Category Archives: The Gospel

Yours

Bewildered and distressed, standing beside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus.  But when she did, He spoke these words:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   (John 20:17)

I got curious about His wording, the “my Father and your Father and to my God and your God” business.  Why did He say it like that?  Looking back through John’s Gospel, I discovered he never quoted Jesus talking about God in that inclusive way.  Matthew quotes Jesus saying “our Father’ and “your Father,” but, for John, Jesus always said, “my Father” or “the Father.”  That is, until after He had been resurrected.  Then, He said His Father is theirs, too.  His God is oursYours.  Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way for that connection to be established solidly and eternally for all who believe Him and receive it.  As John wrote in his first chapter,

“Yet to all who did receive Him [Jesus], to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…”   (John 1:12)

By his wording, I think John is aware we cannot truly become children of God until Jesus’ work of atonement for sin was done.  And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, God is able to receive us as His own, as children in His family.

Think about those possessive pronouns.  He is your Father, your God.  Consider how much it means to have the Creator and All-Powerful God of the universe declare Himself to be yours.  Your Father.  Fathers are fathers forever.   Good fathers love, protect, provide, guide and nurture.  Almighty God is the perfect father.

And, if you will receive Him through faith in Jesus, He is yours.

Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)

And:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

The Psalm about Jesus

Have you wandered too far from God to be rescued?  Are your troubles too difficult for Him?  Psalm 107 reflects on the many different times and ways Israel turned away from God, got themselves in deep trouble and how, by His enduring love, He brought them back.  In a curious way, it also foreshadows how the rescue of Jesus meets us in our particular circumstances, no matter how we have wandered away.  The psalm is too long to be quoted here, but read it for yourself to see all the similarities.

For example, Psalm 107 says:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:4-6)

If you have wandered and found yourself hungry and thirsty for God, craving inner peace and nourishment, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

Psalm 107 says:

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

See what I mean?  You’ll see many parallels.  Jesus told a parable about the shepherd who searches far and wide for the lost sheep.  If we are willing, He’ll find us and rescue us, no matter what.  God’s enduring love comes to us through Jesus.  Take some time to ponder how each of the scenarios in Psalm 107 may have been (or may currently be) symbolic of your life circumstances.  Then, note how, in each one, there is repeated something like this:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:6)

God is not unaware of our troubles.  He does not force help upon us but waits for us to ask.  Jesus refers to those who “come to Me” and those who “follow Me” for the same reason.  If you need His help, cry out for it, turn to Him.

The Psalm also repeats this important reminder:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  (Psalm 107:8)

 

 

Sticking the Landing

You can’t land a stealth bomber.  A computer has to do it.  Or, so I’ve been told.  If you have done it successfully, please don’t respond; this is just an illustration of another impossible task: pleasing God by following His law.

7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Paul’s phrase, “governed by the flesh” simply means a human being trying to land himself manually, without the control of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible to perfectly  follow God’s law under your own control.   If you are thinking, “Oh yeah?  I can do it,” can you always live up to just your own standards of right and wrong?  No?  Me either.  And God’s are tougher.

That’s why religions don’t work.  Religions, as I’m using the term here, systems of do’s and don’t’s  to make you good enough for God.  God’s own Word says those who try to live like that will fail:

13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:13)

If you don’t want to crash land, you need God’s Spirit.  Happily, Jesus gives this promise to those who will trust Him:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

With the Spirit, even a guy like me can stick the landing.

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Mrs. Owens and Satan… and Jesus

You couldn’t say the dog ate it because you didn’t have a dog.  Mrs. Owens, your third grade teacher, was scowling down, asking why you didn’t have your homework done.  When you couldn’t provide a sufficient excuse, her imperious expression changed to one designed to produce in you extreme shame and self-loathing.  She had practiced this face in the mirror and looked down as though you were something she had accidentally stepped in.

But here’s the question: Did her “shame on you act” work?  Did she inspire you do achieve greatness in the third grade?  Not likely.  That’s because shame or feeling guilty actually inhibits you and makes you less likely to do better.  Research on addiction has found that when people feel shame about their addictive behavior, they are more likely to repeat.  More likely!

 

Of course, there is a better way.  We can acknowledge we have messed up and, without wallowing in shame, figure out how to do better.  That’s what this line from the Bible means:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

To paraphrase, when we mess up, God would have us change our thinking (that’s what “repent” means), recognize we did wrong, turn around and make a better choice.  That’s what “godly sorrow” looks like.  “Worldly sorrow,” third grade guilt, just makes us feel crummy and stuck.

Satan’s name means “accuser.”  He tempts us into doing wrong things and then turns on us, accusing us and making us feel shame. He knows in that condition we will be stuck.  Contrast that with the work of Jesus:  He took our shame and guilt to the cross, and encourages us to enjoy the freedom of changing how we think.  He says, “Go, and sin no more.”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)

 

Fist-Pump Singing

I’m a bit slow.  It takes me awhile to catch on to things that should seem obvious.  For example, consider this line from Exodus:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;  (Exodus 15:2a)

I’ve heard that line many times without thinking about it much.  That is, until I came upon it, reading through Exodus this morning..  I began to see that, what had been for me a somewhat stale cliche of churchy songs, was for those folks a mighty fist-pump!  They had just escaped the mightiest army on earth with an amazing demonstration of God’s power.  They were so excited, they just had to sing.  Because God had revealed His power to them, and because His strength had become their strength, they had to express it somehow.  They had to sing.  They had to dance around and whoop and holler.  About God.  He had become their song.

Maybe you are thinking, “Yeah, of course, so…?”  Or, “Duh…”  But that idea began to hold new meaning for me, Mr. Slow, this morning.  I’d sung that line so many times without any thought, without any excitement.  And yet, this morning, when I began to think through an actual list of how God has been strong for me, how His power has been evident in the circumstances of my life and of how He has become my strength and salvation, then I began to want to sing about it.

On that list was a time I had impulsively picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Cheyenne.  Without boring you with the details, as I dropped him off that day, I knew,in the pit of my soul, he had just delivered a personal message to me from God.  He had been a messenger, what the Bible calls an “angel.”  Alone in the car that day, I burst into loud and raucous song.  I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t sit on it.  I didn’t have words for my song but it didn’t matter.  I just had to express my wonder and excitement.  Because God had showed me He would be my strength, He just had to become my song.

What’s your list?  Take a moment to add it up.  If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you.  Kind of like that “Footprints” thing.  About 150 years ago, someone, whose name has been lost, must have been doing that as he wrote these words:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?