Tag Archives: gospel

Living in Truth

As we enter Easter month, our series from the Gospel of John brings us to chapter 18, one of the grimmest chapters of the Bible. This chapter recounts the betrayal and binding of Jesus. What makes this chapter especially grim is that Jesus’ betrayal and binding take place at the hands of people who should have known better.

Judas Iscariot was Jesus’ own disciple. More than anyone else at that time, the disciples experienced Jesus’ love and saw countless numbers of His miracles. Along with other disciples, Judas preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus commissioned him with power to heal the sick and cast out demons. Yet this man who saw and experienced so much of God threw it all away for 30 pieces of silver.

Annas and Caiaphas were relatives. Each served as high priest and headed the powerful Sanhedrin, the assembly of elders. They knew the prophecies concerning a coming Messiah, but they chose to interpret them their own way. Instead of seeing the obvious signs of Jesus’ divine presence in their midst, they chose their own political and religious agendas over the truth of God, corrupting themselves and helping to condemn generations of their people.

Pontius Pilate, the cynical (“What is truth?”) Roman governor of Judea, saw through the jealousy and false accusations of the Jewish religious hierarchy. He found Jesus innocent of any crime, but still gave up Jesus to the mob for crucifixion. Cheap politics paralyzed his ability to do the right thing when it counted.

We look with horror at these villains who should have known better and wonder at how wickedly they tortured and killed the Lord of glory. But we should also examine ourselves for times when we bind Christ in what we do (or don’t do) and say. For example . . .

Do we read the Bible as a religious habit rather than to hear His voice and express more of His light and glory through our lives to a darkened world around us?

Do we secretly judge others for whom Christ died and rose again, acting more like Annas and Caiaphas than our Lord and Savior who died for us?

Do we regard Jesus as something less than Son of God, King of kings, brother and best friend?

Do we deny Christ by behaviors/attitudes that clash with our professions of loyalty to Christ?

Do we tie His hands, through unbelief, from doing His mighty works through us?

Do we fail to trust Him with the issues of our lives, with the lives of those with whom we live and work, and those in places of authority in government and culture?

Do we fail to live the gospel in its fullness, or deny to the world the salt and light that Jesus intended to come through us?

Do we fail to obey Christ when His commands conflict with our understanding and desires?

Thank God that Jesus Christ did not stay bound! After three days, He rose again and destroyed the power of death and every other weapon of Satan. In His boundless love, He has forgiven us and given us His Holy Spirit to help us. Let us confess our sins and thank God for His everlasting love for us in spite of ourselves. Then let us tell everyone how He has taken away our sin and overcome the world.

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Not of, yet in

We live in a depressing and troubled world.  We face many trials in our personal lives and as a society.  It is tempting for us to want to escape it all.  In the past century, rapture theology has become extremely popular in many churches.  Many people spend much time wishing God would “take them home.”

Personally, I believe the Bible teaches the rapture, but in these troubled times there are other important things we must keep in mind, otherwise we will find ourselves in rebellion against God and His purposes.

In John 17, Jesus’ prays for His disciples (and for us).  His prayer does not allow us any kind of escapist thinking.  He prays, “I do not ask You [God the Father] to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).

As Jesus’ prayer makes clear, we are not of this world, run by Satan, but Jesus does not want to remove us from the world.  The previous chapters indicate He has too much for us to do for us to leave.  He wants to replace Satan’s kingdom with His own.  He wants us to become involved with Him in making it happen.  We can’t do that if we get raptured or retire to the sidelines of life and wait for His return.

In this prayer, Jesus asks God to sanctify them (and us) in the Truth for the task—for here and now.  He sends them (and us) forth into the world—now.  He wants them (and us) to live in unity—now.  He gives them (and us) the power to live in His glory—through His Holy Spirit.

The gospel of the kingdom has not been well taught in many of our churches.  As a rule, the church has not generally lived in unity in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our governments, educational systems, businesses, media industries, arts and entertainment, etc. all seem under the domination of anti-Christ forces.  Non-Christians have called the shots while the church reacts defensively to the world instead of taking charge as Jesus commanded.

For Jesus to rapture His church now would signal defeat—a failed experiment.  Defeat is never in God’s vocabulary. His original plan has never changed.  

Who of us will remain faithful to Christ’s original aim to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?  Who of us will live in the world and take the world for His kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit?  That’s what our troubled world really needs right now—a united church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, ready to represent Christ in every facet of our cultures and societies.

Has the Great Commission been fulfilled in India and the rest of the world?  Has the kingdom of God come to earth through the church as Jesus envisioned?  Is there unity in the body of Christ?  If not, then we are not yet finished with our tasks on earth.  Let’s not think of escaping quite yet!  We must stay around until we have done it all Jesus’ way.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells us to “occupy until I come.”  In other words, keep busy for Him in the here and now and let God the Father decide His future return.

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One Trillion Species

In the most extensive study of its kind, the National Academy of Sciences sought to discover how many living species inhabit our earth. They sought for living species on land and sea, on all continents except Antarctica. They included not only species we see with the naked eye but also the tiniest living microorganisms. 

After a long and detailed study, they estimated that this earth is home to more than one trillion species of life forms. Just one gram of soil may contain up to a billion organisms representing as many as 10,000 different species.

This mindboggling number tells us something of the creative mind and imagination of God. It displays the power of the Spirit of God, who Genesis 1:2 tells us, was involved in the creation of the world. This same Holy Spirit dwells within each of us who has given our life to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit can do far more than we expect—if we let Him.

Why is this important? In John 15, Jesus warns His disciples they will face stiff opposition. They will be hated and persecuted. Alone, they will not have power to accomplish the task He has given them.

But they will not be alone. They will have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will enable them to abide in Him as branches abide in the vine. The Holy Spirit will enable them to love one another. The Holy Spirit will empower them to face opposition by those who hate Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should always be the best witnesses possible. We must prepare ourselves for the task. But our preparation alone will not convince others of the truth of our message. That witness must also come from the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who created the world from nothing, 

This principle applies not just to evangelists and pastors but to all believers. We are all priests of Jesus Christ, mediating Christ to the world in our homes, vocations and schools. We can do nothing the way God intended apart from the Holy Spirit. Alone, we cannot withstand opposition, nor can we love one another as we should.

There is much unforgiveness and lack of boldness among Christians, a strong temptation to compromise the truth of God. Too many Christians and churches fail to pray. Much activity takes place in the churches, but that is not always the work of Holy Spirit power. The miserable state of society today reflects this lack of Holy Spirit power among people who call themselves Christians.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon has said, “The best man that mere morality ever produced is still ‘without form and void’ if the Spirit of God has not come upon him.”

God’s plans for us and for the world always exceed our own. Becoming convinced of that changes how and why we pray, helping us to match the mind of God’s so He realizes His perfect plans in and through us.

God is glorified, not by doing everything Himself, but by doing it in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we approach Christmas and a New Year, let us come to know the Holy Spirit better. This is why Jesus came to us.

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How a Fragrance Can Impact Eternity

Mary had her faith tried hard but vindicated beyond expectation. Lazarus was not just healed from his illness but raised from the dead. Jesus possessed a greatness she never anticipated. What she saw left her eternally changed and grateful.

She could never repay Jesus, but she wanted to show her gratitude in a unique way. She chose a rare perfume which cost a year’s wages, poured it over His feet and wiped His feet with her hair. This act signified her subjection to Jesus at her deepest level. It was a public act of thanksgiving for a work of Jesus like no other.

Mary now understood in a deeper way who Jesus was: her long-promised Messiah. Her submission to Jesus was not one of subservience, but of release and freedom. By trusting Jesus beyond her comfort zone, she prepared herself (and us) for an even deeper revelation of Him in a few days.

A little later, the Gentile followers of God said, “We would see Jesus.” Long excluded from the temple, these true followers knew Jesus was their only hope of gaining access to the Father. Soon, they would rejoice in thanksgiving as the veil of the temple would be torn in two from top to bottom, giving them access to God along with the Covenant People.

Jesus’ next act would not just resurrect Lazarus. He would destroy the work of the devil. Since the days of Adam, the world lay in the bondage of corruption and death. Now, Jesus would free the whole world from Satan’s stranglehold. He would release the captives, proclaim sight to the blind, set free the oppressed. He would pour out His Holy Spirit. He would establish His ekklesia and bring the kingdom of God on earth, through ordinary men, women, children.

The world has never been the same since Mary’s thankful heart helped pave the way with her jar of rare fragrance. From that day, the rare fragrance of the gospel has spread from Mary’s house to the entire Roman world and beyond.

Mary’s act of gratitude and submission and the Gentiles’ seeking after Jesus contrast sharply with the reactions of just about everyone else who should have known better. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ own disciple, witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but he condemned Mary for wasting her money. The chief priests refused to recognize Jesus’ divine authority and saw Him as a threat.

The following Sunday, Jerusalem crowds waved palm branches to welcome Him as king, but they saw Jesus’ miracle only through their own limited political expectations and hatred of their Roman oppressors. In a few days, their “hosannas” became, “Crucify Him!”

Soon, their hard hearts and blindness to Jesus’ authority and Messiahship, and their lack of thanksgiving to Him would bring needless tragedy. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus and commit suicide rather than repent. In 70 AD, the Romans would destroy the temple and its corrupt system. Starvation and bloodshed would destroy the people of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, many of them turning on each other.

This grim lesson from history is clear: only a spirit of thankful generosity towards God leads to further revelation, freedom and fellowship with Him, extending to more and more people who catch our spirit. Let us call upon Him to give us the thankful and generous spirit of Mary.

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Perspective Through Troubling Days

Let the story of Lazarus challenge and encourage your faith during troubling days.

Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, got sick and died. We read about this in John 11. Knowing Jesus well did not exempt Lazarus or his two sisters, Mary and Martha, from life’s griefs and sorrows. Nor does it exempt any of us.

As soon as Lazarus’ illness became life threatening, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, expecting Him to immediately show up and heal His good friend. But one, two, three days had passed since he was laid in a tomb, and Jesus, the Great Physician, remained absent.

Only on the fourth day, did Jesus appear. Both Mary and Martha became distraught and said to Him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When we read the narrative further, we discover that Jesus had bigger things in mind than another healing. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said. “He who believes in me will live, even if he dies.” Then he did what they did not expect—He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from death prepared the way for His own resurrection, just days away, and the total defeat and humiliation of Satan, ending the power of death by which Satan kept us all in bondage.

None of this was on Mary’s and Martha’s minds. All they saw was what happened to their brother. They did not see the big picture. They counted themselves as good friends of Jesus (and they were), but they did not know Him as well as they thought they did. Jesus was moving them to trust Him in ways they never trusted Him before.

Jesus wanted Mary and Martha (and us) to trust Him for greater things beyond their (and our) present experience. Their faith (and ours) increases only when faith is enlarged through various trials. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha stepped into unknown territory. Would they still trust Jesus when they reached the end of their comfort zones? Or was their faith (and ours) only a “fair weather” faith? Mary and Martha let their trial prepare them for God’s bigger purpose.

At this writing, we continue to live in troubling days. For many of us, it is a time when we are all well outside our comfort zones. Things seem to be getting worse, not better. For some of us, evil and death seem to have the upper hand. Many of us wonder—why is God taking so long to do something?

God always seems to take longer than we prefer, but He always works from a standpoint of love, relationship and faith. It is better to know that Jesus has power over death, not just that He can heal the living. He is getting us ready now for that greater thing.

Jesus is the same today as He was 2,000 years ago when He allowed Lazarus to lie for four days putrefying in a tomb. We may have ideas of what He should do now and become impatient when He doesn’t meet our timetables. But He always has more in mind than we do.

He who brought life to Lazarus will bring life to lost and dying men, women and children from every corner of India and the world. He will deliver them out of every form of spiritual and physical bondage and death.

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Which Camp Are You In?

The Gospel of John’s account in chapter 9 of Jesus’ healing of the blind man at the temple gate that we examined last month brings us to another side of the matter.

John shows us that the blind man’s healing did not suddenly end all his problems. When Jesus healed him, not everyone rejoiced and praised God for this good thing.

The religious Pharisees became very upset. Although the man had sat at the temple gate for years, they apparently paid no attention to him. They did not take compassion on him. They did nothing to help the man to better his condition. They just left him at the gate to beg and barely survive. They just assumed the man was a sinner who deserved his fate. Jesus’ compassionate act put them in an embarrassing position.

These religious Pharisees were those to whom others traditionally looked for religious advice and counsel. But Jesus demonstrated godly authority, power and compassion they did not possess. He demonstrated that they were really charlatans. With this healing, they must humble themselves and submit to Jesus or resort to reckless means to discredit Jesus. They unwisely chose the latter course.

Jesus’ healing violated their protocols about how and when these things should happen. Also, since they were unable to heal the blind man themselves, they feared that people would look to Jesus rather than to themselves as their authority. None of this met the man’s real needs.

They regarded themselves as a religious elite. To them, Jesus threatened the social order, namely, their own power. Behind their anger lay fear and jealousy because this man, Jesus, from a small town demonstrated God’s power and authority they lacked.

These religious phonies also reacted by attacking the healed man’s character and throwing him out of the temple as an example to others who dared to challenge them. They wanted to intimidate others who might question them. They refused to consider the possibility that Jesus’ power to heal demonstrated His authentic authority from God. Their power over the people meant more to them than a diligent search for truth.

The work of Jesus always winds up dividing people into two camps—those who accept His transforming power and those who rely only upon themselves, even when they use religious terms.

Does not this story of the blind man reflect what has happened to many of you who read this? Like the blind man, you have submitted yourselves to Him, but there are people in your lives who do not rejoice with you in your new-found freedom. They see you as a threat.

Jesus did not leave the man alone in his predicament with the religious leaders. He came to him and encouraged him. The man submitted to Jesus, and Jesus met the man’s need in the face of fierce opposition. He will do the same with each of us who puts our ultimate trust in Him.

We believers in Jesus Christ must ask ourselves: Are we more like Jesus or the Pharisees in our attitudes toward those who suffer for no fault of their own?

Let us who know the power and authority of Jesus Christ in our lives help to make His saving power manifest in all of India and throughout the world.

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What does a good God do with evil?

John 9 is a passage that probably applies to most if not all of us. The story really begins at the end of the 8th chapter when Jesus leaves the temple in Jerusalem. On His way out, He and His disciples meet a blind beggar who sits at the temple gate.

The man has suffered blindness since birth. The context suggests he was a fixture at the gate for years, seen by everyone as they entered and left the temple. He was a familiar sight to the disciples who asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

It was the wrong question, and Jesus corrected them. His response is usually mis-translated in our English versions. Without going into all the technicalities of Greek grammar, His response should be translated something like this: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but let the works of God be made manifest in him.”

Jesus’ response should become a comfort to all of us. Not all of life’s misfortunes result from personal or family sin. This includes events such as the loss of friends or loved ones, congenital illness, accidents, death of a child, or a host of events that prevent us from developing gifts or fulfilling good and reasonable dreams.

The disciples reacted to the blind man like Job’s “friends” reacted to his calamities. Jesus reminds His disciples (and us) that God does not cause evil. He does not bring sorrows, calamities and limitations in our lives, even for His glory. These misfortunes come from the devil, whose work He has come to destroy. In other words, the only one at fault is Satan.

This should be good news to all of us who suffer for seemingly irrational purposes. We may even wonder what sin we have committed for God to punish us like this.

Jesus demonstrates to the disciples (and to all of us) that God desires to bring good out of the evil in our lives. Having secured the blind man’s permission, He heals the blind man, enabling him to see for the first time in his life. No longer does he have to sit and beg at the temple gate. Now, he has the opportunity to live a fulfilling life rather than live on the edge of life.

What a lesson to us! Jesus wants to make the works of God manifest in us. He especially wants to heal those areas of misfortune in our lives that come to us through no fault of our own. When we give Him permission to heal, no longer are we bound to our past or to family or environmental circumstances we cannot control.

God does not cause evil, but He can use evil to humble and prepare us for His greater works in us. When we give Him permission, He will change our circumstances in ways possible only with Him. He will make a way where there is no way.

Someone has said, “The Crucified God is not in control of evil, sickness and suffering because He is too busy destroying them and bringing good out of them.”

All of this is part of the Good News that we should make part of our own lives and share with those who have yet to hear of Him.

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They Never Really Knew Him

Selfish and materialistic, that’s what they were.

Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves and two fishes. After this miracle, they wanted to seize Him by force and make Him king. They said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Jesus came to another conclusion: “Truly, truly I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, they viewed Jesus as a fellow with magical powers who would fulfill their material needs and desires, someone like Aladdin.

They based Jesus’ value to them on what they could get out of Him. They had no idea of who He really was. What they expected from Him was wrong.

Are we any different? Do we value Jesus for who He is, or for how He meets our expectations? Do we interest ourselves in His view of things or do we want Him to fulfill our agendas? We should not answer this question too quickly.

At this writing, the US presidential election is not yet settled. Christians seem as divided over this matter as they were over slavery during the Civil War. A lot of hateful words and accusations go forth from Christians on both sides as they did long ago.

During that traumatic time, Abraham Lincoln said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; each invokes His aid against the other…the prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Whoever wins in the end, whoever loses, lies in God’s will, and may take place for reasons that have nothing to do with why we voted as we did. We may believe we know God’s will in these things but may discover in eternity we knew nothing of what was going on. Jesus’ twelve disciples walked with Him for three years. They thought they knew Him, but in the end, after Jesus died and He did not meet their expectations, they discovered they never really knew Him.

All their expectations had to die. During that agonizing time, they hid out in the room where they ate their last meal together before the Jewish religious establishment seized Him and the Romans crucified Him.

Only after His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit did it finally make sense to them. Only then did they truly come to know Him. First, they had to admit they were wrong. Only then could they emerge from behind locked doors and take their message to the world.

I am always amazed that a great evangelist like Billy Graham felt the need to confess his sins daily before the Lord. He credits his remarkable team for many times saving him from himself. If that was true about a great man like Billy Graham, what does that say about the rest of us?

These humbling experiences helped to make Billy Graham the outstanding evangelist he became.

Let us take these uncertain times to come to know Him more truly than we ever knew Him before. Let us humble ourselves and set aside all unworthy expectations. The more we know Him, the more clearly we will proclaim His Good News, not just our limited version of it.

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Peace

Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, came into the world to restore peace with God and peace among human beings. Throughout India and the world, billions of people search for peace. Most people look for peace in the wrong places.

Christians say the only true way to peace is through Jesus Christ. Why do they say this? Such claims to exclusivity are considered politically incorrect both in India and the western world. In India, there are many paths to salvation. Why claim Jesus Christ as the only way?

In John 5, Jesus claims to be the only way to God because God is His Father, and He works His Father’s works. His work is seen especially in bringing new life to those who are spiritually dead. This regenerate life in the average person is the biggest proof of Jesus’ uniqueness and authority over all others.

The new life of Christ is the creative work of God in a human being, making something new where there was nothing before. This is not just a theological idea but living reality. What does this “new life” mean?

I think of a man in my past, known to us in India as Pastor Yesudas. He began life as a poor, sickly, almost-illiterate Dalit, an insecure child with a serious stuttering problem. He lay at death’s door with tuberculosis and other ailments. Then he heard the gospel. He committed his life to Jesus Christ and received prayer for healing.

Immediately, he was healed. He hungered for more of the life of Christ. He thirsted for the Word of God. Because of near-illiteracy, he lacked the educational requirements to enter the Bible school. He was allowed to sit in class, but because of educational deficiencies, he could not understand.

After much prayer and fasting over this obstacle, the Lord gave him a photographic mind to receive the scriptures read to him. Now, he not only understood what instructors told him, but he could also give Bible insights of great wisdom that astounded even people with advanced degrees. God took away his stuttering problem, giving him dynamic gifts of preaching, healing and a prophetic ministry like few others.

Many people followed Christ because Pastor Yesudas exhibited the life of Christ. He pioneered a number of churches in new and unreached places. In all his fruitful ministry, he remained a near-illiterate man.

When I was an infant, Pastor Yesudas already sensed God was calling me for ministry. Before I can remember, he prayed daily prayers over me, preparing me for the ministry I have today. I owe my calling and ministry to the prayers of this man with the new life of God.

The life of God is more than religion or morality. It is the power and peace of God. We cannot force it or fake it. It is the final proof of our faith. It is the reason we say Jesus Christ is the only Way. Who else can duplicate these things?

The new life of Christ has been replicated in men, women and children of every background for two thousand years. One day, this Good News will reach all peoples everywhere.

Let us make sure that we do our part in making sure all have heard of this Prince of Peace who comes with new life. This is the real meaning of Christmas.

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What Makes Jesus Mad?

What makes Jesus mad?

In John 2, we find Jesus cleansing the temple, driving out merchants, moneychangers and cattle. He must have shown real rage that day. By Himself, he drove out all of them with only a small whip. We find similar accounts in the other three gospels. Most of the time, we don’t think of this angry side of Jesus—nor do we like to.

In his book, “What Made Jesus Mad?”, Pastor Tim Harlow observes the recorded times when Jesus showed anger. Pastor Harlow notes that at no time does Jesus exhibit anger against “sinners,” but only against religious people and His own disciples.

In every case of Jesus’ recorded anger, we find him directing His wrath against those who claimed to know God but blocked others from God’s grace. When we examine the accounts of the temple cleansing in detail, we find that the Jewish religious people were blocking God’s grace from “the nations,” or Gentiles. He rebuked His disciples for blocking the children from seeing Him.

Jesus’ love does not permit anyone to turn away those who need Him. That is also the message of the torn veil in the temple—all peoples have access to a holy and loving Father.

How do we block others from God? We block them by judging them less than worthy when they don’t meet our standards. We create spiritual “elites.” We block others by legalism, by trivializing what is essential and making essential what is trivial. We block them by pretending to be holier than we are—the word is “hypocrites.” Jesus had a lot to say about that.

Do our own churches block others from hearing the gospel? Our churches should be filled with homosexuals, prostitutes and the homeless. Why do we so rarely find them? Our churches should be sharing the light and bringing people out of darkness, but most churches do not support missionaries to the unreached. Are we examining the reasons for this failure to win others?

Do we block the Good News from those who have never heard? “Unreached peoples” are “the nations” of our own day—those who cannot hear the gospel until someone goes to them (or are sent by those with kingdom vision). They cannot absorb the gospel by osmosis from neighboring cultures. According to Bethany Global University, 3.14 billion people remain “unreached.” Of the 400,000 missionaries worldwide, only about 13,000 focus upon reaching “unreached peoples.”

What about the churches? Bethany Global University finds that 99.99% of all church money goes to causes other than reaching the unreached. Here, Jesus’ people have dreadfully failed, and yes, Jesus has every right to be mad.

Isobel Kuhn, missionary to the unreached Lisu people of China, has written, “I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached people of the earth. It is not God who does not call. It is man who will not respond.”

The Pharisees did not learn their lesson. Instead, they rejected the rebuke of Jesus, and the temple was destroyed. The disciples, slow to learn, finally learned their lesson. The Spirit-filled church expanded throughout the known world, and you and I are their legacy.

What will future generations—and our Lord Jesus—say about us in our generation?

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