“I Have Other Sheep, Which Are Not of This Fold.”

Jesus made a surprise announcement during His extended parable describing the Good and the Bad Shepherd in John 10. After identifying the characteristics of a good shepherd and claiming to be The Good Shepherd, He announced that He had other sheep which where not currently in the the sheepfold (v. 16). According verses 1-5, the sheep were already gathered were the Jews who heard His voice and believed in Him. The Jews who rejected Jesus were not His sheep, but that’s not the group that He was referring to (v. 26). He was referring to the non-Jews, or Gentiles, who are “scattered abroad” (11:52). The Greek that came to Jesus after the Triumphal Entry are representatives of this alternate “flock” (12:20-26).

Jesus announced that He would eventually bring these additional sheep into His fold. They would be responsive to His voice and they would all follow Him in unison. Their mutual faith in Christ would bind these two groups together in a new and powerful way. Here are three things we can learn from this union

  1. Mutual faith in Christ is more important than ethnic barriers. The primary difference between Jews and Gentiles is their ethnic heritage. The Jews all trace their ancestry back to one of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Gentiles have a mixed background, including everyone else. This insight is particularly important during a time when people are driven apart by the color of their skin. There can’t be any racism in the church because our shared believe in God’s Son overcomes that kind of difference.

2. Mutual faith in Christ is more important than religious traditions. The Jews and Gentiles lived very different lives in Jesus’ day. They dressed differently, ate differently, worshipped differently, and spend their lives pursuing different goals. In order to come together, these groups must put fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Written Word above their own desires, preferences, and traditions.

3. Mutual faith in Christ is more important than the passage of time. Christ’s surprised announcement ushered in a new age where Jews and Gentiles could worship God together.  Speaking of the power of the gospel message, Paul wrote “It is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16b, NASB). This new age allows all true believers to become a part of the universal Church.

As sheep following the Good Shepherd, it’s important to remember that we aren’t included (or excluded) because of our ethnic background, or religious performance, or even by our time in history. We are included in God’s flock, along with other undeserving believers, because of God’s great mercy and love.

Photo by Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

Developing a Biblical Worldview with “The Light of the World”

Jesus declared that He is “the Light the World” in John 8:12. Like the Pillar of Fire in Exodus 13, Jesus appeared before His people, led them to their destination, and protected them from their enemies. In numerous ways, Jesus proved that He was and is the same God the Jews worshipped in Old Testament times.

Christ’s announcement in John 8 prompted a strong response from His listeners. Essentially, they said, “We don’t believe you.” Instead of defending Himself, Jesus pointed them back to the basic character of light – it’s self-authenticating. Light is elemental and it does not need to be defined. It exists and automatically pushes back the darkness that surrounds it. Light reveals things as they truly are.

One of the implications to this “I Am” statement, is that Jesus is the ultimate source of truth. As the “Living Word,” His words and His actions were always consistent with the “Written Word,” the Bible. His declaration in John 8 is true and it rings true for everyone who is willing to listen in faith.

If the Savior and the Scriptures are trustwothy, then we would all do well to pursue a Biblical view of the world. We should seek out God’s anwers to the most important questions in life, like “Where did we come from?” “Who are we?” And “Where is history headed?” The answer to these kind of questions help us to define reality and they drive our everyday decision making.

The question then becomes, “How do I puruse a Biblical view of myself and world around me?” The answer to this question is complex, but it’s not a mystery. You can construct a God-centered view of the world in three ways. First, by reading your Bible with these questions in mind. Instead of reading just to finish your reading plan, ask yourself, “What does this passage say about who God is or what He might want from me?” “What does this passage teach me about myself or my destiny?” This kind of questioning might stretch you, but it will help you interact with some of the basic tenets of a Biblical view of th world.

Secondly, you can test your findings according to your personal experience. If you feel like God made us to engage in supportive relationships based on Genesis 1:26-27, 2:18; Exodus 20:12; John 15:12-13; and Hebrews 10:23-25; then you can observe that principle in action all around you. Do the people that you know benefit from living in commuity, or do they seem to do better living in isolation? There are surely exceptions, but does this principle seem to hold true in the vast majority of circumstances? Is there a plausible explanation for the times that it doesn’t appear to hold true? One of the way that a Biblical worldview is built is by testing it under the normal presures of real life.

Third, you can strengthen your view of the world by interacting with those who have a different perspective. Ideally, this is done with a spirit of curiousity, not as way to pick a fight. Ask those with a more naturalistic view of the world to explain their answers to the questions above. See if you can find the strengths and weaknesses to their point of view. Light is an improvement over darkness because it shows us where our perception differs from reality.

These three steps can help you pursue and build a Biblical view of yourself and the world around you. They rest on the presuppostion that God’s Word is true and trustworthy. Everyone who engages in this kind of activity will be rewared with a sharper view of Jesus Christ as “the Light of the Word.”

Easter Matters

This Easter, I had the privilege of preaching about the resurrection from John 20. Since Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on the ongoing significance of Christ’s resurrection and glorification as I reread the passage. Here are two things that stand out to me.

1. We can trust Jesus because He did what He said He would do. The mysterious Messiah predicted his death and resurrection on more than one occasion. Speaking of laying down His life in John 10:18, he said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” In John 12:7, Jesus defended Mary’s extravagant anointing because it was “for the day of My (His) burial.” Jesus also hinted about His upcoming death in John 13:33 and 14:25.

Easter puts an exclamation point on Christ’s authority – He delivered on His promise. In turn, this puts a renewed emphasis on Christ’s other promises. He did what He said He would do and delivered on His promises. He promised eternal life to those who trust Him (John 4:14). He also promised that genuine eternal life would not be lost (John 10:28). One of His most comforting promises was the promise to return for His followers one day (John 14:2-3).

2. We have a mission as the baton of ministry has been passed from Jesus Christ to His followers. The resurrected Jesus couldn’t have been clearer when He visited His surprised followers. He was about to ascend to heaven, so He wouldn’t be on earth very long (v. 17). He was about to send out His followers in the same way the Heavenly Father had sent Him out (v. 21). There would be many others who would believe in Jesus Christ based on their words and witness rather than their own sight (v. 29, v. 30-31).

Easter is source of celebration, but it’s also commissioning service. It’s a reminder that we have a job to do. The torch of gospel ministry has been passed down through every generation since the first generation of believers, and we don’t want to drop it.

The significance of Easter extends well beyond one day a year. It’s a yearly reminder that Jesus can be trusted and we’ve been trusted with a very important task.

A Hostile Takeover

Jesus recieved an enormous amount of attention for His miracles, but He wouldn’t allow His mission to redirected. In John 6:1-14, Jesus fed a crowd of thousands with a little boy’s lunch. The people who ate the miraculous meal were so thrilled that some in the crowd wanted to make Him king (v.15). They wanted to ride the wave of Christ’s power and popularity to a new political reality, independent from foreign control.

Jesus avoided this hostile take over by slipping away into the country side. He didn’t want His life’s work to be associated with one particular political agenda. Jesus clearly cared about morality, social issues, and the truth, but He didn’t take sides in the ongoing struggle between Jerusalem and Rome. He is referred to as a king at numerous points in the Gospel of John, but he wouldn’t accept the crown from a bunch of activists (John 1:49, 12:13, 18:37).

Christians on “both sides of today’s aisle” should be careful about baptizing their passion project, social issue, or political agenda in Jesus’s name. When we do, we run the risk of obscuring the gospel and redirecting Christ’s mission. At the very least, this approach takes away from our ability to discuss and debate issues in the public square. At it’s worst, this approach puts us the place of making moral declarations beyond what God has said in His Word. Where God has been clear, we should be clear and where God has been silent, we should be much more tentative.

Jesus recieved an enourmous amount of attention for what He said and did in John 6, but we should also pay attention to what He didn’t do. He woudn’t accept a cheap and easy crown. He didn’t get behind the powerstruggle of an restless crowd. He gave Himself as as sacrfice for our sins so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.

Stealing Glory and Twisting Scripture

Jesus defended Himself in the court of public opinion before He ever faced a court of law.

Legal cases are often decided in the court of public opinion long before they are decided in a court of law. In John 5, Jesus was put on trial for all to see. After He was prosecuted for healing a disabled man on the Sabbath, Jesus called several witnesses to His defense and then cross-examined His prosecutors. This cross-examination provides an interesting apologetic for those struggling to make sense of Christ’s ministry.

Jesus concluded his defense by condemned the religious authors for being more concerned about receiving glory than giving glory to God’s. Bible commentators suggest various scenarios here. It could have been that there was another man who had claimed to be the Messiah. This false candidate used flattery to gain a following from the religious elite. The passage says they received glory from “one another,” which could mean they were fond of sharing praise back and forth between each other. This condemnation could also be reference to the general respect and high regard that the people had for their spiritual leaders. The Pharisees were used to receiving accolades for their rigorous approach to Scripture.

Whatever the situation, the glory that the religious authorities was receiving was blinding them to the Savior who was standing right in front of them. They hands were so full of trophies, that they couldn’t see the way forward. They were so busy building their own kingdom, they couldn’t participation in God’s kingdom. This still happens today when are more concerned about receiving their own glory than giving glory to God.

Jesus also condemned the religious authorities for mishandling Scripture and missing the point of the Mosaic Covenant. God tapped Moses to lead the Jews out Egypt. During the Exodus, God gave Moses a robust description of what it would look like to be God’s people longterm. The provisions of the Mosaic Covenant were supposed to point people toward’s God’s grace, not away from it. The standards of the Covenant are impossibly high without divine help.

By the time Jesus arrived, the relational Covenant had deteriorated into a legalistic checklist. Instead of pushing them towards a Savior, the Law gave them a long list of opportunities to save themselves. In their eyes, they were justified before God through their own good works.

Jesus was the cross-examiner, but He allowed Moses to be the accuser at this point in His defense. The author of a document is the one who governs its meaning and intent. Those who read the text must respect the author’s intentions as they are revealed in the text. Moses was the human author of the Covenant that bore his name, and the religious authorities had mishandled and misinterpreted it.

Disrespect for the divine text is still an issue today. At this point history, we have the completed Old and New Testaments. There are a variety of interpretive schemes, but most serious Bible students believe that the Old Testament anticipates a Savior and the New Testament reveals Him, and His name is Jesus Christ. The evidence for the authority and reliability is overwhelming, even though there’s not enough space to describe it in this post. Today’s readers dismiss the Bible at there own risk.

Jesus defended Himself in the court of public opinion before He was ever put before a court of law. That court is still in session as readers like you and I learn about Christ’s ministry. We all have to have to answer the question for ourselves, “Is He innocent or is He guilty?”

Better For a Reason

The Lord of the Rings epic revolves around the adventures of two Hobbits: Frodo Baggins and his friend and companion, Samwise Gamgee. In the books and the movies, Frodo is courageous and selfless, determined. Samwise, or Sam, is just the opposite; he is a peaceful homebody. Sam’s friendship with the braver Hobbit puts a spotlight on Frodo’s superior character and accomplishments.

The Gospel of John opens up with a dynamic duo of its own: Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. Jesus is the Light of the world and John is the one shining the spotlight. The ministry of these two men seems like they were intertwined throughout the whole Gospel until John the Baptist drops out all of the sudden in chapter 3. In the closing passage of that chapter, we have a contrast between the two that puts a spotlight on Christ’s superior character and accomplishments.

1. Jesus Has a Better Baptism. John the Baptist was known for his ministry of….baptism. Jews from all over came to John to be baptized in the Jordan River as a symbol of their repentance before God. John even had the privilege of baptizing Jesus.

In John 3:26, John the Baptist began to field questions about why Jesus and his associates were baptizing more people. John the Baptist pointed out that Jesus’ baptism symbolized something different – faith in God’s plan for salvation, marked by the Holy Spirit. Jesus has a better baptism because it’s a symbol of eternal life.

2. Jesus Has a Better Place at the Party. John the Baptist used a familiar parable to explain Christ’s superiority. Jesus was the bridegroom and John was only a member of the bridal party – a friend of the groom. John was grateful to be a part of God’s unfolding plan for the world, but Jesus and his growing group of followers, soon to be called the church, are the ones at the center of that plan. If Jesus was getting more attention, John explained to his followers, it was because He deserved more attention.

3. Jesus Has a Better Origin Story. John and Jesus both had surprising birth stories. John was born to an older couple who were well past their childbearing years. Jesus was born to a younger couple who were not even married yet. But Jesus had an origin story that began before His birth. In fact, John 1:1 says that Jesus was present “in the beginning” which means that He never had an “origin,” because He was never created – He was God! His heavenly home gave him greater status than John the Baptist, without question.

John the Baptist gladly stepped back so that Jesus Christ could shine. He used his energy and influence to point as many people as he could to someone who was far superior. In doing so, John highlighted some of Jesus’ best qualities.

God-Centered Worship versus Self-Centered Worship

How do they differ?

This past Sunday at Northside Baptist, we studied the cleansing of the temple story in John 2:13-25. We took note of several ways that Jesus challenges believers today, including challenging our self-centered forms of worship. The Jews in Jesus’ day allowed merchants and money changers to distract from true God-centered worship. Even though elements and styles of worship change through the years, there are some priorities of gathered worship that stay the same. These priorities help us differentiate between God-centered worship and self-centered worship.

Preaching God’s Word. The Bible is God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative message to humanity. It tells us what we need to know about the world, ourselves, and most importantly God. The Scriptures inform and empower our worship; without them we have no basis for truth.

The Bible may be used in a variety of ways in worship, but the primary way it guides our worship is through expository preaching. Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix define expository preaching as “the process of laying open the biblical text in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning and accompanying power are brought to bear on the lives of contemporary listeners.” This kind of proclaimation and explanation are essential for God-centered worship.

Praising Christ and Exalting His Name. In Hebrews 1:1-2, we find that Jesus Christ is God’s full and final revelation to the world. He is the “heir of all things” and should be the focus of our adoration and praise. The expressions of worship that we include in our times of gathered worship should all be intended for one purpose – to praise God’s one and only Son.

Music is a big part of modern worship and for good reason. Corporate singing allows congregants to participate in the service in an active way. But care should be taken to choose songs that highlight the objective nature of God and His redemptive plan for humanity in Jesus Christ. Some songs only talk about our subjective feelings as objects of God’s love. This second category falls short of the true nature of worship.

Engaging with the Holy Spirit. The Third-person of the Trinity is active in the worship of the church. In addition to salvation, the Holy Spirit is involved in empowering, illuminating, sanctifying, and bestowing gifts on all believers (Acts 1:8, John 14:16-17, Romans 8:2-17,1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The Holy Spirit makes His presence known as believers gather for worship.

There are other priorities that could be added to this. Specific expressions of worship like fellowship with other believers, observing the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and sacrificial giving are all valuable and worth noting. My goal has been to highlight the participation of all three members of the Trinity in God-centered worship. It is only when we pursue these priorities together that we avoid the self-centered alternative.

What priority would you add to the list? Feel free to add it below!

Mission Creep

John the Baptist was a man on a mission. We would do well to follow His example as we seek to serve well.

John had a special place in God’s plan to redeem the world. In John 1:6, we read, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (NASB). From the three other Gospels in the New Testament, we know that this verse refers to John the Baptist. This is a different man than John, the son of Zebedee, who wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

God gave John the Baptist a specific mission (“sent from God”) that supported His overall plan to redeem the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. John’s assignment preceded Christ’s mission on the world stage as he pointed everyone he could to Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah. In the following verse, we learn that John came to witness and testify about Jesus Christ (John 1:7). In other words, His job was to shine a spotlight on “the Light” that had come into the darkness.

John’s mission put him in conflict with the mission of those who would ultimately rejected Jesus. Later on in John chapter 1, John the Baptist was questioned by a group of priests and Levites who were sent by the Jewish establishment (John 1:19-28). They were concerned about John and what he was trying to do. Neither he, nor Jesus, fit into their preconceived notions of a Savior.

The problem with a mission is that it can change overtime. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, mission creep is “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.” As John pointed people to Jesus his own popularity grew. In a short time, he attracted his own group of followers who were eager to hear a message from God. Even after John death, there was a group of disciples who followed John’s teachings and ignored Jesus. (Acts 19:1-7).

The closing verse in this short section guards against confusion and mission creep. In John 1:8 is says that John the Baptist was NOT the Light of the World (John 8:12). Even though he had a significant job to do, he was not the center of God’s plan to redeem the world.

Today’s Christian leaders would do well to pay attention to this verse. Like John the Baptist, believers today have been sent on a mission (John 20:21-22). That mission is to point others to Jesus Christ, not to replace Him as the Savior – of the Church, the denomiaiton, or the world. Christian leaders who gain popularity can drift from their original mission and forget that we are all just humble witnesses to the Light.

Why I’m All in for Vacation Bible School

I’m all in for Vacation Bible School and here’s why.

I’m all in for Vacation Bible School at my church. We have a great group of volunteers, but I love being a part of the opening and closing rallies and helping out any way I can. I look forward to greeting parents as they drop their kids off and giving out high-fives to those same kids as they make their way down the hall. This year, I get to share the gospel with the children at a few key points throughout the week.

Here are my top 5 reasons why I’m all in for VBS:

  1. VBS is fun. I know that it takes a lot of hard work and advanced planning to put a VBS together. The daily schedule can be a little tiring, but it’s a good kind of tiring. The music is upbeat, the decorations are colorful, and the kid’s smiles are fantastic. Add in some crafts, snacks, and games, and you have a recipe for a memorable time.
  2. VBS encourages the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be a priority.
  3. VBS encourages the church to look outward. Parents are always looking for things for their children to do during the summer months when school is not in session. VBS is a natural connection point that is easy to share with the community. These factors and more, make it easy for the church to use VBS as an outreach opportunity.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. The daily schedule usually includes a lot of activities. But a full schedule is an invitation to think about what kinds of messages are truly important. In other words, what do we really want to pass on to our children? The good news about Jesus Christ – his death, burial, and resurrection for us – is the best message of all and VBS an ideal time to share it.
  5. VBS brings out the best in our church volunteers. All kinds of people can volunteer at VBS. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can be a part. People that enjoy music and crafts can do their part. Even athletic types can serve.

These are my top 5 reasons why I’m all in for Vacation Bible School. Feel free to share your own reasons why you love to participate in VBS in the comment section below.

A Plan to Guide Your Personal Prayer Time

Jesus was so passionate about prayer that He taught his disciples to pray as part of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:9-13 (see also Luke 11:2-4). Some people quote the Savior’s model prayer word for word, while others prefer a more relaxed approach. Both of these groups would benefit from a reminder of the spirit that stands behind this particular prayer. I believe the Lord’s Prayer teaches how to develop a posture of dependence on God. If we aren’t dependent on God, then why pray?

The six petitions contained in the prayer can be divided up into two categories focusing first on who God is and then on what God does for us. Here is a two-part plan to guide your personal prayer time based on the Lord’s Prayer. You can use this plan to help with your daily devotional time or as part of a special emphasis.

Part 1: Praise God for Who He Is

  • He is Sanctified (v 9).
    • – Acknowledge God’s holiness and perfection.
    • – Name some of the character qualities that God perfectly fulfills.
    • – Express your reverence and respect for God.
  • He is Sovereign (v.10).
    1. – Reaffirm Christ as your Savior and Lord.
    2. – Ask God to show you how His kingdom is growing and expanding on earth.
    3. – Express your gratitude for all the ways that God preserves you and your loved ones.
  • He is Steadfast (v.10).
    1. – Reflect on God’s steadiness and consistency.
    2. – Thank God for His determination to bring His will to pass.
    1. – Invite God to move in your life so that His will would be done, starting with you.

Part 2: Praise God for What He Does

  1. He Gives Us Our Sustenance (v. 11)
    1. – Give thanks to God for three specific ways that He has met your needs recently.
    1. – Share a new need with God, trusting that He wants to respond.
    2. – Look for ways to share your appreciation of God’s provision with others.
  2. He Gives Us Our Salvation (v. 12).
    1. – Praise God for the forgiveness that you have by faith in Jesus Christ.
    2. – Give God permission to reveal any areas in your life where you have an unforgiving spirit.
    3. – Life up someone in your life who may be lost and separated from God.
  3. He Gives Us Our Spiritual Victory (v. 13).
    1. – Ask God to give you victory over sin and temptation.
    2. – Call on God to give you the strength you need to stand and grow.
    3. – Identify one area that you can grow in as a disciple of Christ, and do it.
  • The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to praise God for who He is as well as what He does for us. This guide is just one way for you to connect this model prayer with your personal prayer. In doing so, I hope you are able to develop a posture of dependence on God as you engage with Him in prayer.

Here are two books on prayer that I’ve found particularly helpful:

On Earth As it is on Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively by Warren Wiersbe (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010).

How to Pray: Developing an Intimate Relationship with God by Ronnie Floyd (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2019).