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Archive for John

Mar
09

Bread that Satisfies:: 4

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They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.” Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:30-40, NLT)

The final question the multitude asked Jesus revealed their unbelief. In so many words, they were asking for Jesus to prove his claims. “Show us a sign” was a common demand placed upon Jesus in the Gospels by unbelievers. We read of it here from the multitude, and later we read of the same request made by the Pharisees and the leaders of Rome. Why didn’t Jesus grant this request? It seems logical that if Jesus would have performed two or three basic miracles that the people would have responded and believed. But Jesus didn’t give in to their request. Why not?

Generally speaking, miracles in the Bible were done for those who already believed. The reason, I think, is that miracles in the face of unbelief actually hardens the heart. Think back to the Exodus account where Moses stood before Pharaoh. On ten different occasions Moses performed signs (the plagues) before the Egyptian leader and his people. With each successive miracle the Bible reports that Pharaoh’s heart grew increasingly hard. In other words, if a person is mired in unbelief, they are not prone to respond to miracles with belief. Think about it…if miracles could change unbelieving hearts the mission would have been accomplished by now! God would be showering the world with miracles.

So what impacts the unbelieving heart? I think the greatest response we can make to the unbelieving multitude is the response that Jesus gave. He loved them. Love is the quality that ultimately proves to be irresistible to a skeptical world. Sometimes people don’t immediately respond to love. In fact, if you read the end of John 6 you’ll discover that the multitude was dissatisfied with each of Jesus’ responses, and that they turned away to follow no more. But that didn’t stop Jesus. He continued to love them all the way to the cross and beyond. And so should we.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
08

Bread that Satisfies:: 3

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They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29, NLT).

The first question the multitude asked Jesus revealed their materialism. The second question exposed their self sufficiency. When the crowd asked about the kind of works they could do to receive the seal of God’s approval, in so many words they were expressing their desire to possess a dynamic faith minus a functional Savior. It was as if they were saying, “Jesus, we don’t need you. We believe we can gain God’s approval on our own.” They were looking for works to do, as though favor from God could be earned by completing a secret formula. Jesus’ response was and remains clear. It’s not about works that we can do (cf. Titus 3:5). In fact, there’s only one work that can be done, that being the work of belief.

It’s interesting to me how human nature prefers the works of self effort to the simple work of belief. That preference transcends all cultures and is witnessed in both genders among people of every age category. Even those in an Eastern culture that antedates the industrial revolution had a “pull myself up by my own bootstraps” kind of thing going for them. Their esteem for Jesus was so marginal they actually believed that if He could do it, so could they. How grossly underestimated was that?!

Those who desire to get to God on their own without Christ have two things at work. One, they overestimate their own goodness. But the other thing, which I think is more troubling, is that they underestimate the surpassing value of Jesus, including all that He is and all that He has done. And its not just those outside of faith. The same challenge can torment those who have been in faith, even for a long time. Some things never change, but the changeless truth of the gospel is that we enter through belief. Tomorrow I’ll conclude this theme and finish with the next question, which is really more of an accusation. Thanks for following along with me this week!

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
06

Bread that Satisfies:: 2

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The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval” (John 6:22-27, NLT).

When the multitude that experienced the miracle of the loaves and fish realized that Jesus has slipped away they began a frantic search for him. Evidently they were captivated enough with the miracle they were willing to expend a little energy to chase him down. When they located him on the other side of the lake, they asked, “When did you get here?” That doesn’t give the sense of what they are really conveying, but Jesus’ answer more than covers it. Jesus discerned that the reason the people followed him across the lake was because Jesus had fed them. They had not reflected on the spiritual significance of the miracle they had experienced. Material bread perishes and ultimately does not satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

One would think that we Americans would have already learned that lesson about stuff. But we continue, as a rule, to seek fulfillment and gratification from material things. We are too quick to respond to the siren call of advertisers. Even though we lost (and in many cases lost big) during the economic downturn back in 2009, we continue to define ourselves by what we have and seek to enrich our lives through possessions that fail time and time again to deliver what they promise.

If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, take some time to reflect on why you follow. Is it because you’re captivated by his life and mission? Or is it because you’re hoping that he may possibly flip you a fish sandwich?

I’m on the road home from Chicago tomorrow, but Thursday look for me to post some thoughts on the second question posed to Jesus from those who chased him across land and sea.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
05

Bread That Satisfies

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Growing up, my mother always made sure we had bread on the table with every meal. Most of the time it was simply four or five slices of store bought white bread neatly stacked on a small plate that was placed on the table along with all of the other dishes. She has kept this practice all of my life for each of the three daily meals she prepared. Bread communicates a simple necessity, which is perhaps why that constant image is etched in my memory.

Through the years my wife and I have tried to make healthier choices regarding bread. We exchanged white bread for wheat bread, only to discover that wheat bread is in many instances no better than white bread. We then transitioned into 100% whole wheat bread. I don’t mind it, although I still prefer that my bread group consist of pie crust or brownies. but I digress. Bread is important to our family. We’ll even make an occasional restaurant choice based upon the bread they serve. We like bread. Most people, I think, agree.

One of the metaphors that Jesus used to describe his purpose was “Bread of Life” (John 6:30ff). But before I delve into that I think it would be helpful to set the backdrop beginning with verse one of the sixth chapter. John 6 begins with the story of Jesus teaching the multitude and feeding them with the loaves and fish. After performing that miracle, Jesus sent the twelve across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while he went to pray. While in the middle of the Sea a storm popped up and the desperate disciples were on the Sea rowing against the wind and the waves. Jesus came to them, walking on the water, and when He got into the boat all was calm and together they reached the other side. Feeding the multitude with a little boy’s lunch then walking on water represented a pretty big day’s work, even for Jesus.

The story continues to the next day as the multitude that Jesus fed the day before found Jesus after a frantic search. Evidently they were hungry again, which establishes the very point Jesus was about to make.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
01

I AM

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When the reluctant Moses stood at the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3) trying to wiggle out of God’s call to return to Egypt to emancipate the people of God, he asked God a remarkable question. “What is your name?” he inquired. That seems like an odd thing to ask. Did Moses not know God that well? Was he stalling? Or was he looking for something else? Names are important to us. I can remember the endless hours Lisa and I spent trying to pick the right name for each of our children. Names give a sense of permanence.

Names can also be descriptive. Bible characters have fascinating names, and more often than not, their names are a pretty good fit. Come to think of it, I’ve never known a blonde named “Rusty.” As I think about it though, I believe the most important thing about names is that they convey reality. A person’s name makes them tangible beings in our world. There’s a difference between “that guy” and “Tim.” Perhaps this is what Moses was looking for. Maybe he wanted to know if God was personal and tangible…vested in the world He created.

God’s response to Moses’ question? “I AM THAT I AM.” When God described himself as the “I AM,” He was letting Moses know that He was real, personal, tangible, and ever present. Not only that, He wanted Moses to know that He was fully self sufficient and without need. God needs nothing outside himself to exist.

There are seven times in the Gospel of John where Jesus referred to himself as “I AM.” This is not accidental or incidental. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He referred to Himself as the “I AM,” and so did His hearers. During these weeks that lead up to Easter, I’m going to preach a series of sermons on these seven statements from John. My goal is to convey that Jesus is the Jesus of our present reality, tangibly vested in our lives and completely able to satisfy the longings of our hearts. Last weekend our youth handled the first one where Jesus declared “I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12-20). Here is the rest of the series:

March 4: “I AM the Bread of Life” (John 6:35-40)
March 11: “I AM the Gate” (John 10:1-10)
March 18: “I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18)
March 25: “I AM the True Vine” (John 15:1-7)
April 1: “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:1-14)
April 8: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:17-27)

If you live in central Iowa, I’d like to invite you to join us for worship each Sunday at 9:30 am. If not, check in each week and you’ll find some reflections from each of these messages posted here at this site.

Categories : Gospel, Jesus, John, Lent, Moses
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The disciples were overwhelmed by the storm that raged around them. What did they do that helped them through their challenge?

First, the disciples saw Jesus. John 6:19 says, “They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat” (NLT). I don’t know that they were looking for Jesus, but they saw him nonetheless. Have you taken time to look for Jesus in the midst of your storm? Jesus not only came to them, he came to them walking on the waves. In Ephesians 1:21-22, Paul reminds his readers that the Father has given Jesus authority over all things, and has placed them “under his feet.” The very threat that loomed over the heads of the disciples was already under the feet of Jesus. This is why its important to see Jesus in your storm: what ever threatens your life today is already under the feet of Jesus.

Not only did they see Jesus, they heard Jesus speak to them from the midst of the storm. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Don’t be afraid” (John 6:20, NLT). The Bible is filled with that kind of strong encouragement. In fact, one person has counted the “Do not fears” in the Bible and has tabulated 365 occurances…one for every day of the year! The problem with fear is that whatever you fear becomes your self imposed limitation. If you’re afraid of heights, you stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you stay dry. If you’re afraid of snakes, you stay indoors. Jesus first words to the tossed and tormented twelve were appropriately designed to loosen the grip of fear on their hearts.

The second word that Jesus spoke to them was, “I am here” (John 6:20, NLT). Literally in the Greek, this phrase is, “I AM!” “I AM” takes us back to the book of Exodus, reminding us of God’s self disclosure of his name to Moses at the burning bush. Moses asked, “What is your name?” God replied, “I AM than I AM.” The name “I AM” reminds disciples of all generations that God is the self existent one, independent of his creation, without need or weakness. He is above the storms of life because he is above all the universe. He has no need and he hears no threat.

The disciples saw Jesus and heard Jesus, then trusted Jesus and invited him into the boat. The story concludes with verse 21, which says, “Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!” It’s good to see and hear Jesus, but you also need to invite him into your boat! It wasn’t until Jesus came into the problem that he resolved it. Could Jesus have calmed the storm from the water? Of course! But he identified with the twelve and participated in their struggle first.

John Ortberg, one of my favorite authors, wrote, “Peace does not come from the absence of storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.” I think that quote is telling, because many times we aren’t as interested in having Jesus on board as we are having the storm go away. Jesus got in the boat first, then calmed the storm.

My good friend Cliff Jenkins always says to his congregation, “Everyone is either coming out of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or headed into a storm.” I think he’s right. Wherever you find yourself today on that spectrum, remember the simple responses of the disciples who demonstrate how you can respond to your next challenge.

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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Sep
26

iBelieve: When I am in Despair

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Have you ever been in a bad storm? When I was a kid, I can remember one particular night, huddled with my family around our console television trying to get weather information about the storm that raged outside. This, of course, antedated things like cable TV or doppler radar. As we watched the flickering images on the screen, my dad rose from his chair and said, “There’s a tornado!” I quickly looked out the window, wondering how he could know that since it was pitch black. Suddenly the house began to quiver and I could hear the roar of the twister. “Head to the basement,” was an unnecessary command as my family moved downstairs to the southwest corner as quickly as possible. The house trembled, the lights went out, then it was over. The power quickly came back on and we went upstairs to survey possible damage to our house.

The fifth miracle recorded in the Gospel of John tells the story of a storm that swept over the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. The story begins in verse 16, where the Bible says, “That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough.”

The New Testament talks a lot about “storms,” which serve as a good analogy for the struggles we experience in life. In the verses above, the Bible reports that it was dark which would have made it hard to see. The wind was strong, producing all kinds of external pressure on the disciples who were huddled together in that small wooden vessel. The rough waters would have made it difficult to stand or find balance, and I’m sure even these experienced fishermen felt more than a twinge of anxiety as the water lapped over the sides of the boat. The next verse also shares that they had rowed three or four miles. I think that effort would have felt futile as they wondered if they were simple going in circles.

You may be in a storm at sea, but you can identify with the despair that the disciples felt in our story. Your storm may take place every week when you sit down with your check book and your bills and try to make ends meet. It could be that your rough waters are relational, as you hope that your marriage commitment is strong enough to withstand challenging times. Perhaps your strong turbulence is related to your job, as you anxiously open your Outlook fearing news of lay offs.

We understand storms, and we understand despair. What did Jesus do for the disciples in the midst of their storm? What can we learn from this storm story that we can apply to our lives? Tomorrow I’ll post the rest of the story.

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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The disciple’s response to their present opportunity to meet significant human need was anemic and short sighted. From their own human reasoning, they “put a pencil to it” and “took inventory,” only to discover that their resources were inadequate. They were operating from an economy of scarcity. Jesus, who was always patient with their progress on a sometimes steep learning curve, demonstrated for them how to respond to big time opportunities.

John 6:10-13 continues the story, “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves (NLT).

All the disciples could envision was scarcity and inadequacy. The good news of the gospel is that God is abundant! Jesus took the simple lunch from a small boy and blessed it, broke it, and distributed it. The result? Everyone ate until they were satisfied and 12 baskets of scraps were left over.

Like you, I have a couple of pet peeves. (If you talk to my wife she’ll argue that I’ve surpassed two, but that’s another story!) Every time I hear someone say, “God won’t ask you to do more than you can handle,” I want to cringe. Think about it for a minute. Isn’t that the point of God? Isn’t God in the business of putting us in situations and circumstances that are beyond our own resources and capacities in order to demonstrate His power and glory?

When God wanted to start a new nation through which he could bless the world, where did He begin? He took two centurions, Abraham and Sarah, and told them they would have a child.

When God wanted to deliver two and a half million Israelite slaves from the oppressive servitude of Pharaoh, to whom did he turn for a deliverer? An 80 year old man named Moses.

When God desired to deliver his people from their enemies in Philistia, led by a 9’6” giant named Goliath, who did He call? A 5’9” 17 year old wet behind the ears harp strummer with nothing in his arsenal but a sling shot.

Of course God calls us to do more than we are capable of! The story of the Bible, in part, is a story of a God who calls the incompetent and incapable to do impossible things through divine enablement so that the name of God is enlarged.

Don’t let your inadequacy become an excuse. God is abundant!

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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How should we respond to those opportunities that interrupt us? The disciple’s initial response was similar to the way many respond today.

“Philip replied, ‘Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them’” (John 6:7, NLT). In today’s language, Philip would have said, “I’ve sharpened the pencil on this, and we can’t afford it.” Some translations specify the amount Philip had in mind, 200 day’s wages, or about eight months salary. He simply couldn’t wrap his mind around what it would take to feed the multitude. The disciple’s personal resources were inadequate to meet the need.

The next verse details another common response. “Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. ‘There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd’?” (John 6:8-9, NLT) In other words, Andrew had taken an inventory of existing resources, only to discover that the people didn’t have enough to feed themselves. The crowd’s resources were also inadequate to meet the need.

Sharpen the pencil! Take an inventory! While the disciples earned an “A” in Business Administration, they received an “F” for faith. Although they felt inadequate when the opportunity to meet a need presented itself to them, who said they had to be?

Tomorrow I’ll post Jesus’ response to the disciples inadequacy and how He demonstrated the way to respond to the opportunities that interrupt our lives.

Categories : Belief, Faith, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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Sep
19

iBelieve: When I Feel Inadequate

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Last week our nation paused to honor the memory of September 11, 2001. As part of the remembrance, the National Geographic Channel produced a special series of interviews and reflections with people who were a part of that tragic event. I watched several of the shows, and was moved by the images and the conversations that described deep heroism and unparalleled bravery.

One of the most interesting episodes featured then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The mayor provided a moment by moment description of the fateful day from his vantage point, beginning with the story of where he was (a breakfast meeting) and how he first learned of the news. Giuliani relived those moments, commenting how as details became more complete, how overwhelmed he felt. Simultaneously, he spoke of the incredible weight of responsibility he sensed, largely due to his position as mayor.

You may not have had an interruption of that magnitude, but you probably can identify with how it feels to be interrupted by a significant need that demanded a response. Those needs that present themselves to us at the least of convenient times are opportunities that God provides us to be His presence in the world.

Jesus certainly did. In John 6:1-15, the Bible tells of a time when Jesus and his disciples retired to a hillside after an intensive period of meeting human need. A crowd, numbering between 5,000 and 15,000, depending on how literal you choose to take the enumeration, pressed upon Jesus and the 12 with their needs as well as high expectations.

Jesus turned to Philip and posed a simple question: “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” (John 6:6, HCSB). Jesus asked the question as a test, to see how Philip and his peers would respond to this interruption.

How do you respond to divine interruptions? Sometimes the need is so great we can’t help but feel inadequate to meet the need. This week I want to share somethings that I hope will help when you face those feelings of inadequacy, especially when they concern your life as a disciple of Christ.

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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