Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Greatest Work - John 6:28 - 29

"They said therefore to Him, 'What shall we do,
that we may work the works of God?'
Jesus answered and said to them,
'This is the work of God,
that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
(John 6:28-29)

Just like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he must "do" to inherit eternal salvation, we all seem to have a tendancy to want to add a bit of elbow grease to our spiritual condition. That tendancy is seen here by the response of the crowd to Christ's words regarding work.

Jesus has just challenged them with what the major focus of their labors is really aimed at in their heart of hearts - temporal things or eternal? Just the simple mention of "work" and they are suddenly stirred up to find out what they must "do" to be OK with God.

So often, particularly in the neck of the woods where I live, people seem to have a check list of what will get them into heaven. Sometimes it involves things that they do - "I give to charity, I go to church, I'm nice to animals." Sometimes it involves things that they don't do - "I don't drink, smoke or chew, nor date girls that do!"

Here, Christ gets to the crux of what "work" matters most to God and that "work" is faith in Jesus. "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Friends, it is not what you DO that will lead you to heaven for your most righteous deeds are but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and will not fit you for heaven but will doom you to hell (James 2:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). It is not what you do, it is in Whom you believe (John 3:16, John 14:6).

And just in case you find yourself thinking - "Hey, I can DO that!" Let me remind you (and myself) that even our faith in these things is grace! "For by grace you have been saved through faith: and that [faith] not of yourselves, it is the free gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." - Ephesians 2:8

Humbled at His work in me,

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Are You Working For? - John 6:27

"Do not work for the food which perishes,
but for the food that endures to eternal life,
which the Son of Man shall give to you,
for on Him the Father, even God,
has set His seal."
(John 6:27)

In looking over the next section of John 6 I had to pause for a moment on verse 27 and ask myself - "What am I working for?"

If I take an honest evaluation of my days and the way I spend them how must I honestly answer this question? How must you? Is the bulk of our time spent working for "things" that will rust and fade or on things that will last forever? Are we living and striving and giving ourselves to a house, a yard, a hobby, the computer, a career, a sport - the list could go on and on? Is the greatest investment of our time spent in passing things or on eternal things?

[As an aside, please note that we ARE to be diligent in all of our duties. Scripture speaks much about labor and the importance of it. I do need to be a good housekeeper (sorry, you'll find no excuse here for ignoring the laundry or the dishes). I do need to be concerned about putting daily bread on the table for my husband and my children because "things" do matter. God has placed us in a physical place within a physical time. BUT am I so concerned with the things of the moment that I am forsaking the things of forever? Am I doing the things of "time" while ignoring the things of "eternity'? Am I so caught up in my physical duties that I am ignoring my spiritual duties? Are the scales of my life balanced or does one far outweigh the other - for both are important?]

J.C. Ryle is very thought provoking when he writes concering the importance of our spiritual labors. He says:

"Christ would have us take pains to find food and satisfaction for our souls. We must labor in the use of all appointed means. We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure. We must wrestle earnestly in prayer like men contending with a deadly enemy for life. We must take our whole heart to the house of God and worship and hear like those who listen to the reading of a will. We must fight daily against sin, the world and the devil like those who fight for liberty, and must conquer or be slaves. This is laboring! In this, we shall have little encouragement and much opposition. We must strive, we must run, we must fight, we must throw our whole heart into our soul's affairs."

Wow! When you put it like that I have to hang my head in shame. How often do I dig for treasure, wrestle for my life, worship like an heir, and fight against my flesh like one whose whole freedom depends upon it? I am lazy. I am glad He is patient. Well, I need to go and do my dishes but I think there is some pretty important pre-washing that needs to go on in my spiritual closet first. Going to get to work!

In His glorious grace,

Friday, January 22, 2010

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night - John 6:17-21

"His disciples went down to the sea,
and after getting into a boat,
they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.
And it had already become dark,
and Jesus had not yet come to them.
And the sea began to be stirred up
because a strong wind was blowing.
When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles,
they beheld Jesus walking on the sea
and drawing near to the boat;
and they were frightened.
But He said to them, 'It is I; do not be afraid.'
They were willing therefore to receive Him into the boat;
and immediately the boat was at the land
to which they were going."
(John 6:17-21)

Have you ever found yourself in a dark, stormy, terribly frightening situation? That is where the disciples of Christ have found themselves in John 6 and their dark and stormy situation has much comfort to speak to our own.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000 + and the well-fed crowd has found itself overwhelmed by the miraculous work He has just performed. They want to make Him their king - but it is not time for His coronation so, as Christ often does, He withdraws from them. The disciples have headed out to sea and suddenly they find themselves in a bit of a pickle. Night is falling. The sea's waves are churning. Jesus is no where to be seen and the disciples are becoming a bit unsettled by the whole scenario. It was a dark and stormy night...really!

This particular story is recorded in Matthew and in Mark as well as here in John. Those two gospel accounts shed an interesting angle of light not expressed by John. Jesus MADE them get in this boat.

"And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat, and go ahead of Him to the other side...." (Matthew 14:22, Mark 6:45).

Christ "made" His disciples get into a vessel that He knew would carry them right slap dab into the middle of a frightening storm!
Friends - Christ set the stage here. He orchestrated and designed the situation. I suppose you could go as far as to say that the omnisicent and sovereign Savior set them up. However, we must remember that Christ is an all-wise, holy, and loving Lord who knows best what we need most - even storms. As we will see, this frightening situation which has been perfectly laid out and ordained according to the counsel of God's will, has a purpose - a faith increasing purpose.

Christian, what storm are you facing today? What "boat" has Christ "made" you sit in? Do you recognize God's hand in it and will you trust Him with it?

Several things prick me from John's account.

1. It appeared that they were alone in the storm. "It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them." (vs 17)

Here they are in a boat, in the dark, and in a storm. The water is churning all about them. The winds are blowing all around them. They are rowing feverishly. And they are scared stiff (see vs 17-19). Jesus MADE them get into this boat - and where is He? "OK Master - You sent us here! You put us in this vessel! Where are You?!?!" They feel alone. They feel abandoned. Where is He? Where is Jesus?!?!

Have you been there? I have. Even recently, Christ has put me in a "boat" on a churning sea and in moments of enveloping darkness and strong storm winds He "seems" to have disappeared. Job understood the feeling and his words have been my mantra many times over this past year:

"Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
and backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him."
(Job 23:8-9)

But even Christ's apparent withdrawing (note that I say apparent) is with divine purpose. As we are about to see, Christ is coming, walking on the water - right on time - as He always does! Christian, you may "feel" alone - but you never are!

2. Despite their fears and feelings, they were not alone in the storm. "When therefore they had rowed about 3 or 4 miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat." (vs 19)

The storm was fierce. They had to work hard to row against the winds and waves. Yet, here comes Jesus - walking on the water! Spurgeon once said that the things which to us are a crushing burden are to Him but a speck of dust. Here's a prime picture of that reality. Friends - Jesus is God. The crashing waves were as firm a walking spot for Christ as the sidewalk on Main Street is to me! Ryle reminds us that Christ was the Maker of the sea and that it was as easy for Him to walk on it as it was for Him to make it!

Oh dear ones, these weighty, pressing, debilitating and absolutely overwhelming things in our lives are less than feathers to Him and He will poof them away when it is time. He walks upon the storm. He walks to us on the storm. Do you trust the Maker of the storm to come to you in the storm? Too often I find myself rowing instead of resting and pouting instead of praying.

3. Thinking we are alone in the storm makes us irrational! "They beheld Jesus walking on the sea; and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened." (vs 19)

It was dark, they couldn't see Him. Their faith was weak, so weak that when He did appear to them they freaked out! How fickle and fearful we are as His disciples. "Hey Jesus - where are You? Did you bail on me?" Then He comes - not perhaps as we had assumed that He would - and we are scared stiff of Him! May God have mercy on us for our foolishness - and may we praise Him that He does. Whatever is right and true and honorable - let us think on these things rather than dwelling on the emotional irrationalities that our minds so often conjure up. Bilbically out-think your feelings and take your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.

4. Christ knows our fears and calms our frights. "But He said to them, 'It is I; do not be afraid." vs 20)

No sooner does Jesus see the fear mounting on their faces than He calms it and settles them - just as He calmed the waves and settled his disciples onto the dry ground. Oh, He knows our frailties. He knows we are but dust. He knows we are weak and faltering and foolish, faithless sheep - and He loves us anyway.

Ryle sums the whole scenario up well when he writes:

"Let all true Christians take comfort in the thought that their Savior is Lord of waves and winds, of storms and tempests, and can come to them in the darkest hour, walking upon the sea. There are waves of trouble far heavier than any on the Lake of Galilee. There are days of darkness which try the faith of the holiest Christian. But let us never despair if Christ is our Friend. He can come to our aid in an hour when we think not and in ways that we would not expect. And when He comes, all will be calm."

Hold on storm tossed one - knowing that He holds on to you. It may be a dark and stormy night, you may be fearful, you may even be irrational, but the King of all creation is coming to calm you and He is coming right on time.

Safe in the storm,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seeking Our Own Glory, Sitting on Our Toy Box - John 5:44

"How can you believe,
when you receive glory from one another,
and you do not seek the glory that is from
the one and only God."
(John 5:44)

Doubt and unbelief. They abound. They surround us. They fill the unregenerate world and at times they even invade the regenerate heart and mind. I know - I tend to be a doubter at times. Perhaps that is why verse 44 struck me so much this morning. It seems to strike at the root of our doubts and unbelief - that root is selfishness and pride.

Christ is speaking to a group of unbelieving Jews in this passage. He has just challenged them with the fact that they "search the Scriptures, because [they] think that in them [they] have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and yet [they] are unwilling to come to Me, that [they] may have eternal life."

Three verses later He is still pressing them with the heart of the matter. Christ, the long awaited Messiah, has come - and they don't want Him!! Why? Verse 44 gives us the answer. They are seeking their own glory not God's!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the profound question "What is the chief end of man?" In today's terms it might be asked this way - what is my purpose? Why am I here?

The answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." I am here to glorify God and to enjoy Him! I am here for Him. He is not here for me as some divine genie in a bottle.

"Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." I go back to that succinct statement regarding the purpose of my life time and time again. I go back to it because I need to be reminded. I seem incredibly prone to seek my own glory above Christ's. Perhaps that is why I struggle with recurring doubts.

Verse 44 pricked me. It has made me ask "If I am really, really honest what do I most desire - God's glory or my own?"

From day to day that answer changes. Some days I really do desire His glory above my own. On other days I pick up the idol of "me" and bow down before it saying: "Hey God, I think I'll do it my way today. I'll check back with you tomorrow if I feel like it." It is on those days that I fall - and usually fall hard.

J.C. Ryle was poignant in his comments on this verse. He writes:

"As long as there is anything a man is secretly loving more than God, there will be no true faith. The man may be puzzled and wonder why he does not believe. He does not see that he is like a child sitting on the lid of his toy box, wishing to open it, but not considering that his own weight keeps it shut."

Hmmm - how often do I not receive the fullness of the gifts that have been given me in Christ because I'm sitting on the "lid" rather than resting in His lap. Oh - how I need His mercy to help me abide in Him and seek His will, His way, and His glory more than my own.

Praying for grace to get off the lid,

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Bad Case of Don't Wanna (John 5:40)

"And you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life."
(John 5:40)

People are full of excuses. To be perfectly honest, I'm full of excuses! You know, I spent quite a few years of my life making up excuses for not coming to Christ. I was a radical unbeliever for a period of several years. People told me about Jesus and challenged me to put my faith in Him. I regularly and often quite rudely turned them down. I said I didn't come to Him because He could not be. "God is illogical. Christ as the divine Savior is impossible. Me as a guilty sinner - that's irrelevant! I'm too smart to buy into that religious stuff!" Truth is I didn't come to Him because I didn't want Him, didn't like Him, couldn't stand Him! Truth is - that is what is at the heart of all of our unbelief - a bad case of don't want to!

John 5:40 drives that fact home : And you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life. While we may encounter tons and tons of excuses from our unbelieving friends as to why they cannot join us in our faith journey, the bottom line is this - they don't WANT to join us in our faith journey!

Christ costs! He costs us "us" and we love "us"way more than we love Him! The natural trinity that we all worship is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. Christ calls us to abandon this selfishly created triune deity and fall fully and freely upon Him as our only Lord and Savior. He calls us to die to self and live to Him and for the natural man that pill is just too hard to swallow.

Oh, let us pray more for the Spirit of God to move the hearts of our unbelieving friends to see sin for what it is and Christ for who He is. It's not so much a lack of evidence (there is much clear and reasonable evidence in Creation and in the Word). Instead of a lack of evidence, it is a lack of desire. The problem is not too much intellect, the problem is too much sin.

The natural man is unwilling - I once was. Praise Christ for the sovereign grace by which He changed my heart and made me want Him more than I wanted me!

Lord, recreate us, make us new, make us willing!

In His glorious grace,


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do You Wish to Get Well? - John 5:1-9

"And a certain man was there,
who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
When Jesus saw him lying there,
and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition,
He said to him, 'Do you wish to get well?'
The sick man answered Him,
'Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up,
but while I am coming, another steps down before me.'
Jesus said to him, 'Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.'
And immediately, the man became well,
and took up his pallet and began to walk."
(John 5:6-9)

Coming off of the heels of seeing the mysterious mercy that weaves its way through great affliction we here find another suffering character described by John's pen. Jesus has come to the pool of Bethesda and there He finds a man who has been in desperate straits for 38 years. 38 years!! This is one who has known suffering and suffering has owned him!

What particularly grabs my attention this morning is verse 6 and what it tells us about Jesus. Jesus SAW this man and Jesus KNEW what he had suffered. Not only that, but Jesus was about to DO something about it.

This is a man who had been neglected and overlooked and laughed at and scorned and ignored and ridiculed for years. He was a forgotten cripple, an outcast, a piece of garbage to the busy world. He was passed by on the streets. He was passed by with their feet and in their minds. No one cared to help him. He was despised by the multitudes but he was NOT despised by Christ! Mark it well, dear one - Christ treasures that which the world trashes!!

'Do you wish to get well?' the Savior asks. 'Well, sure - but how? No one will help me at all. No one! What am I to do?'

What is he to do? Well, Jesus tells him to "arise, take up your pallet and walk.' And miracle of miracles, that is just what he did - he got up and walked!!

This is our Savior! This is our Lord and Master! Here is the merciful and compassionate Friend of sinners! Here is our hope and consolation! Here is our ever seeing, ever knowing, ever acting God! In some way are you crippled this day? Has the world despised and forsaken you? Have you despised and forsaken yourself? Jesus will not, has not and can not! If He is your Savior and Lord He will never leave you nor forsake you and He will make all things beautiful in his time. "Let us remember that Christ sees and knows and can heal if He thinks fit." (Ryle)

"Do you wish to get well?" Do you wish to walk past the excuses that have held you captive for years? Then look unto Jesus and in His strength and power and might take up your pallet and walk!

In His glorious grace,