My Experience in a Discipleship Group

sm-grp-bible-study-LOWRes

I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.

One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.

This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.

The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.

I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.

What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?

Advertisements

Working Toward Effectiveness

paulette-wooten-mRtcYQfbapc-unsplash

Yesterday I preached a message from 2 Timothy 2:1-7 on effectiveness in ministry. In the passage, Paul paints four pictures of effectives ministry for his associate, Timothy: a strategic teacher, a selective soldier, a self-disciplined athlete, and strong farmer. Yesterday I preached the message, today I’m working on putting it into practice.

The pictures presented in the passage all have an application to my life and ministry, but the picture of a selective soldier stands out me right now. The picture of a selective soldier is a picture of priorities. A soldier can’t follow the order of his commanding officer if he’s wrapping up in civilian affairs.

I have a tendency to try to be all things to all people. This seems like a positive quality, but it’s not. It’s not good for me to be involved in so many things that I don’t do anything well. It’s not healthy for me to find my joy and self-worth in making other people happy, no matter how noble the task. I know myself well enough to pushback against this natural impulse.

Effectiveness in life and ministry means setting priorities. As a result of yesterday’s message, I am trying to prioritize three things: preaching, gospel conversations, and quality time with my family. Some weeks are “messier” then others and I don’t set aside enough time to prepare for my preaching responsibilities. Since I have been gifted as a pastor-teacher and I have been called to serve Unity Baptist Church, effectiveness for me preparing and preaching to the best of my ability.

I believe that preaching is important, but so is personal evangelism. I’ve had the privilege of studying evangelism at the highest academic levels, but that doesn’t make me an evangelist. Sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and pursing gospel conversations makes me an evangelist. I am praying right now for opportunities to share Jesus this week.

As a vocational minister, my personal life and my work life are intertwined. Sometimes these roles get out of balance. At various times in my life, I’ve prioritized my work life over my family life. I honestly feel like I’ve improved in this area, but I don’t want to repeat my unhealthy patterns of the past. I just came back from a week-long family vacation and I praise God for an opportunity to prioritize time with my family.

These are just some of the things I’m thinking about to work towards more effectiveness in my ministry. I want to serve Christ as faithful soldier who choses his duties wisely.

What are you doing to improve your effectiveness in ministry?

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

The Marks of a Disciple

nacho-dominguez-argenta-F_ilCik66Hg-unsplash

Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.

Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)

The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks are dynamic, not static, meaning they grow and develop over time.

1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.

Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.

A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).

Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).

It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.

2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.

Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).

God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.

People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.

3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.

Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.  The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).

We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.

Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.

In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?

Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

priscilla-du-preez-bqxoce3zm9c-unsplash-e1563877507729.jpg

D. L. Moody was a shoe salesman turned international evangelist near the end of the 19thcentury. He had a huge impact on the Kingdom of God, holding crusades & other meetings across America & Europe.  His influence is still felt today through the institutions that he left behind: Moody Bible Institute, Moody Publishers, & the Moody Church.  While preparing for a crusade in England, a local pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated & inexperienced.  Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” Another wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the HS has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.”

The Holy Spirit can have a big effect on the life of a believer. The third person of the Trinity makes the presence of God personal. He also demonstrates the power of God in the life of the believer.

In his Farewell Discourse in John 16:5-15, Jesus revealed that the Holy Spirit has a dynamic ministry to unbelievers in the world as well as the believers. If you miss out on both sides of the Holy Spirit’s ministry you might find it hard to make sense of Jesus’ instruction in this passage where he says, “it is to your advantage that I go away” (v. 7)

In John 16:5-15, Jesus describes four things that the Holy Spirit does in the world and in the believer. The Holy Spirit is still alive and well today. As we understand his work among us we are better prepared to cooperate with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Sin (v. 9).

To understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we must understand sin. Sin is missing the mark – any thought or action that falls short of God’s perfect will. Like an arrow that misses the target, we have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

It is in our human nature to sin. It is not just some isolated event that happens once in awhile. Sin leads us to rebel against the righteous expectations of God and to reject his gracious offer of salvation.

The Holy Spirit works in the world like a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. The prosecuting attorney does everything in his or her power to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the charges that have been presented against them.

2. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Righteousness (v. 10).

Righteous describes someone who has a right to stand before God and has a right to be in a relationship with Him. God is the one who gets to decide what is right. God is our standard of righteousness.

Let’s return to the same courtroom scene we imagined earlier. While pursuing a conviction, the prosecutor appeals to the moral standards that have established through the law.  A criminal is guilty, not just of committing a crime, but failing to live up to the legal standards of the law.

3. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Judgment (v. 11).

Jesus knew that sin is inspired by Satan, “the ruler of this world.” In this verse, Jesus said that Satan “has been judged.” The term is in the perfect tense, meaning that it has already happened, and we are living out the continued effects. Those who side with the ruler of this world over the Savior of the world will be judged for all eternity when Christ comes back.

Let’s return one more time to the courtroom scene. After the prosecutor presents all of evidence and references all of the legal standards that are relevant to the case, he urges the jury to come back with a “guilty” verdict, so that the criminal can be sentenced for his crime.

4. The Holy Spirit Guides Believers in the Truth (v. 12-15).

Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to his disciples as “the Spirit of Truth,” or The Teacher. The disciples couldn’t take it all in as they were walking with JC, but the Holy Spirit inspired some of them to complete God’s authoritative Word. The same Spirit that inspired the Bible guides people to the truth today.

There are all kinds of helpful nuggets, helps, and tips in the Bible about all kinds of things in life. But the Bible and the ministry of the Holy Spirit isn’t focused on you, it’s focused on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of truth.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living & active & sharper than any two-edged sword, & piercing as far as the division of soul & spirit, of both joints & marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a surgeon’s scalpel in our lives.  No one that I know enjoys surgery, but we submit to it when we know there is no other way to get healthy.

The Holy Spirit has a dynamic work to the church and the world. He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He also guides the believers to the truth. The question is, will you cooperate with him?

Headlights and floodlights alert us of danger and highlight things of beauty. The headlights in your car illuminate the road at night and the floodlights around your home light up the architectural features of your home. When lighting is well done, you don’t see the lights themselves, but the hazards or the buildings the lights are trained on. The Holy Spirit lights up the dark places in our lives as well and he also lights up Jesus Christ so we can see our need for Savior.

 

Left Behind

beach-1661629_640.jpg

Jesus left the world better than he found it. He came into a world darkened by sin and showed his light. He overcame sickness and need with his God-sized power. He told the lost about God’s plan to save them and invited them to follow him.

When the time was right, however, he left his disciples behind and broke their collective hearts. But Jesus didn’t leave his disciples without a plan. He told them about his plan to continue his ministry through his disciples even though he was returning to his Heavenly Father in heaven.

In the Farewell Discourse found in John 14:1-31, we read about three realities that Jesus left behind that changed the world forever. As we align our lives to these three realities we participate in God’s plan to save the world. We also experience his care as he takes care of the little details in our lives.

1. Jesus Left Behind Disciples Who Look Forward to His Return      (14:1-6).

Jesus promised to return after preparing a place for each of his disciples in heaven. The disciples were stressed out about the details, but Jesus assured them that if they knew him they had all they needed. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (v. 6).

The world was and is better off with a growing group of disciples working to make Jesus known while they look forward to his return. Jesus didn’t just leave his disciples behind, he sent them out into the world to make more disciples on his behalf (John 20:19-21) I praise God for the disciples that have been made through the Church.

2. Jesus Left Behind Churches that Do Greater Work than He Did (14:12-14).

Jesus also promised his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. There was no way his disciples could top Jesus’ works in terms of importance or degree for there is no way to do better than walking on water or raising someone from the dead. The disciples could, however, do greater works than Jesus in terms of size and scale.

As often as churches use the Word of God to exalt the Son of God, they do “greater works” than Christ himself. Instead of 11 disciples gathered around to hear from God, there are hundreds of thousands of churches around the world with millions of disciples gathered to hear from God. Those with the gifts of service are just as important as those with the gifts of speaking if they are glorifying God (1 Peter 4:11).

3. Jesus Left Behind the Holy Spirit that Ministers on His Behalf (14:16-17, 25-29).

Jesus rounded out his discourse with a promise to send the Holy Spirit to help his disciples. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit teaches His disciples through the written Word of God and reminds them of the Word they have studied. The goal is to get in Word of God so that the Word of God gets into you.

Jesus left the world better than he found it by leaving behind three important realities: disciples, churches, and the Holy Spirit. That brings up three closing questions:

Are you a disciple of Christ?

Are you engaged in the work of the church?

Are you hearing from the Holy Spirit?

If you align yourself with the big stuff in God’s plan, the details that we so often worry about will fall into place. Jesus left the world better because he left us behind to multiply his ministry. If you align yourself with these three realities, God will take care of the rest. He may be gone but he’s not gone forever. Are you ready for his return?

Lord of Life

bruno-van-der-kraan-v2HgNzRDfII-unsplash

There are lots of names in the Bible that are popular today, but not Lazarus. You know a Noah and an Elizabeth, but do you know a Lazarus? Probably not.

Lazarus is a name that is associated with life and death. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at the peak of his ministry. Like all the other signs that Jesus did, this miracle was designed to reveal something about our Savior.

Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in front of three different groups of people. These groups all had there one question for Jesus. These questions help us understand this pivotal event.

Why would you risk your life? (John 11: 1-16)

Jesus had developed a close relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word for Jesus to come. This prominent family lived in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.

When Jesus announced his plans to go to Bethany, his disciples questioned him (v. 8). The Jewish establishment had tried to kill Jesus twice before he escaped to the other side of the Jordan River. The disciples knew that it would be very dangerous for Jesus (and them, v. 16) to go near Jerusalem.

The disciples were also confused about Lazarus’ condition. The message they received only said that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping, which didn’t warrant a life-threatening mission to Jerusalem.

Why did you wait so long? (John 11:17-27)

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus and question him (v. 21). She knew that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, but why didn’t he come two days earlier to heal Lazarus.

Jesus revealed that he was more than a healer, he was and still is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to have power over life and death and he would soon prove it.

Why didn’t he do something? (John 11: 28-46)

Mary also came out to speak to Jesus followed by a large group of mourners. Mary’s family must have been well known because a large number of people came from Jerusalem to comfort her and her sister after Lazaurus’ death.

Mary took Jesus to the tomb where they laid Lazarus and she wept along with the crowd of comforters. Jesus also wept, overcome with emotion and his disappointment with the brokenness of sin.

As the mourners watched Jesus they questioned him If was a miracle worker, why didn’t he perform a miracle for this man and this family who he clearly loved? If he could help, why didn’t he?

Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. Martha objected because at that point Lazarus was definitely dead and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all three groups that were present – his disciples, Martha & Mary, and their comforters –   and called Lazarus out of the tomb. As he stumbled out into the light, they unwrapped him from his grave clothes.

Jesus answered these three questions by defeating death so that…

  1. So that you would love Him. 

    Jesus risked his life to save the life of a friend he loved very much. Will you love him in return? John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

  2. So that you would glorify Him. 

    Jesus waited to visit Lazarus so he could perform a greater miracle. Will you welcome and worship Jesus as God in the flesh? John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

  3. So that you would believe in Him. 

    Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about one thing – getting people who need to be saved to believe that he was their Savior. Will you accept him or reject him? John 20:31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

A Test of Faith

shutterstock_567766756

Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.

Are You a Stray Sheep?

ireland-1985088_640

Yesterday, I published a post about how to tell the difference between a good shepherd-leader in the church and bad-shepherd. You can check that our here.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus described the final judgment as a time when the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are those whose faith in Jesus Christ produced a caring lifestyle. They are welcomed into God’s presence for eternity. The goats are those whose lack of faith produced the opposite – a selfish and uncaring lifestyle. Eternal punishment in the final destination for goats.

Once someone becomes a sheep in God’s flock they cannot be lost, but they can stray. In John 10, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Shepherd. The parable applications for shepherds, but it also has applications for sheep. How can you tell if you are stray sheep according to this chapter?

1. How familiar are you with God’s voice?

God’s sheep know Him by His voice and follow accordingly (v. 27). Today, God speaks primarily through the Bible. If you don’t read the Bible or you rarely read the Bible it could mean you are not hearing from God.

2. Do you follow God’s direction?

Shepherds lead their sheep from the sheepfold to the pasture and back again. This journey requires guidance and direction. If you haven’t changed the direction of your life in a while at God’s request it could mean you are not following very closely.

3. Do you “flock” with other sheep?

Sheep are herd animals by nature. They gather in groups for encouragement, companionship, and protection. It’s no surprise that Jesus told His followers to gather believers together in churches for the same reasons. If you are meeting with Gospel-centered church on a regular it could mean you are trouble.

Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Shepherd to help us find our place in His flock. If you have truly become one of His sheep you can never go back, but you can miss out on His best for you. God loves you too much to let you stray.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

Fotolia_98103171_Subscription_Monthly_M-1080x675

If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.

Five Kinds of People Who Don’t Believe

aaron-burden-307060-unsplash

The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.

That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.

1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).

The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).

From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar.[1] The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.

2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)

The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).

Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.

3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)

Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.

Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.

4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).

The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt.[2] The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.

Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.

5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).

The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.

Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.

Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.

John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.

[1]Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash