Who Are You Going To Follow In Life?

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John 13:1 – 17

13 1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He now showed the disciples the full extent of his love.  2 It was time for supper, and the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.

6 When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, why are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now why I am doing it; someday you will.” 8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “But if I don’t wash you, you won’t belong to me.” 9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

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10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you are clean, but that isn’t true of everyone here.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. 14 And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. 17 You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.

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It is clear from this passage that Jesus knew with absolute certainty, where he had come from, and the authority that he possessed.  He states for us here in verse 14 that he is both the disciples’ Lord and their Teacher.  He is to be listened to and he is to be obeyed.  And he knew that he had come from God, his Father, and that he would be returning to heaven to be with his Father once again.

It would be great if all of us had this kind of certainty in our lives.  More importantly, it would be very good if more people would realize that this life is not “all there is” and then bang, nothing.  No, there is a reality beyond this life and this world, a spiritual realm where both God exists, but also his arch enemy, the Devil.  There are two great spiritual Beings that live in the beyond, and yet they are with us here in the present, in the “Now”.

And every one of us has got to make a choice as to whom we are going to serve with our lives, which will then determine for us our eternal destiny.  Will we choose a life of blessing with God the Father?  … or a life of bitter despair of helplessness, hopelessness and eternal separation from God?  These are the choices that face all of us now, and it is in fact the most important choice of our entire life.

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What prompts me to write these thoughts come from a few things in our passage above.  Notice how this English New Living Translation version identifies the Agent behind the betrayal of Jesus that Judas makes.  It says in verse 2, “The Devil had already enticed Judas….to betray Jesus.”  We don’t talk very much about the Devil in our churches today.  Why is that?  Have we forgotten that from the very beginning of time, the Devil, that evil serpent in the Garden, has been at work to lead all people into a rebellion against God, starting with Adam and Eve.

It says here that the Devil “enticed” Judas to betray Jesus for a little bit of money.  Judas will have to give account of himself when he stands before the judgment throne of God.  While it is true that Satan loves to lead people into sin, still it was Judas’ choice to give in to this temptation of desiring silver coins in his pocket rather than submission to Jesus as Lord.

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Jesus shows us the better way.  The path to a blessed life, right now and also in the life to come, is to submit to the Father in obedience, and to His Son Jesus.  And also to submit to serving others, rather than serving one’s self.  This passage above says that Jesus showed his disciples “the full extent of his love” for them.  How did he do that?  He gave them the example that even the greatest person is only truly great when he values others higher than himself and is willing to serve others out of a spirit of love and humility.

So ask yourself this question then?  Whose example are you following right now?  Are you like Judas and only looking out for yourself, even if it costs someone else dearly?  Or are you like Jesus, and walking the path of humility, love and helping to serve the needs of others around you.  The first path may benefit you in the short-term, but leads to death.  The second path will bring blessings now, and for all eternity.  I think the choice is very clear.

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Beginning Challenges of Cross-Cultural Ministry

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[Editor’s Note: A young couple with two young children (one 2 years old and one just 6 months old) began their first term as missionaries in East Africa in June of last year. After their first four months on the field, the wife wrote an article in their newsletter that speaks of the challenges she faced and why she continues to be willing to face them.]

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My Life as a Big Baby

People learn to bloom where they are planted. I grew up in America, so I learned most of the important skills for living there. I can boil spaghetti as well as the next person. I can drive in Dallas rush-hour traffic while eating a cheeseburger. I have learned how to write a good term paper, how to find a bargain on quality children’s clothing, and how to use the internet to expedite nearly every facet of my life.

But now I live in East Africa, and the three-year-old next door knows more about how to survive here than I do. I scorch the beans and let the milk boil over. I don’t know how to wash my clothes when the electricity goes out. I can’t drive myself to the grocery store.

I don’t know the names of the trees in my own yard, and I had no idea that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant. I’m reminded of the little farm girl in the movie version of Love Comes Softly, who asks her citified stepmother, “How’d you get to be so old without knowin’ how to do nothin’?”

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I speak like a toddler, with halts and mistakes and frustration at not being able to explain myself or ask a simple question. Many times I want to tell a story from my childhood or make a joke or just explain that the reason I’m cranky is because I miss my family. But like a child in the throes of the terrible twos, I don’t have the words to say what I mean, and I’m reduced to awkward silence in order to avoid bursting into culturally inappropriate tears.

It is a humbling experience to find myself in a world different from the one I have always known. I grew up in a charmed place where clean water flows from every faucet, public restrooms exist, we have entire retail chains devoted to pet supplies and baby care gadgets, and the amount of food that we throw away is more than enough to feed every hungry person in the world.

I have thrown away half a casserole before just because I had so many other things to eat that it lost its appeal before I had a chance to eat it. That thought actually brings tears to my eyes now. I have been padded and protected from the realities of life. I have learned to bloom in a greenhouse, but I know nothing about how to sink my roots deep to find water, push my way up through the weeds, and stretch my leaves high for my share of sunlight.

(And lest you feel sorry for me in my exotic plight, I confess that even here I am still sheltered from the hardships of life. I live in relative luxury, and I stand in awe of the strength and grace of the people around me.)

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But Christ did the same for me. He left his blissful home and the perfectly comfortable relationship with the Father that he had known for all of eternity. He came to live in a sweaty, thirsty, unsafe place. His new friends didn’t “get” him, no one appreciated what he was giving up, and the demands placed on him were overwhelming. He was willing to look awkward, to be misunderstood and even victimized in order to reach his long-term goal.

We aspire to have a small piece in that same work. Whether or not we succeed in our translation endeavors, I hope our willingness to be overgrown babies in this culture will show our neighbors that we are here because the love of Christ – both his love for us and his love for them – compels us.

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This story reminds us that we who have grown up in highly developed countries are rich beyond comparison to most of the rest of the world.  But our greatest treasure is not some material object or privileged status in the world.  No, our greatest treasure is the knowledge and the faith we hold that Jesus crossed the greatest cultural barrier by leaving His place in Heaven and coming to live among mankind.

This is a treasure that is available to every man, woman and child on the earth, because the love of God is no respecter of person, He loves every person on earth equally.  But to get this message of hope and love to people, some of us may have to go like this young couple and cross geographical and linguistic boundaries to share this message.

It’s not easy to live and work cross-culturally.  It can be downright frustrating and often times humiliating as was shown in the story above.  And yet it is all worth it.  When we do find the right words, in a language that the people do understand, so many times their faces light up to know that God has not forgotten them.  Knowing that Jesus came to die for them and grant them God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life is life steams of living water bursting forth in the middle of a great desert.  What a privilege and an honor it is to serve people in this way as an ambassador of God.

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Baptism & Spiritual Competition

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John 3:22 – 30

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

 28 You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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It is clear from this passage that baptism is a major topic of these verses.  It is also clear that there is some discussion that comes about due to these rituals of purification.  Actually, it would be better to translate this word more along the lines of “a strong argument” or “a major dispute”.  Not everyone saw eye to eye on this topic at hand.  And it is also clear that there is a sense of competition, at least on the part of John’s disciples as they saw greater numbers of people flocking towards Jesus, rather than their “Rabbi” John.

Spiritual competition between religious groups and their strong leaders of each is nothing new.  And the discussion (argument) concerning proper spiritual rituals in their interpretation and application is also something that has been around long before the time of Christ.  I do want to speak about the passage above within getting myself or any of my readers into a discussion that is full of spiritual landmines.  But let’s see what we can try to understand and apply to all of who call Jesus their Lord.

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Let me begin with an imaginary dialogue between two clergy.  The first man is the pastor and preacher of an Anglican church.  The second man is the pastor and preacher of a Baptist church.

One day the Anglican minister was talking to the Baptist minister and wanted to understand better their traditional form of baptism.  And so the Anglican said, “If the water is low and only comes up to the thighs, does this constitute baptism for you Baptists?

The Baptist preacher replied, “No.  That would not be enough to call that a baptism.”

So then the Anglican minister asked the Baptist preacher, “If the water comes up to the shoulders of the person, does this constitute baptism?”

The Baptist preacher replied again, “No.  That would not be enough to call that a baptism.”

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One more time the Anglican asked the Baptist preacher, “If the water was high enough to cover the person’s eyes, would you call this a baptism.”

Exasperated, the Baptist preacher told the Anglican minister, “No. Definitely not!!”

And at that, the Anglican minister then calmly went on and said, “Oh, ok.  I see now.  It is the little bit of water that is put on the top of the head of the man that makes the difference.”

It is my hope that I can talk about such a sensitive issue as baptism, not being cavalier about it like the funny story above, and write a good article about it that will be acceptable to people of many different Christian religious groups. 

It is sad that wars have been fought over this point of doctrine, for when one is different from us, and vice versa, then a wall of separation comes between us and them.  The “enemy” then becomes not the true enemies of the Kingdom, the forces of evil in the spiritual realm.  No, the “enemy” becomes the Christian who believes and practices different from me.  How sad!

Great theological debates have come around because of trying to emphasize the form of the baptisms being given.  But here in John’s gospel, the questions that arise do not deal with how baptism is done, but rather they deal with “who” is performing the baptisms. 

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John quickly reminds his followers that John’s primary purpose in coming was to help identify who the “Christ” or “Messiah” was who would save people from their sin.  John compares Jesus to the “Bridegroom”.  The “Bride” would be all those who believe in Jesus and follow Him.  That leaves the “friend of the Bridegroom” (that would be John) who stands to the side and rejoices to see the happiness there is when the Bridegroom will be able to fully redeem for Himself His holy people, all who believe in Jesus.

As hard as it may seem, the issues that carry very little importance to the main thrust of this passage is not baptism, nor the form or ritual of it.  What is most important is that people are flocking to see Jesus and hear His message.  Remember that Jesus has come to be the Light of salvation to all people.  So John does not entertain any thought of competition or jealousy as he sees people go and follow Jesus.

I wonder if you and I would be able to exercise such great humility that John did.  At one point, John did have the center stage of attention as people wanted to be baptized so that their sins would be forgiven.  But John knew that One greater than he had arrived, and so now his job was to encourage people to follow Jesus.  What a great example of faith and selflessness he left for us to follow after.

My Life Testimony – Pt. 2

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 2

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this second article that includes portions of the questionnaire, I talk about my early dreams of being a missionary and how God used early experiences in my life to prepare me for overseas mission work. My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q3: Since when did you start having desires to commit yourself to translating Bible?

In my article, “God Spoke Through People”, I wrote about how three significant people influenced me during my teenage years to think about Bible translation. I also remember a discussion I had with another student when I was in Grade 12. He asked me, “Why would you want to be a missionary to another country and culture? Why not just leave them alone. If they never hear about Jesus in their language and culture, then God will be merciful and let them into Heaven because they were innocent and ignorant about your Gospel.”

This was quite a challenge to my faith, but I told him that I really believed what the Bible says, especially in John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Romans 3:22-24 and Romans 10:9-13. The problem as I saw it was that there were many people in the world who did not have this message written in their language yet, and so how could they ever really understand and respond to the Gospel Message unless someone helped to translate that message into the language of their hearts, their mother tongue language.

Q4: Before going abroad as a missionary, you and your family were on the road for quite a while, serving as pastor in some churches while taking different jobs in other places. Which were some of the most humbling/ insightful job experiences for you? How exactly did you see God working through your life? In what way have those experiences changed you compared to when you were young?

In my article series, “Who Am I?” the articles of #14-17 show how I went through three difficult pastoral positions in a row. First there was the year of church planting in Beaumont, Texas that was not able to get off the ground (and we experienced the death of our first child during pregnancy.)

Then the church in northern Alberta was rough, as the eldership was very tough on the pastoral staff. (I found out later that I was at least the third or the fourth pastor in about 10 years that the elders “had let go” for reasons that were not fully justified.) Then the church in Manitoba had key players that had no real desire to welcome newcomers and to grow, so I knew I could not stay in that environment very long.

I must say that there were some rough edges to my personality during this period though. I was still young, a bit arrogant and pushed for new ideas and change before the people were ready. Now as I look back, I can see that God had to reshape me as well, and he did that not through the church work as much as He did it through the other jobs that I took.

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While in Manitoba, I worked the night shift at a merchandise store (Canadian Tire), bringing new merchandise out of the back and restocking the shelves for the next day. It was quickly found out that I was a pastor of one of the churches in town, and they quickly gave me the nickname of “Reverend” or just “Rev.”

Some said this just to make fun of me, some said it with respect, but many of them would greet me when I came into the store by saying, “Hey Rev, how’s it going?” I do know that I was given more than my fair share of lowly jobs, and I believe that was because of me being a pastor. But through that period where I preached on Sundays, and then worked at night in that store, I learned a great deal more about humility and loving others who mistreated me.

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You may also want to read in more detail the “Who Am I? Part 16” (Aug. 6, 2011). For a year, the Lord had pulled me out of ministry as a means to help heal me from the wounds I had received from the previous churches where I had served. As I say in the article, when I worked on the construction project as a janitor, I literally crawled on my hands and knees up and down 18 flights of stairs for six months to strip off the floor wax and put on new floor wax.

It was during those six months that I drew very close to God in prayer and submitted myself to Him for Him to do with me what He wanted. The next year I was at a seminary in Illinois and that is where I found out about Pioneer Bible Translators, the mission which I have been a part of now for 17 years.

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God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 2

Every second Saturday of each month this year, I will be writing an article about this book by Max Lucado called, “GOD’S STORY, your story.” The first article per month will be an overview and my reflections on what is in the chapter for that month. The second article will pull out some of the questions from the back of the book. Listen to what Lucado’s intentions are for this section:

This guide is designed to help you reflect on God’s Story, Your Story and take action on the ideas contained in the book, to see how your own story fits into the grand plot of God’s story. Each chapter guide has questions to consider on your own or with a group devoted to discussing the book. Have your Bible handy in order to dig into the Scripture verses noted.       (p. 173)

There are certainly enough thought provoking questions and action points included within each chapter study guide to keep a person or a small group engaged in learning and growing more spiritually. It is not my intention to copy out these entire study guide sections. Rather, I will pick out a few questions from each section and reflect on them in my articles. I pray that you may find my reflections helpful and stimulating to your own spiritual growth.

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Chapter 1: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….

ORDINARY MATTERS

Question #4: Discuss how it might be reassuring that Jesus was “normal” and like you in many ways? How might it be reassuring to know he is unlike you in other ways?

I think what bothers me most about my own Christian walk is the great number of times that I blow it and I do not act in a godly way. This can be simple things like not wanting to talk with the person next to me on the plane, or turning my head away when I see the beggar on the street corner. It’s much more serious when I allow myself to become angry with someone else, when I allow lustful thoughts to dwell in my mind, or I become proud or arrogant.

It’s at these times that I remember that Jesus was just as much a human as I am. I’m sure there must have been times when he was exhausted from all his ministry work that he really didn’t want to see another person. I know that he got upset with the disciples often. And he must have had some struggles as a man in a world that had many attractive women around him.

But we are told in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” And in Hebrews 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” How wonderful it is to know that Jesus understands exactly what we are going through, and that he can help us get through it.

Question #5: Think about an ordinary person you know who has been a giver of extraordinary grace. What motivated that person?

When I think about someone who was quite ordinary by human standards, but was also a person of great humility and who demonstrated a wonderful spirit of compassion and service to others, I think of my Grandma. At a very young age, Grandma Knight determined that God was calling her to be a missionary to China. She went there in the 1920’s as a single woman, which speaks of her deep commitment to follow God wherever He would lead her.

She married my grandfather while in China, a British man who loved God but who she would say was a bit of a “stuffed shirt with a stiff collar.” But Grandma loved him, and served him well as a missionary wife. And she also served well the many demanding needs of a mission compound up to and through the beginning years of WW 2 over there, before they were recalled to Canada.

Then when my Grandfather became a minister in western Canada, Grandma would faithfully type out his sermons and patiently listen to him practice. They did this for many years. When Granddad died, Grandma continued to serve others by volunteering thousands of hours of service in our Calgary hospitals. And why did she commit her life to such service to God for all these years? Because she loved Jesus and she loved others, and she knew that by putting the love of God into action, others would come to see and know God too.

Question #7: In what ways do you need God to “dwell” with you this week? (See John 1:14)

This may sound bad, but I need an extra measure of God’s grace in this coming week and throughout the next month to really love these national men from Papua New Guinea that I am working with. We are working on the translation of the Gospel of John into their language.

The work of translating the Bible verse-by-verse into another language is very tedious and demanding. Most days, I find it to be a great joy to work with the Papuan people on these translation projects. But there are also many frustrating days where the heat in the room is not just the hot sun beating down; it can be easy after long days to let tempers flare and frustrations stop our progress.

So I ask for all who read this article to say an extra prayer for us as we work on this translation. We are hoping to smooth out a good translation of John in a six week period. Then it will be ready for the last consultant check before being published. Pray that I remember the goal: getting the Word of God into the hands of the people here in PNG.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt 1

It has not been too long since we all enjoyed celebrating Christmas.  For many people, Christmas is a time of presents, good food and visiting with family members and relatives.  For Christians, we too enjoy all of these wonderful things, but we also celebrate Christmas as the time we remember when God came down and entered the world of men as a little baby boy in Bethlehem.

When we go to church during the Christmas season, we often wonder what new perspective the preacher may present in his “Christmas Message”.  We look forward to new musical arrangements and choir presentations at this time of year.  But one thing that we hardly ever get tired of is seeing the children of the church present once again the Christmas Story.

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In Max Lucado’s new book, “GOD’S STORY, your story”, he opens Chapter One with a wonderful description of the joy we all experience as we watch the children in their bathrobes and angel outfits tell us the story about the birth of Jesus.  But it is not just because the kids are so cute that we remain captivated by the same story we have seen year after year.

Lucado puts it this way:

They love the song, the kids, and they cherish the story.  But most of all, they cling to the hope.  The Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.    (page 31)

When we watch the Christmas play, part of us will always be astounded by the fact that when God entered the world as a human, He did not do it with a grand fanfare.  In fact, that goes against our very nature of wanting to be recognized and to think that we are important.  And so we think, “If God was going to make an entrance, wouldn’t He do it in such a way that people would have to recognize who He was, and then be treated accordingly, like royalty?”

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But that is the very point I believe that God wanted to make by allowing Jesus to enter into humanity in such a humble way.  Jesus was born of a simple town girl in a smelly old barn and first greeted by lowly sheep herders to emphasize that Jesus is one of us.  He put aside His claims to royalty and lived a pretty ordinary life until He began His public ministry at the age of thirty.

What this means for the majority of us who live such common, ordinary lives, is that Jesus can understand us well and what we deal with in life, because that is the same kind of world that He grew up in – ordinary.  Lucado puts our hearts’ cry into these words:

Had Jesus come with such whoop-de-do, we world have read the story and thought, “My, look how Jesus entered their world.”  But since he didn’t, we can read the story and dream: “My, might Jesus be born in my world?  My everyday world?”     (page 33)

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Consider for a minute what greatness Jesus had before He became a human.  In Colossians 1:15 – 17 it says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In the opening words of the Gospel of John, it tells us that not only was Jesus with God, but He is God.  WOW!!  And yet He left all that to live as the son of a carpenter.  Then when He was 30 years old, He walked the dusty roads all over Palestine, hung out with outcasts and known sinners, and taught twelve of the most unlikely candidates to be His successors and the foundation of the early church.

It shames me to think that Jesus was willing to go to these lengths to share the Good News about the love of God and then to lay down his life by dying on a cross in order to make the way open for people to come back to God.  First He gave up Heaven to live among us, and then He gave up His life to save us from our sin.

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This makes me think back over all the years that I have been active in ministry myself, either as a pastor in North America, or a missionary overseas.  I do believe that I was serving the Lord out of an honest desire to help others know God and come to Him.  But I also know that my motives have not always been pure.  There have been many times when I was seeking to be noticed and to get the approval of men.

I remember what one pastor with whom I worked as an intern said to me, “What is it you are trying to prove?”   He was right.  I was not satisfied with just doing what God was asking me to do.  I wanted others to notice me.  What I forget many times is that God is not so concerns with our abilities as He is with our availability to serve Him.

In these past few years I have become much more content to simply be used by God and let Him be the one to get the glory.  Consider what Mary said when the angel announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  May we all be like her, and certainly like Jesus.  It is God’s domain to do the extraordinary.  That allows us to be ordinary, and still see great things be done in and through our lives by the power and the grace of the Almighty God.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Who Is John the Baptist

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John 1:19 – 28

John’s Testimony Concerning Himself

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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In our study today of the Gospel of John, we see that “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”  This may appear to be an innocent request from some of the religious leaders of John’s day, but that could not be further from the truth.  These leaders are mystified by John’s ministry, and his success as mentioned in Matthew 3:5 – 6, immediately leads them into a conflict with each other.

You would think that the question “Who are you?” was rather straight forward and simple.  What’s interesting is John’s response, “I am not the Christ.”  Obviously there is more going on here than our text is able to tell us.  Clearly these priests were expecting John to be some great person since they went on to ask him whether he had the spirit of one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, or even the special “Prophet” that Moses hinted about in Deuteronomy 18:18.

In order to understand what is happening, we must look at some of the key words in this text, and then build a picture that makes sense of all of the parts.  Then we will understand what’s going on.  So allow me to give you some important Old and New Testament background, and then let me ask each of us an important question, especially to those of us who are in Christian leadership positions.

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In John’s Gospel, even more than in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the term “the Jews” which occasionally does refer to all members of the Jewish nation, is much more narrowly used by John.  Throughout John’s book, “the Jews” are for the most part the religious leaders (comprised of Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes who were experts in the Law of Moses, the priests, the Levites and the elders of the nation).

And we constantly see “the Jews” debating and arguing with Jesus and ultimately demanding that Jesus be crucified. What first starts as arrogance and skeptical resistance, turns in time to become defiant challenge and then open hostility.  So you can pretty much know then from the start that these are the bad guys, the antagonists to all the men of God, and by extension are found to be the enemies of God.

But they should have known better.  They were the inheritors of the Word of God, and the protectors of the Temple and the religious rituals that were to lead the people into the true worship of God.  And we too see time and time again, that it is the church leadership which has become cemented in its ways of religious traditions that have actually managed to keep people away from finding God for themselves.

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And so they challenged John, what he was doing, where he was from, and from whom he got the authority to lead this spiritual revival.  (It certainly did not come from the Jewish leaders.)  But they figured if John was not sponsored within their religious structures, then perhaps he must be one of the three great people who were prophesied in the Old Testament who would come back to help the nation of Israel.

But even before they speak, John denies that he is not the Promised Messiah, the Christ (or Anointed One) whom God would one day send to rescue the nation Israel and becomes its King.  Unfortunately, the leaders and the people had it wrong and thought God would send a human political Saviour who would rescue the nation from the oppression of the Roman occupying forces in Palestine.

But John also said he is not “The Prophet” who would be just like the greatest Old Testament leader, Moses, who rescued Israel out of Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses prophesied that a Great Prophet like him would one day come to help Israel.  But that was not to be John.  And in Malachi 4:5, the second last verse of the Old Testament, a prophecy was made that Elijah would return before the coming of the Lord.

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I can say that these Jewish leaders had some good questions in one sense.  They knew that John was special.  They just did not know how or why.  The truth of the matter is that John came as a simple servant of the Lord, and even in the midst of great success, he exercised even greater humility.  And why was that?  Because it is never meant to be about us, no matter how important we think we are at times.  No it is all about Jesus, the Man who would come after John.

So let me ask each of us who are Christians?  Are we more like The Jews, or are we more like John.  Think about it.

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