Author Archives: bimisayo

I AM: The True Vine

Welcome to the seventh and final post in the I AM series. I hope you have had as much fun reading these as I did putting them together. Sometimes I find myself over thinking what it means to be a Christian so it’s helpful to gain perspective in beholding Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Who He says He is defines this faith we hold to, and shows how we are to live. If we allow ourselves to construct our identity around who He says He is, we can reap the assurance of His promises. So without further introduction, let us dive into scripture.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:1-2,5

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Father receives more central treatment in this metaphor than in the others. In some of the other statements, we see Christ interacting with the church and the Father interacting with the Son: Jesus is the Bread of the World, and the Father is the giver of the Bread; Jesus is the Good Shepherd of the sheep are entrusted to Him by the Father. Here though, the Father is the Vinedresser, interacting directly with the branches: pruning some, cutting off others to be burned.

Jesus is the Son of God, and He is God. This is one of the central paradoxes of Christianity. Our God is three and yet is one. Three Persons; one God. The salvation, sanctification, and glorification of the church is implemented by the Trinity. No exploration of the relationship between Christ and the church is complete without acknowledging this. In this passage, we have a picture of how this works, though we must accept a degree of mystery.

The church (and its individual members) grow out from Christ, are tended by the Father, and empowered and multiplied by the Spirit. The result is a thriving vine flush with fruit. And our role as the branches? Simply abide.

That the Church grows out of Christ is taught frequently in the New Testament. Paul talks about Christ as the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 2:19), and church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Baptism into Christ’s death is the requirement to be raised with Him (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:8-11), and we are to remain rooted and grounded in Him (Colossians 2:6-7). That Christ is the Vine and we the branches affirms this truth. In growing out from Christ we find our vitality and identity in Him.

Fruit bearing branches are pruned by the Father; unfruitful branches are cut off, gathered, and burned. Now if fruit-bearing comes by abiding in the vine, then unfruitful branches are already disconnected from the vine. The Father’s shears only complete the process. The life of the Vine provides fruit. Our role is to remain connected.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Galatians 3:2-3

So then, what is it to abide? It is, first, to recognize the initiative and impetus lies with Christ

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. – John 15:3,16

We did not save ourselves. We did not seek Christ. We did nothing to earn our salvation. Paul describes even the best of us as enemies of God until the intervention of Christ (Romans 5:10). Even knowing this, we get seduced by sparks of goodness in our selves. “Christ saved me because of my…” is a deadly seed which constantly seeks root in the soul of the believer. And when it finds hold, we begin to resist the pruning of the Father.

Why are Christians so hard on themselves? Because the standards set by our God are so much higher than the average the world finds acceptable. If ever we become satisfied in our righteousness, we stop growing.

Abiding in Christ means also obeying the Jesus’ commands.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:9-10,12

Upon hearing the word ‘commandments’, our minds unconsciously start stretching in anticipation of a gruelling marathon. So let’s get to it. WWJD: The Comprehensive Guide to Christian Behaviour in Every Situation. Page one- Love. The End.

Seriously, that’s what it all boils down to. Love God; love people. And the power to love is  granted by the Spirit of God in us (Romans 5:5). Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which makes this all somewhat circular. To bear fruit, we must abide; to abide is to love; love is a fruit of abiding. The glue to this circle of abiding is the Spirit of God.

The Spirit often works in our conscience, through the Word of God, and in the congregation of believers. Our conscience often reveals to us the confidence we have before God (2 Corinthians 1:12, Hebrews 13:18, 1 John 3:21), though it itself does is not the source of our confidence (1 Corinthians 4:4). We do not stand justified before God because our consciences are clear, but a clear conscience is a blessing of abiding.

He also empowers fruitfulness through His Word. The Word of God exposes our heart (Hebrews 4:12) and purifies it (Psalm 119:11). Finally, fellowship with other Christians enables us to abide faithfully in Christ. We are given spiritual gifts for common edification (1 Corinthians 12:7), bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), encourage each other (Hebrews 10:25), and worship God together (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Peter informs us that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have in the Spirit everything we need to abide. And in abiding, we are promised fruitfulness. The True Vine therefore nurtures our salvation.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:11

I AM: The Way The Truth and The Life

In the sixth installment of the I AM series on this blog, we get to the most well known. This is also perhaps the one in which the context is most overlooked. In a pluralistic society, we devote significant attention to defending the uniqueness of Christ among other gods and so priority is given to the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone. So often when we get to John 14, we read, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life.” And if that’s all we see in this passage, we reduce a promise of Christ for His followers to an apologetic tool.

When we read this passage in context we see the tenderness, care, and affection of Christ reflected in the narrative. The Bible argues for salvation in Christ alone (Acts 4:12), and Jesus Himself rebukes popular religion for hypocrisy (Matthew 23) and insufficiency (Matthew 5:43-48). Yet in this conversation with His disciples, He has a different objective.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:1-7

This conversation takes place on the night of Jesus’ arrest. He knows that soon He will be taken away from these men who had followed Him for years. At His arrest, they would be separated, hopeless, and Peter would deny Him three times. And so He sets out to assure them. Don’t worry, I won’t leave alone and you will see me again.

But how will we know the way, Jesus? Thomas poses the question we all ask as we strive to follow Jesus. It’s the question we ask when facing big decisions, or going through transitions, or dealing with doubt. I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.

And so Jesus replies, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” As long as we are in Christ, we are on the right path. When we behold Christ, we have seen the Father, we have known the Father, and we will be with Him in the Father’s house.

There’s a story in scripture of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22

The man went away sad, and if we are honest so would we. The gate that leads to life is narrow and difficult, and without revelation we could spend our entire lives searching and would never have assurance of having attained it.

But Jesus comes and reveals Himself as the Way; He is our access to God. He reveals God to us and mediates our entrance into His presence. The author of Hebrews invites us to enter the throne room of God to receive grace from God because we can (Hebrews 10:19-22). We can because Jesus gives us access.

If Jesus is the Way, He is also the Truth.

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray
. – Isaiah 35:8

This passage from Isaiah speaks of the return of God’s elect to Jerusalem, the city of God, and it makes a promise: Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. All who find the Way will be guarded by the Truth. Jeremiah promises that God will plant His word in the heart of those He calls. The Psalmists describe God giving direction from His goodness (Psalm 25:8-9), and through His Word (Psalm 119:130). John Himself describes Jesus saying, “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

For all who find the Way, Jesus is the Truth which keeps us in it. He is both the author and finisher our faith (Hebrews 12:1). The series of Laws given in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ, so that instead of slaving after  a collection of rules, we are instructed to love and obey Christ (Matthew 5:17, Colossians 2:17). All who believe in Christ will do His will (John 14:12). This is both a standard and a promise, for the Truth will lead us in the Way.

Now, the Way and the Truth lead us to the Life, which is Christ. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. Eternity with the Father is life in the Son; Life in the Son is eternity with the Father. Heaven isn’t the end of the story; the fulfillment of our hope is the eternal presence and reign of Christ (Revelation 21:1-4). Even now, knowing Him is Jesus’ definition of eternal life (John 17:3).

Jesus is the path, and the guardrails, and the destination. We have seen the Father, and will see the Father because we believe in Jesus. When we feel lost in life, unsure of our destination, we are encouraged to look for Christ. For when we see Him, we see the Way. As we commune with Him, we are secure in the Truth. And as we delight in Him we have the Life.

I recently went through an unexpected transition. I thought I was going one way and then a door closed. It was tempting to remain stuck in a pattern of self-doubt and despair. When life throws a curveball, it’s too easy to mistake a strike for a strikeout.

But then I looked up and saw Christ. Not physically or in a vision. I knelt in prayer and realized He was still listening. Rounding that unforeseen bend, the Way remained. No matter where life takes us, as long as Christ remains present, we are not lost. The Truth will guide us. The Life will sustain us. And we will see the Father.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

I AM: The Resurrection and The Life

It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Given an opportunity, Jesus refused to overturn taxation and so we turn our focus to death. Jesus’ claims about and interaction with death are spectacular and most certainly worthy of closer exegesis.

Jesus’ victory over death at His resurrection is at the very heart of Christianity. Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Corinthian 15:17).” So important is this miraculous event that without it, there is no Christianity. And not only does Jesus come back from the grave, He makes a spectacular claim in John’s gospel.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. – John 11:25-26

Life is an interesting concept in the gospel of John, and in the New Testament at large. John is the one who coins the term born again, or at least quotes Jesus’ use of it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John 3:3,5-6

God promised Adam in Eden that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would die. And in the day he ate that fruit, he was promised an eventual termination to his earthly existence and cast out of the garden, separated from God by an angel with a flaming sword. Adam died spiritually that day, and his death has been inherited by all his descendants.

Jesus brings in Himself a life that no human had experienced since Adam. It’s a life that overlays physical life and can only be attained during it, but is not itself physical or fleshly. First we are born, then in Christ we are born again. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus says these words to a woman mourning the death of her brother. Jesus didn’t rebuke Lazarus. His death was not an indictment of his love for Jesus or his faith.

Paul teaches that physical death is the final enemy Jesus will conquer (1 Corinthians 15:22-28), and this is an eschatological reality- that is, a truth regarding the end of all things. There will come a time in which bodies will never fail, but not yet. The spiritual life Jesus gives now to His followers will be perfected with physical eternal life at His second coming.

When the life Jesus brings is fulfilled, both spiritually and physically, we will experience Jesus the resurrection.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:22-23

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. – Revelation 20:4-5

Eternal life isn’t something purely spiritual, but will be physical as well. We were made created by God with flesh and spirit, and will be redeemed as such. Martha understands this and so she says to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

But then something surprising happens: Jesus raises Lazarus that very day. It’s a twist in the story absolutely nobody saw coming. Martha and Mary, for all their faith in Jesus, had no expectation of having dinner with their brother. Jesus flips the script and astounds everyone, and many believe (John 11:45). The resurrection of Lazarus inspires such faith and devotion in Jesus that His opponents conspire to re-kill Lazarus to stem the tide.

The Resurrection and The Life is a spiritual and eschatological reality, but Jesus occasionally gives a taste, a free sample, that we may believe. Lazarus is not the norm, nor is there any promise of physical resurrection to believers before the second coming of Christ. The New Testament only records four other instances, not including the resurrection of Jesus: A widow’s son (Luke 7:11-16), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). In contrast, Jesus and the apostles heal the sick quite liberally.

But there is a much more ubiquitous foretaste of resurrection in the New Testament, one available to all believers.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:4-5

How do we respond to The Resurrection and The Life? By partaking in the institution of baptism. All who profess faith in Christ are invited to taste and to participate in the resurrection of Christ in rising up from the waters of baptism. When we witness this sacred ritual, let us remember the promise of Jesus and worship the Lord who is our resurrection and our life.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:40

I AM: The Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. These words begin one of the most beloved passages in scripture. Even today, in a society far removed from the agrarian imagery, Psalm 23 continues to provide comfort for believers. We may not know(*care*) much about sheep, but we understand what it is to be nurtured, to be cared for and protected.

God’s care for His people is a frequent theme in all of scripture. A common scene in the gospels is of Jesus meeting the physical needs of the oppressed and downtrodden.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
” – Luke 4:18-19

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  – Matthew 9:36

Jesus cares. Jesus cares for us. Jesus cares for us because God cares for us. This is the truth behind the metaphor of The Good Shepherd. And so as we look as Jesus’ words in John 10, I’m not going to tell you a ton about sheep. I personally do not care the slightest bit about sheep. I’m not going to dig deep to unearth profound mysteries. My goal here is to show how Christ cares for us, to be overwhelmed by the compassion of God, and to respond in worship.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.- John 10:11- 15

Jesus is invested in us. He paid a high price to make us His own and even now is putting the work to cultivate us. This is the message of The Good Shepherd. We belong to the shepherd and are in relationship with the shepherd.

Possession doesn’t seem like a good image to discuss God’s care for us at first glance. When we think of the things we own, we’re not transported into a world of overwhelming sacrifice and protectiveness. Even our most precious possessions- computers, phones, cars, etc- are treasured for their utility. I may take great pains to keep my shoes from getting scuffed, but my love will never go beyond the aesthetic. Once they start getting old, I’m looking forward to the next pair.

But God doesn’t own us in the same way we own our stuff. He died to redeem us from darkness and death and into His possession. And once we are His, He remains committed to our welfare. The price He paid for us is the assurance of our value. The Christian is under Christ’s authority, yet is considered a friend.

In His care for us, the Good Shepherd leads us out to pasture. He takes us to places that are good for us and away from those that are not. Life in Christ is not aimless; we are being taken on a journey. We are led from the safety of the enclosure out into the openness of the world, with all its mess, brokenness, and pain. Under the shepherd’s guidance, we encounter the consequences of sin in our broken world. We see heartbreak, compromise, and lasciviousness. We may even partake of it ourselves.

Yet the Good Shepherd is always with us. He is our protection. Picture a child in a market. His play is free and rambunctious when his father is in view. But the moment he looks around and can no longer see his father, his demeanour changes: He freezes up, finds a corner and makes himself small. The sea of legs which had been a playground maze now seem threatening and imposing. But then he hears the voice of his father. Watch his face light up, his posture open up. Nothing has changed in his environment, and yet everything is different.

The Good Shepherd is our assurance of safety even in the darkest of times. He will not run from us when the wolf comes; He will fight for us and He will win. He descended to the grave for us and will not now abandon us. Though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

The Good Shepherd leads us to pasture. We follow because we know Him and He knows us. We trust Him, that He will not lead us astray. The shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep is important. He knows better than we do what is good for us. We knows the destination when all we see is the pathway, and He knows the destination will nourish our souls. We don’t know where we are going, but we know who is taking us there. And that is enough for us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is invested in us, and is working all things together for our good. This truth puts me at peace when I should otherwise the worried. There are times I feel adrift, like I’m living at the mercy of a world beyond my control. When the plans and structures I put my hope in come crashing down, Jesus reminds me that He is leading me to pasture. He loves me and will protect me from all danger. He does that because I am His.

So let us rest at ease in the presence of The Good Shepherd. Let us follow His voice to the exclusion of all others, that we might find pasture. And let us remind our fellow believers in times of trial that Jesus will keep us. He died for us and will not now let us die.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
– Psalm 23

I AM: The Door of The Sheep

I AM: The Door of The Sheep

Of the seven I AM statements of Jesus in John’s gospel, this is the least frequently discussed. There are several reasons for this. One, it comes in very close proximity to a more tantalizing metaphor- The Good Shepherd. Both statements appear in the same discourse and Jesus mixes metaphors in painting the same picture. So, as any child whose birthday falls on a holiday knows too well, the famous overshadows the obscure.

Another reason we probably don’t talk about the Door of the Sheep is that it doesn’t have high play count in scripture. In the chapter it appears, John devotes all of five verses to it and the New Testament writers don’t really take up the metaphor. This makes it hard to devote much space to exploring it.

But exploring this metaphor is exactly what we’re going to do in this space. Again, as with the other posts in this series, my prayer is that you and I will have our focus drawn to Jesus, the source and foundation of our faith.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep… Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:1,2,7-9

The image here is of an enclosure which houses sheep. In this picture, the door plays three roles: it legitimizes access, protects the flock, and acts as a gateway to provision.

First, the door grants legitimate access to the sheep. According the image we’re given, there is one door and one shepherd who has the key. Anyone else who wants to get at the sheep is an intruder.

The intruder trespasses with a purpose: He attempts to lead them away from their rightful owner. He is a thief. But instead of using force or carrying off the sheep, the intruder attempts to lead the sheep with his voice. If the sheep follow the intruder, they will walk into the possession of another and away from the protection of the shepherd.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:6-8

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  – 1 Timothy 6:3-4a

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:1

The New Testament warns frequently against false teachers who will come up to lead God’s people astray. And the Door of the Sheep makes for us a clear distinction between the Shepherd (with His agents) and the intruder (with his agents). Anyone who intends to be a leader of the church must do so in submission to Christ and in accordance to His teaching. The Door of the Sheep is our protection against being led astray by showing who we should follow (2 Thessalonians 2:9-17, 2 Peter 2:1-2).

The Door to the Sheep also provides salvation for the sheep. They come in through Him to a safe place. This obviously has eternal significance, but also matters in this life.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. – Proverbs 18:10

The Psalmists and authors of proverbs were not looking into eternity when they made statements like this (Psalm 18:2, 61:3, 91:2, 144:2, Proverbs 14:26 among others). What they meant is when I’m scared, overwhelmed, unsure, stricken with doubt, I can run to God and He will protect me. When I have literal enemies looking to take me down, I trust God to look out for me. The Door of the Sheep offers protection from the internal and external pressures of this life and into eternity with God. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and we enter into His salvation only through Christ.

Finally, the Door of the Sheep leads us out to pasture. Going back to the image Jesus paints, you have a number of sheep in an enclosure. The sheep cannot survive solely within the pen. They must be lead beyond the boundary to find food.

Through Jesus, we are not only directed into the enclosure and safe communion with the saints; Jesus leads us out into the world.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. – Acts 1:8

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. – 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

The Door of the Sheep shows us not only how to find salvation, but how to go out into the world as the flock of God. Our faith is not simply concerned with life within the enclosure, in the Christian bubble, but also promises pasture. He provides pasture out in the world, that our needs may be met.

The Door of the Sheep ensures that we are not lead away, assures us of safety, and provides for us outside the walls of the enclosure. In Christ, we are kept secure as the flock of God. Let us keep our eye on the Door. Let us rejoice when it is shut against intruders and dangers. And when it is open to opportunity and blessing, let us go through it with boldness, trusting that God will keep His flock.

I AM: The Light of The World

The I AM series on this blog has one objective: to place the spotlight on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. There is so much one can write about Christianity in the 21st century, but it all falls apart if not grounded in the live, death, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus. He lived and in His life taught about God and humanity. I want to take this space to examine what He said about Himself and what that means for me and you.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Light illuminates by its very nature; It is the antithesis of darkness. So Jesus here is saying that His presence allows us to see something we would not otherwise be able to. And to understand what that is, I’d like to observe the context of this claim.

Just before this passage, John recounts a story that’s become quite popular. The religious leaders, looking to trap Jesus in a conundrum, bring before Him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This slick trap was intended to pit Jesus’ compassion against the law of Moses. If Jesus affirmed the law, He showed Himself to be as just cold as the Pharisees He frequently rebuked. If He advocated anything less than the law required, they could accuse Him of disregarding the law and therefore not an emissary of God.

He stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”… But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8:7-11

Then in the next verse, Jesus makes the claim we’re investigating here. I am the Light of the World. Whether these events followed each other chronologically is not important. John is obviously making a connection between the two. So what does Jesus expose in the preceding story?

Sin.

The crowd comes to Jesus in shock and outrage. This woman broke the law and deserves death. The case was open-and-shut. The law was clear. The evidence was undeniable: somebody walked in on her having sexual relations with a man who wasn’t her husband. The jury had deliberated and the verdict was in. All that remained was for Jesus to pronounce the sentence. Justice must be done, Jesus. Are you up to the task?

Jesus’ reply put a simple challenge before the crowd, namely this: Would you be so eager to see justice done if you were the one on trial? His reply got them thinking about what aspects of their lives they would hate to see publicized.

To this day, Jesus continues to shine a light on the hidden corners of our lives. He makes us confront our sin, and it’s a painful process. In the story of the woman, Jesus’ words forced the crowd to concede the high ground. Where they would have gone home proud of themselves for doing justice, instead they were left the bitter taste of their own faults.

I am the Light of the World. Jesus shows us our sin, and often we don’t want to see it.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. – John 8:39-41,44

Jesus’ words were hard to take, and His message remains difficult today. We want to believe that we are good, that our sins are aberrations and not indicative of our true nature. This is the entire premise behind reality TV shows. I may be a bit selfish, but at least I’m not ‘Jersey Shore’ bad. We want to excuse ourselves by looking on the ‘greater’ sins of others, but Jesus comes as the sinless man. Next to Him, we all fall short.

But the Light of the World doesn’t come to bring shame, but restoration.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him… But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:16-17,21

In him was life, and the life was the light of men… He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:4,11-13

Jesus shows us our sin so it can be dealt with. The crowd around the adulterous women revelled in her shame; Jesus comes to remove our shame. One popular image of God’s love in the bible is a bath (Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:7, Ezekiel 36:25, Ephesians 5:26-27). Addiction workers say, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” The Light of the World shows us our sin so we can be purified. And even after conversion, the Light of the World remains a sanctifying light. Our roles is simply to keep looking into the light.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

I AM: The Bread of Life

Christ is at the center of Christianity. Often we prioritize other theological and social issues, but without Jesus, it  all falls apart. For me, Easter was a great time to remember this. If He had not come, lived, died, and rose again, there would be no faith for me to confess, to write about, and to cling to in tough times.

So in this month of April, I want to take on a writing project that centers on Christ. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes seven “I AM” statements. These are seven statements in which Jesus uses metaphor to reveal who He is and what He means for us. Over the next 21 days, I plan to reflect on each of these statements in this space. I invite you to join me on this journey and together, may our hearts become centered again on Christ above all else.

I AM: The Bread of Life (John 6:35)

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this chapter. In the last post, I used it to show What’s Wrong With the Prosperity Gospel.  The manner in which Jesus deals with the crowd illustrates the nature of His kingship. He will not be used as a tool to meet our needs; He Himself is our deepest need.

Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:27,35, 54-55

What is the bread of life, this true food to which Jesus refers? Like many (likely all) of you, I eat food on a daily basis. Multiple times a day even. I do this partially because I enjoy the experience of eating- sometimes glutinously- but mostly I eat because I must. And no matter how enjoyable a meal, the satisfaction it brings is temporary. There is always a next meal.

The insatiable nature of appetite goes beyond food and into every aspect of life. Every milestone reached simply yields to a new goal. I had the chance to speak with an Olympic athlete and staff member with Athletes in Action. She told me that the loneliest moments for an athlete often come after winning a medal. Every thought and action for four years pointed towards this singular moment, and amidst the elation comes a scary realization: Now what?

We tend to define life by our appetites, our goals. I know the feeling. Life is good and meaningful as long as we are making progress towards attaining some ideal. But a life defined in this way will be full of disappointment- no more so than when we get what we thought would satisfy us. And it is in light of this that the Bread of Life is offered.

Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. Don’t live your life in pursuit of fleeting pleasures, but go after a joy that lasts. To know God through Christ is the definition of eternal life (John 17:3).

In Christ, God gives us purpose and meaning that cannot be exhausted. The Bread of Life is sustenance that isn’t consumed, but one that generates; It grows the more we eat of it. That’s why it’s linked to the miracle of feeding 5000 with five loaves and two fishes with twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus is making a point about the kind of life He offers.

By God’s grace, I have experienced this eternal life in Christ. I have in my life purpose that goes deeper than my daily experience. Through failure and success, I have a true anchor for my soul. This is the experiential beauty of the gospel. I can’t always explain and I don’t always feel it, but I know it.

All this is the gift of God, as Jesus makes very clear.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:44,45,63-64

Not everyone will eat of the Bread of Life. The crowd in Jesus’ time walked away from this teaching. It takes great faith to surrender our various appetites to the pursuit of God. The Bread of Life is given for the world, but only those enabled by the Father will eat of it.

So how do we respond, who have eaten of the Bread of Life? We thank God for this gift, which He has so graciously bestowed on us. We cling closely to our risen Saviour who is our Life. And with Peter, we proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).”

Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:2-6

God Has Not Abandoned Us

Did you hear the news? The earth on a slow inexorable march towards destruction. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Extremism is on the rise around the world and terrorists are spreading fear like a plague. World governments are crippled by corruption and bureaucracy, societies are crumbling. The west is becoming more and more secular and bringing the south down with it. Division between people is growing, not shrinking.

It’s hard not to get discouraged at the state of the world. We do our little bit to make the world a better place, putting our buckets to work against the oceans of injustice and unbelief. It seems that for every student who comes to know Christ in university, many more walk away from faith. Every soul delivered from slavery reminds us how many more toil in bondage: spiritually to sin, and physically to evil men.

But rest assured: God has not abandoned us. Christ is still at work in the world, and He is the source of our hope.

Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, His disciples came to Him with a question as they often did. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” We know at some level that You will usher in Your kingdom in Your timing, but how will we know it’s coming?

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.  – Matthew 24:4-8

Jesus essentially replies, “Things are going to get bad, and that’s  just the beginning.” I confess I don’t read this chapter often; it’s not a feel-good read. There are many promises in scripture: some of prosperity, answered prayers, deliverance, peace, etc. This is a promise of tribulation.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  – Matthew 24:9-13

It gets worse for Christians especially. We will suffer because we follow Christ. We may be nice, caring, and compassionate, but the odour of Christ on us will overpower all that. We will be those people: The ones who believe there is only one way to God, that our bodies aren’t ours to use as we please, that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is destined for hell. Yes, those people.

And more and more, we will become less tolerated. It’s illegal to be a Christian in many countries, and difficult to evangelize in many more. In university, a friend of mine had a poster in his room with a picture of a cross and Galatians 1:16 printed on it. The caption read: This message is illegal in 52 countries.

All this was promised by Jesus. But instead of being discouraging, this was intended as an encouragement. According to protestant theology, the coming of Jesus was preceded by 400 years of silence from God. In that time the world went through massive geo-political changes and God’s chosen people suffered without direct guidance from the Lord.

Jesus knew He was leaving His disciples soon, and it would be a long time before He returned. Because of the Holy Spirit, the church would never be left without direct guidance from God. But we would still be tempted to doubt in the face of rising evil, and so He gave us a heads up. It’s going to be hard, and this isn’t because I’ve abandoned you.

God is still working on the earth. In the midst of darkness, He is bringing light. The light of the gospel is being opposed but not destroyed. Many have predicted the death of Christianity through history, and so far it’s refused to go away.

But more than just surviving, God’s people are flourishing. Millions are coming to faith in Christ every year, including in states which- whether through persecution or growing pluralism- oppose the message of the gospel. Christ’s promise to His disciples still stands: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

God is still sending labourers into the harvest as He promised. Men and women are responding to God’s grace in their lives by going out in radical sacrifice to draw others to Christ. Missions Conferences are packed; University graduates are taking on missions internships around the world and at home; Bibles and theological resources are being translated into more languages and exported to more ethnic groups around the world.

We are a people of hope, because we hope in Christ. When we see evil growing and the world moving further away from God, rest assured that God has not abandoned us. He is still at work.

Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it – 2 Timothy 3:13-14

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:13-14

Complaint or Hope: An Invitation to Fellow Christians

I remember listening to a sermon years ago about complaining. Many details of the message elude me but the focus of the message was the exodus of the Israelites recorded in Exodus and Numbers. Moral of the story? See how they complained even after God gave them so much. Don’t be like them. Guess what? I probably went home that day and grumbled about internet speed or something similarly mundane.

Negative speech is too easy. As the adage goes, ‘It’s easier to tear down than to build up ‘. As a society, much of our public discourse is dominated by tearing down the opposition. Can you believe he said this? How you vote for someone who believes x? Popular satirical show host Jon Stewart and now John Oliver have built shows around this format. Poke enough holes in anyone who stands against you and your position appears stronger.

And the church is not immune from this tendency towards negativity. Ask the average Canadian what they know about the modern evangelical and they’ll likely reference our anti-abortion, anti-gay rhetoric. Many of us know a lot about our denominations and set up caricatures of others: Paedo-Baptists believe children can inherit salvation, Calvinists believe ‘once-saved-always-saved’, and Roman Catholics worship Mary. Before my non-Credo-Arminian-protestant readers get upset with me, I’m simply relaying what we say about you behind your backs (and sometimes to your faces).  Don’t shoot the messenger.

One thing I enjoy about being a full time fundraiser for missions is that I’m constantly communicating with many Christians. One observation I’ve made is that we are generally very aware of any and all public opposition to Christianity. Our mental narrative sees the world slowly, and certainly restricting our rights to worship and influence society. The media is intolerantly liberal. Politicians stand opposed to Christian values. Academic institutions reject any notion of objective morality.

When Vanderbilt and the UCLA revoked club status for Christian groups for demanding their leaders adhere to a Christian code of conduct, our ‘I-told-you-so’ antennas sprang upright. And Katherine Wynne’s new sex education curriculum only serves to further affirm this narrative. But how often do we rejoice in public victories of conservative values? The Supreme Court of Quebec ruled today in favour of a private Catholic school’s ability to teach Christianity from a Christian worldview. Where’s the party? And funny how many Christians overlook a parent’s right to opt-out of Ms. Wynne’s masterpiece.

I point out these things not to argue politics, but to point out that we spend too much energy on complaint.

But why does that matter? Does negative speech cost anything? Again I draw our attention to the Israelites in scripture. The book of Hebrews contains a stunning indictment  on the ancient contemporaries of Moses.

“Today, if you hear his voice,
 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”  – Hebrews 3:7-11

What is the rebellion on the day of testing of which the Lord speaks? The seventeenth chapter of Exodus finds Israel thirsty in the desert. Keeping with a theme running through the book, the people complain and grumble. And it gets quite serious. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” The grumbling gets so bad Moses fears for his life. He approaches God and God produces a stream from a mountain. End of story? Apparently not.

This incident left behind a legacy. The region got a new name and something changed between the people and their God. Many chapters later, God postponed His promise of a homeland into the next generation because of doubt and complaining (Numbers 14), but this moment laid the foundation. It set a precedent of sweeping complaint.

To this point, Israel had seen the magnitude of God’s power and providence. God led them out of slavery in Egypt, destroyed their enemies and provided food for them miraculously. How then could they doubt God’s provision? How could they entertain such despair at their circumstances? Moral of the story: See how they complained even after God gave them so much. Don’t be like them.

But we do the same.

How we speak matters more than we think. Our speech patterns shape us- for good or ill. When we complain, our words pulls us towards despondence. When we tear down opponents, we don’t become more right; we become haters. Negative speech doesn’t edify.

I think on the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights in America. Reflect on the words of his famous speech

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character… This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. (Source: US National Archives)

With these words, the Reverend demonstrates the power of positive oratory. A dream inspires. Hope and faith bring change. Here was a man fighting for the future, not against the present. As Christians, we look forward to the return of Christ, and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4

Because of this hope, we don’t despair at the secularization of the West. We continue to strive for righteousness and justice, to care for the widow and the orphan, to tend to the sick, and to speak up for the oppressed. We continue to offer insightful social commentary. But we cannot be defined by complaint, grumbling, or hateful rhetoric. Such is not the fruit of a people defined by hope.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

Don’t Despise The Home Field

In the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, He touched a lot of lives in many ways: He healed, taught, discipled, rebuked, expelled, and restored people from death. Beyond the historicity of these events, Jesus’ interaction with individuals teaches us much about God through anecdote. John alludes to this in the introduction to his gospel. “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made Him known.”

A friend recently invited me to reflect on a story from the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel. In this story, Jesus delivers a man from demon possession. The consequences of Jesus’ miracle turn out to be costly for the local economy and so the response of the townspeople isn’t celebration and revelry.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.  – Mark 5:14-17

This follow a theme in Jesus’ ministry. He does something good and people get upset. He delivered a member of the community from crippling bondage to forces beyond his control. A man who was previously out of control and prone to self harm sat before the townspeople sane and civilized, but their chief concern was for the 2000 pigs whose lives had been given for the man’s freedom. The economy was in shambles and the locals, eager to cut their losses, asked Jesus to kindly leave.

And what about the man who had just gotten his life back? Imagine yourself in his place. What would be running through your mind? How would you desire to move forward in life? We go back to the story to find out.

As [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.   – Mark 5: 18-20

Recently saved, excited to go anywhere with Jesus, and Jesus says, “I need you here.” This isn’t the only follower Jesus turns away. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus turns away some potential missionaries because they are not ready (Luke 9:57-62). This isn’t the case here though. Jesus saw that this man would do more for Jesus in his hometown than on the road, and He was right. People responded to this man’s proclamations about Jesus even though they had kicked Him out. Jesus wasn’t given audience on the countryside but this man was able to go into the city and everyone marvelled.

As a missionary myself, I frequently hear self deprecating comments from friends wishing they were ‘spiritual enough’ to go overseas for missions. We extol the Jim Elliotts, the Hudson Taylors, the David Livingstones, and allow ourselves to think less of those who gave everything for God’s glory locally. Going away is more exciting, more risky; staying at home is somewhat boring.

Relevant Magazine published an article in November 2014 titled, When Risking It All For God Means Staying Where You Are. Author Kris Beckett challenges us to seek discernment, not thrill, in determining where we are called to share Christ.

What if God wants you to start a ministry where you are instead of going to one? What if it’s actually more God-honoring to deal with an uncomfortable family situation than moving away from it? What if instead of leaving this position and that location again and again to “find ourselves,” we should be staying put? What if instead of leaving church after church, we should just keep coming to the same one? What if instead of abandoning all that is ours, we should be continuing to invest ourselves, our gifts, our resources?

But there is often more to the desire to go hit the road with Jesus. If we are honest, many of us (myself included) want to separate our evangelism from our Christian living. We know our flaws and so does our social network. There is often a dissonance between our message and our lifestyle. For example, I assert that Christian community brings together people from all cultures and social strata through the cross. In my life, however, I choose to worship and socialize with Christians who look just like me. I believe God’s generosity should inspire us to give freely, but I often walk past panhandlers, hoarding my paltry treasures.

It’s easy to put forth a veneer of righteousness anywhere but home. We can fake it for a few weeks, possibly a couple of months. Even if we don’t intend to deceive, we still fall for the lie that we’ll become more spiritual once removed from our current routine and network: My mom brings out the worst in me and I would be more patient away from her or I would be more disciplined with my daily bible reading if I didn’t have to deal with my job.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery I made as a missionary in Uganda is how much my life there mirrored my life at home. I still got nervous when I had an opportunity to talk about Christ. I still struggled to develop consistency in my devotional reading of scripture. My pride and anger travelled with me to my embarrassment. I wasn’t a better evangelist in Uganda than I was in Canada.

So it’s not surprising when we go back to the text and study the ministry of the formerly demon possessed man. His message wasn’t an exposition of the doctrine of trinity, or an apologetic for objective moral truth. He told the people what Jesus had done for him. His life was the content of his ministry.

The Gospel is so much more than a set of prepositional statements to believe or a worldview to affirm. It is a sanctifying submission to the living God, purchased on the cross of Jesus. It must be lived out in order to be preached. And faithfulness, not perfection is what God requires.

God calls many people to proclaim His name in a distant land, but many are also called to live out and preach the gospel at home. Where He calls is up to His sovereign will; ours is to obey

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem [at home] and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  – Acts 1:8