How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 4

“Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” John 9:32-33

In this article we will discover another symptom and solution concerning spiritual blindness. Since the religious leaders could get nowhere with the healed man’s parents, they decide to talk to the former blind man a second time. “So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, ‘Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.’ ”(John 9:24). In the Pharisees’ minds, since the Law forbid working on the Sabbath and Jesus healed on the Sabbath, Jesus was a sinner. They tell the former blind man to “Give God the glory by telling the truth about Jesus – He is a sinner. Jesus just put clay on your eyes and told you to wash. God is the One who healed you,” they were saying. These religious leaders were trying to pressure everyone to be biased against Jesus by already determining (“we know”) that Jesus was “a sinner.”

According to those who are spiritually blind, to give God glory a person must call Jesus a sinner! How strange indeed is the thinking of the spiritually blind. The former blind man answered and said, ‘Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.’ ” (John 9:25). The healed man chose not to speculate about Jesus’ sinfulness. Rather than listen to the theological errors of the Pharisees, he focused on the truth. He knew that he had been blind but now he can see. No theological argument could change that. Regardless of a believer’s understanding of the nature of Christ’s Person, he or she can always testify to the way Jesus has changed his or her life.

Sometimes the best way to present the gospel to a non-Christian is through a personal testimony. Arguments for the existence of God and Christian apologetics have their place, but few arguments are as powerful as a personal testimony which describes how God’s grace has transformed one’s life.

“Then they said to him again, ‘What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?’ ” (John 9:26). The Pharisees asked the man to repeat his story again hoping to find a contradiction.Four times in this conversation the religious leaders asked the man how he gained his sight (cf. John 9:10, 15, 19, 26). Spiritually blind people are usually more concerned about the way a miracle was performed than they are about the person who performed the miracle.

“He answered them, ‘I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?’ ” (John 9:27). The relentless questioning of these religious experts exhausted the man’s patience. Realizing they were not wanting to know the truth but to acquire information to use against Jesus, the former blind man sarcastically asks if their request meant that they had a change of heart. Did they want to become His disciples like he had become? This man was not intimidated by these religious leaders because his testimony was based upon the truth.

The Pharisees realized the man saw through their ploy to unjustly condemn Jesus, so they verbally abused (“reviled”) him. “Then they reviled him and said, ‘You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples.’ ” (John 9:28). The Pharisees were so proud to think that they were right. Ironically, Jesus was more of a disciple of Moses than these Pharisees were. But the Pharisees could not believe Jesus was from God because in their estimation, Jesus broke God’s Law (actually their laws) when He healed the man on the Sabbath.

They continued, “We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” (John 9:29).Christ’s critics knew that God spoke to Moses and sent him, but they did not know by whom Jesus was sent. They boasted in what they knew about Moses just like many people today will boast about what they know to attempt to put themselves in a superior position to those who know Jesus. For example, when I was in college, an unbelieving religion professor said, “We all know, of course, that Jesus never claimed to be God.” By adding that little phrase, “of course,” he was insinuating, “Anyone with half a brain would know that what I am saying is true.” As a young believer at that time, I felt too intimidated to question his opinions in class.

The Pharisees would not follow Christ because they did not know His origin. Their ignorance of His origin was not due to a lack of information about Jesus because He had already revealed enough for them to know this (cf. John 5-8). Their ignorance of Christ’s origin was due to a willful rejection of Christ. Such is the case with non-Christians today. Their ignorance is not due to a lack of evidence concerning the identity of Jesus Christ. It is due to their willful rejection of Him.

The former blind man teaches these proud religious leaders, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes!” (John 9:30). Although his parents were afraid to speak the truth to the Pharisees, this man boldly challenges their illogical thinking! It is like he is saying, “Your ignorance of Jesus’ origin is more of a miracle than my cure! You are the experts and you do not know where my Healer is from?!” Their disbelief was incredible to him in light of the evidence!

This is the fourth symptom of spiritual blindness – DELIBERATELY REJECT CHRIST DESPITE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE ABOUT HIS IDENTITY (John 9:24-30). It is amazing how blind people can be to the truth about Jesus Christ. This is a heart issue not an intellectual issue. This incredible miracle should have overwhelmingly convinced the Jewish leaders of Christ’s identity, yet they denied this truth.

Even today unbelievers remain skeptical of the truth of Jesus Christ until the Holy Spirit causes them to see their need for Jesus. Until God removes the spiritual veil that blinds them to the truth about Jesus, they will not embrace Christ even though the evidence overwhelmingly points to Him as a supernatural Person!

The former blind man continues to teach the Pharisees by giving them a lesson on logic. “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” (John 9:31). When the healed man says, “We know,” he is referring to himself, the Pharisees, and the community. “We know that God does not hear sinners. He hears the righteous! If God does not hear sinners, then how could Jesus perform this miracle if He were a sinner?!” His logical argument in this verse can be summarized in this way:

1. Only God could heal congenital blindness.

2. Jesus healed congenital blindness.

3. Jesus must be from God.

Then the former blind man said, “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (John 9:32-33). The healing of a man born blind was never heard of. “Jesus could not have healed me, a healing unparalleled in history, unless He were from God. How else do you explain such supernatural activity, if it is not from God?” It is also amazing that this former blind man was able to see things so clearly in contrast to the Pharisees who were so prejudiced against Jesus. While there was no record in history up to that time of a person blind from birth being healed, the Old Testament did prophesy that the Messiah-God would heal the blind (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7).

This is the third way to overcome spiritual blindness – DISCERN THE TRUTH FROM ERROR (John 9:31-33). Instead of yielding to the error of the Pharisees, the beggar used reason and logic to hold fast to the truth and concluded that Jesus was from God.

What about you? Does your family or religious community question what Jesus has done in your life because they refuse to embrace the truth about Christ? Do their emotions or traditions guide their decisions about Jesus instead of logic, reason, and truth? Please know that their skeptical response to what Jesus has done in your life does not make it any less true. Truth is not truth because people vote on it. Truth is truth based on what God has revealed.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly claims to have been sent by God the Father to reveal the Father to us. John stated, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18). Jesus tells 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). God’s revelation of Himself to us centers in the Person of Jesus Christ, which we have in the written eyewitness testimony of the apostles. True spiritual knowledge of God is founded on knowing Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent to reveal Himself to us. Anything else is mere speculation.

Many years ago the head of a rescue mission in London accepted the challenge to debate a well-known skeptic, but with this condition: he would bring with him one hundred people who would tell how believing in Jesus changed their lives. He invited his opponent to counter with witnesses to the benefits of unbelief. On the appointed day the believer came with his one hundred witnesses, but the skeptic never showed up. (Our Daily Bread, 1999).

Your testimony about how Jesus has changed your life is one of the most powerful testimonies to those who are dying in their sins. Do not let the bullies and lies of this world keep you from sharing it. Christ is counting on you and the unsaved world needs you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, knowing You and making You known go together. The more I know You, the more I long for people to know You. Whether they be my intellectual superiors or not, I must share what You have done in my life because apart from You, they cannot know God the Father. They cannot have everlasting life. And they cannot be set free from the darkness that keeps them in bondage to sin. In Your name. Amen.

How can I overcome my sinful addictions? – Part 2

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” John 8:31-32

Addictions are often fueled by shame-based lies that are inserted into the limbic system of our (right) brains when trauma takes place in our lives. The limbic system is usually programmed by the time we are six years old. Our prefrontal cortex (our moral and impulse control system) of the (left) brain is not developed until we are twenty-five years of age. Over ninety-eight percent of the decisions we make in life are done subconsciously in the limbic system. So much of our lives are directed by patterns of the past.

Also, the limbic system is programmed to help us cope and survive, and coping behavior is at the core of addictive behavior. When we take sinful coping mechanisms and make them a lifestyle, we experience bondage.

Most addicts have wounds that were caused during childhood or adolescence that fuel their addictions as adults. For example, when a six-year old boy is brutally raped and then threatened by his rapist, Satan can easily insert a lie associated with that intense trauma that says, “This happened to me because I am bad.” That little boy grows up believing this lie. At the core of his being he believes he is flawed and that no one could possibly love him if they knew him. The shame from this lie leads him to turn to sexual addiction as an adult to numb the pain from his unresolved trauma.

Trauma comes in many forms and it can be experienced as a child and as an adult. High intensity trauma such as military combat, a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a family member, or divorce can leave deep wounds within one’s soul. But one does not have to experience intense trauma to struggle with shame-based lies and addictions. You may have experienced low intensity trauma that takes place frequently such as neglect, verbal rejection, minimal affection, teasing by a stepbrother, having few friends, etc. The cumulative effect of low intensity trauma can be just as damaging as high intensity trauma.  

However, not everyone who has an addiction has major wounds or trauma. Some people turn to addictions when they feel stressed to medicate their pain. In other words they have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms or sinful addictions to deal with their stress.

Our sinful addictions do not stop with believing in Christ for His gift of everlasting life. That is only the beginning. I must also CONTINUE IN CHRIST’S WORD (John 8:31-32). The Bible says, 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). To “abide” (menō) in Christ’s Word means “to continue or remain” in Jesus’ teaching – literally, “to make one’s home at.” Where we make our home is where we spend our time. The Jews knew a lot of Scripture, but they did not know the Author of the Scriptures. “Knowing the truth” means knowing Christ who is the truth (John 14:6; cf. 8:32, 36).

How do I abide in Christ’s Word? Early in my Christian life I learned a method of abiding in Christ’s Word that was primarily for my left brain, not my right brain or limbic system. That method basically focused on downloading biblical data into my left brain through reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture. But keep in mind that most of our decision making takes place in the right brain, albeit at an unconscious level. So if all I am doing is downloading Scripture into my left brain, I am going to experience little transformation. In the last year I have learned a new method of abiding in Christ’s Word that is for both the left and right parts of the brain. This method involves an acrostic, S.W.O.R.D., from Seven Pillars of Freedom by Dr. Ted Roberts:

S – Scripture. For over twenty years, I have read through the entire Bible each year. I was so busy reading through my required passages to get through the Bible in a year, that it became another hurried thing I did in my busy schedule. But now, I approach God’s Word meditatively – not to analyze or criticize the Word, but to be analyzed and challenged by God’s Word. So first, I write God’s Word down on paper. Writing it down will help your thoughts to slow down and focus on the truth of the Scripture.

W – Wait. Read the Scripture again on your knees if possible. Read it aloud slowly and attentively. Then pause to let the passage sink in. Read the Scripture again, this time asking yourself the following questions, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? Where am I in this passage?” Finally read the passage again noticing what word or words grab your attention. Focus on those words. Chew on them for a few minutes. We have a tendency to intellectualize Scripture instead of experience God’s Word. During the waiting, we want to involve multiple senses – sight, hearing, feelings, touch, etc., to come to our observation about God, ourselves, and others.

O – Observe. Take a seat and write down what you observed in the Scripture. When we journal the Scriptures, we retain sixty percent more of what we learn. What truth do you discover in these verses? How does God see me and how do I see God and me? This will clarify your thought processes and involve another whole section of your brain.

R – Request that the Holy Spirit help you see how all of this applies to your life. This is not an academic process but a process of the heart. You are specifically asking the Word to analyze you instead of you analyzing the Word. This often triggers a neurochemical cascade of new understanding where your mind is being renewed.

D – Dedicate. What helps us from being just touched by God to being transformed is the commitment of our heart and will. Trying harder will not get us headed in the right direction when it comes to freedom from our addictions. But once the Holy Spirit gets us headed in the right direction, dedicating ourselves to that direction in life will transform us.

We may avoid applying biblical truth because it is painful or difficult. Jesus said if you abide in His Word, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). But at first the truth may make you miserable! What is the opposite of truth? It is error or lies. God’s Word exposes the lies we believe that keep us enslaved to sin. The truth reveals our motives, points out our faults, rebukes our sin, and expects us to change. It is human nature to resist change, so applying God’s Word is hard work.

That’s why I cannot stress enough the importance of being a part of a discipleship relationship with other believers. In fact, notice what Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31b). The path to freedom from our addictions is discipleship. We were wounded in the context of relationships, and we are healed in the context of relationships – healthy relationships. We always learn from others truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God’s truth in a practical way. They can also help hold you accountable and I know I need that, don’t you?

Before I conclude this article, I want to give you an assignment to do. I want you to make a chart (see above) consisting of four columns and ten rows under each column’s heading. The first column is entitled “Worst Moments.” In this column, write down your ten worst or most painful moments in your life. The second column is entitled, “Limbic Lies.” In this column, write down the lie or lies attached to your worst moments. The third column is entitled “Scripture/Truth.” In this column, ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify the truth He wants you to apply to that painful moment in place of the lie you already identified. Write out the Bible verse and truth about yourself that it communicates. The fourth column is entitled “Destiny.” In this column, write down what that verse says about your destiny. Spend time this week speaking these truths when you find yourself thinking or speaking their corresponding lies.

Let me give you an example of this exercise. I will relate it to the six-year old boy I mentioned earlier. In the “Worst Moments” column, you would write, “When I was six years old, I was brutally raped.” In the “Limbic Lies” column, you might write, “I am bad because of what happened to me.” In the “Scripture/Truth” column, you could write, “I am precious to Jesus because of what happened to Him.” (Matthew 13:45-46; I Corinthians 6:19-20). In the “Destiny” column, you could write, “Because my worth is based on what Jesus has done and not what was done to me, I no longer need to try to prove my value through what I do.”

The more we abide in Christ’s Word, the more we shall know the truth which can set us free from the lies that fuel our sinful addictions. You may have been through some terrible trauma that has left you deeply wounded. Your life may be driven by shame-based lies that drive your sinful addictions. You may have asked yourself, “Where was Jesus when this happened to me?” I want to encourage you, if you are a believer in Jesus, to invite Him to walk with you through that trauma. And as you do this, ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer the following questions:

Where was Jesus when this happened to me?

What look do I see on His face?

And what truth would He say to me soon after this happened?

Christ cares for those who struggle with addictions. I believe the more we encounter the radical love of Jesus Christ amidst our trauma, the deeper His healing will be of our wounds. Healing that is based upon His truth. Getting the truth down into our souls is what brings change and freedom from sinful addictions. Knowing the truth is not just a point of head knowledge; it is relational, it is intimate, and it is expressed through action.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have taught me so much about what drives my sinful addictions. The primary fuel that has driven them are the wounds from unresolved trauma in my life and the lies attached to them. Lord Jesus, since You are God, You are able to walk with me through those wounds and the trauma that caused them. Thank You so much for speaking Your truth to me when You have walked with me through them. Some of my trauma is because of my own choices while some of my trauma is caused by the choices of others. Regardless of the cause, I pray the Holy Spirit will reveal any deception in my life that has caused me to remain in bondage. Please shed light on the dark places of my life, areas that no one else can seem to reach, not even those who love me the most. Cleanse me and soften my heart and help me renew my mind so that You can use me. Regardless of how painful this process may be or how long it takes, I commit myself into Your loving hands. I am so grateful to have a Father like You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

SHARING GOOD NEWS IN A FAKE NEWS SOCIETY

“Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” John 8:14

We are living in a “post-truth” era whereby objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals (see Tony Watkins’ article entitled, “CONTENDING FOR THE TRUTH AMIDST THE FAKE NEWS EPIDEMIC,” LAUSANEE GLOBAL ANALYSIS, July 2017, Volume 6/Issue 4). I am amazed at how much influence the media has over people today. People are more interested in fake news on social media than they are facts offered up by established news sources.

When emotional appeals take over from truth, a society is in big trouble. Katharine Viner says, “This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means … that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.” (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth).

The religious leaders that Jesus spoke to in the temple were not interested in the facts about Christ. They were more interested in themselves and keeping their followers. So rather than examine the facts about Jesus, they wanted to relate to Him according to their preconceived thoughts which were not based upon the truth. They were not about to adjust their beliefs about Christ to align with the facts.

With this said, we are now going to look at three implications from Jesus’ wonderful claim to be the light of the world (John 8:12). First, CHRIST’S CLAIM DEMANDS THAT WE DEAL WITH THE FACTS (John 8:13-20). In the verses that follow we can see something of the darkness that was keeping these men from coming to the light of Christ. It is interesting to note that the Pharisees do not focus on Jesus’ claim, but upon a legal technicality. “The Pharisees therefore said to Him, ‘You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.’ ”(John 8:13). The Pharisees said that Jesus’ witness was not valid, because He was bearing witness of Himself. Therefore, the testimony had no weight and was of no legal worth. But, was that the real issue? Was Jesus at court? No.

You know, it is hard to get the facts right when you don’t have the right information beforehand. This is definitely a problem the Pharisees had. And it is time they got the facts right. Like the Pharisees, millions of people are held in darkness due to ignorance of the facts about Jesus. Many have never heard of Jesus, and many of those who have heard of Him have heard a distorted, twisted, unreal picture of Him that makes Him appear to be what He is not in the Scripture. This should not surprise us because the Bible warns that in the latter days there will be many false teachers and prophets who misrepresent Jesus Christ and mislead people away from Him (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:4-5, 11, 23-26; I Timothy 4:1-2; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; I John 2:18-19, 22-23; 4:1-6). Because of this, it is very important that we see the true Jesus… that we get the facts right about Him.

Christ responds to the Pharisees, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” (John 8:14). Jesus says,“First of all, My testimony is valid because it is true. Even if I claim to be God Himself, that is no reason to reject Me. What you need to do is look for more evidence. Secondly, My knowledge about Myself is much greater than your knowledge about Me. I know more facts about Me than you do. I know who I am. I know where I have come from, and I know where I am going, but you are ignorant of these things”.

Have you noticed that people who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going, always seem to have a sense of confidence and security that enables them to stand up against the assaults and even the accusations of others? But people who don’t know who they are, who are not sure exactly where they came from and where they are going are wobbly and wishy-washy, uncertain and undependable. This is certainly true of Christians.

When Christians really believe what God says about them, when they refuse to listen even to their own feelings that lie to them about who they are, but they believe God has made them new creatures in Jesus Christ and they are free from the old life, the old sinful habits, they always have a tremendous sense of security and effectiveness in their lives. This is what our Lord had. What marvelous assurance He displayed as He moved with confidence and courage through all the opposition and strife that He lived through! That is why He can say to these Pharisees, “I know who I am but you do not.”

The third thing Jesus tells these men is, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” (John 8:15). Jesus is saying,“You reject My claims because you look only at appearances. You judge according to the flesh. You think I came from Nazareth, in Galilee, and for that reason you say I am not the Messiah. But you never investigated and found that I was born in Bethlehem, according to the word of the prophet. You don’t know Me at all. You judge by superficial things. You think that as the Messiah I am supposed to lead a revolt against Rome – and I will, in God’s time – but you never read the Old Testament that says many things have to come before that. I did not come to judge, but to save people.” Like many people today they were saying “No” to Jesus because of their ignorance of the facts.

Jesus continues,16 And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. 17 It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (John 8:16-18). “Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true because I do not act alone but in oneness with My Father. According to your Law, two witnesses are needed for a valid testimony in a court of law (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). I do have two witnesses – Myself and My Father, who is always with Me. If the witness of two men is valid, how much more the witness of God the Father and God the Son? So even if we do this according to your own rules, My testimony still proves valid,” Christ says.

Now Jesus has thoroughly answered their complaint. What will they do?  Will they humble themselves and say, “Surely this is the Son of God, I will bow to Him and trust in Him as the Messiah?” No, they try again to trap him. “Then they said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ ” (John 8:19a). “Well then, let’s see Your witness, let’s see Your father—if He’s the one validating your testimony.”

“Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’ ” (John 8:19b). “You wouldn’t know Him if I did show Him to you because You don’t know Me. Your mind is made up and you are not seeking the truth.” Their ignorance of Jesus proved that they did not know His Father. We know at that point their hearts were completely hardened against Him and they had every desire to kill Jesus on the spot. But they couldn’t – “These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.” (John 8:20). The “treasury” was part of the court of the women where thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes were kept for receiving the half-shekel temple dues. Even though Jesus spoke out in public right in the temple courts where the offering was taken, where everybody had to pass through, yet no one could arrest Him because the Father was with Him.

One of the amazing things about this account is that, although these men were claiming to know God, they really did not know Him. I find this is the problem with many people today. They say they know God, but the god they are talking about is a god of their own imagination. They are merely projecting an idea about God that is not real; consequently, they do not know God at all. Neither do they worship God; they are worshiping a figment of their imagination.

People will say, “I cannot believe that God would ever punish someone for eternity because they never believed in Jesus.” In other words, God does what they believe He ought not do. This is a false and blasphemous view of God! It is utterly untrue and unworthy! Yet this is the new paganism of today.

We have religious leaders reconstructing a different Jesus than is presented in the Bible. They have created a Christ that is made in their own image instead of the One portrayed in the Scripture. Why? I believe the primary reason is pride. If they accept the facts about Jesus – that He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1, 14) Who died for their sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6) – then they are accountable to Him for everything. They must come to grips with their own sin and its penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). And they must trust in Someone outside of themselves to save them (Acts 16:31) from an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). And many people are too arrogant to accept this.

In a world that pursues feelings more than truth, I believe Christians can make a big difference by pursuing God’s truth and wisdom once again. Will we lovingly share the facts about Jesus Christ with those who are perishing without Him? Or will we allow fake news to shipwreck our own Christian faith? Abiding in the truth of Jesus Christ will be uncomfortable and it will take courage in this “post-truth” world. But it will bring freedom from the lies that keep people enslaved to their sinful and shame-filled patterns of living (John 8:31-32). We must be ready to confront the many false assertions about the Jesus of the Bible and offer the hope and purpose that only He can give. This is only possible as we rely upon the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us into all truth (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8).

Prayer: Lord God, so many people have misinformation about Jesus Christ today because there are more false teachers sharing their fake news about Christ than there are Christians sharing the truth about Him Who is the truth (John 14:6). Please raise up a passionate army of believers who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going so that Christ is boldly shared with a world that is driven by emotions. In Jesus’ name, I ask that You give us the boldness and strength to make Christ known to our families, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances, and to people online. May we love Jesus more than our own lives. May we long for His approval more than peoples’. May we know Him and His Word so well that we are ready to answer the questions that people have about Him. In Jesus’ powerful name I pray. Amen.

How do I follow God’s Plan? Part 4

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” John 7:7

The fourth way I follow God’s plan is when I CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO (John 6b-7, 9). When Jesus’ brothers tried to encourage Him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles to make Himself known as the Messiah, Jesus said to them,“My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.” (John 7:6). They could come and go to the feast any time they pleased because they would only be fulfilling what everybody expected of them. They could go to the feast without fear of arousing antagonism or opposition because they were a part of the world. They were non-believers and thus friends with the world. That is why Jesus says, The world cannot hate you…” (John 7:7a). “Because you are living according to the way the world thinks; you are not raising any questions; you are not challenging anything.” Jesus continues, “…but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7b). “The world hates Me because when I speak I expose the hearts of men; I call sin, sin; they hate Me because I tell them the truth.”

This is surely why our modern world loves euphemisms – polite ways of describing sinful things. We change the label on the bottle of poison and think we have changed the power of the poison. That’s why we call Grouchiness “executive tension;” we call Gossip “concern”; Drunkards want to be called “alcoholics”; Prostitutes want to be called “businesswomen”; Rich snobs are called the “upper class”; Abortion is called “pro-choice”; Homosexuality is called an “alternative lifestyle.”

More recently we have seen government intrusion into common Christian worship practices in the name of health concern. Most churches in America have complied with generalized healthcare guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading. But a few churches refused to comply with government demands, claiming that their allegiance to God outweighs their allegiance to Caesar. So they refused to cancel live worship services and opened their doors for those who were led to attend. Some churches even offered “drive-thru” worship services for people to attend while observing social distancing from the comfort of their cars.

But some elected leaders deemed these measures too risky. For example, Kentucky’s governor, who mandated the closure of all Christian worship services while declaring the state’s abortion clinics and liquor stores “essential services,” sent law enforcement officers to record the license plate numbers of every vehicle that attended unauthorized church services. California’s governor and local officials have banned churches from singing and playing wind instruments in their services. While some people may label these measures as “healthcare practices,” I wonder what the Lord Jesus would call it?

Christ doesn’t play these kinds of games. Jesus calls sin, sin. He came to tell the truth and that is why the world hated Him. And if we are going to be like Him, we must do the same. If we find ourselves fully accepted by the world it is cause for concern. We are to be loving, kind, sensitive, and understanding. But if our lives do not challenge the wickedness of the world around us, if our lives do not provoke some persecution, criticism, and/or opposition, something is probably wrong. We have probably become too friendly with the world around us (cf. James 4:4).

Ask yourself, “Does my life challenge the status quo of wickedness around me or am I a chameleon who simply adapts to whatever environment I find myself in?” Jesus went to Jerusalem and when He got there He upset the status quo. Thus, He says to His brothers: “You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:8). Christ was not going up with His brothers, but He would eventually go up. “When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.” (John 7:9). Christ would remain in Galilee for a time while His brothers and other pilgrim travelers made their way to the feast. But eventually He would go in the Father’s time, and when He did He would challenge the status quo.

Prayer: Lord God, we need Your wisdom and strength during these times when people are doing what is right in their own eyes instead of doing what is right in Your eyes. Please give us a balance between grace and truth as we interact with those who are friends with the world. Instead of focusing on the response of others before we speak, help us to focus on what pleases You, my Lord and my God. May we live so closely to You that our lives will challenge the wickedness of this world to pay attention to You, Lord. Please use our voices to call people back to You, the only true God and eternal life. Forgive us for withholding the truth because of our longing for the approval of others or in an attempt to keep the peace at the expense of Your truth. Without the truth, people will not see their need for You. And without Your grace, their needs will not be met in You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen. 

How can we experience Jesus’ cleansing truth in our lives?

You may recall that in John 1:14 we saw that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” He was the perfect balance of grace and truth. Earlier in John 2:1-11, we saw Jesus express His grace by transforming water into wine at a wedding banquet in Cana of Galilee. He replaced something old with something new. New wine replaced old water. Today we will see His truth at work replacing a dirty temple with a clean one. From this we will discover how we can experiencing Jesus’ cleansing truth in our lives. The first way is seen in 2:12-16.

“After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.” (John 2:12). Jesus spends some quiet time at Capernaum with friends – those closest to Him. As important as time with friends is, Jesus did not want to miss going up to Jerusalem to worship God during the Passover. “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 2:13). The Passover was a Jewish festival celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death passed over every home where the blood of a lamb was applied to the doorposts of the home (Exodus 12-13). It also initiated the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so the entire celebration lasted over a week. Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem to meet with God and be obedient to His commands.   

While Jesus tried to make His way into the Temple, He discovered that it had become a place of peddling instead of a place of prayer. “And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.” (John 2:14). This temple money system was known as Annas’ Bazaar. Annas gave up his priesthood to run this temple money system. He placed his three sons in the priesthood, and God killed them. Then he placed his son in-law Caiaphas, in the priesthood so Annas could run the temple business.

Let’s say you come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. You bring an animal to sacrifice to the Lord, because that’s the way you worshiped God then. Your children had cared for this animal for months and he had become a cherished pet – though he was about to become the family’s sacrifice. You go into the temple courtyard and there is a “booth of approval” manned by one of the strictest of the Pharisees. Before you could offer your family’s lamb for sacrifice it had to be approved. But this inspector finds defects in your lamb. “Hey, we can’t accept this animal as a sacrifice – it has too many things wrong with it. You need to go to the venders’ booth, over there. There you can buy a lamb pre-approved for sacrifice.” Think of how your kids feel. “What about our lamb? Doesn’t God care about that? How do we get to God?” So, you go over to the vendors’ booth and pay ten times the real value for a pre-approved lamb. (Just like when you go to the theater and a 50-cent bag of popcorn costs you $4.) So, you get your money out to buy one of his animals.

And he says to you, “Wait a minute. We can’t accept that currency. You need to exchange your coins for temple money over here at the money-changers’ table and that will be an extra fee.” Therefore, you go up to the moneychangers’ table and give them a silver dollar and they only give you 25 cents of temple money. Just like if you went to a pawn shop with a $1000-dollar ring and the broker would only offer you $100. Wanting to show your love for God you pay all these fees. And by the end of the day, you didn’t know if you were pleasing God or just pleasing the religious leaders. Meeting with God seemed too far beyond your reach.

This scene is what Jesus saw when He entered the temple. How does our Lord respond? “When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.” (John 2:15). This is not the soft spoken, gentle Savior that so many of us often think Jesus was. Here we find Jesus angry and aggressive as He drives out animals, overturns tables, and creates a scene. I mean it must have been like being in one of those villages in Spain when they let the bulls run loose in the streets. Cows and sheep are running loose. People are yelling and screaming, “Help! Out of the way! The Carpenter has gone crazy!”

 Whenever Jesus sees one of the merchants, He points the finger and says. “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16). The temple was designed by God to be a place where people could meet with God. But it had become a place where people were abused in the name of God! The tragic truth was this had become the least likely place where you could meet with the Lord. Jesus must remove the religious pretenders before He can truly minister to those who need Him.

For many people today, this is still a reality. There are people today who long to meet with God in a place of worship, but when they go, all too often they discover a system that gives them more work to do to be “close” to God. The problem with this is they never know if they are pleasing God or the religious leaders. You say to yourself, “Something feels wrong with having to follow all of these rules – but it is God’s House. It says so on the sign.” And they get worn out or they leave and give up on God altogether.

Please understand, that if you came out of a church where you had to pay and pay and pay some more to get close to God, you have come to the right place. You have come to a place where Jesus fights for you just like He did back then. And He wants to heal your hurts and lighten your load. He wants to make it so easy for you to come (just as you are) and meet with Him. Jesus does not charge you to meet with Him. It’s free just like salvation. Jesus does not want anything at His church to make it difficult for people to worship Him …to draw closer to Him.

Jesus warns all of us who are spiritual leaders: Woe to you if you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men. We need to ask ourselves are we door-openers or door closers? Are we making it difficult for people to come to Christ or simple? Sometimes the Lord must remove religious pretenders before true worship can take place…before Jesus can truly minister His grace to those in need. I truly believe when Jesus is free to minister His grace in a church – look out! It will explode with people who need His healing touch.

So the first way to experience Jesus’ cleansing truth is to Rely On Christ To Cleanse Your Life (John 2:12-16) from sin and corruption. According to the Bible, where is the temple of God located today? The answer to this question is in 1 Corinthians 3:16. The apostle Paul is writing to Christians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The temple of God is no longer located in Jerusalem. It is now located in every believer in Jesus Christ. The temple is located in our bodies. In the Old Testament, God’s temple was a sacred place. It was a place where God Himself resided and where people came to worship Him. Today, God’s temple is still a sacred place where God dwells.

The truth is all of us are like those religious leaders who were robbing the people of their money. All of us are thieves. Now you may say, “Wait a minute pastor. I’m not perfect, but I am no thief.” We probably all agree that we are not perfect, but are we all thieves? Maybe we wouldn’t break into our neighbor’s home to steal his stereo, but we rob him of his reputation when we gossip about him. Maybe you’ve never stolen a woman’s virginity, but you rob her future husband of the gratification that God intended only him to have when you lust after her. You don’t have to steal money to be a thief. If Jesus came today and looked at the temple of God in you, would He have the same reaction as He did in Jerusalem with the corrupt merchants? Would He get angry at what He saw or would He be pleased with what He sees in your life? Friends, if we have pollution in God’s temple, then it’s time for us to allow Jesus to clean it out and stop trying to hide and cover up our sins.

One day a man purchased a white mouse to use as food for his pet snake. He dropped the mouse into the snake’s glass cage, where the snake was sleeping in a bed of sawdust. What did the terrified mouse do? He quickly set to work covering the snake with sawdust chips until it was completely buried. With that, the mouse apparently thought he had solved his problem. Listen, no matter how hard we try to hide or deny our sins, it’s futile. Sin will eventually awake from its sleep and shake off its cover and eat us alive.

So how do we allow Jesus to cleanse our lives from sin and corruption? If you are not a Christian, you must trust in Christ alone to forgive your sins. The Bible says: “All the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins.” (Acts 10:43). Before we become Christians, our lives are contaminated by sin. This sin separates us from God. And since God is holy and perfect, He cannot dwell in our contaminated bodies until we trust Christ to forgive us and cleanse us of all our wrongdoings. So, the moment you put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, God removes the barriers of sin and comes to live inside you forever.

If you are already a Christian, the Bible instructs you to confess your sin to God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). To confess means to agree with God that what you did, said or thought was wrong. When you do this, God is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you from all sin, even that which you are not aware of.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I read the Scripture this morning, I found myself sitting in judgment over the religious leaders of Israel who had turned the temple of God into a place of peddling instead of a place of prayer. But Your Spirit convicted me that I am no better than those religious leaders. I also have stolen from others, especially from You, my Lord and my God. Instead of giving You my time, talents, and treasures, I keep them to myself, taking from You what is rightfully Yours. I have also stolen from others with my words and my thoughts. Like the religious leaders, I also have made it difficult for others to approach You in worship by being less than Christlike towards them. Oh my Lord and my God, I agree with You that I have sinned against You and others with my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Thank You for forgiving me and cleansing me of all my sins including those I am not aware of. Thank You for fighting for me so I may approach You just as I am when others have made it difficult to do so with their various regulations and rituals. Thank You for being for me and not against me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.