I am…

I am…
Daily Devotionals featured on 103.5 KSUN by Pastor Gill

Monday, February 22
A friend told me recently that she really likes hanging out with people who ask good questions – the huh? kind of questions that make you think about life a little differently.  When we think about faith, one of the most helpful questions we can ask is, “Who is Jesus?”  Because when we get a clear picture of who Jesus is, a lot of other spiritual things start to make sense.  One of the best ways to find out who Jesus is is to go to the source.  Who did Jesus say he is?

Jesus didn’t very often come right out and say who he is.  Instead he liked to describe himself in pictures.  We know that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and apparently Jesus knew that too.  He knew that if he said plainly who he is, he would give us information.  We might remember it; we might not.  But if he gave us pictures, he would capture our imaginations and we’d be thinking about him for a while.

In the gospel written by John, one of Jesus’ disciples, there are seven places where Jesus makes very bold statements about himself.  He says “I am ….” And then adds a description that says something very key about him. 

Actually these statements are more than bold.  He makes pronouncements about who he is that are so mind blowing that they are either true or they are totally ridiculous.  Jesus said them so deliberately that we can’t just ignore them. 

We have to listen to what he’s telling us about himself.  And when we really listen to what he’s saying and think about what he meant, it’s pretty wild stuff.

These “I am” statements are sprinkled throughout the book of John.  This week, we’re going to talk about a few of them.  Hopefully at the end of the week you will have lots of pictures in your mind and, more importantly, you’ll feel like you know Jesus better.

So who did Jesus say he is?  He said I am…..

….. the bread of life – John 6:35

….. the light of the world – John 8:12

….. the gate for the sheep – John 10:7, 9

….. the good shepherd – John 10:11, 14

….. the resurrection and the life – John 11:25

….. the way and the truth and the life – John 14:6

….. the true vine – John 15:1, 5

Think for a minute about what he’s NOT saying:

He’s not saying I will give you bread

I will give you light

I will teach you how to get eternal life

I will show you the way to eternal life

I will teach you truth

These aren’t just literary devices like similes or metaphors.

He doesn’t say, I am “like” a good shepherd or “like” a gate or “like” a vine

Jesus isn’t saying he’s like these things or will give us or show us or teach us these things.

He’s saying he IS these things, which has much stronger and bigger implications.

Jesus is saying “I’m not just here to

  • teach you how to live a good moral life
  • show you how to live and be a good example
  • do miracles for you to make life a little easier or more pleasant
  • give you stuff you need
  • make a way for you to guarantee eternal life in heaven”

He is saying “I am so much more than that.  It’s not about what I came to do or even what I came to say.  It’s about who I am. And it’s about your relationship with me.”

Our faith isn’t like a health program.  If we want to improve our physical health, we can start exercising regularly, eat better, and get health check-ups to see the results.  We can choose how intense we want to be about it depending on whether we want to be generally healthy or start running marathons or climbing mountains.  You may or may not visit your doctor and you may or may not have a trainer – you can just research the information and do it yourself.

But spiritual health is different.  We don’t just study the handbook and do it ourselves.  Jesus didn’t just give us a spiritual health program to follow.  We can only be spiritually healthy by having a close, daily, real relationship with Jesus.  It’s not about what he taught us or about belief or about a program – it’s about Him!

Tune in throughout the week to hear more about who Jesus says he is.  In the mean time, be asking yourself the question, Who is Jesus?

Tuesday, February 23
This week we’re talking about who Jesus is – who he said he is when he described himself using some very creative imagery in the book of John.

The first image Jesus uses is bread.  In John 6:35 Jesus said 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.”

Jesus had just fed 5,000 people using just five loaves of bread and two fish.  Now that’s pretty cool.  The crowd is wowed. They’re excited about the possibilities. This guy can make food out of nothing – that means no more food shortages. It means they won’t need to work so hard planting and harvesting and cooking.  Of course they want to hang around Jesus for what he can give them.

So the next day the crowd goes looking for Jesus hoping for another free meal.

We’re all easily conditioned that way aren’t we?  A friend told me that their grandpa liked being an active part of their local church.  It was a big church with people of all ages, including a lot of older adults.  There would be one or two funerals every week.  He always attended the funerals and thoroughly enjoyed the free lunch afterwards!  In a “good” week, he might get as many as three free lunches.  You could say he was committed to the church because of the free food, just like these people were following Jesus around hoping for another free lunch!

But Jesus tells them that they’re missing the point.  They’re thinking way too small.  This isn’t about Jesus giving them free food and satisfying their hunger.  It’s about him satisfying much deeper hungers with spiritual food.

We’re always hungry, aren’t we.  And not just for food.  Think about all the things we hunger for – meaningful relationships (friendships, family, spouse), significance (our lives to count for something, to matter), security (want to be safe and protected in a dangerous world), joy (desire to laugh, feel good), beauty (whether that means art or music or flowers or new car – different ideas of beauty).  We’re hungry for so many things. 

There are all kinds of ways we try to satisfy those hungers – with people and things and experiences – and some of these are satisfying for a while, but the hunger soon returns.

Some of the ways we try to satisfy these hungers cause us problems.  We may be hungry for one thing, but we try to satisfy ourselves with something else.  We try to fill these hungry holes inside with too much food, or by buying more than we can afford, by drinking too much, or escaping whether it’s on vacation or into social media.

When Jesus tells us he is the bread of life, he’s saying that he himself wants to satisfy the deepest hungers of our souls.

Now to us bread is kind of optional – one food choice among many.  Do we want bread with dinner tonight?  No, we already have rice – that’s enough carbs.  Do we want toast with breakfast?  No, the cereal will be enough.  Now we even have sandwiches without bread – an unwich lettuce wrap.  Bread is an optional side dish.
So when we hear Jesus say “I am the bread of life,” it’s easy for us to think that he’s an optional side dish – something we can have if we’re not quite full with the rest of the meal, if the rest of life doesn’t quite satisfy us.

If you already have the nice job, nice family, nice house, nice car and there’s still a void, you may want to add a little Jesus to the mix to satisfy what’s left of your hunger.

But to the people Jesus was talking to in first century Palestine, bread was the center of every meal.  Over the course of the day, most of their calories were supplied by bread.  Other foods – lamb, fish, olives, figs, goat’s milk or honey – were all added extras to add variety and a few more nutrients.  But the main thing, the thing you absolutely depended on every day was the bread. 

You might be able to do without the fish or the milk or the olives for a few days if you didn’t have them.  But you had to have bread.  Bread was equivalent to staying alive.

So when Jesus says “I am the bread of life”, they would know he is saying, “I am the thing you have to have to survive. I am the thing your life absolutely depends on.

And to us he is saying “I am the bread that satisfies your deepest hungers.  All those things that make you feel empty inside – I will satisfy the empty place in your soul that makes you feel that way.”

Jesus isn’t saying, I’ll give you what you need to satisfy your hunger, but I AM what you need to satisfy your hunger.

Jesus says that those who come to him will NEVER be hungry and NEVER be thirsty.  He’s not saying your physical stomach will never be empty again.  He’s saying he will always fill that void in your life, he will always fill that spiritual yearning.

So what are you hungry for?  And how are you trying to satisfy that hunger deep in your soul? 

Next time you feel that emptiness inside, that gnawing hunger, try something new.  Pray and ask Jesus to satisfy your hunger, to fill the void inside you. 

He may do that by providing something you need, often in an unexpected way.  Or he may send along someone to help you or support you.  Or he may fill you up with a satisfying sense of hope and peace. 

Wednesday, February 24
This week we’re asking the question, Who is Jesus?  And we’re talking about how Jesus himself answered that question in the gospel of John.  Jesus used a lot of word pictures, not to be obtuse or confusing, but to engage our imaginations and get us thinking.  Jesus wants us to know him, not just know stuff about him, and to have a relationship with Jesus, we have to have more than information – we have to connect with him intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Today we’re going to talk about how Jesus said “I am the light of the world.”

John 8:12  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.”

Jesus isn’t saying I am a lightbulb, which wouldn’t make sense in pre-electricity Israel anyway.  And he isn’t saying “I’ll give you light.  I’ll show you the way to live your life, I’ll give you a lamp so you can see where to go.”

He’s saying I AM your light.

Throughout Bible, dark symbolizes ignorance, groping around without wise illumination, surviving any way you can and not knowing or following God and his ways.

Light symbolizes God and his brilliant wisdom.

You may have heard Isaiah 9:2 read at Christmas time.  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Without Jesus we are in the dark.  We can’t see where to go in life.  We are stuck under a dark cloud.

Jesus doesn’t just come and hand us a flashlight or flip on the light switch for us and walk away.  Here you go.  I died on the cross for you so you can live in light instead of darkness.  Here’s the light you need – see ya!

In eternity in the new heavens and new earth, the city of God will not need a sun to give it light.  God’s glory, his very presence, IS light.  God’s eternal city will be illuminated all the time, simply because God is there. 

Revelation 21:23  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its lamp.

Jesus isn’t just A light or another light among many lights; he is THE light, the true light (1:9) for the whole world. 

Jesus is God, so just as God is light, Jesus is light. 

When light shines, darkness disappears.  Light is more powerful than darkness, it destroys it, right?  When you turn on a light darkness no longer exists.  So when Jesus is in our lives, the darkness, the ignorance disappears.  Jesus is the light that shines in our lives so we can see clearly where to walk and how to live life.

Jesus wants to be right there with us, to be the light in our lives.  He wants us to follow his light so that we don’t wander off into darkness again.

We tend to want to get some of his light and go off and do our own thing.  But the further we get from Jesus, the dimmer our light becomes.  The way becomes less clear and we get blinded by all the other things that compete for our attention.

Jesus wants to BE our light.  He wants us to walk with him, staying in his light.

As we walk in Jesus’ light, we find we can’t always see very far in front of us – he doesn’t often light up the path very far ahead.  We have to stay close to him, and move at his speed to stay in his light.

Jesus doesn’t just want to give you some enlightenment, some wisdom, so you can go off and live your life well on your own.

He wants to BE our light, every day, forever, right there with us in the journey, walking with us, illuminating the way one step at a time.

This is important because it means we don’t just become “enlightened” by learning Godly principles or behaving in a Godly way.  We don’t just get handed light in the form of salvation when we ask Jesus to forgive our sins and told to go off and do our best until we die.

Again, Jesus wants to be right there with us – he wants a close relationship where he lights up our life every minute of every hour of every day from now to eternity.

As you go about your day today, ask Jesus to be your light.  Ask him for wisdom for that situation at work, ask him for creative strategies to parent your kids well, ask him to illuminate and bring clarity to your life. 

Jesus is the light of the world and he wants to be the light of your life.  Will you let him?

Thursday, February 25
Who is Jesus?  You’ve probably heard various people give their opinion of who he is – a good man, a good example, a good teacher.  But if we read what Jesus said about himself, we discover he’s more than just “good.” 

Today we’re going to look at a couple more ways Jesus described himself in the book of John. 

John 10:7-9  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.

Does that sound weird to you?  Why would he describe himself as a gate?  We recently sold our home and for a few weeks until we can move into our new home, our furniture and other possessions are in storage.  The facility where we have our storage unit has a gate and we have to enter a code to get in.  We have never lived in a gated community, but we’ve been laughing because for a short while our possessions do!  Gates make us feel safe – they are a protective barrier against trespassers, against theft, and against damage to our stuff or harm to us.  A gate isn’t a wall – you can open a gate to let stuff in or out if you want to but you get to decide what goes in and out.

Sheep are many things – they provide great meat (mm lamb chops), great milk to make feta cheese, and fabulous wool.  But they are not known for their brains or their brawn.  So sheep are vulnerable – they’re not good at defending themselves – there are no ninja sheep.

In Israel, sheep pens were often at the sheltered end of a canyon or up against a cliff.  They had waist-high stone walls topped with thorny branches which served one important purpose – keeping out wild animals that would often come at night looking for easy prey. 

Life for a sheep was dangerous.  Besides the threat od wild animals, there were rugged ground and rough weather out on the hillsides.  But sheep lived out in the hills because that’s where the pasture was.  The land wasn’t good enough to grow crops, but could grow enough grass for sheep to graze.

The shepherd would put his sheep in the sheep pen at night, where he knew they would be safe.  The shepherd would sleep in the entryway to the sheep pen and function as a human gate.

He could then keep track of anything going in or out of the sheep pen – he could keep the sheep in and the predators out.

When Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep,” he isn’t saying, I’ll put you in safe places or I’ll teach you how to protect yourself.  Life isn’t always safe – the reality of living in a fallen world is that we can’t always fully protect our health, our finances, and our homes against every eventuality.  Even with seatbelts, insurance, workplace safety programs, and taking every available precaution, we simply don’t always have what we need to keep ourselves safe.

Other so-called protective “gates” are unreliable.  Wood rots, metal rusts, investments don’t always give dividends, other people may not be there when we need them, and even the best safety programs are subject to operator error.

Once again Jesus is saying that he himself will be our safety.  He is the ONLY gate that truly protects us.

If we don’t know Jesus very well, we may wonder if he’ll fall asleep or get distracted and fail to protect us.  So we become afraid and look for protection from people, from having lots of money or insurance or being overly cautious.

Then we find ourselves feeling fearful or even paranoic, trying to control every possible eventuality to keep ourselves safe.

Jesus doesn’t want us to do that.  He wants to be our gate – He himself wants to be our gate.  As we get to know him we know we can trust him to stay awake, to be alert, and to overpower the things that come against us.

You may be thinking of a time when it felt like Jesus didn’t protect you, when something bad happened to you or someone you love.  It’s human nature to think about the times when we don’t understand why God would allow bad stuff in our lives rather than being in awe of the accident that didn’t happen, the illness we didn’t catch or the literal or metaphorical bullet that we dodged.

If you think about it, a sheep pen has no roof – the sheep are still open to storms and to rain and to the heat of the sun.

We have storms and scorching “heat” in life, but Jesus is still our gate who protects us.  He doesn’t necessarily protect us from every difficult or painful thing, but he does protect us IN those things. The things that come against us may be scary and painful but they can’t destroy us.  As our gate, Jesus is with us to protect our hearts, minds, and emotions.  Even in the absolute worst-case scenario if we lose our physical life, Jesus is still our protective gate.  If we know him and have a relationship with him he offers 100% guaranteed protection of our spiritual eternal life.

Think of what you do before you go to bed at night – check doors are locked, check appliances are turned off, candles blown out – then go to bed feeling safe – you can sleep confident that there won’t be a fire or a burglary.

Jesus wants us to have that same secure confident feeling knowing that He is our gate.  He wants us to live with confidence in his protection.

Friday, February 26
This week we’re asking the question “Who is Jesus?”  And we’re going to the source to see who Jesus said he is in the gospel account of his life written by John, one of his disciples. 

Israel has the perfect climate and geography for growing grapes, especially in the area around Galilee, where Jesus lived, because of its high elevation, cool breezes, marked day and night temperature changes and rich, well-drained soils. Israel was and still is full of vineyards – growing grapes and making wine is a big part of their economy and culture.  So it’s no surprise that Jesus talked about grape vines, something very near & dear to his listeners’ hearts, to describe who he is.    

John 15:1-5  I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. …..  I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

God used vineyard imagery a lot in the OT to represent his relationship with his chosen nation Israel.

The nation of Israel was God’s vine.  God was the master gardener who had chosen the vine and tended it with lavish care and attention.

In the OT, God had big plans for Israel.  He intended for Israel to thrive and flourish in the Promised Land, but they became disconnected from God and decided they had better ideas about how to do life.  Just as a plant rots and dies if it becomes disconnected from its root system, Israel became disconnected from God and went their own way rather than living the good life God had planned for them.

Have you ever grown Zucchini in your garden?  The vines spread out over a huge area. Once in a while a zucchini will start to grow but then starts to shrivel and rot.  Often if you follow the vine from the zucchini backwards, you find the connection with the plant has been severed or damaged.

The Israelites were used to thinking that they were part of God’s vine because they were born into the nation of Israel.  But now Jesus is saying that he is the true vine, the only real means of staying attached or connected to God. The Jews can’t claim to have a special connection to God simply because they were born into his chosen nation.  That vine rotted and is no longer connected to God.

And this is true for us too.  We can’t claim to have a special connection to God because we were born into a Christian family, or because we attend church regularly, or because we believe the Bible is true.  We can only be connected to God by staying connected to Jesus.

Just as branches need to be connected to the vine to get water from the roots to stay alive, we need to be connected to Jesus to get spiritual water to give life to our souls.  Without that connection, our faith becomes dry religion and eventually it rots.  With that connection, our spiritual lives become more and more healthy and fruitful each year.

How do we stay connected to the vine, to Jesus?  Think of how you stay connected in any relationship – you talk, you listen, you keep getting to know each other and you do things together – you share experiences.  It’s really the same kinds of things that keep us connected to Jesus.

  • Talk to Jesus – that’s what prayer is, not just asking for things you need but also talking about how you feel, your hopes and dreams and fears.  Ask him questions.  Sometimes we say we’re looking for answers but we don’t ask any questions!  You could start with the question we’ve been asking this week, Who are you Jesus?  You can ask God how he feels about you, you can ask for wisdom, you can ask him to show you more about who you are, your strengths and weaknesses – after all, he made you so he knows you better than anyone.
  • After you ask questions, expect him to answer.  One of God’s favorite ways to speak is through the Bible.  If you don’t know where to start you could start with the book of John that we’ve been reading from this week.  Read a few verses or a chapter each day and see if it answers any of your questions.  God may also answer your questions through unexpected circumstances, through other people in your life, even through dreams.  But we have to be listening and aware to notice when he answers.
  • Sometimes we get distracted by all of life’s details and forget Jesus is there.  So staying connected may simply mean remembering we aren’t doing life alone – Jesus is with us.  He cares about all the details and wants to help you and experience life with you.
  • Another great way to stay connected to Jesus is to hang out with other people who are connected to him.  Find a church community – there are several good ones in Sun Prairie.  I’m sure you could find one you like.

Don’t be that rotting zucchini that loses its connection through the vine to the life-giving roots.  Enjoy a connection with God through Jesus, the true vine to keep your heart and soul alive and thriving.

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