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Archive for Jesus


Moving from Ambiguity to Faith

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Jesus’ third post resurrection statement was made during his interaction with two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. The narrative describes two disciples who had observed all of the events in Jerusalem during the first passion week. While on the journey home, they were joined by a traveller who asked them, “What are you so concerned about?” They didn’t recognize their new traveling companion and began to describe all of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A careful reading of the story will reveal the ambiguity they felt. You could sum up the conversation like this:

Who was Jesus?
Well, he was a prophet.
Why did he come?
We hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman rule.
What did he accomplish?
We don’t really know. We heard his body was gone, and we heard he had risen.

How did Jesus help Cleopas and his wife transition from ambiguity to faith? How does Jesus help us move from ambiguity and uncertainty to faith?

Jesus first began with what faith they already possessed. Luke 24:25-27 reads as follows, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the road to faith actually begins with faith. Three times during the last six months of his public ministry Jesus foretold his passion. The point is that faith is a building that is constructed on what God has said in Scripture. The Scriptures serve as a foundation and we build on that foundation one story at a time. The two on the road to Emmaus weren’t challenged at the point of the circumstances of their immediate weekend. They were challenged at the point of the writings of the prophets over the course of several hundred years.

When we take the first step of faith, faith will next open the door to reveal more light. Think about driving your car at night. Your car has headlights that reveal what is before you. Your vision is not unlimited, for the headlights reveal what lies before you for only a few yards. But as your car travels the light continues to illuminate your path. Even with limited vision, you as a driver are more than willing to drive 60 or even 70 MPH.

As the travel companions neared Emmaus, Jesus was invited to dine and stay with them. His words had taken root in their hearts and their faith was emerging. It was during dinner that the couple recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. Then He was gone.

Rather than bask in the afterglow of the experience, the couple set out for the return trip to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the disciples. Jesus’ self disclosure made their faith personal. At the beginning of the story, the two pilgrims were wrestling with what others had said. But now their faith was personal because they had seen Christ for themselves. No longer did they need to live on borrowed faith. They learned that they could have their own faith and be free from ambiguity. So can we if we begin with the light we already possess.

Categories : Easter, Jesus
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What are You Afraid of?

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The second post resurrection saying of Jesus cuts straight to the heart of where many of us regularly live. Check this out:

Early on Sunday morning,a as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:1-10, NLT)

Jesus second saying? “Don’t be afraid!” It’s interesting how somethings never change. What are you afraid of? Some of our fears are common place, such as snakes, spiders and mice. But many of us are gripped by fears that lie beneath the surface of our skin. What do we know about these phobias? For one, most of our fears are false. In the late 1980’s I attended a conference and heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that fear was an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not only are our fears usually false, our fears are usually negative. No one says, “I’m afraid I’m going to earn too much money” or “I’m afraid all my dreams will come true.”

How does the risen Lord help us deal with fear? There are three things from the text that are helpful to us. The first is worship. Worship is beneficial in that it increases and magnifies the greatness of God. One lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath is that the size of your giant in life depends upon the size of your God. When we regularly engage in the spiritual discipline of worship, God becomes literally larger than life and all that life throws at us.

Not only does the practice of worship help us deal with fear, faith helps us as well. Did you notice the simple phrase, “just as He said” in the passage quoted above? Three times in the last six months of his ministry Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead on the third day. Unfortunately the disciples forgot what Jesus had said as his claims became swallowed up in the sea of circumstances that surrounded the first Easter weekend. Until God’s voice becomes the prevailing voice in your life you will face fear after fear. In reality, we don’t overcome our fears. We replace our fears with faith in what God has said.

The final piece of the story is obedience. Jesus summonsed his followers to meet in Galilee. Why Galilee? If the disciples wouldn’t go to Galilee to see the risen Lord, they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth on behalf of the risen Lord.

Worship, faith, and obedience. That’s how Jesus’ followers overcame their fear. After the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, fear evaporated. While the gospels record numerous times the disciples huddled in fear, fear is virtually absent from the Acts of the Apostles. Have you ever noticed that? Do you wonder why? I think its because Jesus’ followers had such a high view of the risen Lord that no other voice mattered. Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If you’re struggling with fear, don’t focus on the fear. Focus on the God who created and sustains the universe. He’s the same God that knows you by name.

Categories : Fear, Jesus, Resurrection
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I AM the Resurrection and Life

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Each of us has experienced the pain that enters our hearts when someone we love passes from this life. We are too familiar with the experience of mourning: black clothes and black cars; hushed voices speaking in solemn tones; flowers whose brilliant colors are drained as we view them through and endless flow of tears. It’s hard for us to let go, and hard to say good bye. Comforters come and go, yet the grief remains fresh with strength. Finally, the inevitable silence comes. There are no more tears. Just the deafening sound of silence.

Even those of us who have found our hope in Jesus Christ still mourn, feeling the pain and anguish of loss and separation. The school bus drives down the street, yet there is no stop in front of the house. Rush hour traffic dwindles into twilight, yet no car arrives in the driveway. Busy feet rush through the back door, yet there is no kiss of welcome. And worst of all, there is an empty place at the table. Death draws clear lines of separation for people of faith and unbelievers alike.

John chapter 11 tells the story of a man named Lazarus who became very sick. His sisters sent word to Jesus, begging him to come to Lazarus’ aid. Yet the Lord delayed his arrival. Why did Jesus do that? Even the Jews who were in attendance at the funeral acknowledged that the man who could restore sight to blind eyes could have prevented Lazarus’ death (John 11:37). Yet the Lord delayed his arrival. Jesus love for Lazarus had been an open love. When Mary and Martha requested that Jesus come, the messenger reported, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). The gospel writer also tells us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). At the tomb of Lazarus, as Jesus joined the family and wept with them the Jews exclaimed, “Behold how he loved him” (John 11:36). Jesus’ delay was not a deficiency of love.

Martha, Lazarus sister, struggled like we struggle with separation. She boldly approached the Lord and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Lovingly, the Lord looked into her moist eyes and said, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Martha, engulfed in the present separation of the moment was not immediately comforted. Brushing aside her tears she said, “I know–someday, a not so near and very far away someday–he will rise” (John 11:24). Jesus caught her eye again and proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Martha, filled with faith, desperately wanting to find security in Jesus simply confessed, “I believe (John 11:27).

With great reverence Jesus approached the tomb. He sighed deeply and commanded the stone to be removed. The stone that covered the tomb was a tangible reminder of separation. The stone that covered the tomb was the ongoing memorial of the separation that death had brought. It was designed to keep Lazarus from all of the family members and friends who loved him. “Take away the stone!” At the command of Jesus, the stone of separation was removed. Jesus looked up into the heavens and prayed. With a deep cry that pierced through the sorrow of separation, Jesus wailed, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). At the powerful and loving word of Jesus the night gave way to dawning and the desperation of separation gave way to hope and togetherness.

In some rural areas of the midwest, many of the country people have a simple tradition. While the calendar marks Memorial Day, to these it is called Decoration Day. It’s a time when people go to modest cemeteries and place flowers on the stones of separation. Those marble monuments, tombstones we call them, stand on bright green grass fresh from winter’s sleep. To the right there is a stone which marks the separation of husband and wife. To the left, a stone that marks the separation of a parent and child. Across the well measured row stands another that marks the separation of friends or neighbors who took time to share both the joys and struggles of life. Those markers are bittersweet reminders. They are markers of separation indeed, but they are also reminders that Jesus has promised us that the separation that death brings is not permanent.

This past week we celebrated Easter and the resurrection of the Lord. On the first day of the week, the Bible tells us that the women made their way to the garden tomb to finalize the burial preparation for Jesus. When they arrived, the stone of separation had been rolled away. An angel of the Lord sat victoriously atop the rock. Because of Jesus resurrection, we never need to fear the stones of separation ever again. While they exist, they are not permanent. They are markers of hope that remind us of the promise that what Jesus experienced in resurrection is shared with us. There is life on the other side of death, all because of resurrection. And this is our hope!

Categories : Easter, I AM, Jesus, John, Resurrection
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Three Elements for Travel

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Do you remember your first car? Mine was a 1972 Chevy Impala, two door hardtop. It was candy apple red with a white top and black interior. I think the car stereo I installed was probably worth more than the car itself. I remember driving around on summer Saturday nights, windows down, stereo blaring, with no particular place to go. Cruising the streets of a small midwestern town was an art form. Aimlessly driving, wasting precious gas (which at that time was 54.9 per gallon), only stopping to talk to others who had stopped as well.

Life as an adult isn’t as aimless. When you grow up, you get student loans, spouses, jobs, mortgages, kids, and other demands that call for responsible behavior. As an adult, I’ve learned that there are three essential elements for travel. First, you have to have a mode of transportation. Planes, trains, and automobiles, for example. Of course walking counts, but only for trips farther than the fridge. Second, you have to have a route that helps you have direction so that you don’t get off course. Finally, you have to have a destination. Those three things are essential to travel. Unless you still enjoy the occasional aimless trek.

Those three elements of travel help me understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me ” (John 14:6). In this simple statement Jesus claimed to be our mode of transportation, our route, as well as our destination. If we lack any one of the three elements we will not find success. Lacking any one of these, I believe, also explains the spiritual aimlessness in our nation today. It takes all three, and Jesus perfectly embodies each one.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church

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Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church represents the latest work of New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson. I have been familiar with Johnson’s work for some time as an author, but had not read much of his previous work. This undertaking aspires to examine the prophetic role of Jesus Christ and to see how the first generation of His followers carried on the prophetic tradition as recorded in the Book of Acts.

Johnson begins by describing prophets as “the human beings who speak to their fellow humans from the perspective of God and, by so speaking, enable others to envision a way of being human more in conformity with God’s own vision for the world.” Humans need the disruptive voice of the prophet to challenge the standards and norms of the world that are developed through the comfort of time and normative acceptable behavior. It is the prophet’s voice that awakens the people from lethargy and calls them to a higher standard to which all will one day give an account.

Johnson does a thorough job of developing the foundation of who prophets were and how they could be identified among their contemporaries. He sharpens the focus of this to the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, following Luke’s narrative of Christ and then the transition through the development of the early church and the Gentile mission to Rome and beyond.

The author makes several helpful observations, the most helpful of which was the nature of how Jesus embodied his prophetic ministry. Johnson points to four characteristics of this embodiment that Jesus would have shared in common with other prophets who preceded Him. First was poverty and the sharing of possessions. Jesus spoke to the poor as one of them. His life was marked by homelessness and unemployment, depending upon the faithfulness of His Father through the people to meet His tangible need for daily bread. For Jesus to have spoken to the poor from the posture of wealth would have been disingenuous. Jesus, however, identified fully with those who struggled daily to find “daily bread.”

The second prophetic characteristic Jesus embodied was itinerancy. Jesus didn’t have a home or a base of operation. Neither did he have a local church to serve who would provide his basic needs. On the other hand, the gospel record depicts Jesus as being constantly on the move. One day he is in the city, the next may find Him on the country side. He went to the people, wherever they were, regardless of how He might be received.

Characteristic three is prayer. One of the observations Jesus’ biographers repeatedly make is that He was a man of prayer. As a result of His prayerfulness, we see Jesus described as a man “led by the Spirit.” Certainly prayer and the Spirit’s leadership go hand in hand, for one does not usually find one without the other. Each significant move in Jesus ministry is marked by prayer, which is consistent with prophetic ministry throughout Old Testament history.

The final marker of prophetic embodiment is servant leadership. Many of the miracles demonstrate Jesus’ servant leadership, such as feeding the 5,000. Jesus’ teaching on subjects like humility and passive resistance also underscore his servant spirit. This characteristic is perhaps most clearly revealed during the last supper when He washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus came to “serve, and not be served,” as those who had gone before Him.

Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church is well written and helpful. Each chapter deals with an aspect of the prophetic Jesus, then details how Jesus’ prophetic ministry was carried forward by the early church. Each chapter concludes with a contemporary challenge for today’s church, citing examples of what the prophetic voice of church might look like in modern culture. It’s not written on a popular level, so this book is best suited for pastors and teachers and those who are serious students of the New Testament. It is a wonderful contribution to New Testament studies and will be proudly placed in my library for future reference.

Categories : Books, Jesus, Prophecy
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Listening to the Right Voice:: 4

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The voice of the stranger and the voice of the hired hand both speak into the lives of the sheep for their own purposes. Over and against these two voices is the voice of the good shepherd. What characterizes the voice of the good shepherd? How do we know if we can accurately identify the voice of the good shepherd?

Characteristic One: The voice of the Good Shepherd knows us intimately. According to scholars, sheep would be placed in a communal pen overnight. The next morning, each shepherd would come to the gate of the pen and call his sheep. The sheep would recognize the voice of their shepherd and follow him out of the pen. They didn’t follow any shepherd but the one who intimately knew them, even by name. Though 2,000 years have passed, Jesus still knows us by name. He is intimately aware of our lives, not just the surface stuff.

Characteristic Two: The Good Shepherd leads his sheep to life. He doesn’t drive them. While strangers and profiteers steal, kill, and destroy the sheep, Jesus came to give his sheep and full and satisfying life (John 10:10).

Characteristic Three: The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Three times in the passage Jesus said that he voluntarily and willingly gives His life for the sheep. No other, especially the hired hand that flees at the first sign of trouble, would dare consider such sacrifice.

Characteristic Four: The Good Shepherd makes room for more. Multiple times in John 10 Jesus refers to sheep in the plural, talking about flocks and the need to create space for more. The Good Shepherd loves each of us, but he also loves all of us. His flock is inclusive. To the first century hearer, this bold statement would have been understood in the context of the Gentile mission. The kingdom was not just available to “children of Abraham.” It was, and continues to be available to all.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Listening to the Right Voice:: 3

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Yesterday I posted about the danger of listening to the voice of the stranger. There is little doubt in my mind that all of this talk about the voice of the stranger was a veiled reference to the influence that Satan attempts to have over the lives of Jesus’ sheep. Smart sheep don’t listen to strangers. Neither do they listen to hirelings.

The hired hand was the second voice that Jesus described in his good shepherd discourse. He described the hired hand as one who would be with the sheep during the good times, gladly earning a profit for his interest. But when threats arise the hired hand flees because he is more interested in wages than the sheep.

I’ve always taken a strong stand against televangelists who do the same thing. These ministry profiteers promise prayers and miracles across airwaves in exchange for your generous donation. They incite the viewing sheep with fear mongering regarding government and the soon to come apocalypse in order to keep their listeners connected. They claim to have special insights into the world affairs and positive proof of the President’s real religious affiliation. “Stay tuned” and “keep those cards and letters coming” seem to be the ongoing mantra. These charlatans are like the hired hands in John 10, promising much, delivering little, all the while enhancing their own lifestyles with little or no accountability.

I think the hired hands Jesus referred to in the first century were the Pharisees. The Pharisees of second Temple Judaism were the televangelists of the day, lording their persuasive power over the poor and marginalized, manipulating them for personal profit. They conveyed an image of piety yet were rotten to the core. The bottom line was that they didn’t care one bit about those first century sheep. They were in it for cash. Jesus discouraged his listeners from paying attention to the voice of the stranger, and interestingly enough, placed these religious charlatans in the same category.

That leaves us with the voice of the good shepherd. How do we know how to identify this true voice? Check in tomorrow and I’ll share a few characteristics of the voice of the good shepherd.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Listening to the Right Voice:: 2

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In his teaching regarding the “good shepherd,” Jesus described three voices that speak into our lives. The first, of which, was the voice of the stranger. When my children were young, we became aware of the importance of teaching our children about “stranger danger.” As parents we were diligent about telling our kids who to listen to and who to avoid. For example, we taught them that if a car pulled up and asked them to go help look for a lost puppy to run to a safe place. We also taught them not to speak to or acknowledge strangers for the sake of their safety. I think our kids marveled in disbelief that a person offering them a piece of candy could pose a threat, but we drilled it and instilled it into their heads.

Jesus seemed to be doing that same drill and repetition with those who listened to him that day. The voice of the stranger, according to Jesus, was not to be acknowledged because the stranger was up to no good. In fact, the goal of the stranger was to “steal, kill, and destroy” their lives (John 10:10).

It was the strange voice of the serpent in Genesis 3 that caused the downfall of humanity, and ever since that stranger’s voice has been causing pain and disappointment in the world. Jesus’ counsel to the sheep was to not listen to the voice of the stranger, and his advice still stands today. At first the voice may sound appealing, or at least innocent enough. But smart sheep learn to listen to one true voice that leads to life. Tomorrow I’ll continue this series and discuss the second voice that sheep have to contend with, the voice of the hired hand.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Listening to the Right Voice

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The Gospel of John contains some of Jesus’ most profound teaching not the least of which is the discourse on the good shepherd in chapter 10. There are several ways this passage can be addressed, but the one I chose for this weekend’s message centered around the voices that speak into the lives of the sheep. Let me share the text and then I’ll break down how I handled it.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:1-18, NLT).

Did you see it? Jesus talked about the stranger, the hired hand, and the good shepherd. Each one has a motive for what they say and what they hope to gain from the sheep. Tomorrow I’ll begin the with voice of the stranger. In the meantime, who are the voices that speak into your life? Do you know what each wants? Do you know how to identify the voice of the good shepherd?

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Finding Security:: 3

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Jesus’ promise to be the “gate” is still valid today. He offers security for our lives during these turbulent times. How, then, does Jesus provide security? Upon what basis is He able to make such a bold claim? I must confess I had to think about this for a while, but I settled, at least in part, on the fact that He is changeless. It is the immutable, changeless character of God that provides this security. He can make this claim because He is unchanging in His being, His attributes, His purposes, and His promises. Consider the following texts…

“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands.
They will perish, but you remain forever; they will wear out like old clothing.
You will change them like a garment and discard them.
But you are always the same; you will live forever.
The children of your people will live in security.
Their children’s children will thrive in your presence”
(Psalm 102:25-28, NLT).

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed” (Malachi 3:6, NLT).

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17, NLT).

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, NLT).

A God that is changing is a God that cannot be trusted. Because God is changeless, He can be trusted to keep us secure for this life and the life to come.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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