Overcome

November 25, 2018

John 16:33… I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

            I have always loved this verse. This chapter began with the same words… “I have said the things to you to keep you from falling away.” So, in Jesus’ mind, this was powerful, “I have said these things to you…” So I write again about the importance of Jesus’ words. Last night, when I lay down to sleep, I thought of this. The words that came to mind were: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Combine that with, “I have overcome the world.” and we can know that in Christ, we, too, overcome the world. Notice, He did not defeat the world; He overcame it. How we wish He would have conquered it. We conquer with bombs; we overcome with love. The world still exists; but it is toothless. Jesus defeated the power of death. It is no longer the end for us; it is the beginning of a new existence. With his resurrection, Jesus rendered death, Satan’s most lethal weapon, useless. In Christ, we overcome the world. We have resurrection life. Jesus said, “Fear not him who can kill the body; rather, fear Him who can destroy both the body and the soul.” God sets Satan’s boundaries. In that… we can rejoice. Satan can hit us with tribulation; but Jesus has overcome him.

             I don’t like tribulation. I don’t know anybody who does. It reminds us that we have an enemy. But, Jesus reminds us that He overcame him. Tribulation is a time to rejoice. (Romans 5:3, Matthew 5:11 & 12) Our Savior is not an escape hatch; He is a conqueror. He is a passageway, hidden only to those who are looking to the world for help. Listen to Jesus. He is the way and He will tell us the way. This chapter is huge. “I have told you these things so that…” What Jesus has told us is our connection to deliverance. Know His words.

            And, we learn the desire of His heart in this chapter as well. He was leaving the disciples for a trip to his Father; He comforted them with words. He comforts us as well… with words. Without Jesus, the Bible is a frightening book  of power. Jesus lets us know that the power of God is love.  And love conquers all. Overcome your enemies with love.

Falling Away

November 24, 2018

John 16:1…. I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.

            He had just taught His disciples, us, about persecution which the world would bring against us. He who was/is perfect and complete love, was persecuted; how is it that we think we will avoid it? But He gave us this warning to keep us from falling away. “Falling away” is not like walking away. We might know when we are walking away from God, but can we tell when we are falling? “Falling” could be a result of instability. I have found that as I age, I am a bit unstable. Your body has built in stabilizers that act when your bubble is off center. I have found that with age, I have lost some reaction time, and I don’t center as quickly or as dependably as I used to. According to today’s verse, spiritual stability is provided by Jesus’ words.

            By experience, I would say that spiritual instability is unintentional. I don’t recall ever thinking, “I think I will fall away from God now.”  So, it is possible to “fall away”, an unintentional, undesired, action, from God. How can I avoid this? I must ask myself, “What has Jesus said about this situation?” When adverse circumstances chase you down and cause you persecution, your healing and deliverance, comes from God. But I am thinking about another application for this verse.

Have you ever noticed that someone else is not living up to your expectations? Perhaps they are not intentionally walking away from God. Perhaps they are “falling”, not toward God, but away from Him. You can exhort someone who is walking away, but it is a waste of breath to exhort someone who is falling. That person needs a stable hand to hold them. Holding someone up is more time consuming than exhorting them. It is more selfless. Like the old song says, “Before you abuse,

criticize and accuse,

walk a mile in my shoes.”

Sometimes our words are mean; and, they are sometimes not the needed answer. Some people are “falling.” Encourage them with words of Jesus.

His words “Keep us from falling away.”        

The Path

November 23, 2018

John 15:4…Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

            This chapter is about focus, or perspective. If you want to bear fruit, stay plugged in to the vine… Jesus.

Verse 5… I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing.

            You can act like fruit or try to produce fruit all day long, but it won’t happen if you are not in Christ. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

             Even our prayers must be prayed in Him.

Verse 7… If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.

            We don’t pray according to our desires and wants; we pray according to the words of God abiding in us. For that to happen, we must abide in Christ. And that is not all. Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus?

 Verse 8… By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

            Notice the sequence:

1.     We abide in Jesus.

2.     We bear much fruit.

3.     We prove our discipleship.

4.     We glorify the Father.

What is our focus? Our initial focus is essential to all of the above. We abide in Jesus. Some people try to do #2, some #3, and still others #4.

2,3 &4 are results of #1. John list one more benefit for us:

Verse 11… These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.

 #5. We have fullness of joy.

              Most people fill their days with things that bring them joy… or happiness, which the world substitutes for joy. This particular theme is a constant in this final conversation between Jesus and His disciples.  

Orphans

November 22, 2018

John 14:18… I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

            This is a simple little promise in a chapter of promises. It might be easy to gloss over this, but these are the words of Jesus. We dare not gloss over them.

What is an orphan? My memory tells me that an orphan is a child without active parents. Our Father is actively parenting us. Jesus is actively caring for us. We are not orphans. And this is a promise…”I will come to you.” In another teaching, He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Today’s words are not referring to his second coming. He will not leave us… and come back someday.

            “I will not leave you…” Any separation that we feel is on our part. We sometimes leave Him. One way that we leave Him is by pursuing religion instead. My definition of religion is “Man’s attempts to please God through ritual and repetition.” God does not need religion to know us. And we don’t need to do things correctly in order to be known; “I will never leave you…”

Orphans might be inclined to try to outdo other orphans to get attention. Jesus removes all competition with His expression of love. And love is the summation of the law. Ask yourself and answer… “Do I believe in God’s love?”

            “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” Do you believe that?

Or, maybe another question… Do you believe that is enough? We have a tendency to think that we must do more. “More” means something different to each one of us. If Jesus is giving all of us relationship, why would we want more? The world defines for us how we ought to act. Religion asks, “Are you doing all you can do?” When we try to answer that question, the answer is usually, “I don’t know.” What you really need is God in your life. What we are told by unknowing people is that we need more activity. All we need is God.

And, He has promised. He did not promise more activities; He promised love. God is not asking something of us that He won’t do. He won’t leave us… don’t leave Him for religious activities.          

Get Back Up

November 21, 2018

John 13:37-38… Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me 3 times.”

            This exchange took place on the night Jesus was betrayed. It is well documented in the Bible that Peter denied Jesus. Jesus was prophetic. He was/is God and God is all-knowing. Did He express what He knew of Peter or did He prophecy it into existence? I believe that He knew Peter and knew what was going to happen. I don’t believe He prophesied it into existence.

            Jesus knows each of us and He knows our reactions. He works with us on our path to total transformation. He does not Spiritually transform us into perfect godly people. He could make that happen, so, since it doesn’t happen that way, it is not His plan. We choose godliness. And yes, he has already chosen it for us, but we join Him when we make that choice. We don’t become godly by a discipline of our will; we become godly by the power of God.

            Peter did not see this clearly. He assumed he could make the right decisions. When you pray, when you talk to Jesus, be careful to not brag about your intentions. In another place and time, Jesus gave the example of a Pharisee and a sinner going to the temple to pray: The Pharisee prayed bragadociously that he was a good person. The sinner said, “Lord, have mercy on me… a sinner.” The sinner’s prayer was heard and received in heaven. We may think that we would never deny God, but perhaps we haven’t experienced the test of the century. Guard your mouth. Let your words be few. Keep the difference between confidence and pride. In Hebrews we learn to come boldly before the throne of grace. That does not mean, “proudly.” It means “confidently.”

            Face the Devil authoritatively. Approach God humbly. As we continue reading, we learn that Peter’s denial was not the end of Jesus’ work in him. He preached the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Have you denied Jesus? Have you disobeyed his words? Don’t cower in defeat; come to Jesus and let Him complete the work He began in you. We are being transformed… by Him.  

The Words of God

November 20, 2018

John 12:48-49… The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment… what to say and what to speak.

            Jesus’ words define who He is. One cannot say they love Jesus but reject His words. In fact, when we love God’s word, we show our love for Jesus. The Bible is more than a “Good Book.” It is a compilation of God’s words. Owning a Bible is not our testimony of God’s greatness; knowing the contents of it is what we need. I have known people who have said to me, “I read the Bible”… and then they have proceeded to tell me what it says. The word “read” in that quote is the past tense, like “red.” Some people read through the Bible when they were young, in classes.                

            I find it interesting that people will speak with authority about what the Bible says when they read it once, years ago. Mostly, what we remember is what we have heard on line or on a broadcast. When someone takes the time to make a video, we tend to believe it more. That is unfortunate. Jesus said, on a number of occasions, “Have you not read?” That question defines our path. He did not say, ‘Have you not seen the video?”  Don’t be content to have a Bible in your house and to read ‘Jim’s daily journal’, and have opinions that you assume are correct; read your Bible.  When the children of Israel were walking through the desert, God sent them manna from heaven to eat. Manna was sent from heaven, the food of angels. God gave some specific instructions about manna.

“Gather every morning, enough for the day. Don’t try to make it last more than a day.” Our ‘bread from heaven’ is God’s word. We are to gather it daily. Our memories are tainted by sin. That is why we must read daily. We will tend to remember things according to feelings. Some things make us feel good; some make us hurt. We will avoid the memories that hurt and repeat the ones that felt good. God’s plan for us is to live according to what He gives us daily… not what we think we remember. Don’t be content with yesterday’s ‘ba-manna bread.’ Read daily. Know God. He is alive and speaking.     

The Crowd

November 19, 2018

John 12:17-19… The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised Him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason the crowd went to meet Him is that they heard He had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him.”

            It would appear that some of this crowd who cheered for Jesus were also in the crowd that shouted “Crucify him” less than a week later. How could that be? Partly, I believe, it was because of crowd dynamics. When you are in a crowd, it is sort of natural to want to fit in… to be part of the crowd, not just with the crowd.

            I had a difficult time during adolescence, as I know may people did and still do. My parents were my assumed authority on everything… until I got to high school. The crowd of kids that made up our high school were from many differing backgrounds. My parents became just one of the influences in my life. ‘Fitting into the crowd at school’ became a need in me. One day I saw a friend standing with some buddies across the street. I approached them, wanting recognition. When I got close, I realized they were smoking. I had never smoked but wanting to fit in was a powerful urge so when one of the guys offered me a smoke, I took it and lit it… hoping they wouldn’t notice I did not know what I was doing. But, God was watching out for me. The cigarette was a Lucky Strike without a filter. He had planted a tiny explosive charge in the tobacco and it blew up in my face. I had tobacco all over me. They laughed, so I laughed. I knew I had been duped but It was still better than not fitting anywhere. The moral of that story is,  “Control your desire to fit into a crowd.”

            For just a moment, I felt group acceptance; but I never joined those guys again nor did I ever smoke. Like I said, “God protected me.” But here is another story: At that time, the accepted  ‘look’ was shirts with button down collars. I didn’t have any. My mom bought me shirts where the collars just flapped in the wind. I sat in my room at night and sewed buttons on my collars. I put the collar where I wanted it and sewed the button right through the collar and the shirt.

Only God Knows

November 18, 2018

John 11:32… Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at his feet saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

            These were the same words that were spoken by her sister, Martha, when she saw Jesus. (see verse 30)Their brother, who had died, was Lazarus… whom Jesus knew and loved. By their words, both sisters showed that they had faith in Jesus. What they seemed to not grasp was His timing and His power. Jesus proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead. The sisters thought, “You are too late, Jesus.” He knew that they just didn’t know the power of God. Have you ever wondered about God’s timing? I have. So often, He has acted at the last minute, or at least that I how it has seemed to me. Who decided when was the last minute? We decide that. God is not bound by time or place. The sisters did not grasp that. “If you had been here…” That puts time and place limitations on God. Have you ever done that? When I pray for someone’s healing, I usually think, “This would be a good time Lord.” My thoughts are, “Here, in this place, and now.” One variable that God holds on to is timing. And that is the one thing we want to control. Of the hour of His return, Jesus said, “No one knows, only the Father in heaven.” Jesus didn’t even know.  He had an intimate relationship with the Father, but he didn’t even know the Father’s timing.

            That tells us something about relationship with God. He holds some information in His own confidence. Our lack of knowledge does not necessarily mean we have no relationship. That reminds me of one of my pet thoughts… there will always be a certain amount of mystery surrounding God.

Isaiah 55:9… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

              Why, when we read that verse, do we think, “Well, I just have to try harder.” In my lifetime, the heaven have remained far above the earth. That is our picture of God’s thoughts and ours. Allow room for mystery. God will defeat His enemy with love… not a bigger gun. Does that make any sense to you? His ways will not always make sense. Timing is not ours; it is His.

Knowing God

November 17, 2018

John 10:24…So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

            This exchange shows us that the Pharisees weren’t totally confident about Jesus being an imposture. They opposed Him because He did not meet some of their preconceived opinions about the Christ. They believed their interpretation of scripture more than they believed God. Are we ever guilty of that? Denominations are formed, at least partly, because of interpretation of scripture. Scripture is vague enough to allow for error on our part. Did I just say that? It’s really not vague; it is complex. It is an autobiography from God and he is above all out thoughts and ways. He says, “Come to me”… but how do we do that when He is invisible and, by His own words, unviewable? “One cannot see God and live.” The Jews knew that, so when Jesus said that He came from God, they heard him as blasphemous. We know Him in/by His words. People talk about experiences with Jesus; and I don’t discount or doubt those. Paul had an encounter with Jesus and he described him as a bright light which he could not look at intently. I am always skeptical of 1st person encounters with Jesus. If you are holding onto one of those, I am not disagreeing with you, I am just skeptical.

I have heard some stories that are just that…stories.

            If a new Christian was going to read the Bible for the first time, he would likely start at the beginning. That seems logical, and he would probably appreciate Genesis. But what would happen as he read Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers? Those books are difficult and don’t have much value except in the context of the whole Bible; so reading them in order causes consternation and doubt. When I first began to study, I was not aware of the ongoing revelation. I just knew I needed to read my Bible. Over years, I have learned that my humanness doesn’t grasp the Spiritual things of God. Only as I am saturated in His words can I begin to understand his word. He is revealed line upon line, precept upon precept. Each new understanding is a door to a greater truth.(see Isaiah 28:9&10) Though we cannot see God and live, He allows us to ‘see’ Him in his words. He is so gracious. We can know our King.       

Our Good Shepherd

November 16, 2018

John 10:10… The thief comes only to steal kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

             I have heard many people use this verse to describe Satan’s antics. That is probably a good translation but it requires taking the verse out of context, which is unacceptable for a diligent student. In context, this section of scripture is about hirelings as opposed to shepherds. Hirelings are paid to watch sheep. In contrast to that, shepherds own the sheep. Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd.”  We, as sheep, belong to Him. His death on the cross showed His devotion to us… not just His obedience to a task.

   Verse 8   “All who came before me are robbers and thieves.”

            Be cautious of ministers who claim to come in the name of the Lord. They are not all from God. Jesus calls them robbers and thieves.  They will run away when they aren’t sufficiently paid. What does it mean to come “in the name of the lord?” One can be in the name of the Lord or one can just say it. We, as humans, can’t know the difference. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” We follow a voice that never changes. His words are always the same words. As sheep, we know the voice of our shepherd. To spot counterfeit money,  bank employees are exposed exclusively to the real thing. Eventually, they spot anything that is not real. That is our path to knowing the voice of our Lord. Saturate your life with the words of Jesus… don’t study other words to learn about Jesus. I have known people who say they study other religions in order to be persuaded about Jesus. That path is muddy and slippery. Follow Jesus, only. He never tells us to look around and compare His words. He says, “Follow Me.”

A good Shepherd is necessarily possessive. Jesus will not hand us off to a  hireling… He has sheep dogs to help Him keep the sheep moving in the direction He wants. We call those dogs, pastors and teachers. Legitimate pastors are hands and feet for Jesus; they have His goals as theirs. Today’s verse tells us that Jesus’ goal for us is abundance. He is our shepherd for our benefit… not His.

Abundant life, according to the whole Bible, is not more of what the world has to offer ; It is more righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom.14:17)    

Active Faith

November 15, 2018

John 9:39… Jesus said, “For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.

              Did Jesus come to make those, who can see, blind? He said that. He had just healed a blind man. The reaction of the Pharisees opened the door for this conversation. Jesus spoke of two sets of eyes. We might know them as physical eyes that show us the world around us and the eyes of our heart that show us the world of God. The Pharisees had physical eyes and they considered that they could see. Jesus called them blind, which angered them. Jesus had healed the man on a Sabbth, which they could see was not possibly from God because God would not disobey His own commandment about the Sabbath… a commandment which they observed carefully. They had stared at the commandment so much that they lost sight of why it was given. It was not given just so that one day a week would be different from all the others. In Galatians we learn, “The Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” So, the commandment about the Sabbath was to lead us to Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath.

The world says: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

God says, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”

            Faith is the active ingredient in God’s world.

Hebrews 11:1… Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

            When the eyes of our hearts see God at work, our physical eyes can see the world differently. When we are only convinced of what our physical eyes can see, our faith is asleep/dead. Jesus said, “We are blind.” Physical blindness is debilitating in the world. Faithlessness is devastating in both the world and in God’s kingdom.

            Don’t be consumed with worldly vision. Worldly vision cannot see Jesus.

He no longer has a physical presence here. He does have a spiritual presence in which we can only see Him by faith. Pray that your faith fail not. When you sing, “I see the Lord,” you are singing of active faith. Be sure you “have it.”  

Who is your Father?

November 14, 2018

John 8:43-44… Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

            This is a profound revelation that Jesus gives us about the Devil:

1.     He was a murderer from the beginning

2.     He is a liar

3.     He is the father of lies

Because of this, he:

4.     Has no truth in him and has nothing to do with the truth.  

            The other thing it tells me is that there are only 2 types of people… guardians of the truth and liars. There is no in-between ground. That reminds me of a statement that we make fairly often… ‘So and so is a good Christian’ … According to today’s reading, that is not a category. And one must ask the question,  “Does that mean there are not-good Christians?” Does God know?  When we are being transformed, we are still influenced by evil. But, we are  Christians. 1 John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we lie. We are sinners, saved by grace. That is the truth. Take your pulse. Are you alive because of the truth or are you alive because of lies? I have noticed that some lies generate a false reality. Sometimes people live in a false reality. It is sustained by lies. That is the work of the Devil. The Pharisees, who argued with Jesus often, Were the leaders of the Jewish religion, and Jesus told them they were of their father, the devil. So, we ask. “Who is your father?” Apparently, it is determined by our will:

“Your will is to do your father’s desires.”

            It is my will to guard and promote truth. That is because I am a son of my Father in heaven. It is not because I am a good person; I am a sinner, saved by grace. Grace is an all-encompassing life force; it is not a one and done event.  We exist in the life force of God. “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

            We find no life in the lies of the Devil. We are put off by them.  

Right Judgment

November 13, 2018

John 7:24…Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

            These are the words of Jesus who also taught us:
Matthew 7:1… Judge not! That you be not judged.

            Which is it? Do we judge or not? In today’s verse He adds clarity. “Do not judge by appearances.” “Judging according to appearances” is the default of humans. We abide by the rule… “Seeing is believing.” Of Jesus , Thomas said, when he was not with the other disciple when Jesus appeared to them, “Unless I see in His hands the marks of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Seeing, and in Thomas’s case, touching, are needed proofs of words of truth. Had Jesus risen from the grave?  Yes, He had. We know that in hindsight, but do we believe it, or do we require additional proof?

            Jesus’ warning is “Do not judge by appearances.” If you do, you will be so judged. On any given day, I would not want to be judged by appearances. I do not always make righteous decisions. I want to, and if anyone is listening I will talk like I do but I know that I don’t and if you doubt me just ask my wife.  God told me one time, “The Truth does not require proof.” It is the truth regardless of what we think. Can you prove salvation? But, do you believe in it anyway?

Jesus also said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Do you believe that matters? Do you need proof? Sometimes, when we struggle to obey, we demand further proof. I have some friends who are going to a foreign country to minister the gospel. They are certain they have heard the call of God. I have not heard that call. I hear, “Brighton the corner where you are.” Each one of us must know the call of God; we must not compare it to someone else’s call. And we don’t need anyone else to believe us; we need God, only, to confirm His word to us. People will judge you wrongly. They will judge by appearances. That is the human way. And I have known some people who have required proof. God is not silenced by that. And we should not judge it. Check your own heart… Do you judge by appearances? Or do you judge righteously? To judge righteously is to judge by God’s word. Often appearances do not support God’s word.          

Feast on the Word

 

November 12, 2018

John 6:56… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

            Is Jesus endorsing cannibalism? It certainly sounds like it. Churches have a ritual called Communion or The Lord’s Supper. This time in the gospel is not the time of the Lord’s Supper. Fortunately, for us as seekers, Jesus adds clarification.

Verse 63… It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.

            Jesus’ spoken words are life to us. We feed on His words. If you have a red letter Bible, you know that Jesus’ words are recorded in the 4 gospels and a little bit in Acts and in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3. You know this because the words are written in red. As you study, however, you will note that Jesus spoke much of the New Testament into existence. For example: In the 4th chapter of Luke, he records for us an account of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. Jesus was alone when that happened, so how did Luke write about it? The Holy Spirit must have prompted him, or Jesus must have told Him. The apostle Paul wrote a great deal about Jesus, but he did not walk with Him. Should we still read his letters? The Holy Spirit guided the writing of the Bible. As further proof, we are told that Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible. Moses was not present at creation. But, he wrote the account of it in Genesis. The Holy Spirit was present and he inspired Moses, many years later. If you have a red letter edition of the Bible, just note that only the words of Jesus that we know about are written in red. In John 14:26, we learn that Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will remind you of my words.” The Holy Spirit does not speak of Himself, He speaks of Jesus…  who, in turn, leads us to the Father. And He sends us the Holy Spirit. Can you see the humble cooperation in the Trinity?

            In today’s reading, Jesus told His followers to eat His flesh. Then he went on to tell them that His words were the flesh of which He spoke. Knowing the Bible is not an option for us; it is essential.

All the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”

 

Believe God

November 10, 2018

John 5:24… Truly, truly, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me

Has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.

            I have been intrigued by the word “in” as it is used in the Bible. It started with the phrase “in Christ.” Nicodemus asked a question in the 3rd chapter that was slightly comical but resonates true… “ How can one be born again? Can he climb back into his mother’s womb and be born again? I ask, from my pondering, how can we be in Christ? Are we in His body, somewhere? And that brings me to the elementary question… “Do you have Jesus in your heart?” We ask that of children. They know to say, “Yes” but imagine the consternation they must endure thinking about that question. Is Jesus in me or am I in Him? Is the Holy Spirit in me or am I in the Holy Spirit? The word, “in” is powerful.

            You might be asking, “Why is Jim telling us this? The word “in” is not in the text.” And that is my point exactly. John did not put it in so we must not.

“Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me”… He did NOT say, “Whoever hears my word and believes in Him who sent me…” Many people believe in God, but few believe Him. You might say, “I believe in God; I believe He created heaven and earth; I believe He sent Jesus to redeem us from the grasp of sin and death.” But, then you deny Him by supporting legalized murder, abortion. God said specifically, “Do not murder.” Do you believe in God but not believe God? I have exposed my personal bias. Abortion is murder. I am aware of circumstances whereby abortion is a viable solution to a later problem. I don’t have my head in the sand. But, look down the road. If we, who are human, are deciding who can be born and who can’t, are we not stepping into the place of judge? Isn’t that what Hitler did? I have made, and possibly will continue to make, enemies because of this issue but, “Oh well.” I read that the only way to be in agreement with everybody is to not have an opinion about anything. I try to avoid opinions that include judgment but legalized abortion makes me mad so I have an opinion.

            I am done ranting. But the question still matters… Do you believe God?

Led by the Spirit

November 9, 2018

Psalms 100:4… Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and bless His name.

            Is this an observation or does it give us a key? We used to sing a song that began with thee lines: “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart;

                                          I will enter his courts with praise.”  

            I sort of loosely interpreted that to give an order to a song service. Start with songs of thanksgiving and then do songs of praise…

            That was probably a good interpretation, but, God didn’t leave me there. In fact, He messed with my habit of applying scripture to gatherings and not so much to individuals. I was trained in church work and sort of saw that as the ultimate expression of life on this planet. God led me through a gate. The first thing I heard was, “Jesus will not likely return on a Sunday morning when I am dressed in my “Sunday best”. He might come on a Tuesday or a Friday, sometime when I least expect him. And then I noticed a scripture that I loved.  

John 10:10b… I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. He did not say, ‘I came that they might have meetings and have them more abundantly.’ I began to apply scripture to daily life instead of to church life.

He then began to teach me that it is not either/or; often it is both. The scripture we are looking at today changed under that scrutiny. Instead of just being a good consideration when preparing a song service, it became a way to look at life. When I was full of thanksgiving and praise, I found myself in His kingdom, hearing His voice and enjoying His blessing. When we proclaim thanksgiving and praise, we enter His world. He inhabits the praise of his people. (Psalms 22:3)

            This verse is a way of life, a way of thinking. Everyday! Not just Sundays. God led me on a path to this conclusion. You may already be there. I am a stubborn mule of a man. You might be a gentle sheep. In any event, if you have relegated any scripture to the church instead of your life, you might want to look at it again. Ask God for revelation. Be sure the Holy Spirit is your interpreter, and not culture. And… you are His witness all day every day, not just when you want to be. “In Him, we live and move and have our being”    

Worship

November 8, 2018

John 4:23… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

            This is possibly the single most comprehensive statement about worship in the Bible. It was made by Jesus to a Samaritan woman. It was unusual for a Jew to speak with a Samaritan or a woman. To Jesus, a person was a person, He did not judge according to labels and other distinctions. If we want to follow in His steps, we, too, must learn to see people as individuals and not members of groups. We are currently embroiled in political rhetoric about the midterm elections which just happened. Are you a Democrat or a Republican? That is a rhetorical question; I am not looking for an answer. Study to know. I am a Republican on paper, but in conscience, I am actually an anti-democrat. Our previous presidential election identified my persuasion. I was not sure if I was a Trump fan, but I was most definitely not a Hilary fan. I was more negative than positive. I am opposed to liberal, progressive, thinking so I voted against that. By definition I voted conservative. Am I, then, a conservative? If it means I care more about profit than people, then I am not. I would not want Jesus to put us in groups called Republican and Democrat. And then treat us according to the accusations of the other group. Voting, for many of us, is a crap shoot. Who knows what a person really believes? The woman at the well, in today’s story, was a woman and she was a Samaritan, both by birth. Jewish leaders tended to ignore, and disregard, both. Jesus did not; He saw a person who needed love.

Jesus is our leader and our example. He spoke; His first sentence cleared the air  regarding her questions. As soon as she perceived Jesus was a prophet, she mentioned a disagreement between Jews and Samaritans. In essence Jesus said, “You are asking the wrong question; The Father is seeking people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.” So that is our criteria.

            The first thing I notice is that the Father is not seeking worship; He is seeking people who worship. We can’t hide behind an action that we identify as worship. We must be a person of worship. It’s your heart, not your associations.           

Heaven

November 7, 2018

John 3:21… He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

            This is a sandwich statement. The opening and closing phrases are the same, and between them is another thought. Usually, when a phrase or word is doubled, it is important, so let’s look at this.

“He who comes from above is above all” And then the closing thought… “He who comes from heaven is above all” The slight difference between the two is a clarifier. From this we can assume, ‘heaven is above’. But, what does that mean? Isn’t God all places at all times? And isn’t He “at hand”? Where is heaven, anyway?  I believe heaven exists in a dimension that human senses can’t discern. He is nor hiding in the heavens, waiting to appear. He is our ever present help in time of need.”Ever present”… He doesn’t show up; He is present always. This is not abundantly clear in the scriptures, so I ask that you do your own study and determine for yourself where heaven is. I am stating my opinion which is subject to my humanness. The middle of the sandwich is… “he who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.”  

            We are of the earth, born in the flesh. We belong to the earth… so much so that when we die, our bodies return to the dust from whence they came. They stay here for eternity. Oh my, I just exposed another of my beliefs… We will not have a human form in heaven. I know the consternation that causes. Many people believe we will have bodies in heaven and in fact some have offered that we will all be about 30 ish. That is not in the Bible. I had a vision, many years ago, where God allowed me to glimpse heaven. What I remember most was children playing in the street, being loud. They were not 30 year olds acting like children.

            “Speaks in an earthly way”… in our earthly form, born of a woman and in the flesh, we are subject to the limitations of humanness. We cannot speak in a heavenly way. God’s thoughts are above ours. We must be born again. And we must grow up. As John said in verse 30… He must increase; I must decrease.

Jesus

November 6, 2018

John 3:1-2… Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.

            This was a most interesting encounter. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and they were generally opposed to Jesus. At the end of His ministry, they championed for His death. Apparently, he feared the other Pharisees because he came to Jesus at night rather than in the day when he could be easily seen. He considered Jesus to be a great teacher, which is one of the current misunderstandings. He was not only a great teacher but he had come from God.

            Who, to you, is Jesus? He must be our ‘all in all’ or we miss His importance.  He is more than a great teacher; He is more than our Savior; He is more than our healer: He is our Lord. It is a deception to say that Jesus was a great teacher, but ignore His teachings. It is also a deception to say He is Savior but not honor Him as Lord. He is good, completely good, and perfect. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, who is in heaven. (James 1:17)  God looked down at the children of men and thought, “Here… here is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Receive Him.”  When someone rejects Jesus, he rejects God. And according to the text we are studying, he cannot see the kingdom of God.(Verse 3) We live in a time of great deception. Many people claim to love God but actually just love what he does for them. There is another verse in this story that I will comment on. It is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible.

John 3:16…   For God so loved the world that gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

            One reading of that verse emphasizes us… ‘the world’ and ‘whoever’. The correct reading emphasizes God and his undeniable love. How do you read it? Is Jesus your Savior because of you or because of God? He is a gift to us from God, so really, He is both; but, which one drives your thinking? Figure it out.

In the Spirit

November 5, 2018

John 2:16… And He told those who sold pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

            Since the beginning of the church, this command has been ignored or compromised. Some denominations saved their best seats for those who paid the most money to the church. That was a form of trade. When I was about 35 years old, I started a job in real estate. My broker, my boss, knew I went to church and asked me which one. I told him and he knew it was large and told me to farm the congregation. He called them my family, and told me to sell homes for, and to, my family. I did not pursue it actively, but I was aware who needed a realtor. I didn’t feel good about it so I avoided it, and I did not stay in Real Estate. It is possibly more subtle now. I talked to a  woman a few years ago who told me that one particular church was more entertaining than others, so that is where she attended with her teenage children. They had the best show in town. And that seems to be the direction churches have gone. ‘Butts in seats’ is what pays bills, and shows put butts in seats.

            I used to not care until one day, the Lord told me that churches were trying to compete with the world on the world’s terms. In the world, music concerts have added pyrotechnics and dancing to concerts and people come. Some churches have smoke machines and light shows to wow the people. I must say here that I am not to judge so I don’t judge the churches that have more expressive worship; I don’t know their hearts. But, I have experienced  situations when the show took away my desire to worship purely. It did not enhance my worship experience; it messed with it. But, I feel like I am on thin ice here, so I will quit with this; but just be cautious to not turn the church into a house of trade.

            ‘My house shall be called a ‘House of Prayer’.” (Matthew 21:13)  

I talked with a man about prayer recently, and I expressed my frustrations with it… so many seem unanswered. After our conversation, I realized that prayer is in God’s arena. It is necessarily Spiritual. Who am I to say how things are to go in the Spirit? Don’t reduce things of the Spirit to worldly measurements.