How can I overcome loneliness? Part 2

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” 2 Timothy 4:17a

We are looking at different causes and cures for loneliness in 2 Timothy 4 where the apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul was near the end of his life, and he was having to deal with loneliness. The first cause of loneliness we learned was the transitions of life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The cure for this was to utilize our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13).

The second cause for loneliness is SEPARATION FROM LOVED ONES (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). When we are separated from our friends or from our family (because of career, COVID, military deployment, health, or any reason) – that can cause loneliness.

Paul says to Timothy, Be diligent to come to me quickly.” (2 Timothy 4:9). Then Paul mentions his best friends, but none of them are with him except Luke: 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 4:10-12). Paul is in a foreign country in a prison, and he is saying, “I miss these people.” These were his best friends, his previous traveling companions. Paul was a “people person,” andhe loved to be among people. But now at the end of his life he experiences the loneliness of separation because his friends are in other countries.

Today you can contact people in other parts of the world using various electronic devices, but Paul did not have access to those devices. It took a long time to reach someone. Three times in this chapter Paul asks Timothy to come to him (2 Timothy 4:9, 13, 21). Why is he saying this? Because he may not be around much longer, and he really wants to see his dear friends.

Whom do you need to call or visit? Whom do you need to write a letter of appreciation to? You need to do it now while there is still time. Help relieve someone’s loneliness of separation by reaching out to them.

The second way to deal with loneliness is to RECOGNIZE GOD’S PRESENCE (2 Timothy 4:17a). Even though most of Paul’s friends were far away from him, the Lord was not. Although his companions abandoned him when he gave his first defense before the imperial court (2 Timothy 4:16b), 1 the Lord did not. Paul writes, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17a). While Paul stood before his accusers and prosecutors, “the Lord stood with” him. God gave Paul the strength he needed to fight the good fight and finish the race and keep the faith even though others had forsaken him. God’s presence gave him all the support he needed.

While it does help to have others supporting us, it is also true that people cannot always be there for us twenty-four hours a day. Where is God when we are lonely? He is right next to us to give us all the support we need. God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). There is no place where God is not. He is everywhere at every time, and we can constantly talk to Him. Prayer is a great tool to use during lonely times. Occasionally, when we are feeling lonely, our instinct is to turn inward and revel in self-pity. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn that loneliness is a signal that it is time for us to get better acquainted with our precious Savior Who replaces our loneliness with His loving presence.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, all of us go through times of loneliness and self-pity. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have experienced prolonged periods of separation from loved ones. Like the apostle Paul, some of us have also been abandoned by friends when we needed their support the most. As best we know how, we want to thank You, Lord, for these times when we feel lonely because they can remind us to get better acquainted with You. By Your grace, help us learn to talk to You when we feel all alone or abandoned. Because You are our Refuge, we can safely share our most intimate thoughts and feelings with You, knowing You still love and accept us. You understand what it feels like to be alone or abandoned. Your presence can give all the support we need when we find ourselves struggling with loneliness. When we are weak, Your presence makes us strong. In Your ever-present name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert W. Wilkin; J. B. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1216.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 2

“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

We are looking at the five major things we fear that keep us from doing God’s will. Each of these fears is demonstrated in the reaction Moses had when God told him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites (Exodus 3-4). Last time we looked at Moses’ fear of inadequacy which expressed itself through the question, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). God responded to Moses’ fear with the assurance of His presence (Exodus 3:12a).

Next, we see Moses’ fear of embarrassment when he says to God at the burning bush, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” This fear expresses itself by saying, I am afraid of looking stupid before all these people if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to. I am going to feel foolish!” At least Moses was asking the right question.

When we are afraid and God says I have got something for you to do, we don’t ask “Who am I?” We ask, “Who are You?” It is not who we are, it is who God is. Moses says “Who are You God? What’s Your name?” 

God’s response is profound! 14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15).  

What does that mean “I AM WHO I AM”? If somebody came to your company’s office and said, “I need to see your CEO.” And you asked him, “Who sent you?” And he said, “I AM WHO I AM.” You would call security to take him away for psychological evaluation. “I AM WHO I AM?” 

We need to remember that in the Bible they named people for their character. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” what does He mean and how would that relieve my fears? It means four things: 

1. It means God EXISTS. God is real. He is not saying, “I was that I was.” Aren’t you glad God is not dead? That is a stress reliever to know that we are not living in a world without Somebody Who is ultimately in control. It is present tense. “I AM WHO I AM.” God is alive. He is not dead. This gives us security especially in a world that seems to be so out of control these days.

2. It means God is ETERNAL. He is timeless. “I AM WHO I AM.” God has been the same forever and He exists forever. God is outside of time. He can see the past and the present and the future all at once because God has created time. He is not surprised by tomorrow’s headlines.

3. It means God is TRUE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He is not saying, “I am what you want Me to be.” God is saying, “I am My own character.” The problem today is God made us in His image and today people try to make God in their image. On TV talk shows, people say “I like to think of God as…” So what? You are just guessing. What matters is not what you think God is. What matters is Who He really is. The Bible reveals the true character of God. We live in a world where the Devil deceives people into thinking God is made in our image instead of us being made in His image.

4. It means God DOESN’T CHANGE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He does not mean, “I am what I used to be” or “I am not what I am going to be.” He says, “I AM WHO I AM.” He is unchanging. In a world that is constantly changing, we need Someone in our lives who remains the same. And that Person is God Himself!

These four things about God are enormous fear relievers when you understand there is a God. He is eternal. He always tells the truth, and He never changes. God is the only thing in our lives that does not change which is the only foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change. If we build our lives on anything else except God we are going to live in constant fear of the next change, the next tension, the next stress, the next loss. Only God is unchanging. The more we know God, the less we are going to be afraid because God is the antidote to fear.

Therefore God says, 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… 13 For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:10, 13). God’s unchanging presence in our lives is is foundational to defeating our worst fears. We were never meant to do life alone. Take time today to get to know the Self-Existing God Who said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

The best way to get to know “I AM WHO I AM,” is to get to know Jesus Christ. Jesus made several “I AM…” statements in the gospel of John to demonstrate that He is the same God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus said:

– “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

– “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12

– “I am the door.” John 10:9

– “I am the Good Shepherd.” John 10:14

– “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” John 11:25

– “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John 14:6

– “I am the true Vine.” John 15:1

When we look at Jesus Christ, we are looking at God in human flesh. To see Jesus, is to see God because Jesus is a perfect reflection of God the Father. This is why Jesus told Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). This also explains why Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.’ ” (John 12:44-45). Christ is a perfect reflection of God the Father because He has the same divine nature as His Father.

To know God more intimately as the great “I AM WHO I AM,” we must begin a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us we must recognize our need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have disobeyed God with our thoughts, words, and actions. The penalty for our sin is “death”or separation from God (Romans 6:23). We all deserve to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

But God does not want us to die forever in hell, so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to earth to die for our all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Only Jesus can save us because only Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins in full when He died and rose from the dead.

God now invites you to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Look at the eternal contrast here. The one who believes in Jesus “has”everlasting life. The one who does not believe in Jesus has God’s “wrath” that “abides” on him forever! The decision is yours: Believe or not believe in Jesus? Heaven or hell? The moment we believe in Jesus we are saved from hell forever (Acts 16:31) and we have eternal life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that no one can snatch a believer out of His and the Father’s hands. We are secure forever the moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life.

After you come to faith in Jesus, get to know Him by talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:22). Take time to love and be loved by hanging out with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). And begin telling others who do not know Christ, how they can begin a personal relationship with Him (Matthew 4:19).

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for Your response to Moses when his fear of embarrassment came out. When You said, “I AM WHO I AM,” You affirmed that You truly do exist, and You are eternal. Nothing takes You by surprise. You always tell the truth, and You never change. You are the only thing in our lives that does not change which gives us a solid foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change, but You do not change. The more we know You through the Lord Jesus, the less we are going to be afraid because You are the antidote to fear. Thank You, Father, for revealing Yourself to us through Jesus. Please lead us into a more intimate relationship with You. In the loving name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 1

11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ 12 So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you.’ ” Exodus 3:11-12a

In different religions, different words are important. In some faiths the important words are “strive” or “do” to earn God’s favor. In other religions the key word is “sit,” “wait,” “ponder,” or “think.”  They are more of a passive type of religion. 

In Christianity a key word is “done.” The only way you get to heaven is by what Jesus Christ has already done for you. There is nothing you can do yourself. Salvation is a free gift. Jesus did it all on the cross. He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He has finished paying our sin debt to God in full. The word “believe” is another key word in Christianity. It is the word that God uses most in evangelism. It is the way we receive heaven as a free gift (John 3:15-16, 36; 11:25-26). We simply believe in Jesus for eternal life. The word “love” is also a key word in Christianity. We know God loved us by sending Jesus to die in our place (John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).

Another key word in Christianity is the word “go.” The word “go” is used well over a thousand times in the Bible. Christianity is a “going” faith. It is a going relationship. If you are a Christian, you are on a journey of growing and going. God loves to use the word “go” in the Bible. He tells Abraham, “I want you to go to a land which I will show you.”He tells Noah, “I want you to go build an ark.” He tells Joshua, “Go possess the land of Canaan.” He tells David, “I want you to go fight a giant.”He tells Nehemiah, “I want you to go and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.” He tells Jeremiah, “Go teach My word.” Jesus, the God-Man, told His followers to “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” (Mark 16:15 NLT).

All through the Bible we see God sending people out to accomplish His mission for them. The problem is most people never discover and do their life mission. Even people who are believers. Why is that? The number one reason is fear.

Lord willing, for the next few days we will discover the five major things we fear that keep us from doing God’s will. Each of these fears is demonstrated in the reaction Moses had when God told him to go to Egypt to free the Israelites (Exodus 3-4). The first forty years of Moses’ life he grew up in the palace of the Egyptian king getting the best military and educational training a guy could want (Exodus 2:1-10; Acts 7:20-22).When he turns forty, he learns the truth about his life (Acts 7:23). He is not Egyptian royalty. He is the son of Jewish slaves whose people are being beaten to a pulp building the pyramids. He says “I have got to do something about this. I am not Egyptian. I am Jewish.” 

So, Moses goes out and on his own, he tries to set the people free in his own cocky, self-willed way. He ends up killing a slave driver and must flee for his life on account of murder (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:24). So, he runs across the desert and for the next forty years Moses is a nobody (Acts 7:29-30). While he is there, he becomes a shepherd tending goats and sheep. Moses marries a woman and has two sons (Exodus 2:21-22; Acts 7:29). He has made a new life, but in his own eyes, he is a nobody for forty years.

While Moses was in the desert, things had grown worse for his people in Egypt. The king of Egypt had died, and the Israelites’ bondage became unbearable (Exodus 2:23). Their cries were heard by God because He had made a covenant with Abraham to make his descendants a mighty nation and give them a great land (Exodus 2:24-25; cf. Genesis 12:3). Even while they were crying out, God was preparing a deliverer for them.

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian… he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God” (Exodus 3:1), which is another name for Mount Sinai (see Exod 3:12; 19:20; Deut 1:19)—the place where God would soon enter into a covenant with the nation of Israel.” 1  By this time Moses was now eighty years old (Acts 7: 23, 30). He had likely come to accept shepherding sheep for his father-in-law as his lot in life.

To get Moses’ attention, “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” (Exodus 3:2a). Moses’ ordinary day was about to take a dramatic turn in pursuit of God’s plan. Moses decides to take a closer look at this burning bush which was not consumed (Exodus 3:3). When Moses responded to what God was doing, the Lord speaks to him.

“4 So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5 Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” (Exodus 3:4-5). Moses needed to humble himself in the presence of a holy God, so his sandals had to come off. He also needed to be reminded of where he came from. Man was made ‘out of the dust from the ground’ (Gen 2:7). By removing his sandals, then, Moses meekly identified with his humble beginnings.” 2

6 Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” (Exodus 3:4-6).  When Moses realizes Who is speaking to him, he took God seriously and “hid his face.”

7 And the Lord said: ‘I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ ” (Exodus 3:7, 10). God is saying to Moses, “I have a mission for you, Moses. I want you to go back to Egypt and set my people free.” So, this is his mission.

How do you know when you have a mission from God, and not just some bad pizza you ate last night? There are three marks of a true mission from God. They are seen in these verses:

1. A true mission from God is passionate (Exodus 3:7). When you want to know God’s mission for your life it is based on God’s love. It is not motivated by more money… fame… or pleasure. A true mission from God is motivated by God’s love for other people. He says, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” If God gives you a mission it is going to involve caring about other people. It is passionate. 

2. A true mission from God is personal (Exodus 3:10a). God’s mission is specifically to you. God didn’t say “I hope somebody will go set them free.” He didn’t say “I am sending a group.” He said, “I will send you to Pharaoh …” God’s mission is personal.

3. A true mission from God is practical (Exodus 3:10b). He told Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”   “Moses, you are going to go set them free. You are going to relieve somebody’s suffering.” A true mission from God benefits other people. That is what ourmission trips in the Philippines were all about. They were about being concerned about people not having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Hearing the needs of other people, and then saying, “Let’s do something about it.”  It is based on the love of God for others.

Perhaps some of us are reluctant to be involved in the lives of others. Maybe we are afraid. It is okay to be afraid. Moses was afraid about the mission God gave him. He said, “There are five things I am afraid of, Lord.” What are the fears that keep us from doing God’s will and going where God wants us to go? Let’s look at five fears Moses possessed.

1. The fear of inadequacy. This is a big one. Inadequacy expresses itself in various ways: “I don’t think I can measure up to what God wants me to do. I’m insecure. I don’t have what it takes. I don’t know enough. I don’t have the right background. How could God use me?” This is Moses first fear: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ ” (Exodus 3:11). What is interesting is that forty years earlier Moses was full of confidence and tried on his own to set his people free from slavery and failed (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:24). Sometimes after a big failure you lose your confidence. 

Figure this out. Moses is forty years old when he discovers he is not Egyptian. It is now forty years later, so he is eighty years old (Acts 7: 23, 30). Would you like to start on the adventure of your life at eighty? Moses is thinking, “I have got social security. I have got my wife, my kids, and grandkids. I have got my flocks. I sit in my lazy boy chair. That is all I want. I am comfortable. I am happy. No thanks, God. You have a mission for me? Thanks, but no thanks.” Moses is saying, “I am feeling very inadequate.”

Do you ever feel that way? Often when God says I have something for you to do, it seems much ­­bigger than you. You don’t feel adequate. Listen closely! It doesn’t matter whether you feel inadequate or not. What matters is God has chosen you. If God has chosen you, it is going to work whether you think you are qualified or not. Our life message is not about us. It is about what God chooses to do in our lives. 

What is God’s response to our fear of inadequacy? “So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you.’ ” (Exodus 3:12a). “God did not tell Moses, ‘Cheer up and believe in yourself.’ Instead, he promised him his divine presence. Moses’s greatest need (and ours too) was not self-confidence; he needed God-confidence.” 3

God’s presence is the answer to our inadequacy because one plus God equals a majority. If God is near, we will lose our fear. You and God can do anything He calls you to do! But the fear of inadequacy should not keep you from doing your life mission because God says, “I will certainly be with you.” God’s adequacy is the answer to our inadequacy and God’s presence is the answer to our panic. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all of us have fears. The question we need to ask is not, “Who am I?” Rather, the question to ask ourselves is, “Who is with me?” Your presence in my life eclipses my sense of inadequacy. Thank You for never leaving me nor forsaking me. People may abandon me or reject me, but You will never give up on me. This is what gives me hope every day of my life. Your grace is truly amazing. In Jesus’ powerful 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. 195.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pg. 196.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 5

“So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” I Kings 19:8

We are learning from the prophet Elijah, how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. For this to happen, we must …

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Not compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

– Accept God is not done with us yet (I Kings 19:7b). 

After the angel of the Lord awakened Elijah again and informed him that God had a “journey” for him to take,he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” (I Kings 19:8). Just as Elijah needed food and rest, he also needed time in God’s presence.

Moses and the Israelites had traveled in that wilderness for 40 years, sustained by the manna God had provided for them and learned lessons of His faithful care and provision. Now Elijah would traverse the same desert for 40 days and … nights, sustained by the bread God provided and would learn the same lessons. A direct trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb (the ancient name for Mount Sinai; cf. Ex. 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deut. 5:2; 1 Kings 8:9; Ps. 106:19; Mal. 4:4) would have taken Elijah only about 14 days on foot (a distance of ca. 200 miles). God was reminding him and teaching him during those 40 days and nights. Finally He went to the mountain of God, the very place where God had revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites and where He had entered into a covenant with His Chosen People.” 1

Remember Elijah’s attitude in verse 4? He was ready to die, but now we see him doing what God wants him to do. He moves toward God. This is the fifth step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement – PURSUE THE LORD (I Kings 19:8). Pursuing the Lord is one of the hardest things to do when we are overwhelmed with discouragement, but it is an important part of climbing out of this pit.

The Bible tells us, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). We must take the first step. God will not force His way into our lives without an invitation. We must open our hearts to Him. People are opening their hearts to all kinds of false hopes instead of to the Lord, our true source of hope.

We can draw near to God through prayer, praise, and obedience. The key is to be open and honest with the Lord. The apostle John writes, “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 1:7). Notice that this verse says, “If we walk in the light.” Only God is light (I John 1:5); but we are called to walk “in” the light. We must be willing to let God expose the sin in our lives. And when He does, we are to agree with Him by confessing our sin to Him (I John 1:9). Believers who “walk in the light” are not sinless, but the light reveals their sin to them so they can confess it to the Lord. When that happens “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When holy people see themselves in God’s light, they see their dirt. And when they see the dirt, they want God to deal with it—something he is delighted to do. Only as we live fully exposed to the truth of God is the ongoing cleansing work of the blood of Christ activated to reveal, cleanse, and empower us to address the sin that has been exposed. Then fellowship with God is maintained and expanded.” 2

God has pursued us all our lives, but He also wants us to pursue Him. Let’s take some time to do that, especially when we are discouraged. It may not feel comfortable at first, but the Lord will not disappoint if we will take that first step toward Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when I think about Elijah’s decision to move toward You by taking his journey to Mt. Horeb, I wonder what lessons You taught him as he traveled 40 days and nights? Did Elijah take time to observe the birds of the air in the wilderness? Was he reminded by those birds that You care far more for him than the birds You daily feed (Matthew 6:26)? Was he refreshed by the cool breeze under the shade of the trees? Did he feel the warmth of Your presence along the way? You gave Your prophet the strength he needed to make this trip. Giving Elijah this journey must have renewed his sense of purpose and usefulness. Perhaps his sense of anticipation of good from You increased with each step he took along the way toward Mt. Horeb. Lord God, please help each of us to take that first step toward You; to open our hearts and minds to You knowing that You are the God of second chance Who delights in spending time with His children no matter how discouraged they have been. Our discouragement is no surprise to You. You love us regardless of our emotional condition. And like You did with Elijah, You also give us the strength to pursue You when we choose to do so. Thank You, Father, for being so good and gracious to us. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoordand Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Locations 6218-6223.  

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2334.

Remaining confident when facing extreme chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” Jesus 21:12

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. So far we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

– The power of the risen Lord Jesus is capable of catching multitudes of people in His gospel-net (John 20:11).

Today we are ready for our final lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. Following their miraculous catch of fish, the seven disciples were now on the shore with Jesus having brought their net full of fish with them (John 21:6-11). “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).

All of us have had special moments in life that are held forever in our memory. What a wonderful memory Jesus made for John and the six other disciples as He invited them to breakfast on the beach. The aroma of hot bread and and sizzling fish must have stirred the appetites of the disciples. John notes that none of the disciples, knowing it was the risen Lord, ventured to ask Jesus, “Who are You?” We usually don’t ask those we know well who they are. 1

The fact that both Mary Magdalene (John 20:14) and the Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-35) did not immediately identify the Lord may indicate some difference in the Lord’s resurrection appearance here. “Yet the identification was so certain that all the disciples knew it was Jesus. Their meal together stamped an indelible impression on their minds. Years later in his preaching Peter spoke of himself as a reliable witness who ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).” 2

The fact that John mentions the disciples dared not ask the Lord His identity may suggest “these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the Person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different that He looked like a stranger? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples, ‘knowing that it was the Lord’ from the undeniable evidence, could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.” 3

Constable writes, “Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room, just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East, a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them, was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently, Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the kind offered at the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation, the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.” 4

Wiersbe insightfully writes, “Three ‘invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39); ‘Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ‘Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly, the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ‘the soul’ that He neglects the body.” 5

John then informs us, “Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:14). As often happens with guests, the disciples may have appeared hesitant to begin serving themselves the meal, so Christ went over, took the bread, and gave it to the disciples. In the same way, He also served the roasted fish. The definite article used with “the bread” (ton arton) and “the fish” (to opsarion) indicates that Jesus distributed the bread and fish that were cooking over the fire of coals when the disciples arrived on the shore (John 21:9). The disciples’ fish could be cooked later (cf. John 21:10), but this was Christ’s provision for them. 6

When Jesus gave them “the bread” and “the fish” to His disciples, this must have reminded them of when He miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The breaking of the bread and distributing it to them also had to remind these seven followers of what happened just a few days before when Jesus had broken the bread in the upper room during the Last Supper.

The fact of this meal substantiated Jesus’ promise to meet all their needs. The disciples may have thought that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eventual ascension would end His care for them; but now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. They may have feared His death and eventual ascension would end their fellowship with Him, but now this meal which He had provided assured them they would still enjoy sweet fellowship with their risen Lord. And His eating some of the food (cf. Luke 24:40-43), gives additional proof of His bodily resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He ‘presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs… over a period of forty days’ (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, ‘It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see, I have’” (Luke 24:39). 8

John notes, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John 21:14). John attests that this is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples in his gospel account (cf. John 20:19-20, 24-29). While a comparison of all four Gospels shows that this is the seventh appearance (counting His appearances to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus), this was indeed only his third appearance specifically to” a gathering of more than two of His disciples.

From these verses we learn that WE NEED TIMES WITH JESUS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS OUTSIDE TO REFRESH OUR SOULS (John 21:12-14). Jesus’ appearance on the beach seems to be a more casual occasion than His appearances in Jerusalem. This gave more of an extended opportunity to renew their fellowship after the separation that came from their fleeing at His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56).

Do you ever feel like you are on an uninhabited island in your Christian life? You are all alone? No one to share your fears, joys, and sorrows with? Several coals burn brightly together but put one aside and its fire goes out. So, it is with other Christians. We will not last long in the Christian life if we do not have fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus and other believers.

While reading John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back, I was impressed with the chapter entitled, “GET OUTSIDE.” He writes, “The average person now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (this includes your transportation time in car, bus, or metro).” 10  

Eldredge continues, “Ninety-three percent – such a staggering piece of information. We should pause for a moment and let the tragedy sink in.

“That means if you live to be 100, you will have spent 93 of those years in a little compartment and only 7 outside in the dazzling, living world. If we live to the more usual 75, we will spend 69 and three-fourths of our years indoors, and only 5 and one-fourth outside. This includes our childhood; how does a child be a child when they only venture outside a few months of their entire childhood?

“This is a catastrophe, the final nail in the coffin for the human soul. You live nearly all your life in a fake world: artificial lighting instead of the warmth of sunlight or the cool of moonlight or the darkness of night itself. Artificial climate rather than the wild beauty of real weather; your world is always 68 degrees. All the surfaces you touch are like plastic, nylon, and faux leather instead of meadow, wood, and stream. Fake fireplaces; wax fruit. The atmosphere you inhabit is now asphyxiating with artificial smells – mostly chemicals and ‘air fresheners’ – instead of cut grass, wood smoke, and salt air (is anyone weeping yet?). In place of the cry of the hawk, the thunder of a waterfall, and the comfort of crickets, your world spews out artificial sounds – all the clicks and beeps and whir of technology, the hum of the HVAC. Dear God, even the plants in your little bubble are fake. They give no oxygen; instead, the plastic off-gases toxins, and if that isn’t a signal fire I don’t know what is.

“This is a life for people in a science fiction novel. This would be understandable, acceptable, if we’d colonized Mars and by necessity you lived in a bubble. But this is not the life God ordained for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, whose habitat is this sumptuous earth. It’s like putting wild roses in a Styrofoam box for the rest of their lives.

“You live a bodily existence. The physical life, with all the glories of senses, appetites, and passions – this is the life God meant for us. It’s through our senses we learn most every important lesson. Even in spiritual acts of worship and prayer we are standing or kneeling, engaging bodily. God put your soul in this amazing body and then put you in a world perfectly designed for that experience.

“Which is why the rescue of the soul takes place through our engagement with the real world…

“…Living in an artificial world is like spending your life wrapped in plastic wrap. You wonder why you feel tired, numb, a little depressed, when the simple answer is you have a vitamin D deficiency; there’s no sunlight in your life, literally and figuratively.

“Our body, soul, and spirit atrophy because we were made to inhabit a real world, drawing life, joy, and strength from it. To be shaped by it, to relish in it. Living your days in an artificial world is like living your whole life with gloves on, a filtered experience, never really feeling anything. Then you wonder why your soul feels numb.” 11 

God really got my attention when Eldredge writes, “We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course, God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made: his vibrance permeates all creation:

“The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 NLT)

“Christ… ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT)

“In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all Scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3).

“Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children…”

“…There’s nothing better for a fried soul than to get in the woods or walk in the park. Lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Sit on the beach and watch the breakers.

“…Nature heals; nature restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief, nature offers restoration.

“This is why David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, ‘He renews my strength’ (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David spoke of.” 12

My most refreshing times with our risen Lord Jesus, our Creator of the universe, has been outside amongst His creation. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds of the air which our heavenly Father feeds has often refreshed and restored my spiritual union with the Lord.

Jesus understands this. He provided a delicious breakfast for His disciples outside on a beach along the Sea of Galilee. Remember, Jesus was the Creator of this beach and this Sea. The waves rolling into the shore at sunrise that day could be seen and heard by the disciples. The smell of salt water filled the air. There was probably a cool breeze blowing in from the sea. The disciples may have heard seagulls crying out above them. They could smell the smoke rising from the fire of coals along with the aroma of the cooking fish and bread. All these outdoor experiences would have been healing and restoring to the disciples’ bodies and souls.

As Eldredge writes, “Nature heals, teaches, strengthens, soothes; it brings us the presence of God, for ‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:3 NLT). Go let it restore your soul – daily, whenever possible.” 13

More importantly, it is the risen Lord Jesus Who heals, teaches, strengthens, and soothes. What better environment for this to take place than outdoors in the physical world which He created for the sons and daughters of God to enjoy!

In his book, The Golden Milestone, Frank W. Boreham talks about a tombstone in a small English churchyard that marked the final resting place of two sisters. It bore the words from John 21:4, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore.”

Although this referred to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples, it reminded Boreham of the Christian’s prospect of seeing Christ waiting on heaven’s shore. Envisioning his own impending death when he would be welcomed by the risen Lord Jesus, Boreham wrote, One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right.” 14

Yes, “it will be all right” because the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us will be on heaven’s shore. With the assurance that the risen Lord Jesus will be standing “on the shore” to welcome him home, Boreham concluded, But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go.” 15

Boreham died with confidence he would see Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Can you? If not, you can simply come to Jesus now as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But Christ Jesus loved you so much He took your place on a cross and died for all your sins and three days later rose from the dead (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today, and He has the power to forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life so that when you die, you will be greeted by Him on heaven’s shores (John 3:16; 14:2-3; Colossians 2:13-14). All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness or everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you believe what Jesus just said, you can die with the assurance that you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Christ cannot lie. He always remains faithful to His promises, even if we become faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is why we can confidently say after a person believes in Christ, “See you in heaven!”

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the assurance through Your meal with Your disciples on the beach, that You will continue to meet all our needs even while You are in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. As our Good Shepherd, You not only laid down Your life for us and rose from the dead so we could have everlasting life the moment we believe in You for it, but also so we can be assured of seeing You on heaven’s shores after we die. And as our Good Shepherd, you can refresh and restore our souls as we connect with You and other Christians outdoors. Thanks so much for reminding us that You designed our physical bodies and souls to be refreshed through the things You have made, much like Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden of Eden prior to their disobedience when they would walk with You in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Please help us to make it a daily habit to align ourselves with You in the context of Your creation so we can unwrinkle or disentangle our souls from the artificial world we expose ourselves to much of the time. Thank You our Lord and our Creator God. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 377-378.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 703.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 393.

4. Ibid., pp. 392-393.  

5. Ibid., pg. 393 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 397.

6. Laney, pg. 378.

7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 568.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

9. Robert Wilkin, pg. 568.

10. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020) pg. 76 cites Neil E. Klepeis et al., “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 11, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 231-52.

11. Eldredge, pp. 76-79.

12. Ibid., pp. 79-86.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Frank W. Boreham, The Golden Milestone (Publication arranged by Pioneer Library, printed byKindle Direct Publishing, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 1825-1828.This compilation of Boreham’s essays was first published in 1915.

15. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1831-1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 6

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” John 21:10

After Jesus miraculously enabled the disciples to catch a net full of fish, John recognized it was the Lord on the shore, so Peter dove into the sea to swim over to Jesus and the other disciples rode on their little boat to shore (John 21:6-8). When they arrived on shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish and bread over a fire of coals (John 21:9). John then informs us, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” (John 21:10). Even though there was already one “fish” 1 on the fire (John 21:9), Jesus instructed the disciples to “bring some of the fish” 2  that they had “caught” (John 21:10). Why doesn’t the Lord miraculously multiply the one fish to feed these disciples? Why does He invite them to bring some of their own fish?

There are several attempts to explain this invitation. Some suggest Jesus did this because He wanted His disciples “to feel they had contributed in some way to the meal. Most dinner guests like to contribute a dish to the meal, and Jesus may have simply been sensitive to this need.” 3  Others say “this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future, compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.” 4 Another says, “I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word.” 5  The explanation I like the best is that Jesus simply wanted them to enjoy His company so He invites them to bring some of their fish and have a meal with Him. 6  

Some people think the resurrected Lord Jesus is a phantom or a figment of their imagination. But John is telling us in this last chapter of his gospel that the resurrected Lord Jesus is real. He has built a fire for His disciples who are tired and hungry. He is cooking some fish and bread and invites them to join Him. He is sitting around the fire with His close friends to enjoy a delicious meal while they fellowship with one another. I can just imagine them talking with Jesus about their all-night fishing expedition with nothing to show for it and then suddenly, after they cast their net on the other side of their boat, they catch so many fish they cannot even haul it into their boat. This is a real relationship with the resurrected Christ. And this is what Jesus invites us to enjoy. So our sixth lesson is this: ACCEPT JESUS’ INVITATION TO ENJOY HIS COMPANY (JOHN 21:10).

There are people who think their relationship with the resurrected Christ is so spiritual, it is not real. It does not fit into their everyday life. They can experience the resurrected Lord Jesus at church when they are singing with other believers, but it is extremely difficult for them to experience Him on Monday morning. But these verses in John 21 are telling us how we can have breakfast with Jesus on a beach in the real daily experiences of our lives. We can experience a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  

These seven disciples returned to fishing while they waited for Jesus to meet them in Galilee. But Jesus was there on the shore. He knew they had been fishing all night without catching anything. He knew where the fish were so He instructed them to cast their net on the other side of their boat and they caught so many fish they could not haul them all into their boat. When they arrived on the shore, He invites them to bring some of their fish to enjoy with Him.

What I believe God is saying to us is that through His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us no matter where we go or what we do (cf. John 14:16-18). And He wants to be part of our daily lives. He wants us to experience His presence whether we are up in the mountains or out on a lake. He wants us to experience His presence in the city or out on a farm. When we realize that Jesus’ presence is everywhere we don’t have to fit Him into certain places at certain times. He can be part of every moment of our lives.

Christ wants to hang out with His disciples. He wants to spend time with His best friends. He wanted to eat a meal with them and He had some things to share with them. And He wants to do the same with you and me.

When is the last time you hung out with the risen Lord Jesus just to hang out? Unfortunately for many of us, we are so focused on our growth and ministry for Christ and making an eternal difference for Him in the world, that we don’t just hang out with Him. Every time we relate to Him we talk about some big problem or some issue that is so huge that it tires us out spiritually.

But when is the last time we simply hung out with the risen Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, I am so glad You are here!” If you are like me, you don’t do that often enough. It feels so calming just to enjoy the company of the risen Lord Jesus. He delights in us. He celebrates us. We do not have to perform or try to be someone or something we are not.

Some of us may think that sounds really strange. After all, Jesus is up in heaven and we are down here on earth. What exactly are you talking about? But that is not completely true. Remember, since Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), His presence is everywhere through God the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus lives in each of us who believe in Him (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-47; Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus is here. He wants to say something to our hearts and minds. Have we learned to relax in the presence of our risen Lord Jesus Christ? If not, it is one of the key lessons of the Christian life – to relax in His presence. Have you learned to let Him “cook breakfast” for you? To provide for your needs?

All of us get invitations in our email inbox. With some of those invitations, when we open them up, we say, “No way am I going to that event! That is the last place in the world I want to be!” A second kind of email invitation is when we open it up, we think, “If nothing else is going on, maybe I will go to that. If I’m not too tired from work that day, I may go to that event.” Then there is a category three kind of email. When you open it up and look at it, you say, “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am going to be at that event for sure! I am really looking forward to this!”

Every invitation from the risen Lord Jesus needs to be in category three. “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am pumped to hang out with Jesus!”

We are not talking about an email invitation from Jesus or a Facebook invite. Jesus invited His disciples when He said, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” How do we hear invitations from the risen Lord Jesus now? And if we have heard them, how will we recognize them as being from Him? How do we know if Christ is inviting us? He is not going to show up physically on a seashore and speak audibly to us so it must be an invitation that takes place in our hearts and minds. How do we know if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is saying something to our hearts and minds?

First of all, when Jesus speaks to us it is always consistent with His Word. God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “truth” about Jesus. Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word (John 15:26; 16:13). It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. He will always “testify of” Jesus (John 15:26) and teach us what He “hears” Jesus say (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is not going to teach something contrary to what Jesus has already taught. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

Here are some ideas about how this works. Any time you have a desire to worship God, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus. It is consistent with His Word (Psalm 22:27; 29:2; 95:1, 6, 9; John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:2-5:14; 7:11; 14:7; 15:4; 22:9), so accept it.

Whenever you have a desire to pray about something, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:44; 6:5-7, 9; 9:38; 26:41; Luke 11:1-2; 18:1; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Accept it.

When a thought pops in your mind and you want to do something good for another person, that may be an invitation from Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16, 44; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; 6:5-9; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:22-24). Accept it.

Or when your heart is burdened to share the gospel with someone, it is probably from the risen Lord Jesus (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 8:26-39; 2 Timothy 4:2). Accept it.

Maybe some of you are naturally good and you always think of prayer, worship, doing good things for others or sharing the gospel with them because you are such a “good” person. But I am not that way. The truth is, without the risen Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would not do those things. It is only when Jesus says, “Why don’t you worship or pray, and why don’t you do something good or share the gospel with that person?” that I have learned to do those things. Those types of thoughts are not from my “good” human nature. I have learned when those thoughts come into my mind they are from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we have these thoughts, accept them. Accept invitations from Jesus Christ any time they come. That will be the greatest thing you have ever done. It will be the greatest party that you have ever attended. Have a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us that You are not some phantom or figment of the imagination. You are a real historical Person Who is alive today and wants to have a real personal relationship with each of us. Thank You for speaking to our hearts and minds through the Bible and Your Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Your voice of truth and rely upon Your Spirit to accept Your invitations whenever they come to us. Saying, “Yes,” to You, Lord Jesus, is the greatest decision we could ever make! Thank You for this adventure with You called the Christian life. I look forward to hanging out with You today. Being in Your presence is so much better than life itself. I love You, my Lord and my God. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Greek word for “fish” is opsarion which is singular.

2. The Greek word for “fish” is opsariōn which is plural.

3. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 376-377.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

5. Ibid., pg. 392 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 313.

6. The next several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s September 4, 1996 message entitled, “Resurrected Purpose: John 21:1-24.”

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? Part 1

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

Evangelist Larry Moyer writes, “If most of us were honest, we would admit we enjoy evangelism the most when:

• The person we plan to talk to is not home.

• God allows us to do the praying and someone else to do the talking.

• The individual we are approaching has laryngitis and therefore, it would be impolite to ask him about his relationship with Christ.

• The waitress explains to our friend that she has a phone call just as we are preparing to approach her about spiritual things.

• We unintentionally oversleep the morning of our breakfast appointment with a non-Christian.

• As soon as we approach an individual about spiritual things, he tells us he is a Christian and we of course do not want to insult him by telling him what he probably already knows.” 1

The reason for these responses is one four-letter word – FEAR. Fear does more to hinder our witness for Jesus Christ than any other single thing. As Christians, it’s not that we don’t want to share Christ with others. I believe most believers would love to lead someone to the Lord. Think about this for a moment: What would happen if each of us led someone to Jesus Christ this Christmas season? Wouldn’t that be exciting?! To see the church grow exponentially as the gospel goes out from here and changes peoples’ lives. Nothing would bless your church more than to see new believers sitting next to you because you had the courage to share Christ with them.

But it is not going to happen until we overcome this fear of sharing our faith with others. Before we talk about how to do that, let me address two things. First, if you are afraid to evangelize, raise your right hand above your head. (Pause). Now put your hand behind your head. Now pat yourself on the back. You are normal. It is normal to be afraid in evangelism. After all the apostle Paul was afraid to evangelize. When entering the city of Corinth to evangelize, Paul admits, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3).  I’ve been sharing Christ with others for over thirty-five years and I still get butterflies in my stomach before I approach a non-Christian about spiritual things. So it is normal to be afraid in evangelism.

Second, the issue is overcoming fear, not removing it. I believe this side of heaven, there will always be times of fear. In Ephesians 6:19, Paul asked, “Pray for me, that the power to speak may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (MEV). Why did Paul ask for prayer for boldness? Because he still struggled with fear. When Paul wrote this prayer request for boldness, he was a prisoner in Rome. He already had many years of evangelistic experiences planting churches. Yet he understood, that moments of fear will always be there. Yet he shared Christ constantly not because he was never afraid, but because he learned to overcome his fear with boldness.

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look atJohn 16:5-15 where we will discover some principles for overcoming fear in evangelism. The last time in the gospel of John, we saw Jesus forewarn His disciples of the world’s coming hostility and persecution of them (15:18-16:4). The disciples were now preoccupied with their own problems in the future and none of them were concerned about Jesus’ future. Christ wanted them to bear witness of Him to an increasingly hostile world. How eager would you be to speak up for Christ if your audience was likely to mistreat you, imprison you, or even kill you? Being stricken with fear is understandable with that kind of a warning from Christ (John 15:18-16:4).

If we want to overcome fear in evangelism GRASP THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE WHEN YOU WITNESS (John 16:5-7), because God the Holy Spirit is with you and in you always. Jesus told His disciples, “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’” (John 16:5).Peter had asked this question earlier (John 13:36), but then he was only concerned about how Jesus’ departure would affect him. Peter and the other disciples did not understand the significance of Jesus’ departure at this time. They did not realize Christ would have to suffer and die and be resurrected before ascending to heaven to be with His Father. Like the disciples, we tend to think only of ourselves instead of others when we are facing trouble. 2

Next Christ said, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” (John 16:6). Understandably, “sorrow” filled the disciples’ hearts at the news of Jesus’ departure and their coming persecution and there was room for nothing else in their hearts. 3 To the disciples, Jesus’ departure and their upcoming persecution, was an awful disaster in the making and they were deeply distressed by this. Parting is painful especially when you are very dependent on the person leaving. The disciples depended on Jesus for guidance, instruction, protection and provisions, and now He was leaving them, and they would be hated by the world. We would have felt the same way.

Perhaps we would try to hide our sadness, but we would still feel the sense of loss. We can hide our grief and pain from each other, but not from the Lord Jesus. He knows our hurts and He wants to offer comfort to us.

Jesus then offers hope to His hurting disciples, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7).This is a reality check – “I tell you the truth…” Jesus says. It may feel bad, but let’s do a reality check. In reality, Jesus’ departure (His death, resurrection, and ascension) would be profitable and beneficial to the disciples and to all of us! What “advantage” would Jesus’ departure give to the disciples?

First, Jesus’ return to the Father meant He would send  “the Helper,” the Holy Spirit, to indwell all believers everywhere forever (cf. John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26). Evans observes, “The Father sent the Son into the world (see 3:17), and the Son would send the Spirit into the world (16:7). Thus, the Trinitarian God is at work, each Person carrying out the next phase of His kingdom program. The coming of the Holy Spirit would benefit the disciples because his presence would not be physically limited (as Jesus’s was). He would dwell within each of them (14:17) and go with them wherever they traveled (see Eph. 1:22, 23).” 4

Jesus’ stay with them was temporary, but the Holy Spirit’s stay would be permanent. They would never be alone again! And nor shall we if we have believed in Christ for everlasting life and received the Holy Spirit at that moment of faith (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11, 13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14).

Second, as long as Jesus was with them in Person, His work would be localized, and it would be impossible for Him to communicate with them equally at all times and in all places. But the coming “Helper” would equip them for a wider and more powerful ministry! There is no place they could go where the Holy Spirit would not be with and in them.

For example, in Matthew 10, when the disciples were sent out to minister, it was necessary for them to be separated from Christ. Jesus could not physically accompany them in their ministry everywhere they went. If Jesus had remained on earth with them, He would not be able to accompany them to all the places God would lead them. But the Holy Spirit could. He would indwell them and empower them to reveal Jesus to a much greater extent than Christ would have done if He had remained with them.

This is why Jesus could promise His followers who go out into the world to make disciples, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b). There is no place we can go on earth where Jesus is not with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence can overcome our fears.

Third, while Jesus was on earth, the disciples were sometimes afraid (cf. Mark 14:50; John 6:20), but after the coming of the Holy Spirit they testified of Jesus with great confidence and boldness (cf. Acts 2:14-47; 3:11-26; 4:5-31; 5:1-11, 28-32, 40-42; et al.).  If the disciples got their way, there would be no gospel because Jesus would not have died and rose from the dead. There would be no payment for our sins. If Jesus had not departed, there would have been no glorified Lord to send the Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ death and resurrection to peoples’ hearts. The Holy Spirit’s coming depended on Jesus’ petition to the Father to send the Spirit. Christ could not ask the Father to send the Spirit until He had returned to the Father. Without the Holy Spirit, it would be like Old Testament days when the Spirit’s indwelling presence was temporary. With all things considered, believers today are more privileged spiritually than those who lived and walked with Jesus in the first century. 5

Knowing we are not alone when we share the gospel with unbelievers can replace our fear with boldness. Through the Holy Spirit, we have a power that is not our own. God’s power is manifested as we begin to share the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Many times, before I share the gospel with people, I have fears streaming through my mind: “What will they think? How will they respond? Will they reject the message and me? Will I be able to answer their questions or objections?” Knowing the Holy Spirit is with me and in me to give me the words to speak, calms my fears. After warning His disciples of severe persecution, Jesus told them,  19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19-20). Believing Christ’s promise can dissolve our fears in evangelism.

A few years ago when we were speaking at a church in the USA, I was very nervous about sharing the gospel with the congregation because I knew that the beliefs of this particular denomination were much different than ours. Hence, I spent additional time in prayer beforehand asking the Lord to guide me and empower me. That morning, God the Holy Spirit directed me to share from Acts 16:25-31 about what the Bibles says to do to get to heaven if we only have 60 seconds to live.

At the end of the message, I gave a gospel invitation, and about 10-12 adult leaders raised their hands indicating that they were now trusting in Christ alone as their only hope of heaven. After the service, three or four people came up to me, thanking me for sharing this message with them. They told me they used to think that going to heaven was based on their works, but now they were resting in the finished work of Christ. Others said no one had ever told them God cared about their eternal destiny, but now they know He does, and they were trusting Christ to get them to heaven. After talking with these people, I bowed my heart before the Lord, thanking Him and His Spirit for His guidance and power to share this message. All the glory goes to Him!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your words offer such hope and empowerment as we go out into a hostile world to share Your life-giving gospel message. Thank You for not leaving us alone when You ascended to the Father in heaven. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who indwells us permanently the moment we believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. I appreciate being reminded that it is normal to feel afraid in evangelism. The goal is not to remove the fear, but to overcome fear with Holy Spirit-driven boldness as we yield to Him. Thank You for giving us everything we need to be effective in sharing Your gospel message with a broken and hostile world. Knowing that there is nowhere we can go without Your Spirit accompanying us gives us great peace and power to share Your death and resurrection without shame or fear to a world that is perishing! Please open the door for us to boldly and compassionately share Your life-giving gospel message with as many people as possible while there is still time. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. R. Larry Moyer, Larry Moyer’s How-To Book On Personal Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), pg. 53.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 287.

3. The word for “filled,” peplērōken, is a perfect indicative active verb and conveys the idea that there was room for nothing else in the disciples’ hearts – Ibid.

4.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1809.

5. Laney, pg. 288.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 3

“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

So far we have learned that the way to overcome the fear of abandonment is to focus on…

– The promise of another Helper, God the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16).

– The permanent indwelling of the Spirit of truth (John 14:17-18).

The third way we can overcome the fear of abandonment is by focusing on THE PROSPECT OF LOVE FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON TO THOSE WHO OBEY (John 14:19-24). Jesus says to His eleven believing disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19). Jesus says that “a little while longer” when He goes to the Father’s house after His death and resurrection (cf. John 13:33, 36; 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11) “the world will see” Him “no more,” but His disciples will see Him through the revealing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had revealed the Father, so the Holy Spirit will reveal Christ (cf. John 15:26; 16:14, 16). The coming of the Holy Spirit would be evidence that Jesus was alive and in heaven with His Father (John 16:7).

When Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also,” He was saying that His bodily resurrection would guarantee the bodily resurrection of all believers in the future (cf. I Corinthians 15:1-58; I Thessalonians 4:14-17). Since Christ rose from the dead and had conquered sin and the grave, He could share His resurrection life with His followers through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would connect them to the Trinitarian God.

Christ explains, “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20). “At that day” when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost (Acts 2), the disciples will know by experience the indwelling of the Trinitarian God: “I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ would live in them and the disciples would “see” Him (John 14:19).

Because the Holy Spirit would soon indwell His disciples, Jesus anticipated a new intimacy with them. “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). Observe the progression in this verse – “has… keeps… loves Me.” Before we can “keep” Christ’s commandments, we must “have” them. In order to “have” Jesus’ commandments, we must spend time with Him to be aware of what He has said.

When a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them. God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special sense (John 14:21, 23; cf. 13:23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with the Father and the Son.

“If you listen to a radio station in your car, you know that the further you get from the broadcast station, the worse your reception of the signal gets. Many people have difficulty connecting with God because they’ve wandered too far away to pick up his signal. But if you come back home in obedience, relating to God through Christ in love, He will disclose more of Himself to you.” 1

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’ ” (John 14:22). “Judas,” the son of James (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), expected Jesus to manifest His Davidic rule to the world. He was looking for a political and physical manifestation of Christ. But Jesus was referring to a spiritual manifestation through the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’ ” (John 14:23). Christ would only reveal Himself to those who loved Him by keeping His “word.” Not only would the Holy Spirit take up residence in them, but so would God the Father and God the Son. The reality of the Father and Son indwelling a believer was conditioned upon obedience. This is a picture of fellowship or closeness with the Godhead – “and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” The issue here is not salvation. A believer’s disobedience does not take away salvation. Christ is talking about discipleship in this verse. The more we love and obey the Lord, the more we will enjoy close fellowship with the Trinitarian God.

The word “home” (monḗ) is the same word Jesus used of the “many mansions” in the Father’s house in heaven (John 14:2). The link between verse 2 and verse 23 is that the current dwelling of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in an obedient believer’s life is a foretaste of God’s dwelling with us and in us in His eternal kingdom on the new earth (Revelation 21:1-3). 2 “Salvation means we are going to heaven, but submission means that heaven comes to us!” 3  Notice that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not based upon obedience, but upon belief in Christ (cf. John 7:37-39).

Christ then said, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:24). If there is no love for Jesus, there is no obedience. Love to the apostle John is not an abstract emotion, but an action. Those who disobey Christ will miss out on knowing Him more intimately. Their relationship with Him will be more superficial. If you disagree with Jesus, He informs you that you also disagree with His Father who “sent”Him because Jesus’ teaching originated from His Father in heaven.

How many of you are married? How many of you believe you know your spouse better today than you did on your wedding day? How did that come about? Through shared time and experience and communication. Jesus says if we keep His commandments, He will “manifest”or reveal more of Himself to us (John 14:21, 23). This is much like a friendship with another person. Through shared time and experience, the person opens up to you in a more intimate way. Also, as we obey Jesus, we will experience God the Father’s and God the Son’s love for us in a deeper way. So to know God intimately is to know His love more intimately since “God is love”(I John 4:8). If we are not developing a more intimate relationship with Jesus, it is probably because we are not living in obedience to Him. If that is the case, simply confess your sin to God (I John 1:9) and trust Christ to help you obey Him.

A story in Leadership magazine illustrates how the Holy Spirit can help us when we feel all alone. “Jackie Robinson was the first black to play major league baseball. Breaking baseball’s color barrier, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error. The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Then, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.” 4

How often has our Helper, the Holy Spirit, given us the support we needed when we felt abandoned and all alone? Maybe we were discouraged and ready to quit, but then we sensed His comforting presence. Or perhaps He gave us the support we needed through a Christian friend. Jesus wants us to know that we can be certain the Holy Spirit is always standing alongside, ready and able to help. If you have the Holy Spirit on the inside, you can stand any battle on the outside.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the free gift of everlasting life which is received simply by believing in You alone. But to enjoy deeper fellowship with You, I must obey Your commands. Lord, You know my heart better than anyone, including myself. You know that I like to be in control because I feel so vulnerable when I am not. Because I long to know You and Your love more intimately, I want to surrender all control to You. Right now, I voluntarily surrender everyone and everything to You, my Lord and my God. The more I love and obey You, the more I can experience closeness with You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Thank You for disclosing more of Yourself to me as I live for You. Although I sin every day, Your shed blood on the cross makes it possible for me to enjoy close fellowship with You the moment I confess my sins to You (I John 1:7, 9). Thank You for Your cleansing truth and grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans; CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1803.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 446.

3. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 353.

4. https://bible.org/illustration/2-timothy-18.

How can I overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus? Part 3

“Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” John 8:51

So far we have learned that to overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus we must analyze Christ’s opponent’s accusations with God’s Word (John 8:48-49) and aim for God the Father’s approval (John 8:50). Today we discover that we are to ASK THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST’S PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE (John 8:51-53). Christ says to His unbelieving audience, “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (John 8:51). This does not mean that a person must completely obey all of God’s Word to earn eternal life because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught in the gospel of John about how to receive eternal life (cf. John 3:15-18; 4:10-14;  5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-38; 8:45-46). Nor is Jesus saying believers will never experience physical death. In the context, the word “keeps” (tēréō) means to pay careful attention to what Jesus says about receiving eternal life.

For example, in John 6:47, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” In John 11:26, Jesus promised, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” The apostle John also writes in I John 2:23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Christ promises that those who keep His word by believing in Him for everlasting life shall never see eternal death. When a believer in Jesus dies physically, he or she (their spirit) is immediately taken into the presence of the Lord.

“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Christians can be confident that the moment they die (“be absent from the body”) their spirit will go to “be present with the Lord” while their body sleeps in the grave (cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-17). I can be assured, that “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23). Physical death for the believer in Jesus is not the end. It is actually a new beginning for Christians as they transition into eternity in the presence of our Lord where there will be no more sin or death for them (cf. I Corinthians 15:51-57; I John 3:2-3).

Non-Christians cannot understand the things of God because they do not have the Spirit of God (cf. I Corinthians 2:11b-14). Thus, the best place to start with unbelieving opponents to the truth about Jesus, is to share the gospel with them so they can be saved and receive the Holy Spirit who can enable them to understand and believe the truth about Jesus (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27).

Jesus’ unbelieving audience mistakenly think He is claiming that those who keep His word will never die physically. They respond to this invitation with more unbelief toward Jesus. “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” (John  8:52). They think their previous accusation against Jesus has just been confirmed (cf. John 8:48). “Only a demon-possessed man would claim to have more power than Abraham and the prophets who all died, yet in the face of these facts Jesus claims that the one who keeps His word ‘shall never taste death’ or experience physical death? If these righteous ones to whom God gave great privileges were not delivered from physical death, such deliverance was impossible.

They continue, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). Their question expects a negative answer and means, “Surely, Jesus, You are not greater than our founding father, Abraham, or the prophets, who are dead. If keeping Your words prevents physical death, then You are claiming to be greater than those who died.” Ironically, Jesus was greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall see in the next few verses.

Before I became a Christian at the age of nineteen, the claims of Jesus did not make much sense to me because I did not have God the Holy Spirit inside me to help me understand the meaning of Scripture and how it applies to my life. But the moment I believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the Bible came alive for me. As I read the Bible each day, certain truths would jump off the pages of my Bible and burn in my heart. Jesus’ gift of everlasting life was my new norm and reality.

One of the most important ways we can overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus is to invite unbelievers to believe Christ’s promise of everlasting life to all who believe in Him so they can receive the best Teacher in the universe – God the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27). He can remove Satan’s blinders (2 Corinthians 4:4) so they can see and embrace the truth about Jesus Christ – that He is much greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall learn in the next few verses.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You so much for showing me that I do not need to be afraid to share the truth about Jesus with those who are hostile to the truth. For I am guaranteed never to taste eternal death the moment I believe in Him Who is greater than Abraham and the prophets! Thank You Holy Spirit for removing the blinders from my heart and my mind so I could see Jesus for Who He truly is! He is the promised Messiah-God! He is the Alpha and the Omega! The Beginning and the End! He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace! Please give me the wisdom and boldness to point people to Jesus Who alone can rescue them from sin and death the moment they believe in Him. I love You, my Lord and my God. Though I long to be in Your presence in heaven, I also know You are not finished with me yet on earth. Please use me to introduce millions to Your Son. In His everlasting name I pray. Amen.

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