I AM: The Good Shepherd

My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It is precious and comforting to me. To get the full scope of this statement, please read John 10:11-30. Remember that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, the ruling religious party of the Jews. They had just tried to discredit His miraculous healing of a man born blind (John 9) and had thrown the man out of the temple for defending the One who opened His eyes. This I Am also comes on the heels of His claim to be The Door/Gate (10:7-10).

The Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus meant by this statement, and it infuriated them. It was a reference to the Lord’s proclamation against the worthless “shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves” (Eze 34:2). They used and abused the sheep they were called to tend, ate their curds, and took their wool for their own coverings. They had no compassion for the weak or sick or wounded. They left the lost to wander alone and in constant danger. So the Lord said, “I myself will tend my sheep . . .” (Eze 34:15). Jesus came to be the Shepherd – the Good Shepherd – and step in where they had failed.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11-12). Sheep owners would hire shepherds who had no stake in the flock other than a paycheck. When a wolf attacked, the careless shepherds would run away, leaving the defenseless sheep in mortal danger. Of course, the wolf is satan, and Jesus did not run away. He faced down the devil, laid down on the cross, and died to save His beloved lambs (v. 18). And by God’s divine power, He rose to life and stands between the wolf and His flock.

Here’s the part I love the best – Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (v. 14)”. The twin words, “know” speak volumes in the original Greek. It means to be acquainted with or have knowledge of. But it also means intimacy, the kind that only a husband and wife enjoy when there is nothing between them but love. No pretense. No distance. No distrust. Jesus knows me like no one else, and He loves me. All of me. Even the parts that I do not love about myself.

It is the same love He has for you. Intimate. Abiding. Unwavering. Unfailing. Eternal. He is the Good Shepherd. You, precious little lamb, can trust Him.

Sonrise

In the garden on the Mount of Olives, Judas led a crowd of angry men toward Jesus.  You know this account – it’s almost required reading at Eastertide. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, which, of course, the Lord immediately healed (Lk 22:47-53; Jn 18:10).  Before He is led away, Jesus, speaking to His arrestors says, “This is your hour–when darkness reigns (v. 53)”. Now, I’ve read this passage multiple times, but this time one word stood out to me. “Hour.” And the question came: What does that mean?  That is the signal from the Holy Spirit to start digging because there is something I need to discover. I live for these opportunities.

The Greek word for “hour” means “a moment; a short period; a fixed portion of time.” Jesus said that darkness had been given an hour to reign – but only an hour, a sliver of time. The darkness is, of course, evil. But even the power of evil was held to just a moment with a beginning and definite end. Just enough time to accomplish God’s divine purpose – salvation.

Who has sovereign authority over time?  Who established the rising and setting of the sun?  Who determined the seasons on earth?  Who made the sun stand still to prolong the day (Jos 10:1-14)? Who moved the sunlight backward ten steps to prove his power (Is 38:7-8)?

Is it dark in your life today? Does it seem that evil has the upper hand? Remember, darkness is only allowed a moment – a fixed portion of time. And only until God’s purpose is fulfilled. The same One who commands the sun holds the hourglass of your life and He will not allow darkness to reign one grain longer than necessary. Rest in His providence and care Beloved. The night will soon be over and the Son will reign forever.

The Problem is Sin, The Answer is Jesus

My back hurts. Low and on the left side. I “googled” my symptoms and found out that I may have endometriosis, kidney stones, IBS, sciatica, muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, and muscle strain. These are due to how I sit, how I stand, how I sleep, how strenuously I work out (bwahahaha), and how I twist my back when I swing a golf club. No, I don’t play golf, but I’m looking for any excuse here because I know what’s really wrong with my back – it’s my front. It’s all the excess girth sitting in my tummy area. I’m trying to lose weight, but then Reese’s made Peanut Butter Cups with potato chips.

When you and I look at the world and the horrible things that human beings do to one another we want to ask “Why?” The news broke yesterday of another tragic shooting that left many families grieving.  Immorality is being celebrated and paraded. Babies are murdered in what should be the safest place on earth – their mother’s womb.  I shake my head and wonder, “Why?” Even in my own life, when I do things I know I should not do, I look in the mirror and ask myself the same question. I suspect you do too.

But I know why, and so do you. Sin. Sin opened the door wide for all these evil things to become part of the human story – part of me and part of you. Sin breeds hate and greed and selfishness and lust and every manner of evil. It is the curse of rebellion against God. When Adam and Eve bit the fruit, mankind was doomed to live in enmity with God, condemned by the sinful nature that has invaded every person for all time. Except one. In Romans 7, Paul lamented that sinful part of himself. He also asked a question – but it wasn’t “Why?” He knew why. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18). He asked instead, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24). And then he answered his own question: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25) Jesus Christ changes everything. He breaks the curse of sin and He transforms our hearts so that redemption – not sin – is our forever story.

Beloved, you were born a sinful creature, but God sent His one and only Son to set you free. You know what the problem is, and now you know the answer. Won’t you come to Jesus today?

Acts: The Plan of the Ages

I interviewed an atheist for a class assignment. While I asked my questions, he peppered me with his own. I remember one question clearly, even after so many years: “Why would a good God let His Son suffer and be killed on the whim of evil people?”

“He didn’t,” I replied.

“But isn’t that what your Christianity teaches?” he insisted.

“Not exactly,” I answered. “God didn’t let anything happen. He planned it and foretold it. Jesus’ death wasn’t by the whim of man. It was an intentional act of the sovereign God to fulfill His purpose – the salvation of men.”

He cocked his head to one side, “I’ve never heard it put that way.  My church always taught us kids that people acted of their own free will to kill Jesus.”

“They did,” I replied. “But they acted within the sovereign will of God.”

At that moment I felt like a salmon swimming up a waterfall, trying to explain a concept that has baffled the wisest theologians for ages. I still don’t understand it completely, but I know it is true. The Bible clearly teaches both and doesn’t try to make it neat and tidy.

Please take a moment to read Acts 3:17-26.

When Peter addressed the crowd that gathered around the once-crippled man, he invoked the name of Jesus as the source of healing power. The same Jesus they had crucified. The same Jesus God had raised from the dead. Peter said that they had “acted in ignorance,” not realizing that this Jesus was God’s Messiah (Christ). But Peter also said that God used their actions to fulfill His Plan of the Ages. God had foretold the suffering of His Servant through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets. He had promised salvation long before Jesus’ birth.

John wrote that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before the first human and the first sin. This was all within God’s eternal plan: the salvation of humanity. I once heard a preacher say that long before Jesus came to earth God knowingly planted the seed that would become the tree that would be made into the cross on which His Son would die.

I take great comfort in the truth of God’s sovereignty over the will of human beings. I am sitting in the middle of a family mess right now because of another’s free will choices. But I am convinced this did not occur outside of God’s sovereign plan. Somehow this too will fall in line with His “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). And when it does, there will be Joy.

Good and Evil

I came across several verses this morning that set up a theme.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21)

“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (16:19)

“In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Cor 14:20).

“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess 5:21-22).

Verse 16 intrigues me. Innocent describes a person with a pure mind – unmixed with evil. That was Adam and Eve, the first humans and the last innocent people on earth. God told them not to take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because, at this point, they were pure.  In their innocence, they were free from the harmful effects of the knowledge of evil, a knowledge they—and we—are unable to bear.  The serpent led them to believe that if they ate from the tree, they could know what God knew. And he was right. To a point. He failed to tell them that they did not have the moral capacity to bear that knowledge without disastrous repercussions. 

When she plucked that piece of tainted fruit Eve got “knowledge” all right, but she also got much more than she bargained for.  When she and Adam were exposed to the knowledge of evil, evil overtook them and buried their innocence.  They had the “knowledge of evil,” but not the power to resist it.

But Paul said there is good news: good can overcome evil. That’s where Jesus comes in. He is the only pure, good, innocent human being to walk on earth. He took His good to the cross and to the grave and there overcome the evil that was destroying God’s good creation.

So how do you and I overcome evil? The same way the saints did: “They overcame [the evil one] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). We overcome the evil nature within by faith in Jesus. We overcome evil in the world by proclaiming what God has done for us. And we overcome evil in our daily lives. We avoid it, hate it, and turn our minds away from it. We refuse to give it a foothold (Eph 4:27). You were not made for evil, Beloved. You were made good (Gen 1:31).

Do You Know Who You Are?

There is a trend in Christianity, especially in Women’s Ministry, to focus on “who I am in Christ.” That is not a bad thing – in fact, the Father reminded Jesus that He was His Beloved Son just before he faced forty days in the wilderness and the temptations of the devil (Matt 3:17). But contemporary Christianity often puts the emphasis on the wrong end of that statement. Popular songs and best-selling studies (I can’t call them “Bible” studies) are heavy on “who I am” and very light on “in Christ.” Let’s be honest, self-focus sells.

The world alternately tells you that you are either entirely insignificant or the center of the universe. The culture wants you to find yourself in your appearance, popularity, stuff, or accomplishments. Pop psychology says you are whomever you tell yourself you are. If you’re like me, that’s up one day and down the next. For believers, it’s important to know the truth about ourselves from God’s perspective. The world cannot confuse us and the enemy cannot defeat us if we take God’s Word for who we are.

If you are in Christ, you are:

The salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mat 5:13-14).

His friend (John 15:15).

Justified (Rom 5:1), and reconciled to God (v. 10).

Dead to sin (Rom 6:2), and instruments of Righteousness (v. 13).

God’s children (Rom 8:15-16); set free from sin and enslaved to righteousness (v.18)

Members of Christ’s Body (Rom 12:5).

Enriched and equipped (1 Cor 1:5-7)

A new Creation (2 Cor 5:17) and Christ’s ambassadors (v. 20).

God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10).

Citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20).

Alive (Col 2:13).

Made perfect (Heb 10:2) . . .forever! (v. 14), Cleansed, no longer guilty (v.2), made holy (v. 10), forgiven (v. 18).

A spiritual house and a holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:2).

And I could go on and on and on. The point of all these verses is not who I am, but what Christ has done. The heart of the Christian faith is the transforming power of Jesus’ blood. He didn’t die to make us the best versions of our human selves. He died to make us like Himself. He died to make dead men live. He died to set you and me free from the bondage of sin and the condemnation of eternal death. Because of one more thing that we are in Christ: Lavishly loved (1 Jn 3:1).

Beloved, do you know who you are? Do you know Whose you are?

I AM The Door

My husband and I went to a big box hardware store yesterday to buy a couple of doors. We just needed interior doors, but we had to walk past all the elaborate ones to get to the cheap stuff in the back. I never knew there were so many styles of doors and that they could get so expensive. I have to admit I paused in front of some pretty doors and dreamed a little.

One of Jesus’ I AM statements in the gospel of John is “I AM the door,” or some translations say “I AM the gate” (John 10:7, 9). While we were looking for doors so that we could close off some rooms, Jesus is the Door that opens heaven.

The Lord was using the image of caring for sheep, something the people were very familiar with. His next I AM statement completes this message. He was warning against “thieves and robbers” (v. 1, 8) whose true intent is to “steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10). He was pointing His finger directly at the Pharisees, the self-appointed caretakers of Judaism. They served as guards of the Jewish hierarchy and were highly selective about whom they deemed acceptable and worthy of eternal life. (This is the key to the “Do not judge” command the world loves so much).

The religious leaders’ focus was keeping people out; Jesus came to bring people in. That’s an important part of the statement and one we dare not miss. Go back a few chapters with me to John 3:17-18. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Jesus added, “Whoever enters through me will be saved” (v. 9). Here is the gospel: Every human being (except Jesus) by virtue of the sinful nature, is lost. That means we are all condemned. We all stand on the outside of Heaven with no hope of admission. Jesus came to save condemned people. He came to be the open Door. And He promised that whoever comes to Him in faith will “have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).

The doors we bought are “hollow-core” – thin sheets of pressed wood with cardboard strips in the center. Jesus is solid. He is indestructible. And He is grace. When you say “Yes” to Him, Beloved, the Door swings open wide. Are you ready to come in?

The Best Teacher

I was looking through the Psalms this morning and the Spirit brought several verses to my attention. Let’s see if you can detect the theme:

“Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior and my hope is in You all day long” (25:4-5).

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (v. 9).

“Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (v. 12).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path” (27:11).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (32:8).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth . . .” (86:11)

The Christian faith is first and foremost about salvation – about bringing sinful men and women to repentance and cleansing and eternal life through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. But He doesn’t save us and then leave us to figure it out on our own. He teaches us how to live this different life. He teaches us to walk in the straight way, in His ways which are holy and righteous. He teaches us by His Word and His Spirit. He teaches us by the example of His Son who lived a perfect life of love and grace and holiness. He teaches us through people who preach, teach, mentor, and live their faith out loud every day. And I am living proof that He teaches us by the mistakes and missteps we make. I will have my Doctorate soon in the school of hard knocks.

I have always loved to learn. I used to sit on the floor next to our family’s bookshelves and read the encyclopedias. And then I discovered the Bible and my heart and mind exploded. I also discovered that God loves to teach, it’s a match literally made in heaven. But you don’t have to be a nerd or a scholar to learn what God wants to teach you. He tailors the courses to each person, but the student learning outcome is always the same: that you and I would look like Jesus. Beloved, come join me in this divine class. I’ll save a seat for you.

At the Name of Jesus

The woman was indignant. “I don’t need your religion. I have faith of my own!”

“In what?” the man countered.

“Faith in the universe” she answered. “Faith in myself. Faith in humanity.”

“Your faith is badly misplaced.” He replied.

“Faith” has become a popular word in our culture. Dictionaries define faith as “sincerity or a strong conviction” and to a point that is correct. But that sincere, strong conviction must have the right object. Please grab your Bible and read Acts 3-4:12) – I’ll wait for you here.

Peter and John are headed to the temple for the afternoon prayer. As they approached the gate, they encountered a lame man begging for money. They didn’t give him what he wanted; they gave him what he desperately needed. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). And he did. They pulled him to his feet and those feet held strong. I love the image of this once crippled man “walking and jumping and praising God” as he entered the temple courts (v.8). And the people watching were “filled with wonder and amazement” (v. 10). I reckon so.

But notice Peter’s exact words: “In the name of Jesus Christ.” And that made the miracle. While the people gathered around to witness the sight, Peter said: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this complete healing to him” (v. 16).

Peter would continue this theme as he and John stand before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court). “It is by the name of Jesus Christ . . . that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10). And he boldly declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (v. 12). That is the gospel we must declare. Faith in anything other than the name of Jesus, as the man said to the “faith-filled” woman, is badly misplaced. Eternally misplaced.

One of my granddaughter’s favorite songs is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” I’ve sung her to sleep with it all her life. The something about the name of Jesus is power. Healing power. Wonder-working power. Saving power. Beloved, do you know this power? Do you know the Name of Jesus?

You Better Believe It

I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So, I did. I added and added and added until I got the answer. I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

So, here’s a question for you: Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about a passage on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? There’s a malady in the church called biblical illiteracy. It simply means most people in the church don’t know the Bible very well. We know Bible story sound bites. We know a few verses (mostly taken out of context). And we know what the culture tell us – that God is all and only love and doesn’t want us ever to be unhappy or deny our “true selves.”

What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on others’ thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid truth? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you.

Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Are you convinced that what you believe will hold you up? As Christians come under fire, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe – and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know the truth.