Tag Archives: jesus

The Early Christians Recognized this Threat

Sometimes it really strikes me—the irrationality of unbelief. The refusal to bow to fact, to rational argument, even the clear hand of God. What is most striking is how the most unbelieving can also be the most religious.

In Acts 4, Peter and John, by the power of Christ, have just healed a man lame from birth, convincing 5,000 people to follow Christ, demonstrating the power of God. But the ruling religious Sanhedrin of Jerusalem arrest both Peter and John and throw them into jail. The religious leaders could not deny the healing. They could not deny the power and boldness of Jesus’ uneducated disciples, but they want to stop them.

They knew about Jesus’ miracles. When Jesus died, they saw the massive temple veil rip from top to bottom. They could not deny Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 5, Gamaliel, a wise elder member of the Sanhedrin even warned them that if what Peter and John did “is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” They could have reconsidered their position, but they refused.

Unbelief shows little compassion for those freed by Christ from bondage. The religious establishment did not share the healed man’s joy. They did not empathize with his years of infirmity, his inability to care for himself, his wasted talents, his decades of destroyed dreams, the lectures from others about his imagined “sins” that brought his condition, the taunts of thoughtless children. They were lifeless and loveless.

Stone-cold unbelief can strike fear in those who speak truth, especially if the unbelievers have more power, money and political authority.

Don’t we find stone-cold unbelief in our own world today, even in our churches, whether in India or the USA? In both nations, men and women with power and authority care nothing about the God of the Bible and want to hurl Him from His throne (see Psalm 2). At times, they appear to be invulnerable, subject to no other law but their own whims and agendas that drip with unbelief and contempt for God and others they regard as lesser than they.

The early Christians recognized this threat. They saw the odds against them, but they did not flinch before the stronger foe. Peter said, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

They went to prayer, remembering the God who called them is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. They remembered Jesus’ wondrous acts. They remembered how God uses even His enemies to accomplish His purposes. They knew that the stronger power of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead would sustain them. The scriptures tell us they prayed for boldness to preach, for signs and wonders.

God answered their prayers. He filled them anew with His Holy Spirit. In time, in 70 AD, after much patience and giving the religious authorities forty years to repent of their unbelief, He destroyed their decadent and unbelieving religious structures. In the meantime, the gospel continued to spread to “the uttermost parts of the world” as it does today.

May God help us to continue steadfast in their footsteps before our present opposition. The gospel of Jesus Christ always has the last word.

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How to Convince Many

Often, Christian witness today is based upon apologetics—rational arguments. While apologetics has importance and may win a few people to Christ here and there, too often we are satisfied with a few. The problem with apologetics is the likelihood for someone to make counter-arguments and excuses. The arguments may go on forever.

Acts 3 demonstrates that in the power of the Holy Spirit, our witness can become an irresistible force with which no one can argue.

Acts 3 begins on an average day with Peter and John just before afternoon prayer at the temple. They confront a lame man. For years, the man was a fixture at the temple gate, eking out a living in the only way he knew—begging. Most likely, Peter and John had noted the man before, but on this day, the Holy Spirit enabled them to really see him.

They did not just stop to toss him a coin or two, or ask God to bless his day with successful begging. Instead, they invoked the authority of God to heal the man. That day, the man, lame from birth, stood and walked.

A great crowd saw the miracle and gathered around, amazed. They were not hostile. They gazed in wonder. They all had seen this man for years, carried in and carried out, unable to move on his own. Now, he was running and leaping in joy. The healing of the lame man got their attention.

Peter and John quickly told them it was not their own power, but the power of Jesus that healed the man. A few weeks earlier, some of the people who heard this had called for Jesus’ crucifixion, but they did it in ignorance, not knowing who Jesus really was. Peter told them how the prophets prepared the way for Jesus and for this day. This healing was a sign that a time of great restoration had begun that will eventually rid the world of Satan, evil and death.

The amazed people hung on to Peter’s words. In Acts 4, we read that at least 5,000 men believed the message because of what they saw that day.

A display of God’s power prepared the way. The people could not deny what happened. Arguments alone would not have won so many people.

This same power of God is available in our own day. Our evangelists in India, many from non-Christian backgrounds, experienced healing and deliverance which brought them to Christ. Now, they go into unreached areas doing the same works in the power of the Holy Spirit that changed their own lives. Acts 3 is taking place all over India today—power encounters that convince many that Jesus’ power exceeds the power of their old deities.

Acts 3 is our model as well. Let us not be cowed by the anti-supernatural element in many of our churches that tries to preserve an orderly status quo but paralyzes our influence. Let us not say we aren’t good or pious enough for this. Like Peter and John, we have been made clean by the blood of Christ.

Around the world, people are convinced more by God’s power, less by arguments. In today’s evil world, why would Jesus abandon his most powerful weapons against Satan? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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God’s New Thing

In our troubled days, it is good for us to remember and practice what Jesus’ disciples learned and did as they faced their own days of uncertainty when Jesus left them and ascended into heaven.

The memory of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was fresh. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. But now, He did something totally unexpected. He was not about to restore the kingdom of Israel as they hoped. Instead, Jesus was about to leave them.

This caught them unawares. Now, the future became a question mark to them. Their expectations became irrelevant. Instead, Jesus promised them the coming of the Holy Spirit about whom they knew nothing. In effect, Jesus told them, “You are at the beginning of a New Thing.” But they still didn’t understand the implications of that “New Thing.”

In His departing conversation with His disciples, He gives them at least five instructions as they wait for this “New Thing.” His instructions carry down to us as we wait for God’s “New Thing” in our own time of uncertainty and change:

  • Give up your own expectations.
  • Trust Christ Himself alone—He has the bigger picture.
  • Don’t try to figure out the future. Live in the present and leave the future to God.
  • Trust the power of the Holy Spirit to take you to the promised “New Thing” about to happen.
  • Continue in prayer and supplication before God, and expect God to answer with great and mighty things.

This was a huge and painful paradigm shift for the disciples, but they still trusted Jesus to do what He promised.

Acts 1 tells us that 120 followers of Jesus gathered together and prayed “steadfastly,” that is, without distraction. They prayed “continually,” that is, with perseverance. They prayed “with one accord,” that is, with united focus on Jesus’ instructions. They prayed “with the women,” that is, with those they normally didn’t pray with but who shared the same Lord and destiny.

The Greek word for “to pray” (see also 1 Timothy 2:1) indicates they prayed prayers from the heart directly to God, not as a rote religious ritual. They did not just voice wishes but direct and specific requests of God. They kept a spirit of thanksgiving, remembering Jesus’ miracles, His resurrection, and everything else He did in love for multitudes of people. They knew they were not abandoned, though they still didn’t understand the profound changes about to happen.

They did not focus upon their weaknesses and failures. Their small number did not trouble them, nor the formidable power of the Romans or the impressive religious establishment. The size of the unbelieving community did not sway them, nor did their lack of social or religious influence.

They kept focused on the promise—the good future to which Jesus pointed them and the power He had already displayed in their own lives and those of others.

In our troubled days, let us remember that Jesus has not changed. The promise of the Holy Spirit He gave to His followers comes down to us today. Let us continue to follow the instructions Jesus gave His uncertain followers that we might live out the “New Thing” God has for us in our own day and for a world that still does not know Him.

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What To Do When You Fail

Do you ever feel you have failed your Lord? Have you felt you have denied Him by your words, deeds, inactions—even your cowardice? Let Jesus’ redemption of Peter in John 21 encourage you.

Like Peter, we set high standards for ourselves in our discipleship. We have the best of intentions. We will succeed where others have failed. Yet not only do we fail, but our failure is miserable, humiliating, wretched.

Look at Peter, boasting of his loyalty and bravery. But when the test came, he crumbled. He denied Jesus Christ three times, with curses, cowering even before an unnamed, powerless slave-girl.

Now, even after he witnessed the resurrected Christ, he felt like a failure, unworthy of his calling as a disciple of the Lord of Glory. In consternation and confusion, he went off to fish, joined by several of his fellow failed disciples. They caught nothing. Another failure.

Enter Jesus, who first reminds Peter of His original calling by giving Peter another miraculous catch of fish (see Luke 5). Then comes a remarkable confrontation. “Do you love [agape] me?” Twice, Jesus asks Peter, using the word for perfect love. Peter can only say, “I love [phileo] you,” a lesser form of love. Can any of us honestly do any better than Peter? Then Jesus comes down on Peter’s level and asks a third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?”

Remarkably, Jesus accepts Peter’s imperfect love. It is not perfect, but real. Peter reveals himself as a “flickering flame.” His love flickers, but it still burns, and Jesus is a master at fanning flickering flames (Matthew 12:20).

Jesus responds to Peter in three ways. His responses in the Greek reveal that His call on Peter’s life has not changed.

Tend my lambs” suggests his future care of immature and vulnerable people in need of special attention. “Tend my sheep indicates Peter’s role as an overseer, a shepherd. The third response should read, Pasture the sheep,” indicating Peter’s role in preaching and teaching from the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s failures have broken him and given him humility, the very quality he needs (and we need) to perform his (and our) calling. We know from history that Jesus fanned Peter’s “flickering flame” into a refiner’s fire through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Days later, filled with the Holy Spirit, he stood before thousands, boldly preached his first sermon, and saw 3,000 people follow Christ.

Later, he stood before the same religious authorities who crucified Jesus, now threatening him with prison or worse if he continued to preach Jesus. Peter fearlessly responded, “It is better to obey God rather than man.” Jesus indicated that Peter would give his life for Him with a rare courage.

It is good for us to confess and grieve the times we deny Christ by our words, deeds and inactions, but it is better for us to remember how He has also filled us with the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter. He still says to us, as He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In our families, communities, workplaces, schools, creative activities, governments, and around the world, we have opportunities to do just that. Jesus has even told us as He told Peter, “Greater works than I have done, you will do.”

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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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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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What Does Abundant Life Look Like?

In John 9, Jesus heals a beggar blind from birth, enabling him to live a full life, not just live on the edge of life. The religious leaders of the day opposed this healing for silly and irrelevant reasons. In John 10, Jesus responded to the religious leaders with the parable of the Good Shepherd (Himself), contrasting Himself with the false shepherds of that day.

Unlike the false shepherds, Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What would Jesus say about today’s prominent religious leaders and Christians? Do we live the abundant life, reflecting our Master? Truth is, to the world, the church often appears weak and irrelevant. Too many churches do not preach the Word. They dilute the gospel and its mission. Its people are rampant in unbelief. Its young people look elsewhere for answers the church does not provide.

Christian marriages fail as often or more than those in the world. Where are the signs and wonders? How many churches go for years without a single conversion or baptism?

Recently, I heard of a church that was closed down and sold to Buddhists. Weak preaching and teaching and lack of faith in God’s power gave the people no motivation to keep coming. The few who were left sold the building to the highest bidder. False shepherds.

We have more Bible reference books than ever, better-trained pastors—but more ignorance. Most people still cannot give a reason for the hope in them. They don’t know how to pray with power. Again, false shepherds.

As a church, we have allowed the world’s agenda to govern our lives and attitudes. Few Christians develop a Christian worldview, applying Bible standards to situations in the natural world. Is it any wonder the humanists and secularists have taken over? It is because of our weakness, not their strength. False shepherds, just as in Jesus’ day.

What does the abundant life look like? Think of Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery, a man of limited schooling, born in poverty, suffering from wounds of war and imprisonment, awkward and rough in appearance. He had none of the things most of us count as needful for life. Yet he exhibited a profound wisdom found in few men. He found such joy in practicing the presence of God, he became the envy of all who met and knew him.

The collection of his letters and conversation, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” has become a classic portrait of the abundant life Jesus intended for all of us.

What does this mean for us today? To really believe and practice God’s presence means His presence will be strong in our meetings. We will no longer need gimmicks to attract people. People will hunger for God’s Word and ways. Preachers will preach with Holy Spirit anointing. The church will manifest the presence of God in signs and wonders.

Salvations will come by the millions from every class and age group. The love of God in our midst will overcome oppression, racism, immorality, hatred, anger, fear. Social transformation will take place. The gospel will burst out of the churches into the surrounding communities and into other nations of the world. Laws will change, becoming more righteous and just.

Amen! Let that day come, Lord Jesus!

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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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The Source of Light

Lloyd Ogilvie, pastor and one-time Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, originally came from Scotland. One evening, he was walking outside without a flashlight. It grew dark. He tripped on a rock and fell down. He put his hand forward to push himself up and felt—nothing.

Sensing danger, he stayed where he was until the dawn revealed himself at the edge of a ravine. One more step, and he would have fallen to his death. Light can make the difference between life and death.

“Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” wrote the Psalmist. Maybe he had an experience like Lloyd Ogilvie’s, and it taught him deeper truths. Jesus Christ is the Word, we read in John 1. In John 8, Jesus also says, “I am the Light of the World.”

In what ways is Jesus the Light? He tells us in chapter 8:
• He comes from the Father (God).
• He speaks with the authority of the Father (God).
• He is going to the Father (God).
• He does nothing on His own, but everything comes from the Father (God).

Everything Jesus is and does He owes to God the Father, the One who knows us before creation, who knows each hair on our heads, who makes a way where there is no way, who keeps all His promises, who overcomes evil in our lives with good.

To me, this sounds like light in a dark world. What other person can rightfully dare to make such claims? What other person can claim a healing ministry like that of Jesus? What other person has overcome death like Jesus? What other person has transformed lives like Jesus? What other person answers prayers like Jesus?

Who else has promised to destroy the works of the devil? So many people in India can claim deliverance from the satanic possession and oppression, from addictions and strongholds when they put their trust in Jesus Christ. He intends to deliver the whole world from this darkness.

As the Light of the World, Jesus is not just a local deity. He is not a western god, or an eastern god, but God of the world. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is for every time and place.

But Jesus does not just want us to know Him as the Light of the World, but to experience Him as the Light in our own lives. That means we must follow Him, not as an idea or teaching, but as a Person. He wants us to relate to Him as His original disciples related to Him—as friends.

Jesus revealed to His disciples things about themselves they did not especially want to hear. He did this, not to tear them down but to help them fulfill their human natures. He enabled them to become more human, not less. He enabled them to do great and mighty things that resonate in our own day. He wants to do the same in and through you and me.

Jesus came not as a light but as the Light—the Light comes from the very one who made us and for whom we were made.

As we remember His sacrificial death and resurrection this month, let us bear His Light into a darkened world waiting for the Light.

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