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Monday, March 30, 2020

I Am the Vine


Introduction
Well, spring has definitely sprung!  And the weather Friday and Saturday was glorious.  This is my favorite time of year.  So, although this virus has disrupted all our lives, maybe the weather and the green grass and the budding flowers is some compensation.  So, while you’re practicing social distancing, be sure to get outside and do a little yard work, go for a walk, or just sit on your front porch for a few minutes.  The sunshine will do you good.  Sunshine give you vitamin D and vitamin D is good for your immune system and your emotional health too.

And while you’re watching the world spring to life and grow all around you, think about what Jesus said.  He told us who he is and explained his character.  Using the eternal proper name of God, “I AM”, Jesus said:
I AM the Bread of Life – the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in your soul
I AM the Light of the World – the One who reveals the truth and lights your way out of darkness
I AM the Gate – the only way into the protective safety of God’s presence
I AM the Good Shepherd – the One who knows you by name and protects you, even at the cost of His own life.

Today, we look at Jesus’ 5th I AM statement from John 15:1-17 – I AM the true vine.

John 15:1-17
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Grapevines
Jesus said, “I Am the true grapevine.”  I have never grown grapes.  I did find some wild grapes in the woods behind my house one time, which was pretty cool.  They are edible and they’re not too bad, but they just aren’t as good as the sweet, juicy cultivated grapes you get from the store.

Grapes were one of the main crops grown in Israel in Jesus’ day.  Now, I’m not a grape farmer, but here’s what I have read about it.  It takes three years for grapevines to mature enough to produce fruit.  The first year the vines grow up very fast and gardeners train the vines to grow over a lattice.  The second year, the vine may produce some fruit, but only small impotent berries.  By the third year, the grapevine is ready to produce a real crop, but only if the vine has been properly pruned.

Grapes develop only on new growth, which sprouts from 1-year-old wood.  So, in the vine's second fall, the gardener must prune off about 70 percent of the plant, leaving just the main trunk and canes.   Now think about that...  70 percent!  I'm not a gardener and chopping away 70 percent of a healthy looking grapevine until all that was left is a bare, ugly, hacked up vine would scare me to death!

If the gardener fails to properly prune the grapevine in this way, it will not be very fruitful.  But if the gardener, in faith, cuts away 70% of the vines branches, that same vine will grow new branches and shoots and will be fantastically fruitful—producing the wonderfully sweet and juicy grapes we all know and love.

I Am the Vine, You are the Branches
In this I AM statement, Jesus not only tells us who He is, but also who we are.  He is the true vine, we are the branches.  The True vine is the source of life.  It is the part of the plant that reaches down into the soil and draws up life-giving water and nourishing minerals.  These essential elements are distributed out into the branches so they can produce fruit.  Apart from the vine, the branches are useless.

Yesterday, I cut my grass for the first time this season.  Before I could cut, I had to go around and pick up several small, broken branches that had fallen out of trees over the winter.  What are those small broken branches good for?  Nothing.  I pile mine up next to our fire pit and burn them whenever we have a bonfire.

Now, Jesus isn’t talking about agriculture.  He’s talking about your spiritual life and your relationship with God in Christ.  We must remain connected to Christ and when we do and when we allow God to properly prune us, we will bear much fruit.

Spiritual Fruit
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the kinds of spiritual fruit Christians produce:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit.  Now there's something about fruit.  It isn't for the plant that produces it.  It's for others.  The grapes on a grape vine aren’t for the grapevine to eat. Right?  The sweet, juicy grape is not for the vine; it’s for others. Right?  Maybe it’s for the birds or animals or the gardener, but the vine doesn’t eat the fruit.  But every grape (every fruit) has seeds in it.  And if a bird eats the seed andn flies away to another field, the fruit will be digested and the seed will be dropped (in a load of wonderful fertilizer).  It may take root and grow a new vine.  Or maybe the gardener eats the fruit and collects the seeds and plants a new vine, which produces even more fruit.  

Think about the seed/fruit principle in terms of your own spiritual fruit.  When we follow Christ as our Lord, the Holy Spirit grow spiritual fruit in us--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.  And in general, these fruits not only bless us, but hey bless others even more.  So when the world is turned upside down and everyone is full of fear, we have a spiritual "peace that passes all understanding".  And others enjoy this peace in us (or love or joy or kindness...).  But, just like the grapes, inside every fruit of the spirit is a seed--the seed of the Gospel.  And as people see this fruit in us and enjoy it, the also get the seed of the Gospel.  They may think, "Why is this person so full of peace, patience, kindness?  I wish I had more of that."  And they find out the person is a Christian and Jesus' Holy Spirit is the source of their spiritual fruit.  And sometimes, the Gospel seed takes root and grows in their heart too and they begin to follow Christ.  And even more fruit begins to grow in our world.

Spiritual Pruning
Now, God (the Gardener) is no fool.  He knows there are many branches on the Jesus vine who are useless, resource sucking, “no fruit producing” branches.  These selfish people are only hoping to hide is Christ and avoid eternal punishment in Hell.  These useless branches care nothing for God’s glory or Kingdom.  They’re only in it for themselves and what Jesus can do for them.  But God cannot be fooled.  The Great Gardener of our souls knows how to tell a useless, resource stealing branch from branches with real potential.  And God cuts away those useless branches who will never produce fruit and throws them into the fire (because that’s all they’re good for).

I gave my life to Christ and became a Christian when I was only 8 years old.  To start with, I was a very unfruitful branch.  Quite honestly, I became a Christian for merely selfish reasons.  I learned in Children's Church at Pine Forest Baptist Church that if a person accepts Jesus into their heart, they will receive eternal life with God in Heaven, where there will be no more suffering or sickness or death.  It will be a paradise that lasts forever.  And I also learned that if you reject Christ and die, you will spend eternity in Hell, a place of eternal torment from which there is no escape.  Now, it didn't take much to convince me that I wanted to go to heaven and not hell.  So I chose to follow Christ.  It was purely a selfish decision.  I wasn't very interested in serving God or being fruitful.  And for several years as an immature Christian, that's how I lived.

I am so thankful now, that God is abounding in patience and mercy and He waited for me to mature in my faith until I was less selfish and began to bear fruit.  Eventually, I began to realize how wonderful God is and what Jesus had done for me.  And I began to see how I loved Him, becuase He first loved me.  And I also began to see how God loves everyone and I want to love those whom od loves.  I bean to feel compassion for others and want to serve them the way Jesus has served me.  Only then, did I begin to start bearing fruit.

God has been merciful and patient with you--oh fruitless Christian--but how long must God wait on you before you wake up and find your heart warmed to love others and be fruitful?  God will not wait forever.  While He waits for you, you are consuming resources and space that could be used by a more fruitful branch.  Wake up, oh useless branch, and begin to be fruitful lest you be pruned away and thrown into the pile of useless branches destined for the fire!

Even for those who remain in Christ, who truly are good branches, who truly do desire to bear fruit, there is a kind of pruning that must take place.  There are many things in our lives that must be pruned away.  I don't know what percentage of your life must be cut away to make room for fruit.  However, consider the grapevine, which must lose 70% of it's branches to be fruitful each year.  What would it look like if you lost 70% of yourself to God's spiritual pruning?

As we go through the difficulties of the COVID 19 pandemic, much of our lives has been turned upside down.  Maybe we are experiencing a spiritual pruning.  I invite you to consider, what are you learning from these very interesting days we are living through?  What are some things God may be cutting away from your life so that you can be more fruitful?  What are some new things God is growing in you (where less fruitful branches once were) that might bear real fruit for His Kingdom?  Maybe there are some things you should not return to once this is all over and we find our new normal.

Invitation
Jesus said, I AM the true vine.  If you remain in Him, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing and will wither and die.  Then you will be discarded to the trash pile to be burned up later.  The Good News is, you can choose who you will be.  Through the gracious power of the Holy Spirit, God allows you to decide.

Will you choose to remain disconnected from Jesus, chasing your own selfish desires? These are useless. They lead to nothing. They only suck your life away until you are a dried up withered branch that’s only good for the fire.

Or will you try to hide among the other “Christian” branches, just trying to “look” like a Christian and “act” like a Christian but not really producing any fruit for God, hoping you will go unnoticed by the Master Gardener? Let me assure, nothing escapes the Gardener's discerning eye. He knows and will cut away any useless branch, to make room for new branches to grow that will bear much fruit.

I pray that today you will choose to be one of Christ’s faithful, connected branches, allowing God to prune you so you can bear much fruit for His Kingdom. Won’t you pray for God to help you choose to be fruitful today?

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.