By Steve Casteel
Abiding in Truth
Purpose: To clarify the freedom the cosmic Christ provides and to ponder why Christ’s freedom is often difficult for us to receive.
Bible Lesson: John 8:31-32, 48-56, 58-59
Key Verse: “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” — John 8:31-32
I love the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It is the perfect illustration of what Jesus is trying to say in this passage about being disciples of the truth. Remember the story?
There was a king who was so insecure and self conscious that he surrounded himself with “yes” people. They agreed with all he said whether it was true or not. They had learned to live the lie. The climax of the story hinges on the imaginary clothes the tailors create for the king to wear for a grand parade. The truth was there were no clothes, but everyone was used to living in the lie. That is, everyone but one little child! The crowd “oohed” and “ahhed” as the king processed, until they came to the child. Then it happened. The child said, “The emperor has no clothes.” It created a grand silence. The lie was exposed and so was everyone who had continued in it. It was a painful and embarrassing liberation.
In our faith Jesus is our truth teller. Jesus comes into our lives and reveals the “lies” we have continued in. One of the ways to translate the word “continue” is the beautiful word “abide.” I love that word, so did Jesus. Abiding means to live in something or to draw life from something. Where do we abide? Truth be told, do we live in a lie? How many lies do we abide in every day? To ask those questions is powerful.
Jesus calls us to live in truth. Jesus promises that living in the truth is costly. People do not want to be told “they have no clothes.” It is embarrassing, painful. We don’t want to be told we are “judgmental.” We don’t want to hear that we are “addicted.” We don’t want to be exposed in our prejudices. Please don’t tell anyone we love things more than we love God. None of us want to hear we are “sinners.” But we are! And hearing the truth is liberating and transforming, but costly. Ask Jesus, Paul, Wesley and Martin Luther King.
Where do you seek to abide? If we want to abide in Jesus then we must desire truth at all cost. True disciples want to live in real truth. Then we are free to be who we were made to be. What a gift. Tell me Jesus, tell me the truth!
Purpose: To probe the connection among faith, judgment and eternal life.
Bible Lesson: John 5:19-29
Key Verse: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” — John 5:24
Has anyone ever saved your life? I mean literally pulled you out of the “jaws of death.”
I’ve been saved (several times, to be honest). Some I know about, some I don’t. One I remember is an incident during my high school years. I lived in
It was down across the creek. Keith saw it but before he could tell me, I was gone. I hit the water and was pulled down. I choked and flailed to no avail. Then I felt a hand grab me and pull me up. I gasped for air then grabbed the tube. Keith had saved me (and my glasses, too!)
“I thought you were a goner!”
“Hey, you think I was gonna let you drown? I’m just glad I didn’t have to give you mouth-to-mouth.”
It feels humbling to be saved. It reminds us we are mortal. It reminds us that life and death are both real.
God is the creator of life. In the beginning God breathed life into us (“mouth to mouth”). In love, God gave us life. Then we risked it all. We walked away from life right to death. That’s about as smart as tubing a flooded creek! God watched as we went under. Death grabbed us and so did God.
God is always about the business of grabbing us. God isn’t just a life giver, God’s a life saver. But there is a problem. When you take lifesaving courses one of the ironic things you learn is that the drowning person will fight you when you try to save them (some even pull you under). Panic and fear set in and our reason leaves. We fight our savior. All God wants is to give us life and life abundant. In the cross God defeated death, but we still fight it.
Have you ever been saved? You have a God who is seeking to save you even as you read this. Who knows how many trees God has cleared, how many Keith’s God has sent, how may breaths of life you’ve been given? God wants you to live forever. Don’t fight the salvation. God’s got ya!
Bread of Life
Purpose: To explore how believers receive and participate in the life Christ offers.
Bible Lesson: John 6:34-40; 7:37-39
Key Verse: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” — John 6:35
Are you a food label reader? I’ve become a label reader. Why? Is it fascinating to know the nutritional content of the things I eat? Not really, I just do it to stay healthy. I never knew what was in the stuff I ate before I began to read food labels.
When I had my heart surgery my wife, Cindy went to the store to get me some soup. I never want soup, but for some reason it sounded good. She left and was gone forever. All I wanted was chicken noodle soup, how hard is that?
I called her. “Where are you?”
There was a pause. “
She was taking time to make sure she got the healthiest soup. Paying attention to labels matters.
It’s true about several things. Take bread for example. There are multi-grain breads that really have little fiber and nutrition at all. Some bread is loaded with trans fat. Read the label. Take water as another example. If you buy bottled water you will discover it isn’t all the same. Some water is spring water, some is mineral water and some is just purified water.
I say all this to say content matters. The right ingredients make something healthier for us, the wrong ones can make us sick.
When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” it was about content. Jesus was talking about the life giving content he brought to us. Jesus fed people often. He understood hunger, spiritual hunger and physical hunger. Jesus knew they were both real. I believe Jesus always speaks to us in a holistic way. He cares about our body and our soul. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” “For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink.”
To be fed by Christ is to be fed life giving bread and water. To follow Jesus, to believe in Jesus, is to share life giving bread and water. God has historically fed the people. God has given us water. Manna from heaven, water from rocks…life giving physically and spiritually. All of it made, given with love and full of life.
Jesus took the label “bread of life.” Have you read that? Is it any wonder that the sacrament of Communion is our constant reminder of this provision of “daily bread”? To receive communion is to remember we all need bread for life…Jesus. To receive communion reminds us that we must bring our whole selves to the table so Jesus can do the feeding. “This is my body.” Can you hear the communion service? “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by His blood.” It’s about content. Hmmm…
Have you read the label? What’s in your daily bread? Who have you been bread to? To give, you have to get it first. When we are filled with the “bread of life” it is easier to break it with others. Let’s eat.
Purpose: To help us view all things in the light of Christ.
Bible Lesson: John 8:12-20; 12:44-46
Key Verse: “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
Lock-ins…ever had to chaperone one? The thing about it is that darkness seems to bring out the evil in kids. In daylight they can be challenging, but put them in the dark of night and watch out. At a lock-in you face a terrible dilemma. If you leave the lights on the youth stay up and wear you out. If you turn off the lights to let them sleep, they…well they find trouble. So here are my lock-in strategies, leave the lights on all night, never go to sleep, always carry a flash light and never let the kids scatter out.
Did you ever wonder if God second guessed creating darkness? Could it be that God feels like the chaperone at a giant lock-in? Ok, I’m being a little facetious. The truth is that there are three components to this passage.
First, we are reminded that Jesus is light. Light is life giving and bright. It is revealing and inviting. Jesus comes into a dark world as light. Jesus wants to shine on everything.
The second component of this passage is that the world is dark. John writes, “The light came into the darkness and people chose darkness over light.”
The third component says we have a choice. We get to choose whether to follow the light or live in the darkness. It doesn’t seem like a hard choice. But when guilt, shame, sin, temptation, evil and depression bring their darkness they seem to engulf us. There is a deceptive security in darkness. In darkness no one can see us as we are and we can hide our internal darkness. We sometimes feel like we don’t have a choice. God hates darkness. So we reason that if darkness is in us so God must hate us. How could we go to the light? Don’t we have to get the darkness out first?
Jesus said, “Whosoever will follow me will never walk in darkness.” Could it be as simple as choosing to go to the light of Jesus? As congregations and communities, could Jesus lead us out of darkness? Could Jesus’ light shine in the darkness in us? The answer is yes.
God is determined to get us out of darkness and darkness out of us. God sent Jesus to bring light. People killed Jesus to put out the light. The world was very dark for a couple days but then Easter the light came back. Jesus’ resurrection says the darkness cannot overcome the light. We get to choose where we walk.
Have you thought about your choice? God has already chosen. I think I’ll follow God…does it seem brighter in here to you?
Casteel is an elder and director of Connectional Ministries for the