Archive for December, 2012

Reblogged from a good friend of mine on Blogger…not new information, but very well spoken.

What About Those Who Have Never Actually Heard the Gospel?

“How can this be?”

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Sunday school
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Nicodemus Comes to Jesus (3:1-9) – A clandestine meeting, where Jesus reveals a new (but not really new) paradigm to replace the existing Jewish ideas of election and justification: faith in the One sent from God, and the transformation that informs that faith, is the only way to heaven – it’s not “Who’s your daddy?”, but rather “Who is your Father?”

1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked

(v.1-4) – The Apostle introduces a new character, Nicodemus, who is called “a Pharisee…of the ruling council”. This sect of Judaism prided itself on study and knowledge of the Scriptures, and scrupulous adherence to the fine details of the Law, or at least their intricately detailed interpretations of it. Theses are the very people we saw questioning Jesus is the previous chapter about His authority; also note these are the same officials, asking the same questions, that we saw interrogating John the Baptist in Chapter One. For them, everything revolves around “authority”, because theirs has not been challenged in centuries; they are used to having their way, and intend to keep all dissension suppressed. However, this one man, Nicodemus, comes at night, seeking a private audience with Jesus. There are several small details in this introduction that bear a closer look.

In v.2, Nicodemus makes a startling admission with the words, “We know…”. Whether this “we” is but a small group within the Council, or reflects the general consensus is not clear; in either case the effect is the same: the public accusations of blasphemy that are later leveled against Jesus are not believed by all of those making them. John includes this statement as an indictment of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, as evidenced by their own words and actions – a theme Jesus repeats in nearly every subsequent encounter with them. This hypocrisy is highlighted by the fact that Nicodemus chose to come to Jesus at night, when he had a reasonable certainty that he could escape public scrutiny, and thereby protect his reputation, and by extension that of the Council as a whole. 

While Nicodemus may be using this approach to “butter up” Jesus, in v.3 we see that He is having none of it. He bluntly dismisses the Pharisees’ presumption of superior knowledge of God with His statement that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  (emphasis added)  He is informing Nicodemus that the concept of election used by the Jewish leaders is fundamentally flawed, and He does so by the distinctive phrase, “born again”. Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus, leading to his puzzled response in v.4. It is important to see that Jesus says, “born again”, not “re-born” – He is using this very particular wording on purpose. That phrase could be understood as “going through the natural birth process a second time”, but “re-born” is the idiom more commonly associated with that meaning. “Born again” would be more familiar – and in fact should be, to a Pharisee – as referring to “the process of being adopted into a Jewish family”; it is the exact term applied to Gentile converts to Judaism, after going through the ritual cleansing (read: baptism) that was required of proselytes seeking entry into “the family of Abraham”. These “new born children of Israel” were not returned to the womb, as Nicodemus protests, but treated as if they had been “born from heaven” or “born from above” – the very words Jesus uses.

(v.5-9) – Jesus is patient with Nicodemus (and perhaps any around them, listening in on the conversation – sometimes the words we say are most intended for those not directly addressed). He explains again His meaning, adding more depth and detail to assist Nicodemus as Jesus draws him from darkness into light. Commentators have given many and various interpretations of the phrase “born of water and of Spirit”, but I personally believe that what the original audience would have most naturally understood in that time and place is the most correct meaning. Jesus is clearly referring to the baptism of converts, AND the regeneration of the Holy Spirit which allows conversion to occur – just as John the Baptist preached that, while he was baptizing in water for repentance, he would be followed by Another who would baptize in the Spirit (1:19-28). Jesus’ use of the wind as a metaphor supports this, as the Greek word pneuma (wind) was also used to mean the Spirit. This would be a direct contradiction of traditional Jewish belief that the Spirit of God resided only in the Temple, and only occasionally would visit Himself upon a person.  Jesus is declaring a “new” status quo – the Spirit of God will truly inhabit the people of God personally. This is not really new, but only a fulfillment of Old testament prophecy; again, something a Pharisee should have been aware of and expecting. Nicodemus, however, does not seem to understand…something stands in the way of him apprehending this vital truth, and his plaintive cry in v.9, “How can this be?” only underscores the separation from God that this world, being in darkness, labors under. In the next lesson, we will see how Jesus responds to this distress – a response aimed not only at Nicodemus, but at all of us who would seek to understand.

I am presenting short versions of the Sunday school lessons I have taught at my home church. We are studying the Gospel of John, with the focus of seeing Jesus as the Apostle wishes: the holy Son of God; the Messiah prophesied by all of the Old Testament; the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Once we see Him, we will have to believe, and thus be saved.  Scripture references are NIV unless otherwise noted.

In the spirit of Christmas, I present to you the text of the message I was blessed to preach this week at my home church. I extend the same challenge to you as I did to them –  follow the link at the end, and join with us in spreading the love of God throughout the world.  I encourage you to respond in the comments with how God moves you to answer this challenge, as well.

Have a Merry Christmas, and I hope to see you again in the New Year, and in the glory to come.

Gifts are surely on the minds of many this time of year, aren’t they? Children have agonized through days and weeks in eager anticipation of diving into that pile of presents under the tree (even if some of them will spend more time playing with the boxes than what was in them!) We adults are not immune to a sense of expectation about what we are going to receive, but sometimes age and experience leave us a little…shall we say, wary… about the value of what we might be given? I know I have opened some presents that made me very concerned about the expression on my face, you know what I mean, don’t you? You tear off the wrapping paper, lift up the lid…and think, “What in the world is this, and what am I going to do with it?”

Now, tell me the truth – how many of you have received a gift that was so unsuited to you, that the only thing you could do was hide it in the closet, let some time pass, and then wrap it up again and pass it off to someone else? Hopefully you didn’t forget who gave it to you and try to give it back to them by mistake! This situation occurs so much that our culture has come up with a name for that solution – we call it “re-gifting”, and it has become mostly accepted, as a better alternative than throwing stuff away, or spending money that, face it, none of has that much of anymore. Personally, I see it as a drawing away from the unbridled consumerism that has overwhelmed our country in the last couple of decades, the idea that everything is disposable, and you can just toss out what you don’t want and buy something else that will make you happy. This is not really a new idea, is it? Just last week we were talking in Sunday school about the lessons we learned during the Great Depression, and learned again during the shortages and rationing that went along with World War II…“Use it up, wear it out, make it do…or do without!” was the word of the day, and it was sound, reasonable advice; advice that has found a resurgence in the “Green movements” and recycling efforts of today. My message is titled, “The Greatest Re-Gift Ever”, and that may seem like a strange idea when you tie it to Christmas, but I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a bit, and let me explain how I connect those dots, can you do that? I believe that when I’m done you will agree with the point I am making. Don’t misunderstand me – in this case, the gift is not something we don’t want, something without value; but maybe there is another way to understand the idea of re-gifting, and that is what I want to talk about this morning. So here we go.

First off, we need to discuss the nature of the gift…after all, you cannot re-gift until you receive something, right? So what is the gift we have recieved? We find the answer in the famous, beautiful words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7…you know the text, from the King James Version –

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

This is the promise of God which the angel of the Lord was referring to in the passage our friend Mr. Van Pelt so beautifully read for us a few minutes ago. (I personally love that reading, the words have such an impact when heard in the voice of a child, don’t they?)  [Note: the Scripture reading for the day was  a video presentation of the scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus recites Luke 2:8-14]  Remember verse 11?

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

The angel tells the shepherds specifically that the Child, the Christ, the Anointed One, is being given to them, as representatives of all mankind. He did not come to the religious leaders of the times; He did not come to those who felt they were deserving or holy or righteous; He did not come to no one in particular; this gift was given to all of us, to be our Savior…because we needed a Savior, in the most desperate way. There are many many places in Scripture where this promise is repeated in one form or another; let’s look at just a few of them:

In Genesis 3:15, we see the very first instance. God is speaking to the serpent after the deception in the Garden, and He says,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He will bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

In Deuteronomy 18:15, a passage I have referred to many times, Moses tells the people,

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.”

In Zechariah 3:8-9, the Lord says,

“I am going to bring My servant, the Branch…and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”

I could go on, but I think we have a pretty good idea of what, or rather who we have been given…and His name is Jesus. So now, let’s take a look at the reason for the gift. We have already seen one reason: that verse in Zechariah tells us that God intended to “remove the sin of the land”, but Scripture further expands on that idea, and tells us why He wants to do that. The most famous bible verse in the world is a good place to start, plus some extra to complete the thought – let’s look at John 3:16-18 –

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 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 they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

I don’t think I need to say much more than that, do I? It is because of the unfathomable, indescribable love of God for His creation that we receive this great gift…and for no other reason. However, the Apostle Paul, prompted by the Holy Spirit and  realizing that, being the prideful, self-centered creatures that we are, we need to be reminded, does so in Ephesians 2:4-5,8-9 –

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We have talked before about what faith really means – not just believing something with your mind, but changing the way you live based on that information. Last week Brother Charles spoke beautifully about idea of trust, in Hebrew batach: a confidence that allows us to move, live and act on the basis of what we have learned about God’s goodness, even when we don’t understand all that is going on around us. So what is it exactly that we are supposed to be doing while we are batach-ing? I am going to let Jesus Himself tell us about that – no better place to turn for the truth that He who IS the truth, right? Let’s turn our focus to the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, my anchor passage for today. Jesus has just healed a man crippled for 38 years. The man draws the attention of the Jewish religious authorities, not for the miracle of the healing, but because he dared to violate their prohibitions against “working” on the Sabbath. They in turn question Jesus about His authority to sanction such an act, and it is His answer I want to study. Let’s read the passage together, verses 19-23:

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. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. Yes, and He will show Him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him.”

There is a key idea I want you to see, where Jesus echoes the words of that angel who spoke to the shepherds. You may have missed it, because in the King James rendering of Luke 2, the translators were slightly inaccurate in verse 14. Look back at that with me, it reads:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That does not accurately represent God’s intent, however; let’s see that verse in the NASB, where it reads,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Do you see the difference, and how that makes more sense when you consider the state of the world today? Peace is surely not a universal condition, is it? When you read what the angel actually said, it becomes so much more clear why that is true. God only promises His peace on those with whom He is pleased. So, it seems to me, that we need to understand what it is that pleases God, so we may receive His peace, and for that answer let me turn back to John 5.  Jesus gives us the beginning of it here, when He describes His work on earth with the words,

“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. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.”

This is a perfect picture of submission to the will of God, even from the Son of God Himself. God predicted that His Messiah would behave this way – we see that in another of those promise verses I spoke about earlier, this one coming in 1 Samuel 2:35, where the Lord says,

“I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in My heart and mind.”

Jesus is not making up things as He goes, or following His own agenda. He certainly had the power to do anything He wished; He could very well have come as the conquering King that the Jewish people were hoping and waiting  for, to drive out the Roman oppressors, and return them their kingdom on earth. (Many today are still waiting for this Messiah, and so reject Jesus because He did not fulfill these expectations.) Instead, Jesus is doing only that which Our Father has already done and revealed to the Son. So, the question becomes, How can we relate what Jesus is doing, to what we are supposed to be doing? We don’t have to guess, Scripture gives us the answwer explicitly. Turn with me to chapter 15 in John, verses 15-17, and read what the Lord says to His disciples, and by extension, to us:

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you.”

The Lord has chosen us, appointed us, and sent us, to do those things which He has revealed to us, the very same things which the Father revealed to Him. God called Jesus “My faithful priest”, because He does according to God’s heart and mind; so if we wish to be known as faithful, we will also do according to His heart and mind, and we know exactly what that is, because we have our “marching orders”, don’t we? We know it as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20 –

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Brother Charles and I have both preached this passage to you in recent weeks, because we want you to understand your purpose here on earth and here in the body of believers. We do not come together just to soak in the goodness of God, or to encourage one another in a bubble. No, we come together to be equipped to GO OUT, and bear fruit, and do according to the will and heart of God; to proclaim the Gospel, to make disciples, to baptize and teach all that Jesus has commanded. We are given this great gift of a Savior only so that we can re-gift it to someone else, don’t you see? If, and only if, we do these things, will God be pleased with us, and only then will we be assured of receiving His peace. That is something I want very much, to receive His peace, and I am willing to bet that it’s something you want very badly to receive as well.

Today I would like to offer you one practical, real world way to do just that. There is an organization I belong to, called The Pocket Testament League. Their mission is to evangelize the world by spreading the good news of Jesus in the form of small, printed booklets containing the Gospel of John. They publish these in a variety of translations, languages, and attractive cover designs, and send them at no cost to anyone who requests them. They encourage a small financial donation of $20 for thirty copies, to cover the expense of printing and postage, but will gladly supply them for free, with the costs being underwritten by other donors who give above and beyond this nominal amount. Membership is also free, and members are asked to submit testimonies through their website to encourage others in their evangelistic efforts. The League has been in existence since 1893, distributing over 110 million copies of the Gospel; in 2012 alone they sent out 1.6 million copies, including reaching into China for the first time in their history. I regularly order Gospels to pass out during outreach opportunities, and I have a supply of them here with me today. The cover shows a present, wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with string, with a tag reading, “The Greatest Gift”. My challenge for you today is simple: This week, you will go out to lunch or dinner, or do some last-minute Christmas shopping; and you will meet some harried, stressed-out waitress, or sales clerk – someone who could definitely benefit from some of the peace of God in their lives. Take one of these Gospels with you today, and pray that God directs you to that person. Then, place a generous amount of cash inside to minister to their physical needs (I will leave the amount to your discretion…it may be five dollars, it may be $500, that’s between you and the Lord) , and perhaps write a brief note to explain that what’s in this book will minister to their greater, spiritual needs, and hand it to them. Tell them you are praying for them, because God loves them, and wants them to enjoy this great gift as well. Then come back here next week, and share your testimony of how God called you to be His faithful priest, and how you did what He first showed you that He was doing,  by sending “the Word became flesh” on that first Christmas. Will you do it? Will you do that which pleases God, and allow His peace into your life this week? I dare you!

“A skeptic is a…

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

“A skeptic is a person who, when he sees the handwriting on the wall, claims it is a forgery.”

Morris Bender on Skepticism – Apologetics 315 – Mozilla Firefox.

I just made it home from my long day at work and running errands, and the first thing I heard on the TV is news of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut. (I have no access to news and such on the jobsite, and I never got around to replacing the radio in my truck when it got stolen…the hole in the dash makes a pretty good theft-deterrent system.)  My immediate reaction? Begin praying for the families, and turn off the news – because the very last thing I want is to hear any more about it. That reaction got me to thinking… why am I turning away? Am I becoming  insensitive, or inured to the pain of others? Well, no… but the truth is quite revealing in its own right.

The most basic, primal feeling in my gut was exhaustion…I am just completely worn out by this latest horrible occurrence in a series of horrible occurrences this year alone. I hope that doesn’t sound shallow or self-centered – I am quite aware that I have suffered no personal injury or loss in any of these circumstances, and real lives have been permanently changed for the worse; who am I to try to make this about me? (Some might even say, “How dare you?” , but I have never been afraid to say things that others might not understand.) But it’s not about me, so much as it’s about the world…I think I have lost my capacity to feel shock or surprise at the pervasive nature of evil. The bible tells us the world is fallen, ruined by sin and death; why do we act surprised when we see continuing evidence that this is so? On the contrary, I shake my head in disbelief when people speak of the “essential goodness of human nature”, when in truth there is no such thing. Jesus Himself said as much, speaking to the rich young man who wanted to know how to get into heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not “anti-people”; that would make the calling God has placed on me to be a pastor seem kind of silly, wouldn’t it? But there is a reason that the tag line on my email for the last several years has been:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”   Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20 NKJV)

This verse has been a part of my daily prayers almost since I returned to walking with Him in 2005. My faith in God, in the perfect redemption of mankind by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, makes it possible for me to eagerly await His return. I take comfort that all the suffering, the pain, the despair…all these will come to an end. It also makes it possible for me to endure until such time as His plan and purposes are fulfilled, as I have no wish that any would perish, but that all would come to know Him and believe, despite knowing that there are those who will not. Many, many people will look at today’s events, and those of previous days, weeks, and months, and curse God for allowing this to happen, or question whether He even exists… the newsfeed from my relatively small number of Facebook friends is evidence of that. I have no answer for them which they will accept, and my heart breaks because of that. Others will take the opportunity to push their own agendas, or profit from it in some way, and that saddens me even more…and underlines my point at the same time – the world IS going to Hell, and it doesn’t need a handbasket to get there; it knows the way all on its own.

Following hard after Him, (even when some days are harder than others)


Hello, Audience. Are you still out there? It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything, and there’s a very good chance that whatever following I was beginning to build has faded away; consistency is a key to maintaining momentum in anything, but the lack of consistency seems to be one of my identifying characteristics…or at least it has been for the greater part of my life – along with the guilt and excuse-making that often go along with it. But I’m tired of that being true and I want it to change. So here I am, back where I belong, doing what I was made to do, and I have the feeling that this is an answer to some of the frustration I have been allowing to fill up my world lately.

That sentence was very hard to write; I hate admitting that I myself am the cause of most of the dissatisfaction I feel. It is much easier and safer to blame the world around me for my moods…to point fingers and sulk and whine, “It’s not my fault! Look at all that is happening to me! How am I supposed to get anything dome with all this going on?” But that reaction has never solved anything. I spend a great deal of my time counseling others against doing that very thing, telling them that the first step to moving forward in life is to get moving, to accept personal responsibility for the condition of their character instead of making it Someone Else’s job to grant them fulfillment. Maybe I need to record these conversations and play them back for myself; I need to learn to recognize hypocrisy when it’s staring back at me in the mirror, to heed the words of the philosopher, “Physician, heal thyself!” Or, better yet, the words of the Great Physician, my Lord Jesus – He has several things to say on this subject:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:3-5)

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I could go on, but the simple truth is that quoting Scripture is not the same as living it, and I have been falling short. Life is always going to be hard, and Jesus knows this…that is why we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, perhaps the greatest gift short of salvation itself – to help us overcome this life in anticipation of the one to come. I seem to have lost sight of this truth recently, but God is faithful (even when I am not) and He will receive me back to Himself, bind up my wounds, and restore my spirits…if only I will trust in Him.

Stay tuned; I think I am well on the way to finding the true path again; at the very least, I am tired of hacking my way through the weeds and thistles off the side of that path on my own.

Following hard after Him, (in spite of my own hard head and hard heart),