The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, July 28, 2014

God the Most Powerful Teacher

“Behold, God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him?” - Job 36:22


Who was your best teacher? What teacher left the most indelible mark on your memory?  For me, I first remember my jovial rotund fifth grade teacher Mrs. Jolly who made learning fun. She laughed easily and would jiggle like jelly when she did. But she still held her students accountable to do their best. I remember my high school physics teacher Mr. Agape. He really did love his students. I remember his bushy black mustache and perpetual smile. He taught with an enthusiasm and flare that was contagious. He made you want to excel. I can still remember how he’d interject humor into our class discussions. When we students would stray into circular redundant endless inquiries he’d transition from the pointless questioning with the words, “Why? Because pigs don’t whistle and meatballs don’t bounce!” He would point out the danger of an error by saying, “That’s like playing horseshoes with hand grenades.” It was fun to go to class with these teachers.


Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45; Isaiah 54:13).  God infiltrates our thoughts in wooing us to Himself. He breaks through self-centeredness, self-reliance, and our sinful nature to speak to our heart. If you are pondering eternity and where you will spend it, that is not an accidental thought process. That is God reaching out to you and calling you to salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ so you can spend eternity with Him. Yes, God teaches us.


“Behold, God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him?” (Job 36:22). God is a powerful Teacher. As good and even great as any teacher you’ve ever had, they pale in comparison to God the Teacher. God is the greatest teacher. No one teaches like God teaches. Often we don’t even realize God is taking us to school. He uses every incidental circumstance in life as an instrument of learning. He never bores us to sleep with a monotone monologue. We may not appreciate His life lessons at first, but we do in the end. What He teaches may not always be “fun” to receive. But what He teaches is always edifying and eternally significant. God’s lessons go beyond mere “fun” and happy results to the more substantial joyfulness of His abundant life. Earthly teachers may provide us lessons that change us for this life. But God’s lessons change lives for eternity. That’s what makes God the best teacher.


If God is the best teacher then it would behoove us to go to His class and learn His curriculum. While God’s school is open for all to attend, it is a privilege to be taught by God. God teaches us eternal life truths. He reveals telescopic wonders of His universe. He reveals microscopic truths about our inner most being. He provides eternal answers to eternal questions. He provides eternal solutions to destiny problems. Therefore we need to approach His class with a proper perspective.  


Who does God teach? Is there a demeanor or attitude that best positions us for God to teach us? A fool is unteachable. “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (Prov. 15:5). “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Prov. 23:9; cf. also 14:16; 17:10; 18:2; 24:7; 26:4, 11). The wisdom of proverbs points out the importance of being teachable. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12; cf. also 29:20). It’s foolish to think you have all the answers. It’s foolish to think you don’t need to be taught by God (Psalm 14). Therefore to be taught by God we first need to throw off our foolish pride and self-reliance and consider who it is that God teaches.


God teaches sinners. “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way” (Psalm 25:8). God doesn’t teach us merely because of who we are. God teaches us because of Who He is. God is good and upright and so He teaches sinners. God teaches the sinner about their perilous sinful state and their need of a Savior Jesus (e.g. John 16:8-11). The way of salvation is taught to the sinner as a gift of God’s prevenient grace. God takes the sinner to school through life divine appintments, reasoning (e.g. Isaiah 1:18), and people who communicate the gospel. God teaches sinners the way of salvation.


God teaches the humble. “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way” (Psalm 25:9). God teaches the sinner in a way that humbles them. They may choose to resist and rebel against God’s teaching. If they rebel and reject God’s teaching God will not force His way on them. God allows the rebellious sinner to walk out of class if they so choose. But those who heed His word and humbly seek more, God will teach. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). God teaches the humble seeker.


God teaches the reverent.  “Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses” (Psalm 25:12). If you are going to be taught by God you must respect and appreciate Him and His teaching. There are no spit balls, paper airplanes flying, or fooling around in God’s classroom. The student of God must approach God with the fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD means we respect God’s high position over us and our low position before Him. The fear of the LORD means we respect God’s authority. To be taught by God we need to respect and revere God. The apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).  It is a holy thing for God to teach us and work in and through us. If we are to be taught by God we have to take Him and His teaching seriously.


God teaches those with a childlike curiosity who soak up His teaching like a sponge. “All your children shall be taught by the LORD” (Isaiah 54:13a). Children need to be taught the ways of God. Some adopt the position that children are too young to be taught the gospel. That is not what God says in His word. Children need to be taught the ways of God.  


Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Ever notice a child’s insatiable appetite to learn? It is in childhood that a person experiences their time of greatest information download. Children take great delight in learning. Everything is fresh and new to them. There is a wonder to their universe. They are not jaded. They don’t have an “I know it already” attitude. (That comes when they get older.) A child soaks up information like a sponge. A child is watching every move of those around them and copying them. A child is innocently impressionable. Come to God with a childlike curiosity and soak up His teaching.


What makes God such a powerful Teacher? How does God teach us? God is a Master at teaching. He makes use of various instrumental means to teach us. His teaching impacts us powerfully. His teaching changes our lives now and for eternity. What are the tools God uses to so powerfully teach us?


God teaches through His creation. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). This speaks of the Latter Days but it also points us to recognize that there are lessons from God all around us. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The order and design of God’s creation teach us that God exists and He is our Creator. As our Creator we need to worship and obey Him. We need to have a relationship with God. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Human depravity is the result of rejecting God as Creator and dismissing the evidence of God that is all around us in His creation (cf. Romans 1).


God teaches us in “the house of” God.  “’Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3; cf. also Micah 4:2). There’s good reason why in the New Testament we are instructed to not neglect the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:24-25). It is in the assembly of God’s people that God teaches us. He does this through those called to teach His word (e.g. Eph. 4:11-12). If you want to learn from the LORD, go to church. Yes, we can learn outside of church. We need to meet one on one daily with the LORD and be taught by Him. And it’s true, there are no perfect churches. Some churches do not teach God’s word. But that does not excuse us from God’s call to go to church. Find a good Bible teaching church. God teaches us we need to go to church to be taught. It is in church where God teaches us. There’s no getting around this.


God teaches through His Word.  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34; cf. also Hebrews 8:10-11; 10:16).  When we are born again God writes His law on our heart. The Law of God, His word, is the language He uses to communicate His way to us. It is by way of the Law of the LORD that sinners first learn of their sinfulness and need for the gospel (cf. 1 Tim. 1:8-11; Gal. 3:24).


By meditating on God’s word we overcome our fears and are led to fulfillment of God’s plan in our lives (e.g. Joshua 1). God’s word is most effective as His instrument of revelation and teaching when we take it in its entirety (Acts 20:27). God equips us for every good work by way of His word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). Knowing the word of God gives us a credible basis to respond to people. Our opinion can be argued. But it’s far more difficult to argue with God and His word. Only the fool or the rebellious sinner argues with God and His word.  


God’s word is central and the preeminent instrument to teach us. He exalts His word above His own very holy name (Psalm 138:2). God’s word is a limitless resource. God’s word is like the ocean; shallow enough at the shore for the youngest babe in Christ to  wade in and not drown, but deep enough as you swim further into it that the greatest theologian can’t touch bottom. God’s word is for everyone for eternity. Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away but His words would endure forever (Mat. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Get into God’s word. There is no substitute for it. There are no shortcuts to spiritual depth. Dive into God’s word.


You can’t learn God’s way apart from His word. In fact, it is often the case that seeking God’s way outside of His word leads to confusion, being deceived, and being deterred in learning the things of God. We need to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Know God’s word.


God the Holy Spirit teaches us.  “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:9-14).  We are taught God’s way by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of their sin and need of a Savior Jesus (John 16:8-11). Once we are born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit He helps us understand the inspired word of God. You can’t really learn anything beyond the gospel without being born again of the Holy Spirit. It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that enables us to perceive God’s truth (1 John 2:20, 27). You must be born again to be taught by God (John 3).


God teaches us through Jesus.  “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20-21). “The truth is in Jesus.” “In the volume of the book it is written of Me” (Hebrews 10:7). The entire Bible speaks about Jesus. Whenever we go to God’s word we should be asking, “What does this tell me about Jesus?” The truth of God, the pinnacle and point of the entirety of scripture is bound up in the Person of Jesus. God seeks to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). We are called to follow in Jesus’ steps (1 Peter 2:21) and walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). God teaches us His way through Jesus. Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” All of the Father’s teaching leads us to Jesus (John 6:45; e.g. Galatians 3:24; Hebrews 10:7).


Are you enrolled in the class of the most powerful Teacher? It’s easy to do. God our Teacher by grace has paid your tuition. God’s education is free but not cheap. God’s education was bought with the precious blood of Jesus. To enroll admit and turn from your sinfulness, ask God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus alone. Jesus alone and His atoning death on the cross is the just basis for God to justly forgive your sin. Receive by faith Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit will come and indwell you. The Holy Spirit will then teach you where to go from there. Enroll in the class of the most powerful Teacher! Come on, let’s go to school!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Divine Romance

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. – John 6:44


When I was a young man perusing for love my vehicle for the mission was a 1969 bright yellow RS Camaro. Its heart was a 302 small block. It purred its powerful presence through low resonance headers. It prowled by the comfort of an automatic tranny. It danced with custom wheels and rubber that embraced the road. Inside it had a black leather interior that hugged you just right. Its first impression was made with seducing hideaway headlight covers. It was a sweet ride; my first car-love; my Honey. It was my Honey that transported me to the love of my life.  


One day a petite godly girl at church caught my eye. I was pretty impressed as I watched her lead the coffee house ministry. She carried herself well. You could see the Spirit of the Lord was upon her. I may have driven a sweet ride but it was really God that drove me to this young lady. Finally, after much prayer I got up enough courage to ask her out. She accepted my invitation for a ride to the beach. It wasn’t long before my Honey had to take a backseat to my sweetheart; my “Lil’ Dee.” It was the beginning of a three year romance that evolved into 34 years of romance-full marriage that is still going strong.


Now if you talk to my wife she’ll tell you she wasn’t as impressed with my car as she was with me. (Wow! Thanks honey.) I can still remember riding in my Honey with my Lil’ Dee. She’d sit next to me on the middle console. She’d put her head on my shoulder. I was in heaven. She was wooing me and I was wooing her. We were in love. I can’t believe how time has passed but I can remember those courting years like they were yesterday. That was a precious time in our lives. It was a precious time of God’s will for us. Thank You Lord!


Do you know that God courts us? The LORD woos us. He comes and whispers to us, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:10). The LORD by His grace approaches us. He sets His gaze on us. He introduces Himself. He woos us. He romances us. He wisely infiltrates our heart until He wins it; if we let Him. He reaches out to us and draws us to Himself with reasonable words. “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18). That’s Divine romance.


God loves us so dearly. God loves us with a passion. He says to us, “You have ravished my heart, . .” He yearns to be able to call us, “My sister, my spouse; . . .” He looks on us and says, “you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace” (Song of Solomon 4:9). He woos us saying, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20). We may not initially understand or care about righteousness, justice, lovingkindness or mercy but that is the love language of the LORD to us. He comes in the night. “He knocks, saying, ‘Open for me, my sister, my love, . .” He yearns to be able to call us, “My dove, my perfect one” (Song of Solomon 5:2). .”

It’s a divine romance of the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44a). This speaks of prevenient grace. No one comes to God on their own; in their own strength. No one seeks or searches for God without God stirring up that desire and curiosity to seek Him. That’s grace. No one would come to Jesus unless the Father had gone before to draw them to Him.


Salvation does not depend on us. God involves us. We must by faith receive and believe in Jesus. But we wouldn’t even be interested unless God reached out to us. The Spirit whispers “Jesus” to us. The Spirit points us to Jesus (John 15:26). Saving faith is the work of God’s grace in us (John 6:29). God is the One who initiates this Divine romance. He is the One who courts us. He is the One God in Three Persons who sets His eyes on us and makes His love for us known. He pursues us with His love while we are estranged from Him. Like with Israel God aims at our wayward heart.  He expresses His purposeful romance saying, “that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols” (Ezek. 14:5).


The Father woos us to bring us into an eternal marriage with His Son Jesus. That is His plan. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). The Father’s will is the Son’s will; they are One (John 10:30). And the Spirit is One with Father and Son; “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus, “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). And Jesus’ word to us is, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”


What does it mean to “draw” someone? The term “draw” (Greek helkyo) means to persuade or woo. Some commentators interpret the meaning of this term to mean compel, drag, or force regardless of will. They use this definition to teach an “unconditional election” and “irresistable grace.” What they say may sound good on the surface. But dig a little and it results in doing damage to the nature of God. The word is better defined by the idea of a persuading conversation. God calls the sinner to come reason about their sins. If to draw means a forceful dragging of sinners to Jesus then it results in difficulty when we see the word used in other contexts of scripture.


One such difficulty is seen in John 12:32 where Jesus uses the word “draw” stating, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people’s to Myself.” If we define “draw” as compelling, dragging or forcing regardless of one’s will then the imagery of Jesus turns from romance to abuse. People aren’t dragged by the hair and thrown at the feet of Jesus. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not hold shotgun weddings. The Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit do not circumvent anyone’s will in the Divine romance. They woo the sinner with great passion, persistence and persuasion, but they never force Themselves on anyone. If forcing oneself on someone is unacceptable in human to human relationships, how much more is it true for Divine to human relationships? God’s romance is better than that. God’s romance is a holy romance.


If in John 12:32 “draw” is a forceful dragging of “all people” whether they like it or not, apart from and even against their will to Jesus, it conveys the idea of a universalistic view of salvation. A Universalist believes all people are ultimately saved; even Satan! That of course is not the case. All are not saved. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. . . .Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Mat. 7:13-14, 21). Jesus woos us with the cross. He offers us freedom from the slavery of sin with the redemption of the cross. He reveals freedom from sin with a love letter written in His precious outpoured blood. But the sinner must receive that offer by faith.


God’s word is a powerful, passionate Divine love letter to us. The pinnacle of that letter, the proof of God’s love for us, is the cross of Christ. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The cross of Christ is able to break open hard hearts. It’s a love-compelled invitation to say, “I do,” at the eternal wedding altar of the Lord.


Jesus says, “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). Jesus is the Perfect Gentleman. He comes to the door of your heart and knocks. We see no belligerent banging on the door. We see no battering ram thrusting through the door. We see Jesus knocking. Will you open and invite Him in? It is grace that He is knocking at all. How will you respond to this wooing of the LORD?  How will you respond to this Divine romance?


Jesus said, “. . . and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44b). Everyone will experience a resurrection day. Some will be raised to everlasting life with the Lord. Others will be raised to everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46). One day a great multitude in heaven will mightily sing, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:6-7). Will you be part of His bride the church? Will you welcome and receive the wooing Lord?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My work or the Work of God?

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” – John 6:28


Are you frustrated in your relating to God? Feel overworked and unappreciated? Does what you do seem to never be enough; or at least that’s how you feel? I want to encourage you to consider that perhaps your perspective is a bit off. Jesus said His yoke was easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:28-30). I want to encourage you to come to Jesus for a better perspective.  


Jesus fed 5,000 plus people with five loaves of bread and two fish. It was quite a feat. It moved people to come back for more. When they did Jesus told them, Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:27). Baker’s bread in Jesus’ day had a seal of approval put on it to verify who had baked it. What Jesus was offering had the Father’ seal on it. You can trust what Jesus offers.


Jesus words seem to have had an impact on these people. “Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:28). They were ready. It was as though they were saying, “Okay Jesus, what do you want us to do?” It was good that they came to Jesus, (even if it was initially for another free meal.) But Jesus had to put the brakes on their thinking. That’s because the people came to Jesus with a wrong perspective. The people responded with a religious mindset. That’s a problem.


While it is a step closer, religion is just as futile, frustrating and inadequate as merely living for the things of this world. Religion focuses on the work of man; what we must do to please God. When our focus is on doing a certain amount of good works to “work the works of God” we set ourselves up for uncertainty. That is because when we depend on our works to become righteous we never know how much is enough. There is no concluding word on how many good works a person must do to become righteous. That’s because good works are not God’s means of becoming righteous (cf. Romans 3-5; Gal. 1-4; Eph.2).


It was only natural for these unsaved people to respond with the idea that their destiny depended on something they had to do. This is horizontal plain thinking. But that was how they had been taught. That was the way of the Pharisees and religious order. And as long as our eyes are on the horizontal plain of this world we will never find fulfillment. Jesus alone is who we need.


The Tower of Babel is where the spirit of religion began (Gen. 11). Babel is where humanity began their effort to reach into the heavens. Babel is where people began to rely on their own ingenuity and effort. Babylon is a city born out of Babel. This is the root of all religion. It is the root of all false religions. And the focus is on human works and effort.


Religion is self-reliant and self-promoting. There is a religious element in the church. The spirit of religious “Christianity” is characterized by the embellishment of scriptural truth with human tradition. Religion’s understanding moves us contrary to and outside the lines of scriptural truth boundaries. That is not a place any true Christian should travel.


Religion interprets life in terms of , “what shall we do . . . .?” In Jesus’ day it was bound up in the Pharisees and Sadducees. These groups focused on ritual cleansing and human traditions that created clouds and fog that hindered recognizing Messiah Jesus’ coming. Even today there are people who overemphasize Old Testament feast days and laws. These are a shadow or type that point to Christ. They are of value only in pointing us to Christ (cf. Gal. 3:24). There is no added righteousness in keeping Old Testament Law. Once Christ came these things became obsolete. To focus on them would be akin to coming home and having your spouse bow down and worship your shadow rather than you yourself.


Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God,  that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29). The way to being certain of our eternal destiny is through faith in Christ. John in his first epistle indicates repeatedly that a person can be sure of their eternal life with God (cf. 1 John 3:24; 5:13). When our eternal life and righteousness is based on what Jesus has done on the cross we can be certain of our salvation because Jesus’ work is complete; finished. Nothing can be added to the competed work of Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11). Therefore, when by faith we turn from our sin to God and trust Jesus as Savior, the Lord God forgives our sins, regenerates us spiritually, and gives us eternal life (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus has done the work for us! (cf. Gal. 3:13). Wonderful!


When someone believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord and is saved from their sins it isn’t something they can take credit for. Salvation from sins isn’t something anyone can boast about. Belief in Jesus is a work of God. Humanity is dead in sin. People are spiritually dead and lifeless. (Eph. 2:1-3). Taking credit for being forgiven for our sins is like crediting a corpse for dressing themselves in a casket.


Salvation from sin is a gift of God’s grace. Grace means an undeserved gift. All humanity has sinned and deserves eternity in a place called hell (Rom. 3:10, 23). God is a Just Judge and He upholds a perfect sinless standard (Psalms 7:11). A day of judgment is coming whereby Jesus is the standard of righteousness (Acts 17:31). By God’s standard and requirement even one solitary sin condemns (Gal. 3:10-13; James 2:10). And the condemnation is an eternal death sentence in hell (Rom. 6:23a). This is the clear and unmistakable revelation of God in His word. The wages or consequence of any and all sin is eternal death, but . . . but God has offered a free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23b). That is grace.


It is an undeserved gift of God’s grace that we are not left in our sin and darkness. By grace the Holy Spirit reaches into our darkness and convicts us of our sin and need of a Savior (John 16:8-11). This is prevenient grace or the grace that goes before. We wouldn’t even be aware of our need and precarious position if it weren’t for God. Without salvation secured we stand on the edge of a ledge of a bottomless chasm of eternal torment without God. Salvation is a work of God; an undeserved gift from God to be received by faith (Eph. 2:4-9). Salvation is through the work of Jesus on the cross (Rom. 3:24-25). Salvation is through faith in Jesus (Rom. 5:1ff.). All the sinner has to do is be willing to turn away from sin and to God through faith in Jesus. We are who we are by the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10). And who we become in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Through faith in Jesus we receive spiritual life (John 1:12; 3:1-36). When we repent from our sins and trust in Jesus as Savior the Lord God wipes our slate clean of sin and gives us a fresh start and promise of life eternal with Him in glory. THAT IS GRACE!

Now it would be wrong too if we use grace as an excuse to not serve the Lord. Paul says a loud “Certainly not!” to such a notion (Rom. 6:1ff.). God’s love for us and our love for Him should compel us to serve Him (2 Cor. 5:14-16). Serving God is an expression of our appreciation and love for Him. We don’t serve to gain His favor and blessing. He blessed us freely by grace (Rom. 2:4). We are saved by grace and we live on after conversion by grace (1 Cor. 15:10). We need to expect God’s blessing. He loves us and desires to bless us. The giving of Jesus to save us is proof of His love (Rom. 5:8). The cross of Christ is proof that God is for us (Rom. 8:31-32). If that is the case, then stop trying to impress God and gain His favor. You already have His favor. God couldn’t love you more than He already does. It’s not about “my work.” It’s about the work of God. Stop striving with or even for God. Just enjoy His grace. Enjoy His love and live for Him. Live totally for the One who totally loves you. Enjoy!



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jesus and the Storms of Life

“But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” – John 6:20



It’s hurricane season and the first summer hurricane has just made its way up the eastern seaboard of the United States. There are likely to be more hurricanes to follow. Physical storms are inevitable. But there are other storms in life that are just as inevitable. I’m talking about storms that take the form of a pink slip notification of job loss. Maybe a storm of a letter or voice mail indicating the end of a relationship. Maybe it’s a failed test, a rejection or major disappointment of some kind. Maybe it’s a call to come down to the police station to bail someone out. Maybe it’s a police officer’s knock on the door in the middle of the night to inform you a loved one has been lost. Maybe it’s coming home to a burned out house. Maybe it’s being broadsided or rear-ended while driving. Maybe it’s a call into the doctor’s office to receive a life altering prognosis. Some of these storms you can see coming. If you indulge in recklessness, cheating, stealing, adultery, overeating, smoking, drug abuse, and/or drunkenness the storm clouds are forming; all you have to do is look around you to see them. But most life storms come without warning.

 Storms, whatever the form, are inevitable in life. They are part of life. What compounds the difficulty and the painful impact of storms is not preparing for them. Some storms you can’t stop. Some come into life like a runaway train. When I speak of preparing for storms in life I mean understanding how they might be a part of God’s plan.


God is love (1 John 4:16). He desires none perish (2 Peter 3:9). He is sovereign and in control no matter what. “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:6). We may not understand why some things happen. But God as Sovereign remains in control and rule no matter what happens. If something happens, God has allowed it to happen. He is sovereign. God is in control.


But that creates a problem for us. We often look at tragedy and wonder why does God allow that? When bewildering storms slap us in the face we need to moor ourselves to the truth that “He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8). God knows all and being a God of love we must accept that what He allows has a loving purpose even if it appears very unloving in the immediate impact. Like Job we must understand, “Who can say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’” (Job 9:12). When we question God we go beyond our pay scale of authority. God confirms this with the words, “Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine” (Job 41:11).


Storms are going to come. They will often be unexplainable. But there are some truths about the purpose of storms that we do have. These truths help us through the storms. We can know why God at times allows storms to come. And facing the unknowable with what we do know is a firm foundation for weathering the storms of life. Jesus said, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). What follows are some foundational truths about why storms come and how they can be used by Jesus in our life. Storms are going to come. But Jesus’ promise is that if we build and prepare with God’s word we will make it through the storms.


In John 6 it states, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them” (John 6:16-17).  In Mark’s parallel account it states that Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and cross Galilee (Mark 6:45). In none of the gospel accounts of this storm does Jesus appear surprised the storm came. He knew what was coming. He directed them into the storm purposely. That’s because He was going to use this storm as a teachable moment.


Ever launch out without the Lord only to encounter a storm? Storms of life teach us how important it is to have Jesus in our boat. This is the most important foundational truth about preparing for storms in life. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus will allow us to launch out without Him. He will allow us to face storms to see how much we need Him. This was the primary lesson He was teaching the disciples. It is an essential lesson to learn.


Then the storm came. “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing” (John 6:18).

Some go so far as to say Jesus brought this storm upon His disciples. I don’t go that far. But I do believe Jesus permitted the storm to come upon His disciples. He permits storms to enter our life. What right does Jesus have to determine if storms are allowed to come into our life? Jesus “is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Rom. 9:5).  Jesus is Lord (Acts 4:33). He is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Jesus “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5). Therefore we are not our own. We have been bought by Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19-20). And it was a costly expense. Jesus purchased us with His blood (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:14). That is why Jesus has the right to ordain storms in our life. He eternally earned that right.


Jesus takes full responsibility for allowing all that has come into our life, including storms. Jesus is big enough to handle that responsibility. Scripture testifies that God does test humanity with difficulty. But when God tests it is always to bring the tested “out to rich fulfillment” (cf. Psalm 66:10-12). That being the case, I believe there may be someone else involved in this storm.


Satan is able to kick up storms in our life. He kicked up a storm in the life of Job, and it led to great loss (Job 1:19). Satan is a destroyer (Rev. 9:11). The only one Satan is out to richly fulfill is himself at others expense. If he brings a storm it is to destroy. God limits Satan’s destructive capabilities (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was the cause and instrument of trial in Job’s life. But God was the Sovereign Determiner. Satan had to get permission from God before he tested Job. Satan had to operate within the parameters and limits set by God. That is true with us as well. God creates us and ordains our life span (Psalm 139:16). Even when Satan works, God remains in control.


From reading the book of Job we see that God allowed the trials of Job to fulfill a greater purpose (Job 1-2). We see that Job and the other human characters were not aware of God’s greater purpose for those trials (Job 3-37). Job and the others did not come to a satisfactory understanding until God revealed it to them (Job 38-41). Even in the end, when God spoke, they did not come to a complete understanding of the role of Satan and spiritual warfare. That is often the case. There are things we will have to wait for God to explain to us. And that may only come when we are in glory with Him. Until then we will have to be content with, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the word of this law” (Deut. 29:29). When we meet Jesus face to face we’ll probably be so enthralled with His presence that all our questions will be consumed in our eternity with Him.  


What was God’s greater purpose in allowing the suffering in Job’s life? The greater purpose, at least as far as we can see, was that: WE UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEHIND SOME TRIALS BECAUSE OF THE BOOK OF JOB. God allowed storms in the life of Job so that future generations would understand there is more to existence than what is merely seen. There is a spiritual realm and a spiritual war with a spiritual adversary who oversees an evil spiritual army that opposes God. That was true then. And it is true now. The book of Job is believed to be the oldest book of the Bible. Therefore, right from the start God wanted humanity to be aware of this spiritual battle. God wants humanity to understand what is behind trials and difficulties in life. Understanding helps us to cope with the storms of life.


This storm came “when evening came,” in the night (John 6:16). Satan is the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12; Rev. 16:10). Deception and evil take place under the cover of darkness. Therefore when Satan works his evil plans it is often in darkness (Luke 22:53; Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 5:11). When we launch out without Jesus it’s as though we call out for the darkness to come. We can’t afford to go anywhere without Jesus. Satan our enemy is always prowling around looking to devour stragglers (1 Peter 5:8-9). Stay close to Jesus, because He has delivered us from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9).


“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid” (John 6:19).  They were “afraid” (Greek phobos). This must have been a serious storm for experienced fishermen to be afraid. Mark 6:49 says when the disciples saw Jesus they initially thought He was a ghost. When they first saw Jesus they may have saw Him as a vaporous apparition. But the closer Jesus got the more clearly they saw it was really Him. The closer we come to Jesus the more clearly we will see His purposes for the storms in life. What did Jesus want to teach these disciples and us about the storm?


First, Jesus uses storms to get our attention. In Psalms it states being on the sea and especially in a storm while at sea provides us with an incredible view of God’s creation as well as the God who is the Creator. Psalms states storms at sea cause even seamen to cry out to the Lord (Psalm 107:23-28). When the waters are calm and stormless we might be tempted to think, I’m the captain of my own ship. When storms come and our footing becomes unstable it gets our attention. Storms teach us there is more to life than just us and earthly surroundings. There is a God to whom we must answer and attend.


God uses goodness and patience to get people’s attention (Rom. 2:4). But if that fails, He sometimes will use a storm to wake people up to their need of salvation. Jesus said our soul is more valuable and important than the entire world (Mark 8:36). Storms of life get our attention to that reality.


Second, Jesus uses storms for our correction. That’s what happened in the life of Jonah. God called him to go to the Ninevites and preach to them. He refused, got in a boat, and set sail in the opposite direction. God sent a storm to stop him in his tracks. Perhaps the disciples launching out without Jesus was not just them following His orders but an indication of a mindset creeping into them that was presumptuous and careless. Maybe they needed to be face to face with the deep in order to go deeper with Jesus.


Be patient with me as a share a parenthetical comment from the life of Jonah. Jonah rebelled against the Lord’s calling and plan. And as he did so, there was a ready door of opportunity opened to him to do so. Opportunity is not always an indication of God’s will. In fact, it may be the opposite. When we rebel against God, like with Jonah, the enemy will provide us the resources to do so. One commentator put it like this:


A man was telling me about his diet. “It seemed like the Lord spoke to my heart about cutting down,” he said. “But one day, I thought it might be His will that I have a donut. So I asked Him to give me a parking place right in front of the donut shop if it was His will. And sure enough—after only the third time around the block, there one was!”


Maybe some of you are circling around the block right now, saying, “Well, Lord, if You want me to get involved with him…” or “If you want me to go there…” It’ll probably happen because Satan always has a ship ready. But know this: If you’re running from God or trying to rationalize what you know is not His best for you, a storm is sure to follow.[1]


God is merciful and persistent. He will allow or even send a storm to correct your waywardness if necessary. He loves you that much. In love God will go to extremes to assure you experience His best for your life. He disciplines and corrects those He loves (Heb. 12:3-11). It’s when we get away scot free with our rebellion and sin that we should really be concerned.


Third, Jesus uses storms for prevention. The context of this incident is that the people wanted to forcibly take and make Jesus king (John 6:15). Jesus walked away and left before that could happen. One day He would be King on earth (Rev. 20). But before that happened He had to go to the cross and break the power of sin and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8-10). His kingdom had to be built on His redemptive work. It was a satanically inspired desire to seek to force Jesus prematurely into kingship (cf. Matthew 4:8-10). Sometimes God uses a storm to prevent us from doing something prematurely or out of sync with His will. God uses storms to protect us from premature and presumptuous fleshly plans. Jesus uses storms to prevent us from mistakes and wrong decisions. He uses storms to steer us in the right direction.


Fourth, Jesus uses storms for our spiritual perfection. The word “perfect,” or “perfection” as it is used in scripture (e.g. Phil. 3:13 and 15) refers to spiritual maturity not being sinless. Storms in life are a great instrument to bring us to spiritual perfection or maturity. Peter was inspired to write, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). This doesn’t mean that physical suffering compensates for spiritual shortcomings or atones for our sins in some way. Only the atoning death of Jesus on the cross accomplishes that (1 Peter 1:18-19). What it does mean is that suffering, trials and storms in life give us a higher perspective, a clearer understanding, a spiritual perfection or more complete perception of life. When you suffer or experience a storm in life you come to know what is REALLY important in life.


When the disciples were on that boat, straining and struggling for their lives in the storm, they were blessed with a greater appreciation of what is truly of greatest importance; survival not a ship; heaven not earth; Jesus not a boat empty of Jesus.


Storms in life are of great value. James said we should actually rejoice when trials come our way (James 1:2ff.). Jesus uses storms to get our attention, for correction, for prevention, and for our spiritual perfection. Remember that when the inevitable storm of life hits. Remember that, and invite Jesus into your life-boat.


No one has to go through a storm alone. “But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:20). Jesus has a way of showing up when we’re fearful. He will allow us to work and row. Then, just when we’re at the end of ourselves, just when we’re exhausted and the storm hits, there He is. Jesus knows just when to show up. Jesus’ timing is impeccable. Jesus is never early or late. Jesus is always right on time. That’s why we need to wait on Him. Trust Jesus. “It is I; do not be afraid.” He will show up right on time.


How can we invite Jesus into our life-boat? “Then they willingly received Him into the boat” (John 6:21a). We need to willingly receive Jesus into our life-boat. Jesus presents Himself to us in the storm. If we don’t call out to Him He will walk on by (e.g. Mark 6:48). Jesus will never force Himself on you. He will show up and present Himself to you. But you will have to receive Jesus into your life-boat as an act of your will. The word “willingly” (Greek thelo) means to make a determination, make a choice, to take action. When the disciples experienced the storm and then saw Jesus, they actively reached out to Jesus and “received Him into the boat.” You have to welcome and Jesus by faith into your life situation.


This is not a passive welcoming of Jesus into our life situation. The word “received” (Greek lambano) means to take, to get hold of, to seize. This is an action.  By faith when Jesus shows up we have to take hold of Him. Jesus is faithful to show up in the storms of life. We need to take hold of Jesus like a drowning swimmer does their rescuer. That’s what it means to receive Jesus actively by faith.


What happens when we take hold of Jesus in the storm? It states, “and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (John 21b).  This could be another miracle of Jesus; a miracle of transportation. But I think there’s something else going on here. When you take hold of Jesus and bring Him into your life-boat, with Jesus before you, beside you, the storm is no longer the center of attention. When Jesus is in our life-boat our focus on Him brings us into the eye of the storm. When we focus on Jesus time stops, everything stops; everything pales in comparison to Jesus. When Jesus is with you He gets you to where you’re going and when you arrive it will be as though time flew. When we fix our eyes on Jesus we see things in light of eternity and our experience becomes very immediate. Jesus makes the scary and anxiety producing parts of life pass by “immediately.” Just focus on Jesus and He will get you through. Jesus will get you to where you need to be in God’s plan.


Are you out on the ocean on your own? Has a storm hit you? If so Jesus is where you are and He is ready to get into the boat with you. But you have to receive Him into your boat. You have to take Him and hold onto Him. Put your arms of faith around Jesus and He will gladly come into your life-boat and get you through the storm and to the other side.

[1]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 491