Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life (John 10:11-15)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15, ESV)

There is a humorous story about a pig and a chicken who are very appreciative to the farmer for how he has treated them. And in their appreciation they try to put their heads together to come up with something they can do for him. After several minutes the chicken comes up with an idea. She says, “We can make him breakfast. He comes out every morning and feeds us whether it is rain or shine, hot or cold, and even if he feels horrible and would rather stay in bed. He does this for us, and making him breakfast would be a great way to show our appreciation.” As the chicken strutted around cackling over the brilliance of her idea, the pig thought. The pig thought and thought, thinking that there was really something fundamentally wrong with this idea. Suddenly it hit him and he told the chicken, “That’s great for you. Laying an egg and cooking it for him for breakfast is a good idea, but while you are only giving a product of yourself, I’m giving everything I am. You’re only partially invested and I’m all in.”

In these verses Jesus told His audience that He was all in for them. This is what shepherds do. They give themselves fully for their sheep, whereas a hired hand is only willing to go so far. The good shepherd stands firm in the place oncoming wolves in order to defend them. The hired hand stops to weigh his options, consider his risk, and then flees when he realizes that he is not willing to pay the price. The hired hand is not invested in the sheep, but the shepherd knows each and every single one of them and is willing to lay down his life for them. It is not a 9 to 5 if I don’t like it I can go somewhere else job for the shepherd.

Twice in these verses Jesus identified Himself as the good shepherd. Twice He said in very clear terms, “I am the good shepherd.” He is the One that leads His sheep from danger into the safety of the fold. He is even the gate, the way through whom the sheep enter that fold and find eternal rest and pasture. He is the good shepherd, and He does these things because He cares for His sheep. He will never flee from them or abandon them. At the end of the Great Commission He told His disciples, “...I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV) The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:5) speaks to all of us the words which God spoke to Joshua, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, ESV) And of course, we read in Psalm 23:

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, ESV)

Jesus said that just as He and the Father are known to each other, He knows His sheep, and knowing them He said that He was laying His life down for them. These were not just figurative words, but they were a coming reality perfectly in line with the will of the Father and the reason for which Jesus came.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Great Contrast (John 10:6-10)

“This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”” (John 10:6–10, ESV)

I love the way similes (comparative figures of speech) can be used to paint pictures and make them understandable. They can even be modified to emphasize different aspects or used to clarify points of confusion. There is a huge difference between a simile or a “figure of speech” and saying that one thing is another. The Jews had been stumbling over Jesus’ words in a number of ways. Some of them they had taken His words quite literally such that they were repulsed with the concept of physically eating His body or drinking His blood in John chapter 6. In this and so many other times they totally missed the point. Jesus used these figures or speech or parables in order to talk to people in such a way that those who would not believe could not understand, followed by  times of further explanation to those whose hearts were ready and willing to hear.

In the first verses of chapter 10 Jesus spoke of the sheep as believers who knew their shepherd and would know and listen to his voice and come to him when he called. On the other hand, not knowing the voice of the thief or robber when given the opportunity they would flee his presence. We read that the only one who had access to the door though which the sheep would enter is the shepherd who is known to the gatekeeper. Anyone else would have to try to break in through other means and even then do so ineffectively. Only the shepherd had access through the gate with the permission of the gatekeeper. Only the shepherd could safely lead the sheep out of their present place and into the fold.

As Jesus concluded this figure of speech we read that the people did not understand, and so He continued by switching things up a bit. This time rather than focusing on the shepherd He focused on the gate by which the sheep enter. They did not grasp the shepherd being the only one capable of leading the sheep into the fold, so He then spoke to them about the only access to that fold. And in doing that He told them that He Himself is that door with another “Truly, truly” statement. “So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.””

He then went on to say that many had come before Him making illegitimate claims, but only He offered true access. Even today this remains true in relation to all who have come afterward. There is and always has been only one way into the eternal fold, and that is through the Son of God. Jesus said that all who came before Him were “thieves and robbers,” adding that the sheep (those who knew the voice of the shepherd—who knew and followed after God) did not listen to them. They did not get led astray, even though there were and have been many who were intent on doing so. Jesus said those who enter through Him by the access that only He gives are saved, being able to go in and find pasture. Then He added one of those verses that I had long ago memorized but frequently have forgotten the context in which it is found. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

What an incredible contrast. Satan exists. Evil exists. False prophets exist. All of those who would subvert God and raise themselves up exist, and all that they have to offer ends up in death and destruction. The only One who came to give life and was perfectly able to do so is Jesus Christ. Jesus said that He came for that purpose, and He said that He was the One and only One through whom people could enter. This is a bold claim. But it is a bold claim made by God Himself and there can be no higher authority on the matter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sheep Know Their Shepherd (John 10:1-6)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6, ESV)

At the end of chapter 9 we have the contrast between the blind man given sight who believed and those who thought they knew it all and did not believe. One proved just how much he needed great help and the others were proud in themselves and blind to the One sent to save. Having responded to the Jews about their blindness and their guilt remaining, John next records for us Jesus’ words about how the sheep know their shepherd.

John said in verse 6 (last verse for today) that Jesus used a figure of speech with the Jews that they did not understand. In the next verses Jesus will go on to explain it, but looking at the illustration (or figure of speech) itself we read a contrast between the shepherd and the robber thief. The shepherd enters by the door. He enters the right way, because the door is his to use. He has no need to sneak around or to be deceptive. He enters where the sheep are and he calls them away from the sheepfold in which they are enclosed. We also read that he then goes before them to lead them to their new destination. The sheep follow him because they know him. They are comfortable. They know that they are following the right one, and they trust him to lead them rightly.

On the other hand, the one who does not belong there is much more secretive. As he goes about his efforts to steal away the sheep he sneaks around. The big problem he has, though, is that the sheep do not know him and they are not comfortable following him. Once they are outside the doors of their enclosure they flee his presence. The voice they know is that of the shepherd, and it is only him that they will follow.

Being in an agrarian society, I’m pretty confident that they understood how the shepherd thing worked. I imagine where they got lost was in the “so what?” Jesus spoke to them about sheep only knowing and following their shepherd and that they would flee from the presence of anyone else. But what did this have to do with anything else. The Jews were accusing Jesus of being from the devil, a false prophet, and other such things. They were seeking every opportunity to bring Him down, and this illustration just did not make any sense. What did a story about a shepherd, some sheep, and a thief have to do with anything? Was He just trying to change the subject in order to deflect their accusations?

Of course, having read through John and having observed Jesus take one thing after another and bringing it around to a teaching point we shouldn’t be surprised by this either. He obviously had a point, and there would be those who got it and there would be those who didn’t. The ones who got it would believe and be saved, and the ones who didn’t would continue in their efforts to destroy Him.

I wonder sometimes if there is anything I can say to those people who are firmly convinced that they are right. They are so set in their direction that they will not listen to anyone who seeks to question or bring about a change in that direction. They will even deny what appears to be plain facts in order to foster their chosen path. This is what we have seen of the Jews standing up against Jesus. All that He said seemed to only infuriate them more, leading even to division among themselves as to what to believe or what to do in response. Yet, we also see like in the case of the blind man that there are those who heard Him, believed Him, and were prepared to follow Him. In their hearts they knew and in faith they believed. They heard the voice of the shepherd. They did not flee, but followed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seeing He Believed (John 9:35-41)

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near Him heard these things, and said to Him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:35–41, ESV)

Having heard that the Jews had sent away the man to whom He had given sight, Jesus found him. He asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man, still not putting two and two together, asked Jesus who this Son of Man was so that he might believe in Him. The interesting thing is that the man did not tell Jesus that he could not believe in Him because He did not know Him. Rather, already recognizing Jesus to be a prophet from God, he asked Jesus who the Son of Man was so that he could believe. It appears that Jesus had so impressed him that the man was willing to believe anything that Jesus told him. This is a huge difference from the Jews who constantly demanded more proof, and when they got that proof they criticized for how it was done. Unlike the Jews who the others feared, this man was ready to believe. He had seen enough.

In response to the man’s stated willingness to believe, Jesus told the man that He Himself was the Son of Man. “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” To this the man said, “Lord, I believe.” These are pretty amazing words. The man said three simple words that made all of the difference between death and eternal life. He was given physical sight not knowing who gave it to him, and He was given spiritual sight knowing that it came from the Son of Man. And the man’s response in his belief was to worship Jesus.

As we continue to read we discover that this conversation did not happen in private or in a sound proof room. It happened out where others could see and hear. Jesus told the man that He had come into the world to bring judgment, and in doing this those who did not see would be given sight but at the same time those who thought they knew it all would prove just how blind they are. The Pharisees standing nearby heard these words and jumped into the conversation, confronting Jesus and asking Him if He was calling them blind. To this Jesus pointed to how their own knowledge of God stood as their judge. If they did not know the things of God then they might have been among the blind who would have their eyes opened and be given sight and life. But knowing the things of God, and even boasting in how well they know them they prove their own guilt. They know exactly where they have violated God’s statues, and they stand fully aware of their guilt. Their pride in themselves proves just how blind they really are, while the blind know their great need and are willing to accept sight.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boldly Proclaiming the Obvious (John 9:18-34)

“The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.””

“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.” (John 9:18–34, ESV)

This is a longer passage. After debating about breaking it to look at it in smaller pieces it become clear that I really could not do so. In the first half we find the man’s parents at a loss for answering how he was healed. They told the Pharisees the basic fact that their son was born blind but that he could now see. But how this happened they did not know. Being intimidated and even fearful of the Jews, they threw the responsibility to explain back on to their own son and they sent the Jews back to him to inquire further. For fear, they wiped their hands of any responsibility and left their son to fend for himself, after all, he was old enough to do so. He was a grown man.

So, the Jews did exactly that. They brought the man back in and began the inquisition again. They led off with an interesting demand and a way of fulfilling the demand. They demanded that he give glory to God and the way they gave him to do this was by declaring Jesus a sinner. The man did not do what they demanded. Rather, he responded by saying that he knew nothing about Jesus’ state as a sinner. He had already said that he did not even know Him, so how could he say now that He was a sinner. The only way he could do this was by giving in to their demands and saying something he did not know to be true. In fact, he actually believed it to be untrue. He went on to tell the Jews after some more interaction that the work that Jesus did was proof enough for him that he was not a sinner. He said that no one had ever heard of anyone opening the eyes of a man born blind. In order for this to happen it had to be because God worked through Him, and God certainly would not listen to sinners. Jesus, by the fact that He did such an amazing thing, proved Himself to be from God. If He were not from God He simply could not have done it.

The simple truth for this man is that Jesus gave Him his sight. No man could do this on his own, nor has any man ever been reported to do so. In order for Him to do this He must have been heard by God, and God does not hear sinners. Therefore, for God to do this for Him, Jesus must not be a sinner. He was not a theologian and did not have to understand all of the reasoning of the Jews. What He knew was the simple truth that the man (Jesus) was enabled by God to give Him back His sight, and for this man it meant that Jesus was a man of God.

Of course, the Jews were incensed at this, and they turned on the man. They tried to belittle him as an unlearned man trying to instruct the learned, and then they threw him out. They had no answer, so they threw the problem aside. What an amazing thing. When they did not like what they heard and they did not like where the logical progression took them, they ignored it as if it did not exist. Man is no different today. There are so many situations in our world that the facts seem to point one, but because it does not fit preferred views it is put down, ridiculed, and attempts are made to toss it aside. This is what those pushing for extreme views in life are attempting to do with Christians and their biblical values today. If they don’t like it they ridicule it and try to remove it from their presence or to invalidate its voice in some way. But the simple truth remains that God is; He has revealed Himself, and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Rather than being intimidated as the man’s parents were, we can take great encouragement from the man who stood on the simple truths He knew and was not ashamed to speak about them.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the horrible decision of the Supreme Court which opened the floodgates of legalized abortion. As I was driving home I had the opportunity to listen on the radio to a group of young people and others speaking out about this great wrong on the steps of the very Court who turned this tragic corner in our history. As they spoke I heard their chants that they are the pro-life generation. They were not intimidated by the opposition, and they chose to stand in front of all and make this known.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

No Middle Ground (John 9:12-17)

“They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about Him, since He has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”” (John 9:12–17, ESV)

The man’s neighbors could not figure out how he had regained his sight. The man told them a man named “Jesus” had given him his sight. He didn’t know how He did it, and as we read in today’s passage he didn’t even know where this Jesus was. So baffled and torn in a disagreement concerning the man, they brought him to the religious leaders—the Pharisees. The added piece of information we read is that Jesus had done this on the Sabbath—the day the Jews were given not to do any arduous labor and which had been expended to include numerous other things as well.

Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath, and this was not the first time. Back in chapter 5 of John we read that he healed the man who had been lame for thirty-eight years on the Sabbath, and this did not sit well with the Jews who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. This accusation followed Him even to His return to Jerusalem in chapter 7 where they sought again to have Him arrested. Now southeast of Jerusalem Jesus had again healed a man on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees hearing of this work being done debated themselves as to who this Jesus must be. Some held that because He violated their Sabbath rules that He could not be from God. Others looked to the great work He had done and asked how anyone could do these things if he were a sinner implying that Jesus had to be someone more. They were at a point of real confusion. They held certain activities as paramount to be observed, and Jesus seemed to violate them at will. At the same time, some recognized that no mere man could do such things. Bringing the two things together did not make any sense to them. If Jesus were from God then He would do things as they expected. If He were not form God then He would not be able to do those things. So, who was He? Where did He come from? From where did He get His power?

The people of the man’s community had no answer, and as we can see here the Pharisees did not have an answer either. The more they talked about it the more it seems that that they could not agree. Not having an answer, they turned to the man and asked him since he was the one healed who he thought Jesus to be. His response was, “He is a prophet.” While the man may not have known much about Jesus, He thought Him at least to be from God. Though the man did not have the answers to their questions, he was convinced enough by Jesus’ works to know that He was more than a mere man. Of course, the Pharisees were not going to accept this and they would continue to come up with another excuse as we will see in the continuing verses.

It is an amazing thing how man makes his box to contain God and then rejects any image of God that does not fit in their box. Man has long tried to put God in his box and even go so far as to explain Him into irrelevance and even deny His existence at all. For these there seems to be no acceptable proof that God is real and that He is who He reveals Himself to be in Scripture or even nature. The most amazing things are explained away as some form of cosmic accident as if order were to spontaneously and repeatedly come from disorder. It is as if the man in John 9 went to every mud pot in the world and rubbed his eyes, one of those mud pots would contain the right combination of minerals to give him sight. For them there is no room for the miraculous, because if they allowed for the miraculous they would have to allow for the miracle worker.

Jesus said that the reason the man was healed (John 9:3) was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In chapter 10 we read Jesus saying, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,” (John 10:25, ESV) In order to deny Christ they had to deny His works. To do anything else would force them to acknowledge that He indeed was who He claimed Himself to be. There really can be no middle ground. The people knew it, the Pharisees knew it, and their disagreements were evident of just how critical one is in relation to the other.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Believing is Seeing (John 9:8-11)

“The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”” (John 9:8–11, ESV)

Looking back to November I was working through the gospel of John, leaving off with chapter 9, verses 6 and 7 where Jesus had made the blind man to see by making mud with His own saliva and anointing the man’s eyes with it. He then told the man to go to the pool of Siloam (which means Sent) to wash off the mud. When he did this he came back seeing.

Returning to John and looking at the next verses, we find a series of response to the man’s healing. The first responses are by his neighbors in verses 8-11. These people had been around him for years. They knew him, and they knew him to be blind. This was not a recent accident or something they could have missed or being mistaken about. Verse 1 of chapter 9 records for us that the man had been blind since birth, and there was no denying that fact. What was equally undeniable was the fact that he could now see, and so the questions began.

The neighbors talked among themselves in amazement. They had questions they could not answer. On one side there were those who knew him to be the blind beggar and they recognized him as having sat day after day asking things from all who passed. But the man before and the man after did not add up to them, and they had to ask themselves if it truly was the same man.

There were others who insisted that it was the man. Though they could not explain what happened, there was no denying to them that he was one and the same man. The first group responded that it couldn’t be. It must be someone like him, but it surely wasn’t him.

In the midst of all of back and forth the man was standing there among them saying over and over again that it really was him. He truly was blind and now he could see. So, the logical response followed. They asked him how this could be. They asked him the hard question, “Then how were your eyes opened?” To this the man could only respond, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

Jesus made the difference. The radical change in this man came at the hands of Jesus. Jesus had healed him and made him to see. There was no other answer. The man couldn’t do it for Himself. There was no doctor or expensive procedure that could do it. There was not therapy that could do it. There was no explanation for the change in the man other than Jesus having done it, and Jesus is the One to whom the man gave the credit.

Just as was done to this man physically, every single one of us who has trusted Jesus for our salvation can say the same thing. Where once we were blind, now we can see. God’s Spirit has opened our eyes to the greatest gift ever given and we have been given new lives that are eternal. We have been given the ability to discern things spiritually that before we couldn’t. We have been given a deep and abiding relationship with the Living God, and there was not a thing we could do to make it happen.

Jesus covered the man’s eyes and told Him to go wash them in the poof called Sent, and when the mad did this his sight was given to him for the first time in his life. The Son who was sent by the Father washes us as well. We were all born spiritually separated from God, and His Son cleanses us and restores to us something that though we were intended to have we were lacking. Sin led to blindness, and Jesus’ blood washes away that sin. What an incredible gift we have been given. Jesus will develop this lesson further in the verses that follow.

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as Your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–6, ESV)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resting Up (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

Have you ever wondered what an appropriate use for a day off is, and how much off there really should be in that day? Sometimes the days I have off are days of catching up on things that have piled up and I wind up running the entire day. Other times I am amazed at how absolutely little I accomplish. But then there are those days that just flow and are very relaxing in the process. Sometimes they may be very active and sometimes not so much.

The first is not so much a day off as much as it is a day away from doing what you do the rest of the days. It is a day to do other things that could not be done while you were doing the work that pays the bills or otherwise demands your time. The other extreme is a day that usually springs from exhaustion and in which there is a level of lethargy that when it was done you might be more rested, but not necessarily refreshed. It is, at least for me, a sign that I may not necessarily have things in balance and maybe I am trying to do too much. The middle ground is the kind of day that when it is over I truly know that I have had a day away.

For me working two part-time jobs for the time being, being off from one might mean that I am on to the other. And since they are so very different in their nature the second one can be very relaxing while the former one can be very tiring. One requires much more physical energy and the other much more contemplative thought. At the same time, though, I can also feel pressured trying to accomplish more in either type day than is realistic whether expected or not.

Today is my birthday and I was off from the energetic job. But since I worked at the first job yesterday rather than being at the second I felt the need to pay attention to the needs of the second.  I could have chosen tomorrow as I have it off as well, but my desire was not to sit around or to go take a hike or ride my bike in the cold fog. It was not to tackle some of the built up to do’s around the home or even get under my truck and change the oil. My desire was to get away and to have some quiet time of study and contemplation. So, this is what I did. I went to the church where I am serving as interim pastor to find that no one else was in the building, and it was very quiet. It was just me and God and the study before me, and I enjoyed it immensely. When another staff member came in later and told me (in light heart) to get out of there as it was my birthday, I responded that this was a very relaxing way to spend it.

Rest is an interesting thing. Everyone has a concept of what it should look like, and for most of us it does not look the same. But rest is something we all need. It may not be on the same day every week, and it may not even be consistently weekly. But it is something we need. For some it may come in regular bits every day. For others it may come by shutting things out as much as they can on some regular basis. For still others it may be a fleeting thing that seems like a breath of fresh air when it is found and greatly missed when its time is up.

We are designed to rest. We are designed to get quiet or to cease from the normal things that wear on us. But how we go about it varies with every single one of us. For some it was legislated into practice as with the Jews who, probably because of their short-sightedness and disobedience, were commanded to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy before God. This was not only for their benefit but also as a reminder of the six days in which God created and then rested on the seventh. There are some today who maintain that they need to do the same. There are others who have had to be much more creative. This is especially true when there are children in the home or there are varied job demands and schedules.

Over the years I have heard much on the need to rest, the need to take a vacation, the need to get away. While there is obvious value in all of these there is the obvious reality that rest cannot be fully packed into these get away moments, days, and even weeks. There are the times when things are boiling up and our hearts are in turmoil over any number of circumstances, and it is in these times when things can escalate so fast and we can react so quickly that we become emotionally overwhelmed and spiritually clouded. It is in these times that it becomes so easy to lose sight of God and the peace that comes from being at peace with Him.

Jesus knew that we would experience many things. He knew the persecution that His disciples would endure. He knew that they and we would be pressed from all sides. He knew that there would be seasons where there seemed to be no relief, and it is in light of this that He told His disciples in Matthew 11 to find their rest in Him. He had just spoken great woes over the people of the cities who rejected him. He had just spoke of John’s and His own rejection, and in verses 28-30 He told His disciples to bring their burdens to Him and lay them on Him. He had experienced great resistance and was soon to experience even greater rejection, and knowing that He told them that His burdens were light. If all of these things are considered light to the Son of God, then clearly anything we might endure is immeasurably lighter. He knows how to handle our burdens and He knows how to give us rest in the midst of them.

This does not mean that He takes them away, but that He will help us to stand through them with the confidence that comes from knowing that God has us firmly in His hands and that He sets the limit to every burden we encounter. While we may not get the physical relief that we want at times, we know that He has promised rest for our souls even in the midst of the storms of life and the periods in between the days away.

In my studies today I was focused on John 6:18-21 where we read of Jesus walking on water out to His disciples. His disciples were in the midst of a storm and when they first saw Jesus coming they thought Him to be a ghost as we read in Matthew 14:26. But when He identified Himself and He entered the boat the winds stopped and they were greatly relieved. These disciples did not yet fully know who Jesus was. They knew Him to have done some pretty amazing things, but when they were on their own they thought believed themselves to truly be on their own. And when He came and proved Himself to them again, then they found their rest. They had to grow in their understanding of Him, and grow they did such that they were the ones used by God and moved by the Holy Spirit to bring us the truths that we read and trust today.

As I thought about finding rest in the midst of persistent storms, I also thought about David who while he was being pursued by King Saul who was trying to kill him, we read, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” … “They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 57:1, 6–10, ESV)

Later in psalm 61 he wrote, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah” (Psalm 61:1–4, ESV)

Planned rest is a good thing. God intends that we seek it out and make it a regular part of our lives. But He also knows those times when we cannot get away, knowing every detail of the days in between that we have to get through. He is our rest in both. He is the One who can bring peace in the midst of the greatest storm. He is also the One who speaks to us in the quiet times as well. I had a very good birthday so far, and I am so thankful for the reminders from God’s Word of the peace that comes from being His.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Children – Young, Old, and In-Between (1 John 2:13-14)

“I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:12–14, ESV)

These verses are not that complicated though Scripture has a lot to say about the process of which they speak. In verse 12 we saw that regardless of our level of maturity if we have trusted Jesus for our salvation then we are a child of God. The second (in today’s verses) being that no matter where we are in life we are never to set aside the study of God’s Word and following after Him with our whole hearts. These are pretty basic, and they apply to all of us no matter how old we are, how long we have been a Christian, or how much we have grown since becoming one.

John addressed the most senior ones first with, “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” Looking at the multi-generational aspect of his audience, John starts with those who had been around the longest. These are the parents of the church. The ones who had been there from the beginning, who had seen people come to Christ, and who had walked with God and seen Him do so many things during their lives. Knowing that this letter was written a minimum of thirty years and probably much closer to fifty years after Christ went to the cross there was a lot of time that had gone by. And recognizing that his readers might have even included Jews who had been aware of God before even their salvation, John pointed to their long settled knowledge that God is, has been, and always will be God.

There is nothing fancy in the Greek word translated “father.” It is simply the common word for “father” and with it comes the presumption that these individuals had been around for a while, and that they had a base of knowledge and experience that provided for a stable foundation in the face of anything that might have come to pass. Spiritually speaking, these would have been the long-term believers in the group. They are the ones who had seen and known God’s love and faithfulness for many years, and who had grown in their knowledge and understanding of Him. They are the ones who were charged with passing that knowledge on to the younger ones to follow. They were the ones who did not age out. There was (and is) no grandfather, or great-grandfather exit pass included. In this scheme of things the fathers were the patriarchs who passed things on to the younger. And having said this, the same thing can be said for mothers as well. We are not speaking of a gender specific role, but of a level of walking with God and a growth in knowledge and understanding which can then be passed on to others. In the fathers (and mothers) of that church and our churches today there is a rich heritage reflecting a firm foundation which can support and encourage those who are coming along behind.

It might seem a bit redundant, but John starts his next round of purpose in writing to the fathers in verse 14 with almost the exact same words. “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” This truth is immeasurably important. Many young people have gone astray because they have forsaken the wisdom and encouragement of those who are older and more mature or wise. At the same time, it also reminds those who fall into this category that they have a continued and important role in the life and health of any church. The spiritual maturity of the church is intended to depend on them passing what they have learned on to others.

John’s next subject is the group just behind—those referred to as “young men,” and it includes young women. He wrote in verses 13 and 14, “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. … I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

The young adults are the ones just getting out into the world. They are the ones taking steps on their own, and they are the ones who are putting into practice what they had been taught. This is true whether they do it by paying careful attention to those who had gone before them or if they learn from the school of hard knocks or by making mistakes and having to back up and try again. These are the ones without their own track record yet, and who are beginning to have their own victories and even failures. It has been said that these are the ones in the heat of the battle. They have the energy to tackle most roads and maybe even to do it at great speed, but maybe not yet with the wisdom on how to handle all of the corners and knowing when to switch from the accelerator to the brake. They are the ones who might plow through things to realize that they plowed over something important in the process. Young couples do this all of the time as they start out in marriage. Young employees do this as they learn how to navigate the work environment, and students do this when mom is no longer there to remind them to get to their homework or to go to bed.

These are the ones who are ready and willing to tackle anything. As such the most important thing for them to remember as believers in Christ is that they have tackled the most important thing there is. In Christ they have tackled the evil one. He is defeated, and they do not have to hand the reigns back to him. He is not their landlord. They do not live in a body he owns, and they do not have to pay him rent. They are new creations in Christ, and they belong to God as His beloved children. With all of that energy they can go out knowing that the enemy has no hold on them and they do not have to fear him.

But in going out they also have to be constantly aware that their base of knowledge and understanding and their level of wisdom still has a long way to go. They are subject to deception and being led astray. Their energy can be used to head down the wrong path or to take inappropriate detours. There is no force out there that is more powerful than God. They do have the power to make right and wise decisions. But in order to do this they need to be committed to seeking after God and hiding His word in their hearts. They need to be committed to making right choices before God, and He will enable them to walk victoriously. They walk with the strength that comes from God—a strength far beyond their own physical limitations, and in this they can and will overcome daily what has been eternally accomplished. They will overcome the evil one.

I have spoken about the young adults as if this were an age thing, but I want to stop to remind us that this can be just as true for those who are fairly young in their Christian walk. Maybe you haven’t studied God’s Word that deeply and feel uninformed about what He has to say. Maybe you haven’t experienced much of God’s faithfulness yet, but you are willing to step out and trust him. Maybe you are someone who is young spiritually and older physically and you have a mixed bag of exuberance in the faith and resistance because of life experience. John’s words apply equally as well.

The psalmist asked a question in Psalm 119 about victorious living for those who are young, and we will include those who are young in the faith here and even the old. We read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9, NASB95) This is a truth that John restates by telling his young readers that they have the word of God abiding in them to make them strong. And like the psalmist, as a result the young can say, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95)

John only speaks to the children once in this pair of verses. He said in verse 13, “I write to you, children, because you know the Father.” There is not much growth here. These are the ones that are at the beginning of life or the beginning of their faith walk. Their foundation of truth is very limited, and what they do know may not extend much beyond them knowing that God loves them and that He has forgiven them of their sins because of His Son’s work on the cross. It is this group that John reminds has the most important thing there is. They have a faith in the Father. It is very simple, and not complicated by a lot of other things. It is them who can go forward in faith and grow knowing that they know God and that He is holding firmly on to them.

When we compare this to our own children it is very understandable. They do not have to understand everything though they might have a constant stream of questions at times. What they need to know is that their parents are there for them and that their parents will take care of them to love them, watch over them, and give them what they need. It is this unequivocal faith that makes them trust so fully. They know that which is most important—God is their Father. And as their Father they know He is there for them. Looking to a fuller circle, in the life of the church, there are many who are spiritual parents who are given to take under their wings the children in the faith and to nurture them so that they grow into young ones who one day will parent others. This is what families do. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Little Children – The Relationship (1 John 2:12; 3:1)

“(12) I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. … “(3:1) See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….” (1 John 3:1, ESV)

Christmas is over and a new year has begun. The focus has probably shifted from the Christ as a babe in a manger to Him as Lord and Savior. For that brief time we celebrate the early parts of His coming and then we shift to the benefits of being in a relationship with Him and the Father as we are indwelt by the very Spirit of God.

It is the priority of this relationship out of God’s great love for us that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and to draw us back to Himself. The apostle John, who referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, saw his readers as his “little children.” This is not because of their immaturity, but because of the love he had for them as a father would for his own children. John understood the great and awesome love of God, and he purposed to love others in that same way. As such He wrote to them with the affection of a father writing to his children to encourage them in the security of their relationship with God and to encourage them to continue to walk with Him in His light.

We read in verse 12 that John refers to his readers as little children. This was true of them no matter how old they were. As one of the original disciples and an apostle appointed by Jesus, John was a spiritual father to them even if he had not met them before. This is true because of the continued work of the gospel as faithful believers shared it with others and continued to bring them up in the faith. It was a multi-generational spiritual encouragement.

What these “little children” had in common and what it was that knit them together was the assurance that their sins had been forgiven. By Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for them they had be given salvation and complete forgiveness of sins. They were assured of this, and it was the foundation from which they could then grow in their faith. They did not have to look over their shoulder and fear it being yanked away if they faltered too much.

In 1 John 1:9, John spoke to this assurance when he wrote, “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, ESV) This verse does not speak to a continued process of having to have our sins forgiven as we commit them, but a process in which we are honest with God about our sins and keep our relationship fresh. It reflects the fact that we will continue to sin, but when we do that we can take it to God, confess it, and rest assured in His forgiveness as we commit anew to walking right before Him. It is a constant reminder of what God has done for us in Jesus.

It is this walk that John refers to in in this letter as he contrasts our walking in the light and doing those things which are reflective of who we are in Christ against that of our former way of life when we did not know the light and we walked in darkness according to the ways of the evil one. For those of us who have been Christians for a very long time, and maybe don’t even remember not ever being a Christian, this contrast might get a bit lost. But even those of you who were raised in the church I am pretty certain that there have been times in your life when your walk did not match your identity and you did the things that you should not have done.

The reality is that we all have sinned and that we still battle with it in our lives. The difference is that as we grow in Christ we have more and more opportunities to experience the deep reality of God’s forgiveness and the incredible love with which He picks us up, dusts us off, and moves us along.

In verse 1 of chapter 2 John gives us a primary reason for his writing, which is that we may not sin, and to remind us that when we do that Jesus is seated there with the Father as our Advocate—as our perfectly righteous representative of the righteousness which He has personally credited to our account. We read, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1, ESV)

Moving from verse 1 of chapter 2 to verse 12 we read that he was writing this letter to encourage us to not sin and then in the same verse reminding us that we have Jesus ourselves as our Advocate. We are beloved children of God who even when we do sin our sins are forgiven by the same Jesus who is our Advocate. Jesus did this for us and then He returned to sit at the right hand of the Father to serve as the constant protector of the work He had accomplished—defending us against any who would bring an accusation.

We read in Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV) Satan’s claims are futile against the righteousness of Christ credited to us. And we know that he is very active trying to bring us down. We read in Revelation 12:10 that this is something that he does day and night, but we also read that one day he will be thrown down from forever access to God. “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:10, ESV)

John laid out for these believers a firm and unshakable foundation that was true of every single one of them and us that regardless of age or spiritual growth. If we are saved then we are secure—we are children of God.