Tending Sheep

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We’ll today we come to the last chapter of John  and the last day of our prayer and fasting.  By the time you read this, I and the team will be in Panama.  I’ll continue to blog from there but there will be some gaps because we will be in areas where I won’t be able to get anything out.  Here in chapter twenty one is a section of scripture that the Lord used several years ago to teach me a powerful truth about the church.

Let me set the stage.  In the church world today there are those who are doing a style of church designed to target a specific age group.  When asked about what they are doing and why, I have heard them say many times that their church, “isn’t for everyone” or that they are only going after the young.

Can I be so bold as to say that I don’t agree with this thinking?  I honestly don’t believe that this is the sort of thing that Jesus intended in the scriptures, because of something in this chapter.  Notice with me, verses fifteen through seventeen.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

What I want you to notice is the fact that Jesus changes something each of the three times he questions Peter.  The first time Jesus mentions “feeding” his lambs.  The second time he mentions “taking care” of his sheep.  The third time Jesus tells Peter to “feed his sheep”.  What do I think is significant here?  The church is made up of both lambs and sheep, young and old; and we ministers are to both care for and feed those people.

My firm conviction is that every local congregation can only be healthy if it has the whole range of both physical and spiritual ages.  There is great strength when you combine the wisdom of age with the energy of youth.  We are often called the “body” of Christ.  We are literally his hands and feet in this world. As such we need the variety and diversity that is lost if we become any single group.  Like a family, I believe that we were intended by God to exist together with young and old loving and blessing each other.

I don’t mind bragging on the church that I pastor. Abundant Life Community Church in Alton and Wood River are the best example of this that I have ever found. It’s a place where lambs and sheep worship, serve, grow, and live together.  We don’t struggle over styles of decor or music.  Rather, there is a culture of missions and purpose and a divine sense of God’s calling upon us to reach the world.  It’s an incredible place to serve!  Why?  Because it’s a great flock of sheep!


Love Beyond the Law

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Note:  This post was written on Monday, January 21 and the Panama Team made it to Panama City.

I am writing this to you from 35,000 feet on a United flight with the Panama team. It’s 6:30 in the morning and we can see a beautiful sunrise on the left side of the plane.  This morning we are looking at the twentieth chapter of John.  There  are a couple of verses here that I love.  Notice verses fifteen and sixteen.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Do you hear the tenderness and concern in Mary’s voice?  She seems only concerned about how Jesus’ body is being treated.  There’s something about the phrase, “I will get him,” that makes the whole moment feel loving and tender.  I imagine her leaning forward with tears in her eyes ready to move in whatever direction the “gardener” indicates, in order to get the body of Jesus and return it to its place of burial.  There is an aspect that you might miss if you don’t know some of the aspects of Jewish law.

You see, the Jews of Jesus’s day had very strict rules by which they lived.  Some of the most rigid had to do with what it took in order to be “clean” so that you could enter and worship in the temple.  There were a lot of things that could make a person “unclean.”  You could become unclean simply by traveling in the wrong area, eating the wrong foods, or handling certain things.  One of the most well known prohibitions was touching a dead body.  Do you see it?  Mary has changed!  Suddenly she loves something more than the temple.  In this moment her heart, eyes, and mind have a single focus… Jesus!

I think that perhaps this is why she got to see him first.  Have you ever thought about why she was at the tomb anyway?  Verse one says that she went to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark.  I think she’s having trouble sleeping because she misses Jesus.  I think she came to the tomb alone because she simply wanted to be as near to him as she could.  It’s the same emotion that made her willing to go find his body and move it back to the tomb.  Mary loves Jesus.  He has changed her whole life and her heart belongs to him!

How about us today?  Are we willing to look beyond the traditions of our lives and simply pursue Him?  Is there a longing in our hearts to be as near to him as we can?  Hearing her devotion and care Jesus simply speaks her name….”Mary” …and she knows him.  I think she starts to move towards him when Jesus stops her and tells her not to touch him yet.   Its a powerful picture of devotion the Lord.

A picture we should lean towards in our lives!


Betrayed and Denied

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John chapter 18 deals with the events surrounding the arrest and trial of Jesus.  Jesus is arrested after Judas’ betrayal and taken first to Annas, then to Caiaphas and ultimately to Pilate the Roman Governor.  It is during his time at the High Priest Caiaphas’ residence that Peter’s betrayal takes place and that’s what I want us to consider today.

Have you ever wondered what caused Peter to betray Jesus?

Especially after Jesus told Peter that it would happen.  You would think that Peter would be especially on guard after Jesus warned him that he would betray him three times before the rooster crowed.  Yet Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would do.  What factors could have created enough fear to have Peter, who just hours earlier had been willing to draw a sword and attempt to kill a man to defend Jesus, to now deny him?  Before we get too hard on Peter, let me remind you of what Peter and all the disciples thought was going to happen.

Jews during the time of Jesus had a very particular idea of what the coming Messiah would be.  He would be a king, a mighty, warring king.  I believe that they all believed that he would be very much like King David, who with God’s help, had conquered all the enemies of Israel and had established them as the greatest nation in that part of the world.  The Jewish people thought that he would fill all three roles of prophet, priest, and king.  Because they had an erroneous view of what God was, they certainly had an erroneous view of what the Messiah who was to come from God would be.

We see glimpses of that in sections of scripture like Matthew chapter twenty and Mark chapter ten where the mother of James and John asks Jesus to let her sons sit on his left and right when he establishes his kingdom.  She’s not asking about heaven, they think that Jesus is going to become the king of Israel.  They believe that he’s going to take over from the Romans, expel them from Israel, and become King and High Priest all in one.

With all of that in mind, imagine what it does in Peter’s heart and mind when he sees Jesus arrested.  Perhaps he can see Jesus when one of the officials near the high priest strikes Jesus for the way that he responded to one of the high priest’s questions (18:22).  Can you imagine the confusion and doubt that begins to eat away at Peter’s faith?  Have you ever expected one thing to happen and something totally different happened?  Have you ever felt the disappointment of expecting something only to be let down?  Of course you have.  We all have.  Now imagine that this disappointment isn’t just about a single issue, but rather that this disappointment touches everything you hope for now and everything you have ever hoped for.  Now you have some sense of what Peter was feeling.

In that moment of doubt and confusion, Peter denied that he was a follower of Jesus.  I think I understand.  I even think that I might have done exactly the same thing.  However, Peter’s story doesn’t end there.  If you’ve read the first few chapters of the book of Acts, you know that Jesus picks Peter back up, dusts him off, encourages him, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and uses him to change the entire world!

Even if at times you have doubted who Jesus is and his purpose for your life, be encouraged.  Jesus is patient and he knows how we are made.  He’ll not only prove himself to you as he did Peter, he’ll use you to change the world as well!


Jesus’ Prayer to God

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John chapter 17 is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.  In this chapter Jesus turns his attention away from the disciples and towards his heavenly father.  This entire chapter is the prayer that he prays just before he is betrayed and arrested.  There are once again too many great truths for me to mention them all in a blog this short, so let me focus on just one of them.

It is fairly rare in the scriptures for us to have a picture of things that took place in heaven between God the Father and Jesus before the time that Jesus came to earth, but we have one here in this chapter.  Notice if you will, verse five which says…

John 17:5 (NIV84)  ” And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

I love trying to get my mind around what it is that Jesus is saying.  Let’s look at the words that Jesus uses.

Glorify means, “to bring glory.”  But what exactly does glory mean?  The Greek word that Jesus used which we translate into our English word glory means splendor, brightness, amazing might, praise, honor, and greatness.  In short these are the qualities that Jesus took off when he became a man and that he put back on when he left this earth and returned to God the Father’s presence.

Jesus says, “Father put back on me (glorify) all of the qualities (glory) that I put off when I came here.  Make me once again just like I had been since before the foundation of the world.”  This is a wonderful picture of Jesus, the Son of God, in his heavenly state.  Eternal, splendid, beautiful, powerful, radiant, honored, and great!  Moreover, Jesus didn’t start “being” with his birth in Bethlehem, he has always been!  Sometimes I think we forget exactly who Jesus is, where he’s really from, and his true greatness.

Jesus left all of that out of his great obedience to the Father and his great love for us.  He is now and always has been, worthy of our praise!  He’s our friend!  He’s our savior!  He’s our intercessor at God’s right hand!  Do you know him?  Do you really know him?  He’s worth really getting to know.


Jesus Has It All

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I must admit that I have been anxiously awaiting our arrival at John chapter 16.  Of all of the chapters of John, this one is my favorite.  It’s my favorite because it contains a promise with a possibility so great that I get excited each and every time I read it.  The section of chapter sixteen that I am referring to is found in verses 12-15.

John 16:12–15 (ESV)   “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Let’s look at these verses in reverse order because there is a promise with so much potential that I don’t want you to miss a single piece of it.

Notice what Jesus says in verse 15…

“All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Don’t miss this truth: Everything that God the Father has also belongs to Jesus the Son.  “ALL that the Father has is mine…”  Can you imagine the scope of this?  In actuality, no you cannot.  No one can. The scriptures say that we can’t even imagine what he has prepared for us in heaven, so how could we possible comprehend EVERYTHING that is the Father’s!  So Jesus has it all.  All power, all knowledge, all dominion, all possessions… all everything!

The next verse above this one says…

“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Do you see it?  Can you try to imagine it?  Consider this.  The Father gave everything to Jesus.  Jesus just said that the Holy Spirit will glorify him by taking that and making it known to us.  Therefore, what’s the limit on what the Holy Spirit can do through us?  There’s not one.  What’s the limit on what the Holy Spirit can teach us?  There’s not one!  What’s the limit on the power available to us through the Holy Spirit?  There’s not one!

As I examine these verses of scripture I am always left with an excitement about what the Holy Spirit wants to do in my life but I am also always left with a sense of disappointment.  I’m disappointed in a depth, or lack of depth in my openness to the Spirit’s work in my life.  I want to go deeper!  How about you?  I want God to be able to use me to advance his kingdom in a miraculous way.  I want to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice louder than all of the other things vying for my attention.  I want more than what I have seen or experienced.  I want… “He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

As we have come down to the last week of our prayer and fasting, lets really press in and ask the Lord to teach us great and mighty things that will truly equip us to move his kingdom forward in 2014!

He’s got some spectacular things that He wants to say to us!  Are you listening?


Words to Live By

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Today’s chapter is John 15.  Once again I am faced with the daunting task of picking just one of the truths found in the chapter.  This chapter is one of those that you could almost pick any one of it’s twenty seven verses and start writing.  Therefore, rather than trying to pick just one, maybe I will try to give you a sense of this chapter as a whole.

Have you ever considered that there is absolutely no other book like the Bible?  This chapter has the distinction of being entirely the words of Jesus.  I think that you could simply lay this chapter before you, close your eyes and plop your finger down on the page, open your eyes and live the rest of your life according to the verse that your finger landed on.  Having done that, I absolutely believe that everyone and everything that your life touched would have been made better by your pursuit.  Literally, you would have made the world a better place with your adherence to just one verse!

Now I will concede that that verse might have led you to research others to flesh out its meaning, such as verse fourteen where Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands and you would need to know what it was that he commanded.  However, my contention is that everything in your life and the lives around you would be affected if you applied that one verse to your life and then disciplined your life accordingly.  Now if all of that might be done with your adherence to the teachings of just one verse, imagine what might be done if you consumed and internalized the teachings of this entire book.

Consider from chapter fifteen some of the single verses that your finger might have landed on…

John 15:2 (ESV)  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:4 (ESV)  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.

John 15:5 (ESV)  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.

John 15:6 (ESV)  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

John 15:7 (ESV)  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:8 (ESV)  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

John 15:9 (ESV)  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

Do you see a pattern?  Rather than me listing every verse, suffice it to say that you could pick almost any verse here and live out your whole life.  What other book is like this?  In my experience none.

I realize that we preachers have always been saying that you need to be in the word to live the Christian life and that is exactly right.  It is the word that the Holy Spirit uses to move us from death to life.  It is the word that rebukes us when we are in error, comforts us when we are hurting, directs us when we are lost, convicts us when we are in sin, and calms us when we are afraid.  You simply cannot get enough of it into your life.

I am so proud of you for coming this far in our study of John.  I have no doubt that you have learned things over the past two weeks that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.  I know I have!


Didn’t See That Coming

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Once again this morning I am faced with a daunting task.  Take a chapter full of truths and things worthy of being mentioned and pick just one to bring before you.  Today we are looking at John chapter 14.  Jesus is continuing to instruct his disciples concerning his departure.  They don’t yet realize what is about to happen to Jesus and he knows that the events that are about to unfold will shake them to their core.

You and I have the benefit of being able to look back at this chapter knowing all that eventually happened to Jesus but these men hear and examine these things through a totally different mindset.  Consider if you will, their most likely frame of mind.

I think that they are still expecting Jesus to be a Messiah very different from the one that Jesus actually is.  They expect a Messiah that will throw off the Romans or anyone who oppresses Israel.  A ruler who is like King David and who will establish Israel as a great power once again.  A king who will take the throne of Israel and perhaps even take them up the ladder with him.  Someone impervious to death or any challenge to his rule.  In short, someone and something very different from who Jesus was.

Jesus knew that they were expecting one thing and were about to get something totally different.

Isn’t that the framework for how most of our greatest disappointments, setbacks, or fears occur?  We anticipate one thing and something totally unforeseen happens.  Or we imagine that the worst is going to happen.  These men are about to have their greatest disappointment ever.  They are about to face their greatest fears ever and all of this centers around the events that are about to happen and they don’t see it coming.

With all that in mind it is all the more powerful when Jesus says…

John 14:27 (ESV)  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

If you read this chapter with this frame of mind, you see that the entire chapter feels like Jesus giving his disciples something to hold on to in the days ahead.  Jesus is creating an anchor for their faith.  Jesus is laying down bedrock for them to be built upon.  I think that’s what he meant when he said, “Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  This kind of assurance is not found in money or power or position.  It is found only through our faith in who Jesus is and who we are!

My personal theology says that there is a place in God that each of us can reach, where faith grows to a level that this world begins to loose its hold on us.  Where the circumstances of our lives pale in comparison to not only what awaits us in heaven, but also what Christ has built within us here and now.  I refer you to Ephesians chapter one where Paul writes about the Holy Spirit being the down payment of our eternal inheritance.  For me, that has to mean that even on this side of eternity, I can procure some of what heaven will be.  I see this all over the writings of the apostles.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:11 (ESV)  “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

I’m after this kind of trust and faith in Jesus’ care for me.  I have no doubt that out in front of me are some things that I don’t expect.  My prayer is that today Jesus would prepare me for those things and that when they come, I’ll rest in him and that my heart won’t be troubled.

I’m praying the same for you!