Life According to Jesus: Wisdom for Living Each Day to the Fullestby Jack Graham
See Jesus in a new way through 80 lessons from the book of John that offer hope and practical life lessons, and introduce you to the wisdom of Jesus and to the powerful role he can play in your life.
- Tyndale House Publishers
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Life According To JesusWisdom for living each day to the fullest
By Jack Graham
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Jack Graham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLIGHT FOR THE PATH
Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:4-5
A MOM AND DAD with three preschool children were part of a group hiking through the woods at twilight, observing the habitat of nocturnal creatures who only venture out at dark. One of the little boys wanted to climb up on a log at the side of the pathway and jump off, so the family paused while he did so. Naturally, the other two children had to climb up and jump off as well, and during the process the other hikers got far enough ahead that the family could no longer see where they were or in which direction they had gone.
In the deepening darkness, the parents didn't want to alarm the children by shouting for the group or calling for help, so they began to sing hymns, hoping they would be heard and rescued. Sure enough, a welcome flashlight shone in their direction a few minutes into the second song, and they escaped a night of sleeping in the damp marsh and eating bugs for dinner.
When we cry out to God, whether we sing hymns, sob in grief, or talk to Him in the quietness of our room, He hears. He is eager to shine His light on our path and bring us back into His group, the church, the body of Christ. Having created us for a relationship with Him, His ears are always turned toward those who love Him.
What does John's description mean to us living in this third millennium? John talked about two of Jesus' roles in these verses: He is the Creator-God and He is the source of life and light. Understanding these roles can deepen our appreciation of His authenticity. His creativity made the world, His light illumines it, and His superintendence allows it to function. Whatever people may think causes the world to go around, the true power is Jesus Christ. Without Him, nothing exists.
First, Jesus is the Creator-God. As God, He is sovereign, the supreme ruler of the entire universe. Matthew emphasized Jesus' sovereignty in his Gospel which is the most "Jewish" of the four books. From his perspective, proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament was paramount. So he portrayed Christ as a sovereign, the king of Israel. Matthew was right to present Jesus as sovereign. Though humans resist the idea of anyone ruling over us, that is what a sovereign does. From the Old Testament (Zechariah 8:23) to the New (Philippians 2:10), Scripture tells us that Christ is King over all.
The great news is that nothing of ours is too hard for the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. Not job difficulties, wayward children, or sick family members. Because He is sovereign, He knows what lies ahead on our life path when we can't see farther than the present, so He can light the way for us.
Since He made us, He thoroughly knows how we "work." He knows how to get our attention, how to lavish abundant gifts on us and give us our hearts' desires, and how to slowly but surely grow us into people who act and talk and live and love like Jesus. It takes a lifetime of growth, but our Creator is very patient.
Second, Jesus is the true source of life and light. He made us, gave us life, and promised to guide us in the way we should go. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). We can count on His promise to light our way if we but ask Him.
What about You? Next time you are lost and can't find your way or life's pressures seem too much to handle, turn to your Creator, your source of life. He is the ever present light waiting to take your hand and lead you along your life path. Do you honestly believe He's able? Check Him out. As you lean heavily on God, you'll find Him trustworthy.
Take a Look As you read Isaiah 40:12-27, write down ten examples of God's complete sovereignty, or control over the world and everything in it. As Isaiah asks in verse 18, "To whom, then, can we compare God?"
TRUE OR FALSE
But although the world was made through him, the world didn't recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:10-12
MANY PEOPLE talk about God, but which "god" do they mean? Even during His days on earth, the world didn't recognize Jesus as God, and that confusion still exists today. Many believe that Jesus was simply a great man or a respected prophet. Others believe that all roads lead to heaven, whether we follow Jesus, Muhammad, or Buddha. Without knowing who Jesus really is-the Son of God and the only Savior-we may try to fill our inner longing with false gods such as money, success, or even harmful behaviors. We may try to please God with good works or even self-sacrifice, rather than receiving the free gift of salvation Jesus offers.
While the God of the Bible is a loving God, the many deities of mythology were capricious, jealous, and petty. Since they were created by people, they reflected all the weaknesses of mankind. The true and living God, on the other hand, has none of our faults. Instead, He has created us in His image, imparting many of His characteristics to us. He is trustworthy, steadfast, and certain.
Even as Christians, we still sometimes create petty gods without realizing it. We may idolize our accomplishments, our pleasures, other people, or material things. We might deny our idolatry because we don't "worship" these things, in the sense of giving religious reverence to them, as the dictionary describes the word. Think about the following questions: Are your thoughts focused continually on one part of your life, almost to the exclusion of others? Do you habitually and almost compulsively perform particular behaviors again and again? Are you devoted to a person or the pursuit of a particular goal at the expense of other areas of life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be worshiping a false god, one that will surely disappoint.
Think of the man who travels so extensively as he climbs the ladder of success that he misses out on his children's growing-up years, or the woman who strives to please her unpleasable husband until he leaves her for another woman. Their gods have let them down, as false gods always will.
But Jesus will always do what is best for you. He has promised to bring good out of even the most horrible circumstances, and He does that time and again.
Rachel Scott was one of the high school students killed in the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. She was killed because she was a Christian who was not afraid to talk about her love for Jesus. While her parents, friends, and teachers were heart-broken because of her death and the deaths of the others in the incident, God brought good out of the evil of that unforgettable day. After her death, other students gave their lives to God as a result of her courage and faith.
But false gods are just the opposite of the one true God. While He brings good out of evil, false gods insert evil into good things. For example, eating is a natural and necessary physical function, and delicious food is another of God's gifts. But food, misused and over-or under-eaten, becomes an idol when it becomes one's focus and ruins lives with obesity or anorexia.
Three key characteristics distinguish Jesus from the false gods. First, He is equal with God the Father and God the Spirit. This has been the belief of the Christian church since the beginning. In A.D. 325 this belief was formalized in a Trinitarian creed (the Nicene Creed) to counter a heresy that was attempting to demote Christ from His place as equal with God. And that heresy is still around today.
If you haven't already experienced it, one day you will answer your door and find yourself face-to-face with members of a religious cult who claim to be Christians-but they aren't. They don't believe Jesus was God. They will say He was "a" god but not "the" God. Those who assert that Jesus did not preexist his earthly life nor create the world rob Jesus of His equal and eternal place with God.
Second, Jesus is essentially God. God is three-in-one, a trinity of beings. They are not different manifestations of one being. Some people believe God morphed Himself into a human being and came to earth as Jesus. Another misbelief is that the Holy Spirit isn't really a person, just the power of God being unleashed. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all distinct persons-and all God (Philippians 2:5-11).
Third, Jesus is eternally God. Another thing the Nicene Creed states with certainty is the biblical doctrine that Jesus was "begotten, not made." That is, He wasn't created. He is, and always has been, infinite and eternal. A Jesus who isn't eternal Himself could hardly provide eternal life for you.
Like Paul, we need to "know whom [we] have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12 NKJV) and, with Peter, why we believe (1 Peter 3:15). We need to know how to tell a false god from the real God, because the difference is a matter of life and death, a choice between a fruitful, productive life and a tormented life, between freedom and bondage.
What about You? What are the gods in your life? Be honest. Who or what occupies the majority of your thought life? Are there behaviors or habits that you do repeatedly and know you should stop? The real God, Jesus Christ, will help you to dethrone the false god as you turn again and again to the One who is true.
Take a Look Read the creation story in Genesis 1. What did God start with and what did He end up with on day six of Creation?
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." John 3:1-2 NKJV
NICODEMUS HAD a problem many people have today. He felt spiritually superior to others. He was religious, he was respected, and he kept all the rules.
Some Christians today also believe that since they obey the rules, go to church, and give their money, they're above those who don't. They may even secretly wonder whether their success in life doesn't somehow reflect God's pleasure in how they live, as in "I do what I'm supposed to do, and God has rewarded me for that."
But in Luke 18:11-13, Jesus dashed that way of thinking when He told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus cut to the heart of the matter when He said the proud Pharisee thanked God that he was not a sinner like everyone else, especially the tax collector. All the hated tax collector could say to God was, "Be merciful to me, for I am a sinner." Jesus' point was that the proud will be humbled and the humble will be honored. Jesus is so good at standing human wisdom on its head. The honored fellow would be brought low and the despised man would be forgiven.
We don't really know why Nicodemus approached Jesus at night, although we know he was intellectually interested in the miracles Jesus had done. Perhaps he was afraid of what his religious cohorts would say or was ashamed to be seen talking to a lowly carpenter. Or he might have had spiritual questions that could not wait until the next day-questions about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah.
Men in Nicodemus's part of the world engaged in their deepest conversations in the evening when the time for work was over. They gathered to talk about philosophy or spiritual matters. Perhaps he came at night for a long and interesting talk. He addressed Jesus formally, as Rabbi. He was self-sufficient, confident, and curious, but he didn't know the true need of his heart and life-his need for Jesus.
To Jesus, Nicodemus's position as an educated Pharisee meant nothing. Some of His most scathing rebukes were directed at the religious leaders and their pompous hypocrisy. Most of the time, He chose to be with those who were rejected by society-the unsophisticated, plain, authentic people who truly understood their need for Jesus.
Think of Zacchaeus, the scorned man who stole some of his people's taxes for himself. Yet Jesus loved him and called him to come down out of the tree, singling him out and visiting his house. Or the woman at the well, who was spurned because of her marital history. Or Mary Magdalene, a prostitute. Jesus seemed to specialize in befriending outcasts, and there are many examples of that in the Bible.
Jesus chooses authentic people to spend time with.
What about You? Are you drawn to those rejected by most people? Do you tend to approach people whose needs are most obvious? Or are you attracted to success and beauty and repelled by failure?
Jesus loved the outcasts, and He never hesitated to put the arrogant religious leaders in their places. How can you make your church and your home places where those with the greatest needs will experience the love of Christ when they enter? He singled them out for attention; we can do it too.
Take a Look Read James 2:2-5 and write a sentence explaining how we should treat people. How should a shabbily dressed person be greeted in church? And what about the elegantly dressed person? What, indeed, would Jesus do?
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, 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, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." John 3:3-5 NKJV
THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH. A parent who sees his or her newborn child emerge into the world is often awestruck. The physical act of giving birth is astonishing; the way the human body works to produce a new life is almost beyond understanding. New parents often can't take their eyes off that tiny person given to them to love and care for.
Years ago, an Oklahoma doctor delivered a baby after the mother struggled for hours even though her own life was in danger. When someone described the birth as a miracle, the doctor said, "Every birth is a miracle."
But as amazing as the physical process of birth is, it can happen only once. There's no going back from whence we came. Imagine Nicodemus's surprise and the mental pictures his mind must have conjured when Jesus told him he needed to be born again.
His rhetorical question as to how a man can be born when he is old probably meant something like, "I'm an old man now and I can't start over."
Excerpted from Life According To Jesus by Jack Graham Copyright © 2004 by Jack Graham . Excerpted by permission.
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