The Power of “With”

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The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”

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A Trial for the Ages

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Every once in while a court case attracts so much interest and attention it is described as “the trial of the century.” Not only do these high profile cases render a verdict they also shaped our culture. The Scopes Trial in 1925 changed the way many people view the authority of the Bible. The trial of Charles Manson in 1970 made people rethink their basic assumptions about human nature. Even though he was acquitted on all charges, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 redefined the American presidency.

As important as these trials are, there is one trial in human history that stands head and shoulder above the rest. The trial of Jesus Christ is a “trial for the ages.” While we usually go to the end of the Gospels to read about Christ’s trumped-up trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Apostle John helps us see that Jesus was on trial throughout his public ministry.

John 5:1-47 reads like the notes of a court reporter.  In verses 1-15, we find a description of the “crime” that Jesus committed. In verse 16-18, we see a list of the charges that were filed against Jesus by the Jewish leaders. In rest of the chapter (verses 19-47), we hear testimonies from the key witnesses that Jesus called to his defense.

Jesus is on trial in John 5 and you must decide for yourself if you think he is innocent or guilty. You cannot stay neutral or impartial about Jesus. Just like the various characters that interact with Jesus in John’s Gospel, you have to make a choice about Jesus. If He is guilty then He should be rejected as a fake and a fraud. But if Jesus is innocent then He should be received as your Savior and Lord.

THE CRIME (5:1-15).

Jesus went to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast. While there, Jesus met a man near the pool of Bethesda who had been unable to walk for 38 years. Sick people used to lay near the pool waiting for an angel to stir the waters. Whoever got into the water first after it was stirred was healed from their infirmity.

Jesus asked the man if the man wanted to be healed and then commanded him to get up, take his mat, and go. The mat wasn’t heavy, but it was proof positive that the man was really healed. While the man was carrying his mat he was questioned by the Jewish leaders about violating the Sabbath laws.

The man blamed the man who had healed him, but he said he didn’t know that man’s name. Later, Jesus met up with the man who was healed in the temple and revealed himself to the man. Jesus also urged the man to repent of his sins so that he would not suffer worse situation in the future.

THE CHARGES (5:16-18)

Up to that point, the Jewish leaders tolerated Jesus. When they learned that it was Jesus who healed the man, they began to persecute him outright. They persecuted Jesus for two reasons. One reason the Jewish persecuted Jesus was because He violated the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the basis for all the Jewish festivals. The laws that accompanied the Sabbath “rest” were so ingrained in Jewish society that the Jewish could not tolerate Jesus and rebellion.

Another reason why the Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus was that He made Himself out to be equal with God. The Jews had a very high view of God. They couldn’t see how a carpenter for Nazareth, or anyone for that matter, could be on equal footing with God. They viewed His claims and actions as blasphemy.

THE HEARING (5:19-47)

Jesus began His own defense with a confession, but not the kind of confession his opponents were looking for. Jesus confessed His complete dependence on the Heavenly Father (vv. 19-24). The Son only does what He sees His Heavenly Father doing. The Son loves the Heavenly Father because the Heavenly Father loves Him. The Heavenly Father gives the Son the authority to give life and judge all people as He also gives life and judges all people.

Jesus continued by calling four witnesses to his defense (vv. 33-47). Jesus told the Jewish leaders that John the Baptist, who they respected, told the truth about Him when John called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Jesus also pointed to his teaching and miracles as proof that He came from God. Jesus challenged the unbelief around Him as a byproduct of not listening to the Word of God. Jesus also claimed that Scriptures all pointed towards Him as the Messiah.

John 5 is more than a story, it’s a description of the trial that happens every time someone comes in contact with Jesus Christ – its a trial for the ages. So what will you do with Jesus? Is He innocent or guilty as charged?

In John 1:11-12 we read, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

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Uncommon Faith

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A man fell off a cliff but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued. “Is anyone up there?” he called out. “I am here,” the Lord replied, “Do you believe me?” “Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer,” the man exclaimed. “That’s all right” the Lord explained, “if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” After a long pause, the man called out again, “Is anyone else up there?

The story about a man hanging from a cliff highlights the importance of faith even though it might be extreme. John 4:46-54 contains another story about the importance of faith. A royal official came to Jesus and gave us an example of uncommon faith.

The response of the royal official to Jesus stands out in comparison to his fellow Galileans. The Galileans welcomed Jesus, but Jesus knew their response was superficial and fickle. In comparison, the royal official response to Jesus with thoughtfulness and obedience. The royal official and the Galileean approaches to faith can be summed up in two very different statements.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT” (4:43-48).

The Jews in Galilee had heard all about Jesus signs and wonders. They had heard how he turned water into wine (John 2:1-12). They saw the signs he did in Jerusalem during the Passover feast (John 4:45).

The royal official had also heard about Jesus and he was desperate. He probably served at the pleasure of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who married his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. As a representative of the state, he had a certain level of power and authority, but he was powerless to save his own son from death.

Jesus confronted the royal official and condemned this approach to faith. Jesus performed plenty of signs during his ministry, but for a specific purpose – that people would believe in him and experience eternal life (John 20:30-31). The Galileans saw Jesus as a wonder-worker, a cure-all magician who had to prove himself.

God doesn’t have to prove himself to any of us. He has chosen, in his grace, to reveal himself to us. When we demand a sign from God before we will believe, we place ourselves in authority over God.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT BECAUSE HE SAID IT” (4:49-54).

Jesus responded to the royal official with a command. Jesus ordered the official to go back home because his son had already been healed. The official believed Jesus and demonstrated his belief by leaving Jesus without any visible evidence of a miracle.

The royal official received confirmation before he ever saw his son. He came across some of his servants who were on their way to update him on his son’s condition. He knew that Jesus had healed his son because it happened just as Jesus gave the command.

The authenticity of the royal official’s faith in Christ can be seen in two ways. First, he cared enough to share with his family.  It was common in the first century for the family to take on the faith of the father, that doesn’t mean his family was just faking it. They experienced a miraculous healing in their home and they believed. Second, he continued to believe in Jesus even after his crisis was over.

The two approaches to faith on display in this story teach us one main truth: faith that demands a sign is not really faith at all. Faith is how we access eternal life. If we don’t have faith in Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God, we cannot share in the eternal life that he has to offer. The royal official is not lifted up as an exception, but the rule. His “uncommon faith is the kind of faith” we must all have to be saved from our sins.

This matches the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). It also helps to explain Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:24-29). Most people refer to him as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. When Jesus finally appeared to Thomas he invited the skeptical disciple to touch his scars. Then, Jesus rebuked Thomas and blessed those who believe in him without seeing him: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe.” (v. 29).

Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”

Click here if you want to listen to a message on this passage: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-03-11T10_17_13-07_00

 

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“Beyond Salvation”

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The twelve disciples must have been excited. In John 4: 1, we read that the word about Jesus was spreading throughout Judea and Jesus was baptizing (with their help) more people than John the Baptist. The disciples had chosen to follow Jesus and now they were on the fast track to success.

Instead of working the crowds and chasing popularity in Judea, the epic-center of Judaism, Jesus surprised his disciples by traveling back to Galilee  – through Samaria. The Jews avoided the Samaritans because they saw them as racial and religious “half-breeds.” In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (the region that became Samaria) as a consequence for their repeated rebellion against God. The Assyrians deported most of the Israelites and then repopulated the area with conquered peoples from other parts of their empire as a way to solidify control. In time, these people intermarried and embraced an unholy mixture of pagan and Jewish practices.

Jesus stopped to rest near a well outside of the city of Sychar. While his disciples went into the city to find food, Jesus engaged a Samaritan women in conversation. Jesus’s trip through Samaria teaches us a lesson that His disciples did not understand. Jesus is not just the Savior of the world, He is the Savior of the whole world.

In John 4:1-30, we learn that the whole world includes…

PEOPLE WHO ARE “BEYOND SAVING” (4:6-9)

Jesus surprised the Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink from the well. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Jewish men never talked to women in public, even their wives. She was a woman of “questionable character” which is probably why she was drawing water from the well during the heat of the day when few people were around.

We must push back on the idea that some people are “beyond saving.” No one is too far gone, too sinful, or unimportant in God’s eyes. We can’t let age, annual income, language, skin color, marital status, or even sexual orientation limit our view of salvation. In John 3:16, we read that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO DON’T THINK THEY NEED TO BE SAVED (4:10-14)

Jesus probed deeper by suggesting that women should be asking him for a drink.  The woman was quick to point out her religious connection to Jacob the Patriarch. As far as she was concerned, she was “ok” because she was a Samaritan. But Jesus exposed her spiritual need by explaining her need for living water and eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO ARE BROKEN BY SIN (4:15-18)

This is the turning point in the conversation as Jesus revealed the Samaritan woman’s brokenness. She had been involved in five broken marriages and was living with a sixth man who is not her husband. She had searched for love and significance and come up short.

The Samaritan woman’s experience reminds us that “religion” can’t be compartmentalized – it touches every area of our lives. We are broken without a personal relationship and that brokenness shows up in all kinds of ways. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (NASB).

PEOPLE WHO ARE SPIRITUALLY BLIND (4:19-26)

The Samaritan woman was blind to the truth about Jesus. She diverted attention away from herself to an age-old argument between the Samaritans & the Jews about the proper place to worship God. The Jews worship God in Jerusalem while the Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus explained that worship was about to change because the Savior had come – and he was it!

Jesus is the Savior of the whole world because the whole world needs to be saved. Romans tells us “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Jesus came into the world to save the whole world, not just for the people we know, we like, or that look like us. We shouldn’t limit the scope of God’s salvation by assuming anyone, is beyond salvation.”

 

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Sent to Save

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 “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years of studying books.” – Henry Longfellow

A wise man approached Jesus at night for a conversation. The man was Nicodemus, a well-respected and influential religious leader in Jerusalem. The longer that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the more obvious it was that he didn’t understand who Jesus was or what he was saying to him. Jesus proved to be the real wise man in the conversation.

During the course of their conversation, Jesus shared God’s plan to save the world. He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save the world. Jesus led Nicodemus through the course of the discussion Jesus explained who needs to be saved, how to get saved, why getting saved is so important. We read about their interaction in John 3:1-21

1. EVERYONE WHO WALKS IN DARKNESS NEEDS TO BE SAVED (John 3:1-3)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night which is an indication of his spiritual state, not just the time of day. Darkness is the domain of misunderstanding and unbelief. The only other person that did something at night in John’s Gospel was Judas, who betrayed Jesus at night (John 13:30). Even though Nicodemus was respectful and smart, he was in the dark about God’s plan to save the world.

Nicodemus came to Jesus from an elevated place in society, that was not enough to escape his spiritual darkness. Nicodemus had a privileged birth as a Jewish man in Jerusalem. Nicodemus also had great influence. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court.

In comparison to Christ, the Light of the world, everyone walks in darkness and needs to be saved.  John 8:12 says, “Jesus is the Light of the world and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness.” Like Nicodemus, we are unable to save ourselves through our own good works and self-made righteousness.

2. YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN TO BE SAVED (John 3:4-8)

Jesus informed Nicodemus that he could not participate in God’s kingdom without being “born again.” Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus, who was talking about spiritual birth, not physical birth. Being “born again” means to be born from above by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained that the process of spiritual birth may seem mysterious, like the blowing of the wind, but the outcome and effects of spiritual birth are obvious.

3. YOU ARE UNDER GOD’S JUDGMENT, SO YOU NEED TO BE SAVED (John 3:9-21)

Jesus described the Heavenly Father like as a loving Judge, a subject that Nicodemus was familiar with as a judge in Israel. God balanced his hatred toward sin with his love for humanity by make a way for everyone to be saved at great cost to himself. Jesus is God’s one and only son. God sent him into the world to save the world.

Jesus balanced this good news with a warning that God’s judgment is looming for who refuse to believe. He told Nicodemus that who don’t believe in him are already judged by God. Those who continue in their unbelief will experience death and separation from God, instead of the eternal life that God offers. Hebrews 9:27 punctuates this truth with these words: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

Nicodemus and Jesus’ conversation reveals God’s plan to save the world. Each and every person who reads this account must decide what to do with Jesus. The decision is to put your faith in Jesus as God’s Savior and experience eternal life, or reject Jesus and experience the consequences. Those who come to Jesus as the Light of the world must take the light they’ve been given and share it with those around them who are still walking in darkness.

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What is God’s Plan to Save the World?

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In John 3:1-21, we read about a man named Nicodemus who was well-educated and well-respected among the Jews. One evening, Nicodemus went to visit Jesus. During the course of their conversation, Jesus revealed some important truths about God’s plan to save the world. Jesus revealed who needs to be saved, how to get saved, and why getting saved is so important.

Do you have your own plan to save the world?

If so, how does it match up with God’s plan to save the world?

Feel free to leave your comments below.

If you are in the Tri-State area, join us at Unity Baptist in Ashland this Sunday as we consider this question and others every Sunday morning.

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Everything Changes

chuttersnap-139486-unsplashSome people believe that Jesus was mild-mannered, politically correct, and tame, like a supernatural Mr. Rogers. Jesus is God and God is love so they envision Jesus as eternally passive. This misconception keeps people from getting to know the real Jesus.

The Apostle John includes a story that emphasizes the passionate side of Christ’s nature – the story of Jesus clearing out the temple in John 2:13-25. This incident highlights the depth of the struggle between Jesus and the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t come into the world so he could politely fit in with was going on at the time. In these verses, we learn that Jesus came to change the religious establishment and our religious experiences because Jesus came to change everything. In this passage, he challenges us in three ways

1. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR SELF-SERVING FORMS OF WORSHIP (2:13-17)

Passover was about to happen, and Jews from all over the Roman empire were flocking to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. At that time, the temple was more like a marketplace than a place of worship. There were people selling oxen, sheep, & doves to be sacrificed. There were people changing money so that Jews could pay their annual temple tax with Jewish coins that didn’t have pagan symbols on them.

When Jesus arrived at the temple he made a whip from the food or bedding offered to the animals and drove the merchants & the moneychangers from the temple along with their animals. He dumped out their coins and overturned their tables. He told them to stop taking advantage of “His Father’s house.”

If we’re not careful, our expressions of worship and even religious institutions can become all about us: our stability, our benefits, and our preferences. When we do, we minimize Christ and miss the point of the Gospel.

2. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR ASSUMPTIONS OF WHAT IS POSSIBLE (2:18-22)

The Jewish leaders asked Jesus for a sign of his authority to have done something so outrageous. Instead of showing them a new sign (he had already performed many), he told them about the destruction and rebuilding of the temple. The Jews thought he was talking about the temple they were standing in, but he was talking about the temple of his body. He was predicting His death, burial, and resurrection.

Christ’s resurrection from the dead redefines what is possible. Miracles like turning water into wine, healing people, multiplying food, walking on water, or raising someone else from the dead are amazing, but bringing yourself back from the dead is barrier-shattering.

You may be facing an “impossible” situation. Maybe it’s an overwhelming loss or an unforgivable sin? Maye it’s a marriage that seems beyond repair or a sickness that seems incurable? There’s hope in the most difficult situations in life because situations can change, people can change because Jesus changes everything.

3. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR EASY BELIEVEISM (2:23-25)

The Apostle John is writing from a post-resurrection perspective – after Jesus has come back from the dead. He tells us that the disciples were urged to faith by recalling what Jesus had said before he was crucified. There were other Jews that seemed to believe in Jesus, but their faith was based on the signs that Jesus performed, not who He was.

Jesus was not fooled by the shallow circumstantial faith of the Jews. Jesus knows the fickle and sinful nature of the human heart, that’s why he came in the first place.

“Easy believeism” is a term that was coined to describe those who claim faith in Christ, but who never have a change of heart about Jesus. They want Jesus to be their Savior, but not their Lord. They only “believe” when they are need something from God.

Everything changes because Jesus changes everything.

Jesus is not content to stand on the sidelines and watch people misuse His Father’s House or squander their lives. While he would never leave a true believer, He distances Himself from people that worship their own religious experiences or the institution of the church instead of Him. Make Jesus the center of your life and be open to change, because Jesus changes everything.

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