Do You Have Life?

Whoever has the Son has life

In the first of John’s three letters, he writes to the early followers of Jesus, reminding them of God’s essential message about Jesus, light, and life. Jesus, by the way, is the light and he gives life. So amid John’s poetic flare, his words all revolve around Jesus.

As John winds down his letter, he writes, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” He makes it so simple.

We take this word life to mean eternal life, that is, our future life in heaven.

Yes, it is that. But this future begins today, not later after we die. The life Jesus gives us is physical life, too. And this might be just as important. Really.

Too many Christians plod through this life, placing all their hopes in a future life in heaven. Their exclusive future focus robs them of what God wants to give them today.

We need to make the most of this life that Jesus gives us. Live for him. Love others as he does. Point them to Jesus, the Son of God.

John makes it clear: Whoever has the Son has life.

Do you have the Son?

If so, the life he gives starts here, now.

If not, seek Jesus and you will have him. It’s that simple.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 John 5, and today’s post is on 1 John 5:12.]

What Is Your Path?

When we focus on other people, we may lose sight of our own calling

As Jesus wraps up his stint on earth, he spends some time with his disciples, the core group he trained for three years. They will need to carry on without him, and he wants to make sure they’re ready.

First, he must deal with Peter, who, a few days earlier, denied he even knew Jesus. Jesus is gentle but sure. To counter Peter’s three denials, Jesus has his wayward disciple give three affirmations of love. After each one, Jesus tells Peter to “Care for those who follow me.”

Then Jesus tells Peter what his future will entail. It ends with execution. But Jesus tells Peter to follow him, regardless.

Likely squirming and wanting to change the subject, Peter notices John and asks Jesus what the future holds for this disciple, “What are your plans for him?”

Jesus won’t play along. He basically says, “It doesn’t matter. You must do what I told you to do: follow me.”

It’s easy to become distracted by other people: People who seem to have more success, at least by the world’s standards; people who radiate God’s love in a way we fear we never will; or people who pray with a faith that eludes us.

Frustrated and discouraged, we may ask God, “What are your plans for them?”

To which God says, “It doesn’t matter what others do, you must follow me.”

Look straight ahead and follow Jesus. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with what others are doing.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 21, and today’s post is on John 21:15-22.]

Don’t Fight Against God

Too many people fail to see God at work and instead oppose those who follow him into his new ways

Jesus warns his followers what awaits them. First, they’ll get kicked out of their church and then people will kill them. Their opponents will do so in the name of religion, thinking they’re acting in service to God. This means the killers aren’t coming from the world but from within the family of God.

Historically this happens whenever a new move of God occurs. The biggest movement of God was Jesus coming to fulfill the Old Testament Law. Most people miss this, and so they oppose him.

There is also Moses who leads the people from slavery to freedom. He gives them instructions on how to live as a free people. They oppose him—for forty years. Though they don’t kill him, they provoke him so much that sometimes he wishes he was dead (Exodus 32:32 and Numbers 11:15).

The Old Testament prophets likewise suffer opposition and death. It seldom goes well for them.

The pattern of religious conflict continues since the time of Jesus. Most notably the Reformation. Christians oppose other Christians. Christians hate other Christians. And Christians kill other Christians. Another momentous time of Christian versus Christian hostility happens at the birth of the Charismatic movement in the early 1900s and again at its rebirth in the 1960s.

Each time God is at work doing a new thing. Each time, many of his people mount a significant opposition. And God’s messengers usually suffer for it.

Don’t label the people who follow God into his new way of doing things as heretics and oppose them. Instead, we would be better off heeding the words of Gamaliel who told the religious leaders, “Don’t bother with them. If they’re doing this on their own, they will fail. But if it’s of God, we can’t stop them—and could end up fighting against God himself,” (see Acts 5:38-39).

Instead of kicking the people we disagree with out of church, we would be better off seeing if God is at work. Instead of arguing, let’s listen.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 16, and today’s post is on John 16:2-3.]

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Put God First: Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters Most

Too often we place our personal needs over what God is at work doing

When Jesus’s friend Lazarus dies, Jesus goes to were the man is interred and, with a dramatic flair, raises him from the dead. When the people see this miracle of miracles, many believe in Jesus.

Bringing someone back to life is an amazing feat, and surely everyone should be happy. But not everyone is. Do you know who’s upset? The religious leaders, the very people who claim to represent the God who sent Jesus in the first place. But they miss it.

They can’t see God’s hand at work. Or maybe they’re not willing to. All they can think about is themselves. Though under Roman occupation, they still managed to carve out a comfy situation for themselves. And they want to keep it. They enjoy their standing as religious leaders and the admiration of the people. Selfishly, they want to preserve what they have, to maintain the status quo. In their self-centered ambition, they lose sight of the God they portend to serve. They fail to realize that God is present.

These religious leaders fear losing their position, their power, and their prestige. Their solution? Kill Jesus. Yep, they become so focused on protecting their current situation that they plot against their God.

It’s easy to criticize them. Yet this same thing still happens now.

How many religious leaders today have become so focused on preserving their job, maintaining their paycheck, and keeping their followers that they oppose the work of God, things contrary to their faith and what God has called them to do?

It happens too often, and it’s wrong. We must always put God first, even if we might lose something in the process.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 11, and today’s post is on John 11:43-53.]

Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Plus, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

John Calls Jesus the Word; Does that Make Him the Word of God?

Considering Jesus as the Word of God shines new light on some verses in the Bible

The book of John, which is a biography of Jesus, opens with a most poetic passage. It calls Jesus the Word. It confirms Jesus’s presence at creation and that he took part in it. In fact without Jesus creation wouldn’t have happened.

Life came through Jesus. His life gives us light, a light that shines for us in darkness. And, best of all, the light of Jesus overcomes the darkness (John 1:5).

While you may think I’m taking liberties with the text by claiming the Word refers to Jesus, keep reading the passage. Later on John writes that this Word became human and joined us on earth. The Word showed us his glory as the one and only son from Father God (John 1:14).

It’s easy to see from the above passage that Jesus is the Word, life, and light, as well as creator. But what if Jesus is the Word of God?

We commonly think of the word of God as the Bible, but remember that the New Testament of the Bible didn’t exist until several centuries after Jesus’s death and resurrection. In light of this, I prefer to think of the word of God as the spoken word of God, more so than the written word.

But let’s take this one additional step. What if Jesus is more than the Word? What if he’s actually the Word of God?

This thought isn’t mine alone. John thought it too. In another of his writings he, in fact, calls Jesus the Word of God (Revelation 20:4). Curious.

The Bible contains 39 mentions of the word of God. Though it doesn’t flow smoothly in all cases, as a thought-provoking exercise, let’s reword some of these verses to say Jesus instead of word of God.

Here we go:

  • “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6) becomes “You nullify Jesus for the sake of your tradition.”
  • “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11) becomes “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is Jesus.”
  • “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28) becomes “Blessed rather are those who hear Jesus and obey him.”
  • “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2) becomes “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of Jesus in order to wait on tables.”
  • “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John” (Acts 8:14) becomes “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted Jesus, they sent Peter and John.”
  • “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God” (Acts 11:1) becomes “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received Jesus.
  • “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18:11) becomes “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them Jesus.”
  • “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17) becomes “Unlike so many, we do not peddle Jesus for profit.”

There are many more interesting examples, but you get the point. Considering Jesus as the word of God and inserting his name into these verses elevates their impact for me. I hope it does for you, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 1, and today’s post is on John 1:1-5, 14.]

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Let Us Draw Near to God

4 insights in how we are to approach God

Draw near to God.Because of who Jesus is and what he did for us, our relationship with God the Father changes. Through Jesus we have a new connection with Papa that we didn’t have before. We can now approach him.

In fact the writer of Hebrews encourages us to do just that. He says, “let us draw near to God.” Then he builds on this instruction by listing four aspects of our approach as we draw near to him (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Sincere Heart: Having a sincere heart suggests a proper motivation. While we can approach God when we’re in a jam, if that’s the only time we seek him, I don’t think this pleases him too much. And although we can, and should, come to him with our worries, that misses the point of drawing near to God.

The purpose of approaching God is to just hang out. This means we seek to enjoy community with him and want to worship him. We do this best when we go to him without selfish motivation or a self-centered agenda. Sincerity of heart best sums this up.

Full of Faith: Having faith in him and through him should fill us with assurance. We are his child. We can trust in this reality as we go to see Daddy. We grasp onto this by having faith in him, a belief we can’t manufacture, but accept in confidence of who he is and our right standing with him. This is the assurance faith provides.

Cleansed of Guilt: A guilty conscience robs us of our joy. It takes away our peace. Can we rightly approach God when we lack joy and have no peace? Of course we can, but it’s better when we can draw near to him with a clear conscience, with our hearts made clean. Shame loads us down, but through Jesus our hearts are sprinkled clean. The guilt is gone. Our conscience is clear.

Washed Pure: Jesus not only appeases the guilty conscience of our hearts, but he also washes our whole bodies clean. He makes us pure, both inside and out. It’s all so good.

The question in all of this becomes, are these four conditions we must meet before we can approach God or four realities we realize because we are able to approach him?

The answer is both. Jesus makes these things possible, and our job is to cling to them when we approach God.

Because of Jesus and through him, we can draw near to God. Thank you Jesus.

Is Being a Christian Easy or Hard?

Regardless of circumstances, God walks with us

In Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, he warns them not to deceive others or distort God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2). That is, don’t misrepresent God’s character or intent to the world.

Yet, this happens. Some people, in their zeal for Jesus, promise those on the outside that if they just say “yes” to Jesus, then all their problems will go away and life will become easy.

It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus says to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28), that his followers may pay a price for their commitment to him.

Paul details this heavy cost. But along with each threat he gives assurance of God’s provision (2 Corinthians 4:8-9):

  • Hard pressed from every direction, but not crushed
  • Perplexed, but not in despair.
  • Persecuted, but not
  • Struck down, but not

So when we follow Jesus we can expect to be harassed, mystified, attacked, and hurt. Yet in this, God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined.

We must count the cost before we follow Jesus, because committing ourselves to him may bring about hardship, but take courage knowing that God will prevail and help us through these trying situations.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4, and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 4:2, 8-9.]

What Do We Do When We Get Together?

The Bible tells us to not give up meeting together, but we often miss the point

Don’t forget to encourage one another when we meet together.As we persevere in our faith, one aspect of this is to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Many people interpret this verse as a command to attend church. It isn’t. Not really. While meeting together could include going to church, it should encompass much more.

Where We Meet: The phrase to not give up meeting together is a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. He says anywhere two or three people get together and place the focus on him, he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

  • Meals: Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? I think so. While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to fellowship with others and include Jesus. But do we make the most of these opportunities?
  • Small Groups: Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection with each other and draws us to God. If we skip our small group, it’s as if we are giving up meeting together, which the Bible says not to do.
  • Coffee Shop: People often meet at coffee shops to spend time and hang out. If you include God in your meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, you assemble in his name.
  • Homes: Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If you both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together where he is included? It should.
  • Outings: What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet together in his name.
  • Church: Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. But I list it last because I wonder if it isn’t the least important. Why do I suggest this? Because when we meet in this environment, we often (perhaps usually) do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

When We Meet: The command to not give up meeting together goes on to explain why. People tend to skip this part. The reason we are to meet together is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this in our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of meeting together—that is, going to church—they’re quick to miss that the reason is to encourage each other. If we’re not going to do that, then we might as well stay home.

Why Are Denominations Dangerous?

Jesus wants us to live in unity but instead our manmade denominations divide us

Denominations divide us. Jesus unites us.I recently attended a friend’s ordination ceremony who had graduated from seminary and became a minister. It’s not the first such occasion I attended, and it won’t likely be the last. It was, however, the first time I really listened to what took place.

Integrated into the liturgy of the proceedings were a series of questions posed to the new minister. Early on one of the queries caught my attention. I’ll purposely not quote the question to hide the identity of the guilty denomination, but I will paraphrase it.

In essence the denomination asked the young minister to pledge his loyalty to it and do his best to promote its mission locally and around the world.

My friend’s expected response affirmed his willingness to do so.

I don’t think I would have agreed to such a condition. Shouldn’t we pledge our loyalty to God and do our best to promote his mission locally and around the world?

With 43,000 Protestant denominations, why does each one work so hard to preserve and promote its own brand of Christianity, often at the expense of others? Why not ditch the denomination and instead work hard to promote Christ?

With this still bouncing around in my brain, a second item caught my attention as the ceremony wound down. In this part of the proceedings, my friend promised to take various actions. One such action has him pursuing unity within the church. My friend promised to do so.

Assuming that by church those words refer to the universal church of Jesus, as opposed to the denomination, I see a contradiction of intent, that my friend promised to pursue two mutually exclusive goals.

Our Protestant denominations divide us, whereas Jesus wants us to be one, to get along with each other, and to live in unity (John 17:21, 23). When we consider this carefully, our manmade denominations are the antithesis of the unity Jesus prays for.

If my friend would indeed pursue unity as he promised, he should seek to dismantle the denomination, because its very existence opposes unity.

[This is from the April issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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