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Quick Observations on John 11…

OK, I don’t have much time, but I wanted to give my SHBC readers some “landmarks” to look for in today’s reading of John 11.  Remember as you read, that the purpose of our reading John together is not only to see Jesus presented as the divine Son of God, but also for us to “catch” a little bit of John’s passion for making Christ known!  As you read John’s gospel, you must keep in mind that he had a purpose for writing it, a purpose which he clearly makes known near the end of the book when he writes in 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John wanted first-century readers to know WHO Jesus was (the Christ, Messiah, Son of God) and HOW they could be saved (by believing in HIS name!).  The whole book has an evangelistic undertone.  My prayer is that spending a month reading and meditating on John while praying for the lost, will help to transform your thinking about sharing your faith!

With that in mind, note some quick observations:

1.  In verse 16, it is Thomas who is quick to encourage the other disciples to join him in following Jesus up to Jerusalem.  This is in light of what was already stated in verse 8, namely that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus at this time.  What courage and faith it took for Thomas to be willing to stand by Jesus even if it meant death.  We often refer to Thomas as “doubting Thomas” and remember him only for his confusion following the resurrection (John 20:24-29), but here he demonstrates a boldness and loyalty which is often overlooked in our evaluation of Thomas.

2. Both Martha and Mary (v. 21 and 32) say the same thing concerning Jesus.  They both believed wholeheartedly that if Jesus had been present, he could have performed a miraculous healing.  Both had seen and experienced his power and testified to the fact that they believed in his power to personally change their desperate situation.  What faith they had in Jesus!

3. Martha declares faith in two notable theological truths here.  The first (v. 23) is her professed belief in an eschatological resurrection of all the dead.  This position is in accordance with old testament teaching (Job 19:25-27; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2) and was held by the religious “conservatives” of the day (Pharisees) but denied by the religious “liberals” of the day (Saducees). Martha also testifies in verse 27 to her belief in Jesus’ messianic office using language derived from Ps 118:26.  Clearly, she believed not only in Jesus’ power (see point 2) but also in his claim to be Israel’s messiah.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all use Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus’ divine office as part of their climactic presentation of Jesus, but John chooses to use Martha’s correct profession of Jesus’ identity during this miraculous event, which is John’s climactic miracle in his apologetic presentation of Jesus as the eternal Word incarnate

**(John gives us 7 miraculous events between chapters 2 and 11 to argue for Jesus’ divine nature; this is the seventh and climactic; raising the dead.  Others include water to wine (2:1-11); healing the official’s son (4:46-54); healing the invalid (5:1-15); feeding the multitude (6:5-13); walking on water (6:16-21); healing the blind man (9:1-7).

4.  Jesus uses another “I Am” statement in v. 25, pointing to Himself as the source of resurrection life.  He does not merely bring about a future resurrection, nor does he merely affirm theological belief in a future resurrection.  His words point to something stronger, namely that in HIM is the source of life necessary for the resurrection from the dead, whether this be literal or spiritual death (both are equally true!).  The latter part of v. 25 and all of 26 allows Jesus to expound on this truth by asserting that those who trust in Him, though they may (physically) die, they will know life, both through regeneration by the Spirit and future resurrection.  Further, all who are spiritually made alive (by the Spirit and their trust in Christ), will never truly be in bondage to death, for they live in light of the future hope of resurrection.

5. We are reminded in v. 35 of the deep nature of the personal relationships which Jesus developed with those who loved him.  His weeping over Lazarus’ death demonstrated outwardly the deep internal sorrow that Jesus felt for humanity because of the curse of sin.  He identified with his friends’ pain and wept not just for Lazarus, but for the curse which brought on such a situation of suffering and grief.  Only Jesus fully realized that his own impending substitutionary death and resurrection would soon bring release from this curse, and perhaps the resurrection of Lazarus (which was a temporary release, for Lazarus would eventually die again!) was intended to be a mere shadow, a foretaste, of the greater deliverance which would soon come through Jesus’ own resurrection, which, unlike Lazarus’s, would be to eternal life.

We should be reminded by Jesus’ own sorrow that human relationships are meant to be deep, meaningful, and passionate.  Our love for one another and the lost should move us to such compassion and depth of emotion.  Also, this reminds me that it’s OK to weep at the death of those we love.  It is an outward demonstration of our love for the deceased (note v. 36).  However, when our loved one is a believer in Christ, we weep differently than those who weep with no hope of eternal life (1 Thess 4:13)!  For though we may grieve over our temporary separation from the individual, and though we may grieve that the curse of sin has such an effect on humanity, we grieve at the death of a believer knowing that there is hope in a future resurrection which will be a resurrection unto life eternal!  This is Paul’s hope in 1 Thess 4; it is the hope Jesus offers Mary and Martha, and it is the hope that should define how Christians approach death and grief.

6.  Finally, the closing words of chapter 11 (v. 55-57) transition us to the pivotal chapter in which Jesus enters into Jerusalem (chapter 12) and begins the final week of his life (chapters 13-20).  John truly arranges his gospel with apologetic intent.  In chapters 2-11, his goal is to present to his readers an argument for who Jesus is (ontologically).  Through using personal encounters, public discourses, and miraculous events, John has argued for Jesus’ divinity and messianic purpose.  Now that the final and climactic miracle has been presented from Jesus’ ministry, John turns his thoughts to the days approaching the final Passover.  It is significant that so much of John’s gospel is given to the final days of Jesus’ life, but this is because of his desire to draw attention to the great significance of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for sinners.  Having argued for his PERSON, John now turns his attention to the Messiah’s PURPOSE.

Keep reading and let us see what we discover together in the chapters to come.  Press on prayer warriors!

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So SHBC family…how are you doing with your 21-day commitment?  Today marks the just-over-half-way point of your commitment to pray, fast intermittently, and meditate on John’s gospel in preparation for intentionally sharing your faith with (and inviting to church) three people that you believe are unsaved.  Are you beginning to get the sense that constant prayer for the lost is difficult work?  It really is a discipline that must be developed over time!  I dare say that some of you have missed a day or two by this point; I know it’s been a struggle even for me to remember my commitment to this day to day!  First, when you miss, I hope you’ll get back up and recommit, but secondly, I hope this project serves to remind us that kingdom-work and spiritual warfare is actually hard work!  It does require discipline.  It does require time commitment.  It does require sacrifice.  And these reasons are exactly why so many today simply don’t want to get involved!  In a world where time is at a premium and individuals have to prioritize among so many choices, it seems that daily cross-bearing just gets shoved aside for the many other activities that matter more to us.  Personally, I think that says something very sad about our priorities.  But alas…

In reading John 10 yesterday, I hope that you picked up on the “I AM” emphasis once again.  Jesus emphasized this language in chapters 6 and 8 and does so again in chapter 10, where he refers to himself by saying “I am the door,” and “I am the good shepherd” (referencing OT language in Is 40:11, Jer 23:1-4, and Ezekiel 34, among others).  We can characterize the “I Am” statements of Jesus in John into two camps, first, those absolute statements in which he refers to himself as “I Am” (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 18:5).  In these, Jesus is identifying himself with the self-revelation of YHWH in Exodus 3:14.  Secondly though, there are the metaphorical “I Am” statements which appear throughout the book.  There are a total of 7 different “I Am” metaphorical statements, all of which point to profound spiritual realities about the person and office of Jesus, the Christ (e.g. the bread of life; the light of the world; the door of the sheep; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth and the life; the true vine) and all of which are grounded in old testament language and images which the Jews would have associated directly with the LORD.

Don’t miss these “I Am” statements; they are one of the keys to John’s emphasis, structure and style and they tell us significant information about Jesus and his own self-identity to others.

Did you notice again in chapter 10, the exchange between Jesus and the Jews in verses 22- 42?  Did you pick up on v. 33, in which John tells us that the Jews were ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy because He, being a man, made himself God?  Even though many Jews in this passage didn’t accept Jesus’ words (many did according to 42), it is apparent that they understood him clearly enough.  Through his “I Am” statements and the repeated reference to his intimate relationship with the Father, the Jews picked up on the fact that Jesus was claiming to be divine.  This fact flies in the face of much of modern liberal Christian thinking which claims that “the early church created the divine Jesus” or that “Jesus never himself claimed to be God, but that was added later by others.”  Modern philosophers and students of religion attempt to put Jesus on par with other religious figures throughout history, but the facts just don’t add up.  Here he is claiming to be God and the Jews are ready to stone him over it.  Either he was or he wasn’t or he was just a raving lunatic.  You have to do something with these and other texts though (notably 8:24), because they do say something profound about Jesus’ claims.

I choose to believe that he is the divine Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior.  What do you believe about Jesus’ identity?  What do your lost family and friends believe about Him?  Do they even know who Jesus is?  Do they know about his claims concerning himself?  Do they only believe that Jesus is a good man or  an enlightened teacher?  May God help us to make his true identity known to the world!

More to come later on chapter 11…

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With all the activities going on yesterday surrounding evening services, prayer meeting, hospital visits and choir practice, I was unable to find the time to get my word of encouragement up on the blog!  I also forgot to send out an email encouragement to everyone!  While I hope you all can forgive me, the busyness of my day actually reminded me of the tremendous challenge involved in a project like the one we are undertaking.  We are calling on people to fast (at interval times), pray, and meditate on Scripture consistently for 21 days.  That’s a long time!  All of us are busy and have lives that tend to get in the way of a project like this.  In short, it’s easy for us to miss a day…or perhaps even two.  So what do we do when our initial commitment has been “broken?”  I say, get right back up and pick up where you left off!  In the context of our “Find it Here” 21-day emphasis, just know that if you miss or forget a day of prayer, you need not give up altogether.  In fact, upon realization of your missing a day, pick right back up with your commitment and continue pressing on in prayer, fasting, meditation, and preparation for sharing Christ with your lost family and friends.

What’s our other option?  To quit altogether every time we face an obstacle?  I say no.  Press on.

So yesterday, you should have read through John 4 and meditated upon Christ, the soul-winner as you read the exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well.  Is there really any better picture in all of the New Testament of what compassionate gospel engagement should look like?  If there were any passage worthy of our meditation as we prepare to share Jesus with loved ones, this one is it!  Every aspect of Jesus’ behavior deserves our emulation in this passage.  A couple of observations worthy of noting about Jesus’ engagement in John 4 (and there are TONS of things that could be said here, but let me limit my comments to only a few!):

*First, Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is a classic example of what some call “cold-call” evangelism.  Now I understand that there is a tremendous emphasis today upon the relational aspect of evangelism (i.e. building a relationship first, then sharing Jesus at an appropriate and comfortable time).  I also affirm the value of relational evangelism.  However, we must not discount the possibility that often in His sovereignty, God arranges situations in which you might have an open door opportunity to share Christ with someone whom you have only just met.  In such a case, the relationship is not necessarily there, but the opportunity for sharing the gospel is.  In such cases, we must see these opportunities as divine appointments and be faithful to share Christ with the opportunity we have.  If we neglect these opportunities by reasoning that we lack the “relational depth” to bring up Christ, we will miss countless opportunities to share Jesus every day.  Clearly, Jesus cut through the relational red-tape and did that which showed the greatest possible love for this woman whom he had just met when he addressed her greatest need, namely her need for forgiveness and salvation.  Don’t believe or perpetuate the lie that people will only listen to you when they know you.  Thousands can give testimony to the fact that an effective witness can be shared on a city bus, in a grocery-store line, or at a sporting event with an otherwise total stranger.

Secondly, we see in various places in this passage that Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be side-tracked with trifling questions or debates but instead goes straight to the heart of gospel-witness by confronting the woman with the message of deliverance.  She asks questions at various points that could have led Jesus down the path of pointless debate and contention (i.e. verses 9, 12a, 19-20), but Jesus remains focused on addressing the key issues of sin and redemption by directing the conversation back to Himself and His redemptive work.  Often, it is tempting for us to “chase rabbits” and get involved in pointless debates when attempting to share Christ.  In an effort to avoid spiritual confrontation or deflect questions of eternal significance, our lost friends and family will often want to change the subject and distract us from the central message of redemption.  Have you ever been sharing the gospel and had a lost person ask a question like “why does God allow earthquakes to happen?” or “what happens to those who never hear the gospel?”  Now please understand, I am a strong believer that there is definitely a time and place for Christian apologetics.  I firmly believe that Christians should have answers for those questions and there are few things more valuable (in my opinion) than investing in a few good apologetics texts and being equipped to debate the merits of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15).  However, when these questions appear in the context of an initial gospel witness, they are often little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to change the subject and avoid confronting the central truths of the gospel.  Don’t allow this to happen.  Tell your friends that “these are good questions, and I would like to address them later, but for now, I really want to know what you think about your own relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Stay focused.  Stay on course.  Point others to Christ.

Finally, this passage provides us with an amazing example of a truth long-known by those who study evangelism and church life, namely that newly born-again believers are our greatest source of evangelistic passion.  This woman immediately (v. 28-30) runs into town and begins telling others about Jesus.  New believers have a tendency to do this, and we must learn to harness that energy for the glory of God so that their testimony and passion burn brightly before days of difficulty set in.  We are sometimes afraid to let new converts share Christ for fear that they might not “get it right.”  We fear that their lack of theological training and time in church disqualifies them from witnessing to those friends and family who are still under their influence.  I say that when we do this, we fail to capitalize on one of the greatest resources available to us in the church.  The woman at the well was changed and she wanted her friends and neighbors to know!  Her faithful witness led to a tremendous revival in her town!  Oh that it would be so today.  Imagine if, at the end of our 21-day emphasis, dozens of our friends and family professed faith in Christ and left our church with a zeal and passion to tell everyone they knew about their new faith!  We would be wise to encourage this and to continue to encourage new believers to burn brightly and share with zeal.  Otherwise, they’ll become dull and disinterested in sharing their faith just like many who occupy pews today.

Well, for day 5, I pray that you will read, meditate, and pray for the lost.  Just a thought about chapter 5, take special notice of verse 18.  The Jews of Jesus’ day knew full well that He was claiming to be divine.  So much did they understand this that they wanted to kill him for it.  For those skeptics and outright liberals today who deny that Jesus ever claimed to be the divine Son of God, I would say that they need to reconsider the exchange in John 5:1-18.  Furthermore, verse 24 is one of the greatest evangelistic passages in all of John’s gospel.  Memorize it.  Understand it.  Use it.  For in it, Jesus states very simply what it means to have faith in Him and the eternal consequences of that choice.  He states “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Let’s make sure this Easter that our loved ones “hear” and pray that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they “believe” so that they may obtain “eternal life” and escape everlasting “judgment.”  Let’s pray for these things together!

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Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)

With these words, written near the end of John’s gospel, John makes explicitly clear his reason for writing his account of the life and ministry of Jesus.  Clearly, he had evangelistic intentions.  Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, John recorded the miracles, discourses, and interactions of Jesus contained in his gospel in order that his readers might believe and be saved.  This has led many scholars through the years to classify the gospel of John as the most evangelistic book in the Bible.

How appropriate that John’s gospel be intimately woven into this year’s spring evangelistic initiative promoted by our Kentucky Baptist Convention.  The “Find it Here” initiative for 2011 will stress the use of intentional, targeted prayer, meditation on John’s gospel and personal sharing of faith to reach our unsaved family and friends in the days leading up to Easter.

Last year, Southern Heights participated in the state-wide “Find it Here” initiative (sponsored by the KBC) along with hundreds of other Southern Baptist churches around the state.  We prayed, strategized, and then canvassed the homes of hundreds of our neighbors in South Lexington with gospel literature and invitations to worship with us.  Along with close to 1,700 other churches from around the state of Kentucky, we were a part of an initiative in 2010 that eventually reached into the homes of over 1.3 million Kentuckians. Reports flowed in from all around the state and eventually we found that there were thousands who responded to the invitations all over the state and many whose lives were changed through either salvation or rededicated lives.

The 2011 initiative has the potential to accomplish even more than last year’s efforts.  The focus this spring will be very different than last year’s focus.  Canvassing, while a valuable tool for reaching our community, is to some degree very impersonal and focused on quantity rather than quality.  This year’s initiative will be much more personal, much more intimate, and much more focused.  The 2011 spring “Find it Here” initiative will challenge individuals to reach the lost with the gospel through the following process:

1.  On March 27th, we will have a final commitment day, on which all members of the church will be challenged to commit to 21-days of prayer and fasting for 3 lost individuals to whom they have access in their daily lives.

2.  Beginning on March 27th, participants will begin the process of daily-prayer for the salvation of their three lost friends.  They will be challenged to fast for spiritual awakening during this time, either daily or for various lengths of time during their 21-day focus.

3.  Also beginning on March 27th, participants will commit to reading a chapter-per-day of the gospel of John (21 chapters in all) and praying that the Lord will create in them the same type of evangelistic passion that motivated John to write with such passionate concern for the lost.

4.  When the 21-day-period ends (April 16th), participants will then take the following 7-day period (between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) to go to those for whom they have been praying and personally share the message of the gospel while giving their friends a gospel-packet (Bible, audio CD of New Testament, evangelistic tract, and personal invitation to Easter Sunday services) and encouraging them to attend Southern Heights on Easter Sunday.

5.  On Easter Sunday, we will see an amazing harvest as dozens and dozens of individuals for whom we have been praying attend worship with us and hear the life-changing message of the gospel of Christ.

This initiative has the power to launch a great revival in our church.  Not only because it will force participants out of their comfort-zone and into the realm of personal evangelism, but because it has the potential to result in dozens of individuals coming to faith in Christ.  Can you begin to imagine with me what it might be like to have 25 or 30 individuals come to saving faith in Christ on Easter morning?  Even to see 2 or 3 would be an amazing testimony to God’s saving power!

But this initiative will fall totally flat if YOU do not commit to participate.  With your participation, we have the potential to personally reach out to 300- 400 people in our community.   If only a few participate, we will only sow a handful of seeds, but if many will make the commitment to reach their family and friends this Easter, we could see a tremendous movement of God.  If we fail as a congregation to develop an evangelistic burden for our neighbors and our community, then we fail to properly comprehend the real power of the gospel to transform lives and we disobey our Master, who commanded us to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).  If we lack the motivation to reach out to the lost around us then we will most certainly not survive much longer as a church.

So in the weeks to come, pray with me for a moving of God’s Spirit in our midst.  Pray that HE would begin to create a burden within us, embolden our church, and open the hearts of the lost.  Pray that this Easter will be the most spiritually vibrant Resurrection-celebration in many years because of the salvation of many lost family and friends.  Pray with me, that this year at Easter, we will not only preach and sing about the resurrection, but that we will see resurrection power at work in the lives of the lost.

As the lost all around us search blindly for answers this Easter season, let’s be a people who will help them “FIND IT HERE!”

See a helpful video clip provided by the KBC HERE!

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Sometimes you read something so good that you just feel like everyone you know needs to read it too!  That’s the way I felt when a friend first posted a link to this article written on 3/4/2011 by Dr. Thom Rainer.  It is worth your time to read it.  I wanted to link it on my blog so that I would always have it close for the sake of reference.  It’s ironic that he write this when he did because just the other day, Rick Howerton preached a phenomenal message at the KBC evangelism conference in which he talked about the need for church leaders to do a better job of protecting the church’s unity from those who always seek to destroy it.  He said “it’s time for those who love Christ’s bride to stop others from bullying her around so much!” (paraphrase)

Both men are right.  Check out Dr. Rainer’s article “Responding to the ‘Great Distraction'” here.  It’s short.  But it’s worth reading.  Thanks Dr. Rainer for saying something that needed to be said but that no-one wants to say!

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And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Congrats to both Chris and Doug on their public professions of faith in Christ as Lord and their subsequent baptism this past Sunday (2/6/2011)!

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For SHBC family, I wanted to (re-) post this article just in case you missed it in last month’s church newsletter.  God provided richly for our International Missions Board (SBC) through your generous giving this past Christmas!  I look forward to “pushing” us even more in the future as we seek to be a church involved in the mission of God both at home and abroad!  Until He comes, let us pray, give, and GO! 

The Apostle Paul said of his friends in Macedonia, that “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”  He continued praising them for their generosity, noting that they gave “beyond their means…of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:1-5).   The Macedonians had set an amazing example of sacrificial giving for other Christians to follow.  The Macedonians rose to the occasion and made the Apostle overflow with joy and thanksgiving.  He told the Corinthian saints about how God had used the Macedonians to give and could surely use the Corinthians in the same way. 

In similar fashion, the saints at SHBC have gone over and above the call of duty this month in their giving to our missionaries!  It makes me very proud to report that as of today (and I am anticipating that some will continue to give even this coming Sunday!), our church has given a total of $5,211.25 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions!   Through us, God has provided for his servants on foreign fields and that should fill our hearts with joy and thanksgiving!  We set our goal at $4,500 this year and far exceeded that goal.  You have made my Christmas with your generosity, so from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for your giving!  You have modeled generosity at one of the most difficult times of the year in a “down” economy!  In spite of these circumstances, God used you to give the largest Lottie Moon offering in over a decade!  Just looking at the giving records of recent years, see how this year’s gift exceeds what we have done in recent years:

1998- $3,534               2000- $3,273               2001- $3,001

2002- $1,767               2003- $2,488               2004- $3,664

2005- $4,754               2006- $1,931               2007- $2,125

2008- $3,486               2009- $4,345               2010- $5,211* (at time of writing)

The International Missions Board tells us that on average, it costs about $43,845 per year to support a missionary on the field.  This breaks down to about $3,650 per month, $843 per week, $120 per day, $5 per hour, or $.08 per minute.  Know that your generous contributions, when combined with the faithful giving of thousands of other Southern Baptist churches all around the country, will be put to the greatest use in supporting our international missionary force of over 5,000 missionaries who labor daily to reach the nations with the gospel.  We know who the last unreached people groups are and where they live.  We can reach them in our lifetime, but it’s going to continue to cost us.  May we ever respond with the kind of faithfulness, sacrifice, and vision with which you have responded so far this year!

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