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        The First Baptist Church of Wakefield, Massachusetts was struck by lightning on October 23, 2018.  As a result, a seven-alarm fire spread quickly through the church and destroyed the building.  Somehow a single painting that hung in the front entrance of the church was unharmed.  It was a painting of Jesus standing with outstretched hands.1   In the middle of their heartbreak and devastating loss, the church members and pastor saw this painting as a sign of hope—a reminder from Jesus that “I AM still with you.”

In these uncertain, chaotic days that seem to go on and on, it helps to remember Jesus is still with us today.  When everything seems hopeless and out of control, we can go to God’s Word to be refreshed and strengthened and to be reminded of all Jesus continues to do for us.  One of the good places to begin our study of Jesus is in the Gospel of John. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus shocked the people around Him when He began to describe Himself as “I AM.”  The religious people of that day felt this was a title that could only be used for Almighty God and considered it blasphemy when Jesus applied it to Himself.  They based their belief on Exodus 3:13-14: 

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’  Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, I AM who I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

 Despite the opposition, Jesus continued to use this phrase to describe Himself.  He also stated in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” which amazed the religious people of His day.  Let’s expand our view of who Jesus is by looking at seven ‘I AM’s’ of Jesus in the Gospel of John.   

  1. I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35)

At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000.  The crowd then discovers that not only could Jesus heal them, He could feed them too!  Jesus’ popularity surges to the point where they are about to make Him King over them (John 6:15). In response—and to ensure their zeal doesn’t hasten God’s plan—Jesus withdraws to the mountain to be alone.  The crowd seeks Him because they want Him to continue to do what He did yesterday and heal them and feed them.  Instead of physical needs, Jesus offers them and us eternal bread that gives eternal life.

  1. I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12; 9:5)

There are many lights in this world and we can choose to follow any of them.   Following “a” light can lead you anywhere. Following THE light leads to salvation. When Jesus declares Himself as a light, it is no ordinary light.  He is “THE” Light, and is sufficient for the whole world to follow.  Let Jesus be our Light and share “THE” Light with others.

  1. I AM the Door (some translations read “Gate”) (John 10:7)

Just as there are many lights, there are many doors and each door leads somewhere.  Jesus is not one of those many doors; He is “THE” door—the exclusive means of access to God the Father.  Don’t miss the DOOR!

  1. I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14-15)

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, loves us, leads us, cares for us, and laid down His life for us.  As our Good Shepherd, Jesus isn’t merely leading us here and there with no goal.  He is leading us on a spiritual journey to God the Father Himself.  During trying times, remember: the Lord is our Shepherd, and we have everything we need.

  1. I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)

The life Jesus imparts to us is not merely the hope that one day we’ll die and go to heaven.  Jesus is the source of eternal life.  When we know Jesus, we too have resurrection and life.  We can approach life and its many challenges, trials, and storms with a sense of hope and power in Jesus.

  1. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)

There are many “ways” or “paths” in this world, but despite what the world would have us believe, there is only one way to God the Father.  Jesus is the way we live here and the way we lead others to live while here on earth.  Jesus isn’t a truth or the spokesperson for truth.  He is literally everything God wanted to say to sinful man in this world.  Jesus gives life and through His earthly example defines the life we are all meant to live.

  1. I AM the True Vine (John 15:1-4)

Jesus states He is the true vine. This vine never dies, and it is the source of life and fruit for all vines in the vineyard.  Without connection to the Christ-Vine, the branches and the fruit wither quickly and die in the heat of the sun.  The vineyard is a metaphor for fruitfulness.  Jesus said, “Abide in me,” and as we abide, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the places He wants us to go and bear fruit that honors God.  Stay attached to the Vine!

 This is only a feeble attempt to describe some of the attributes of Jesus—He is indescribable and so much more than my mind can even begin to grasp.  But, even though we cannot totally comprehend His greatness, we can ask God to give us strength and wisdom to make Jesus, the Great I AM, change who we are.

I recently read the following poem by Helen Mallicoat2 and it’s a perfect reminder of where our focus should be in both good times and difficult times:

 

My Name is I AM

 I was regretting the past 
and fearing the future. 
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
“My name is I AM.”

 He paused.

I waited.

He continued…

“When you live in the past

with its mistakes and regrets,

 it is hard. I am not there. 
My name is not I WAS.

When you live in the future

with its problems and fears,

 It is hard. I am not there. 
My name is not I WILL BE.

When you live in this moment, 
it is not hard. I am here. 
My name is I AM.”

  

  1. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jesus-painting-survives-fire-that-destroyed-150-year-old-church-in-massachusetts/
  2. https://www.comeaside.com/my-name-is-I-am.html

 

Posted by Dee Schneider with
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The closest thing I can recall in my life to experiencing even the smallest amount of racism toward my family goes back to when we adopted our 2 girls from Bulgaria. They have brown skin and black hair. They don’t match my wife and I who are white and blonde. We were at the gate in an airport about to board a plane when we were pulled aside instead of allowing us to board the flight like others in line. They took us and searched our bags and asked us some questions before allowing us to board. The reason they did it…our skin colors didn’t match so they thought something might be wrong so we got treated differently than other passengers. That was a mere 5 minutes of inconvenience and I found myself asking why would they do that to us? I recognize that some of, if not many of, those who are black in our nation have had to ask that question far more often than I for sure. I’m not trying to equate such a small instance with the lifelong challenges African Americans have faced. If anything, I’m trying to point out how little I, as a white person, understand the feelings of those who are black.

Racism is no doubt unacceptable; it’s disgusting. It hurts my heart that our country hasn’t been able to move beyond this unthinkable viewpoint that’s persisted since the early days of our country’s history. It hurts me personally to see others treated so poorly because my 2 daughters, who are Roma, came from a country where they were on the wrong side of racism. Roma people come from gypsies, a derogatory term for them in Eastern Europe. Gypsies by stereotype are lazy people who don’t want to work. Roma children don’t have access to the same schools as other Eastern Europeans. Roma children weren’t treated the same as other Eastern Europeans. Roma children weren’t wanted by Eastern Europeans. This is exactly why they were up for international adoption. We brought them to America, the land of the free. A place where they shouldn’t have to experience the difficulties of the early portion of their lives. Yet, my heart hurts as I’m reminded that America just isn’t that different. People aren’t that different. Great focus at this moment is on racism related to black people, police brutality towards blacks and systemic injustice in law enforcement and government in many places. While those things are of massive importance to deal with, we can’t lose sight of the big picture. It’s time to stand against these things and to listen to those impacted. At the same time, if we don’t keep the big picture in mind, I fear the cause will be lost. Here are some big picture things we need to think about to truly make a difference in these areas that so desperately need attention and change.

We will continue to struggle to solve the symptom which is racism, if we don’t solve the cause of racism. Sin is the cause. The fallen nature of man is the problem. The Bible is clear in Romans 3:23, all have sinned. There isn’t a single person: red, yellow, black, and white…and any other color that may be out there, that has not sinned. Sin impacts every aspect of our lives. Sin destroys. Sin separates. Sin is infectious. Sin is hated by God. Racism is one manifestation of sin in our lives. Systemic Injustice is a manifestation of sin in our lives. Looting and Destruction are manifestations of sin in our lives. This isn’t to demean the importance of this moment in our history when hopefully we can finally deal a death blow to racism. This is to say that if we cut off the weed of racism but leave the root of sin and unrepentance, the weed will grow back. It always does. Any gardeners out there know that a weed isn’t truly gone until the root is gone.

The narrow focus of some in this moment is exactly why we will likely continue to struggle to be able to truly get rid of the root. These issues do warrant focus no doubt, but we can’t lose sight of the big picture. Some of us are passionate about police injustice and brutality, racism, looting/destruction, terrorism…and the list goes on. I’m glad you’re passionate about those manifestations of sin…but when we begin to look at others who are also pointing out manifestations of sin and say…those things don’t matter as much. We lose sight of the root issue. Some people are so focused on trying to fix systemic racism and injustice, they say that the looting and destruction doesn’t matter. It’s not as important. They would say property is not equal to people in value. While it’s true that in God’s eyes people have more value than property, it doesn’t change the fact that God hates all sin. Are there different consequences for sin…sure…does God value people over property…sure…but that doesn’t mean God thinks any sin is tolerable for the sake of fixing something else. If we truly want to make a difference, we’ve got to rally around a common cause. It won’t be just racism, it won’t be police injustice or any other systemic injustice, it won’t be terrorism and it won’t be looting or destruction of property. Are all those wrong…absolutely, but by fixing one of them you don’t fix the root issue in our country. To fix the root issue, we need repentance. We don’t need to pray for revival, we need to pray for and ask God to help us repent. There are way too many of us marching on streets, throwing up all over Facebook and other forms of social media that haven’t taken time to repent recently, if ever. Don’t hear that as me saying we need to stop talking about racism, police injustice, or the looting and destruction of property. Do take that as a reminder that it doesn’t matter how many times you post on Facebook or how many marches you take part in, if our nation doesn’t repent of it’s sin, you won’t make the difference you wish.

Some of you are fighting so hard, you’re yelling as loud as your little fingers can type. You’ll argue and debate with the best of them. You draw lines in the sand, alienate people with your views all for the sake of justice. I hate to tell you this, but on social media, the people you generally impact are those who agree with you. They’ll gladly endorse your finger pointing and ranting. You lose the audience that you’re actually trying to impact. Look…bottom line here is let’s not lose sight of the real battle here; where the fight truly lies. Ephesians 6:12 says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. The big picture here that this verse talks about is, there are ongoing battles in the spiritual realm between good and evil. Do I think evil tries to use a bad cop? Yes! Do I think evil tries to use terrorist organizations or racist white people to make blacks look bad? Yes! Do I think evil uses corrupt or racist local prosecutors? Yes! Do I think evil tries to get white people to dismiss the idea that racism exists in our nation? Yes! Does that mean people who are doing wrong should be excused, absolutely not! But when you look at another human who has done wrong, we can’t lose sight of how they’re not truly our enemies. Those that think differently than you are not your enemies, even if they think sinfully. If you want to deal with the evil that’s impacting these people, you have to deal with the heart. If you want to deal with the heart, it’s going to take repentance that comes from the Gospel.

I can’t help but think about the book of Jonah. Read the book of Jonah. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to call the people to repentance. In Nahum 3:1, Nineveh was described: “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!” Nineveh was known for brutally treating people, from the government level, all the way down to the streets. Jonah didn’t want to go. He didn’t think they would repent. He didn’t think they deserved God’s word. You could say the same thing in a lot of ways about our country. We’re a country of blood…black blood. We’re full of lies…from the media, our government, and racism denying citizens. We’re full of plunder as terrorist and others riot and pillage our cities. We are never without victims…George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the list goes on. But what did God do? He sent Jonah to call the people to repentance. Skip the fish part and jump to when Jonah finally goes to Nineveh…what happens? Read Jonah 3 where from the king all the way down to the citizens they repent. Here’s part of what the king said: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” The Ninevites humbled themselves, repented, and turned from their evil ways. Repentance brought on by the Word of the Lord changed a nation that treated people awful who were different than them. Stand against racism, stand against injustice, stand against terrorism but most of all stand against sin! It’s time to call our nation to repentance…but that starts in my heart and yours!

Posted by Jeremy Shirley with

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