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Monday, March 23, 2020

I AM the Good Shepherd


Introduction
For 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus--who he was and why he became so important and influential in our world.  If we really want to know who Jesus was, maybe we should consider what he said about himself and why he came.  That's what I'm doing in this series.

We are studying the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John where Jesus told everyone who he is and why he came.  So far, we have seen that Jesus is:
I am the Bread of Life – Jesus is the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in our souls.
I am the Light of the World – Jesus reveals the truth and lights our way out of darkness.
I am the Gate – Jesus is the way into the protective safety of God’s presence.
And I also want to remind you that when Jesus said, I AM, he used those words intentionally. Way back in Exodus, God told Moses His name from the burning bush, "I Am." Exodus 20:15, "This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations."  So everytime Jesus said I am... he was giving us a clue that he is God.

Today, I want to look at Jesus’ 4th I AM statement from John 10:11-16. 

John 10:11-16
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

A Shepherd Knows His Sheep
Jesus was a brilliant communicator.  He knew exactly how to get his message across in ways people would understand and always remember.  Shepherds and sheep were as common a sight in Jesus' time as cars and the internet are in ours.  I am not a shepherd, but I did own some Nigerian dwarf goats for a few years.  These were dairy goats; and yes, I did milk them. (Well, I milked one of them—Miranda.)  Miranda was the matriarch of the flock.  She was the first female goat I bought.  In order to get milk, you have to breed your goats.  After they have their babies (kids, in the case of goats), the mother produces milk.  Then, you have to milk the goat at the same time every morning and every evening.  You can't skip, because the animal will start to produces less milk.  So I got pretty close to my goats, and especially Miranda.  I was with her every day twice a day.  I was also watching over her throughout her pregnancy.  I was with her, cheering her on as she delivered her kids.  And let me tell you, there is nothing cuter or more hilarious than flock of playful baby goats!  So you sort of get attached to these animals and you really care about them when you spend so much time with them.

Milking a goat is not really that hard.  It only takes about 15 minutes, twice a day.  What makes it hard is the consistency of it.  You have to do it every day, twice a day and you can't skip--not for anything.  So if it is cold out, you have to milk the goat.  If it is raining, you have to milk the goat.  If it is snowing and 0 degrees outside, you have to milk the goat (ask me how I know).  And if you every go out of town--even for just a day--someone has to milk the goat.  Try finding someone in our day and age to milk a goat for you.  I was lucky to have a few friends who helped from time to time and an amazing pet sitter who actually knew how to do it (now that's going above and beyond).  And my wife, bless her heart, was terrible at it and hated it, but she still loved me enough to try a few times.  

Once, I was out of town and my wife had Miranda up on the milking stand and Miranda was being stubborn.  Miranda was acting like, "Hey! Who are you?  You're not the right person!  Why are you bothering me?  Leave me alone!"  And she was stomping and kicking and not letting Kelly milk her.  So Kelly calls me on the cell phone and says, "Will you talk to Miranda?  She's not letting me milk her." So I started talking to Miranda over the phone and she started bahing like she always did when I was at home with her.  It was hillarious!  But she knew my voice.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Jesus is the good shepherd.  He knows everything about his sheep.  He's been with us during the good times and the bad times, in the big moments and the little ones.  He was there when we were born, when we were learning to walk, going to school, graduating, getting married, getting divorced or whatever.  Jesus is bonded to us and cares deeply about us because he's been investing in our lives from the very beginning.

Now, there are others in our life that say they care about us, and sometimes they really do--at least to a degree.  But in one way or another, all these others are just "hired hands" (as Jesus says).  Think about the people who tell you they care about you.  There is the government.  They say they care.  And to a degree, it's true.  Their job is to keep our society running smoothly if possible (it's in their best interest if everyone is happy and mostly taken care of, that justice prevails and laws are made and followed and we're all safe).  And in a crisis like we're currently in with COVID 19, they are working hard to try to help.  However, officials have their own families and their own personal interest that are more important to them than we are.  And they will help as long as they can and they're able and it's in their own best interest, but there's a limit.  They're not going to sacrifice their life or their families for us.  And most aren't going to sacrifice their financial well-being for us.  They're hired hands.  And if a big enough wolf comes to attack us, their going to run away.

Or maybe the hired hand in your life was a romantic relationship.  Someone told you they loved you more than life itself and you thought they would always be there for you.  But now you look around and they're gone.  It hurts so bad when you find out the love of your life was only a hired hand.  We try to assure that people won't leave "in sickness or in health" through marriage vows.  We sign a marriage licence and make promises before God in a marriage ceremony to says we won't ever leave; but even this sometimes doesn't work and through divorce we find out our spouse was only a "hired hand" who abandoned us when the "wolf" came.

What other “hired hands” have let you down in this life when the "wolf" came to attack?  

Jesus is not like the hired hands.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He will never abandon you.  He will fight for you and protect you and provide for you.  He will even give his life for you if that's what it takes.

The Wolf in the illustration can be any evil or trouble that comes.  But ultimately, the Wolf is the Devil who comes to destroy you because of your sin.  The wolf is hungry and he hates you and he hates it when you draw closer to God.  And the wolf is scary and viscous with claws and fangs.  And alone we're defenseless against Satan.  Think about it, in Jesus' story, we're the sheep!  Sheep are domesticated animals with almost no defensive weapons.  They're best hope is to flock together (and that's only in hopes that the wolf will eat someone else and not me).  And sheep are so dumb, they usually scattered when the wolf attacks which only makes them even more vulnerable.  Sheep need a courageous, caring, and capable shepherd to protect them.  And that's what Jesus is. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will not abandon us. He fights off the Wolf (the Devil) whenever the Wolf attacks--even if it costs his life.

Jesus Died for You
The Gospels tell us Jesus loves you so much He sacrificed his life to save you.  You see, everyone is corrupted by sin and sin leads to death.  Romans 3:23 tells us, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  And over 500 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus' purpose as the Good Shepherd--Isaiah 53:6, "All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him [Jesus] the sins of us all."

No one had the power to kill Jesus, but Jesus knew someone had to die to pay the penalty for our sin.  And though Jesus was the only person who ever lived who was perfect in every way and didn't deserve to die, Jesus sacrificed His life for you and me.  He allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and crucified.  His death atones for our sin.  He literally laid down his life to save ours for all eternity.

Are You One of Jesus’ Sheep?
Are you one of the Good Shepherd's sheep?  This is a really important question for you to answer! Everyone wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to go to hell.  And everyone wants to assume they will go to heaven when this life is over.  But I have to tell you the Truth, if Jesus is not your Good Shepherd in this life, it’s illogical to think He will be your Good Shepherd in the Afterlife.  And it's not out of spite.  It's just that you would never be happy living with and obeying Jesus for eternity if you don't want to do it for the few years you live on this earth in this life.  And so, in the end, God will grant you your wish.  Either He  will want to live in harmony with Him forever, or He let you have your way and live without Him for all eternity (which is really the definition of hell).  Which one will you be?  Do you want to be in the Good Shepherd's flock or not?  And how do you know?

Well, Jesus told us.  He said His sheep know and follow Jesus voice.  Do you know and are you you listening to His voice.  We listen to and get to know His voice through prayer, reading Scripture, and listening to people God appoints to speak to us for Him.  But the most important of these are prayer and Scripture.  Are you praying and reading the Bible and listening to God speak to you through them and the people He's appointed to preach His Word?
Jesus says His sheep will follow Him.  We do this by obeying what He says.  And so much of what Jesus said was about how we love others and serve and share our witness about what Jesus is doing for us.  Are you following Jesus in obedience to His Word?

Jesus Has Other Sheep Too
Jesus says something very interesting in verse 16 that's very relevant for us today. John 10:16, "I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd." There are still sheep that belong to Jesus out in the dangerous world. They are lost and vulnerable and Jesus, the Good Shepherd wants to gather them in. And Jesus gave us a mission to gather them in.

What are you doing to bring in Jesus’ other sheep? With so many worshiping online right now during the coronavirus pandemic, it's never been easier to invite people to come worship Jesus with you.  All you have to do is send them a message on Facebook and you can literally invite people from all over the world!  And it's easy for them to come.  They don't have to be nervous about visiting a church building where there will be people they don't know and worrying what it will be like and if they will be judged or unwelcome.  They can log into the worship experience from the comfort of their own home in the pajamas if they want to!  Are you inviting these sheep to come hear the Good News about Jesus?

Are you being a witness for Jesus yourself?  That doesn't have to be intimidating.  You don't have to have everything figured out to be a witness.  You don't have to teach a Bible lesson or preach a sermon.  You don't even have to know all the answers.  You just have to be willing to say how Jesus has made a difference in your own life.  Are you being a witness for the Good Shepherd?

Invitation
So, as we close, I want to give a two-fold invitation:
First, I want to invite you, if you to become one of Jesus’ sheep. All you need to do to make this happen is pray to Jesus and say something like, "Jesus, forgive me for my sin.  I want to follow you from now on.  Save me and help me. Amen."

And second,  I want to invite you to follow Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples…” There is no better time than this and you’ve never been more equipped to literally go into all the world and make disciples.  Invite someone to worship Jesus with you.  And tell people how Jesus is making a difference in your life.


Monday, March 16, 2020

I AM the Gate

Introduction
Today, we continue the Lenten message series “I Am” based on the seven I Am statements Jesus made in the Gospel of John where He told us who He is and about His mission and character.  We’ve already studied two statements: 
  1. I am the Bread of Life.
  2. I am the Light of the World.

Today, we will consider a statement that is very relevant to the Coronavirus outbreak we are facing in our world right now.  Jesus said,

John 10:9
Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.

The Root of All Evil
You may have heard it said that “money is the root of all evil”.  That’s actually wrong.  The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  Money is an inanimate object.  But love is an action of the human heart.  When one loves money, it produces all kinds of evil and suffering.

Love is the most powerful force on the planet.  When love is used properly as God designed, it produces tremendous good.  When love is used improperly against God’s will, it produces evil.  God designed us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And when we do this, it produces all kinds of goodness.  But the problem is, more often than not, people do not love God or their neighbor.  Instead, we love ourselves and our own selfish desires or we love things like money or power or pleasure.  And when we love wrongly—the wrong things for the wrong reasons—it causes of all kinds of evil.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, teaches there was a time in the beginning when the world was perfect and people were lived in perfect harmony with God their Creator.  Genesis says the first people, Adam and Eve, lived in a garden paradise where there was no sickness or suffering or death.  And God gave them a choice to love and obey Him and remain in this paradise forever or to not love and obey Him and suffer sin and death and separation.  Sadly, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Ever since the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all humanity has suffered from evil: Plagues of sickness, misfortunes of all kinds, untimely deaths, a planet that always seems ready to destroy us and be rid of us.  And always we have a nagging anxiety in the back of our minds that one or all of these things or something we haven’t even thought will one day come knocking down the door of our lives.  In the end, we know there is one thing that is surely true: Death will come for us all.

I Am the Gate
It’s a dark, hopeless picture.  But please, don’t turn me off or tune me out.  This is a message of great hope!  (And with all that’s going on around us in our world, we need hope right now!)  It is into this dark, dangerous world that Jesus came and said, “I Am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.”

Though Adam and Eve turned their backs on God, and though people have done the same throughout all history, God has never turned His back on us.  God loves us even though we are sinners.  1 John 4:10, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

The consequence of sin is death.  It’s just a fact of life.  But Jesus came to pay the price of sin for us.  Though we are the ones who sin, Jesus takes the consequences of our sin for us.  And instead of the death we deserve, Jesus gives us eternal life.  John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus said, “I Am the Gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved.”  Jesus lived in an agricultural society.  Sheep and shepherds were as common a sight for them as cars and the internet are for us.  So when he talked about sheep and shepherds and sheepfolds, everyone knew what he meant.

You see, it was very dangerous for sheep at night.  There were predators lurking in the countryside—wolves and such—that would try to sneak in through the darkness and grab sheep and drag them off to their death.  There were also thieves lurking who would try to steal sheep.  And the fact is, sheep just aren’t that smart.  And often they just wander off and get lost.  So, the shepherds built sheepfolds for protection.  They piled up stones to make a circular wall.  There would be one narrow opening in the wall (only one) through which the shepherd could herd the sheep.  Once inside the ring of the sheepfold, the shepherd would lay down across the entrance and become the actual gate of the sheepfold.  Nothing could enter or leave the sheepfold without going through the shepherd.  This made sure the vulnerable sheep stayed inside and the bad things of the world stayed outside.

Jesus said, “I Am the Gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved.” 
We’re not sheep.  But spiritually, we are a lot like sheep.  We are incredibly vulnerable. 
In good times, we may feel like we are invincible (or at least we are mostly safe).  But then a little virus comes along—something so small it can only be seen with a microscope—and suddenly we are filled with fear, because deep down in our hearts we always knew we were cursed and death is chasing us.  Even without COVID 19, we have all seen glimpses of our vulnerability.
When a young friend with his whole life ahead of him is maimed or dies in a motorcycling accident,
When a young mother loses a child only a few days after it’s born,
When a wife is struck down by cancer,
When a famous basketball player we admired dies in a helicopter accident.

And suddenly we are reminded of the fragility of life.  There are a lot of “wolves and robber” roaming around in the darkness.  And if you’re still out in the darkness, you are in great peril!

Come into the Sheepfold
Jesus bids us to come.  In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus invites us to come into the safety of the Sheepfold.  He is the only way in.

And we need not worry whether we are good enough for Jesus to let us in.  The fact is, none of us is good enough.  The fact that we aren’t good is the reason we need His help in the first place.  In fact, it is a requirement for entrance into the safe place that everyone who enters recognizes and admits that they aren’t good enough.  We must confess that we have sinned and that we deserve to be lost out in the darkness, but we are begging for God’s mercy.  And when we do this, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Now, some people are too proud for all this.  Some people are like that stubborn sheep that just won’t listen to the Shepherd.  “I don’t need God,” they say.  “I can manage fine on my own.”  When the Shepherd beckons them to come in where it’s safe, they run the other way.  When the Shepherd comes after them to fetch them, they run even faster.  In pride, they jeer, “You can’t catch me.  I do what I want, when I want.  Go back and tend those other dumb sheep.  That’s not me.  I’m smarter than that.  I don’t need you.” 

Any other shepherd would get frustrated and give up.  They would throw their hands up in the air and shout, “Fine then!  Stay out here and die you stupid sheep!  I don’t care!”  But Jesus is not like other shepherds.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  We’ll talk about that next Sunday.  Jesus never gives up.  As long as there is even one stupid, stubborn sheep still wandering lost and vulnerable in the darkness, Jesus will keep searching and chasing them. 

Invitation
Maybe Jesus has been chasing you.  Maybe this pandemic that’s got us all hunkered down in our homes has got you thinking, realizing the precariousness of all life.  What if death comes knocking at your door?  What then?

Friend, I don’t want to alarm you, but I need to tell you the Truth.  Death will eventually come knocking at your door—maybe not because of this virus or even this year, but—Death comes for us all at some point in life—whether it is now or tomorrow or 70 years from now.  It is inevitable. 

But we don’t have to be afraid!  Jesus says, “I Am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.  Through Jesus, there is eternal life after death.  But I don’t want you to think it’s only living in Paradise after this life is over.  It is that, but it is so much more!  It’s also living, truly Living, in this life.  It’s being free from the fear of Death even in this dangerous world.  It’s discovering what Truly Living is.  It’s finding the true meaning of life and living into the purpose for which you were created.  It give you the courage to love the people around you, even when it’s dangerous because you know nothing can separate you from the love of God.

So I invite you and Jesus invites you to come in to Him and be saved.  But there’s only one way in:  You must recognize you need God to save you from your sins, confess your sins, and ask Jesus to save you.  Won’t you do that today?

Prayer for Salvation
Friends let’s pray together.  If Jesus has already saved you, then I praise God for it.  You pray for those who are still left in our world who haven’t turned to Jesus yet.

And if you’re just not sure today if you are saved, if your not sure that if you died today that you would spend eternity with God in Paradise, then I invite you to pray with me right now this prayer.  This prayer is meant to guide you to ask Jesus to save you from your sins and welcome you into the safety of His Sheepfold.  You pray with me.  Repeat these words with me:

“Lord Jesus, forgive me of my sins.  I know that I am a sinner.  I know that I have not lived the way You want me to.  I’ve stubbornly tried to be in charge of my own life and to do things my own way.  Lord Jesus, please forgive me.

Today, I believe that You are the Great I Am.  I believe that you died for my sins.  I’m so sorry that my wrong behavior cost you so much.  And so, I make a commitment today to let you be in in control from now on.  Lord Jesus, please let me come in and be part of your flock.  Help me to love the other people here the way You love me.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving me today.  I will try my best, with Your help, to live the way You want me to. Amen.”

Closing
Friend, if you prayed that prayer, I’m so happy for you.  You are now saved for eternal life!  Whatever happens in this life—whether now because of this current crisis or many years from now because of some unforeseen trouble—you can be sure that God loves you and will welcome you to His side when this life I over.  But even greater than that, you can now begin to truly Live right now. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

I AM the Light of the World


Introduction
Today is March 8, 2020 Anno Domini (or the Year of Our Lord), the second Sunday in Lent.  We celebrate today because Jesus, the Christ, whom the religious leaders and Roman authorities crucified nearly 2,000 years ago, rose from the grave on the Third Day.  We mark the passing of time through history by his life, death, and resurrection.

Through the centuries, people have debated the identity of this man.  Some have claimed he was only a fictional character; yet the evidence is clear, Jesus was a real man who lived in real time and space.  Some say he was a revolutionary who was killed for stirring up revolt in a volatile region of the Roman Empire.  Some say Jesus as a religious leader fighting for social justice among the poor and oppressed. Others say he was a prophet or a rabbi.  But if we really want to know who Jesus is, perhaps we should look to his own testimony.  Jesus told us who he is, in his own words, through seven famous statements we call the “I AM” statements.
1. I AM the bread of life 
2. I AM the light of the world
3. I AM the door
4. I AM the true vine
5. I AM the good shepherd
6. I AM the resurrection and the life
7. I AM the way, the truth, and the life

Last week we learned that I AM is the proper name of God.  When God revealed Himself to Moses through the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3, He told Moses His name.  He said, “Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”  And He said, “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

So the very first thing we see about Jesus is he claimed to be God.  Every time Jesus said, “I AM”, the people around him gasped.  “Did he just say that?”  Saying God’s name out loud (or even writing it) was a social taboo.  Claiming to be God could get you stoned.  And just in case you thing I’m making more of this phrase I AM, all you have to do is look at John 8:58-59, which says:

John 8:58-59
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Jesus claimed he was God.  He says it plainly John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”  But today, we consider the second I AM statement of Jesus from John 8:12. 

John 8:12
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”


Being Judged
This simple two sentence statement is nestled between two incredible stories that show Jesus’ character.  And it reveals how Jesus identity and very existence infuriate his enemies.  The first story is a very famous one—John 8:1-11. 

In summary, the Pharisees and religious leaders catch a women red handed in adultery.  The drag her, still naked, into the town square where Jesus is teaching the people.  They throw her before him and ask, "What should we do?  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?"  This is such an act of evil.  These men don't care one thing about right or wrong, or about God's Law.  Where is the man who was also committing adultery?  (You do realize it takes two people to commit adultery, right?) Only the woman is indited.  All these "religious leaders" care about is discrediting Jesus and they are even willing to sacrifice a woman's life to do it!  And they think this will do it.  They've got him.  If he says, "Stone her," then the crowds will be appalled.  If he sets her free, it will be a direct violation of the the Bible's clear teaching.  There seems to be no way out for Jesus.

Jesus' response embodies perfectly both Truth & Love.  The first thing he does is stoop down and start writing in the dirt.  The Bible doesn't say what he was writing.  Some have speculated that, maybe, he was writing out all the sins of the various people in the crowd.  I kind of like that idea.  Then Jesus stands back up and says, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  And one by one every begins to drop their stones and walk away.  At last, in John 8:10-11, Jesus says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

And the next time Jesus spoke to the people is in John 8:12 where he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

I’ll get to the second story in a minute, but first I must say how much this statement Jesus said irked the Pharisees. They were like, “You can’t say that!  You can't claim to be God.  You can't say all these things about yourself without any proof or someone else to backup your testimony.” They were already frustrated that Jesus so perfectly thwarted their attempt to trap him with the woman caught in adultery.  

And so the religious leaders argue with Jesus and he plainly tells them they are enslaved by sin.  The reason they won't accept him is that sin rules their hearts.  John 8:34-38 - 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus knew that Abraham would have accepted Jesus because Abraham's greatest desire was to trust and follow God.  And now God was standing before the religious leaders and the religious leaders hated Jesus.  They rejected him and would not accept him no matter what he did.  They would not be convinced no matter what anyone said or did.  Even if Abraham were there to testify on behalf of Jesus.  The religious leaders were stuck stumbling in darkness.  They were slaves to sin.  And they refused to be rescued.  They said, “You have no proof!  Your testimony isn’t valid!”

And that brings me to the second story.  It’s from the very next chapter in the Gospel of John.  In John 9, Jesus and the disciples are walking along and come across a man who was born blind.  The disciples ask, "Was this man born blind because of his parent's sin or his own sin."  And Jesus say, "Neither; it was so God could be glorified."  And then Jesus heals the man and he can see and he goes off to glorify God.  And the Blind man (now the seeing man) runs into the religious leaders and they ask him how is it that he can see.  They have a dilemma. If Jesus healed the man, then it is proof Jesus is who he says he is.  So they're thinking, "It looks like the man we know of that was born blind, but he must be someone else."  So they ask him and he confirms, "Yes, I was born blind, but then Jesus healed me."  But the religious leaders don't want to believe him, so they ask his parents.  And the blind man's parents are afraid what will happen to them so they just say, "Yes, this is our son and he was born blind, but we don't know how he came to be able to see again."  So the religious leaders ask the blind man again, "Come on man, give glory to God.  Tell the truth.  How did you really get your sight back."  And the blind man confirms again, "I was blind and Jesus healed me.  Do you want to follow him too?"

Now, here is clear, incontrovertible evidence.  This miracle is impossible to fake and it has been verified by two independent sources, but the Pharisees and religious leaders still reject it.  They berate the man and tell him he is a sinner and Jesus is a sinner and they have no idea where Jesus came from.  And I love the blind man's answer in John 9:30 – "The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.""  Clearly, if Jesus can do such a miracle, everyone ought to see that Jesus is very special.  But the religious leaders can't or won't see it.  The blind man sees, but the religious leaders are blind.

True Light in a Dark World
Jesus, the Light of the World, not only helps us see, but also reveals the real motives of people. The Pharisees didn't want to accept Jesus no matter what. The miracle was obvious, impossible to fake.  But the Pharisees would not accept it because it didn’t fit their selfish agenda. Sinful people are always like the Pharisees who try to manipulate the truth and make it say what they want based on their own twisted agendas. But Jesus is who he is. He is the great I AM.

And those who follow Jesus, never have to walk in darkness.  He shows the way.  It takes some time to tune your heart to see His light, but with practice and the help of His Holy Spirit, we can see and follow the light of His love.

Let me share three ways to help you walk in the light.  First, you must pray.  Talk to God and also listen through prayer.  Learn to tune your heart to feel the way you tune your ears to hear and eyes to see.  Have you ever thought you heard a faint sound and you had to strain your ears to hear?  Have you ever tried to read something that was obscured or very small and you had to strain your eyes to see it?  How many of us practice straining our heart to feel God's guidance?  We can practice that through prayer and God will lead us.

Second, read Scripture.  The Bible is God's Word.  Treasure God’s Word in your heart.  Read it.  Study it.  Meditate on it and soak it in.  Absorb the Bible into your heart so that it guides everything you do.  That way when you pray, it will bubble up to the surface as God speaks to you.

One more thing--serve.  It's not enough to pray and read the Bible; you must also put your faith into action.  The religious leaders prayed and knew the Bible, but they weren't willing to serve the way God wanted them to.  They were more concerned about their own position and power and agendas.  We must have faith in God and willingly set aside our own agendas and obey what God wants.  We must act on what we've learned through prayer and Scripture.  We musty serve.

In John 8:12, Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world."  Jesus also talked about light in the Gospel of Matthew.  It's very interesting that in Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”  He was saying that we should let our good deeds shine before people so that God receives the glory.  We're not bragging or trying to make ourselves look good.  We're glorifying God because the light inside us is not ours.  It's Christ's light.  Jesus is the Light of the world, but when we trust him and follow him, his light lives inside us.  And then we obey and serve and his light shines forth from us for all to see and they are amazed.

Is Jesus in you?
In order for the Light to shine, Jesus has to your Lord.  Is Jesus your Lord?  Are you like the Pharisees and religious leaders who walked in darkness because they had to protect their turf adn their way of life?  Are you like the like the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus refused to condemn?  Instead, he told her to leave her life of sin.  Or are you like the blind man, whom Jesus healed so he could see clearly and he decided to follow Jesus?  I pray you will decide to follow Jesus today.

Monday, March 2, 2020

I AM the Bread of Life


Introduction
If you don’t count the Sundays, there are 40 days between Ash Wednesday (last Wednesday) and Easter Sunday.  Christians call this 40-day period the season of Lent.  For centuries, Lent has been a season when Christians devote themselves to prayer, fasting, reading Scripture, and spiritual growth.  It is inspired by the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.  Today is the first Sunday in Lent. By the way, we don’t count Sundays among the 40 days of Lent because Sundays are always considering a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  We celebrate on Sundays.  So even if you are fasting, Sundays become a holiday, a break from the fast, as we celebrate that Jesus amazingly rose from the grave!

The Seven I AM Statements of Jesus
For this 40-day season of Lent, we begin a new message series that studies who Jesus said he was.  Jesus made seven famous statements about his identity in the Gospel of John.  These statements are famous because he began each statement with the phrase I AM.  He said:
I AM the bread of life
I AM the light of the world
I AM the door
I AM the true vine
I AM the good shepherd
I AM the resurrection and the life
I AM the way, the truth, and the life
 
I'm going to write about each of these statements one by one over the next several weeks.  However, there’s something very important about the phrase I AM that you could easily miss if you’re not paying close attention—something that would have been immediately obvious to Jesus' Jewish audience in the first century.  A Jewish audience knew that the phrase I AM is the proper name of God in the Old Testament.  Way back in Exodus 3:14 God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free.  Understandably, Moses was very overwhelmed by this prospect.  Pharaoh was the leader of the most powerful people on the planet.  So Moses asked God who he should say was sending him with such a bold command.  God said to tell them “I AM has sent me to you.”  It’s a strange name that is impossible to translate into English.  It means something like, “I am who I am.”  It calls to mind the total self-confidence, eternal nature, and unchanging character of God.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He existed before time and will exist forever and always.  He is the great I AM.

The name of God was so revered by the Jews of Jesus day, that they would not even say or write God’s name.  Instead, they referred to Him as “the Lord.”  Anyone who said God's proper name could be stoned to death--especially if you used it the wrong way.

So, when Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.  I AM the light of the world.  I AM the good shepherd...",  He is intentionally saying God’s name and claiming it for himself—a dangerous act of tremendous importance.  Who is Jesus?  He claimed he was God and then he used seven images to illustrate his character.  We will look at one each week. 

John 6:35
Today, we consider John 6:35, where Jesus said: 
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The Context
It's important to know the context of when Jesus made this statement.  You may have heard about the miracle Jesus performed when he fed 5,000 people.  It was actually only 5,000 men; we can assume there were also women and children among the crowd who were counted.  So it could have been as many as 10,000 or 15,000.  We don't know, but it was a lot.  And the disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish a boy in the crowd donated.  But somehow, miraculously, Jesus multiplied the bread and fish until it fed the entire crowd!  Everyone had their fill and there were actually twelve baskets full of leftovers.

So a few days later, Jesus is in the same area and the crowd sees him and they say to themselves, "Hey, there's that guy who fed us a few days ago.  Wasn't that amazing?  Maybe he'll feed us again!"  By now, the bread Jesus fed them a few days earlier has worn off and they're hungry again so they come crowding around Jesus.  And Jesus isn't stupid.  He knows what they want.  He knows they aren't interested in a learning about God through his preaching.  They just want some more food.  So Jesus says, "I am the bread of life.  Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again.  Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty."

Physical food satisfies you for a time, but then it fades and you are hungry again.  It doesn't matter how good the food is or how much you eat.  Have you ever noticed at Thanksgiving you can eat until you are so full you're almost sick, but a few hours later you are hungry again?
It’s not only food. Nothing physical ever satisfies you for long. When I was 15 years old, I couldn't wait to get a car and start driving.  So I went out looking for a job.  Winn-Dixie finally hired me to bag groceries and I saved enough money to buy an old truck so I could go out with my friends.  But the thing was old and it broke down a lot.  I spent a lot of time trying to fix it.  And I would get so frustrated as my hands were covered in grease and I was busting my knuckles trying to turn a wrench on it.  I used to say, "I can't wait till I can buy a new car that is reliable and I don't have to fix a brokedown car anymore."  And a few years later, I was able to do that; I got a brand new Toyota pickup and it was always reliable.  Funny thing is, a couple of years ago, I started thinking, "Man I wish I had an old truck again so I could go outside and tinker with it."  

We're never satisfied with the things we have.  We always want a newer car, a bigger house, or finer clothes.  Even relationships don’t fully satisfy you. You think, “If I could just find a friend that is faithful or a girlfriend or a boyfriend…"  And then you do, but it doesn't really satisfy.  Or you think, "If I could just get married… If I could just have kids…” And these things satisfy for a time, but never fully down deep in your bones.

Or we might seek fulfillment in a powerful spiritual/emotional experience.  We think, "If I could just feel God's presence and love for real.  If God would just speak to me in an audible voice."  Or, "If God would just heal my loved one from cancer..."  And many of us have had these deeply profound religious experiences.  And you would think it's enough, but these feelings too also fade.

We need something eternal, something that lasts.  And Jesus says, “That’s me. I am the one who will truly satisfy you, forever.  I am the bread of life.”

The other day, I was meeting some men from my church for lunch at a local restaurant.  I decided I was going to share Holy Communion with them right there in the restaurant during our meal.  SO I brought some bread and grape juice and a communion chalice.  The waitresses were fascinated and afterward started asking all kinds of questions about our ceremony.  And we ried to explain it to them saying the bread represents Jesus body and the wine is Jesus' blood.  And one of the waitresses, who wasn't that familiar with the Christian church seemed really concerned as she said, “So you eat his flesh and drink his blood?”  And we tried to explain to her how it was symbolic and why, but it was difficult.

Many people in the crowds who followed Jesus misunderstood Jesus in the same way.  For Jesus said in John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”  And people were appalled—this man claims to be God and says we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He’s crazy!  And many people stopped following Jesus that day because they thought Jesus was a lunatic.

The flesh and the blood symbolizes Jesus' crucifixion.  Jesus gave his body and his blood on the cross.  And the only way to find true fulfillment is if you partake of the sacrifice he made.  We don’t literally eat his flesh and drink his blood.  The bread symbolically represents his body being broken on the cross.  The wine (which is actually Welches grape juice at my church) symbolically represents his blood being shed on the cross.  Jesus gave his body and his blood to pay the price for our sin so that we can be forgiven and have a restored relationship with the Great I AM—the One, True God who created us for a relationship with Him.  That relationship is the reason we exist and it is the only thing that will satisfy the deepest hunger of our soul.

It is a relationship with God that we need. It is the only thing that truly satisfies, forever.   For some, Holy Communion is a powerful, sacred ceremony that helps them feel God’s presence. But even Holy Communion isn't enough, because it only symbolizes the restored relationship that we really need. It’s the relationship Communion represents that satisfies, not the ceremony.

Two Closing Points
Let me close by briefly making two final points.  First, those who eat the Bread of Life and are satisfied are the ones who are hungry. Are you hungry? You know how it works with food.  Even if you are given the finest meal to eat, it won't be that great if you're already full because you just ate an hour before dinner.  However, if you haven't eaten in 24 hours, even a hotdog will be wonderful.  The same is true in your spiritual life.  If you already feel like your fine on your own and pretty much have what you need, you won't be that hungry for Jesus.  Maybe you can take him or leave him, but your won't be desperate for him.  On the other hand, when you realize how desperately you need Jesus to save you and fill you and satisfy you, he will.  So part of what we need in life is simply to realize our deep spiritual hunger.  All of us are hungry for God, but we often don't realize it because we've been busy stuffing ourselves with a lot of other things that don't really satisfy.

The second point is this.  Eating is something you can only do for yourself.  You can ask someone to come over and cook a meal for you, but you can't ask them to eat for you.  You are the only one who can eat for yourself (and enjoy the taste, nourishment, and fulfillment food offers).  The same is true of your relationship with God through Jesus.  You can't rely on your parent's relationship with God or your spouses' faith.  You are responsible for your own relationship with God.  Now one else can do it for you.  They can help and encourage, but in the end, it's up to you to open yourself to a relationship with God that's made possible through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

The Good News is, Jesus is right there beside you now.  All you have to do is talk to Him.  Ask and you will receive the bread of life.

Monday, February 24, 2020

How to Pray for 30 Minutes


Introduction
A couple weeks ago, Judy Forester came to me after church and said she was really concerned about so many things that are going on in our world--problems in our denomination, divisions in our nation.  It just seems there is so much darkness in our world.  And so Judy asked, "Is there some way we could have a day of prayer and just ask people to pray for all these things?"  I said, "Absolutely!"  And so, we have designated February 27 as a day of prayer and fasting.  This Wednesday at our , Ash Wednesday service, I will share a little about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Today, I want to teach you how to pray for 30 minutes.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

Why Pray?
Before I begin teaching you how to pray for 30 minutes, I need to convince you that you must pray.  At its heart, prayer is communion with God. Prayer is the lifeblood of Christianity. Prayer is not just something Christian's do, it is the soul of who we are.  Christians believe we were created by God for a real, personal relationship with God.  If you’re not praying, you’re not communing in an active, real, and personal relationship with God. 
Can you be real friend if you never talk to or spend time with your best friends?
Can you be a good husband or wife if you never talk to or spend time with your spouse?
Can you be a real parent if you never spend time with or talk to your children?  (Sure, you can create life and give birth, but you cannot be a legitimate parent unless you have a real, personal relationship with your kids.)

Prayer is the way we spend time with God.  As with most vibrant relationships, our prayer relationship with God usually involves talking.  You don’t have to use fancy language or try to make a speech.  You don’t even have to talk like the preacher when he prays on Sunday morning (actually, please don’t!).  You have to realize, the kind of prayer a preacher prays on Sundays in church is different from the prayers we offer when we are all alone and talking to God.  Prayers said at a church service are public prayers; they're for everyone and it requires the worship leader to pray on behalf of everyone.  But when I’m all by myself and praying, I’m just talking to God like a kid talks to their mom or dad. 

Sometimes, prayer is not talking at all.  It’s just being with God—maybe sitting quietly or reading a book together, watching a movie, listening to music, or riding in the car.  Friday and Saturday, my wife and I took a trip to Ashville, NC just to get away for a couple days.  It was a three-and-a-half-hour drive.  Do you think we talked the entire time? (Some people might be able to do that, but not me or Kelly.  We are relatively quiet people and that would frankly drive us crazy.  I’m so glad I married someone with whom I can just be quiet.)  Sometimes, spending time with God through prayer is just being quiet together or listening to what He has to say as you prayerfully read your Bible or listen to some music or take a walk together. 

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
Alright, enough explanation about prayer.  How do you do it?  And how can you do it for 30 minutes?  The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help you.  I encourage you to give it a try.  In your bulletin, you will find an outline to help you follow this 30-minute plan for prayer.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  A Bible, A Notebook and a pen or pencil, A quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Praise
Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

Confess
I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

Intercede
I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Listen
Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something to write with.  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing forced you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over the prayer list found in the bulletin.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference in May.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closing
If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and it begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.