Image

Archive for life

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

April 13, 2015

Many friends and I have been empty_tombgrieving the death of a college classmate recently. She and I were freshmen together. I looked forward to meeting her along with others at a local restaurant for coffee. I was aware that she was in the building because of her laugh. What a laugh it was! When she laughed, she really laughed. And it was contagious. Others seemed to catch it and laugh with her. She lived her life with eternity in mind, especially during the last couple of years when she endured much suffering. She will be missed. I could not help but think of her when I penned these words.

During His ministry on earth Jesus, the God-Man, demonstrated His amazing power over nature, angels, disease, demons, and death itself. Amazingly, He raised three people from the dead: the widow of Nain’s son (Lk. 7:14), Jarius’ daughter (Matt. 9:25), and probably his most famous resurrection was that of Lazarus (John 11:1-27).

Lazarus never said a word, but his story is still speaking around the world today. His testimony begins in the little town of Bethany. It was located about two miles from Jerusalem where Jesus was staying. Jesus received word that Lazarus, a dear friend, was sick. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent word to Jesus, possibly thinking that Jesus would come right away. Instead, Jesus sent word that Lazarus was not going to die but that his sickness was to shed light upon the Son of God.

The text clearly says that Jesus loved all three of these siblings: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. But He waited in Jerusalem two more days. Two more days! Why? It is simple. He waited for Lazarus to die. When He was at last ready to depart for Bethany, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep and it was time to go and wake Him up.

The disciples’ response was understandable. Sick people need rest and it’s good that he is asleep. It is obvious that they were not yet tuned in. Then Jesus rocked them by announcing that Lazarus was dead. Dead! But He quickly followed up with these incredible words. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to Him” (John 11:15). Lazarus is dead and the Lord is glad? I can’t begin to imagine how these men must have responded to these words. “That you may believe” was possibly lost in the moment.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, He discovered that Lazarus had been dead four days. Four days! I’ve often wondered what went through Mary and Martha’s minds during this time. Where is He? Why doesn’t He come? Does He really care for us? He did so many wonderful things for so many people, why not us? They must have had a myriad of thoughts, and some of them not good. And He was only two miles away! Then comes the majestic moment.

Jesus met Martha face to face. The air must have been ripe with emotion. Martha’s cried, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It’s hard to know how her words came out and what she was really thinking. She followed up quickly by saying that God may yet do something.

Jesus’s words, “Your brother is going to rise again,” may have simply hung in the air as Martha tried to process them. She obviously missed the true meaning. She exhibited poise, however. She filled an awkward silence by choking out, “I know he will rise at the resurrection.”

Our Lord’s words should be indelibly emboldened upon every believer’s heart. “I am the resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me – though he may die – yet shall he live.” And His next words reveal the most miraculous truth of all. “He who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” I imagine Him saying it softly, like this: “Martha, Martha, look at Me. Don’t you know who I am? Martha, I am the resurrection! When I am here, the resurrection is here. I am the One who gives life. When I am here, life is here.”

I am awed when I think of the truth of these words: “He who lives and believes in me will never die.” Believers that die go instantly into the presence of Jesus Christ. For us nothing comes between leaving this world and entering the next. We do not die! The very millisecond that this physical life ends, we are face to face with Christ. We are absent from the body and present with the Lord. Halleluiah!

The supernatural moment finally came. Jesus asked those around to move the stone away from the grave! Hold it! Lazarus had been dead too long! His body was already a stench. “Move it away,” Jesus commanded. They obeyed. Then Jesus spoke boldly, “Lazarus, come forth.” He wasn’t saying it loudly for Lazarus to hear. After all, He was the One who spoke all of creation into existence. He was the One who breathed life into Adam. He was the One who said, let there be, and it was. No! He wanted all those standing around to hear. He wants us now to hear. He wants those who read this who are spiritually dead in their sins to hear. Lazarus immediately obeyed His command. The one who was dead came to life and walked out of that tomb.

Our Lord’s words, Lazarus come forth, shout to us now and continue to reverberate down thought the corridors of human history. Jesus said that He was glad for “your sakes that you may believe.” Believe what! Believe that only God can give life to the dead. Jesus Christ is God, and only He can give you life. “And this is the record that God has given to us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11). Do you believe this?

I Am the True Vine

April 3, 2015

One oGrape_Vine02f the oldest productive grapevines in the world is said to be located at Valentines Park in Essex, England. It is thought to have been planted around 1768. In 1800 its girth was approximately one foot. The crop of grapes is usually harvested in September and it takes the vine keeper around three weeks to remove all the grapes – about 500 to 700 pounds. Incredibly, the branches extend out over 120 feet. Life has to flow a long way through the vine to the small branches in order to make the fruit.

In like manner for Christians, life has to flow from the source to the branches in order to produce fruit pleasing to God. Jesus declared himself to be the True Vine (John 15:1-8). God referred to Israel as the vine (Psa. 80:7; Isa. 5:1-7), but Israel failed to produce the fruit that God intended. The Lord Jesus is succeeding where Israel failed. The Father is presented as the vinedresser. He is the ultimate giver of life. Unless the disciples misunderstand the metaphor, Jesus gave them comfort by quickly affirming their never ending connection to the vine (John 15:3).

Jesus refers to Himself as the Vine and His followers as branches. The symbolism is clear. Christ’s disciples are like branches connected to the life-giving vine, Christ. Unless the branch abides in the Vine, the life from the branch will not flow through it. His spiritual life flows from Him then out through those who belong to Him. We cannot produce anything of spiritual value to others without the life of Jesus Christ flowing through us (John 15:5).

The Father removes every branch that is not productive. This would indicate that the branch is dead (Judas Iscariot comes to mind). He then prunes the branches that are productive so that they will be even more productive. This pruning involves chastening and scourging every son whom He receives (Heb. 12:5-10). This process ends by producing the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:11).

Fruitfulness is the big idea of this metaphor. The quality and quantity of the fruit is not the issue here. Fruit will come from the flow of life coming from the vine (Christ), then out through the branches (disciples). Therefore, the branches must abide in the vine. Abiding involves maintaining a close, personal, private, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (vs. 9). Jesus said that if His words abide in them (the disciples), their prayer life will also be enhanced. I take this literally. It is a good idea to spend time memorizing the words of Christ, filling our minds with them.

The metaphor crescendos by teaching that “much fruit” produced glorifies the Father. The word “glorify” means to shed light upon. The spiritual fruit that disciples produce by abiding in the vine sheds light upon the invisible God so that others may come to know Him. So shall we be His disciples.

I Am the Light of the World

February 13, 2015

Light_of_the_World_Main-300x225No teaching in scripture gives more insight into the identity and work of Jesus Christ than His seven uses of “I Am.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus referred to Himself as the light of the world shortly after a woman had been caught in a public scandalous affair. A crowd had gathered around her saying that according to the law she should be stoned immediately. Jesus, kneeling close to her and writing in the dirt, was quiet and His actions silenced the crowd. He broke the silence by asking the one who had no sin to cast the first stone, and then He continued writing in the dirt.

His soft words hit hard. Light exposes and dispels darkness. The light radiating from His words uncovered the sin hidden in each person in that mob. Each accuser immediately became conscious of his guilt and one by one they quietly walked away. “Woman, where are your accusers?” Jesus asked. “They are not here, Lord,” the woman answered. “Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”

Life comes from light. No light, no life. Recall John’s words in 1 John 1:5: God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. Jesus Christ as the light of the world is the giver of life. It was not mere chance that the first act of creation was light, and the Giver of that light was the second person of the trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ (Gen. 1:3). All living things – physical and spiritual – come from that light. John wrote, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was light and the light was the life of men” (John 1:1-4). Wow!

Jesus again referred to Himself as the light of the world in John 9:5: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” A man who had been blind from birth had never seen the light of day or anyone. Strangely, Jesus spat on the ground and made a paste that He put on the man’s eyes. He then instructed the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. This meant that the man had to walk away from Christ and find the location. He did as he was instructed and was immediately given his sight. But Jesus was not there. He did not see the One who had healed him. He began to look for Christ. Don’t miss the reason for the miracle! He began to search for the One who had given him sight. He eventually found Christ and believed in Him (John 9:35-38). The lesson is clear for those who have eyes to see. The light of the world can remove spiritual blindness and give light and life. Wow!

Finally, note that Jesus said while He was in the world, He was the light of the world. He is no longer here in person. Does this mean there is no spiritual light in the world today? We find the answer in Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:14-16 and Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:8. Jesus told His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Paul wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Believers become the light bearers in the world today. We are to share the light of the gospel. Amazing!

God’s Word Will Produce Life

December 2, 2008

Dandelion

I remember walking through fields of seeding dandelions when I was a small boy. I would pull the plant and blow the tiny fluffy parachute like seeds into the air and watch them float away. I discovered later that some could travel several miles away from the parent plant before finding enough soil to germinate, producing more dandelions.

This is small in comparison to what happens on the eighth day after the first full moon in August each year. Every coral reef in the entire Gulf of Mexico explodes at precisely the same moment shooting millions of eggs into the deep looking for the necessary ingredient to bring life.

Throughout the generations of human history, the Lord Jesus Christ has unleashed the seeds of His word into the world. God’s Holy Spirit has guided these seeds, depositing them into the soil of human minds all over the earth. These tiny seeds may be read directly from the Bible, preached from a podium, read from a printed page, or even sung.

Sometimes the seeds lie dormant for many years, maybe wrapped in an old dust-laden Bible tucked away on some bookshelf or in a small crevice in a grass house hidden in a remote jungle of the world. Or they may be lodged in the memory bank of someone’s mind for years. God moves heaven and earth to get the seeds precisely where He wants them to be. When He is ready, the Holy Spirit germinates those seeds and a brand new life occurs.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to Vijayawada, India, to teach the Bible to Indian pastors. Hundreds of pastors attended our Bible sessions. I was surprised to learn that missionaries were not allowed into the country. So where did all the churches come from, represented by these pastors?  I was told that Bibles written in the language of the people had been smuggled into India and distributed throughout the land.  Those who had come to faith in Jesus Christ did so through reading and listening to the word of God. Churches sprang up and grew based solely on the ministry of God’s living seed. What an amazing glimpse!

One of the recipients of God’s word was considered to be the most dangerous man in all of India. His gang attacked, plundered, and terrified many of the villages of a certain area. He was wanted, dead or alive. While ransacking through a room in one of the houses in a village, he found a small black book. At first he started to throw it away, but he noticed that the pages were very thin, just the right thickness to roll his cigarettes.

Each evening after a meal, Ramad would relax with a smoke. He would take out a page in the little book, fold it, and roll it around his tobacco. One evening while rolling up the paper he noticed that the writing was in his own language. So each evening he would read the words on the page before he rolled it to smoke. The small black book was the Bible.  One evening he knelt down and trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior. Ramad had been born again from the living seed of the word of God. Ramad then gave himself up to the authorities. They quickly tried him and sent him to prison. The prison became his personal mission field. The Holy Spirit had moved the amazing seed of the living word of God into that prison through this bandit turned prisoner of Christ.

God’s spiritual seed will always accomplish its divine purpose. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah around 700 B.C., God said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God’s thoughts tower high above the thoughts of this fallen civilization. He does not think like us for one very simple reason: God is not like us! To our human way of thinking, strength is strength, weakness is weakness, intelligence is intelligence and foolishness is foolishness.  But in God’s mind, the strongest things are the weakest, and some of the seemingly weakest things are the strongest, and some of the wisest things are the most foolish. God delights in turning human wisdom inside out and upside down.  The world promotes great wealth, superior intelligence, extreme popularity, and high position. These are things that God places on the bottom. God continues, “For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater” (Isaiah 55:10).

God sends the rain and snow down to the earth and then He returns it to the sky as vapor.  But it does not return until it accomplishes its purpose. It causes the earth to bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. The water always accomplishes that which God has ordained. God then says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

God’s word comes down from Him – generation after generation – and it does not return to Him without accomplishing its appointed task. God does not arbitrarily cast His seed into the winds, allowing it to fall where it will. Nor does He hope that someone by chance will respond to it. The Holy Spirit directs the spiritual seed to minds from every nation, kindred, and language group. Generation after generation, God determines both the path and the performance of His spiritual seed.  If the gospel is faithfully preached for years and only a few trust in Jesus Christ as Savior during that time, then that is God’s design. God’s word will never return to Him without completing its heavenly mission. Jesus said, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:47). Christians become Christians because we are born by means of the word of God.

 

The Power that Brings Life

November 12, 2008

It frustrates me to no end to observe those who claim to be evangelical preachers trying to “make ministry happen.” Many do so by using marketing techniques. They seem to think that if they can use the right methods – making unbelievers feel comfortable with “church,” using the right music that appeals to them or short pithy sound bite sermons mixed with as much humor as possible so as not to offend, they can gain bigger crowds. Many preachers stay away from teaching the Bible word-by-word and verse-by-verse because this takes far too much time in preparation, and it is boring and confusing for most everyone.

The absolute truth is this: The gospel, when guided by the Holy Spirit, is the only power on earth capable of infusing spiritual life into the spiritually dead.  This is why Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for (he realized that) it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, comments mine)  If one does not hear this good news and believe it, then there is absolutely no chance that the Spirit of God will make the new birth happen, no chance. If one does not preach this good news, there is absolutely no chance that the Spirit of God will make the new birth happen, no chance. This is God’s method of making Christians Christians.

It was in Bible College that I first began to witness the power of the gospel.  The entire sophomore class went on a witnessing trip to the beach. The point of the exercise was to give the gospel to as many people as would take the time to listen to us. I was teamed with a small girl named Nelda Salee.  She walked up to a stately looking tanned fellow and began to share the gospel with him. He allowed her to get through the facts that the Christ died for sin and that He had been raised again. He even allowed her to ask him if he would believe in Christ.

That was when things became a little tense. He finally responded with a barrage of intellectual sounding words denying everything she had said. He began to scientifically attack the credibility of the identity of Christ and His resurrection. Her response was classic. She said, “I don’t know about all that, but I do know that if you will believe in Christ you will have eternal life.” He came back once again with another barrage of attacks, attempting to discredit her. Her response once again was, “I don’t know about all that, but I do know that if you will trust Jesus Christ to save you, He will.” This went back and forth for some time. I remember feeling the urge to jump into the conversation, but God held me back.

I watched in amazement something that I will never forgot. This man grew quiet and stopped his verbal attack on Nelda. He calmed down and then right there on the sand he gently fell to his knees and acknowledged that he wanted to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. Why? The powerful seed of the gospel is the power that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about the new birth. The power of God is in the message not in the messenger. The gospel is God’s supernatural seed that the Holy Spirit plants into the soil of the mind and when the Spirit germinates it, it results in faith in Christ and new life. It has the power to break down every barrier, every objection, every human argument, and all human rationalization.  The simplicity of the gospel insults both human intelligence and human pride. No amount of education, or success, or wealth, can give us a spiritual birth. Only the gospel can make it happen.

This message is not contained in the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Veda, the writings of Buddha, the book of Mormon, or any other so called “holy book.” The Bible alone contains God’s divine seed that the Holy Spirit uses to conceive spiritual life in those who hear and believe.