“That’s depressing.” Have you ever said those two words? I’ve watched U.S. politics lately and found myself frustrated, angry, and discouraged. I may have even said that certain events or reactions have been “depressing.” As we move toward what seems like an all-out war between presidential candidates, I find myself shaking my head and dreading the next year. While events may get me down, am I really depressed?
Over seven percent of American adults will experience depression this year and fifteen percent will struggle with depression at some point in their lives. Over three million young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have experienced at least one depressive episode this year. Sadly, I think we’ll see these numbers growing in the years to come. Why? Why are we struggling with depression as a culture?
Depression can come from a variety of places in a person’s life. It may result from chemical imbalances, physical or emotional trauma, or cultural challenges. Regardless of its source, depression is both promoted by and fed from feelings of hopelessness. While counselors can offer several solutions, one key solution is hope. I’m so grateful for gifted therapists and counselors, and I am most grateful for the God of all hope.
The great news I have is that we find hope in Jesus Christ. God spoke words of encouragement to a troubled nation in Jeremiah 29:11. These words also have great application to us today: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Do you struggle with depression today? As you reach out for hope, I encourage you to reach out to God. He will walk with you through your darkness to help you find the brightness of His presence.
I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
If you have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”
I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God?
Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.
Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.
I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.
Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel:
Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”
For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”
If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.
Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus. Who’s your somebody? If you are a Christian, have you ever considered the fact that God wants to use you to help somebody find their way to Jesus Christ? Being used in this way could be something as simple as inviting someone to join you at church this Easter Sunday. Do you know that most people will go to church if someone simply invites them? Your thoughtful invitation may affect someone’s eternity. Have you thought about inviting someone to church this Sunday? Go ahead. Who’s your somebody? Write down their name, pray for them, and give them a call.
Helping people find their way to Christ can involve more than inviting them to church, though that’s a great start. It can also include openly sharing your faith with them. You may be thinking that you could never witness to people about Jesus. You’re not alone with this thought. You may think that if you dared to share your faith, someone may ask you a question you couldn’t answer, or you may say the wrong thing. I’d like to address these two concerns.
No one knows all of the answers, so allow me to go ahead and prepare you with a dose of reality. When you start talking about Jesus or sharing scripture from the Bible, someone will probablyask you a question that you can’t answer. It happens to me. I’m sure it happened to Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and any other breathing believer on the planet who dares to open up with someone about Christianity. You know what I do when someone asks me a question I can’t answer? I say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out, but what I do know is…” and then I get back to presenting the Gospel. If anyone expects you to know everything about the Bible, then their expectations are unrealistic. Go ahead and prepare yourself for the inevitability. Don’t let someone’s unfair expectations cause you to keep from being obedient to Christ’s command to be a witness. Don’t let your fear be used by our spiritual enemy to impact someone’s eternal destiny.
As far as you saying the wrong thing, that’s also possible. Being a witness is essential, but being a prepared witness has an even greater impact. You can hopefully avoid saying the wrong thing if you’ll prepare yourself to be a witness. I suggest that you, first of all, write out your personal story. Be prepared to tell someone how you personally became a Christian. Then I suggest you memorize, or at least know where to find in the Bible, several key verses including John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12, and Acts 16:31. While it’s impossible to be prepared for everything, you can be prepared for the mainthing.
Easter’s coming, and people are more open to spiritual things this time of year than any other time. Are you willing to at least invite someone to attend Easter service with you and your family? Are you ready to help somebody find his or her way to Jesus? Who’s your somebody?
I’ll never forget standing on the edge of the Niagara River watching unbelievable amounts of water flow over the edge of one of the most famous tourist spots in the world: Niagara Falls. It is hard to fathom the constant flow of water, 365 days a year, that pours over this landmark. In fact, more than six million cubic feet of water goes over the crest of this falls every minute. Unbelievable!
I’ve enjoyed many rivers throughout my life. I’ve kayaked down some and simply sat beside others enjoying the peaceful beauty of a quiet flowing stream. When I was a kid, I rafted down the Chattooga River. We got out of our rafts at one point, and our guide instructed us to get out in the middle of the river (we were wearing life jackets), lift up your feet, and enjoy the ride. It was a blast!
Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and made this declaration: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus offered an amazing parallel to an ancient tradition of the Jewish priests on this important day in Jewish life. It was on this day that the High Priest scooped up a pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out at the temple as a reminder of God’s provision of water for the Children of Israel as they wondered through the wilderness. With this backdrop, Jesus said, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink and I’ll make sure you have a river of living water flowing from deep within you.” John’s commentary teaches us that this river to which Jesus referred was indeed His Holy Spirit. When thinking about the flow of the Holy Spirit from within our lives, I don’t think the Niagara River does God’s Spirit justice as a visual parallel. The flow of God’s Spirit from within us is a flow of power, of peace, and of refreshment. Do you need refreshment? Do you find your life right now to be a bit barren? Could you use the supernatural power of God’s Spirit in your life to deal with a particular challenge in your life? Jump in the flow, raise up your feet, and enjoy the ride.
How many of us have ever struggled with discerning God’s direction for our lives? I think I just saw everyone’s hand shoot into the air. I really don’t think that God has made His voice so indiscernible and will so elusive that knowing His will should be so difficult. Maybe the problem is not with God. Maybe it’s us. My church is currently involved in a fall spiritual growth emphasis, and we’re using Craig Groeschel’s book, Divine Direction, as our small group study. His book is AWESOME. It will possibly make my best book of 2018 choice. I am also preaching a short series to go along with the study. The first two messages are posted now, and the third should be up by the end of the week.
In my first message, I emphasize the fact that we are writing our life’s story every day that we live. I’ve got to confess that at times in my life, I have written a few lines carelessly. I wish I could find the delete button and re-write a few pages. While I can do that with the books I write, I can’t do that with the life I’m living. My life’s book is permanent as it’s written, and so is yours. Our challenge is to think ahead to what we want the final chapters of our lives to say. Is the chapter you are writing today going to get you to those final chapters you have envisioned? The chapter we are writing today will determine the chapters we write tomorrow because we are becoming today who we will be tomorrow. The choices and decisions we make today determine everything about our final chapters.
Stop and take a little inventory. Think ahead to what you want in that final chapter of your life. If the decisions you’re making today or the sentences being written by your current actions will not get you to your desired conclusion, you’ve got to change your story now. You can’t wait a year or two. I encourage you to consider what changes are needed now so your story has the best conclusion years from now.
I’ve always known that there is nothing that God cannot do, but is that statement true? Before you think I’m writing heresy, consider the words of Mark 6:5: “And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Has that story ever bothered you? In response to that scripture, you could easily say that Jesus’ miraculous power seems to be dependent upon people’s faith. When something in the Scripture seems to disconnect from something else in the Scripture that has been presented as truth, we should be careful not to build a theology on a casual reading of a passage. For example, the angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” yet in Mark 6:5 we’re told, “He could do no miracle there…” Let’s consider what message Mark 6:5 has for us today.
When I come across a “fuzzy” passage, I first look at other translations. ESV, NIV, KJV, and others all carry the same message: He could not do miracles in Nazareth because of the lack of faith of the people. In this case, the English word that is translated “could” seems to be consistent. When I consider my own use of the English language, is it possible I can use the word could to mean different things? Yes. I might say, “He could not lift the heavy stone,” which is to say it was impossible for him to lift the object because it was beyond his human capacity to do so. Consider this statement about Dr. Billy Graham, “He could never mislead the American people.” While Dr. Graham technically could be deceptive, we know that such actions would stand in stark contrast to the character we have come to know and love in this awesome man of God. We would be correct in saying he could never do such a thing. The statements about the stone and about Dr. Graham are true, but they portray different messages.
When you are studying passages in a Gospel, you can look for parallels in other Gospels. God’s word will never contradict. Matthew 13:58 is a parallel passage: “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” Matthew’s version provides an interesting contrast that may help us to better understand Mark’s version. Maybe while Jesus literally could do anything, including miracles in His home town, He would not because of their unbelief.
You can also look at the original language, if you can find the proper resources. One writer described the Greek word translated as “could not” as possibly denoting that someone deliberately purposed not to do something as opposed to being physically unable to do it.
With all of this in mind, is it possible that while Jesus can do anything, He purposed not to do it because it stood in opposition to how He chooses to work. Scripture is clear that faith and surrender are key ingredients to God’s plan, and since the people of Galilee would not believe, performing miracles in that context would be contrary to God’s plan.
What does this understanding mean to you? Is there something that God would like to do in your life, but He can’t (or won’t) because you are not surrendering to His leadership in your life?
I was passionate, emotional, and a little exhausted Saturday night sometime close to 11:00. I watched Georgia defeat Notre Dame, barely. I saw a bunch of guys in South Bend, Indiana who were also passionate, emotional, and maybe more than a little exhausted. There was a big difference between me and them. They were all in, committed, giving it up for and with their team. I’m glad Georgia won (though I still like Mark Richt), but in the end, I’m just a fan. Just because I cheered, got excited, and sustained a small injury during the game (pulled muscle when I got a little excited at the end of the game), I’M NOT ON THE TEAM. I’m just a fan.
Christians are more than just excited about Jesus and loosely connected to the church. They are all in, totally committed, sold out followers of Jesus Christ. I shared Matthew 7:22-23 in my last post where Jesus points out the surprise fans will experience when they find out too late that they are not on the team. They never left the stands. They never surrendered their lives to Jesus. Christians are not just fans. You cannot be a Christian unless you have surrendered your life to Jesus as your Lord (Romans 10:9-10).
Does that mean that followers never give less than 110%? We should always give everything in our act of following, but sometimes we don’t. The difference between a fan and follower, is that a follower really loves Jesus and wants to live a surrendered life. When followers realize something is askew in their Christian life, they repent and respond to God’s prompting to get back in the game.
Not a fan, but a follower. I’ve heard about Kyle Idleman’s book, “Not a Fan,” for several years, but I began reading it a few months ago. It offers a crisp distinction between being casually enamored with Christianity to being a full-blown follower. I am now sharing a teaching series on the subject, and our small groups are going through Idleman’s study. There’s a big difference between being a fan and being a follower. In my message Sunday, I said…
Fans like Jesus; but followers love Jesus.
Fans are willing to cheer for Jesus but followers are willing to die for Jesus.
Fans focus on the benefits, but followers focus on the benefactor.
Jesus doesn’t want fans. He wants followers.
Consider this question. If you are a fan, are you a Christian? That’s an important question. The issue to consider is whether or not someone who is not “all in” is truly a believer. Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Were the people Jesus was talking about merely fans?
Think about this question: “Are you a fan or a follower?” Why not spend some time making a list of the differences between fan and follower. I highly recommend the book and the small group study. I will address this issue later this week as we consider the possibility of being a Christian while only being a fan.