Monday, August 25, 2014

Holy Unity


“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” – John 10:17-18
I’ve been reading the book of John for a while now, and reading it very slowly.  One thing I’ve learned about God’s word is that if you want full revelation of what God is telling us, you have to read it slowly and let Him direct you.  You have to stop at the passages that He causes you to linger at, dig into the words used, the person saying it’s frame of mind, and ask Him to give you full understanding.  What I’ve discovered is that this is the first time in my 40+ years of Christianity that I’ve really read the book of John.
When I come to John 10 I finally understand what the book is about.  It’s not about the Samaritan woman at the well, though that is in the book.  It’s not about how corrupt the Jews were, but that’s in the book too. It’s not even about the blind man who was healed on the Sabbath or the disciples.  It’s about who Jesus was.  The entire book, beginning with it’s very first verse, is about WHO Jesus is.
Today I come to two passages in John 10 that are incredibly important in revealing who He is.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus speaks of His life.  He had the ability to lay down His life, and then pick it back up again.  Think about that and what He is saying.  No one took His life.  He didn’t just die like we would die.  He chose to die – laying down His life.  Then three days later, He took it up again – of His own power!  His life was not the life like you and I have, which is a life that leads to death because our very nature is sinful, and the curse of sin is still on us.  His life is the life explained in John 1 – eternal life.  It’s different than our life because it comes from God who is also eternal.
Later on in John 10, we read verses 27-30 where Jesus says “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”
You cannot give what you do not have!  His life was eternal.  It had to be different than our life, or there would have been nothing for us to gain by having him give it to us.  ETERNAL life is the life that Jesus has.  Life without end! 
But Jesus reveals even more of who He was in the very last 6 words of the passage.  He says “I and My Father are one.”  In my Bible the word “MY” is in italics, showing that it was translated.  The original says “I and THE FATHER are one.”  THE Father is God, the creator, the owner and ruler of the universe and everything in it.  Jesus and God are ONE. 
Jesus was not just a man sent by God.  There have been plenty of those and we call them prophets.
Jesus was not just a man born from a virgin birth, although that is how God chose to have Him enter this world.
Jesus wasn’t just a perfect man, having no sin and no transgressions against God and being fully faithful and obedient. 
Jesus was ONE with God in Spirit, and we call that Spirit the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus offers that same Spirit to us through believing in Him.  He says “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  Just as no one could take Jesus’ life from Him, no one can take that same life from us.  It is ETERNAL.  You cannot un-earn that life and lose it.  It was not yours by your own means, but yours through the power of Jesus Christ, who is One with God, who gave it.
Here’s a thought.  What if we were to be as obedient to God as Jesus was?  What if we followed His every command, acted in unity as Christ did by obeying God’s every command, saying everything He tells us to say and doing everything He tells us to do.  What if we stopped being ruled by the daily duties we see that we should have, and gave over our full life to Him – every minute of every day – to just wait on God and go where He says go, do what He says do, and be His – in Unity. Would we one day be able to say “I and the Father are one”?  Now I know some are thinking “We cannot be like Jesus! That’s blasphemous! We’re not God!”  No, but we’re children of God aren’t we?  We’re “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) aren’t we?  I think our biggest problem is that we see ourselves first as human, and secondly as children of God.  God sees us as His Children, given the life of Christ.
I do believe that unity of Christ and God, to be one, is the goal.   If we are to be joint heirs with Christ we cannot do it and have conflicting actions between Christ and ourselves when we reign.  The unity has to start somewhere.  I’ve heard Christians say that we “need more of Him” and prayers that say “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful”, or hear ministers and song lyrics about how we need His presence.  If you are a child of God, you cannot have and do not need more of Him.  His Spirit is in you.  What we need is less of us so that He becomes the only controlling power in our lives!  We need unity with Him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Freed by the Truth

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8:32

‘The truth shall set you free’ has become a popular verse, a t-shirt slogan, and even used by comedians.  But most people have no idea where it comes from.    
In John 8 when Jesus spoke these words, there were two groups of people present.  There were those that believed in Him as the Son of God, and there were the Pharisees, a religious group of Jews, who did not believe Jesus to be the Son of God.  As Adam Clarke puts it “The same sun that hardens the clay softens the wax.”  Belief in Jesus divides many groups of people still today.  Those that don’t believe are hardened against Him.  Those that do find their hearts softened to Him and His Word.

Jesus spoke “the truth shall set you free” to a specific group, and it was prefaced by an “IF” in the prior verse.  I find it ironic how many times we will receive God’s promises without receiving the conditions that are attached. 
The full verse reads:
Then Jesus said to those Jews WHO BELIEVED HIM, “If you ABIDE IN MY WORD, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

He didn’t give this promise to the Pharisees.  They didn’t believe in Him.  There’s no freedom from sin, guilt, self-condemnation, and shame without belief in Jesus, for it is that belief in Him that takes away those sins.
He didn’t give the promise of “the truth shall set you free” to all who believed in Him.  To just believe in Him and walk your own walk without being obedient to His Will does not bring freedom.  In fact, it brings the condemnation of the Holy Spirit who lives within.

The truth (His Word) will set free those who ABIDE in it.  And to “ABIDE IN MY WORD” is not only to read it, but to live it.  Some translations use “know” or “hold to my teachings”.  ABIDE comes from the Greek word menĊ (G3306) and refers to a state or condition from which you will not depart, “to remain as one, not to become another or different”. 
At the point of belief in Christ we all enter that state or condition where we become One with Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  His Spirit lives with our spirit.  But to ABIDE IN MY WORD, we have to submit to His Spirit, letting go of our selfish will to do our own thing.  When we are in obedience to His Will, abiding in Him, there is freedom.  There’s no guilt, shame, or condemnation, and that is the freedom that brings PEACE, and PEACE is what we all crave.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Two Groups

“Then the scribes and Pharisees [religious people] brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.  So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  - John 8:2-7

There are two groups in this story and a lesson to be learned by looking at each of them.

First, there are the religious people, the ones who feel that within themselves they have a responsibility to carry out justice for God.  What they did actually started long before the story.

To have brought the woman before Jesus, they had to have been either in an adulterous relationship with her, or listening to the stories of her sins as told by others.  (I think we call that gossiping, which is also a sin.)

Then they become so outraged by her sin that they felt they had to act – they had to take matters into their own hands.  There’s no mention of gentle rebuke, correction in private, but they brought her and sat her in the “midst” of them, making a spectacle of her sins.  And they didn’t just bring her anywhere, but to a temple where Jesus was teaching a large group of people.  They inflicted shame and guilt.

The very words they spoke to Jesus show their hearts.  They spoke of the law of Moses that required anyone who commits adultery [sleeping with another person’s spouse] be killed by stoning.   And, because accusing the woman wasn’t bringing enough satisfaction, they sought to accuse Jesus as well.  God’s word says “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.”  Let’s just call this first group the Accuser.

Then there’s Jesus, the second group.  Picture it.  He’s kneeling to the ground in the temple.  He’s appearing to not hear them at all - and most likely because He is listening to a Higher Voice, the voice of God.  He said in John 5:19 that He did nothing except what He saw the Father doing.  He was led by God.

He’s scribbling in the dust, and though we do not know what He wrote, I suspect at that very moment God was reciting to Him a list of their sins.  I suspect He wrote “liars, gossipers, riotous spirits, prideful, sowers of discord, unloving” and much more.  Then He that had no sin at all stands, and says “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  And He, being the only one qualified to do so, never picked up a stone.  Let’s call Jesus, in a group alone in this context, the Friend.

God’s word speaks about these two groups on several occasions.  The accusers represent satan, the “accuser of the brethren”, and those that would take his role upon themselves. 

“Let my accusers be clothed with shame, And let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle.” – Psalms 109:29

 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5

“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 [into Hell], who accuses them day and night before our God.” – Revelation 12:10

Of Jesus, the Friend of Man, we read these verses:

“The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears;“ – Isaiah 11:2-3 [on how Jesus will judge]

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

“And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ “ – Luke 7:31-34, Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Friends, there are times when we are called to assist a brother or sister who has fallen into sin.  But in those times, judgment is still in God’s hands – not our own.  We are called to correct them by being honest in a loving way (Ephesians 4:15 ) and a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).  We are told to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).  We are not to display hatred and anger toward those that are in sin, but to befriend them in correction, showing them the love of God.

A friend loves at all times.  An accuser serves satan.

“Judging a person does not define who they are – but who you are.” - Anon

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Peace Craving

"It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams,
And look—he eats;
But he awakes, and his soul is still empty;
Or as when a thirsty man dreams,
And look—he drinks;
But he awakes, and indeed he is faint,
And his soul still craves:
So the multitude of all the nations shall be,
Who fight against Mount Zion.” - Isaiah 29:8

We all want one basic thing in life - PEACE.  We want the peace of satisfaction, the peace of financial freedom, the peace of a loving home, the peace of strong relationships, the peace of  - you fill in the blank.  But while a Christ offers us the solution in a relationship with Him, bringing us back into justification with God and PEACE in life (Isaiah 26:3) we look for peace everywhere else.
We try to work harder and reduce debt to have financial peace.

We try to make our own peace in our homes.
We try to grant ourselves inner peace through exercise, meditation, self-awareness, etc...

We try everything in the book - except turning our lives and every crevice of it over to God.  The areas of life in which we do not have peace are those in which we have not allowed God to be in charge - to be our full focus.
Just like the man that Isaiah speaks of who is hungry and he dreams this wonderful dream of a full meal - yet wakes hungry - we dream of things that we want, but never get there because we don't have the substance we need to fulfill those dreams.

And so our souls still crave, desire, and want. 
"Come to Me, all you 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. " - Matthew 11:28-29

"For He Himself is our Peace" - Ephesians 2:14

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making Jesus Famous

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.

Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.´- John 7:1-9

John refers to Jesus brothers in the first part of John 7, which are thought to have been the younger children of Mary and Joseph.  Consider that these children were raised with Jesus, saw His works, saw His Holiness, and yet John says they did not believe in Him.  The world and it’s desires has blinded many to who He really is.

What they did see in Jesus was a chance at fame.  While Jesus did not want to go to Judea to worship at the Feast of Tabernacles, as all Jewish men were to do, they urged Him to go there.  Their reasoning was that He needed to show His miracle working power to the Jews.  Yet Jesus knew that if He went there, they would seek again to kill Him, and that was not yet to come to pass.

Jesus never sought fame among people.  He never sought to be raised to a level of popularity, to “be known openly”.  Consider what would have happened if the Jews had tried to make Jesus King.  An army would have protected Him against crucifixion, the opportunity God planned for Jesus to lay down His life for us.

Jesus never sought fame.  In fact, He tried to escape it whenever multitudes of people sought to find Him.  He would send them away, or escape their presence.  He had a job to do, a plan from God, and He knew that we that loved Him on this earth would be His beneficiaries.  It was not out of hatred for our love for Him that He escaped the multitudes who wanted to make Him King.  It was out of His love for us. 

The fame of this world is not our goal today either.  Our goal today is to make Jesus, now crucified for our sins, most famous, so that others can come to accept His love and salvation. How do we do that?  We talk about Him!

We make lots of people famous, and all because we talk about them.  We made Caylee Anthony famous when she killed her daughter - because we talked about her.  We made Lance Armstrong famous when he won many Tour de France races on steroids – because we talked about him.  We made Michael Jordan famous for his miracle-like basketball skills – because we talked about him.  We made Nelson Mandela famous – because we talked about Him.  We made Lady Gaga famous – because we talked about her.  It’s time we talked about Jesus instead.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fire Starters

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”   But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?”  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.” – John 6: 66-71

Christian life is not supposed to be a path lined with roses.  If it was, God would have to take us out of this world at the very point we were saved.  But it’s not supposed to be that way.  We have to struggle, to be tested and tried in order to draw closer to Him and find our dependence on Him. 
Sometimes the struggles are internal, such as with fears and our own personal failures and guilt.  But sometimes they are external, as Jesus had in the passage above.  Many were following Him, but when they could not understand His words concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood, they turned back and stopped following.  Can you imagine the discouragement of having those close to you turn away?  Maybe it’s not an imagination in your own life, but reality.
Pick any Christian group, any Church, any fellowship, and I fully believe there will be a ‘devil’ among them if they have any salt in them at all.  It has to be that way because they play a part in the struggle we must have to be sanctified, truly transformed into what God wants us to be.  Just as Judas had his part to play in the plan of salvation, they have their part to play in the plan of sanctification. 
Does your group have a person that is stubborn and unwilling to concede for unity’s sake?  Do you know one who is lazy and unwilling to work with the group?  What about one who is just the anchor weight of unhappiness and dread, drowning your joy?  Is there one who is continually trying to create division, gossip, or being judgmental of all others? Brothers and Sisters, we are told that he will purify us as silver placed in the fire.  Someone has to be there to light the fire! 
But as Jesus did with Judas, knowing long before the crucifixion which side Judas was on, we are to walk through life with them.  The test is worthy of our endurance and struggle, because it is within the test that we find our weaknesses.  Each person around us plays a part in God’s plan for us.  Count no one as fringe, or unimportant players in your life.  Whether they are a shelter or the storm, they all are there by God’s design to make you who He wants you to be.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Leading Questions

“Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.  Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” – John 6:4-7

Jesus often asks us leading questions, as He did Philip.  He has all the answers, yet He seeks our answer. His questions come in that still small voice of the Holy Spirit.  When we look at the homeless man on the street corner, Jesus waits to see our answer to need.  When we see the woman crying and alone, He waits to see our response.  When we’re frustrated and irritated, He waits to hear our answer.  When we are offended, He waits to see if we will put another brick on the wall or extend forgiveness.

The answers we give in actions and words reveal our weaknesses, just as Philip’s answer revealed his lack of understanding the resources of God. 

I wish I could live life with a visual of Jesus beside me continually, ever present in my sights and in my life.  Perhaps then my answers to the things He asks would be better ones.

 “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.” – Psalms 66:10

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” – Isaiah 48:10