Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Lures and Choices

“When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him…’” (John 13:31, BSB)

John’s recounting of Judas’ betray of Jesus in chapter thirteen should lead people to consider their life choices. He used Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to highlight the choices Jesus gives people. The text explains the choices and the consequences. Judas’ name became synonymous for a reason. We can learn from Judas’ actions and their results. What can we learn from this occurrence during Jesus’ earthly life? What did Jesus say happened right after Judas walked away from him?

Judas’ departure from the supper table to see the priests pointed a sign toward Jesus. This sign declared Jesus is the Son of Man. Judas believed Jesus was the Messiah, but he did not believe in Jesus. He did not accept salvation from his sins by faith in Jesus. According to John, Judas “had gone out” (exerchomai). (Interestingly, other Bible writers used exerchomai to tell of demons leaving.) What caused Judas to betray Jesus? What caused him to choose money instead of salvation? Did God fore-ordain that Judas would betray Jesús and not be saved?

God knew someone would betray Jesus. Many of us refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and our Savior. We might run from Him when God is convicting us of our sins. We may avoid Jesus when we do not want to obey God. Perhaps we run from God because someone in our past, who was a supposed Christian, hurt us. People run away from Jesus for various reasons. God does not force our belief or our giving up the right to ourselves. God gives each of us a choice to follow Jesus or not. Despite knowing Jesus is the Messiah, Judas refused to trust Him for salvation and eternal life. Perhaps the fastest way Judas found to avoid spiritual conviction was to leave Jesus’ presence, physically. The lure of thirty pieces of silver from the priests to betray Jesus led Judas to desire “easy money.” The lure fed Judas’ love of money. It provided a safe distance from Jesus’ influence, so he would not have to deal with his heart’s sin conviction.

Jesus grieves the lost souls in the world. He desires no one to be lost. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us this. Peter wrote, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit­--did not want Judas to run away from Jesus or the Spirit’s convicting him of his sins. God’s desire is for all to repent, believe in Jesus, and be saved from sins. By that salvation, each person enters an eternal relationship with Him. Judas chose to run from the Holy Spirit’s convicting of his heart and run toward his temptation.

God is greater than any person. He can use all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Satan tried to thwart God’s plan to provide eternal forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. But Satan was not all-knowing, almighty, or omnipotent. God’s plans prevail. God’s plan never forces a person to receive salvation. His plan in John 13:31 was for Jesus to be glorified as the Son of Man, the Messiah. God’s plan included Himself being glorified. Glorification of Jesus and God affirmed they are real, trustworthy, and the only deity. The human life of Jesus came to its culmination, and His heavenly reality became apparent with the start of His finish on earth that Passover week. The person betraying Jesus that week ushered in the last days of Jesus’ earthly life.

Jesus planned to be crucified as the perfect human sacrifice—one without sin. He planned to die as the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. According to God’s plan, anyone who has faith in Jesus and repents of their sins can receive salvation and be restored to a right relationship with God. As Jesus’ last days opened, Judas’ betrayal of Him led to Jesus’ glorification as Son of Man, deity. Jesus was 100% human and is 100% God. Jesus and the Father received glory that day. The disciples acknowledged and honored Jesus’ true nature, part of the Trinity.

Jesus wants everyone to accept His offer of salvation and avoid eternal separation from God. He does not want backhand acknowledgement of His divinity by the intentional turning away from Him, like Judas. Jesus wishes for a relationship with each person by their belief in Him as their Savior from their sins.

What lures you away from God and the salvation He gives to everyone who believes in Jesus? What do you choose for your life instead of acknowledging Jesus as your Savior and Lord? Don’t be the person who fears the future and chooses what is tangible. Choose absolute certainty in the Savior and guaranteed eternal life with God. Judas saw and believed Jesus was God manifested in the flesh, but he chose a lure instead of Jesus. 


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Imitation and Arrogance


“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:11)

Diotrephes refused to give shelter and food to Christians passing through his town. This happened often enough that John was compelled to write about him in his third letter. This one-chapter epistle is about what Diotrephes was doing, how he viewed himself, and what the good Christ-follower should be and do.

John began by commending Gaius for what Christians are expected to be and do—be hospitable to traveling teachers of Christ. Gaius’ actions came from his relationship with and obedience of Jesus and were the baseline of what was expected of Christ-followers.

After setting the example, John juxtaposed the alternative with Diotrophes’ actions and attitude. Diotrephes refused to receive instruction about being hospitable to traveling Christ-followers.  To John, this signaled an arrogance problem. That arrogance led Diotrephes to feel self-important and tout it aloud by slandering traveling evangelists. His heart problem led to a speech problem. Diotrophes’ heart problem led to an action problem; he refused to give shelter, sustenance, and support to Christian travelers. He farthered this attitude by forbidding his congregants to offer hospitality and excommunicating those who gave shelter and food against his command.

Diotrophes had a “me” problem. He determined church law is what he demanded. For Diotrophes, church actions were what he approved. What he commanded, said, and did was the “law.”

John’s example of Diotrophes taught a succinct Christian truth. He wrote, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (vs 11). John applied Jesus’ teaching of the two greatest commandments from Matthew 22:36-40. He made a teachable moment. Loving God and your neighbor includes giving shelter, sustenance, and support, at the minimum, to fellow believers.

John’s letter, directed to rebuke Diotrophes, provided edification and commendation. He taught believers should be hospitable. Additionally, John commended Gaius and Demetrius by using them as the example of how a Christ-follower should speak, act, and consider themselves compared to others.

From this short letter, we are led to consider how God is prompting us. Do we need an attitude/heart change, so we are more like Jesus? Do we need to alter how we live and what we say so we act and speak like our Savior? Do we need to grow more in our relationship with God? These questions should be part of your daily time(s) with God.

 Where do you not have a heart like Christ? In what area of life do you regard yourself as the authority? What are you doing and saying that does not imitate Jesus or look like what He taught?

Do you look and sound like Jesus, Gaius, and Demetrius or like Diotrophes?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-39)

Monday, May 27, 2024

Scheming or Seeking

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy, he went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. (Matthew 13:44-45)

When we compare these two verses, we notice differences. By comparing the two men and their actions, we gain a clearer understanding of this passage. If you have read or heard these passages before, you found the moral taught was likely doing what needs done to gain the treasure for yourself. The treasure is salvation and eternal life. Yet, when we dig deeper, other aspects emerge from these two parables. Each verse is not a stand-alone parable. We should study each of them and note their similarities and differences.

While walking, the man in the first parable found buried treasure. We do not know if he pursued treasure or just stumbled upon it. Moreover, this man may have deceived the landowner by concealing the treasure found on his property. He may have paid less for the land than its true value by withholding the fact of the buried treasure. Overall, the man sold what he possessed to gain the treasure for himself. Treasure was valuable to him and to the hearers of the parable.

The man in the second parable was a merchant. He pursued valuable items to buy and resell. When he came upon a very rare pearl, he opted to sell all he owned to buy the pearl. This merchant sought treasures, whereas the first man may have only stumbled upon his find. The merchant looked in each oyster shell that was for sale to find the important and rare nugget—truth. He represents those who seek God and seek to understand Him in deeper ways. The merchant needed knowledge about pearls, their characteristics, and their monetary worth. In the second parable, upon finding the most important thing, he gave up everything else to possess the precious pearl. The pearl symbolizes the gospel truth. In this parable, Jesus taught in His parable that the merchant forsook other knowledge to claim the truth. He firmly grasped what was most important, the pearl of great price—the Truth.

The first man hid the found treasure. He lied by omission to the landowner. The truth he grasped was not God’s truth, but the one he wanted, as shown by the means he took to get it. To him, the ends justified the means. Jesus never taught that. Jesus taught about righteousness, loving God and people, and telling others the Good News. Ends don’t justify means. Honor, respect, relationship, and obedience are more important. The man in the first parable prioritized ownership over godliness and truthfulness. He forsook all he had. The first parable man gained earthly treasure that would decay or rust. He chose earthly treasures, not spiritual treasures—salvation and eternal life.

The second man did not “steal” the rare pearl, but acknowledged its worth, paid the price, and gained it to make it his own. The man stole the treasure by not mentioning it. He didn’t acknowledge the land’s worth. He was more interested in being shrewd than in truth, honor, and righteousness.

Which man are you like? Are you searching for God’s truth and paying the full price for its worth by reading, studying, meditating on, and praying over Scripture daily? Or do you read a verse, then use it to justify your actions without understanding God’s purposes for what you read? For example, because God, in the Bible, allowed servants, you hire servants. Yet you mistreat them and boast about having servants. The Biblical depiction of indentured servants differs from this example. The servants in the Bible sold themselves to be servants so they could pay a debt. God mandated release from servitude after seven years if the servants were Jews. Added to this, masters were to treat servants with respect and provide for their needs. If a person today boasted of having servants, and he mistreated them, his goal would be arrogance and superiority. The purpose of indentured servanthood in the Bible and this example differed; the first helped a person, and the second showed arrogance.

Which of these men represent you today: the schemer or the seeker?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Receive Power


But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

This power Christians receive, about which Jesus spoke and Luke wrote, is nothing they can manufacture for themselves. Notice the verb “will receive.” The power comes from the Holy Spirit (God). God gives it freely to Christians. This power is part of God’s power and provides believers with the ability to do what God tells them. God gives the ability to do what He commands. This power is part of God’s ability; He can do anything and everything.

With the power of God in them given by God Himself, what was Jesus’ command to His followers? Jesus said Christians are to be witnesses. Witnesses see and hear what God does and says. Witnesses can attest to God's actions and words. Their statements—testimonies—give credence and more power (more punch) so people are more inclined towards believing about God and believing in Jesus.

In Acts 1:8, Luke recorded when Jesus said the Holy Spirit will give Christians the power and ability to serve Jesus by testifying about Him. God expects and empowers believers to hear, see, obey, and then tell other people about Jesus. He compels them by the Holy Spirit, who lives within them, to tell other people. As Christians grow closer to God, it becomes harder to disobey God—His conviction through the Holy Spirit and power within them—and their love for Jesus. Love for God (Father, Son, and Spirit) compels Christians to obey, act, and say what Gods commands, compels, and empowers them to do with His ability.

Understanding that the command, compulsion, and power to obey comes from God makes it easier for the believer to tell whom and go to wherever He leads easier. Love for God makes it easier each day to go further from our safe space, from family, and from friends. That love for God and from Him makes it possible to go far to be a witness about God and the gospel. It helps believers realize no matter where they are, God is already there and always with them. Going far away is easier when your love for God is greater than your love for yourself, your dreams and plans, your parents, siblings, grandparents, and your friends. When God is your everything, He becomes closer to you than these people and things; He becomes mother, father, brother, sister, and friend in your heart. A Christian does not leave these behind but finds that love for God fulfills the love you need.

This means going to your city (Jerusalem), your state (Judea), your country (elsewhere in your country, like Samaria), and the world are easier because of your love for God and His for you. Going and telling is easier because God empowers you with His ability. Witnessing about God is easier because no doubt exists in your mind that God compels and sends you. Obeying is easier because God’s love in you causes you to love the people you have not yet met. God’s love in you gives you immeasurable concern for their spiritual eternity and their lostness—lack of salvation and lack of relationship with God.

Christians’ love for God and people is immense due to their relationship with God and belief in Jesus, making sharing the gospel a necessity. You will stretch yourself so that all people listen to testimony about Jesus. Your relationship with God fulfills you completely, so you lack nothing - family, friends, home, power, purpose, hope, and future. God fulfills each of these needs; He becomes your everything.

What excuse do you allow to keep you from a greater relationship with God, a relationship that comes from obeying Him by being filled with His power and ability?

What excuse do you give for not witnessing about Jesus to people?

God wants to be everything you need. Do not let a human excuse keep you from the abundance of God and from God. Believe and bear witness about Jesus.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Fruit or Fire


“He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful.” John 15:2

This metaphor of pruning branches that Jesus used has an overarching idea most people would understand. God removes unfruitful people. He grows fruitful people so they will become more fruitful. God enables fruitful people to advance His purposes more.

To understand this verse better, we must understand why a fruit farmer would cut tree branches. Jesus plainly explained the first reason. Farmers cut off dead branches from a tree to cause healthy growth of the rest of the tree. Without cutting off the dead branch, the tree will continue to send nutrients toward the dead branch instead of extending its nutrients to parts of the tree that will grow. Cutting off dead branches leads to more growth in other parts of the tree. This illustrates the metaphor's beginning.

Pruning the healthy parts of a fruit tree has several benefits. First, it strengthens the tree. Where before the tree’s sap was to grow fruit, pruning allows the tree sap to make the branch harder and stronger. Instead of sap going to grow fruit, it goes toward growing the branch. Going through hardships can cause a person to grow stronger in his faith and relationship with God.

Second, pruning a healthy branch can improve fruit production and fruit quality. Pruning stimulates new growth—offshoots—so more branches grow. As a result, each of those branches produces fruit instead of just the unpruned branch growing fruit. God’s pruning of His child causes that person to grow in many areas, so new spiritual fruit and Christian offspring grow from that believer. Pruning grows a person’s relationship with God. The deeper relationship with God causes growth of spiritual fruit, like patience, wisdom, compassion, joy, and peace. The deeper relationship with God grows the quality of that fruit, causing a deeper faith, greater peace, etc. Growth from a closer relationship with God leads to sharing the gospel and a personal testimony about God more. These lead to other people believing in Jesus and His saving them. Pruning may cause brief pain mental, heart, and/or physical. This pain is worth it to see more people saved by Jesus and experience a deeper relationship with God.

Third, pruning a branch helps a tree become more pest and disease resistant. Pruning causes growth in strength and resilience. Like a person’s health, outside influences can cause a tree to grow stronger so the tree can withstand forces that would cause it to shrivel, produce less fruit, and/or die. God allows a person to confront challenges for growth, not destruction. By going through trials, like the burnishing of metals, God removes impurities from His children. His strength alone is how they withstand adversity. Christians can progress despite adversity. James, Peter, and Paul wrote about perseverance, endurance, testing, patience, and building Christian character in James 1, 1 Peter 1, and Romans 5:3-5. Trials, though unwanted, have benefits just like pruning healthy branches has benefits.

Fourth, pruning trees opens the tree canopy so sunlight can reach more limbs and fruit. For this reason, fruit trees are wide and not very tall. More sun causes more fruit to grow on the tree. Also, by pruning the canopy, fruit does not grow higher in the tree. This makes it easier to reach all fruit during harvest season. A person who knows the Bible can only withstand some storms or temptations. A person whom Jesus saves and who grows in his relationship with God through daily prayer, Bible study, meditation, worship, and obedience to Him has a faith that has grown deep and wide. Temptations, trials, storms, and disease might assail a believer and might cause him to stall in his growth, but these can cause growth in his relationship with and faith in God. These occurrences can strengthen a believer, cause new growth on branches, and result in the growth of new and larger fruit. The outcome of God's gospel is evident in one's life. People see the gospel’s impact on people around the strengthening and growing Christian as he shares his testimony and God’s gospel.

Without removing dead limbs on a tree, diseases and/or pests kill the tree or cause it to become stunted and produce minimal fruit. By pruning healthy branches, trees become stronger and produce more and better fruit. Pruning stops the spread of diseases and pests that could harm the fruit or the sap (testimony) in the tree. It allows more sunlight, which causes more fruit to grow and makes the branches more accessible to harvesters.

When we face trials and hardships, we can grow stronger and produce more and better fruit. Instead of growing stronger through trials, we can freeze up and then get hurt or killed. God prefers us to grow stronger and bear more and better fruit. He allows or causes things to grow our relationship with Him and our trust in Him. God allows hardships to confront us to prune the dead branches from our lives. We should aim to grow, so we ask God what He wants us to learn from our situations. God wants us to grow to trust Him more, to have a deeper relationship with Him, and to become more Christlike. He will send you through fires to remove impurities and strengthen you. When strengthened by God, you, too, can say, “No weapon formed against us will prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).

Fruit or Fire.

Faith or Fruitlessness.

Which do you choose? I pray you choose to grow in your relationship with God and to produce more and better fruit within you that leads to more fruit—Christians—for God’s kingdom.

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

 (Bible verse picture from You Version Bible app)