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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Confessing Jesus Before Men: Light of the World



"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

We started a new mini-series a few days ago to help us better understand the meaning of confessing Jesus before men. The phrase does not mean we post a meme on social media saying "I love Jesus". In the original language, it means that we say the same things about Jesus (with our lives and our words) that He says about Himself. Yesterday, we looked at "I AM the bread of life."


We turn today to Jesus' words in John 8:12 and a companion verse found in Matthew. 


Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12 NASB)


Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NASB)


Most towns of any size in the U.S. have street lights that shine at night, illuminating our way. It's hard for us to find a place that's completely void of external light. Because I live in "the country", however, my nights are illuminated by the moon and stars. When the sky is overcast, the nights can be very dark. Walking in that dark, without the aid of artificial light, can be a challenge, especially when the terrain is not level.


Jesus walked this earth at a time when there were no electric lights. Illumination was provided by firelight, candles, and oil lamps. They understood the importance of light because, when the lights were extinguished, darkness was all that remained.


Jesus explained that He is the Light of the world. In the darkness of sin, He is the bright light that brings illumination, clears away our sin, reveals what was hidden, and shines light on the path we should take. 


Light helps us to see things as they are, and the Light of Jesus does that for us, as well. He helps us to see ourselves and others as He sees us (and them). 


During the ice storm of 1994, I was without electricity for more than two weeks. I had candles and oil lamps, but the light was dim. When power was restored and lights blazed in my house again, it revealed more than I wanted to know. The dust that had accumulated was astounding. 


Light reveals. Just as I had an enormous housekeeping job to be done, so the Light of Christ can reveal the dust and grime of sin that accumulates in our lives. That knowledge can change us, if we allow it.


The amazing thing about the Light of Christ is that sometimes His Light reveals my sin to me and sometimes it helps me see His amazing love for me.


There's another fact about the Light of Christ that is mind-blowing. When I follow Him, His Light can shine in me. Through the Holy Spirit, He can fill my life with His Light. I reveal that light by the way I live my life and the "good works" I do. 


When I love my enemy, I allow the light of Christ to shine on him/her. When I visit those who are sick, feed the hungry, encourage the downhearted, rescue the perishing, I allow the light of Christ to shine through.  


I don't have the light of Christ because of my good works. I do good works because of the light of Christ in me. 


How do I obtain this Light? Jesus made it very simple. "He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." 


Following Jesus. Not only does it take us out of darkness and allow us to "walk in light", but it's also the only way to be filled with His light.

~~~~~~~
Heavenly Father, Help me to follow Jesus and His ways. Fill me with His light and help me to be a light in the darkness, shining so brightly that all can see Jesus in me. In His name, Amen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Confess Jesus Before Men: I AM the Bread of Life

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

We started a new series yesterday. The word translated as "confess" is a compound word from two words that mean "same" and "speaks". When we "confess" Christ before men, we say the same things about Him that He says about Himself. To be sure we understand what Jesus said about Himself, we are reviewing the "I AM's" from the gospel of John. 

Our first I AM is from John 6:35. 

"I AM the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger 
and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

John 6 opens with Jesus feeding the five thousand. The people were so impressed with the miracle bread that they intended to take Him by force and make Him king. Jesus knew that what they wanted was not a king, but more good tricks with loaves and fishes. To avoid a fiasco, He withdrew for a mountain prayer retreat. 

The next day, the people tracked Jesus down. He understood their motives and told them. "You're looking for Me because you ate the miracle bread. Bread baked in an oven doesn't last. What you should strive to have is the food that endures to eternal life, which I can give you." (Leanna Paraphrase) 

Of course, people want what they want. "Moses gave our fathers manna," they told Him, implying that Jesus should dole out some daily bread, as well. Jesus was ever patient with them. "It wasn't Moses who gave them the manna. It came from God, who is the only One who gives the true bread out of heaven."

The people still wanted some more "heaven bread" and likely still wanted the first century equivalent of manna. Something for nothing. 

Jesus responded with an "I AM." Later, the Pharisees complained and implied that Jesus was suggesting people should eat His flesh. Many people stopped following Him because they misunderstood what He was saying.

 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." (John 6:35, 47-51 NASB)

Jesus is not suggesting that we become cannibals and literally eat Him. This is a complex metaphor, comparing His body to the sacrifice He would make for all mankind. When we accept Jesus and incorporate His words and His ways into our lives, they become a part of us, just as the bread we eat becomes a part of us. 

When He becomes a part of our being, our lives, His life becomes our life, as well. He gives us eternal life.

What we often miss is the all important phrase "will not hunger." Jesus understood that we humans hunger for more than physical food. We hunger for meaning and significance in our lives. We try to satisfy our hunger with everything from money to sex to position and power. The world offers a buffet of self-indulgence but none of it will bring long-term peace and contentment.

When we come to Jesus, we find our hunger satisfied completely in Him. He offers such meaning, such significance that we need never hunger again. Do you want "more" in life? You can find it in Christ alone. The world's buffet of self-indulgence will never give the "more" we seek. Only Jesus can do that.
~~~~~~~
Our Father, help me to make Jesus such a part of my life, that I will never hunger again. Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Confessing Jesus before Men: The I AM's

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

These two verses seem pretty simple, but there is a depth to them that is remarkable. The word translated as "confess" is a compound word from two words that mean "same" and "speaks". When we "confess" Christ before men, we say the same things about Him that He says about Himself. 

To enable us to speak accurately about Him, we have to know what Jesus said, and that requires that we study Scripture and know Who He is. John, in his gospel, records repeated "I am" phrases with which Jesus tells us about Himself. 

Bread of Life: Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." John 6:35 NASB

Light of the world: " Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." John 8:12 NASB

Door: "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." John 10:9 NASB

Good Shepherd: "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:11 NASB

Resurrection and the Life: "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies..." John 11:25 NASB

Way, Truth, and Life: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." John 14:25 NASB

Vine: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing." John 15:5 NASB

Over the next few days, we will look at all of these "I am's," but for today, let's do an overview. Read through each one of these verses. Look them up in the gospel of John and get to know the passages. Get to know Jesus in greater depth. 

In the midst of a troubled world where one crisis follows another, one act of unspeakable cruelty leaves us reeling before we've recovered from the one before, Jesus is still the same. He is still the only bread of life that satisfies the craving we have. He is still the only way to God. He is still the only vine that can make us fruitful. He is still I am.

In this world, we will have trouble, but take heart, for HE has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

~~~~~~~
Our Father, help me to know You more so that I can confess to the world who You are, telling others with my words and showing them with my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

The difference between leaven and love

Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. (Luke 12:1-2 NASB)

"So many thousands". It was a huge crowd, because people were drawn to Jesus. He loved everyone and He was kind to everyone. He was blunt with Pharisees and He spoke truth to them (which they didn't like) but He still ate with them and was much nicer to them than I would have been, because Jesus loved Pharisees, just like He loved everyone else. 

Jesus was a friend to Pharisees, but he was also a friend to sinners. When He met people like me, who had done terrible things, He was a friend to them. He loved them right where they were, just like they were. Before they could imagine it, they had let Him change them from the inside out. After a while, the outside began to match the inside, where God had been working all along.

The Pharisees had already excluded them. The woman at the well was just one of the many people the Pharisees had excluded. You remember her. She had so much sexual sin that women didn't want to draw water from the well at the same time she did. She had been married so many times that no one wanted to talk to her, lest people think they were like her. She had been searching for a love that could never be found in serial husbands. 

She wanted a love that only God could give, but the church people had excluded her. After they excluded her and had treated her like pond scum, they lost their right to tell her about God's love. Then, there was no one to share the grace of God with her so she carried on, living a life of sin and grief and loss. Without hope.

One day, Jesus met her at the well, while she was still living with a man to whom she wasn't married, and He offered her a new way, a new love. Go and sin no more, He told her. She jumped at the chance for change and she told everyone, including the people who had been mean to her. How about that? The sinner they hated was trying to introduce them to Jesus. 

Yes, indeed. That's what grace can do. When we least expect it, God can turn the worst sinner into the bravest saint, because of His love, because of His mercy and grace.

When Jesus was talking with His disciples, surrounded by a crowd of thousands (every one of them a sinner) He told those men to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees". One of the things that upset Jesus was how the Pharisees treated people like the woman at the well. They knew the law. They knew about mercy and grace in theory, but for some crazy reason, they believed grace and mercy extended to them and stopped. In their minds, grace and mercy was not for people like the woman at the well. It was not for tax collectors, people with sexual sin, murderers, thieves...

Jesus said to beware of that kind of attitude. It's hypocrisy and He will have none of it.

It wasn't a Pharisee that wrote the first of the gospels. It was a hopeless, excluded tax collector who encountered the mercy and grace of God while he was still a tax collector. He was radically changed. The next thing he knew, he was using his stylus to write truth instead of tally money.

It wasn't a Pharisee whose act of extravagant love has been told wherever the gospel is shared. It was a woman who had been forgiven of a mountain of sin. She loved much because she understood that she had been forgiven much. She was radically changed and, for the rest of her life, she lavished her love on Jesus instead of wasting it in sin.

We need to remember what Jesus said. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Judgmental, critical spirits are contagious and they can spread through the body of Christ like wildfire. That wildfire of hate and condemnation can spread and devour and destroy, but it will never bring people to Jesus. It will never pour out the balm of forgiveness. It will never wash people in the river of life.

When I'm tempted to point a finger and condemn someone for their sin and their lifestyle, I don't have to look any further than myself to see how foolish that would be. 

Nearly three decades ago, three women decided to pray for the worst person they knew, just so they could see what God would do. It didn't take long before God poured out his mercy and grace on me, and I jumped at the chance for the lavish love of Christ. Over the years, He's cleansed me and changed me. I'm not perfect, but I'm not the same. 

There's a difference between leaven and love. All those years ago, three women poured out prayer for me, not judgment, not criticism, not condemnation. Could they see the sin in my life? Of course they did. They saw it, and they took what they saw to their Heavenly Father. They chose mercy and grace and it made a life-changing difference. 

We have opportunities to choose leaven or to choose love every single day. We can push people away from Christ or draw them to the cross by the choices we may. 

Let's choose love. 


We love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:19 NASB


~~~~~~~

Our Father, forgive my pride. Change my leaven to love. Help me draw people to you by the grace and mercy I extend, just as You have extended grace and mercy to me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.




More valuable than sparrows

"I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7 NASB)

Jesus understood fear. When He began to talk about people killing the body, His disciples must have sat up and listened. People are going to kill us? Yes, Jesus seemed to say, people are going to kill you, but you don't have to be afraid of them. 

If there was ever a time to fear, it would be when someone is killing you. But no. Even then, there is no cause for fear. Why not? The disciples did not have to be afraid because they were precious to God. 

Sparrows were the cheapest, most worthless birds in the marketplace, yet God knows every one of them. Not even one of the tiny little birds is forgotten by God. He has known the birds and He continues knowing the birds. God remembers them and He does not forget them.

"God knows every hair on your heads," Jesus told the disciples. Those hairs are numbered. He knows every single one of them. 

Run your fingers through your hair. God knows about every single one of those hairs. If the hairs on our head are numbered by God, you can be sure He cares about every single one of us, too. 

That's what Jesus said. "You are more valuable than many sparrows, and God knows about every one of them." God is not just peripherally aware of us. He knows us. We are precious to Him. Valuable to Him. 

That knowledge is more than I can comprehend. Almighty God, Jehovah, Creator and Sustainer of the universe knows me, cares about me, treasures me. He knows, cares, and treasures you, too. There is never a time when He does not know us, care about us, treasure us. Regardless of what happens politically, socially, or professionally in our world, He still cares about us, still treasures us. Nothing escapes His eye. 

He loves us, but hard times will still come our way. Some of us will be persecuted. Some of us will give our lives for Christ. That doesn't change the fact that He loves us. He will be with us every step of the way. There is no need to fear because we do not go through hard times alone. El Shaddai, God Almighty, goes with us through every situation, every circumstance, every difficulty.
We are not alone.

Take comfort in those words. Whatever we face, wherever we are, we are not alone. So don't be afraid. Emmanuel. God is with us. 
~~~~~~~

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off... Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me... (Psalms 139:1-2, 7-10 KJV)

Thank you, Lord, that You will never leave me nor forsake me. Thank you that You are with me in every circumstance. It's more than I can comprehend, but I praise You for Your presence. Help me to honor You with my life and let you lead me through the darkest places. In Jesus' name, Amen




Saturday, June 27, 2015

The One thing we should fear

"I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5 NASB)

"Don't be afraid," Jesus was saying. (We looked at this in yesterday's post. You can see it here.) Even if someone threatens to kill you, even if they do kill you, I've got this, He told his disciples. Being killed is not the worst thing that could happen. Going to hell is the worst thing. Everything else pales in comparison.

I don't have to be afraid, and neither do you. There is only one thing we should fear, Jesus told His disciples. Fear God, who has the final say about our eternal destiny. He is omnipotent and He makes the rules about who spends eternity with Him and who does not. 

The word translated as fear is phobos and indicates a reverential fear. According to Vine's, this is "not a mere 'fear' of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him." This kind of fear, it says, should "inspire a constant carefulness" in the way we act, both toward God and toward our fellow man.

We serve a God of grace and love and mercy, all of which He offers willingly to us. We can have His grace, love, and mercy in abundance. BUT. We will have them on His terms. 

As parents, we make rules for our family and expect them to be followed. When rules are broken, there are consequences. The point of rules is not to be mean. The rules serve to create order, ensure safety, respect authority, and make an environment conducive to the expression of love and joy. The rules, when followed, bring peace.

The One who is Creator and Sustainer of the Universe has also made rules for those of us who live here. He expects us to follow them. The point is not to be mean. Like the rules in my home, they are designed to create order, ensure safety, respect authority, and make an environment conducive to love and joy. The rules make a peaceful place to live.

The issue of eternity is pretty simple. We can choose heaven or we can choose hell. If we choose hell, we can do anything we want. It won't matter what we do; there will always be a place waiting for us in hell. If we choose heaven, that choice comes with a caveat. Choosing heaven means choosing God. It means we try to do things His way. 

Love as He loved. 
Give as He gave. 
Serve as He served.

There is one thing for certain. We will choose. Whether we intend to or not, we will make a choice about our eternal destiny by the life we live and the One we serve (or don't serve). What kind of choice are you making with your life?
~~~~~~~
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. (Psalms 103:10-11 NASB)


Our Father, You have not given us what we deserve and we thank you. Your lovingkindness toward those who fear, respect, honor You is too great to measure, and we thank You. Give us a dread of displeasing You and a constant carefulness in how we live. Give us a heart that fears You so that we can love, give, serve as You have loved, given, and served us.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How to stop being afaid

"I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5 NASB)

Jesus knew His disciples would face persecution. He knew they would live under the constant threat of death. He knew that some of them would die horrific deaths because of their faith in Him.  He knew what they would face, and He told them, so they wouldn't be surprised. I love that about Him. 

God knows everything we will face and nothing takes Him by surprise. Often, He gives us a heads-up about what is coming, so we won't be surprised, either. I love that about Him, too. The "uneasy feeling" of trouble coming? That's not a sixth sense.  It's God, preparing us for what's ahead.

He knows about the terrible diagnosis we will hear when the tests come back. He knows about the loved one who goes astray, the husband who leaves, the wife who has an affair, the lost job, the financial crisis. He knows.

What is even more precious to me is that He knows about our fear. He knows that the thought of a trial is often worse than the trial itself. I look back on some of the hardest times of my life. At the beginning, I was scared out of my mind. Looking back now, I see those times as some of the most precious of my life. Why? Because I didn't go it alone. God was with me every step of the way through. My fear was pointless, a wasted exercise in futility.

"Fear not" is angel talk. That's what they always say to us when they come. I wish we could grasp "fear not" and hold on to it. We don't have to be afraid, because we are not going it alone. 

 Fear not is God-talk, too. "Don't be afraid," Jesus was saying. Even if someone threatens to kill you, even if they do kill you, I've got this, He told his disciples. Being killed is not the worst thing that could happen. Going to hell is the worst thing. Everything else pales in comparison.

It's time we got our fear straight. We are full of so many fears. We fear rejection, failure, loss, disease, pain, suffering, death. We fear, so we live our lives trying to avoid the very thing we fear. 

I used to do that. Finally, I got it. When Jesus said "don't be afraid," He meant it. I don't have to be afraid.  I can choose something different. I can choose fearlessness. 

So I did.

I stopped being afraid. 

I'm not perfect at it. I still struggle with it. But mostly, I'm done with it. 

Experience has taught me that there is nothing that will ever come my way that God cannot handle. He's got this life of mine. Even when I mess up, He's got it.

I am in expert hands, and you can be, too.

Make a choice. Change your life. Give your fear away to the One who abolishes fear and be done with fear. You will love how knowing without a doubt that God is in control of your life opens up your possibilities. Nothing is too hard for Him, so nothing is too hard for you.

It is life-changing.

Why not be done with fear? How? Give your fear to God and embrace what He gives instead.


For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; 
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 
     (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV)
* * *
God of all power, help me to be done with fear today. Replace my fear with You power, Your love, and a sound mind that comes only from You. In the name of Jesus, Amen.