Saturday, July 4, 2015

Confessing Jesus Before Men: I AM the Good Shepherd

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. "(Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

"Confess before men" is a phrase that, in Greek, means to say the same the same things about Jesus that He says about Himself. In this series, we have reviewed the I AM's, including I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the Light of the World, I AM the Door, and I AM the Good Shepherd. (We started Good Shepherd in yesterday's post but I had a moment of distraction and we covered pastures instead.) Today, we're looking at Good Shepherd, part 2.

After a quarter century of caring for livestock, I learned a very important bit of information. The shepherd is critical to the health, comfort, and survival of the sheep. It is the shepherd that chooses the pasture when the livestock grazes, assures their safety, provides their grazing and grain, finds clean water, and grooms their coats and feet. A herd animal, left to its own devices, will not have the same quality of life, nor the same length of life, as an animal cared for by a loving shepherd.

Scripture is replete with images of God's people as sheep that are in desperate need of a compassionate and consistent shepherd. The images of Jesus as a shepherd are some of my favorite in Scripture. A shepherd defends his flock against all enemies, including wild enemies and marauders intent on stealing the sheep away. Our Good Shepherd, in His fight against the enemy of our soul, laid down His life for us, then rose again to conquer the one who would destroy us.

"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:11 NASB

It is the image of the shepherd leading the sheep that helps me understand the tenderness with which our Lord cares for us. I've had animals that followed willingly with little training and I've had animals that wouldn't follow, no matter how carefully I tended them. The ones who followed made life easier and more pleasant for both of us. The good news is we have a Shepherd who guides us with skill and cares for us with integrity. He never fails. He is never distracted.

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands. (Psalms 78:72 NASB)

My favorite image of Jesus, however, is that of a shepherd gathering the lambs into his arms. When a lamb is born, it must be trained to know the shepherd. Gentle handling will accustom the lamb to the shepherd and teach the lamb that the shepherd is the "hand that feeds". When the lamb knows the shepherd, it is easier to teach the lamb to follow. 

In that same way, we have a Shepherd who gathers us into His arms, holds us close to His heart, so that we can know Him, so that we will follow Him when He sits up down and allows us to stand.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11 NASB)

It is only when the sheep follow the shepherd that they enjoy the tender care he provides. Just as David wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want," (Ps 23:1) we can count on our Shepherd to recognize and meet every need. Can our Shepherd count on us, the sheep of His pasture, to follow? 
Our Father and Shepherd, help me to follow close behind You. Keep me from straying away and protect me from all my enemies. Thank you for your tender care and abundant provision. In Jesus' name, amen.

Confessing Jesus Before Men: I AM the Good Shepherd


"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

In an attempt to understand what it means to "confess Jesus before men" (or say the same things about Jesus that He says about Himself), we are reviewing the "I AM's".  So far, we've covered I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the light of the world, and I AM the door. 

Today, we continue the passage from John 10 with a look at the pasture into which the door of Christ opens.

"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:19,11 NASB

Most of have seen pastures. These are wide, open fields in which livestock live and feed. Pasture management is a science of it's own and has taught us that a healthy pasture requires considerable attention. (I have more than one book on pasture management.) The type of grasses are chosen for their nutritional value. A source of clean water is imperative. There must be shade from the sun and protection from the elements. 

If the pasture is well-maintained, it provides a safe home for livestock, replete with everything needed for a safe and healthy life. In that same way, when we enter through the door of Jesus into the pasture He provides, we (according to Thayer) "shall not want the needful supplies for a true life." 

There is a difference, of course, between the "needful supplies for life" and our mountain of wants. In a society of entitlement, such as we have here in this country, it's easy to confuse the two. 

In 1943, Maslow described the hierarchy of human needs. Our most basic needs are simple. Breathing, food, water, shelter, clothing, sleep. The next level of need includes health, job, family, property, and social stability, but is not required to sustain life. 

Take a look again at the most basic needs. Air, food, water, shelter, and sleep can all be found in a good pasture. (Clothing is just another form of shelter, or covering.) When we enter into the pasture of faith in Jesus, he is our stability. We become part of the family of God. We are joint heirs with Him. He gives us the work of the kingdom. The "needful supplies of life" are all provided, and more.

Jesus is the door that opens into the pasture of our provision. We, the sheep of His pasture, must occupy that pasture in ways that demonstrate the care lavished upon us by our Shepherd. One of the ways we confess Jesus before men is the attitude with which we occupy our "pasture". When we receive the gifts of God with a grateful heart, we give glory to Him with our gratitude. 

A lifestyle of contentment, rather than grumbling, says to the world that we serve a Good Shepherd who provides all we need for a productive life. Let's take a look at our attitudes. Do we grumble about the gifts of God? Do we constantly want more or different than He has provided? Today, let's take note of the provision God has given us, then thank Him for His generosity toward us. Let's confess Him before men by a lifestyle of gratitude.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Philippians 4:11-12 NASB)

Our Father, thank You for giving us our daily bread, our needful supply. Give me a grateful heart that honors You by the way I receive your gifts. Replace my grumbling with contentment in Your abundant provision. In Jesus' name, Amen

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Confessing Jesus Before Men: I AM the Door

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

In an attempt to understand what it means to "confess Jesus before men" (or say the same things about Jesus that He says about Himself), we are reviewing the "I AM's".  So far, we've covered I AM the Bread of Life, and I AM the light of the world

Another of the I AM's is from John 10, where Jesus describes Himself as the Door: 

"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." John 10:9 NASB

A door, of course, allows us to move from one place to another. The implication is that the place beyond the door would be closed to us unless we entered through the door. This "Jesus door" leads us to salvation and to good pasture, and is the only way through which we access eternal salvation. (We will discuss pasture in tomorrow's post.) 

The imagery of opening and going through a door is used more than once in Scripture. The first use of this imagery is used in Genesis. Cain and Abel had presented their offerings to God. Abel brought the first fruits and God accepted his gift, but Cain's gift was not accepted. Cain was angry and seethed in his anger. God came to him and warned him against his attitude. Sin crouched at the door of Cain's heart, longing to overcome him and bring destruction. Cain had a choice. Master the sin and do right, or let sin conquer him. 

"If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7 

In Revelation, Jesus tells us that He is at the door of our hearts, as well. We have the choice to open the door and allow Him entrance. He will come into our lives and dwell there.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20 NASB)

Metaphorically, there is a door in our heart. Sin and Righteousness battle at the door. Sin crouches, but Jesus knocks. We have a choice. Will we allow sin to master us, or will we make Jesus our Master and our Friend? The choice we make has eternal consequences, so we must choose well.

In the simplicity of inviting Christ into our hearts, there is incredible complexity, for in opening the door of our hearts to Him, we find that He is the door that leads us to eternal life, to salvation. Is He the only door to salvation? Yes. He tells us that He is the way. The only way.

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6 NASB)

Jesus is the only door that leads to eternal life with our Heavenly Father. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, spoke of this very thing.

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NASB)

There is no other name. There is no other door. Only Jesus is the door that leads us to communion with Him and eternal life. 
Lord Jesus, I open my heart to you. Come in and be my Master and my Friend. Lead me, through You, to eternal life. Help me to master sin and live to please You. In your name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Confessing Jesus Before Men: Light of the World

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

We started a new mini-series a few days ago to help us better understand the meaning of confessing Jesus before men. The phrase does not mean we post a meme on social media saying "I love Jesus". In the original language, it means that we say the same things about Jesus (with our lives and our words) that He says about Himself. Yesterday, we looked at "I AM the bread of life."

We turn today to Jesus' words in John 8:12 and a companion verse found in Matthew. 

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12 NASB)

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NASB)

Most towns of any size in the U.S. have street lights that shine at night, illuminating our way. It's hard for us to find a place that's completely void of external light. Because I live in "the country", however, my nights are illuminated by the moon and stars. When the sky is overcast, the nights can be very dark. Walking in that dark, without the aid of artificial light, can be a challenge, especially when the terrain is not level.

Jesus walked this earth at a time when there were no electric lights. Illumination was provided by firelight, candles, and oil lamps. They understood the importance of light because, when the lights were extinguished, darkness was all that remained.

Jesus explained that He is the Light of the world. In the darkness of sin, He is the bright light that brings illumination, clears away our sin, reveals what was hidden, and shines light on the path we should take. 

Light helps us to see things as they are, and the Light of Jesus does that for us, as well. He helps us to see ourselves and others as He sees us (and them). 

During the ice storm of 1994, I was without electricity for more than two weeks. I had candles and oil lamps, but the light was dim. When power was restored and lights blazed in my house again, it revealed more than I wanted to know. The dust that had accumulated was astounding. 

Light reveals. Just as I had an enormous housekeeping job to be done, so the Light of Christ can reveal the dust and grime of sin that accumulates in our lives. That knowledge can change us, if we allow it.

The amazing thing about the Light of Christ is that sometimes His Light reveals my sin to me and sometimes it helps me see His amazing love for me.

There's another fact about the Light of Christ that is mind-blowing. When I follow Him, His Light can shine in me. Through the Holy Spirit, He can fill my life with His Light. I reveal that light by the way I live my life and the "good works" I do. 

When I love my enemy, I allow the light of Christ to shine on him/her. When I visit those who are sick, feed the hungry, encourage the downhearted, rescue the perishing, I allow the light of Christ to shine through.  

I don't have the light of Christ because of my good works. I do good works because of the light of Christ in me. 

How do I obtain this Light? Jesus made it very simple. "He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." 

Following Jesus. Not only does it take us out of darkness and allow us to "walk in light", but it's also the only way to be filled with His light.

Heavenly Father, Help me to follow Jesus and His ways. Fill me with His light and help me to be a light in the darkness, shining so brightly that all can see Jesus in me. In His name, Amen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Confess Jesus Before Men: I AM the Bread of Life

"And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NASB)

We started a new series yesterday. The word translated as "confess" is a compound word from two words that mean "same" and "speaks". When we "confess" Christ before men, we say the same things about Him that He says about Himself. To be sure we understand what Jesus said about Himself, we are reviewing the "I AM's" from the gospel of John. 

Our first I AM is from John 6:35. 

"I AM the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger 
and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

John 6 opens with Jesus feeding the five thousand. The people were so impressed with the miracle bread that they intended to take Him by force and make Him king. Jesus knew that what they wanted was not a king, but more good tricks with loaves and fishes. To avoid a fiasco, He withdrew for a mountain prayer retreat. 

The next day, the people tracked Jesus down. He understood their motives and told them. "You're looking for Me because you ate the miracle bread. Bread baked in an oven doesn't last. What you should strive to have is the food that endures to eternal life, which I can give you." (Leanna Paraphrase) 

Of course, people want what they want. "Moses gave our fathers manna," they told Him, implying that Jesus should dole out some daily bread, as well. Jesus was ever patient with them. "It wasn't Moses who gave them the manna. It came from God, who is the only One who gives the true bread out of heaven."

The people still wanted some more "heaven bread" and likely still wanted the first century equivalent of manna. Something for nothing. 

Jesus responded with an "I AM." Later, the Pharisees complained and implied that Jesus was suggesting people should eat His flesh. Many people stopped following Him because they misunderstood what He was saying.

 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." (John 6:35, 47-51 NASB)

Jesus is not suggesting that we become cannibals and literally eat Him. This is a complex metaphor, comparing His body to the sacrifice He would make for all mankind. When we accept Jesus and incorporate His words and His ways into our lives, they become a part of us, just as the bread we eat becomes a part of us. 

When He becomes a part of our being, our lives, His life becomes our life, as well. He gives us eternal life.

What we often miss is the all important phrase "will not hunger." Jesus understood that we humans hunger for more than physical food. We hunger for meaning and significance in our lives. We try to satisfy our hunger with everything from money to sex to position and power. The world offers a buffet of self-indulgence but none of it will bring long-term peace and contentment.

When we come to Jesus, we find our hunger satisfied completely in Him. He offers such meaning, such significance that we need never hunger again. Do you want "more" in life? You can find it in Christ alone. The world's buffet of self-indulgence will never give the "more" we seek. Only Jesus can do that.
Our Father, help me to make Jesus such a part of my life, that I will never hunger again. Amen.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The difference between leaven and love

Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. (Luke 12:1-2 NASB)

"So many thousands". It was a huge crowd, because people were drawn to Jesus. He loved everyone and He was kind to everyone. He was blunt with Pharisees and He spoke truth to them (which they didn't like) but He still ate with them and was much nicer to them than I would have been, because Jesus loved Pharisees, just like He loved everyone else. 

Jesus was a friend to Pharisees, but he was also a friend to sinners. When He met people like me, who had done terrible things, He was a friend to them. He loved them right where they were, just like they were. Before they could imagine it, they had let Him change them from the inside out. After a while, the outside began to match the inside, where God had been working all along.

The Pharisees had already excluded them. The woman at the well was just one of the many people the Pharisees had excluded. You remember her. She had so much sexual sin that women didn't want to draw water from the well at the same time she did. She had been married so many times that no one wanted to talk to her, lest people think they were like her. She had been searching for a love that could never be found in serial husbands. 

She wanted a love that only God could give, but the church people had excluded her. After they excluded her and had treated her like pond scum, they lost their right to tell her about God's love. Then, there was no one to share the grace of God with her so she carried on, living a life of sin and grief and loss. Without hope.

One day, Jesus met her at the well, while she was still living with a man to whom she wasn't married, and He offered her a new way, a new love. Go and sin no more, He told her. She jumped at the chance for change and she told everyone, including the people who had been mean to her. How about that? The sinner they hated was trying to introduce them to Jesus. 

Yes, indeed. That's what grace can do. When we least expect it, God can turn the worst sinner into the bravest saint, because of His love, because of His mercy and grace.

When Jesus was talking with His disciples, surrounded by a crowd of thousands (every one of them a sinner) He told those men to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees". One of the things that upset Jesus was how the Pharisees treated people like the woman at the well. They knew the law. They knew about mercy and grace in theory, but for some crazy reason, they believed grace and mercy extended to them and stopped. In their minds, grace and mercy was not for people like the woman at the well. It was not for tax collectors, people with sexual sin, murderers, thieves...

Jesus said to beware of that kind of attitude. It's hypocrisy and He will have none of it.

It wasn't a Pharisee that wrote the first of the gospels. It was a hopeless, excluded tax collector who encountered the mercy and grace of God while he was still a tax collector. He was radically changed. The next thing he knew, he was using his stylus to write truth instead of tally money.

It wasn't a Pharisee whose act of extravagant love has been told wherever the gospel is shared. It was a woman who had been forgiven of a mountain of sin. She loved much because she understood that she had been forgiven much. She was radically changed and, for the rest of her life, she lavished her love on Jesus instead of wasting it in sin.

We need to remember what Jesus said. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Judgmental, critical spirits are contagious and they can spread through the body of Christ like wildfire. That wildfire of hate and condemnation can spread and devour and destroy, but it will never bring people to Jesus. It will never pour out the balm of forgiveness. It will never wash people in the river of life.

When I'm tempted to point a finger and condemn someone for their sin and their lifestyle, I don't have to look any further than myself to see how foolish that would be. 

Nearly three decades ago, three women decided to pray for the worst person they knew, just so they could see what God would do. It didn't take long before God poured out his mercy and grace on me, and I jumped at the chance for the lavish love of Christ. Over the years, He's cleansed me and changed me. I'm not perfect, but I'm not the same. 

There's a difference between leaven and love. All those years ago, three women poured out prayer for me, not judgment, not criticism, not condemnation. Could they see the sin in my life? Of course they did. They saw it, and they took what they saw to their Heavenly Father. They chose mercy and grace and it made a life-changing difference. 

We have opportunities to choose leaven or to choose love every single day. We can push people away from Christ or draw them to the cross by the choices we may. 

Let's choose love. 

We love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:19 NASB


Our Father, forgive my pride. Change my leaven to love. Help me draw people to you by the grace and mercy I extend, just as You have extended grace and mercy to me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

More valuable than sparrows

"I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7 NASB)

Jesus understood fear. When He began to talk about people killing the body, His disciples must have sat up and listened. People are going to kill us? Yes, Jesus seemed to say, people are going to kill you, but you don't have to be afraid of them. 

If there was ever a time to fear, it would be when someone is killing you. But no. Even then, there is no cause for fear. Why not? The disciples did not have to be afraid because they were precious to God. 

Sparrows were the cheapest, most worthless birds in the marketplace, yet God knows every one of them. Not even one of the tiny little birds is forgotten by God. He has known the birds and He continues knowing the birds. God remembers them and He does not forget them.

"God knows every hair on your heads," Jesus told the disciples. Those hairs are numbered. He knows every single one of them. 

Run your fingers through your hair. God knows about every single one of those hairs. If the hairs on our head are numbered by God, you can be sure He cares about every single one of us, too. 

That's what Jesus said. "You are more valuable than many sparrows, and God knows about every one of them." God is not just peripherally aware of us. He knows us. We are precious to Him. Valuable to Him. 

That knowledge is more than I can comprehend. Almighty God, Jehovah, Creator and Sustainer of the universe knows me, cares about me, treasures me. He knows, cares, and treasures you, too. There is never a time when He does not know us, care about us, treasure us. Regardless of what happens politically, socially, or professionally in our world, He still cares about us, still treasures us. Nothing escapes His eye. 

He loves us, but hard times will still come our way. Some of us will be persecuted. Some of us will give our lives for Christ. That doesn't change the fact that He loves us. He will be with us every step of the way. There is no need to fear because we do not go through hard times alone. El Shaddai, God Almighty, goes with us through every situation, every circumstance, every difficulty.
We are not alone.

Take comfort in those words. Whatever we face, wherever we are, we are not alone. So don't be afraid. Emmanuel. God is with us. 

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off... Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me... (Psalms 139:1-2, 7-10 KJV)

Thank you, Lord, that You will never leave me nor forsake me. Thank you that You are with me in every circumstance. It's more than I can comprehend, but I praise You for Your presence. Help me to honor You with my life and let you lead me through the darkest places. In Jesus' name, Amen