THE REAL ISSUE

 What is the real issue that Christians need to concern themselves with?  This question arose from a conversation I had last week.  A close friend and I were discussing the changes in morality that we’ve seen in our life time.  As we talked, it dawned on me that, though I’m saddened by the moral decline in America, this is not the real issue.

Jesus didn’t charge us with fixing the sin in others, and he warned us not to judge others (See Matthew 7:1-5).  However, he did charge us with two things.  The first is to love one another, and the second is to make others disciples.  Our job is to love our fellow humans, and bring them to him.  He’ll take care of fixing the sin.

Sin and evil are all around us, and this has been true since the fall of Adam and Eve.  Jesus has the only cure for sin.  So the real issue is do you know Jesus?  As Christians, loving sinners and bringing them to Jesus is the issue that should occupy our time.

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GOD IS WITH US

A few weeks ago I had to face a medical procedure that I knew would be painful.  The normal way I handle a difficulty like this is to draw into myself and face it in my own strength.  Of course there is considerable anxiety that comes with this method of facing a difficulty, and I am usually stressed out.  But by God’s mercy this time was different.

I am finding it difficult to explain what caused it to be different, so I’ll just tell you what happened.  I found myself aware of God’s presence.  The more I focused on his presence the more relaxed I became.  While the procedure was going on, I looked to God.  When my focus began to shift, I reminded myself to keep my focus on God.  For the first time in my life, I walked through a difficulty not thinking that I was alone but recognizing that God was with me.  I tell you it made the procedure almost pleasant.

I am not alone!  I know this, but now I’ve experienced it.  I am thankful for my family and friends who prayed diligently for me.  They helped me break through to this new awareness.

Later that day, my daughter Ruth gave me a greeting card, and in the text was this line, “You rush to help when in faith we draw near.”  Yes, that’s it.  God’s presence is always with me.  I experience him when in faith I draw near.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

DO NOT WORRY

In the Bible the word “worry” is always preceded by “do not” or “why do you”.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry because it hinders our ability to live in the peace and freedom that He purchased for us.  He wants us to trust Him and not worry.  He speaks to this topic in Mathew 6:25-34.  Jesus explains that our focus should not be on what we will have to eat or what clothes we will wear but on the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness.  God is going to walk us through the problems of today, and He has already worked out what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Yes, there are difficulties and trials for today, but don’t miss the blessings of today by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  As the word says, “… For tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own (Matthew 6:34).”

It is very difficult to give up worrying.  Worrying is a human coping mechanism.  Somehow by working things over and over in our minds, we feel like we have some control.  Yet as we work the process of worrying, we pay the high price of anxiety.  Anxiety does all kinds of damage to our physical and emotional well-being.  Jesus knows this.

How do we get beyond worry?  The Apostle Paul gives us solid directions.  In Philippians 4:4-7 (The Message) he writes:

Celebrate God all day, every day.  I mean revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

THE NARROW GATE

Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt we owed for our sins.  He rose from the grave to demonstrate the new and eternal life he had purchased for us.  The cross is our place of entry into God’s eternal Kingdom.  It is the gate that Jesus prepared for us. We can come to God by no other path.  Salvation is found only at the cross. Our old life is left at the foot of the cross, and there we enter into our new life in Christ Jesus.

In the story of the Good Shepherd found in John chapter 10,   Jesus refers to believers as the sheep.  He makes it very clear that he is the gate for the sheep to enter.  He says, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep (verse 7).”  Many have looked for other ways, but the only way is through Jesus.

In John 10:17-18 (The Message) Jesus explains:

This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life.  And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will.  I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

God the Father gave Jesus the authority to redeem us.  No one else has been given this authority.  He alone is our redeemer.  Yes, the gate is narrow, but it leads to redemption and eternal life.

JESUS AND NICODEMUS

 John 3:1-21

I am always delighted when I read a familiar section of scripture and find new insights.  As I read through John 3:1-21, I was amazed at what I hadn’t seen before.  I had never realized that Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus included the beloved and most memorize words in the Bible, John 3:16.  I had also not recognized with what compassion Jesus spoke to Nicodemus.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus exactly why he was here on earth and what he was doing.  The gospel was clearly laid out for him.  Jesus gave more direct information to this Pharisee than he did to any others in his recorded confrontation with the Pharisees.

Jesus rebuked Nicodemus for not understanding him.  I believe skepticism and ingrained presuppositions hindered Nicodemus from comprehending Jesus’ words.  Jesus knew this, and he challenged him to clear his mind and see the truth in what he was telling him. He took time with Nicodemus.    He apparently wanted him to grasp what God was doing.  I’m sure Jesus knew that Nicodemus was to become one of his followers.

I read through John 3:1-21 a number of times in both the NIV and The Message.  The more I read the more I was touched.  I began to see love and beauty expressed in the words Jesus spoke.  He spoke to Nicodemus from his heart.  I believe he spoke with passion.  I encourage you to read this passage, and let it minister to your heart this coming week.

SURRENDER

What does the word surrender say to you?  Give up? Turn over control?  Quit?  This is not a word we humans like very much especially the turn over control part.  Quitter, coward, weakling these are a few of the words we used to label ones who surrender.  When a criminal surrenders to the police it usually means going to jail.  A defeated army that surrenders is at the mercy of the conquering army.  History contains a number of examples of the results of surrendering.  Unfortunately, humans’ surrendering to humans doesn’t always work out very well for the ones who surrender.  Surrendering is at best a risky business when we talk of surrendering to each other.  Surrendering to God is a different business.

God invites us to surrender, but he never demands it.  He promises that if we do surrender to him he will improve our lives.  In this case surrendering might not be so bad.

Jesus offers:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

I can personally attest that surrendering to Jesus is as he says.  I was in the pit of despair some time ago feeling useless and lost.  I finally sat down on a rock and said to God, “I can’t leave this rock without you.”  I surrendered.  From that moment my life changed.  I am now useful, happy, and at peace in my soul.  The longer I stay with him the more I realize these promises.  And, he also has promised me eternal life.  In my case surrendering has proven to be a good choice.

Meditate on the above scripture, and hear Jesus calling to you.  Find new life in Jesus our savior.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

This week I have been examining what it means to love one another.  Jesus gave a new command to his disciples: “Love one another” (John 13:34).  This is repeated in John 15:17, “This is my command: Love each other.”  So I have always thought that this means be nice to each other, forgive each other, encourage one another.  I have seldom explored the aspect of love that involves surrendering to one another.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul says, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  Paul is willing to surrender himself to others that they might find Jesus.  This is love that puts aside self-concern for the sake of others.

The whole experience of life is how I exercise my free will.  I have free will.  This was given to all humans at the time of creation.  I can please myself, or I can please others.    

My closest relationship affords the opportunity to practice loving another.  This can be demonstrated simply. When I find that Bonnie, my wife and ministry partner, is annoyed with some habit of mine, do I surrender my will to her or insist on my way?   I love her by surrendering my right to continue the annoying habit.

Paul says in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Putting someone else first is contrary to my self-centered nature.

Jesus’ command to love one another proves to be quite a challenge, but it is essential for his disciples.  In John 13:35 Jesus concludes, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”