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Showing posts with label Salvation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salvation. Show all posts

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. 

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 17, 2020

He Saves the Animals Too - God's Green Earth, part 2

Introduction
Although modern Evangelical Christians are sometimes accused of shying away from teaching and preaching about environmentalism,  creation care has been part of the Christian faith for a long, long time.  Environmental themes and theology saturate the great hymns of the Church in songs like "For the Beauty of the Earth", "This is My Father's World", "How Great Thou Art", and "All Creature of Our God and King" (the words of which were written in 1225 by Saint Francis of Assisi).  Though the theology is deeply embedded in our faith, we don't always give creation care the attention it deserves.

Last week I shared how God created the green earth and we are supposed to take care of it as good stewards.  The earth is the Lords and all that’s in it.  You may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.  And in order to be good stewards who take care of the environment, you must get to the core of the problem.  You must repent of your sin and turn to Jesus as Lord so that he can restore you to a right relationship with God. Then you will recognize the earth is the Lord’s and you will begin to treat the earth with the care it desires as one of God cherished creations. 

Last week, I didn’t talk much about animals; and that’s what I want to concentrate on today.  What about the animals?  The title of the message is, “He Saves the Animals Too.”  The title is inspired by the story of Noah.  You know this story, but have you ever thought of why God saved the animals on Noah’s Ark?
 
Genesis 6:17-19
17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood.

Why Did God Save the Animals?
Have you ever thought about why God saved the animals? I mean, if they’re not important (as some people seem to think), why didn’t God go to the trouble of gathering all the animals onto the Ark? They are important to God.
All creation suffers because humanity’s sinfulness.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought a curse on all creation, including the animals.  Even though the animals did nothing wrong, they were under the authority of people and so they suffer the curse right along with us.  The way God created the world reveals a hierarchy among creation and the animals.  As God's creating progresses, things move from more and more complex elements.  First God creates light, then  water, then sky, then land.  And now the life forms become more and more sentient:  plants then fish then birds then land animals and finally people.  We see in this a general hierarchy of sentience (the capacity to think, feel, perceive, and experience life). Plants are the least sentient, unable to think, feel, and perceive (except maybe at the most basic levels). Then there are fish, birds, land animals, followed by people, who are the most sentient of all animals.

As the most capable of reason and reflection and understanding, people are to govern everything God
created as faithful stewards.  Unfortunately, humans rebel against God and choose to do things their own way and sin enters the world. The curse of sin invades humanity and all creation suffers alongside people.  And so, God, in His mercy, saves the animals along with Noah.  God will save the animals and all creation in the end too.  Listen to what Paul said in the New Testament.

Romans 8:20-21
20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 

2 Points
So far, we’ve established two points. Let me review them:  First, God saved animals in the Old Testament, in the story of Noah.  Second, in the New Testament, we see that God will save all creation in the end (which includes animals). Romans 8:21 says creation "will join God’s children in glorious freedom form death and decay."  Animals have always been and will be part of God’s great salvation plan. Salvation is not just about people. Salvation is about all creation – the people, the animals, and the land.

Animals Have Souls
This may seem odd.  Because if you’re like me, you may have heard that animals don’t have souls; that only people have souls.  This is what I was taught growing up, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.  Listen to Proverbs 12:10.  "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel." (NASB)  

Just at face value, this Proverb teaches a great principle.  Humans should treat animals well and not misuse, abuse, or exploit them without proper care and dignity.  But if you understand a little about the original Hebrew of the Proverb, you can understand even more.  

The Hebrew word translated as "life" is Nepes and it means "soul".  So, in other words, the righteous man cares about his animal’s soul.  That doesn’t mean we bring them to church and preach to them.  It means we recognize that an animal is a living thing with a soul just like you and me.  And we must treat them with the respect and dignity of a living, soul-filled being.  

Nepes, or soul, is what Genesis 2:7 says God breathed into Adam when he formed Adam from the dust of the ground.  It is the same word God uses to describe the insects, fish, birds, and cows and dogs and cats He created as well.  Nepes is the same Hebrew word the Bible uses throughout the Old Testament to refer to the souls of people and animals who are alive because God imparted a soul to them.

Nepes is the soul word used to describe animals when God put the rainbow in the sky and made a covenant with Noah and all living creatures in Genesis 9:9-10 saying, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth.” Normally, God makes covenants with people; but, in this case, God makes a covenant with the animals and all creation.

Nepes is the same word God uses to describe the lifeblood that pumps through all living creatures.  This is lifeblood, the soul, which people are forbidden to eat.  Genesis 9:4, “You must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.”  In other words, don’t eat animals while they are still alive and their soul is still there.  Not only would this be cruel, it’s evil! It’s like eating the animal’s soul and God forbids it.  If anyone eats an animal that’s still alive (or drinks its blood), God says that person must be kicked out of the community! (Leviticus 7:27)  God says, people must first end the animal’s life by letting their lifeblood cease to flow.  God says we can still eat animals (we don’t have to be vegetarians). An animal’s soul departs when their lifeblood ceases to flow.  God gives us permission to eat animals properly and humanely slaughtered.

Animal Souls & God’s Plan
So yes, animals do have souls. And animal souls are sacred to God, just as the souls within you and me are sacred to God. I don’t understand everything about how animal souls work, but I do understand this:
Animals have souls,
Animal souls are sacred to God, and
God’s plan of salvation includes the souls of animals too.


Visions of Eternal Life Include Animals
We know animals will be among us in the Afterlife.  The Bible includes animals in many visions of eternity.  Such as:

Isaiah 11:6-7 - In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.

Revelation 19:11Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

Revelation 5:13 - And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Practical Application
"Well, that's all great, Preacher, and way out there.  But what does this all mean for me?"  Treat animals as the sacred, soul-filled, living creatures loved by God that they are.  They are not disposable commodities that can be thrown away like trash.  There is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom. An insect is not the same as a bird. A bird is not the same as a dog or cat.  A dog or cat is not the same as a person.  However, they are all worthy of care, dignity, and respect.  Care for them as God's creatures.  And don't think so highly of yourself that you disregard the feelings of lower creatures.  

Furthermore, I suggest we not take for granted the food we consume.  It’s OK to eat meat. God gave us permission. However, we should never disregard or disrespect or take for granted the life of the animals we eat. In our modern world have lost touch with the sacredness of the food we consume. I'm a hunter; I sometimes kill animals.  Some may think that's cruel, but I don't.  I think it puts me more in touch with the sacredness of life, including the food we eat.  A few years ago, I was turkey hunting.  [Click here to read a poem I wrote about the experience.] I wasn't having any luck and had seen nothing all morning.  So I decided to just walk around the hunting property because it was a beautiful day.  Up ahead along the path, I heard some crows calling and thought it was odd they were being so noisy.  I just had a feeling maybe there were some turkeys gathered. So I put my shotgun to my shoulder and eased around the trees to see an open clearing where several turkey's we grazing.  I picked the one I wanted and pulled the trigger.  Boom! One of the turkeys was down and flopping around in its death throws as the rest ran off for the trees.  I walked up and stood over the turkey as its flapping wings slowed and became still as the lifeblood of the animal ceased to flow.  It was one of the most sacred moments I've experienced in life--to be with an animal as its soul departed from the justified actions of my hands.  Latter, as I ate the turkey for dinner, I had a truly spiritual understanding of the sacrifice it takes to consume the food we eat.  Some might think hunting and killing an animal is cruel.  However, you did the same thing if you ate turkey last thanksgiving.  The only difference is you were not present when the animal you ate lost its life to provide your turkey dinner.

Do you think about the sacred sacrifice that must be made anytime you eat meet.  Even if you are vegetarian, a plant likely lost its life to provide your meal.  We need to rediscover the sacredness of life and death that's played out every time we consume our food.  Never take this for granted.

The Most Important Thing – Repent
In order to make things right, to take care of the world and all the animals in it, we’ve got to go deep down to the core of the problem.  It won't do to only treat the symptoms.  What really needed it deep repentance.  We’ve got to turn away from our own sinful, selfish ambitions that thinks we are the center of everything and we've got to turn back to God through Jesus Christ.  We must recognize that Jesus is Lord.  If Jesus is your Lord, then we recognize that our Biblical mandate is to be good stewards of His creation.  Creation is sacred to God.  He loves the land and all the animals.  And our Lord has commanded us to be good stewards of it all.  It is not optional.  It is our Lord’s command.
Are you going to obey?
Is Jesus your Lord?



Monday, July 22, 2019

Glory in the Heavens


Introduction
When I think of July, I think of fireworks.  Most people probably don't think of Christmas in July.  But it's not a bad idea.  December is such a busy month and the holiday season is so commercialized; the true meaning of Christmas can get lost amidst all the hype and Christmas lights. So today, let's keep our thoughts firmly focused on the Christ Christmas celebrates. 

Slides – Luke 2:6-15
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Pointing People to God
Listen to that...  Do you hear it?  Silence is never really silent, is it?  There's always some sound in the background.  People coughing and shuffling their feet; the sound of the air conditioner running.  I wonder what sounds the shepherds heard that night as they were watching their sheep in the dead of the night outside Bethlehem. A fire crackling or sheep noises.  You only hear those kinds of sounds if you're quiet and paying attention. And so it was for the shepherds that night in Bethlehem when an angel appeared among them.  It was quiet and they were listening for any sounds that seemed out of the ordinary--a wild animal or some other danger.  That made the approach of the angel all that more obvious as the glory of God shown around them.  They came to point people to Jesus.

Jesus came to point people to God.   For years, God had sent signs to point people to God, but they were always missed or ignored. We’re usually too busy or self-absorbed to notice; and so God came Himself in the person of Jesus.  God really didn't want us to miss Him this time.  So God also sent angels to point the shepherds to the baby Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Angels
The angels came to point people to Jesus.  I have never seen an angel, let alone a whole host of them as the Christmas story describes. Have you? I've heard stories of other who've seen angels.  And the Bible tells many stories of their appearance.  The book of Hebrews in the New Testament advises that we should always be kind to strangers, because you never know if it might be an angel in disguise.  I have never seen and angel (at least that I was aware of).  However, I have seen many other glorious wonders in Heaven that have pointed me toward Jesus and God.

Fireworks
Many people have seen fireworks blasting away in the sky this month.  Did you?  Do you remember the first time you saw fireworks?  I do.  What a glorious sight to see the colorful, sparkling lights fanning out like giant fiery hydrangeas in the sky!  To a young child, these are fascinating and captivating and beautiful.  As an adult, now more aware of the meaning of the Fourth of July as the celebration of our nation’s independence, the fireworks are even more magnificent because they represent to me how God set our nation free from the tyranny of Great Britain, against all odds.  And I can see God’s hand at work in the development of our nation as I remember how many have sacrificed throughout the years.

Lightning
But there is another light show in the sky that points me to God—lightening.  Many are afraid of thunderstorms.  I was too when I was a young child.  To help, my mom would take me out on our screened-in front porch and hold me while we watched the storm together.  It is one of my fondest early memories—sitting in my mother’s lap in a rocking chair and her soothing voice, feeling the hot summer air quickly cooled by the wet rain falling as a misty breeze filtered through the screens.  And up in the sky, you can see the lightning flicker across the clouds away in the distance, like fire flickering in a giant, Japanese lantern floating across the sky.  And the deep rolling of the thunder that speaks of a tremendous underlying power in this world.  How glorious!  If there is a Creator who made it all, how glorious and beautiful and powerful must He be.

Stars
Do you ever go out at night, in the quiet, and just stare up at the stars?  I admit, I used to do it a lot more than I do now.  There is too much to distract me these days.  But as a child, we didn’t have air conditioning in our home and it was quite hot in the house by evening.  So, I often stayed outside in the summer for as long as I could.  And up in the sky you can see the same stars the shepherds saw in Bethlehem.  Throughout the ages, people have speculated as to what are these mysterious lights in the night sky.  Some have thought them to be gods or the spirits of their ancestors.  In modern times, science has shown they are giant balls of burning gas thousands of times a big as the earth and trillions of miles away.  The closest stars are around 4 light years away (i.e. it would take 4 years to get to them if you could travel at the speed of light).  The farthest stars are 5 billion light years away!  And there are about a billion trillion stars in the universe!  Some think science has disproved the existence of God.  But I look up at the glorious  stars in the heavens and see that God is more magnificent than we ever realized before!

Birds
I see living things in the heavens that point me to God too.  For instance, what a glorious thing it is to see a flock of pelicans soaring across the waves over the ocean.  How graceful they are—flying in perfect formation, making minute adjustments to the wind, barely needing to flap their wings, spotting a school of fish swimming in the water below, and then circling around to dive at breakneck speed and splash into the water to catch their meal.  We sometimes refer to an unintelligent person as a “bird-brain”.  That's ironic because with all our human intelligence and ingenuity, we only figured out how to fly relatively recently.  And now that we’ve had a little over a hundred years to practice, we still don’t even come close to the grace and beauty of a bird in flight.  If God created the birds that soar above, He is truly magnificent indeed.

People
And yet, He created people too.  And look at us!  We are amazing!  Of all the creatures in God’s green earth, we are unique and special!  There is no other animal like us.  The closest, scientists say, are chimpanzees.  And, yes, they are amazing too.  But there is no animal who can talk like us, write words on paper (and now type on a computer screen).  There is no animal that has looked at a bird and dreamed of being able to fly and then figured out how to do it.  There is no animal who has looked up at the stars in the night sky and wanted to go there and then built a rocket-ship to fly to the moon.  Some say that humans acquired these abilities by chance.  I say that makes no sense; I say the hand of God must have been involved for people to be so incredibly different from all the other creatures on the planet and to have learned all that we have and gained mastery of all others animals. 

Romans 1:20 All these things—fireworks, lightning, stars birds, people (and many more) point me to God.  It is absolutely true what Romans 1:20 says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

If we just look around, the evidence it there.  The existence and nature of God should be obvious to anyone who is honestly searching for answers.

Jesus
But the glory of Christmas is that God didn't want to leave anything to chance.  Yes, we should know about God just by looking at all the glorious things He made.  But God wants to be absolutely sure you know Him.  And if you want a job done right, you do it yourself.  So God came Himself in the flesh.  Jesus is God. 

Matthew 1:23 - “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
John 1:1 - "In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God." [Jesus is the Word.]
Hebrews 1:3 - "The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God..."
Colossians 1:15 - "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God."

Jesus is God.  He was God when the whole world was created.  He designed the birds and the clouds, and lightning and thunder.  He flung the stars across the universe with a word.  And He created you and me.   And yet, mysteriously, Jesus is also human.  He was human in every aspect: born as a baby, had to learn how to walk, grew up in a village, went to school, dealt with bullies and chores and being hungry and hot in the summertime and cold in the winter.  He knew about the yearnings of an adolescent heart, that wants to find their one true love and get married.  But Jesus, God in human flesh, came to our world for a special purpose.  He came to show us what God is like, how God loves us beyond all measure.  We are God’s one true love.  And He was willing to die for us.  And He did die for us on the cross at Calvary.

When we look at Jesus, we see God--the most perfect representation and proof of God.  We see God’s incredible love—to leave the glory of heaven to come live in our broken world and ultimately to die for us on a cross, to pay the price of our sin.  And now everything that could be done to point you back to God has been done.  All that’s left is a choice—your choice. 

Will you choose to follow God through Jesus Christ?
Or will you choose to continue to follow something or someone else?
I pray you choose Jesus.