiveness and love when you have this kind of distorted view of Him.

The Bible gives us a beautiful picture of God the Father in Luke 15. When “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to” Jesus to listen to His teaching, the religious leaders of Israel were critical of Christ for associating with spiritual outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Christ responds by telling three parables (parable = an earthly story that teaches spiritual truth) to teach these religious leaders that when a sinner returns to God it is reason for celebrating instead of complaining (15:3-32).

After telling parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus tells a parable about the love of a father toward his two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The youngest son asked for his “portion” of his father’s inheritance, and the father graciously gave both sons theirs (15:12). Normally in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prior to the father’s death, was like wishing for the father to die. The youngest son then “journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13). When a “severe famine” came to that land, the son “began to be in want” because of his wasteful living (15:14). He got a job in the fields feeding “swine,” which is something any self-respecting Jew would only do our of desperation (15:14-15). The son had sunk so low that he longed to eat pig’s food because “no one gave him anything” to eat (15:16).

Have you ever wasted the resources God has given you? Just as the youngest son “wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13), so also when we stray away from God we waste the the resources God has placed in our possession. Time spent out of touch with God is an enormous waste of time, energy, strength, ability, and opportunity. When we are restored to the Lord, may experience profound regret for what has been wasted during our time of separation from God. This is especially true when the separation has lasted for years, as it sometimes does. I wonder how many of us have ever wandered so far away from God that we were willing to do anything just to survive? But no matter where we turned, we could not find one person on earth who showed us any compassion? We were all alone and destitute. Our stomach and our soul were empty. We may cry out, “Where are you God!?! Why have you abandoned me!?!” This is the place the youngest son had come to. Thankfully the story does not end there.

At this point of absolute brokenness, the son “came to himself” (15:17). He repented or changed his mind and decided to “go” back to his father (15:18a). He planned to confess his sin and his unworthiness to be his father’s son (15:18a-19a), and then ask to be one of his father’s “hired servants” because he knew his father paid his servants well (15:19b; cf. 15:17). This son thought he would have to work for His father’s love and acceptance.

How many of us perceive our Father in heaven to be this way? We think that when we fail God spiritually, the only way He could ever accept us and love us is to pay for our own sins with self-hatred and condemnation? We may rehearse in our minds what we will do for God before we approach Him. We assume that the only way God will ever accept us and forgive us is to work so hard or punish ourselves so much, God will eventually have compassion for us and forgive us. This kind of thinking fails to understand the heart of our heavenly Father. Nor is this thinking from the Lord. It is from the father of lies (John 6:44) who delights in accusing God’s children (Revelation 12:10). When we fail, Satan whispers in our ear, “This is how God thinks of you. He thinks you are unloveable and unforgivable. He thinks you are worthless and pathetic. The only way He could possibly ever forgive you or love you is for you to do this and this and this and this…” These lies drive us deeper into a pit of shame, isolating us from God.

But this is depressing. Let’s look at the father’s response when his son returns home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (15:20). When the father “saw” his prodigal son coming home from “a great way off,”  it suggests he was continually watching and waiting for his son’s return. He longed for his son to come home. This is the way God is with us when we wander away from Him. He leaves the porch light on every night, looking for our return.

The father did not reject his son by running into the house and locking the doors. He did not scold or condemn his repentant wayward son. Instead he “had compassion” on his son. This shows that the father had some knowledge of his son’s immorality and misfortunes – probably from reports about him (cf. 15:13, 30). He empathized with his son’s brokenness and need for acceptance and love after his wayward journey. God is also this way with us. He is not quick to criticize or condemn us because He knows our weaknesses and how much we need His mercy and grace when we have failed (cf. Psalm 103:11-14).

When the father “ran” out toward his son, this was very unusual for any Jewish father to do. It was not acceptable for him to run out like that in the Jewish culture of that day. But in the father’s eagerness to restore his son to fellowship, the father ran to him. God is that way with us. He is not apathetic and cold toward us when we fail. He is not bound by culturally acceptable expressions of love and forgiveness. He is eager to forgive us and restore us to fellowship or closeness with Him.

When the father “fell on his neck” he embraces and hugs him. Then the father “kissed him” which was a friendly sign of greeting like a warm handshake in American culture. This is a very affectionate reception from the father. Imagine how this young man must have felt?! Before he could begin his rehearsed speech, he already had his father’s total unconditional love and acceptance. Likewise, God is not cold and calculating toward his repentant children. He embraces us and welcomes us home when we repent. But it does not stop there.

When the son began his rehearsed speech, he could not even get to the part about becoming a hired servant of his father (15:21). His father interrupted him and said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry” (15:22-23). What is the father doing here? I believe the father knew his son’s heart. He was not focused on all the immoral and shameful living of his son. He was not uptight about his son’s sin and shame. He saw the heart of his son which longed to be connected to his father’s heart. Instead of making his son a hired servant, the father bestowed the symbols of honor (“best robe”), authority (“ring”), and freedom (“sandals”) on him. Sandals were marks of a free man, but slaves went barefooted.

The forgiveness from the father is complete and and his son does not need to feel as if he is a forever second-class Christian, as if he now served God as a mere hired servant. He is now able to enjoy all the privileges of sonship, symbolized by the robe, the ring, and the sandals.

Then his father prepared a banquet for his son because his “son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found” (15:24). The father felt the absence of his son as deeply as if he had died (“dead”), because he had totally lost contact with him. So the death he is referring to is a separation from the father. Their reunion is like a glorious coming to life and a joyful rediscovery of the shared father-son experience. Any father who has long been separated from a son whom he loves dearly can fully relate to these words.

Years ago, a young man had a verbal argument with his father and left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he didn’t feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So, the young man started home. As the train drew near his home; he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not.” So, his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white rag tied to it?” For a moment, the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!”

That, in a sense, is what God is saying to us in Luke 15. The truth is all of us are like the prodigal son. He can represent a non-Christian whose repentance or change of mind about his sinful lifestyle leads him to come home to His Creator God and believe in Jesus for complete forgiveness of sins, much like Cornelius in Acts 10. You may be seeking God by going to church and giving money to it, or by trying to clean up your life. But you are not saved from your sins by any of those things you do in your search for God (Isaiah 64:6). You are saved by believing or trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of salvation (John 3:16; Ephes. 2:8-9). God is inviting you to come home to Him just as you are. He is waiting to welcome you into His family and make you His beloved son or daughter forever the moment you trust in Jesus alone (John 1:12; 10:28-29).

But the prodigal son can also represent a Christian who has drifted away from fellowship with God to explore the pleasures of the world. Being dissatisfied with the world’s empty pleasures, he decides to “come home” to God by confessing his sin to the Lord and claiming His cleansing forgiveness (I John 1:9). We do not have to work for this restoration. There are no hoops to jump through or obligations to fulfill. Simply come home to your Father in heaven and He will lovingly welcome you and restore your fellowship or closeness to Him.

Whether we are coming home to God for the first time for salvation from hell through faith in Jesus or for the hundredth time as a believer to restore our fellowship with God, the Father is waiting with open arms and an open heart. Will you come home to Him now?

Prayer: Oh my Father in heaven, how I have longed to hear these truths about You. Oh. May I call You Pa Pa? I feel closer to You when I call You that. So much of my understanding about You has been based on my own experiences and feelings as a child and as an adult with other Christians. I have thought of You as a mean old man sitting up in heaven with a big hammer waiting to strike me the moment I say, think, or do something wrong. But Your Word tells me that You are not a mean out of control man. You are a tender loving Father who eagerly waits and watches for His wayward child to come home so You can wrap Your loving arms around him and tell him he is loved and safe in Your arms. Please Pa Pa, heal the holes in my heart so I may experience Your love more fully and begin to see myself as You see me. I am Your beloved son who has access to all that You possess because of my relationship with Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. I am so glad to know that You are much more concerned about my heart than  my past. My past is gone now. I am totally forgiven and loved by You. I am not a second-class Christian. I am a beloved child of God who can now enjoy all the privileges of sonship. And I am with You forever, never to be alone again. Thank You for restoring the joy of my salvation. Thank You that I am no longer defined by the darkness, but by the light of Your love. Please help me to walk in Your light and love. With much love, Pa Pa. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What made David a man after God’s own heart?

21 But You, O God the Lord, deal with me for Your name’s sake; because Your mercy is good, deliver me. 22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” Psalm 109:21-22

The Bible tells us that even though King David was an adulterer and a murderer, God still assessed his life “as a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). What was it about this man that led God to speak so highly of him? I believe part of the answer is found in Psalm 109.

In return for his love for them, a group of people caused great pain to King David by falsely accusing him (109:2-5, 20-25). Instead of getting even with those who had hurt him, David got honest with God and asked Him to severely judge his accusers (109:4-29).

David prayed, “But You, O God the Lord, deal with me for Your name’s sake; because Your mercy is good, deliver me. (109:21-22). David is asking the Lord to “deal with” him in harmony with His “mercy” for the “sake” of God’s own reputation, not David’s. People might begin to question God’s mercy if He did not “deliver” David from this difficulty. David is more concerned about how the Lord is perceived in this situation than he is about his own welfare.

When people misrepresent us, are we more concerned about ourselves or how others may perceive God? A man after God’s own heart cares about God’s reputation more than his own. He wants to see God’s character exalted among the people, not misconstrued or misrepresented. David was willing to sacrifrice to see God glorified.

A second thing about David that makes him a man after God’s own heart is seen in the next verse. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me” (109:22). David appeals to his own brokenness and neediness before God as another reason for the Lord to deliver him. A man after God’s own heart is willing to be broken, open, and raw before the Lord.

David was not perfect by any means. But he was very honest and open before the Lord. And God was so impressed with David’s honesty and vulnerability in the Psalms that He refers to him as a man after His own heart.

Are we willing to admit our own brokenness and neediness before the Lord? God already knows our inner condition. We are not hiding anything from Him when we act tough on the outside. He knows where we are hurting and struggling. And He wants to soothe us with His mercy and grace. But for this to happen, we must be willing to face our brokenness and neediness. If you are like me, you may be pretending to have it all together on the outside as a way of protecting yourself. But God wants you to know that His mercy provides a safe and soothing place to begin the healing process. Will you embrace His mercy and let Him heal your brokenness? You won’t regret it.

Prayer: Merciful Father, thank You for showing me what it means to be a man after Your own heart. I want to be that kind of a man. I want to care more about Your reputation than my own. Please forgive me for thinking more of myself when I am misrepresented instead of thinking more of how if effects You. For the sake of Your own reputation, Lord, please have mercy upon me and deliver me from that which dishonors You. Help me to see You as a merciful Father before Whom I can be broken and honest about my own neediness. I have spent much of my life trying to protect myself from more pain. But now I come to you in childlike faith to soothe me and comfort me with Your grace. Being held in Your everlasting arms of mercy takes away all the tension and stress of trying to protect myself. Thank You that I am totally understood and accepted in Your presence because of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His name I thank You. Amen.

In Christ I can draw near to God

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13

Have you ever felt like an outsider? No matter how hard you tried, you could never seem to fit in with others? It is like you felt others were more blessed than you are? You always felt “less than” others?

Or have you ever felt this way with God? No matter how hard you tried to live a good moral life, God always seemed to be distant from you? Others seemed to find favor with God, but not you? It is like having leprosy. Both God and others seemed to want nothing to do with you. Does this resonate with you?

If it does, please take heart because you are not alone. The apostle Paul wrote to Gentile believers who once felt the same way about God and the Jewish people. Paul writes of Gentiles before they became Christians “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephes. 2:12).

Before Jesus, these Gentiles “were without Christ” in that they had no corporate hope focused on a Messiah, as did the Jews (2:12a). They were also “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” having no part in what God planned to do in and through Israel (2:12b). These Gentiles were “strangers from the covenants of promise” that God had given to Israel (2:12c). They had “no hope” as a race of people as the nation of Israel did (2:12d). And these Gentiles were “without God in the world,” unlike Israel whom God had reached out to and drawn to Himself (2:12e). This is why a Jew despised Gentiles in the time of the apostle Paul and wanted nothing to do with them.

Two very important words begin verse 13 – “But now…” In the past, Gentiles were outsiders who were far from God and His chosen people, “But now in Christ Jesus,” Gentile believers “who once were far off have been brought near” to God “by the blood of Christ” (2:13).

Our sin separates us from God (cf. Rom. 3:23, 6:23a), but the death of Christ provided the basis for Gentiles (and Jews) to be “brought near” to God. Notice that it is the “blood of Christ” that brings us “near” to God, not our church membership, prayers, water baptism, good works, or associations with others.

In the past you may have felt like an outsider, like no one, especially God, could accept you or love you just as you are, “but now” you can come near to God through the blood of Christ if you will simply believe or trust in Him alone and His full payment for all yours sins on the cross and His resurrection. If you do this, Christ will save you forever from hell and give you everlasting life so you may draw near to God in heaven as His forever child (Ephes. 2:8-9; John 1:12; 3:16).

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for the blood of Jesus Christ which paid the full penalty for all of my sins. Although I was once far off from You because of my sin and shame, I can now come near to You and Your family, the Church, through the blood of Your only Son, Jesus Christ. May Your Holy Spirit renew my mind with this marvelous truth so that when I am tempted to medicate my loneliness or pain with worldly counterfeits, I will draw near to You instead for the comfort and security I long for. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Letting God’s light shine where darkness engulfs our brokenness

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice  the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:6-7

The apostle John is writing to Christians so they may have fellowship or closeness (1:3-4) with God Who “is light” (1:5a). Light provides a source of comfort and warmth. Light is necessary for growth. Light exposes what is hidden in the darkness but it also offers hope and guidance out of the darkness. John tells us “in Him [God] there is no darkness at all” (1:5b). There is nothing sinful or deceiving about God. He is pure and holy, loving and true, gracious and merciful. The more we see Him for who He truly is, the more open and honest we will be with Him.

One of the conditions for fellowship with God is to “walk in the light as” God “is in the light” (1:7). Notice John says to walk “in” the light, not “according” to the light. Walking “according” to the light would refer to sinless perfection as a condition for fellowship with God. But the preposition “in” refers to walking in the sphere of God’s light where there is no darkness or dishonesty. In other words, to have fellowship with God we must be open and honest with Him, not sinless, as we walk in the light with Him.

When I claim to be close to God (“have fellowship with Him”), but I am dishonest and distant from Him, I “lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6). But when I “walk in the light” where God is, being open and honest with Him, I have closeness (“fellowship”) with Him and other believers who are in fellowship with Him. And “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses” me “from all sin” and shame so that I am not even conscious of it.

I believe I John 1:6-7 speaks to the process of healing that God wants all of us to experience. When we experience trauma in our childhood which may be intense (ex. physical or sexual abuse, etc. ) or less intense (ex. frequent moves, a hurtful word on the playground, etc.), we may retreat into the darkness of fear and shame, blaming ourselves for what happened to us. We don’t trust anyone nor do we believe anyone could love us. Often times we pick up where our abusers left off and we abuse ourselves with critical self-talk and/or addictions. We may feel engulfed in a sea of darkness and hopelessness.

But Jesus wants to shine His light of love and truth into the darkness that engulfs our wounds. He wants us to understand that when trauma took place in our childhood, He was there with us with tears in His eyes. And He is saying to us, “It was not your fault. I love you and I am so proud of you.” And even though we may abuse ourselves as adults, Jesus is still with us, waiting for us to welcome Him into the darkness where we have been hiding under the weight of our fear and shame. Jesus wants to shine His light of love and truth into the broken and wounded areas of our souls – not to condemn or shame us, but to heal us. And the more we permit Him to shine His light in the depths of our wounded souls, the more eager we will be to walk in the light of His love and truth, being open and honest with Him. 

Prayer: Lord God, please help me to perceive You as You truly are. You are light. You are all that is pure, holy, gracious, love, merciful, and true. There is no darkness or deceit in You. As I grow in my understanding of Who You are, I choose to be open and honest with You, Lord, because You are a good good Father who is eager to forgive me and cleanse me, not forsake me nor condemn me. When I focus on my sin and shame, I retreat into the darkness where You are not. I shut You out of my life because I perceive myself to be too bad for You to love me. But the truth is Lord, You know me better than I do and You still love me and cherish Your time with me. Please help me to say “good-bye” to the lies that isolate me from You and Your family. Please cleanse me of those lies and hold me in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me tight my Lord and never let me go. I don’t ever want to be alone again. Thank You for letting me be open and vulnerable with You. Thank You for listening to me and loving me as I am. Oh how I appreciate Your gentleness and graciousness with me. I love You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, and Holy Spirit. You all are the best. Thank You all for loving me far more than I deserve or can comprehend. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why is it important to meet with other Christians?

 “24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are being pressured to return to Judaism and give up on their Christian faith. After focusing on the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross to perfect them and give them total acceptance before God (10:1-18), the writer admonishes his readers to boldly “draw near” to God in a “new and living way” without unbelief or consciousness of sin or guilt (10:19-22). They are to persevere in the faith (10:23) and Christian fellowship till Christ’s return (10:24-25), when the promise of the eternal inheritance will be awarded to those who persevere (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:35-37).

As the nearness of Christ’s return approaches, Christians are to meet with one another “to stir up love and good works” among each other. The word “consider” means to carefully focus on another person in such a way as to “stir up” or stimulate one another to love God and each other so they can live a godly life (“good works”). Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith.

The more we meet with other believers, the more prepared we will be to face Christ on “the Day” of His return for His church. Satan will whisper lies to us (“No one would love me if they knew all about me,” “I cannot depend on others to help me,” “Christians are such hypocrites,” “No one would miss me if did not go to church,” “I am not needed”) to keep us from meeting with other believers. But the more Christians focus on the truth (“Christ wants to love me through other believers,” “I can learn to depend on others through Christ who strengthens me,” “Christians are imperfect sinners like me,” “I am an important member of the body of Christ,” “I am needed to love and be loved in the church”), the more motivated they will be to connect with other Christians.   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me dismiss the lies that keep me from meeting with other believers who encourage and strengthen me and I them to be more prepared to face You at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.