How can we face challenges with courage? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 542. 

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

4. Ibid., pg. 1.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 2

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:14

Last time we learned the first way to be Jesus’ friend was to live in His love (John 15:9-11). Today we discover that the second way to be Jesus’ friend is to LOVE as HE LOVED (John 15:12-17). To help His disciples understand this command to abide in His love, He repeated something He had said before. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). You may ask,What is Jesus’ love like?”

a. IT IS UNCONDITIONAL (John 15:12; cf. 13:1-11; Luke 22:24). Earlier, the disciples had been fighting among themselves about who was the greatest among them (cf. Luke 22:24). Jesus then humbly washed their dirty feet (John 13:1-11). Christ loved them even though they did not deserve it. Christ’s love was not a response to our love. He loves us even if we never loved Him back. Jesus loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes Jesus love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If Jesus waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that Jesus loved you and me first. His love does not require that you love Him back.

If we are going to love one another as Jesus loved us, then we must love one other whether we deserve to be loved or not. God’s love is not an emotion. “You can love people whom you may not necessarily like because love is not dependent on your feelings. That’s why Jesus can command  to ‘love your enemies’ ” (Matthew 5:44).” 1 Love is a choice to do what is best for another person. Christ living in us wants to unconditionally love others through us.

b. IT IS SACRIFICIAL (15:13). Next Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The greatest love of all was to give up your life for your friends. In the context, this must refer to Jesus’ upcoming death on the cross (cf. John 10:11, 15, 17-18; 12:32-33; 13:1ff). This is the greatest expression of friendship.

“There was an orphanage near an American Marine Base in Viet Nam. One day the Viet Cong fired mortar shells into the orphanage, killing dozens of children and wounding many more. A boy named Kai had a seriously wounded friend who needed a blood transfusion. Kai’s friend had a rare blood type and only Kai’s blood matched it. Little Kai had never heard of a blood transfusion but when the American doctors explained it would save his friend’s life, little Kai volunteered.

“As the blood began to flow from Kai to his friend, Kai began to whimper. When the doctors asked if it hurt, he said no. A little later he whimpered again. Again, he told the doctors it did not hurt. The doctors asked, ‘What’s wrong, Kai?’ With tears coursing down his light brown, dusty cheeks, Kai asked, ‘When am I to die, sir, when am I to die?’ You see, little Kai didn’t know that you only give a little blood. He thought you gave it all, and he was willing to do so for his little friend.” 2

Are we willing to sacrifice for one another? Men, it may mean giving up a game of basketball or a TV show to listen to someone share their problems with you. Ladies, it may involve laying aside that intriguing novel to listen to your neighbor process a misunderstanding they had with someone. When a need arises among the people in your life, reach out to help them in love.

c. IT IS OBEDIENT (John 15:14). Jesus would give His life for His friends. Who are His friends? “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus’ friends are those believers who keep His commandments. We may say that Jesus is our best Friend, but would He say we are His friends? The true test of friendship with Christ is obedience to “whatever” He commands you to do. Friendship with Christ is a discipleship issue, not a salvation issue.

Twice Abraham was called a friend of God in the Old Testament: by God (Isaiah 41:8) and by men (2 Chronicles 20:7).  James 2:21-23 explains why Abraham was justified before men by works when he offered up his son, Isaac. Works justify us before men, but not before God (cf. Romans 4:2). Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) over twenty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). The faith that justified him before God was matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac (James 2:22) and filled full of meaning (James 2:23a). Men could declare Abraham to be a “friend of God” because they saw that he had an intimate relationship with God through his obedience. So friendship with God is based upon obedience.

Do people know that we are friends of Christ because of our obedience to Him? Our obedience to Jesus is a compelling testimony to the world that we are vitally connected to Him, especially when we keep His commandment to love one another. Our friendship with Christ is realized by others through our actions. This means we love one another whether we feel like it or not. But instead of ignoring our feelings, we are to deal with them so we can be available to love others. We need to experience God’s love and power before we can love others with His love.

d. IT COMMUNICATES TRUTH (15:15). Then Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). During their time together, Jesus viewed these men as servants and Himself as their Master. The responsibility of a servant was to submit to the will of his master. A servant is nothing more than an instrument. He simply does what he is told because he has no other choice. He does not have a close relationship with his master, as friends do. The servant does not know the personable issues about his master’s life. He just follows orders.

But now Jesus calls His disciples “friends.” Why? He says, “For all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” These men who had been Jesus’ servants were now His friends because He had kept nothing back from them. He had revealed all that the Father had made known to Him (cf. John 14:21). A master shares his will with his servants. But a friend shares his heart with his friends. “There are no secrets between friends.” Christ shared His heart with His disciples, so they could bear fruit to the glory of His Father.

Many years ago, a Christian writer went through a deep period of doubt and temptation. He questioned his ministry, his qualifications, his marriage, his salvation. Anguished and burdened, he finally went to a friend and confessed his feelings. As they talked and prayed together over the course of several weeks, his perspective returned. Peace came into his heart, and he experienced the joy of the Lord again. 

If we can receive this kind of help from talking with a friend, how much more beneficial would it be to be completely open with the Lord Jesus? He is the Best of friends. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “If we are friends of God, we shall have no secrets from Him. There are very few of those who are dearest to us to whom we could venture to lay bare all the depths of our hearts. There are black things down in the cellars that we do not like to show to any of our friends… But you should take God all through the house. And if there is the trust and the love that l have been speaking about, we shall not be afraid to spread out all our foulness, and our meanness, and our unworthy thoughts of, and acts towards, Him, before His ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment,’ and say, ‘Nobody but my best friend could look at such a dungheap, but I spread it before Thee… Tell God all, if you mean to be a friend of His.” 4

Christ did not withhold any truth from His disciples. There were no secrets between Him and His friends. Close friends communicate openly and honestly. Even though the truth may hurt at times, it is better to share it than to conceal it. Concealing the truth allows the situation to worsen. I appreciate it when my wife is open and honest with me about her true feelings. It shows me that she cares about our relationship. Friendship involves open communication. As we abide in Christ, He can enable us to share openly with one another.

e. IT TAKES THE INITIATIVE (15:16). Jesus continued and said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16a). Christ took the initiative in choosing His disciples to “go and bear fruit.” Normally disciples choose their own teacher, but Jesus chose them. All around the world today, students seek out the teachers of their choice and attach themselves to them. But Christ’s disciples did not take the initiative. After spending all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12-16), Jesus “chose” His disciples and “appointed” them to their mission to “go and bear fruit.” Notice that Jesus did not “choose”them to be saved or to have eternal life. His selection of them was related to their mission and ministry, not their salvation. John’s gospel never refers to people “being chosen from all eternity for eternal life or death.” 7

The divine election of God in the Bible is related to service, not salvation. In the Old Testament, God chose individuals to serve Him such as Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3:12; Numbers 16:5-6, 28), Aaron (Numbers 17:5), King David (2 Samuel 6:21; 1 Kings 8:16), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and the Messianic Servant (Isaiah 49:5-9; 52:13-53:12). He chose a group of people, Israel, to continue the mission He began with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8; Psalm 33:12; 106:5; Isaiah 43:10; 45:4; 65:9, 22; cf. Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20; Luke 18:7; Romans 9:11; 11:28; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 2:4).

In the New Testament, Jesus chose Twelve men to serve as His apostles (Luke 6:12-16; John 15:16). The fact that Judas was chosen by Christ demonstrates that this election was to service, not salvation since Judas never believed in Jesus (cf. John 6:64; 13:10-11; 17:12). Christ said that Paul was “a chosen vessel of Mine” to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Peter was also chosen for service: “God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7-8). 10

Just as Jesus took the initiative in choosing His disciples for their mission and service, so we must do the same in our relationships with one another. The importance of choosing believers to train in discipleship is underscored by the fact that Christ prayed all night to God on a mountaintop before He selected His disciples (cf. Luke 6:12-16). We need God’s wisdom and leading to choose men and women who will be “faithful” followers of Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).

Are we sharing the gospel with non-Christians and then asking them to meet with us for discipleship? We must be intentional about sharing the gospel with the lost and then teaching those who believe in Christ to obey all of His commandments (Matthew 28:20) because disciples are not born, they are made. 11  Christian growth is not automatic. It requires a commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the costs (cf. Luke 14:25-33).

Finally, f. IT BEARS FRUIT THAT LASTS (15:16b-17). “And that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16b). Christ also “chose”and “appointed” His disciples that they “should… bear fruit… that… should remain.” This fruit is related to the fruit of evangelism because it remains and cannot be lost (cf. John 4:36; 10:28-29). One of the most unloving things we can do is keep God’s love and His gospel to ourselves. This lasting fruit is also connected to answered prayer – “that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” To ask the Father in Jesus’ “name” means to pray for what Jesus would pray. God desires that all people be saved from hell (I Timothy 2:3-4). When we pray to that end, God answers that prayer. Prayer is the backbone to reaching the lost with the gospel of Christ. As God’s people pray, the Holy Spirit prepares the lost to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11).

When we pray and preach the gospel, God saves people as they respond in faith, resulting in lasting “fruit.” How exciting to see people come to faith in Christ! As we allow Jesus to live through us, our desire to see people obtain eternal life will increase. This week you may be asked by another believer to go with them to share the gospel with a family member or friend. Or maybe someone will ask you to pray for an individual that they just shared the gospel with. Next Christ says, “These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17). The way to honor Christ’s Lordship in our lives is to obey Him especially as it relates to loving one another. And as we obey Him, people can see that we are His friends.

After one of the worst battles of the American Civil War, a small remnant of a Confederate regiment stood alone on a grassy knoll. A Southern officer on horseback approached the small band of soldiers. “Where is your captain?” the officer inquired. “There he lies,” they said, pointing to his lifeless form a few feet away. “And what are you men doing here?” the officer asked. “Sir, we are paying our respects, giving him our final salute. He told us to hold this hill, and we have done just what he said.” What loyalty! The proof of their allegiance was complete obedience to his orders.

As Christians, we should also remember our great Captain, Jesus Christ. Although He died, He does not remain on the field of battle. He rose again and lives victoriously at the right hand of God the Father! He freely gave His life that He might save us and bring us to God. This is all the more reason to give Him our total commitment to obey Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, no one deserves our allegiance more than You! Thank You for laying down Your life for me. No greater love has ever been shown to me than this. Right now I give You everyone and everything to use for Your purposes. Please help me to abide in You and You in me so Your love will flow through me to others. This world could use a lot more of Your love. May they know I am Your friend by my love for You and others, especially the lost who need to hear Your life-giving gospel message. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

2. See https://bible.org/illustration/john-1513 on April 17, 2018.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 443.

4. Taken from Alexander Maclaren’s sermon on James 2:14-26 entitled, “Faith Without Works” at http://www.preceptaustin.org/maclaren_on_james_2.

5. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 326.

6. Shawn Lazar, Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017), pg. 140.

7. Ibid., pg. 147.

8. Shawn Lazar’s article, “Election for Baptists: Why Biblical election is to service and privilege, not to eternal life,” at https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/election-for-baptists-why-biblical-election-is-to-service-and-privilege-not-to-eternal-life/; cf. Robert Wilkin, “THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE ELECTION RECONSIDERED: ELECTION TO SERVICE, NOT TO EVERLASTING LIFE,” at https://faithalone.org/journal/2012ii/Wilkin.pdf; cf. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 151-212.

9. Lazar, Chosen to Serve…, pp. 41-55, 175-199.

10. Lazar, “Election for Baptists…”

11. see Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Notes, no. 23, “Are Disciples Born, or Made?” at http://www.gracelife.org/ resources/gracenotes/?id=23.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 1

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:10

Several years ago, an English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of entries received were some of the following:

“One who understands our silence.”

“A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.”

“A watch which beats true for all time and never runs down.”

But the entry which won the prize said, “A friend – the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” 1

Often times we speak or sing about what it means to have Jesus as our Friend. But in these verses (John 15:9-17), we are going to discover what it means to be Jesus’ friend. It may surprise us to learn that not all Christians are friends with Jesus. A person can be a child of God without being a friend of God. How can we be Jesus’ Friend?

The first way is to LIVE IN HIS LOVE (John 15:9-11). Jesus and His disciples had just left the Upper Room and were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31). Jesus used the analogy of the vine and its branches to teach them the secrets of having a fruitful ministry (John 15:1-8). They were to abide in Him and remain in vital contact with Him by obeying His commandments to glorify God the Father through the bearing of much fruit. Jesus’ disciples could not bear fruit apart from Christ. They were totally dependent on Him.

Christ then said to His disciples, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9). Love is the relationship that unites the disciples (and us) to Jesus as branches are united to a vine. Jesus refers to His love for them to motivate them. He first tells them that His love for them is like the Father’s love for Him (cf. John 3:35; 5:20). The Father gave His Son all authority to accomplish His purposes. He always sought the best for His Son.

Likewise, Jesus always sought the best for His disciples. He still does this with us. Jesus’ love for us has purpose. It is meant to benefit us, but it is not painless. For example, God the Father loved Jesus, but sent Him to suffer and die to benefit those who believed in Him. The Bible tells us, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). God’s love for us does not mean we will never have pain or difficulties. In fact, pain can be an expression of God’s love for us. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens.” God uses His painful discipline in our lives, so we may be “partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

Next, Jesus commands them (and us), “Abide in My love. The word “abide” (menō) is a fellowship term and means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” We are to constantly make our home in Jesus’ love for us. Abiding is not easy, yet where we make our home is where we spend our time. We must make the effort to abide in the truth of Scripture that God loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). People may stop loving us and even reject us, but God will never stop loving us. No one and nothing can separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)! Because this is a command, it is possible for a believer not to abide in God’s love.

How do we abide in Jesus’ love? Is this something mystical? Not at all. It is very simple. ““If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10). We abide in Jesus’ love by keeping His commandments. Loving Christ in this way is not an emotion. It is a choice of the will. An example of this love is Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father’s commands. Jesus had uninterrupted fellowship with His Father through obedience to His commands. As we receive and appreciate Jesus’ love for us, we will be more motivated to obey Him (cf. I John 4:19). This is not a system of rigid rules, it is a loving relationship with Jesus. Our love for Christ is a result of His love for us. We cannot give what we do not possess.

Before we can love Jesus in this way, we must first receive His love for us. The more you know God, the better you love Him and people. John says in I John 4:7-8, “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” You cannot give what you do not have. “God is love.” If you have Him, you have love. If you do not have Him, you only think you have love because God not only cornered the market on love, He is the market on love!

Those who have this kind of love are “born of God and know God” (I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before we can ever produce this kind of love in our relationships, we must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have thought, said, and done – separate us from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23). This separation from God causes problems in every area of our lives – including our relationships. No amount of our good works can bring us back to God because we are still sinners.

But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by paying for all our sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). The Lord now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for eternal life. He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). It doesn’t matter how badly you have messed things up, you can come to Christ just as you are.

Just as you trust a chair through no effort of your own to hold you up off the floor, so God now invites you to trust in Jesus Christ alone through no effort of your own to give you eternal life and complete forgiveness of sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). The good things you have done will not save you. Only Jesus can save you from your sins. The moment you place your faith in Jesus alone for eternal life, you become God’s child (John 1:12) and God comes to live inside of you (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20) and love you always. As you get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into your life through His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22a), so you can begin to love others.  You may be ready to receive God’s love right now. Simply believe in Jesus to give you everlasting life (John 6:47).

Once you have come close to God by trusting in Jesus alone as your Savior, the key is to stay close. Get to “know Him” (I John 4:7b) by spending time with Him. Staying close to God is not complicated. This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I have to have my bucket filled. And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more love I have to share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and trust the person again, to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you cannot stand being in the same room with the person who has hurt you in the past. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled.  

You say, “How do I do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in His love letter to you, the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. Treat Him like a close friend, and you will become a close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you’ll discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you. Go to church so you can hang out with the people who hang out with God. Join a small group where you can hang out more intimately with a few of God’s friends.

Jesus spoke about remaining in vital contact with Himself and His love so that we could experience His joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). The Lord did not intend for His disciples’ lives to be burdensome and boring. He intends for us to know the same joy He knew when He was obedient to the will of God the Father. He wants our joy to “be full”or brought to completion.

Our greatest joy is walking in obedience to Jesus Christ. The joy of Christ is the joy that arises from the sense of a finished work. It is a creative joy, like the joy of an artist or carpenter when he or she finishes a project. When your masterpiece is finished, there is great joy over its completion. Discipleship is not meant to be some shallow, miserable experience of following rules. It is meant to be a life characterized by joy or gladness which arises out of a loving relationship with the Lord.

But if a believer is not abiding in Christ through obedience, especially as it relates to loving one another, there will be a lack of joy in his or her life. Disobedience to God reduces our joy and increases our sense of shame and guilt. You cannot rejoice while you are wallowing in shame.

Take time this week to hang out with Jesus and His friends. Your life will be more full of joy and someone else may also get a lift.

Prayer: Precious Lord and Savior, thank You for Your profound love for me. People may stop loving me, but You never have nor will! Let’s get together in the morning. I want to hear what You have to say to me. My love tank is running a little low right now, and it could use a refill. Thank You, Jesus. See You in the morning! In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Karol & Terry Ladd, The Power of a Positive Friend (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Co., 2004), pp. 31-32.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

.

How can we calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world? Part 4

“But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” John 14:31

In our study of John 14:25-31, we have learned so far that we can calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world by focusing on…

– The promise of insight from the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26).

– The peace of Christ (John 14:27).

– The prophetic word of Christ (John 14:28-29).

Finally, we can calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world by focusing on THE PRESCRIBED WILL OF GOD (John 14:30-31). The night before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” (John 14:30). Jesus was not going to teach them much longer because Satan, “the ruler of this world,” was moving his forces against Christ through Judas.

Tony Evans explains how Satan became “the ruler of this world”: “When Adam and Eve sinned [Genesis 3:1-7], they gave up their role as king and queen, ruling creation on God’s behalf, and turned it over to Satan. Therefore, the devil is appropriately called ‘the ruler of this world,’ ‘the god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4), and ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ (Eph 2:2). He holds ‘the power of death’ and keeps people in slavery by ‘the fear of death’ (see Heb 2:14-15). But Satan had no power over Jesus (14:30) because Jesus is without sin. The Son of God became a man so that he might defeat the devil as a man and restore God’s kingdom rule.” 1

As the “ruler of this world,” Satan seeks to desensitize people to their need for God through the world system’s human governments, economies, educational systems, media, entertainment industries, and false religious systems. He will use these systems to manipulate peoples’ thoughts and feelings so they are drawn away from the true God and led down a path toward self-destruction.

When Jesus says that Satan “has nothing in Me” (John 14:30b), He is saying that the Devil has nothing in common with Him. There was no sin in Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18) for Satan to take hold of like there is in us. Because Jesus was and is God (John 1:1; 5:18-47; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9; 20:28-29; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), Satan could not deceive Christ to yield to temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15). There had to be a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world, and Jesus was that sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). “Satan thought Jesus’ death was a victory for him, but actually it was Jesus’ victory over Satan (John 16:11; Colossians 2:15).” 2 One day Jesus Christ is coming back to earth to restore His perfect rule on the earth (Psalm 2; Revelation 19:11-20:6). What a glorious day that will be!!!

Then Christ said, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” (John 14:31). Jesus would enter this conflict with Satan not because He would be overpowered by the evil one, but because He was always obedient to His Father in heaven. Jesus’ death on the cross would show “the world” that He loves His Father. It shows His submission to His Father’s will (cf. Philippians 2:8). Christ could have avoided His enemies and the cross, but instead He was willing to face them as He says, “Arise, let us go from here.” Jesus could have said, “Arise, let us flee to the mountains for refuge while we still can!” But He does not. Instead, He calmly went to Gethsemane and the cross (cf. Luke 22:39-23:47; John 18:1-19:30) because He knew that He was doing the “commandment” that His Father “gave Him.

Likewise, if we know that we are doing what God has commanded us to do, we can calm our troubled hearts even when we face fierce opposition or difficult circumstances. But if we are deliberately living in disobedience to God’s commands, we cannot expect to calm our troubled hearts. In fact, we can expect to have more trouble and anxiety because we are not living as God wants us to live. His discipline may cause our hearts great anguish and pain (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Two artists set out to paint a picture representing perfect peace. The first painted a canvas depicting a carefree boy relaxing in a boat on a little placid lake without a ripple to disturb the surface. The second artist painted a raging waterfall with winds whipping the spray about. But on a branch of a tree overhanging the swirling waters a bird had built its nest and it sat peacefully brooding over her eggs. Here she was safe from her predatory enemies, shielded and protected by the roaring waterfall. This is real peace – the result of remaining calm in the midst of raging trials and difficulties in life. And this is the peace and calm that Jesus can give to us in a chaotic world when we focus on the promises of insight from the Holy Spirit, the peace of Christ, the prophetic word of Christ, and the prescribed will of God.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) Who can calm our troubled hearts amidst great stress in our chaotic world. Some of the stress we face is due to our disregard for God’s will in our lives. The more we disobey the Father’s will, the more chaos we will experience in our own lives as we try to live life independently of Him. Satan has designed the world system to mislead us away from You. Thank You for bringing me back to You, my Lord and my God. You are not only a perfect Savior, You are also a perfect Friend Who wants to calm our troubled hearts. But we are responsible to create space for You in our lives so we can focus our hearts and minds on Your promise of insight from the Holy Spirit, Your peace which surpasses human understanding, Your prophetic word about the future, and Your prescribed will for our lives. Thank You for helping us center our lives around You once again. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 325.

3. Many students of the Bible interpret Jesus’ words, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31b), as an indication that Jesus ended His teaching here, and that He and the Eleven left the upper room immediately (see Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Authorized Version with Introduction and Notes, [1880 London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958], pg. 211; Robertson, Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932], pg. 256; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV., Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, pg. 464.) They view the teaching and praying that we find in John 15-17, as happening somewhere on the way to Gethsemane – before Jesus’ arrest (cf. John 18:1). Some Bible students see this phrase referring not to a change in location but to a change in anticipation especially in view of John 18:1, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” Constable writes, “Anyone who has entertained people in their home, knows that it is very common for guests to say they are leaving, and then stay quite a bit longer before really departing. Why would John have recorded this remark if it did not indicate a real change of location? Perhaps he included it to show Jesus’ great love for His followers that the following three chapters articulate.  Another view is that when Jesus got up from the table, He prefigured His resurrection, and what follows in this discourse deals with post-resurrection realities: ‘There must be resurrection-life before there can be resurrection-fruit.’ The time of departure from the upper room is not critical to a correct interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. (see Dr. Tom Constable’s Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 279; cf. Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991], pg. 479; Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Vol II, [Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973], pg. 393).

How can we calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world? Part 2

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 

I am currently reading a book by John Eldredge entitled Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices For A World Gone Mad.” On the back cover of the book it asks, “When was the last time you felt carefree?” For some of us it may be impossible to remember such a time because we are constantly in a rush because we prefer distraction. Eldredge writes, “The more distracted we are, the less present we are to our souls’ various hurts, needs, disappointments, boredom, and fears. It’s a short-term relief with long-term consequences. What blows my mind is how totally normal this has become; it’s the new socially acceptable addiction.” 1

One of the biggest distractions in our culture today is the phone. We can’t leave home without it. We can’t sleep without it. Unfortunately, some people cannot drive their vehicle without looking at it. When our phone notifications sound off, everything else comes to a halt! I learned from Eldredge today that every notification triggers the brain’s learned response to check out what news had just come in. He quotes from Susan Weinschenk’s article, “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter, and Google,” in Psychology Today, September 11, 2012:

“Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search…. It is the opioid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure…. The wanting system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop [Dopamine Loop]. The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied….  Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text…. The dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built in. It is possible for the dopamine system to keep saying ‘more more more,’ causing you to keep seeking even when you have found the information.” 2

We live in a society where people think you are crazy if you turn your phone off or fast from social media. But what would the Lord Jesus think of such practices? I believe He would applaud such disciplines because He understands that the world does not offer the kind of peace God wants His people to experience. To experience God’s peace, we must make space for God in our lives.

We are learning from Jesus how to calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world. The first way is to focus on the promise of insight from the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26). The second way to calm our troubled hearts is by focusing on THE PEACE OF CHRIST (John 14:27). Jesus not only promised the help of a Divine Teacher (John 14:26), but He also gave them peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). Christ refers to two kinds of peace in this verse. The first kind refers to His work on the cross. “Peace I leave with you.” The word “leave” (aphiēmi) implies something that Jesus does. Christ’s death on the cross would provide eternal “peace with God” (Romans 5:1) for us because all our sins would be forgiven (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). The Greek word for “peace” (eirēnēn) “is the spiritual well-being that results from being rightly related to God through Jesus Christ.” 3

Through His death on the cross, Jesus conquered Satan’s control of death (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15). Satan can no longer use peoples’ fear of death to enslave them to his will. Christians can now face death with the same confidence in God the Father that Jesus had (cf. I Peter. 2:21-24). Believers are assured of peace with God forever (cf. Colossians 1:19-21). “Having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20b) means causing God’s former enemies to become His children by faith.

Who are God’s enemies? “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.” (Colossians 1:21). Paul is referring to people as God’s enemies in this verse. You and I were His enemies before the Cross. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6). We need to be reconciled to God because of our sin. God does not need reconciling to us, we need reconciling to God. We turned away from God. He never moved. We moved. The people God created rebelled against their Creator and sinned so that death spread to all people because all sinned (Genesis 3:1-7; cf. Romans 3:23; 5:12-14, 18a).

Christ distinguishes His peace from the kind of peace the world can give – “not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27b). The world cannot offer eternal peace with God. The world denies that people need to be reconciled to God. The world says that people are inherently good because they are created in the image of God. “Because God loves everyone,” the world says, “There is no need for reconciliation with God.” The world offers a false peace to people. Sin has distorted God’s image in people. Some churches deny this because the world has influenced them to believe that people are inherently good and do not need a Savior.

The second type of peace in verse 27 is the kind that Jesus enjoyed on earth. He says, “My peace I give to you.” In the context (cf. John 14:21, 23), this peace of Christ’s is given to obedient believers. It arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.” 4  The world cannot give this kind of peace to us either.

The world offers a false peace that is deceptive and misleading. For example, a cartoon shows a man relaxing on his hammock near a tropical ocean. The sea appears to be as smooth as glass. A light breeze keeps the man comfortable. With his hand outstretched, he says to his wife, “Honey, hand me my tranquilizers, please.” This man has peace all around him, but he has no peace in his heart. The promises of the world are empty and powerless. The world says that more money, more possessions, more pleasure, more accomplishments, and power and fame will result in more peace. But we know of people with all these things who do not have inner peace.

Before we can possess this kind of peace, we must first receive peace “with God” through faith in Jesus for eternal life (Romans 5:1). Christ’s peace does not mean the absence of a storm. Jesus Himself was “troubled” (John 12:27) when He looked ahead to His crucifixion. He was “troubled” when He focused on Judas’ betrayal (John 13:21). Most people can be at peace when nothing is wrong. But Jesus is speaking of peace in the midst of the storm. This peace is a deep-seated calmness that stems from Christ’s presence and purpose in our lives. On the surface, you may feel uneasy and anxious in the midst of life’s storms, but deep down in your heart there is a calmness because you believe God is in control of all events.

For example, there may be a storm blowing over the surface of the ocean. But deep beneath the surface there is a calmness that is unaffected by the storm above. Jesus does not merely wish His disciples peace; He gives them His peace. No matter how troubled your heart is, and some of us may be deeply troubled – Jesus’ peace can calm your heart. Christ can give us peace in the midst of tribulation – at a time when we shouldn’t have any peace. This, of course, doesn’t come from the world.

It is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). When you face a storm, talk to Jesus Who can calm the storm in your heart with His spoken word. The One who calmed the wind and the waves with the words, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39), can also calm the emotional winds and waves that trouble our hearts. Keep your mind focused on Him. The Bible promises, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Next Jesus said,Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27c). In the coming hours, the disciples would have good reason to be “troubled.” Likewise, we will have experiences that prompt us to be afraid. But with a sovereign God ruling the world and “the peace of Christ” ruling in our hearts (cf. Colossians 3:15), we can overcome the storms that often trouble our hearts. 5

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am eternally grateful for the peace I now have with God which You made possible through the shedding of Your blood on the cross for all my sins. The world offers temporary peace through denial and escapism, but You offer lasting peace that is grounded in Your presence and purposes. Your peace escapes me when I seek to control situations and people. But when I surrender everything and everyone to You and refocus on Your promises, Your peace that surpasses human understanding floods my soul. Thank You for keeping Your promises. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices For A World Gone Mad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), pg. 47.

2. Ibid., pg. 46.

3. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 265.

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

5. Adapted from Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1804.

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 we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

5. Laney, pg. 261.

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

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 6

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:17

God created all people to connect with Him in a personal relationship. In our study of the gospel of John, we are now in a section where John’s primary focus is on developing an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (John 13-17). How can we develop a more intimate relationship with Christ? So far we have discovered that we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ when we…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

– Receive Jesus’ cleansing grace (John 13:6-11).

– Resolve to apply Jesus’ cleansing grace to others (John 13:12-15).

– Revere Christ’s Lordship (John 13:16).

This leads to the final way to experience the blessedness of intimacy with Christ – REMAIN OBEDIENT TO HIM (John 13:17). Jesus is not talking about perfection, but faithfulness to Him. Christ said to His disciples, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17). Christ says you will be “blessed” (makarioi) or find favor with God if you do more than “know” His teachings, but simply “do them.” Humble service provides benefits for both those being served and the one serving. For example, the most joyful Christians are not those who just know they are to humbly serve others, but those who actually practice humble service. Our joy increases because we know we are pleasing the Lord Jesus.

Not all Christians are blessed in this way because not all Christians are obedient to Christ’s commands. James reminds us that we are “deceiving” ourselves if we think we can grow in our Christian lives if we are “hearers only” of God’s Word instead of becoming “doers of the word” (James 1:22).

In March 2017 my wife and I went to an island in the middle region of the Philippines, and we were deeply refreshed when we went to a church in a remote mountain area to preach and conduct a discipleship training seminar there. When we arrived at the church, we were warmly greeted by a very gentle and humble pastor. During the worship service after the message and communion, the church honored this pastor for his faithful service there for thirteen years. Many people praised God for this pastor’s patience and understanding. When God’s people feel loved by their pastor, they will gladly follow his leadership. I learned later that previous pastors had been there an average of only two to three years, but this pastor had far exceeded those ministries and the people were so appreciative of this.

After enjoying a delicious piece of Casava pie during lunch that was cooked by the pastor, he took me on a hike up a nearby mountain to show me where his church members live. Many of them must hike great distances just to come to church. But they were willing to make that sacrifice to be under the refreshing and rejuvenating ministry of the Lord through this humble servant. When we returned to the church, I enjoyed some scrumptious homemade ice cream prepared by this pastor before conducting our discipleship training seminar.

This man’s example of humble servanthood was a great inspiration to me. Time spent with him was very refreshing and rejuvenating. This pastor was a joy-giver, not a joy-taker. He loved to serve people. He was not threatened to have another pastor preach and teach his congregation. There was no pretense. No pressure to perform. Just a humble acceptance that encourages you to be the person God has made you to be.

Although I may not see him again in the Philippines before heaven, I think heaven will be filled with a lot of humble servants like this pastor. After all, the Lord Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 18:3-4).

God does not bless His servants for what they “know,” but for what they “do.” Obedience is not guaranteed among Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is asking us for more than humility. He is asking for humble service. Like Christ, we are to humbly serve others, especially when it involves getting dirty. Humble service is most needed when people are broken and hurting.

When Christ’s servants practice what they know to be true, they will find favor with God both now and at the Judgment Seat of Christ when they will be rewarded for their faithful obedience to Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). In a world where division and hate are the norm, how refreshing and rejuvenating it would be to have Christians humbly serving those with dirty feet.  

Prayer: Father God, I want to praise You for the Lord Jesus Christ’s example of servant leadership. Instead of coming to earth to be served, He came to serve people whose feet are dirty with sin and shame. How often I have mistakenly measured spirituality by how much I know instead of by how much I practice what I know. Thank You for exposing this lie in my life. Please forgive me for letting my culture influence me more than Your Word. I pray Your Holy Spirit will renew my mind with the blessedness of doing what I know to be true. As the song says, “Make me a servant today.” In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 5

“Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” John 13:16

One of the greatest dangers in our churches today is for religion to replace an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. By religion, I mean anything you may do for God that does not come from a heart that is intimately connected to the Lord.

How can we develop a more intimate relationship with Christ? So far we have discovered that we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ when we…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

– Receive Jesus’ cleansing grace (John 13:6-11).

– Resolve to apply Jesus’ cleansing grace to others (John 13:12-15).

The fifth way to experience the blessedness of intimacy with Christ is to REVERE CHRIST’S LORDSHIP (John 13:16). The apostle John now emphasizes the Lordship of Christ. “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” (John 13:16). Jesus reminds His disciples of their status as “servants” and the “sent.” If their Master and Sender does lowly services, then they the “slaves” and “sent ones” must not consider menial tasks beneath their dignity. Christ submitted to His Father and we are to submit to Him. If we refuse to follow Jesus’ example of humble service, then we are exalting ourselves above Him. We cannot experience intimacy with Christ if we refuse to place ourselves under His control as our Lord and Master.

We can say that Jesus is our Lord and Master but the true test is our actions. Christ said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We can talk all we want about the Lordship of Christ in our lives, but if our actions do not align with His will, our words are empty and meaningless. Our behavior expresses what we truly value. If we are not humbly serving others as Jesus did, then we are not placing ourselves under His Lordship.

Surrendering to Christ’s Lordship in our lives will happen more naturally as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. Relationship, not rules, is the basis of surrender to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are my source of joy and peace, not religious rules and rituals. Thank You for reminding me to keep my focus on You and not religion. You are my Lord and Master, and what You say to do is what matters most. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 7

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” John 11:39a

As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John (11:1-44), we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

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

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

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

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

– Discover Christ’s compassion (John 11:28-37).

The seventh reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DEMONSTRATE THAT OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST ACCESSES HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 11:38-44a). “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” (John 11:38). Again, Christ felt the same angry emotion (“groaning” – cf. 11:33) as He approached the tomb. He may have been angry that the Jews who came to comfort Mary did not believe He could raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:37). They thought He could overcome sickness but not death.

Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A large stone was placed over the entrance. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” (John 11:39a). To do so was to risk defilement according to Jewish law and customs. But Jesus is not bound by man-made laws or customs. The people standing next to Jesus may have thought, “Doesn’t He have the power to move this stone?” Yes, He does, but He did not use that power to move the stone. Why? Because their obedience was necessary for them to realize and experience Jesus’ resurrection power.

“Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ ” (John 11:39b). Lord, Lazarus already stinks. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless!” When we see death, we see no further. But Jesus sees beyond death to life. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:40). Christ called Martha “to demonstrate her faith in Him by her action – allowing the stone to be removed. Jesus didn’t want her explanations about bodily decay; He wanted her to walk by faith, putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Then, demonstrating the “glory of God” would be up to Jesus. Faith must precede sight if we want to see God’s supernatural intervention in our circumstances. We can never know what God plans to do in secret until we obey what He has clearly revealed.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 1791. All the people there would see this miracle. Only those who believed would see God’s glory revealed in the raising of Lazarus.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ ” (John 11:41-42). Jesus had already pleaded Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ case to the Father. This is the second time He had prayed about it. He states this so those around Him can believe the Father sent Him.

Jesus’s prayer for His Father’s supernatural intervention also illustrates His current intercessory work of deliverance for believers when we respond in faith and obedience (cf. Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. The Father responds to what the Son endorses. When we face disappointments, Christ prays for us (cf. Luke 22:31-32). He can overcome our circumstances even when there seems to be no hope.

Earlier Jesus had said that men would hear His voice and come out of their graves (John 5:28) and that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16, 27). “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” (John 11:43). If Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name, all the dead would have come out of their graves. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44a). The One who is the Resurrection and the Life revealed His power by summoning Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus did not come out by his own power, but by the power of the One who commanded him to come out. This is the glory of God! Only God could reverse the process of decay and restore Lazarus from death to life.

If the people with Jesus had not obeyed His command to remove the stone over the entrance to Lazarus’ grave, they would not have witnessed the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, we must obey the Lord Jesus to experience His resurrection power in our daily lives. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:11, 13: 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers live “by the Spirit”through obedience to Christ (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1, 4-5; Galatians 5:16-26), they can experience Christ’s resurrection power to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. We cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless we walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot access Christ’s resurrection power unless we obey Him. When we face disappointments, we may not “feel” like obeying the Lord, but this is key to experiencing His resurrection power in our lives. Step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His power in your life.

This resurrection miracle is a beautiful picture of conversion. Lazarus was unable to raise himself from the dead. None of his friends or religious leaders could reverse his death. Likewise, before we become Christians, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) without the life of God. And our sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23). We are unable to come to God apart from His drawing (John 6:44a).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was giving us a foretaste of what is to come. One day, Lazarus would physically die again. But he would eventually participate in a future everlasting bodily resurrection whereby He would live with Jesus forever along with all who believe in Christ alone (John 11:25-26; cf. I Thessalonians 4:14-17)!  

Only Jesus Christ can give eternal life to people, and this gift is based upon His finished work on the cross, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; cf. Isaiah 64:6). We cannot save ourselves. Other people or religions cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. We receive eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Each time God saves a sinner He reveals His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible miracle which demonstrates that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. As the Resurrection, only Jesus can guarantee a future bodily resurrection that lasts forever to all who believe in Him. And as the Life, only He can give spiritual life that that never ends to all who believe in Him alone. Father, thank You for demonstrating that my obedience is necessary to experience Your resurrection power daily in my Christian life. I cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless I walk in obedience to Jesus. When I am tempted to sin, please help me to step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His resurrection power in my life to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to You. I also ask You to use me to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection power to all who are dead in their sins and separated from You. Please persuade them to believe in Jesus alone as the Resurrection and the Life so they may have eternal life in His name. In Jesus’ powerful life-giving name I pray. Amen.