John 1:35-42 – Your Simons…

John 1:35-42 – Your Simons…

 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’ When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. Jesus looked around and saw them following. ‘What do you want?’ he asked them. They replied, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’Come and see,’ he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’). Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, ‘Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas’ (which means “Peter”).” – John 1:35-42NLT

Every year at our high school lock-in, we head out, while it’s still dark, for Table Mountain. As the sky is just starting to lighten, we head up the east face of the mountain, winding our way above the tree line in the crisp morning air. About halfway up, we stop to watch the sun rise over the Greater Denver Area. The lakes and ponds are like glass, the city is silhouetted against the orange streak of sunrise, there are wisps of mist settled in the dips and valleys of the rolling landscape. You begin to hear the sound of car horns and trains moving through the dawn, overlaid by the nearby twitter of birds. Its beautiful…and its profound.

Standing there, watching God’s beauty in creation and the sound of Denver coming to life, we talk about how we are called to that city and the people in it. Called by God to be about His work in our community, that the world will know Jesus.

What a daunting thought. As of 2019, there were over 7.7 billion people in the world (World Population Review). As of 2010, only 31% of the world was Christian, at best (Chappell, 2015). If you narrow that just to look at the Greater Denver Area, there are 3.15 million people (Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, 2019). Of that population, approximately 60% claim to be a part of the Christian faith, though the amount of people who also say that are active in their faith is significantly lower (Pew Research Forum, 2014). And here we are, this little band of believers on a hillside, overlooking a living city, full of people who don’t know Jesus…charged with bringing His truth to the world every day.

That task is immense…impossible…right?

As I read through John 1:35-42, I’m struck by a little piece of this passage, represented by verse 41NLT, “Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’).” Simon…whom Jesus would rename “Peter” in Matthew 16:18 and charge to lead the disciples as they shared the love of Jesus with their world.

What a pivotal moment. What a critical decision by Andrew. He told Just. One. Person. Yet this one man would lead a movement that would go from a hated, persecuted, brutalized, and murdered little sect of Judaism in a despised corner of the Roman Empire… to a recognized faith in the Roman Empire by the early 300sAD.

I want to reiterate that. Andrew told one man about Jesus…and how many came to a saving relationship with Jesus because of that one conversation?

What I’m saying is God has called us, His Church, to reach the world. But you, individual Christian, are called to bring Him to the hand-full of people who move within the sphere of your everyday life. They may be coworkers or bank tellers or coffee baristas or janitors or disc golfers or CrossFitters or homeless people or preschoolers. They may look like the greatest or the least, but they are all those for whom Christ died, and among them you have significant, little relationships that God may want to use to help one man or woman to know their Jesus… just as they are fully known.

So yes…pray for the world, but live for Christ with your everyday Simons…knowing that if God could turn five loaves and two fish into a meal for 15,000, He can use one person’s salvation to bring salvation for millions.

  1. What is most intimidating for you when you consider sharing your faith with people you know?
  2. Why is it so difficult for you to talk about your faith with others?
  3. How do you feel when you consider that God has called you to love the people in your life enough to tell them about Jesus?
  4. Challenge for the week: Make a list of all the people you have a relationship with who are not believers. As you look at the list, think about who do you have a particularly good relationship with or could have a particularly good relationship with. When you found one or two people, begin to actively pray for God to guide you in guiding them to Christ.
1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 5:6-11NIV

According to a 2015 survey of 6000 people, the number one priority in a relationship is honesty, with a whopping 70% saying it is the most important aspect of a relationship (Croce, 2015). More than anything, we want to know the truth about where we’re at with the people we value most, even if that truth is painful or takes some getting used to.

It explains why so many people today are done with the institutions in our country. We sense, often rightly, we’re being sold something, but we aren’t necessarily sure what is really being sold. We’re afraid to commit to anything because we’ve been so often disappointed by false or misleading advertising. As the adage says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” We long to connect with people and institutions who genuinely care about us, not just what we have to offer or what the other party can get out of us…but we’re skeptical anyone really is offering that kind of relationship. Even Christianity is more and more viewed as a group selling morality but not delivering.

In this passage, Peter is writing to fellow Christians during a time when Emperor Nero, the leader of the Roman Empire, is absolutely butchering Christians. One of the more well-known ways Christians were killed was by putting a group of them in the Colosseum and then releasing into their midst half-starved lions. The crowds would watch as they were hunted and ripped apart before their eyes.

It is interesting Peter describes Satan as a lion prowling about, looking for someone to devour. The implication is, as great as the threat of persecution for the Christian is, the threat of the spiritual attacks of Satan is just as great. He can also rip us apart…in soul-deep ways.

Does Peter go on to say, “But no worries…it’ll be fine”?

No…no he doesn’t. In fact, he goes on to write they will, in fact, suffer at the hands of Satan during their life here on earth. He doesn’t sugar-coat it. He. Is. Honest.

That means God’s priority in His relationship with us is exactly what we’re hungry for: honesty. He guided the writers of the books of the Bible to be completely honest with what the cost of following Him will be. He doesn’t try to make it look prettier or easier than it really will be. He doesn’t dismiss the struggle.

He points it out. Right up front.

In my book…that’s a trustworthy God. And if He’s honest about the suffering, then we can trust He’s honest about the promise, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

  1. How has your trust been betrayed by misleading promises?
  2. Why do you find it hard to trust what you hear in scripture?
  3. How is God’s honesty about the struggle helpful in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, keep track of struggles you’ve faced related trying to be faithful to Christ. Ask God to give you strength to stand firm in Him.

References

Croce, M. (2015, September 1). Forget sex, the secret to a good relationship is communication. Daily Record. Retrieved from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/family-relationships/forget-sex-secret-good-relationship-6357824

Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 1:15-20ESV

Truth…how can we even know it in our world? Since the revelation of how prevalent and deep-running “fake news” is, every time I read an article or watch a snippet of news…I feel the worm of doubt eating its way through the back of my mind, unless the news report is on rescued kittens or the latest outfit a female royal wore to a high-profile event. It’s gotten to the point where, unless I actually read the transcript of the entire conversation being reported on, I nearly wholly doubt the truth of what is being reported. The biases are so obvious, even in the most respected sources of world news…how can I even know for sure what is really happening unless I witness it myself? I find myself asking:

“What is true?”

And in so doing, I echo the question an incredulous Pontius Pilate posited to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38ESV). Ironically enough, in a world where we celebrate “You do you” truth, where truth’s parameters are defined subjectively by the individual without any necessary application to anyone else… we hunger for somewhere strong to stand. We want the things we believe in to not just be our arbitrary stances but to have good reasons for us to believe them. We want to know we are doing well, even if we don’t agree what that looks like. We want our lives to have meaning, not just a chasing after the whims of the moment. When we stand at the end of our lives, we want to look back and say, “Man…what a good ride.”

Interestingly, it seems as though we stand in a world similar to the one in which Pontius Pilate first placed his question before Jesus. A preoccupation with gladiatorial violence and love of dangerous chariot races doesn’t seem that different from some of the reality shows and popular sports we see today. People want their shows to be more and more realistic, barring no content in the pursuit of “authenticity”. Paganism, central to Roman culture, is the on the rise in the United States. Extremely lose parameters on sex and sexuality were common in Rome (at least for men), and we see those same parameters sliding away for men and women today. Political unrest and dissidence are shared between ancient Rome and the modern United States, including a general skepticism of the reliability of political entities. I’m sure a more informed historian could draw even deeper parallels.

So we ask, ‘What is truth?” as Pontius Pilate did two thousand years ago…and shrug.

But the question is: what did Jesus say that drove Pontius to ask this heart-deep question?

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37ESV).

You see…Jesus is the source of truth we are hungry for.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus to:

  • receive “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” – v. 17
  • have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened” v. 18
  • know what is the hope to which he has called you” – v. 18

If you look at the bolded words in this passage, all of them have to do with someone coming to know something in deep, life-changing ways. The Spirit referenced in verse 17 is the Spirit of God, whose whole job is to help us know and understand God’s voice and will. To have your heart’s eyes enlightened is to have them come to see the world through the eyes and love of God so you desire what He desires. To know God’s hope is to know the hope revealed in Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the Devil when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

You see, in a world where everything seems suspicious and uncertain, fearful and dangerous and hopeless…Jesus gave Himself so we could know truth. The kind of truth immune to the twisted words and judgment of this life. The kind of truth that never buckles under scrutiny. The kind of truth we can turn to when we are pounded with lie after lie. The kind of truth we can stand firm on when everything else is stripped away.

And He is not a truth buried in mystery that we have to hunt down. He is truth revealed. Revealed freely out of love for us.

  • When you look at our culture today, what discourages you?
  • When you try to define what is true, how hard is it for you to do so? Why?
  • Do you sense the desire for firm truth in our culture, even as we reject it? Where?
  • Challenge for the Week: If Jesus is the truth, then His words shape reality. Review His words in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and ask God to guide you to live into His truth this week. Pray this prayer every morning.

 

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-20ESV

For most of my life, I’ve been intrigued by this idea that we are ambassadors for God to our world. It started in high school, when I was studying up to lead a Bible study for the middle school students at my church, and found the connection between the concept of being a disciple and being an ambassador. It was a connection point for me that really clarified my purpose here as a follower of Christ. I suppose, in a way, it’s sort of been a vision around which I’ve desired to live my life. Whether I’ve done so successfully or not is a book for another day, but suffice it to say…I think there is huge significance in this idea we are ambassadors of Christ.

You see…ambassador implies a role in the kingdom…a critical purpose. Though we are citizens, we are not merely citizens. Under a good monarchy, a citizen’s job is merely to work the land, give money for the good of the kingdom, follow the laws, and perhaps help stand against invasion in extreme circumstances. If this were merely our role in the Kingdom of God, our job here on earth would be merely to persist as believers until we die, attending church and Bible studies regularly, tithing to the church’s work, being “good Christians”, and perhaps taking a quiet stand against cultural values which violate our faith.

Yet, we are not merely citizens. We are ambassadors. Ambassadors do not just live off the fat of the land. They know the desires and mind of the king intimately and thoroughly. They have the best interests of the kingdom at heart…and they are sent into the stronghold of the enemy. As soon as they cross the border into the enemy kingdom, their every action no longer represents them personally, it represents the kingdom, and in particular, the king who has sent them. When they speak, it is their king’s words. When they act, it is their king’s will. They go into the enemy kingdom, not for their own interests, but the interests of the king and kingdom from which they come. If they are rejected by the enemy kingdom, that is a rejection of their king. If the ambassador is abused and killed, it is viewed as an attack on the king, himself. In a good kingdom, the ambassador goes to the enemy to pursue peace between the nations, utilizing resources that don’t belong to the ambassador but are a gift from the king.

This is our life in Christ, here on this earth.

We, knowing the heart and mind of God for the salvation of all people, step into enemy territory for all the days given us. And people know Christ through knowing us. If we are merciful, if we are loving, if we are honest…people believe Christ is these things. If we are judgmental and cruel and self-righteous…people believe Christ is these things. We come extending God’s reconciliation with mankind, and at times we are rejected, abused…even killed for the words and actions the King has commissioned us to share. We do all this with the gifts and blessings God has given us, in the way He has equipped us to do so. And when we die to this world…it is not a death to existence, but a triumphant return to the King and Kingdom to which we have always belonged but have long been away from.

And someday…the True King will finally and totally bring peace. The King will bring His kingdom here. And we will be with Him, to see His work fulfilled at last.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, your life was not bought with the blood of God to be merely a citizen, though that is what you are by God’s power. You are called to be more! You are gifted to be more! You are crafted to speak the words of the King to a world at war. To bring the Peace of God to our shattered world. Now, more than ever, be courageous in small and huge ways. Breathe life into a dying world through the love and grace of Jesus. Dare to bring a picture of what His kingdom is like, today, to the sphere in which you live.

You are an ambassador. And your King is good.

  • How do you feel seeing yourself as an ambassador, not just a citizen, of God’s kingdom?
  • What is one thing in your life that is holding you back from living into your role as ambassador?
  • Where is one area in your life you are feeling the tug to be an ambassador in a more intentional way?
  • Challenge for the week: Find one moment to be an ambassador in a small way. Do it and share with a Christian mentor how it went, “good” or “bad”. Make sure you learn something and then try it again.

John 14:6 – Jesus’ Truth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6ESV

When I was young, I remember going to the local butterfly habitat with a group of kids. I vividly remember getting up the courage to pet a tarantula (it’s legs felt like kitten fur!), flicking lights on an off in a scorpion habitat because the scorpions could glow-in-the-dark, and entering the giant, butterfly room. There were butterflies everywhere, of every color. They even landed on people as they walked among the verdant flowers and plants.

Unfortunately, as clear as these memories are, there is one even clearer that ended up defining the trip for me. This was the time of the “Beanie Baby” craze, and in the gift shop they had a stuffed bee that looked a lot like a “Beanie Baby”. I wanted it desperately…but I didn’t have the money to purchase it. So, when it was time to leave, I reluctantly put it back on the shelf and headed out with the rest of the group. While we were eating outside, our leader came around and was checking everyone’s bags, so when she got to the friend I had gone through the exhibit with, I said jokingly, “What? You think we stole something?”

When the bag opened…to my horror, there sat the very stuffed bee I had wanted so much. And my supposed friend accused me of putting it there while she was in the bathroom. Over my protests, our leader made us both return the bee and apologize for stealing it. It was one of the most humiliating, and unjust, experiences of my childhood.

Experiences like this can end up defining a person. When we are treated poorly, when we suffer because people cannot be honest and decent to others, we start to believe everyone is that way. When a husband or father leaves, when a mother or wife is abusive, when a boss pushes us to lie to make the sale, when a teacher clearly plays favorites, when friends betray our confidences…we start to believe we can only trust ourselves.

Sometimes…perhaps more than sometimes…we even look at God that way. When the world is so dark, when there is so much hardship we have to endure… it is easy to lose trust in God.

Yet Jesus insists He is quite the opposite of the lack of honesty and decency we see in the world. Instead of being out to trick us, He insists, “I am…the truth.” He is the embodiment of all that is true. It is His very nature. In a world where we are constantly overwhelmed by lies, even from inside our own heads, we can look to Jesus for honesty and guidance. We can rely on Him to be consistent when no one and nothing else is. We can find direction and hope in a world that seems to empty of both.

Let the voice of Jesus cut through the garbage this world and Satan throws at you…and be set free by the Truth.

  1. What untruths do you see portrayed as truth in our culture?
  2. What are some untruths you find yourself believing about yourself?
  3. Why are those untruths so hard for you to shake?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Read this compilation of who God says you are by bible.org. Write down a few that really speak into your heart on a notecard. Put it in your wallet in front of your credit card so every time you spend money, you are reminded of the Truth about you from God.