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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Are You Listening?

On April 16th this year, I wrote an article called “FIRE: It’s a Relationship.” Since then, people have asked me more about FIRE and the basis for it. This article is an expansion on that article.
            John, in his gospel, writes many things. His whole book is written with the sole purpose being “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31 [NASB]). John showed throughout his book ways that we as hearers and readers could know Jesus as the Son of God. He told us his personal testimony. He told of the testimony through Jesus’ signs and miracles, through the Spirit, and through the Word (God’s inspired Word). Yet, there is something we must do. Paul in Romans 10:14-15a states it this way, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent” [NASB]? Unless we who know God personally tell others about Jesus, the salvation of the world, most will not know Jesus.
            In John 13:15, Jesus used the word “example” only once to His disciples. After being with the disciples for almost 3 years teaching them by word and action, before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. He took His tunic off and wrapped a towel around Himself as a servant would. This is the example Jesus gave His disciples; they are to be servants to each other. Jesus reinforced this "example" He showed and spoke. Later in chapter 13, Jesus told the disciples in verse 34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35, [NASB]). Previously, Jesus said He was the fulfillment of the Law but stated that they must follow the Shema. The Shema is a Jewish Law combining Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Luke 10:27 [NASB]). This Jesus called the greatest commandment. At the end of His time with His disciples, He added another, John 13:34-35, they were to love each other so that all people will know they are His disciples. These two commands cover love of God, love of others (outside the faith), and love among disciples.
            How are people to know Jesus? They are to come to know Jesus by us coming to know them. In the gospel of John, John states many times that Jesus knew what people were thinking, what their past was, that they were grumbling or complaining, and that certain persons needed a miracle or sign so they could believe. Jesus knew and knows all people. Jesus spoke into their lives at the point of their need. Consider Mary and Martha. Jesus could have gone to their home in Bethany before Lazarus died, but He knew them and He wanted God to receive glory. Mary and Martha believed Jesus is God’s Son and believed there would be a resurrection on the last day. They did not know that Jesus had power over life and death. By waiting until Lazarus was truly dead (4 days after his death), Jesus’ power over life and death would not be doubted, God would be given the glory, and Mary and Martha’s faith will have grown. You can look at other miracles in John and see this same thing occur – Jesus’ power over that part of life would be revealed, God would receive glory, and the faith of people would increase or occur for the first time. Jesus knows people and what they need. He meets people at the point of their need, when they are at the end of their understanding and knowledge, so that any good/miracle that occurs can only be explained as being from God. The question remains: how are people to know Jesus?
            More often than not, people come to know Jesus through His disciples speaking truth into their lives. Let me say it again; people come to meet and know Jesus through us getting to know them. By getting to know them, we hear them tell us about themselves, their families, their interests, and their religious experiences. We listen intently and we hear where they are hurting. We hear they are human, too. We hear with our ears and with the heart that Jesus regenerated in us through His love. We hear their physical and spiritual needs. In the process of listening, we earn that person’s trust. In the process of listening to them, we remember where Jesus met our need, physically and spiritually. We remember where Jesus came to us, met us, healed us, and forgave us, and where we gave our lives to Him. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:26 that the birds of the air wear beautiful plumage, have their food requirements met, and are sheltered in God’s beautiful trees and bushes. The birds did nothing; God provided for their needs. God will provide more so for the needs of His created people. Jesus stated that in Matthew 6. God provides for spiritual needs as well as temporal needs. Jesus built relationships or strengthened them at the point of a person’s need. He wants to be the provider of everything humankind needs. We must also build relationships and through building these new relationships and listening, we are given the opportunity by the other person to speak about Jesus and show how He has changed our lives, how He has met our needs, temporal and spiritual, and how He can be the fulfillment of all their own needs now and for eternity.
            Consider the I AM statements in John’s gospel. Jesus said seven things that John recorded. Jesus said, I AM the Bread of Life; I AM the Light of the world; I AM the gate for the sheep; I AM the good Shepherd; I AM the resurrection and the Life; and I AM the True Vine. Each of these has a temporal and spiritual element to it. Jesus came to be everything a human being ever needs –bread, light, shelter, guidance, life and hope, and eternal sustenance/salvation. Jesus is the fulfillment of all our needs before we ever know we have the need for them. God provided manna in the wilderness for the Israelites to feed them for a day. Jesus became the Bread that would feed our spiritual need forever. God gave a light of fire before the troops of Israelites as they found their way to the Promised Land. Jesus is the Light to lead us to eternal life in God’s Kingdom. God provided a gate by which to keep out the wolves. Jesus is the gate that keeps the devil and his demons out when we have given our lives to Him. God provides shepherds for the sheep who protect them, such as David was for the actual sheep of his father and for God’s people Israel. Jesus is the Shepherd who will not run away but will fight the wolves to keep us protected in His hands. He protects those who are His own. No one before Jesus had ever beaten death and come back to life. Jesus died to be victorious over death so His children would be resurrected from the grave at the end of the time. Death does not have any hold on those who call themselves His disciples. Jesus gives eternal life to His disciples. God provides sustenance and guidance now to His children. He also provides eternal life forever. God provides the eternal guidance and remembrance of all He has taught us through our lives and the ones who have gone before us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. He gives us hope and guidance as the True Vine. We are His, adopted by Him, and grafted into His vine so that nothing can separate us from Him. This is what Jesus gives us for now and eternity and what He stated in the seven I AM statements.
            We must get to know people as Jesus knows people. We must hear them express themselves, their life, and their beliefs. Only be listening will we gain their trust to speak into their lives. Only by listening will we be able to contextualize the message of Jesus’ salvation for that particular person at that specific moment in their lives. This is relationship and our telling the gospel to them after hearing is contextualizing the Gospel for them. That is how FIRE helps us. FIRE is Family, Interests, Religious experiences, and Evangelism. FIRE makes us intentional in getting to know Jesus better each day, to have a growing relationship with Him. We must have a daily relationship with Jesus where we are learning more through His Word and through prayer with Him. Without this daily relationship, we may not know a passage of Scripture a person needs to hear as they are speaking to us. FIRE lets us know a person’s thoughts on their needs so we can show them how Jesus can fill their needs here and eternally. FIRE is how Jesus met us through others and it is how He will meet other people more often than not.
            The questions now to consider include the following. How is your relationship with God? Are you close or has it been a while since you read His Word or prayed to Him? How are your listening skills? Are you a keen listener and often hear a word from God? Are you a listener of other people or do you hear some of what they say and then begin thinking about what you will say also? We must be in an active vertical relationship with God. We must also know how to have a horizontal relationship with other people. This is what Jesus did well. He was very relational and showed us by example how to be in a relationship with God ( vertical relationship) and with one another (horizontal relationship). (These two relationship beams make a cross.) Jesus died on the cross because of these relationships, obedience to the Father and love for us created human beings.
Each of us has to make a decision: are we willing to get to know people like Jesus knows each of us so we can tell them the great news of Jesus Christ?