Tradition

Traditions are very powerful things we can use to build our families. Since we have just celebrated Christmas, I thought I would share a tradition I started with my family many years ago that takes place for us at this time of the year. In fact, it has turned out to be one of the most significant things I have done to lead and invest in my family!

What is it? The last gift under the tree for each person in my immediate family is a letter I have written to them individually and personally. In each letter, I look back and reflect on the past year in the life of that person. I hit the highlights of their year, challenges and the things for which I am proud of them. I conclude the letter by looking forward to the next year taking into consideration things that I know are on the horizon for each person.  Concluding in this way also is my opportunity to “call up” each person in the major areas of their lives so that they can excel still more.

A significant part of our tradition is that I read the letter out loud to each person in front of the whole family. This has proven to be a great way for me to honor each person, especially my wife and lead my family. In fact, this is the gift that each person looks forward to receiving the most.

This simple tradition has been very meaningful to me, and it is always hard for me to read each letter. I often tear up as I read, but that is part of what has made this tradition work. Everyone can see how heart-felt my words are.

For all dads, I would encourage you to give it a try. I have done this on birthdays and other occasions, but we landed on Christmas as our tradition. Pick a time that works best for you and your family.

A final blessing from this tradition has been the joy of seeing other dads implement this idea over the years and the impact has been amazing. It is not uncommon for me to hear from the wives telling me how appreciative they were to see their husbands lead in this way.

It is not too late to invest in your family by trying this on New Years Day!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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Not Even His Brothers

Sometimes when I read about the life of Jesus, it is easy to read the story and events of his life without allowing any feeling or emotion to enter my mind. In some ways, it is as though I think Jesus was above feelings and could live life without them. Of course, that is wrong. Jesus got tired, experienced pain, grief, emotion, etc.

One example where there probably was great feeling even though it is not explicitly mentioned is found in John 7. If you recall, in John 6, many of those who were following Jesus left because Jesus proved not be the kind of Messiah they wanted. They were looking for a deliverer from Roman domination, not a suffering Savior.

Here in chapter 7, we see Jesus desiring to head to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals called the Feast of Booths. Prior to his departure, his brothers give him some advice. Notice what they said in 7:3-5,

“So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.”

Two things that hit me in this section. The first is the fact that his brothers had not believed in him. His family had said “no” to his claim to being the Messiah. That hurts in ways that all of us can relate to in some degree if we have experienced personal rejection by those we love. Even though this is true, we do not see Jesus expressing his feeling nor does John say anything about how that made Jesus feel even though we can assume that he must have felt disappointment and even hurt to some degree.

The second thing that hits me about this is the two verses before the section I just quoted. John makes it clear that Jesus was not going around in Judea (which includes Jerusalem) because the Jews were seeking to kill him!

So, not only do his brothers not believe in him, but they also were willing to encourage Jesus to pursue a course of action that could have him killed. Wow! That is hard to get my mind around. Their rejection of Jesus included that they were willing to let him experience persecution and death at the hands of the Jews! That truth must have been very painful for Jesus to experience.

In the midst of these great disappointments and realizations about his brothers, Jesus continued with his ministry. He modeled living by faith and not by feeling.What I admire about Jesus here is that he did not let his feelings determine his obedience. He brought his feelings into obedience. He chose to do the right thing even though he may have “felt” differently.

Father, once again Jesus models life for me. Help me to choose faith and not yield to my feelings when I know they are not in harmony with your will. Help me to “faith it till I feel it.”

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Words of Eternal Life

One of the most memorable scenes in the Gospel of John takes place between Jesus and the 12 Apostles as Chapter 6 concludes. After many had deserted Jesus upon hearing his challenging teaching, Jesus asks the Apostles where they stood in relation to his identity and willingness to follow him.

Notice how the details of this discussion unfold,

“‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’”

This question was a “watershed moment” for the Apostles. The context also seems to imply this question and their answer to Jesus were both filled with emotion.

Speaking for the 12, Peter responds to Jesus by saying “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” As Vincent points out, “Words of life are words which carry life with them.” The very words that Jesus just taught brought life in them if they would believe.

Lenski precisely summarizes the meaning of this interaction when he says,

“The ‘utterances’ of Jesus are the vital vehicles of language for the divine realities (Bread of Life, my flesh, my blood, etc.) by which ‘life eternal’ is brought to us, that hearing these ‘utterances we may appropriate the realities they name and thus have what they convey, namely ‘life eternal.’”

I love the descriptive words “vehicles of language” about the “utterances” of Jesus. A vehicle can be understood as the language that transports something from point “A” to point “B.” In this case, the vehicles of language employed by Jesus carry the message of eternal life from the Father to the world. Belief in this message will transport a person from death to life!

Father, thank you for the amazing life and teaching of Jesus. He speaks words of life for those who believe. I am so thankful for beginning my journey of eternal life with you as a freshman in college. Even to this day, some 40 years later, I can say like Peter, “to whom can I go other than you?” You alone have the words of eternal life!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

A Significant Miracle

As I continued my reading of John, one of the signs or miracles of Jesus mentioned in that book stood out to me. In fact, did you know that there is only one miracle, other than the resurrection, that is recorded in each Gospel? Do you know what it is? It is the feeding of the 5,000!

What made this event so significant that each Gospel writer included it? Notice what Edwin Blum says about this,

“The miracle was spectacular, and it caused a peak in the people’s messianic expectations. But in its aftermath many of His followers no longer followed Him (v. 66).”

How could this be? How could those who experienced the miraculous provision of food leave him after he finishes teaching?  

In verse 15 of chapter 6, the people are so amazed at the miracle that they wanted to make Jesus their king even if they had to do so by force! And yet, by verse 66 we read the following, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

This miracle points to the truth that Jesus is the bread of life which he discusses in John 6: 22-71. The choice of Jesus to feed the 5,000 (not including women and children) was to teach them more than the truth that he could perform miracles. It elevated him above Moses whom the people revered (see John 6:31-32). God through Moses gave the Jews manna in the wilderness, and Jesus did something similar by his initiative and authority when he fed the 5,000.  By God’s enabling Moses provided manna for their physical nourishment.  Jesus alone is the one who can provide eternal nourishment!

Those who chose to follow Jesus out of curiosity left him because his teaching was too challenging and not what they wanted to hear. They did not want to embrace him as their Savior and God. They just wanted a military king who could free them from Roman domination like Moses did with he Egyptians. They wanted a king who met their needs and desires. Instead, Jesus wanted their hearts and their loyalty. He would rule as king in his timing, not theirs.

Father, thank you for the reminder of my motivation for following Jesus. Am I following because of what Jesus can do for me, or because he is God the Son in the form of a man? Jesus is the only one qualified to receive my love, loyalty and obedience. Help me to yield and follow because of who Jesus is and not only for my personal benefits.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Contrasting Two Lives

In the Gospel of John, we see an amazing contrast between two people mentioned in chapter 3 and chapter 4. In fact, the difference made me think of John 1:11-12 which says, “He came to His own, but His own did not receive him. But whoever did receive Him, those trusting in His name, to these He gave the right to become children of God.” His people, the Jews, rejected him.  Non-Jews often understood who he was and responded appropriately.

We see this truth lived on in these chapters. Chapter three is a discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus. Chapter 4 is a discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Tom Constable has summarized this comparison well in the following chart:

Person                   Nicodemus                                 The Samaritan Woman
Sex                           Male                                              Female
Race                        Pure Jewish                                Mixed Gentile
Social status        Highly respected ruler           Not respected, servant
Place                       Jewish territory                        Samaritan territory
Time                       At night                                       About noon
Condition             Darkness                                     Light
Setting                  Indoors                                        Outdoors
Occasion               Pre-planned                              Spontaneous
Subject                  New birth                                    Living water
Initiator                Nicodemus                                  Jesus
Conversation      Faded out                                    Continued strong
Result                    Unbelief                                      Belief
Consequence      No witness to others               Witness to others

How amazing is it that the Samaritan woman is the one who responds to Jesus. She embraces Jesus as Messiah and Nicodemus, the learned scholar and ruler of the Jews is undecided. The woman shows immediate fruit by sharing her discovery of Jesus with others.  How often is the message of salvation received by those the world considers unworthy and yet is rejected by the proud.

Father, thank you for the contrast of two lives and two responses to encountering Jesus. Thank you for helping me understand that Jesus is the Messiah. May my life reflect the fruit of the Samaritan woman who not only believed but then also took the news of Jesus and salvation to others.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

The Secret Faith of Nicodemus

The life of Nicodemus is mentioned in three chapters of the New Testament, and they all are in the Gospel of John. He is referred to in Jn 3, 7 and 19. As I thought about his life, Nicodemus seems to serve as real life example of someone experiencing the purpose of the book as stated by John in John 20:30-31 which says,

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Nicodemus was someone on a quest to understand Jesus. On this journey, we first see Nicodemus as he visits Jesus at night in John 3. This visit at night probably was to hide from others the fact that he was seeking Jesus since he was one of the ruling Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, but he was still in his own moral darkness as a nonbeliever.  In this first picture of Nicodemus we see that he recognized that God was with Jesus, but he does not appear ready to embrace Jesus as Savior and God.

In chapter 7 we encounter Nicodemus a second time. In this chapter, he is making a procedural point in front of the Sanhedrin to defend Jesus. At this point, there still is no hint of his salvation, but at least, he attempts to protect Jesus through his influence on the Sanhedrin although he does not appear to be very forceful in this defense.

The final time we see Nicodemus, is in John 19. At this time, he has gathered spices, and he now is at the tomb helping to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. There still is no mention of his faith but his choice to join Joseph of Arimathea, (a secret disciple of Jesus) in assisting in claiming and caring for the body of Jesus implies that he had reached the moment of belief. He now publicly identifies himself as a follower of Jesus.

It is also interesting to note what Lenski observes, “Joseph bought only the linen, Nicodemus brought only the spices. This indicates a mutual understanding: the two had arranged what each should bring, otherwise either or both would have provided all that was to be used.” Most likely then, Joseph knew that Nicodemus was a believer and Nicodemus knew that Joseph was a believer and they planned together to care for Jesus.

What can we learn from this journey of Nicodemus? As encouraging as it is to see Nicodemus finally reach the point of belief and publicly identify with Jesus, Barclay has some challenging words related to Nicodemus and his passivity in standing for Christ earlier. He says,

“Often a man finds himself in a situation in which he would like to defend Jesus and in which he knows he ought to show his colors. Often he makes a kind of half-hearted defense, and is then reduced to an uncomfortable and ashamed silence. In our defense of Jesus Christ it is better to be reckless with our hearts than prudent with our heads. To stand up for him may bring us mockery and unpopularity; it may even mean hardship and sacrifice. But the fact remains that Jesus said he would confess before his Father the man who confessed him on earth, and deny before his Father the man who denied him on earth. Loyalty to Christ may produce a cross on earth, but it brings a crown in eternity.”

Father, thank you for the journey of faith that we see in Joseph and Nicodemus. Thank you for the honesty of your Word where the imperfections of people are seen. Help me to be bold in my faith and not be ashamed of my belief in Jesus as my Savior and God.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Not Even Nicodemus

We have a very familiar story in John chapter 3 where Nicodemus, a leading Jewish authority approached Jesus at night to question him. Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was unique, but he was not a point to embrace him as Savior and God.

Jesus responds to his inquiry with an astonishing statement. Notice what it says in verses 3-5,

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

There is much to discuss in this text, but let me hit a couple of highlights.

1) It was common in Jewish culture for all Jews to anticipate participating in the future Kingdom of God. Jesus through his ministry explicitly challenges this thought.

2) This teaching further clarifies Jesus’ teaching in John 1:12-13 where he said that only those who believe in him will be born of God. In this chapter, he further explains that truth.

3) Even though Nicodemus was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, he learns that entrance into the Kingdom is not for everyone, but only for those born again. His credentials will not gain him access to the Kingdom.

D.A. Carson makes some helpful comments on this concept of new birth when he says,

“The verb rendered ‘to be born’ (gennan) can refer to the action of the father (‘to beget’) or the mother (‘to give birth to’): the common ingredient is ‘generation’ or ‘regeneration’. The coming of the kingdom at the end can be described as the ‘regeneration’ of the world (Mt. 19:28, NIV ‘renewal’), but here what is required is the regeneration of the individual before the end of the world and in order to enter the kingdom.

Readers who have followed the Gospel to this point will instantly think (as Nicodemus couldn’t) of John 1:12–13: ‘to be born again’ or ‘to be born from above’ must mean the same thing as ‘to become children of God’, to be ‘born of God’, by believing in the name of the incarnate Word.”

Only those who are “born from above,” or “born of God” can see the Kingdom. The fact that Nicodemus, as an influential Jewish leader, could not automatically enter the Kingdom means no one can see the Kingdom based on their efforts.

Father, thank you for the reminder that entrance into your Kingdom requires being born of God. Access is only allowed when a person “believes” (“reliantly trusts”) in Jesus as their Savior and God. As a “born from above” disciple of Jesus, I look forward to experiencing the reign of your Kingdom.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Fellowship

What comes to mind when you think of the wordfellowship”? It is much more than hanging out together. Notice what 1 John 1:3 and 1 Cor. 1:9 say about this,

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:9)

When used in scripture fellowship is describing something believers can share with one another because of their connection to Jesus. In fact, it is something we are “called” to enjoy.  The word “fellowship” means, “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement—‘close association” (Louw and Nida).

Biblical fellowship is is dependent upon our relationship with Jesus. No relationship with Jesus means there is no fellowship with him or with God the Father.  This is another reminder of the exclusivity of Christianity.  Jesus really is the only way to God and the only way to enjoy a relationship with him.

Constable summarizes this well when he says,

“He (John) identified two dangers that are still prevalent in the church today. One is the assumption that Christian fellowship is possible without common belief in Christ. The other is the assumption that someone can have a relationship with God without a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed how deep your connection can be with other believers in Jesus? It is a special relationship that can be shared because we are part of God’s family through belief in Jesus. Not only can we have rich relationships with one another, but we can have a rich relationship with Jesus and God the Father through our belief in Jesus! Are you enjoying your relationship with Jesus and with other believers?

Father, it is so easy to forget the privilege I have as a believer to be in an intimate relationship with you through your son. It also is a strong reminder that you have created the church as the place for your children to enjoy their rich family relationships because you are our Father. Help me to not take either of these truths for granted and help me to make my relationship with you and other believers a high priority in my life. It is in these relationships where you can change me and I can find abundant life!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Hastening “The Day”

In 2 Peter 3:9-13 Peter reveals that disciples of Jesus have a role in hastening or delaying the Day of the Lord. It is an amazing concept to consider but notice what is says in this passage,

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

The dramatic and graphic description of the end of the world as we know it is hard to get our minds around. The text describes the universe as it melts and falls apart! In verses 8, 9 and 12, we see that God is waiting to bring an end to the world and the creation of a new world until as many people repent or change their minds about Jesus as possible. God’s patience is probably both a reference to the conversion of unbelievers and a reference to believers who are not living faithfully.

How can you and I “hasten” the Day of the Lord? Kenneth Gangel says, “The godly lives of the Lord’s people, their praying, and their witnessing help bring others to repentance.”  You and I can hasten the Day of the Lord by living faithful lives and by seeking opportunities to share the Gospel with others so that they may change their minds about Jesus and embrace him as Savior and God.  We also can hasten the Day of the Lord by helping fellow believers who have strayed to return to the Lord through repentance as well.

Father, as much as we desire to see you Return, it will be a terrifying time. You have chosen to work through disciples of Jesus as they model and live out their faith and share the Gospel with others so that they may embrace Jesus as their Savior and God. Help me to live a life of faithfulness and be a witness to help people come to know you. Thank you for being so patient with us.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Fully Employed

If you are like me, you want to be gainfully employed and make your best contribution to the Kingdom. According to Peter, we all should be “fully employed” in this cause. Notice what it says in 1 Peter 1:8,

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the prior context of this quote, Peter is telling the readers how important it is for them to be growing in virtue. He lists some virtues that should be hallmarks of Christian growth. The result of such growth shows the disciple is fruitful in their salvation knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. If I am growing in the expression of virtue, I am fruitful for the Kingdom!

It is interesting to note that Peter puts the responsibility for this growth on us. The word translated “ineffective” is referring to someone who is “unemployed because that person avoids work.” We are to take on the responsibility of engaging in the work of growth even though God is the only one who can cause this growth in me.

We all need to be growing in our salvation knowledge of Jesus Christ which means we are “effective” or “fully employed” in the Kingdom.  The result of this employment will be increasing virtue in our lives and will make us fruitful in our service of Jesus. I need to take on the responsibility to pursue growth in my life through walking in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the path of the Word.

Father, I thank you that growth is supposed to be the norm for the disciple of Jesus. As I choose to cooperate with you by yielding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my life and walk in the path of the Word, you will cause growth to happen. This growth will express itself in some way, and I will have an impact for your Kingdom.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff