Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV)
Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was sick but rather than rushing back to be with Martha and Mary and heal his friend he delays two days. As he hears the news, he declares “this sickness will not end in death”, somehow through this Jesus is going to bring glory to his Father.
Eventually he returns to Judea and on the way he hears that Lazarus has died. Jesus is not bothered by this news because he knows the Father's plan.
When Martha greets him they start off with a bit of a theological discussion about the 'last days'. That’s not good enough for Jesus, he brings it back to the present and grounds it in the reality of who he is. He is the resurrection and the life, he came that we might have life and life in all it’s fullness.
You may be struggling, you may be carrying a heavy burden, you may even feel spiritually dead. That's ok; it’s how it is sometimes.
Today, I want to encourage you: he is our life. Go to the source of life and open your heart before him, ask him to fulfil his promise in your life. Your circumstances may not change but your heart will. As Jesus spoke life into Lazarus so he can for you.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15 NIV)
Last week we looked at how Jesus is the Gate for the sheep and how he protects them but also releases them into the freedom of the pastures. Here is another saying from Jesus - he is the good shepherd. A shepherd is responsible for the flock of sheep and it is his job to keep them safe, to ensure that they are healthy and well fed. He keeps the wild animals away and may even have to fight them off. As we know from another parable of Jesus, a shepherd is always counting the sheep to make sure he hasn't lost any.
In describing himself as a shepherd, Jesus is showing us how he looks after us. He longs to keep us safe, to ensure that we receive the food we need and to keep our heart safe, providing us with all that we need. As we come to him, in weakness and vulnerability we can allow ourselves to be gathered in his arms (Isaiah 40:11).
In the time of Jesus, it was very common for the shepherd to be employed by someone else who was the owner of the sheep. The shepherd stewarded the flock but, very often, he cared for the sheep as if they were his own. So it is with Jesus, he looks after us on behalf of his Father. Ultimately this Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, he put them before himself because he was primarily concerned with doing the work of the one who sent him, his Father.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10 NIV)
These verse contain some incredible promises for us. They describe the safety and security of coming into his presence, the shelter that we find when we come to him. But more than that they show us the pathway to salvation. The only way in which it is possible for us to be saved, and therefore to be reconciled to the Father, is to come through Jesus, he is the Gate. He is the source of our salvation. Placing our trust in him is the way our sin is dealt with and we then receive the gift of eternal life.
We also have a promise of freedom and security. We are kept safe, like sheep in a sheep pen but we have freedom to come and go, to find safe pasture. Jesus, as our Shepherd, knows when we need to be drawn into a safe place and he also knows when it is safe for us to explore our freedom. In fact, being kept safe in his presence and being free to explore are both an expression of our freedom. Without these two things operating in tandem we would not be free, we would be trapped back into a cycle of self reliance and performance.
And finally, we have the promise of life and not just life but life to the full. We do have a very real enemy and he has one aim: to rob us of the life that is ours to enjoy. As we rest in the shelter of his wings, in the safety of his presence we will discover the source of our life. Even in the midst of tragedy and sorrow we can experience this abundant life. The reason is that this life does not originate inside of us, it is a gift to us from the Source of all Life. My prayer today is that you would draw back into the arms of love and allow his life to wash over you and through you.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV)
What does a light do? Well, a number of things. A light shows the pathway when it is dark, enabling us to find our way when otherwise we might stumble. It helps us avoid the pitfalls and potholes so we are kept safe on our journey. Many of us live in cities or towns where it is never truly dark, there are always streetlights or buildings which provide some light to our pathway. Once out in the countryside it can be totally dark and without light this can be a frightening experience.
Jesus is our light. He guides us along the unknown and unexpected journey of our life. He guides us when we can’t see for ourselves. He shows us the pathway of life which, we later read in John 14, is the path that takes us home to the Father.
But a light does something else. It illuminates a room so we can see what is in it. We are not drawn to the light but to the things which the light reveals as the darkness is banished. In John 1, we read of the coming Light, the Light that would not draw attention to itself but which would reveal another, One who was greater. This, we discover, is the Father (John 17). May the Light of the world shine on your daily path to lead and guide you through the ups and downs of life. But may his light also reveal the One who sent him, the One who longs that we would know him being a Father to us.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NIV)
Shortly after Jesus had fed the five thousand, the crowds follow him to the other side of the lake where they ask him a question: “what are the works that God requires us to do?” Jesus’ reply is very simple. It is not about the works that we do but rather our belief in him (verse 29). Jesus is inviting the crowds to see who he really is and to have a desire to follow him. For too long, the Pharisees had placed a burden of compliance with duty and behaviour on the people. They were conditioned to believe that faith was about works rather than faith. Jesus brings them back to faith and belief which are centred in relationship.
Yet, even with it explained simply to them they needed something else. They needed a sign. A sign like the provision of manna in the desert. They needed something tangible upon which to hand their belief. Responding to their request, Jesus reminds them it was not Moses who provided the manna but God, the Father. And as in the desert, the Father longs to provide bread from Heaven. Bread speaks to us of nourishment, the source of life and well-being; it comes to us in the person of Jesus. He is the bread from Heaven, given to us by the Father. He will sustain us, give us energy and be the source of our abundant life.
He has already told his disciples that his food is to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). He is the living bread sent from Heaven to give us eternal life. As we consider this truth, let us not be like the crowds who wanted to know what they had to do. My prayer is that we respond in faith, seeking out the person who gives us life from Heaven. Life centred in a relationship with the Father brought to us by the Son. We, too, can live like Jesus, making it our food (the thing that nourishes us) to do the will of the Father.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9-10, 19 NIV)
"This is love" - John makes a statement which he is very clear about. He is about to define love for us based on his long and intimate personal experience. I feel as if John is so clear about this that he is not expecting there to be any dispute.
"This is love" - not that we love, but that we are loved. Love originates in the heart of the Father. In fact, it was only because of love that the Father sent the Son to bring us back to himself. He didn't want us to live in independence and rebellion; he wanted a family. He therefore did everything possible to bring us back into that family.
We all want to be more loving of ourselves and of others. No matter how hard we try we will not be able to manage this without first recognising that we need to be loved. We don't receive love in order to give it away. We receive love because we need to receive it for ourselves.
As we are loved it is an inevitable consequence that the love we have received will begin to overflow and touch others. The only way to be more loving is to be loved. We often quote these verses and seem to recognise love comes from the Father. What we fail to do is put it into practice, the practice of being loved.
A simple prayer I often pray and I encourage you pray it too. You can pray this anywhere and at any time of the day.
"Father, will you fill me with your love".
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. (Job 36:16-17 NIV)
These verses are probably not well known yet they describe a recurring theme and that is freedom. Here we are in a place of distress (which can also mean anguish, torment, suffering or exhaustion) and there is a promise of something better for us. There is hope. We don't have to remain in this very negative place but we are drawn into a wide open space where there is freedom and the things that have restricted us fall away.
What draws us away from and out of this distressful place? Love. We are wooed; that's an intimate expression of love, gentleness and kindness. As Hosea writes, we are drawn with cords of loving kindness.
We are drawn out of our distress, a place where we feel restricted and into a wide open space where we are free from restriction. Not only that, before us is a table of choice food. This place of refuge is a place of comfort, provision and safety. It sounds a bit like Psalm 23:5 where we see a table of goodness laid out for us in the presence of our enemies. If we are expected to sit at a table and eat whilst our enemies surround us there must be someone else looking out for us. Our Father and his angels are there to protect and comfort us whilst the storm rages around us.
If you feel in distress (or any of the other words that I mentioned above) then allow your heart to come to a place of rest. Can you trust him to bring you through the storm and into a wide open space of freedom? He will comfort and provide, even in the middle of a storm. He can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.
There are times when it might appear as if the Bible contradicts itself. We read one thing in one verse and then completely the opposite in another. This can be confusing and leave us in doubt as to what is really being said. However, I have come to see that, very often, these apparent contradictions are simply like a before and after photograph. One verse might describe us before something happens and then the other shows what we are like once a significant event has taken place.
I want to look at one of these apparent contradictions.
"And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14:13-14 NIV)
In these verses Jesus clearly shows us that he stands in the gap and that through him we have access to the Father. A truly wonderful thing. He will take the things we ask him for, to the Father on our behalf. This is a powerful and comforting truth.
Yet only a couple of chapters later Jesus appears to say the opposite.
"In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf." (John 16:23&26 NIV)
Remember that these two scenarios were both said around the same meal table. Remember too, that the disciples were facing a confusing and tragic story being played out in front of them.
These two verses are not contradictory. They describe two different points in time and something very significant has happened between them. Between these two statements Jesus has reassured his disciples that he will always be with them, but most importantly that they are not being left as orphans. The Holy Spirit of Sonship will fill their hearts and they will be transformed from orphans to sons.
We are given the reason for this transformation: "The Father himself loves you" (John 16:27).
And so it is for us. Because we are being loved by the Father, Jesus says we have direct access to him. We can talk to the Father ourselves simply because he loves us! We are no longer orphans where we hide away and feel we can only come through Jesus. Each one of us can come directly to the Father.
Through the last few chapters of John's gospel we see another transition taking place. In John 15, Jesus says we are no longer servants but friends. After the resurrection we are drawn more deeply into relationship: we are his brothers and we share the same Father. Why? Because the Father himself loves us.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:7-9 NIV)
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:13 - "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love". I almost feel that this verse in John's gospel could follow on from that - "the greatest of these is love, now remain in my love". Living in love is the most excellent way.
As we read these verses we are presented with a choice, or rather with an invitation. An invitation to remain. To dwell or to abide in his love. To be at home in his love.
The Father is always loving us, he is loving each of you right now and that love is completely unconditional and not dependent on anything we do or don't do. Living in love is the key to a fruitful life. Fruit comes from abiding and not from busying ourselves with activity. That's not to say there aren't things we do, of course there are. But like Jesus, everything we do flows from our relationship of resting in the Father.
As we remain in love we discover the truth of these words:
All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30 NIV)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)
And yet I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)
We hope for many things, some of which we may see happen whilst others fade away like a candle that is burning out.
Hopes, like dreams, are things we hold onto and they are things we really want to experience. I guess most of us know what it feels like when our hopes or dreams are shattered. It's a bereavement. We feel the loss acutely.
Faith is a bit like a fishing line. It goes off into the future, hooks onto one of our hopes which we then reel back into the present. Faith brings our hopes into our reality, it gives them substance. Of course it would be nice if we had faith for all our hopes and dreams but it often doesn't work out quite like that.
My encouragement is that you ask Father which of your hopes are going to be drawn into the present. That's faith. Let the fishing line of faith catch your hopes and dreams and may they become a reality in your daily lives.
Faith and hope are important but they are not the most important. Paul reminds us that love is the "most excellent way".
Whatever happens with our hopes and to our faith, we are always held in his love. His love surrounds us every day of our lives regardless of how we feel or what is happening. He is always faithful, he is always loving and when we don't see our hopes realised we do have the assurance of his love holding and carrying us.
A Father to YOU is a signpost to the heart of the Perfect Father. When we became Christians we were given the right to become children of God (John 1:12). Sadly, many of us fail to take up that right and instead continue to live as slaves or orphans. But our true destiny is being sons and daughters who have a permanent place in the Father's family. This blog is an encouragement to help you know who God really is and who you really are.