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.

John 10:11-15 – The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:11-15ESV

If you live in the parts of America where wolves are being reintroduced after they were wiped out by humans, then you know wolves and ranchers are always in contention. On the one hand, you have a species we drove to extinction in parts of the world that we’re now trying to do right by. The loss of the animal in the ecosystem, particularly in places like Colorado, has led to elk overpopulation and disease and a strained ecosystem not designed to support so many large, grazing mammals. On the other hand, you have ranchers, worried about the threat to their livestock represented by the reintroduction of wolves. Their livelihood is balanced on the well-being of their animals. It’s hard to ignore the concerns of a man who represents a threatened way of life in a country dependent on farming and ranching to survive.

This same dynamic of wolf, and in this case shepherd, played out in the ancient world. But shepherds didn’t have rifles and shotguns and big barns to protect their sheep. There was just the shepherd, with his staff and maybe a sling, standing between an entire herd of sheep and the wolves. And wolves are not mindless killers. They’re crafty, they’re intelligent, they’ve honed hunting down to an art in order to survive. They wait for a moment of inattention or distraction to find the weaker animal: one injured or sick or very old or very young. And they harass it, frighten it to run, to isolate itself from the rest of the flock and the protection of the shepherd. Then…the whole pack descends to bring it down.

Is this not a picture of what it is like to experience hardship in our lives? Trouble seems to pile on trouble. Conflict upon conflict. Disaster upon disaster. Your spouse gets sick, then they lose their job because they can’t work, then they lose their insurance, then the bills start to pile up, you can’t make payments and the creditors start calling, then your son or daughter starts struggling in school, then your car breaks down, then the IRS comes calling for an audit, then you start to get in trouble with your boss at work… You’re a wreck, but you don’t want anyone to know. You can’t afford counseling, even if you wanted to go. You withdraw from your friends. You’re drowning… and in the middle of it all, a traitorous voice in your head whispers:

“Where is God?”

“Why won’t He help me?”

“Surely if He’s so loving, He would do something.”

“Is this my fault? Is God punishing me?”

“If God were really there, He wouldn’t let this happen…”

“How dare He leave me like this…”

Because the wolves we face aren’t wild animals just trying to survive. The wolves who hunt us aren’t providing for their pack…they’re out to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10ESV). The wolves who hunt us are Satan and his demons, and they will do whatever they have to to separate you from the very One who can save your life: the Good Shepherd.

But our Good Shepherd is not a mortal man with a stick peering desperately into the darkness. Our Good Shepherd is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12ESV), the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6ESV), the “Strong Tower Against the Enemy” (Psalm 61:3ESV) and “God With Us” (Matthew 1:23ESV “Immanuel”). He does not become distracted, turning His eyes and attention to other things. We are the center of His focus. He lives within us, walks beside us, and carries us through every breath of our lives. He is the “Good Shepherd” whom the wolves themselves dragged down and murdered on the cross at Calvary…but they could not keep Him. Instead, He went into the den of the wolves (Hell) to announce His victory before raising from the dead so you, in all the brokenness you would know in your life, could know this one incredible truth: Jesus is ALIVE. The wolves of your life may harass you, but they cannot defeat the One who guards your eternity: Jesus.

James 2:14-17 – A Living Faith

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,”’without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:14-17ESV

When I was in high school, there was a senior named Shawn who went to my school and was also in my youth group. There are a lot of things I could tell you about Shawn after knowing him for awhile: he was good at basketball, he was funny, he was well-liked, and he was kind to everyone he met. But the thing I remember most about him is something you could know from the first time you met him: Shawn loved orange. I remember one time seeing him without any orange on and not even recognizing him at first, and I’d known him for years at that point. He must have had every type of clothing in orange. I remember even an orange pair of dress shoes and an orange suit. His backpack was orange. His wallet was orange. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him today driving an orange car and living in an orange house (regardless of resale value)! Living in Colorado, even his favorite sports team was orange (go Broncos!)

The point to all this is Shawn didn’t even have to tell people what he was passionate about. To know Shawn was to know he liked orange. You didn’t even really have to know him to pick up on that preference. It was obvious to everyone what he was about.

In James 2:14-17, it’s easy to read the words “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and hear the shattering news faith in Jesus alone is not enough for salvation. It’s easy to think this means God is still the angry judge, evaluating if we’re good enough to get through the proverbial “pearly gates.” A perspective like that brings little comfort or peace when we fall short. It’s rather like walking into class in high school and finding out the teacher is giving you an unplanned final you could never have prepared for. You could pass, but you’re pretty sure you’re going to crash and burn. After all, each of us has at least one story we’re not proud of.

Praise God, salvation still stands in Christ alone. Romans 3:23-25NLT makes that clear:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

So how do we understand the James passage in light of what Paul wrote in Romans?

Remember Shawn? It was easy to tell he loved orange. It was probably one of the first things you could know for sure about him. What James is saying, here, then, is good works are not something that gives salvation. Rather, good works, like a heartbeat and breathing point to a living body, point to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. They are a symptom of an underlying reality people can see and get a picture of what’s going on inside of us. We know and live in the incredible reality the God of the Universe loved us enough to become us and die for us and lives in us as we live in the world. Those good works are His incredible love overflowing from our souls into the world around us, bringing his scarred hands and feet into the lives of others to mend broken hearts and celebrate the truth.

Those good works come out not just in the missionary in 3rd world countries, or the pastor in the pulpit, or the believer at the soup kitchen. Those love-centered good works come out when ordinary believers live out their every day lives in love and glory to God. When you follow the speed limit driving to work. When you give your best to your family. When you do your work to the best of your ability each day (or night). When you pay your taxes. When you are kind to your waitress. When you do your homework. When parents are patient with their kids and kids respect their parents. When you smile at someone who looks like they’re hurting or even change a diaper! These are all good works.

And the best part about these good works? Philippians 2:13NLT states, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Good works are not something we can make ourselves do, but something God makes us able to do as we grow in our faith, learning to love and trust Him more and more as we know Him more and more.

  1. When you hear the term “good works” in a Christian context, what comes to mind? (For me, it’s nuns.)
  2. Why do you think the idea of doing “good works” is so intimidating to Christians?
  3. When you think of good works in the simple way described in this blog, what good works do you see God already doing through you in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each morning, before you begin your day, ask God to reveal to you how you can live out your faith in some small way that day. When the opportunity arises, go for it!