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From the series Letters to the Prison

--

Hello, everyone!


Last week, we considered Jesus’ stunning claim: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Oddly, there are people today who seem to think that Jesus never claimed to be God.  They apparently never read this part of the Bible.  Look what happens next:

  • The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” -John 10:31-33


So, Jesus’ enemies clearly understood what Jesus was saying.  And they clearly felt the need to respond by stoning him for blasphemy.  Claiming to be God is most certainly an act of blasphemy --if you aren’t actually God.  Jesus, however, has demonstrated by his works that he is God.  Claiming to be God is not an act of blasphemy if you really are God.  So, Jesus, being God in the flesh, was not guilty of blasphemy.  His acts prove that he is God.


But the people seeking to stone him are either ignoring or denying Jesus’ works and refusing to believe his words.  Is that like us?  This very thing goes on today.  Consider Psalm 19:1, which reads: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Also consider Colossians 1:15-20, the central verse (17) of which reads: “And [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Consider lastly Roman 8:34, which reads: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”


Jesus, being God, is still at work today.  All of creation testifies to that fact --Right now.  Jesus is holding all things together --Right now…As you read this.  And, Jesus is actively interceding for those who believe in him as he sits at the right hand of God the Father --Right now.   But many in the world would ignore that work --which is plainly evident in all creation.  Or deny his word --which is plainly recorded in the Bible.  So, many today are very much like the men seeking to stone Jesus –they deny both his word and his works.  Even as Jesus appeals once again to them to believe in him because of the proof of his works (John 10:37-38), they still deny both and seek to arrest him (John 10:39).  This is willful unbelief at work.  Romans 1:18-21 makes this clear:

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.


Friends, let this not be us.  Let this never be us.  Jesus says something else in the midst of this conversation that is very interesting.  We’ll look at it next week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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Kingdom Connections

Seeing their faith he says "Friend, your sins are forgiven." Luke 5:20


Last Sunday, we covered the story of Jesus healing the man who was brought through the roof by his friends (Luke 5:17-26). Our focus on this particular passage is often on the religious leaders who miss who Jesus is. Or we focus on the paralyzed man whom Jesus heals physically but also spiritually by stating that his sins are forgiven.


But there were also those friends. I picture four of them, each taking a handle of the stretcher. Jesus says that seeing "their" faith, he proclaims that this man's sins are forgiven.


I think the actions of these men are important. I think they are Kingdom of God actions. First off, they recognize that Jesus is someone who can heal their friend from this terrible condition. Second, I think the fact that they bring this man to Jesus is important.


Life in the 1st Century was hard. They didn't have all of the modern conveniences to make our lives comfortable, or at least less complicated. Think about your daily routine, the things that help get you going during the day. Imagine taking 90% of that away. How do you think your life would change by not living in the time and place we live now. I can guarantee it would be a lot more difficult. I can imagine that many of us wouldn't have enjoyed the many years that we have enjoyed here on this earth, me included. If I had the same physical illness that I have now, I would have been looking at a very short life.


Daily routines were challenging, managing a household was hard, work was undoubtedly more challenging for many people. Try adding on the burden of caring for someone who was paralyzed. Those who were seriously ill often found themselves on the streets begging just to stay alive in that day and age. In that day and age, physical illness was also seen to be a result of sin in your life, and nobody wanted to be associated with sinful living. Yet, here are these men who take time to get this man to one who they think can help solve his problem. They were friends of an outcast. They weren't afraid of getting their hands dirty or helping out one who was in dire need.


The religious folks are often called out for passing over those in need. But not these men. Their faith and willingness to help those out who are in need provide an opportunity for healing. They are involved in life-giving actions. They have Kingdom hearts.


My prayer is that we will be a people, not just trying to crowd around Jesus' feet so that we can feel good about ourselves. My prayer is that we will be like the friends who see a person in need and bring that person into Jesus' presence so that real healing can occur.


The religious leaders will leave this gathering seeking self-righteousness and pointing fingers in condemnation. The lame man will leave this gathering healed and forgiven because a couple of his friends had the courage and desire to introduce him to Jesus, the One who saves!

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Well-pleased and Loved

At our core, we all long to hear the words "you are beloved, with you I am well-pleased." Those are the words said to Jesus by his Father, our God.


"As he (Jesus) was praying, heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased." - Luke 3:21-22


The world will tell you that you deserve to hear those words; reality tells us a different story.


We all do things that don't please others, even God. A lie, slander, breaking a town law, hurting someone we love intentionally or unintentionally. All things that keep us from receiving the prestigious "perfect human being award."


The good news is that because Jesus received these words and then acted on them, we too can hear God tell us, "you are beloved, and I am well-pleased with you."


If you are in Christ, then this is how God sees you as He sees Jesus. Do you live in this truth?


Jesus heard from His Father and walked in that truth.


We have now heard it from God our Father, and we need to walk in that truth as well. This means living a life that follows the example Jesus set before us.


Jesus followed the commands and will of God, and that is our task as well. Not out of duty as if we have something more to prove in self-righteousness, but out of privilege as we have been called sons and daughters of God.


Go forth and walk in that truth. God loves you and is pleased with you.


Pastor Nick

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Easter Life - Letters to the Prisons

From our ongoing series, Letters to the Prisons


Hello, everyone.  We miss the face-to-face fellowship we had with you.  We’re hopeful that someday soon we can return and worship God with you in person.  Meanwhile, we’re thankful that our great God and Savior is always there even when we can’t be.  We encourage you today:  Draw near to God (1 Samuel 14:36; James 4:8; Ecclesiastes 5:1; Hebrews 7:19, 25; 11:6).


Since Easter is near, we’re going to pause where we are in our study of John to consider what is perhaps the greatest thing Jesus ever says about himself.  All along we’ve been considering what Jesus (and others) say, and we will get to this passage eventually in our study of John.  But our celebration of Easter is so important that we’re going to “skip ahead” to touch on this profound thing that Jesus says about himself:

  • I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” -John 11:25


There is nothing subtle or difficult to understand about this.  There’s no huge interpretive challenge to face when trying to determine what Jesus says here, nor is there any way to misunderstand what he means by what he says.  We’ll see this even more clearly when we see the circumstances during which he says this amazing thing (Read John 11 if you’re interested in “skipping ahead.”  We’ll get there eventually!).  Still, what Jesus says here is clear enough.  It is quite plain.  Quite simple.  And, as we’ve seen, Jesus backs up what he says.  

If you decide to read ahead in John 11, you’ll see one way Jesus does that right then and there.  But more importantly, what we celebrate at Easter is how Jesus backs up this claim after he has been falsely accused, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, tortured, crucified, stabbed through the heart with a spear, pronounced dead, embalmed, and buried for three days.

What does Jesus do?

He gets up.  

He neatly folds the cloth that was wrapped around his head and leaves the tomb

–Alive.

Friends, of all the things Jesus might have said, what he did says so much more.  We could consider that simple quiet act of getting up from the dead forever, but for today don’t walk away from this without considering the other thing Jesus says in John 11:

  • Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  -John 11:25-26


We pray, dear brothers and sisters, that your answer to Jesus’ question is “Yes!  I believe!”


A great preacher once said, “there’s no problem bigger than ‘dead and buried.’”  And then he shouted, “I SAID, there’s NO problem BIGGER than ‘DEAD and BURIED’!!!”  He’s right.  Jesus solved that problem.  Do you think he can help us solve ours?  We’re certain he can.  And the proof Jesus offers –that he got up from the dead-- is what we celebrate at Easter.  


Happy Easter!  We love you!  We’ll resume our study next week! 


Dean A.

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"If only" is not a phrase to live by.

"For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit...And you yourselves became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit. As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia."

1 Thessalonians 1:4-7


Thessalonica, a church that changed the world because Jesus changed them. They imitated the Lord and became an example to their whole region.


I don't know a single Christian that would say that our lives don't change or don't have meaning when we come to Jesus. If that was the case, why in the world would we even decide to put our hope and trust in Him? The whole premise of the Christian life is that we follow the One who brings great change and who has given us the promise that we are a new creation because of Jesus. There is so much hope in that statement: We are a new creation in Christ Jesus.


One of the problems is that we don't actually live that life, the new life. I'm not saying the new life is easy; it might actually be getting harder. What I'm saying is that we often put our hope in the idea that the world around us will change instead of focusing on how Christ is changing us. Or maybe I will start to feel better when these other people change. One of the ways in which this comes out is in the blame game.


  • "If they would only do this, or stop doing this, then...."
  • "If we just had the right people in political power, then we could...."
  • "I can't get ahead in this world because my boss/workplace is...."
  • "You just don't know what they did to me; I can never forgive them for...."
  • "My spouse does not satisfy me; I'd be better off without...."
  • etc, etc, etc...


The blame game gives power and control to other people instead of allowing God to have control. If you can always blame other people well, then you never have to stick around, you don't actually have to change, or circumstances are always out of your control."


When we blame, we actually give control of our lives over to other people. And though we say we want to be able to make our own choices or live the way that we want to live, blaming is often easier because it always puts the ball in someone else's court. Blame gives us the right to complain without taking any action. Blame also lets us sit in the seat of the past instead of taking hold of God's promises for the future. And the promises are abundant!


John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


John 8:36 - So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


Philippians 4:19 - And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.


Psalm 27:1 - The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?


Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Matthew 6:31-33 - So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


Ephesians 3:16-19 - I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.


2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!


And this is just a sampling of the promises found in Christ Jesus. What do they all have in common:

  • Don't worry.
  • He is working all things out.
  • You are a new creation.
  • Christ is working in you and for you.
  • The Holy Spirit is providing the power to make it through your day.


What Jesus has done for you is to provide you with a new life in a new kingdom. God's kingdom, a kingdom that is going to last into eternity. Our life here on this earth is just a pinprick in the grand scheme of eternity. Why are we worrying or stressing about a pinprick?


I'm not saying that this life will be all roses and chocolates when we start to follow Jesus. I'm more of a realist than that! Christ bore the cross for us and asked us to bear the cross as well as we enter into his new kingdom. That's a pretty tough statement. Life might be tough because we will find ourselves on the "outs" with this world. The world acts quite a bit differently than God's kingdom. So we should expect some push back, and we probably should feel like we don't really fit in here. We must unlock ourselves from this world, unlocking our expectation that it will act like the kingdom of God or that we can "make it" the kingdom of God. This is just a good way for us to cast blame because "those other people won't get their acts together."


Blame says, "the problems in my life are because of other people." God says, "I've set you free from the hold of this world, and you can live as a new creation." We need to continue to have our minds renewed so that we can take on a more future-focused and solution-oriented direction in life. [Christ has given us a future and has provided the solution to the problems of this world!] We get to walk in that!


Can we stop giving control to other people and circumstances and allow Jesus to have that control? Now is the time to take our eyes off of this world and focus them squarely on Jesus and who we are in Him. Take hold of God's promises and claim them as your own because He has given them to you. You can live in the hope that Jesus has provided!


If you are having trouble with this, we would love to help. There are brothers and sisters who would love to encourage you on your journey in Christ. If you are really bogged down in the grief of this world, I would love to help you work through that as a pastoral counselor. Check out this link for more information on that process. FBC Hope


We know that life can be tough. It's a good thing that we get to lean into a Savior that proved Himself more powerful than this life.


Let me leave you with this prayer today found in Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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What Do We Do When A Christian Leader Falls?…..Again

My Thoughts on Ravi Zacharias


The news broke within the last few weeks that beloved apologist Ravi Zacharias had truly engaged in behind the scenes sexual misconduct for a significant portion of his ministry. There has been a lot written on the story, and there are various opinions about what that means for Ravi and his reputation as well as the RZIM organization going forward. It is not my intention to add to the overabundance of noise but to speak a few sentences on my thoughts as a pastor and church leader.


Like many church leaders, I greatly admired Ravi’s work because of his ability to paint a picture of who God is, the work that He has done through history and specifically the cross, and the necessary response of us as humanity to turn back to Him. I always felt like Ravi was building a solid case for Christianity. I have heard that many people came to Jesus because of the work of Ravi Zacharias. 


In a time like this, especially with the new revelations coming out, we again realize that we are not saved because of a mere man. We are saved because of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit’s call in our lives. Let me refer to a quote by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, a Twitter influencer. Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is a survivor of sexual abuse and an advocate for those who have experienced it. 


“If you feel you were lead to Christ by Ravi Zacharias and feel shaken, please hear me: You were not saved by any man, but by the Holy Spirit working through a sinner. Regardless of his wickedness, the Spirit who called you is Holy. Cling to God. Do not fear. He is faithful.”


We can be confident in our relationship with God because the Holy Spirit has called us out and welcomed us into the family of God because of Jesus Christ’s great sacrifice for us on the cross. This is where our confidence is found.


Ephesians 2:8-9 - For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.


Acts 16:30-31 - “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”


If you have experienced a shake-up in your faith because of the actions and hypocrisy of Ravi Zacharias, please seek comfort from the Lord and ask Him to give you a renewed confidence in your standing as a child of God. You are not asking God to make you His child again, as if you had lost that connection. That standing is already secure. You are merely asking God to again fill you with the hope, promises, and confidence that comes through Him. Fellow brothers and sisters know that you are loved completely and fully by God.


But we still have the question, sitting on the table, about what to do with Ravi Zacharias and his ministry. There are many opinions about that. Some would say that we have to burn all his books and tapes, never to be influenced by him again. That Ravi’s life and behavior has a direct connection to the fruit of the organization’s ministry. Others would say that God will judge Ravi, so we need to drop the matter and let it go as it has a chance to divide the church even more. After all, don’t we see sexual sin throughout the Bible? Shouldn’t we just consider Ravi another in line with the story of King David? King David was a great man and leader, and his slip-up didn’t disqualify his work. Ravi was a great prophet voice in the wilderness, calling people to Jesus. Hasn’t his passing closed the door on this issue?


The door has not closed because this man spoke influentially for the Lord while living a double life of blatant and destructive sin. The door has not closed because, again, another prominent leader in the Church has tarnished the name of those who lead for the sake of Christ. And most importantly, the door has not closed because there are still victims out there. 


The official report coming from RZIM shows a pattern of sexual misconduct, secrecy, deception, and even rape on the part of Mr. Zacharias. This happened over decades of service in the Lord’s name. The difference we see in Ravi Zacharias and King David over the sin of rape is that King David fell on his face in repentance when it became known. King David was willing to live in the consequences of his sin and suffered the punishment for that sin. King David was repentant. What we see in the testimony of Mr. Zacharias is one of continued deception and denial even when confronted with the allegations that turned out to be true. This is why we can’t just close the door.


There is a sickness in this world called sin. God speaks pretty harshly for those engaged in sexual immorality because it is a sin that tarnishes and destroys the profound beauty that God created for marriage relationships, which is ultimately a picture of Christ and His Church. 


1 Corinthians 6:18-20 - Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.


There is a sickness in the world called sin, and we see it continue to creep into the Body of Christ. This is not a new struggle, and we are not unique in our own struggle. When we attempt to cover sin up, we damage the Holy Name of God because we are His people and His representatives here on this earth. We must no longer do this. Men and women now is the time for action. If there are secrets that we are keeping in our lives, now is the time to confess them and seek help. If we find ourselves caught in this deadly trap of living a sexually loose life, then we must aggressively seek to get out from under that as it will continue to build destructive patterns in our lives. As we have seen by the testimony of Ravi Zacharias. Men and women, if we find ourselves addicted to pornography, we must cleanse that from our digital devices, our subscriptions, and viewing habits. But maybe most importantly, as the church, we must seek to restore and not destroy those who come to us in need. If repentance is on someone’s lips, we must hear and help and not cast away. We honor those who come in confession because they are turning their hearts away from something that has held a tight grip on them for a long time. Let us give voice to the victims of sin and hear the confession of those in repentance. May we be a people focused on grace and compassion.


We all have to decide what to do with Ravi’s teaching. Honestly, at this point, I can’t stand the sight of his pictures, and I won’t be able to open up one of his books or watch one of his videos without seeing the victims that were preverbally left on the side of the road while he was preaching Jesus. Maybe a time will come when I can separate the man from the material. But not yet. We all have to let our conscience dictate that for us. 


Ravi Zacharias’s story is now one of an extremely flawed man, with little or no repentance for the harm that he caused to others. The Church will continue to feel the ripples of these actions for a long time. Let us not dismiss them because we will further communicate the message that we are against victims. Let us continue to pray for our leaders and those who hold high profile ministries because the enemy desires to take them out to destroy the Church. I am thankful that I don’t have to decide the state of other’s souls. Instead, look to God as the one who is our high and just Judge. If there are logs in our own eyes, let’s seek to remove them and model repentance and healing from the sins of this world. 


When a Christian leader falls we are, again, reminded of the great hold of sin on this world and we seek to be a people that repents of our own sin and keep our eyes focused on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


RZIM Report

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A Word of Hope for a People Under Pressure

We are about to start our journey through the 1st letter to the Thessalonian church. This is a note from Paul to this newly founded group of Jesus followers. I'm not going to give away the points of the letter just yet, but this really struck me.


Acts 17:11 - "The people here [Berea] were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica,..."


What an amazing testimony for the church in Berea as well as a harsh critique about the people of Thessalonica. The Thessalonians were lacking in character. What we know is that Paul and his other travelers had to leave the city of Thessalonica because a mob had risen up against them. Yet, in his letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul says this.


"We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers. We recall, in the presence of our God and Father; your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thess. 1:2-3


What an amazing set of statements. The people of Thessalonica were low in character, but yet here we have a group of Jesus followers that Paul can't stop praising because of their faith and work in the community.


We are going to begin our dive into the Letter to the Thessalonian church over the next few weeks. Hopefully, we will find encouragement from the words of Scripture as it shows us the testimony of a people, under great persecution, who stood strong in their faith. May we be a people who look to them for encouragement as we face our own trials and temptations in this life. This is going to be a great study.

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God is Love

1 John 4:7-11

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.


The Apostle John gives us an amazing set of verses here. First off, we are to love one another. Ok, we can try and do that. But then John takes us through what love really means. And guess what, we can't do it. Love it from God, and not only that, but God is love. The way that God shows His love for us is that He makes a sacrifice. He doesn't just make a little sacrifice, like skipping TV for a week or cutting down on the sodas for a little while. (By the way, these are great things for us to "sacrifice" for a little while!). God makes the biggest sacrifice that He can make. He sends His Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth and live with us - but wait, that is not all - and to die on our behalf.


God knew that we could never get out from under the weight of our sin. It's built into our nature. You could say that it's who we are. We are naturally separated from a Holy God. There is no latter to climb, no step to stand on, no tower that we can build that will get us close to this Holy God. The only way we get close is by having Jesus come down to us.


John reminds us that we did not love God, and that is why he made His sacrifice. No, God loved us. And because of God's love, we can truly love Him back. And it doesn't stop there. Because of God's love for us and the love that we can give back through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to love people around us as well. "Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another." There is the command. We must....love one another.


Take a moment right now, put down what you are doing, pause the TV show, and decide what is that one act, that one thing, that you can do today to show love to your neighbor?


Do you have your idea? Good. Now let's go out and do it!

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Judgement and the Church

This article was found by one of the FBC elders. Really good stuff to think about.


5 Ways Judgmental Christians Are Killing Your Church

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The Church and Temple Life

Over this last year, it has become apparent that the church needs to meet in some fashion to fulfill its purpose and mission. We need each other, and nobody can deny that. 

COVID-19 has totally changed the landscape of what it means to be the church in our day and age. Is it a location, or is it a people? Most followers of Jesus would naturally say that the church is the people. But even with that answer, we are pretty quick to add our thoughts on meeting and gathering as a body. The Scriptures speak to the importance of meeting as a fellowship of believers, such as places like Hebrews 10:25, which says: “...not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing,...”. And to tell you the truth, this is a natural response to the year that has tried to keep us apart. It’s a natural response, but is it a Biblical response? 

What is the appropriate response to being the church when we cannot meet like “normal” since March 2020? My first thought is that we should go back and see how those early Christians handled the situation. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a pretty good picture of what went on during those first “church services” as the church was being formed.


42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now, all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Every day, they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47


Look at that. The church met every day both in the temple and in each other's homes. See, we need a church building or a central location! If we examine the 1st century and the early church workings, we might uncover a slightly different take on this story. 

Yes, they indeed gathered in large groups. They did go to the temple to teach, pray, and worship. But the temple was a much different place than our modern-day church. For the 1st century Jewish follower of Jesus, the temple was undoubtedly an extension of their past worship experience. It was a natural place to gather because everyone gathered there. Everyone gathered at the temple those who believed in Jesus as well as those who didn’t. This is why the Apostles were getting themselves in trouble; they preached about Jesus in a very public Jewish place. It was a natural location to go to because they were coming to a place where everyone would gather, both believers and those they were evangelizing. 

One of our favorite ways to describe the Christian experience is that we are in a new family. This is absolutely Biblically true. But what size constitutes a family gathering? I would pose the idea that the 1st century church considered those home gatherings as their “family gatherings.” Acts 2:46 tells us that they broke bread in their homes. The home was the place where authentic relationships were formed. 

But back to the temple. The temple was convenient. It was central. Everyone went there, and so it was a natural place to gather. We would do well to keep in mind that the temple was part of the larger community where worship happened and where the general business of the day happened. What we’ve done as a modern church is to take this idea of the temple as our central place of worship and place our churches within that mold. We’ve created new temple experiences and have allowed those experiences to be our primary experience. We are just following along in the footsteps of those first Christians who came before us. They met at the temple regularly, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Then something happened. The temple was basically cut off for large gatherings because the people were scattered. Acts 8 begins to tell the story of those early Christians in the Jerusalem area as they came under great persecution. Most of them were forced to disperse to other parts of the world. 

Many of these scattered followers of Jesus would land in towns and cities that contained a Jewish synagogue. Well, there you have it, another central place for worship. The problem was the 1st century synagogues were nothing like the temple experience. There were little or no worship experiences happening in the synagogues. The synagogue system wouldn’t start to take on that role until much later. 

So what was a synagogue, and why did believers go there? The synagogue is a Greek word that means a gathering of people. Why do they gather? A whole lot of things. Synagogues were used for a “variety of communal needs: as schools (Josephus, Antiquities 16.43), for communal meals (Josephus, Antiquities 14.214-216), as hostels, as courts (Acts 22:19), as a place to collect and distribute charity (Matt 6:2), and for political meetings”. So, when we see Paul going to the synagogue to preach, he is just going to the town’s central meeting place so that he could preach the Gospel to his Jewish brothers. Think about it this way, going to the synagogue might be like us going to the town hall, or better yet, the local pub down the street. These are the kinds of meeting places where the people who need to hear about Jesus and find a relationship with Him go.

It’s more reasonable to think that the “main” church meetings were happening more frequently in places like the home. We see Lydia as an example of that in Acts 16. She became a follower of Jesus, and she had a pretty wealthy household, and so more than likely, the church met there. Going back to Acts 2, they broke bread in the home.

We must be very careful that we do not try to hold on to a temple experience as the first believers tried to do. I’m not saying that they relied on the temple, but according to the Scripture and their early practices, it looks like the temple model began to become a foundational part of their faith in those early days. It took God shaking things up for them to break out of that mold and become the mobile church that we see in the rest of the Scriptures. A gathering of people who go to other people to share the Good News about Jesus Christ.

There is nothing wrong with seeking out a central common location to have large gatherings. I love getting together with a lot of people to sing praises to the Lord. It’s fun; it’s energizing, it’s comfortable. But let me throw out this challenge; maybe things are being shaken for us like in those early church days. And because we are being shaken, we need to be on the lookout for the new ways God will move in his people. Just like they did in the 1st century.

We are a family, but maybe it’s time for the family to get away from the ongoing family reunions and seek out those places to meet and minister where those who are lost can be invited to see who this Jesus is. Maybe this is when we look to go big, but we do it by going small. Some modern-day leaders are calling them micro-church experiences. Perhaps the breaking of bread in the home is the new way of doing church in 2021, at least for the time being. I’ve been encouraged by some of the stories I’ve heard about groups from within the FBC body, both ministry teams and small groups, gathering together to minister to one another. This is church.

So let's not get discouraged if the doors to our larger buildings are closed. Let’s embrace that and find new and creative ways to get together with groups of people who might never darken the doorway of a “church.” There are people like that out there. Maybe we need those larger buildings to be closed for the time being for the health, growth, and wellbeing of the future church?


(I close this by saying that I am not a 1st century historian, but I am one who is looking to the Scriptures and studying the 1st century to understand better the culture that helped define Christianity.)


(This temple talk doesn’t even attempt to cover the temple versus tabernacle models of worship. The tabernacle model, a mobile vehicle of worship, is a whole other illustration of how the Body of Christ works.)


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Previous Posts
Still At Work

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Hello, everyone!


Last week, we considered Jesus’ stunning claim: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Oddly, there are people today who seem to think that Jesus never claimed to be God.  They apparently never read this part of the Bible.  Look what happens next:

  • The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” -John 10:31-33


So, Jesus’ enemies clearly understood what Jesus was saying.  And they clearly felt the need to respond by stoning him for blasphemy.  Claiming to be God is most certainly an act of blasphemy --if you aren’t actually God.  Jesus, however, has demonstrated by his works that he is God.  Claiming to be God is not an act of blasphemy if you really are God.  So, Jesus, being God in the flesh, was not guilty of blasphemy.  His acts prove that he is God.


But the people seeking to stone him are either ignoring or denying Jesus’ works and refusing to believe his words.  Is that like us?  This very thing goes on today.  Consider Psalm 19:1, which reads: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Also consider Colossians 1:15-20, the central verse (17) of which reads: “And [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Consider lastly Roman 8:34, which reads: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”


Jesus, being God, is still at work today.  All of creation testifies to that fact --Right now.  Jesus is holding all things together --Right now…As you read this.  And, Jesus is actively interceding for those who believe in him as he sits at the right hand of God the Father --Right now.   But many in the world would ignore that work --which is plainly evident in all creation.  Or deny his word --which is plainly recorded in the Bible.  So, many today are very much like the men seeking to stone Jesus –they deny both his word and his works.  Even as Jesus appeals once again to them to believe in him because of the proof of his works (John 10:37-38), they still deny both and seek to arrest him (John 10:39).  This is willful unbelief at work.  Romans 1:18-21 makes this clear:

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.


Friends, let this not be us.  Let this never be us.  Jesus says something else in the midst of this conversation that is very interesting.  We’ll look at it next week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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The Idea of Eternal Life

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Hello, everyone.  We were so thrilled to see some of you in person in St. Johnsbury and to be able to sing praises to God and consider his word together.  It is so important to meet together, and we love meeting with you.  We’re looking forward to more opportunities in the future!


Meanwhile, last week, we encouraged you to join us as we sit with three profound verses and consider what they mean for us as believers in Jesus Christ.  Here they are again:

  • I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” -John 10:28-30


There are so many things we could take away from these verses… too many to cover here.  But there are three major things we’d like to consider briefly:


1. The eternal life Jesus claims to give to his people is not temporal, biological life…  believers like John the Baptist are already dead when Jesus speaks these words.  John 11 records the raising of Lazarus to life… and yet Lazarus dies… again.  Jesus will soon die himself… and come back, as we know.  So, our promised eternal life comes after death.


2. Yet our life with Jesus nevertheless begins here and now when we hear him calling, recognize that we belong to him, place our faith, hope, and trust in him, and follow him.  And there is a promise and security about that, too.  Jesus the Son and God the Father provide a “double security,” as we saw last week.  But the Holy Spirit provides a third security.  Look what the Apostle Paul says:

  • 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  -Ephesians 4:30


The Holy Spirit dwelling in us is our “seal…” our assurance on the day of redemption.


3. The idea that the third part of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, dwells in us now –in this life—has profound implications for how we are to live… and how we are empowered to live.  We are commanded not to “grieve” the Spirit living inside of us (Christians are a temple of the Holy Spirit -1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Yet we are also given everything we need --by that same Holy Spirit—to live in a way that pleases God.  Because God’s Spirit lives in us, we have the power to choose to live in a way that honors and glorifies God.  For further reading, 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 offer plenty to think about in terms of how God’s Holy Spirit operates in and through us.


Beloved friends, this is but a glimpse of a few of the stunning realities Jesus has laid out for us in those three mind-blowing verses in John 10.  As we consider such things, God has an opportunity to meet with us in personal ways and give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves where we are in ways that are pleasing to him and give him glory.  And, dear friends, we hope that these realities --and the eternal hope and security we find in them—provide you with confidence, comfort, and courage where you are.


Next week, we’ll continue by looking at the people’s reactions to Jesus’ words.  We love you!


Dean A.

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Security

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Last week, Jesus explained the problem:  People don’t believe him because they aren’t part of his flock (John 10:26).  This week, we see Jesus’ promise to the people who, because they hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27), are counted amongst his sheep:

  • I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  -John 10:28


This is a profound promise, to be sure.  But it is also a staggering claim that Jesus makes about himself.  Keep in mind that Jesus is standing in front of the people he’s talking to –a man, in the flesh.  And he’s claiming to give people (whom he compares to sheep)… people that he owns (John 10:14)…  people that belong to him… what?  Eternal life.  And, with that eternal life, the promise that his people –whom Jesus owns—will never perish.  They are in his hands.  Jesus owns them.  He pays for them with his life (John 10:15, 17).  And no one --no one-- will snatch them out of Jesus’ hand.


“Oh, yeah?  No one?  What about God?”  someone might ask…  Jesus has an answer:

  • My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  -John 10:29


We’re moving into “mind-blowing” territory again, here.  God, whom Jesus lovingly refers to as his Father (as he does in so many places) –God, who is greater than all—is the one who has given the people that belong to Jesus… to Jesus.  And no one –no one—is able to snatch them out of God the Father’s hand.  That is a stunning claim for Jesus to make.  It’s also an overwhelming thing to think about for us.  It’s a double security for those who belong to Jesus.  They are secure in Jesus’ hands because God has given them to him… and they are already secure in God the Father’s hands.


And, just to be sure no one is confused… just in case anyone is wondering how any of this can even be possible, or make any kind of sense, Jesus makes another “bombshell” of a claim:

  •  I and the Father are one.” -John 10:30


The Jews in Jerusalem had asked Jesus to “tell them plainly” (John 10:24) whether he was the Christ… the Anointed One of God… the Messiah…  Jesus did not make them wait long for his answer.  The stunning implications of these verses are too vast to unpack in these letters.  It would take years, dear friends.  We encourage you to just sit with this profound truth.  Sit, in your mind, in your heart, and in your spirit, at Jesus’ feet… or at the cross… and consider what these words mean for you and for your eternal security… and let those thoughts turn into prayers of thanksgiving and praise for our mighty God and Savior, Jesus the Christ!  Amen!  


There are so many important things to consider as we collectively sit in awe and wonder with these verses.  Next week, we will touch on just a few of them.  Until then, we hope that you will spend some time thinking about, thanking, and praising God for what he has accomplished through Jesus Christ our Lord.  We love you!


Dean A.

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Seeing And Not Believing

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Last week, we caught a glimpse of the stunning relationship Jesus the Son has with God the Father.  We’re about to see another mind-blowing view of this relationship.  To begin, we see in John 10:22-24 that the conversation between Jesus, the man born blind, his disciples, and some of the Jewish leaders has ended and some time has passed.  Given the way this next conversation goes, though, it's probably fair to say that it occurred during the same visit to Jerusalem by Jesus –just on a different day.  The Jews in Jerusalem confront Jesus with a challenge:

  •  “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” -John 10:24


To be clear, these people are asking Jesus to publicly proclaim that he is the Messiah… not because they’re curious and want to know…  and not because he hasn’t already made such a claim (we’ve seen several times when Jesus has done precisely that)… but because they are looking for reasons to denounce, arrest, and murder him.  Jesus is not intimidated by any of this, nor does he shy away from the challenge.  Look how he responds:

  • Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, -John 10:25


Jesus has told them –plainly-- already… and he has demonstrated it –plainly-- with the works that he has done already –and he will do many more works and make many more stunning claims, as we will see.  So, what’s the problem?  

They don’t believe.  Why not?


Isn’t what they’ve seen and heard enough?  Jesus has an answer:

  • but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. -John 10:26-27


They don’t believe because they are not part of the flock… they’re not “among Jesus’ sheep.”  This is not the first time Jesus has observed this dire truth about people who don’t believe.  Earlier in John, we saw Jesus say:

  • If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”  -John 8:46-47


In these two passages, we can identify an essential difference between those who believe and those who don’t… between those who are “of God” (those who are “among Jesus’ sheep”) and those who aren’t:  Believers hear the words of God. They hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd –and they follow him.  People who don’t believe don’t do these things.  Friends, if you are struggling with unbelief, ask God to help you: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)


God answers such prayers gladly and offers an amazing promise to those who ask such things.  We’ll see next week!  Until then, have a conversation with God.  He loves you.  So do we!


Dean A.

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Making Claims and Backing Them Up

From the series Letters to the Prison

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We want to encourage you to consider that Jesus rose from the dead.  He took his life up again just as he claimed he had the authority to do, as we saw last week (John 10:18).  Those who believe in Jesus and place their faith and trust in him have a great hope for the future –eternal life.


Further, those who believe this about Jesus have a great hope now… for real change in their lives –now.  If Jesus can raise the dead (including himself), what else can he do?  Or a more answerable question might be:  If he can rise from the dead, what can’t Jesus do??  The answer of course, is that if Jesus has power even over death, he can do anything.  There’s nothing he can’t do.  This means he has power over every circumstance and every trouble and every trial we might ever face.  Do we trust him with those trials and troubles?  Are we willing to go the way he encourages us to go?  Do we believe that Jesus has the very best in mind for us --a goodness in this life that we can’t even imagine let alone trace our own path to achieve?  Beloved friends, we hope that you will consider such questions in the light of what Jesus has claimed.


Continuing our study, Jesus has something else to say about his mission to “lay down his life” and the authority he has to “take it up again:” 

  • This charge I have received from my Father. -John 10:18b


Here, we catch another glimpse of the profound relationship between Jesus the Son and God the Father –the trinity.  Jesus the Son claims to be God fulfilling the promises he made in Ezekiel 34, as we have seen.  Yet, he received his “charge” to lay down his life for the sheep and the authority to take that life back up again from God the Father.  Matthew 28:18 records that Jesus, in fact, has authority over all things everywhere.  Yet Jesus submits entirely to the will of the Father in order to glorify him (Luke 22:42; John 17:1-5).  So, both the Father and the Son are glorified, and both have supreme authority because they are both one and the same God.  It is a mind-blowing thing to consider, which is why the people hearing him reacted the way they did:

  • 19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?”                    -John 10:19-20


On the one hand, a person who makes such claims about himself would very likely appear to be crazy… or possessed.  Imagine someone making such a claim today.  What would we think? 

  • 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”


And there is the key difference between Jesus and anyone else ever.  Jesus is making some profoundly amazing claims.  But he’s backing them up with equally profound and amazing works.  John 9:32 records the fact that no one had ever opened the eyes of a man born blind… until Jesus did.  This was but one stunning miracle among many that Jesus has already done. People cannot deny what Jesus has done.  And the claims he makes are very clear and easy to understand. All that’s left is for us to decide whether to believe him, trust him, obey him, and follow him.  Will you?  We hope so! Next week, we will begin to examine another amazing claim by Jesus.  We love you! 


Dean A.

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Laying Down His Life

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Continuing our study of John 10, Jesus is about to make an astonishing claim about himself.  But before we look at it, let’s look back briefly at last week’s verse:

  • And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. -John10:16


One flock under One Shepherd --our Great God and Savior Jesus, The Christ.  What this means is that Christians are all under the guidance and authority of Jesus regardless of our location, race, age, sex, social status, denomination, nationality, wealth, or any other distinguishing feature.  Therefore, we need to love and respect one another.  We who are called out by Jesus and recognize his voice and obey him are part of his flock.  We are subject to him, and we belong to him.  He owns us.  He paid for us by laying down his life in obedience to the Father:

  • For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. -John 10:17


God The Father loves Jesus because he obediently and sacrificially lays down his life.

Now let’s not skim over the last few words of that verse…  Jesus is talking about his own life… about laying it down and taking it up again…  and he has more to say:

  • No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. -John 10:18a


If we’re not sitting in stunned silence with our mouths hanging open after reading these words, maybe we need to read them again.  There’s nothing mysterious about them.  There’s no way to understand them any differently.  Jesus is making himself plainly clear.  It’s easy to understand.


Nevertheless, friends, of all the claims Jesus makes, this might be the most amazing one ever.  


And he makes good on it.  


In fact, Jesus is already demonstrating --as he stands there, in Jerusalem, in the presence of the Pharisees who want him dead and are actively conspiring to have him arrested and murdered (John 7:30, 45-46; 9:40)—that no one will lay a hand on Jesus until the appointed time.


As we approach Easter, let us joyfully remember this most astounding claim that Jesus makes about his authority over even his own life… and proves it himself by rising from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures after allowing himself to be crucified (Matthew 26:52-54).


Jesus says one more thing:

  • This charge I have received from my Father. -John 10:18b


We’ll look at this next week.  Until then, consider:  Is Jesus who he says he is?  We love you!


Dean A.

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Many Sheep

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Last week, Jesus had some mind-blowing things to say about himself –and us.  He’s not done: 

  • And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. -John10:16


We’ve already seen that Jesus is clearly no longer speaking of literal sheep.  He’s talking about people.  His people.  They belong to him.  And they will listen to his voice.  That’s a wild enough claim to make as it is… that people belong to Jesus.  He has them.  He owns them.  And they obey him.  They listen.  This is already evident, as we have seen, in the response of the man born blind.  The Apostle Paul also affirms the truth of this claim when he writes:

  • Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20


God’s people belong to God.  He owns them.  They don’t own themselves.  He paid a price for them:  The life of his Son, Jesus.  This is the life that the Good Shepherd lays down for his sheep (John 10:11, 15).  This is what Jesus is claiming as he stands there in Jerusalem in the flesh speaking in-person to those gathered before him… including the man born blind who is already glorifying God in his body right then and there by worshipping Jesus.  He has heard the Good Shepherd’s voice.  He has recognized him.  He has listened.  And he is obeying.  Is that like us?


Jesus doesn’t just claim to own people.  He claims that he will bring them…  from other folds.  What does that mean?  The idea that Jesus brings people (who are compared to sheep –arguably one the most helpless and stubborn animals in the world) implies that they aren’t otherwise willing or able to bring themselves.  Jesus’ people need to be rescued.  They are helpless on their own.  Do we recognize that in ourselves?  Our own helplessness?  Do we recognize that we need Jesus to rescue us?  Some of the Pharisees listening to Jesus at this moment don’t.  Which is why their guilt remains (John 9:41).  We need to consider such things carefully.


What about “other folds?”  A fold was a stone pen designed for keeping sheep.  So, when Jesus claims to own sheep in other folds and that he will bring them also, what is he saying?  Keep in mind the fact that, as Jesus speaks these words, he is in Jerusalem in Judea speaking to Jewish people.  But his message and sacrifice and promise of eternal life is for people from all nations and from all times.  People like us.  So, Jesus doesn’t just claim to own Jewish people.  He claims to own people from “folds” all over the world… people he hasn’t even met… in person, at least.  And Jesus will soon die on a cross for the sake of his entire flock.  How will that work?  


Nevertheless, the truth of this claim works out very shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.  For further reading, see Acts 1:8, Acts 8, and Acts 10.  That begins the record of the spread of the Gospel from Judea to the rest of the world… the record of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calling his flock and bringing his people into his fold.  And it continues today.


Jesus has something even more astonishing to say.  We’ll look at it next week!  We love you! 


Dean A.

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Knowing

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Hello, everyone.  We’re beginning to hear rumblings that we might be able to return and worship our great God and Savior Jesus Christ with you in person soon.  Keep praying!  We miss you!


Meanwhile, we hope these letters have been encouraging you.  Last week, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, revealed how he was going to fulfill his promise (expressed, among other places, through the prophet Ezekiel) to rescue his sheep:  By laying down his life for them.  This was so important to understand that Jesus reiterated it again:

  • I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  -John 10:14-15 


Included in these verses is a mind-blowing claim that Jesus makes about himself, his relationship with God the Father –and us.  To begin, we must understand that “knowing” in these verses doesn’t just mean understanding a collection of facts.  It’s not the sort of knowledge a doctor’s office could claim about a person…  they know names, dates, contact information… maybe even some private medical or mental health information… but they still don’t know a person in the way Jesus is talking about here.  It isn’t just a “head knowledge” or a “factual knowledge.”    


The meaning of “know” in these verses is far more intimate.  It is the sort of knowing that comes from a lifetime of relationship together.  It is a progressive, ongoing, developing, and growing knowledge.  Husbands and wives, parents and children, and lifelong friends experience the sort of knowledge being talked about here… though not ever as perfectly as Jesus the Son and God the Father who have had an eternal, perfectly unified relationship the likes of which we can’t even comprehend with our dinky little finite brains.


Still, we catch a glimpse of what this sort of “knowing” looks like in a couple of places in John:  Consider the man born blind’s reaction to Jesus when Jesus introduces himself to him (John 9:35-38); or how the Samaritan woman reacts when Jesus introduces himself in John 4:7-29.  The “sheep hear his voice… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).  In these two cases the “sheep” reach a point where they need no further evidence from Jesus that he is who he says he is.  They hear Jesus, recognize him for who he is, and follow him.  The Samaritan woman goes and invites her whole village to come and meet Jesus (John 4:29-30) while the man born blind boldly proclaims the truth about Jesus and then publicly worships Jesus even after being kicked out of the synagogue by the religious leaders (John 9:34, 38).    


We see also, in these two examples, that the sort of “knowing” Jesus speaks of in these verses has to begin somewhere.  We only catch a glimpse of the amazing life that follows for the man born blind and the Samaritan woman, but their stories certainly didn’t end after the brief verses in which we’re introduced to them.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see how the rest of their lives turned out?  It would probably be amazing!  Nevertheless, we had the privilege of seeing what it looked like for them to recognize the Good Shepherd when they first heard his voice… and how they responded… with obedience and worship and bold evangelism.


One other thing to consider:  Were they instantly perfect or perfectly educated in the Scriptures before they began obeying and worshipping and proclaiming the truth about Jesus?  No.  What about us?  Is this how we’ve responded to the Good Shepherd?  Have we heard his voice?


Dean A.

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A Shepherd That Lays His Life Down For The Sheep

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Last week, we looked at Jesus’ stunning claim in John 10:11a (“I am the good shepherd”).


That was only the first half of that “bombshell” statement.  Look what he says next:

  • The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. -John 10:11b


If you’ve been reading in Ezekiel 34, you probably noticed that in verses 11-16, God (the Good Shepherd whom Jesus claims to be) describes in detail what he will do for his “sheep” (his people).  But you probably also noticed that, while God makes a lot of promises about what he will do, he doesn’t say anything about how he will do what he promises to do.  So, going back to John 10:11, we find Jesus (some 600 years after making his promises) beginning to describe how he plans to fulfill those promises he made so long ago.  


But first, Jesus makes another comparison between the “good shepherd” and the “hired hands” in John 10:12-13.  The hired hands “flee” at the sight of the “wolf” because they “care nothing for the sheep.”  It is interesting also to note at this point that, in Ezekiel 34, God mentions his “servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23-24).  We could spend a long time examining the implications of what is going on in this connection, but for the sake of our discussion consider two major points:

  1. David, the great King of Israel (who ruled from 1011-971BC) was indeed a literal shepherd before he reigned as king in Israel, and he did indeed risk his life for the sake of his flock (1 Samuel 17:34-36).  1 Samuel 17 also records how David risked his life to save his people from Goliath –even before he was king.  So, David was a shepherd who risked his life to protect both sheep and people.  Yet Ezekiel wrote God’s promises about a “Good shepherd” between 590-570BC… some 420 years after David’s reign.  So, he wasn’t speaking of King David.  Looking ahead to the future, God was speaking to Ezekiel of a descendent of King David.
  2. The Kings of Israel who were descended from David, and who reigned in the centuries after David died, but before Ezekiel wrote God’s promises about the “good shepherd” were, by and large, the sort of “hired hands” God was against in Ezekiel 34:1-10.  They “cared nothing for the sheep.”  This was also true of the descendant of David who was on the throne when Ezekiel wrote his prophecy.  So, none of these descendants of the “servant David” fulfilled the prophecy, either.  So, God’s word through Ezekiel looked forward to a future descendant of David --who happens to be Jesus (See Matthew 1 and Luke 3 for Jesus’ genealogy as traced from his mother, Mary and Joseph, her husband).


So, Jesus, the Descendant of God’s “servant, David,” is claiming to be the fulfillment of God’s promise through Ezekiel to personally appear as the “Good Shepherd” to rescue his people.


And his plan is to rescue them by “laying his life down for the sheep.”  Jesus isn’t just going to risk his life like David did.  He’s going to “lay his life down” for the sake of his people (“the sheep”).  This idea is so important that Jesus says it yet again in John 10:14-15 (“I am the good shepherd… I lay down my life for the sheep”).  But Jesus has more to add to this mind-blowing claim in those verses.  We’ll see when we continue our study next week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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Powerful Claims

From the series Letters to the Prison

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Last week, Jesus made a “bombshell” of a claim: 

  • I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11a).  


He goes on to add an even more stunning claim in that same verse.  But for this week, those five simple words are enough to marvel over.  To begin, we suggested in the last few weeks that you read Ezekiel 34.  If you have, you know that it begins by saying, “the word of the Lord came to me” (Ezekiel 34:1).  Further, all through the chapter, you see phrases like “thus says the Lord God” (vs. 2), “hear the word of the Lord” (vs. 7), and the whole chapter ends with “…declares the Lord God” (vs. 31).  So, the prophet Ezekiel is clearly and confidently recording the very words of God himself.


Now, before we look at what God said through the prophet Ezekiel, consider this:  Ezekiel wrote between 590-570BC… 600+ years before Jesus walked the earth.  And, Ezekiel wrote from exile, having been deported to Tel-abib (near Babylon) from Jerusalem into captivity by the invading Babylonians who would soon destroy both the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God located there.  So, during what many would agree was one of the darkest periods in Israel’s history, God makes a profound statement through the prophet Ezekiel.


And it’s not just a statement.  It’s a promise.  “As I live, declares the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 34:8).  That, dear friends, is an oath like no other.  The very God of the universe, eternally existing always, is swearing on his own life that he will do something.  Then, God proceeds to describe very plainly what he swears on his own eternal life to do…  “I will…”   more than 25 times in Ezekiel 34.  And what does God promise to do?  


Some highlights from Ezekiel 34: “I will rescue my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:10); “I will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezekiel 34:11);”

  • AND: “I will be the shepherd of my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:15).


So, 600 years later, when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11a), and has already claimed to be God numerous times…  and when Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18), we can begin to recognize that here, in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus is not only claiming to be God… he’s also claiming to fulfill the promise he made as God… the oath he took on his very life… that he himself proclaimed through the prophet Ezekiel Over 600 years before.


Friends, if that doesn’t stop us in our tracks with our mouths hanging open, dare we consider the rest of what Jesus claims in that verse and in what follows?  Look what else he says:

  • The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. -John 10:11b


If it wasn’t a bombshell of a verse with the first five words, wait until next week when we consider the rest.  We love you!  Keep reading John 10 and Ezekiel 34!


Dean A.

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