Love Came Down to Give Us Life

I have a confession to make to you: I am a real snacker. Every evening after dinner, it isn’t long before I am nosing around the kitchen looking for something to satisfy my craving. Whether it is a little chocolate, some nuts or chips, or perhaps a cookie, something inside of me is looking to be satisfied. This craving will sometimes go on until almost bedtime.

I find there are people in this world who are a lot like me when it comes to living out their lives. They have a deep craving for something to satisfy the emptiness within their spirit, so they nibble around this world looking for it. Typically they don’t find what they are looking for on their own, and this leads to danger and destruction in their lives.

I recently came upon the story of a professional football player named Junior Seau. He was well-known as a passionate, fist-pumping star for the San Diego Chargers. He made the pro bowl twelve times out of his thirteen years as a professional football player, was also selected to the National Football League 1990s All-Decade Team, and his community adored him.

However, on May 2, 2012, at the age of 43, Junior sadly took his own life stunning the community. Later, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, former teammate, Rodney Harrison, explained that Seau was desperately searching for peace in his final days. He said, “Junior told me that the only time he felt at peace with life was when he was with his children or out surfing. He would say, ÔWhen I’m out on those waves, it’s the greatest feeling. I have no worries, no stress, no problems. I forget about everything.'”

Junior was always searching for peace. A lot of people in the world today are like that. In my own congregation, I have counseled more and more teenagers who are so unhappy with life that they cut a word or symbol into their forearm with a razor. This is a sign of deep unhappiness.

Again and again, we find people who are looking for something to satisfy a craving for happiness. We can actually nibble ourselves to death looking for it.

In today’s scripture, Jesus tells us the reason he came to earth: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus was talking with the Pharisees and other onlookers. He described himself as the Good Shepherd who provides for and protects those who follow him. He promised that those who follow him will find the pasture they need and will satisfy their craving. They will find confidence and security in their coming in and their going out, no matter what they face in life Ð even as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He promised to be with them and look out for them. He is the gate that protects them at night when they come into the pen.

Again and again in this little passage, we see the message that Jesus has come to give us life Ð life that is abundant and satisfies. In fact, the name of the town where Jesus was born, Bethlehem, actually means “house of bread.” Jesus later said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will neither hunger nor thirst” (John 6:35).

Later on in chapter 10, as Jesus is talking about his job as the shepherd, he says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28b). We are his forever.

I have a couple friends who just celebrated what probably will be their last Christmas with their families. Their prognosis is not very good, for they have exhausted all their chemotherapy treatments and still cancer continues to eat away at them. Jesus’ promise as their Shepherd is very meaningful, because they are sheep who follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus. They know that, when they take their last breath in this world, they will awaken looking into the face of their Savior, Jesus Christ, in the next world.

Jesus came to be our Good Shepherd. He gives us the good life for which we busily nibbling. He did that by laying down his life for sinful sheep like you and me Ð sheep who are helpless in our sinfulness. Sin is deeply ingrained in all of us, even though we may think we are fairly good people compared to some others.

When my wife Julie and I visited the Holy Land, we made a little trip to Bethlehem. It is a Palestinian town, but they are walled in by the Israelis, and a great tension exists between the two. One can feel the tension as you enter the town.

As we stood in line to view the place designated as the stable where Christ was born, we waited almost three hours, and during that time we saw humanity at its worst. People were pushing and shoving, getting angry with one another. Our Palestinian guide even got into a tussle with some Ukrainians who were trying to butt into ahead of us. By the time we were close to that manger, I knew why Jesus had to come. Even these people, who had tasted of his grace, still had this selfish, impatient nature within them. And it was for people such as myself, because I, too, found myself a little angry.

Jesus came to lay down his life for us so that we can have forgiveness for our sin and be cleansed from within as we receive him. We then become his child. He laid down his life so we can have a new life with our heavenly Father. Time and again, we hear from our listeners who tell us how beautiful their life is when they have said yes to him.

Some people believe Christianity is boring. However, I find it difficult to believe the disciples ever had a boring moment with Jesus. Life with him was exciting. I’ve discovered for myself, as well, that the more I try to follow his life, the more exciting life becomes as we stand up for him and let our light shine.

Other people believe that, although Christianity is a nice idea, it’s not really true. To those who have this opinion, I would suggest they examine the resurrection story. Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day. His resurrection was God’s stamp of approval that everything Jesus had said or done for us is absolutely true. Jesus’ life was filled with truth.

I recently listened to a friend tell his story. He was a businessman who dealt with high-end automobiles. Back in the late 70s, his business was struggling, and he was losing a lot of money. Afraid to tell his family about his failings, he drank to cover up his fear.

One day, when he was at the end of his rope, he packed up his files and papers and went to his business competitor asking for help. The man looked at him and said, “My wife and I have been praying for you this past year. We prayed you would come in and visit with me.” My friend was absolutely stunned, and even more so two hours later when he was on his knees in that man’s office, asking Jesus Christ into his life.

Since that day, nothing has been the same. Life has become an adventure as Jesus has shown him who he is, what his gifts are, and has given him many opportunities to use those gifs for God’s glory. Life has become very exciting since that day in his competitor’s office, and he is a satisfied sheep.

Not long ago, I was sharing with some young people about a time in my life when I strayed away from Jesus. I thought I could run my own life, and I felt I didn’t need that religious stuff anymore. This is often the attitude of a young person who has just left home and is feeling his independence. He wants to run his own life. However, after about a year and a half, I was bone dry and empty. It was then that someone pointed me in the direction of the Savior again, and I made a turnaround.

As I pleaded with those young people that day to turn around and come home to him, I, as a pastor and one who loves Jesus and the people he serves, appeal to you today: If you find yourself in this situation, choose life. Choose Jesus. He knows what can make your life work.

If you desire to take that first step back home to a closer relationship with Christ, I encourage you to pray this little prayer with me today. You will recognize it as the last verse of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. However, it has been personalized.

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to me, I pray.

Cast out my sin and enter in, be born in me today.

I hear those Christmas angels, their great glad tidings tell

Oh, come to me, abide in me, O Lord, Immanuel.” Amen.

If you are looking for a next step, please write to us. We want to help you on your walk with Jesus Christ. God bless you and have a happy new year with Christ.

Jesus Changes People

Many people are unsatisfied with their lives. Most of us, perhaps, feel that way. Even the Apostle Paul said he didn’t understand it: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual. . . . I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:14-15).

Paul had been converted to Christianity on his way to Damascus and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ around his little world. Yet, he still had things in his life he did not like. And so he asks where is the answer to the problem?

I think many of us are asking ourselves that question. I hear someone condemn herself for degrading another person. Why did I do it? It wasn’t necessary. I just brought her down to a low estate, and that is not good.

Stop and think for a minute of the changes you would like to make in your life. Perhaps you have tried hard to make some of those changes, and perhaps you have been moderately successful. However, making real change in ourselves requires more than a resolution on our part. This is where our text speaks to us today.

Jesus and his mother were at a wedding in Cana. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother told Jesus about the problem. Perhaps she was thinking of their trip to Jerusalem when Jesus stayed behind to visit with the scholars. The Bible tells us that Mary pondered this in her heart.

Or perhaps she was wondering when Jesus would announce that he was the Messiah. This wedding would be a masterful place to do a miracle. Believing this day could be a great day in Jesus’ life, she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

What Mary thought could happen actually did happen. Jesus turned the water into wine, and Mary was happy to be a witness to the event. John tells us this was the first sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.

Jesus did many other miraculous things that changed people’s lives. He changed Paul’s life on the road to Damascus. Paul hated the church and was anxious to persecute and kill the Christians. Instead, Jesus performed a masterful change in his life. His eyes were opened, and he began the process of being converted.

Jesus also changed the life of Zacchaeus, who had stolen from his own people. He became a great man of God.

The good news for us today is this: what Jesus did for Zacchaeus and Paul, he can do for you and me. He can change us.

We also sometimes wonder why we act and say the things we do. At times we do not even like ourselves. Jesus tells us, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). If we abide in him Ð that is, if we will take his Word, study it, read it, let the Holy Spirit open our hearts and not resist him Ð there is no end to what can happen.

Millions of people through the years have experienced this promise. Think back to some of our church fathers, like Augustine, Calvin, and Luther. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. They were supposed to be great witnesses. But time and again he spoke crudely and did things he didn’t like. His life, however, was changed one day as he sat in his study and immersed himself in the Word of God. It is important to live with Jesus Christ in his Word on a daily basis.

We need to be in church where the Gospel of Christ is being taught. The Gospel tells us Jesus came into this world primarily to suffer and to die on a cross in order to pay the price for our sins. On the third day, he rose from the dead. We have heard this time and again, and we believe it, but do we really let him in our hearts? To really let him in means to live with him every day. It means that we take a portion of God’s Word and pour through it with him. When you do that, you will see great changes being made.

It is also important to be in a small group who meets regularly to study the Word of God. This is one of the most powerful things happening in our churches today. In a small group to which I belong, we are studying I Corinthians. God spoke to the Christians in Corinth, and he speaks to us. They had heard the gospel and mostly believed it, but it did not affect their lives much. After they allowed God to change them, they became a mighty force. They searched for solutions to the problems in their church according to Jesus’ will, not their own or out of revenge. They allowed Christ to take over.

When you allow Jesus to change you, life is very different. People notice a difference in you. Kindness prevails in your own person, and they love you for it. In the Christian Crusaders’ office, we often hear of the changes Christ has made in the lives of you, our listeners. There is no doubt, friend, that Jesus Christ is working in your lives.

Think of the times when the church did not seem to make much of an impact on our society. How does change come about? In earlier days, a community would be changed after it experienced a revival meeting. At Billy Graham’s crusades, he encouraged people to ask Christ into their hearts, and then he gave an altar call. Lives were changed, and the community was impacted.

In order for our country to be changed, we must have a gracious leader and Christian people serving in powerful positions in our state capitols and in Washington, D.C. They must be willing to say to those serving with them, We once believed change could not happen in our country. We tried everything we could to make our country stable, but we just do not have that power. Instead, we must look to a power that is greater than our own. We must look to Jesus to make those necessary changes. Only he can make it happen.

If we allow Jesus to change us as individual Christians, our churches will change, our neighborhoods will change, and our country will change. But only by letting Jesus Christ take over will it happen.

I think of a great hymn called, “Have Thine Own Way.” The lyrics go like this: “Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! Thou art the Potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will. While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

Love Came Down to Tell the Truth

Life can sometimes be confusing.

An elderly Florida resident called 911 on her cell phone to report her car had been vandalized. She hysterically explained her situation to the dispatcher: “They have stolen the stereo, the steering wheel, the brake pedal and even the accelerator!” The dispatcher told her to be calm. An officer was on his way.

A short time later the officer radioed back in. “Disregard,” he said. “She got in the back seat by mistake.” Life sometimes can be confusing in a humorous way, I suppose. Often, though, confusion causes anxiety and frustration.

A few weeks ago, my wife Julie and I visited the Holy Land. We decided to explore downtown Jerusalem one evening and had a marvelous time. However, when it was time to find our way back to the motel, we realized we were lost and absolutely confused as to what direction to go. So we asked some fellow tourists for directions, but they didn’t know. Others didn’t understand our language. Finally, we found someone who held the truth for our confusion, and pointed us back in the right direction and were therefore spared from having to spend the night walking around Jerusalem.

Confusion can be frustrating and anxiety producing. Sometimes it can even be deadly. Every once in a while, someone in our area will be going the wrong direction against traffic on the interstate, and somebody gets killed.

It is into this confusing kind of world that our Lord Jesus came and announced, as he stood before Pontius Pilate, that he came to give us the truth. He had been arrested and brought to Pilate for sentencing. In today’s text, we find some interesting things regarding life in this confusing world.

Jesus tells us that a truth exists upon which we can build our lives. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” This thought sounds foreign to our ears, which are filled with the philosophy of relativism. Our world is filled with moral uncertainty. Many no longer know what is right or wrong, and some believe it does not even exist! Everything is relative, they reason, depending upon one’s own background, life experiences, how they are feeling about things. They stumble around in moral darkness, ruining their lives and the lives of those around them in the process.

They need the truth, which our Lord Jesus came to offer us. It comes not from within us or from within the world. It comes from outside the world, and it gives meaning to our world. It is absolute and unchanging. God’s truth is the truth everyone should seek, submit to, and believe in. Jesus said he came to testify to the truth. He reveals the truth through his Word and through his actions, and that truth tells us some very basic things about ourselves.

We were created for a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We were put into this world to be children of our Heavenly Father. On our own and away from that relationship, we are hungry, lost, and stumbling in the darkness. On our own, we are enslaved to things that make our lives less than what God intended. On our own, we become fair game for Satan, the father of lies.

In his commentary on John’s Gospel, Robert Kaiser writes about this truth. He says, “If a child for some reason thinks of himself as a dog, the concerned father does all he can to correct the child’s misunderstanding of himself. God is doing nothing less in his efforts through Jesus than to demonstrate to humans that they are his creatures and dependent upon him for their existence. Anything less is a distortion.”

We sometimes have an inflated view of ourselves, thinking we’re the captains of our own destiny. We view ourselves as Godlike.

I like the old story about the two men sitting outside the psychiatrist’s office in the waiting room. One turns to the other and asks, “Why are you here?”

“I told the doctor that my name is Napoleon, so he told me to come in and visit with him about it today.”

“Who told you that you were Napoleon?”

“God told me.”

The other man responds, “I did not.”

This humorous story is laced with truth. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we think we can run our own lives. We somehow believe we are like God. Satan, in essence, said to Adam and Eve, “If you eat of that tree, you will be like God. You will be able to run your own lives.” When we buy into that, it makes everything a big mess. Jesus tells us that God did not intend for us to be lost in our own sinfulness.

God is a Father who loves us. However, he does not love our sin. In fact, he judges it. He loves us so much that he gave us his Son at Christmas. For what reason? “. . . that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

This God, who created us to be in a relationship with him, gave us his Son to pay for our sinfulness at the cross. He went out of his way to bring us back to himself. That is a Gospel truth. I was created for a relationship with God. Apart from it, I am lost.

Jesus pointed out to Pilate, as he does many times throughout the Gospel of John, that he is the truth we need for our lives: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

How can we be sure that Jesus has the truth? By his resurrection on Easter morning. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he put his stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. God the Father was saying, Jesus holds the truth. Place your trust in my Son, who is full of grace and truth. He can reveal my heart to you and my love for you.

You will find Jesus’ testimony of the truth by reading the Bible and devoting yourself to studying it. “But these are written 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). Become a disciple of Jesus who sits at his feet each day as you open up the Word. I challenge you to read through those Gospels this year and find the promises they contain. You will be enlightened by the Spirit of truth and learn the truth Jesus has for your life.

If you are searching for truth today, but have not taken a step toward Jesus, don’t be like Pontius Pilate who asked, “What is truth anyway?”, then turned his back and went about his business. He was staring at eternal truth, was eye-to-eye with it, and yet he missed out. Much is at stake here, for it is a matter of your eternal life. It is a matter of life and death. Your life is on the line. Come to Christ. Take up the gospels and read them, let Jesus testify to you. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free Ð free from the confusion that can wreck your life.

If you have been walking in the truth and trusting in Christ, take up those Gospels and keep walking with Christ. Let him testify to the truth that he has for you.

In this day and age, sometimes the darkness of the day can almost be overwhelming. We read about children being shot in classrooms, wars happening around the globe, and man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man. It sometimes feels like evil has the upper hand, and it’s winning.

We need to get back in the Gospels and walk with Christ Jesus, letting him testify to us of the truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He holds creation in the palm of his hand. He has the last word over everything. You will know the truth again, and that truth will set you free.

Growing Up

We know very little about the early years of Jesus’ life. However, the Bible does give us one scene where Jesus accompanies his parents on a trip to Jerusalem. During that trip, we see Jesus leaning toward the Word of God as he teaches some of the great theologians of his day.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth where he worked in his father’s carpenter shop. He was a typical boy as far as we can understand, except he was without sin. This is something that goes beyond our comprehension.

In today’s text, Joseph, Mary and Jesus are celebrating the festival of the Passover. Joseph and Mary traveled in groups to Jerusalem every year to celebrate that festival. This year, when Jesus was twelve years of age, he went along with them.

On the trip home, after a day’s travel, Joseph and Mary began searching for Jesus, but could not find him. So they returned to Jerusalem, and, three days later, found him in the temple talking with biblical scholars. Jesus answered the scholars’ questions, raised some of his own, and they were astounded at his knowledge of the Scriptures.

Mary asked Jesus, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you for three days.”

Jesus answered her, “Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” His desire was to be with the authorities of the Scriptures concerning matters of God. Then he joined his parents on their way back to Nazareth where he lived until he was thirty years old and was obedient to them.

This chapter gives us a bird’s eye view of Jesus’ life growing up in a Christian home. It also helps us understand how we can also raise our children in a Christian home where everything centers around Jesus.

Joseph and Mary were both children of God. Today we would call them Christians. They had a Christian marriage. It is extremely important in a Christian marriage that both the husband and wife are Christian.

While serving in the pastoral ministry, I saw a lot of marital breakups where one person was a Christian and the other was not. I would caution the couple in such a case to think twice before getting married. Quite often I would hear this answer: “I am a strong Christian, and he is not opposed to the faith. Through the years, I will make him a Christian.”

The truth is, only the Holy Spirit can make people Christians. All we can do is to surround the unbelieving spouse with the Word of God.

Raising a child in a Christian home when the spouse is not a believer is difficult. Devotions are rare and the unbelieving spouse does not pray for that child. Today’s story makes the point of telling us that Jesus came from a godly home. In order to have a godly home, it is important to marry a person who is also of the faith.

It is important to take your children to Sunday school so they can learn about Jesus, for the Holy Spirit works through this intellectual knowledge. When those children reach the age of twelve or thirteen, they need to receive confirmation instruction. Children in the church I served had three years of instruction. I taught the third-year classes, for I felt a strong responsibility to tell them about Jesus Christ Ð who he was and what the Christian faith is all about.

I encouraged those confirmands to go to one of our Bible camps where they could not only swim, play ball, and do other activities that young people like to do, but they could also study the Scriptures every morning and night. They would learn about the Christian faith and receive advice concerning their futures. Bible camps are very important to the Christian home.

It is very important to know your children’s friends. Their friends should have the same background as your family.

Know your children’s aptitudes. Perhaps the child is a strong athlete. He has an athletic build, loves the sports, and talks often with other athletes. Or perhaps your child can sing. You find the Sunday school uses their voice in their programs. Encourage your child to use that voice for the good of society so the hearts of people may be blessed.

Does your child enjoy dramatics? Not long ago, I sat with a young man who has spent much of his life teaching dramatics. When I asked him about that, he told me his parents encouraged him in this way. So he took some college courses in it, and then began to teach dramatics in the public schools. He enjoys reading great plays, watching plays, and going to the opera. His friends also enjoy music and dramatics.

Encourage your child’s talents in your family devotions. Let them know that you, as their parents, are very concerned about their interests and their plans for the future.

This type of Christian home is very important, for we live in a society where many homes are broken. Concern for the child’s faith is very minimal. Many children in our neighborhoods come from homes that do not know what the church is all about. The attitude concerning marriage is they will try it for awhile, then if it breaks down, they’ll get a divorce and try it again later. And so we have people who have tried it a third and fourth time, and what shall we do?

As a minister of the Gospel, my point is to tell you that your home will not be what it should be for your children unless Jesus Christ is at the center of it. If you are not going to Sunday school and church, if you are not talking with your children about their spiritual life, if you are not concerned about who they choose as their friends, then you don’t really have a Christian home! You may belong to the church, but you do not have a Christian home. There is a difference. You may go to church every Sunday, contribute financially and otherwise, but Jesus Christ is not at the center of your home.

We need to follow the practice of Jesus. Take your child and show him what it is to walk with the Lord. Are you helping your child develop as a child of God? Are you making him aware of the Scriptures and getting him involved with others who are also in the Word? Perhaps he will find his spouse in that particular group.

We do not know what life was like for Jesus as a child. It will be interesting to ask him more about it when we get to heaven. However, we do know that he had godly parents who raised him in the Scriptures. This story in today’s text helps us understand what life of that twelve year old, and even the twenty-five year old, named Jesus, was all about.