The Cure For A Hungry Soul

The Cure for a Hungry Soul

John 6:25-40

Dr. Jim Denison

We have too many choices to consume. That’s the conclusion of Barry Schwarz, author of the bestseller The Paradox of Choice. His thesis explains why so many people tell pollsters they are unhappy despite living in a world of greater material prosperity than ever before. We buy something and then experience the second thoughts known as “buyer’s remorse.” We then respond with “regret aversion” by storing it rather than giving it away. “Maximizers” accept only the best and often experience the paralysis of analysis. “Sufficers” settle for whatever is good enough. More of us are “maximizers” than “sufficers,” to be sure. It’s never enough.

Now you can buy a lawn mower with an automatic transmission, cruise control and power-steering, a CD player and cup holder, all for $17,000. Or a robot to mow your lawn for $2,400. Or running shoes which adjust their cushioning levels automatically while you jog, for $250. Or a tiny digital camera for $3,900, and a chrome-plated MiniDisc player for $1,900. Or binoculars which instantly replay what you just watched, for $600. All in time for back to school. But it won’t be enough.

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” (v. 35). His bread is enough—enough to feed our hungry lives.

So where is your soul hungry today? Where are you dissatisfied and disillusioned with your life? You’ve climbed a ladder only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. You’re wondering if this is all there is.

You’ve been in school long enough to learn that there’s always another grade to make, a friend to impress, a touchdown to score. You’ve been working long enough to learn that there’s always another client to sell, another goal to achieve, another rung to climb. You’ve had children long enough to learn there’s always more that they need, that you’ll never be finished.

Where do you need something more? How do we come to his table to find the “bread” we need?

For what are you hungry?

Jesus has just fed the 5,000. Now they find him in Capernaum, his ministry headquarters. Meeting them there, perhaps in his hometown synagogue, he warns them, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). His words are not a suggestion, but an imperative.

The consensus of counselor, psychologists and philosophers is that you and I have four basic “hungers” in our lives. We need four kinds of “food.”

Once our essential physical needs for clothing, shelter and food have been met, these four hungers drive us. In fact, they drive all we do.

All our desires, hopes, and wishes reduce to these four: knowledge rather than ignorance, pleasure rather than pain, power rather than helplessness, and wealth rather than poverty. Whatever you desire today fits into one of these four.

In preparing this message I sought knowledge. Today I desire the pleasure of teaching God’s word well, and the power of being used by his Spirit to do so. You came to church seeking one or more of these four.

Now here’s my one request, my “ask:” take your hunger to Jesus’ table first. Whatever it is you need or desire. Go to him first. Pray first. Worship first. Seek his word first. Submit to his will first. Go to his table before you go to any other.

Why come to his table first?

Why? Because he claims to be the bread of “life.” Not the bread of church, or of religion, or of Sunday. “Bread for life” is another translation—the bread we need for every dimension of our lives. “The” bread—the only bread of life. We find our needs met with him first, or not at all.

Why come to his table first? Because he promises the bread of knowledge, meeting your intellectual needs in his will.

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Wherever you need guidance, you can come to his table.

Why come to his table first? Because he promises the bread of pleasure, meeting your physical needs in his will.

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Wherever you have physical or emotional needs, you can come to his table.

Why come to his table first? Because he promises the bread of power, meeting your relational needs in his will.

“Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'” (Matthew28:18).

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). Wherever you feel powerless, you can go to his table.

Why come to his table first? Because he promises the bread of wealth, meeting your financial needs in his will.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Wherever you have financial needs, you can come to his table.


The Cure For A Joyless Soul

The Cure for a Joyless Soul

John 10:7-11

Dr. Jim Denison

After my recent travails with my new electric trimmer and the two power cords I cut, one of our members sent me this story. It seems a pastor was out riding his bicycle when he saw a young boy with a lawn mower for sale. “How much do you want for the mower?” he asked. “I just want enough money to buy a bicycle,” the little boy answered. After considering for a moment, the pastor asked, “Will you take my bike in trade for it?”

After examining the bike, the boy made the trade. The preacher took the mower and pulled on the rope a few times with no response. He called the boy over and said, “I can’t get this mower to start.” The boy said, “That’s because you have to cuss at it to get it started.” The pastor replied, “I’m a minister, and I can’t cuss. It’s been so long since I’ve been saved that I don’t even remember how to cuss.”

The little boy looked at him happily and said, “You just keep pulling on that rope. It’ll come back to you.” We’ve all owned a mower like that one, I fear.

When Johann Sebastian Bach returned from a concert tour to discover that his wife and two of their children had died, he wrote in his diary, “Dear Lord, may my joy not leave me.”

Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman described a period in his life when his health was bad and his spirits low. He confessed to a friend, “I’m about to lose my joy. I can feel it physically. I’m running out. I’m just drying up, inside.” Bergman said he wanted to rediscover what Bach had called his joy.

Maybe you need to discover or rediscover your joy today, the “abundant life” Jesus said his followers would experience. A deep sense of well-being and purpose which transcends your circumstances. The feeling that all is well with your soul, no matter how things are with your life. A trusted friend told me this week, “Everybody’s hurting, or about to.” Despite it all, how can we find “life to the full” today?

Admit you need a shepherd

According to our text, we are sheep. Forty-four times, the Bible describes us that way. In fact, did you know that “sheep” is the most common metaphor for human beings in all of Scripture?

This is not a compliment. Sheep are beautiful animals to view from a distance, but among the dumbest animals on earth.

Have you ever seen a sheep in a circus? Can they be trained for anything?

Sheep are totally defenseless against every predator. Ever seen a sign on someone’s fence, “Warning: vicious sheep inside”? Sheep must be guarded and led every day. The shepherd must live with them and watch them constantly or they’ll wander into trouble. God is not trying to increase our self-esteem when he calls us sheep.

Well, surely this isn’t true of us all. Surely some of us are smarter and more self-sufficient than sheep. But listen to Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” God thinks we’re all sheep, every one of us.

None of us wants to admit that fact. But we can never have a shepherd until we admit that we need one, that we are sheep.

We cannot find the abundant life until we admit that we don’t have it. We cannot experience the joy of Jesus until we admit that we need the joy of Jesus.

Self-sufficiency is the enemy of joy. Self-reliance is the enemy of “life to the full.” Imagine a sheep taking on a wolf by himself, or wandering through the wilderness by himself. You’re picturing most of the people you know. And maybe yourself as well. We think we’re shepherds, but we’re not—we’re sheep.

To find the joy of Jesus, begin by admitting that you need the joy of Jesus. Admit that you’re a sheep, in need of a shepherd.

Find the “gate for the sheep”

Now we come to Jesus’ fourth “I am,” the fourth time he uses God’s personal and holy name for himself: “I am the good shepherd” (v. 11). “Good” is emphatic in the Greek. The word meant to be lovely, attractive, not just moral but beautiful and desirable. How could he make this claim for himself?

Because “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (v. 7). “I am” is emphatic. “The” gate uses the definite article—he’s the only one.

Sheep in the countryside stayed at night in sheep-folds, walls enclosing a space. There was no door of any kind. When the sheep were in for the night, the shepherd would lay down across the opening. No predators or thieves could get in, and no sheep could get out, without crossing over his body. He was literally their only door.

Scripture consistently makes this claim for the Lord Jesus. He said of himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Paul said, “Through him we have access to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). The writer of Hebrews said, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

Now Jesus is the gate for the sheep, the doorway to the Father. Think of him as the heavenly doorman, opening the way for us to come into the Father’s mansion.

How did he provide this door? He came to die for his sheep: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).

That’s how much he loves us. Jesus is the shepherd who would leave the 99 to find the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:13). He’s come to find you, today.


The Cure For A Lonely Soul

The Cure for a Lonely Soul

John 4:21-26

Dr. Jim Denison

My father-in-law recently sent me this story. It seems that a young preacher was asked by the local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small local cemetery. The deceased had no family or friends. The preacher got lost getting to the cemetery. Half an hour late, he saw a backhoe and its crew, but the hearse was nowhere in sight and the workmen were eating lunch.

The diligent young pastor went to the open grave and found the vault lid already in place. Taking out his Bible, he began to speak. Feeling guilty because of his tardiness, he delivered an impassioned and lengthy message. As he was returning to his car, he overheard one of the workmen say, “I’ve been putting in septic tanks for 20 years and have never seen anything like that.”

At least the preacher was passionate. We could do worse today.

This morning we begin a biblical series titled, “Knowing the Great ‘I Am.’” In these weeks we will see God as he really is. Not the God our culture imagines, a kindly Grandfather in the sky who never interferes with our lives and makes no demands of us. Nor the God some religions imagine, a Judge with religious requirements and legalistic rules.

I’ll be showing you God as he really is. How do I know? Because we will study Jesus’ own autobiography. Eight events where he says, “I am.” Eight stages where he pulls back the curtain and reveals himself to us. Eight invitations to worship him as he requires, and to be transformed by the experience.

We begin today with the first “I am,” and its call to worship God “in spirit and truth.” This morning we are called to worship the Great I Am with personal passion and intensity. Unless we offer such worship, our souls are lonely, weak, and impoverished, more than we may know. Here is their cure.

Rejoice in his grace (vs. 1-6)

Jesus is in the first year of his public ministry. The Pharisees learn of his growing success; to avoid conflict at this early stage of his work, he leaves Judea for Galilee. And so “he had to go through Samaria” (v. 4). Not geographically, but spiritually.

Samaria was that land between Judea to the south and Galilee to the north; it was the most direct route for Jesus’ journey. But most Jews avoided it like the plague, for reasons we’ll soon see. They crossed the Jordan River to the east, traveled north through Perea, and then re-crossed the Jordan into Galilee.

But not Jesus. He was compelled by the Spirit of God to go through this forsaken, despised, rejected region.

He found himself at Sychar, the modern village of Askar. It was an important place historically; Joseph’s bones were buried there (Joshua 24:32), and the “well of Jacob” was located half a mile south. The well is 100 feet deep; you can still drink its water today.

It is the “sixth hour” (v. 6), 12:00 noon, the hottest part of the day. So Jesus sits on the wooden platform built around the mouth of the well. And talks to a Samaritan woman, one of the most shocking things our Lord ever did on this planet.

Why the shock?

She is a Samaritan, and “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (v. 9). When the Assyrian king captured the Jewish Northern Kingdom, he replaced the Jews in Samaria with foreigners who worshiped the Lord but also their own idolatrous gods. The Jews despised them, so they built their own Temple on Mt. Gerazim to rival the one in Jerusalem, rejected all the books of the Jewish Bible except the first five, and made their own high priest.

In 129 B.C., John Hyrcanus led the Jews to attack Samaria and destroy their temple. In retaliation, the Samaritans worked with the Romans against the Jews. They welcomed all who had been excommunicated by the Jews. And so the Jews considered them the worst of the human race. And this woman is one of them.

She is a woman. And no Jewish rabbi would speak to a woman in public—not even his own wife, daughter, or sister.

And she is a sinner. She has had five husbands, and is living with a sixth man now. She is so rejected by her society that she must walk half a mile, past 80 springs in the area, to get water during the heat of the day.

What would people think if they saw a visiting rabbi, a single man, alone with the most notorious adulteress in town?

Jesus doesn’t care what the crowds or disciples will think. He cares only for this lonely soul. If he cares about her, he cares about you. And me. If he knows her past, he knows ours. If he knows her failings, he knows ours. He knows our troubles at work, our problems at school, our frustrations with our parents or our children. He knows our temptations and weaknesses. He knows who we are when no one else is looking. And if he would accept her, he will accept us.

But there’s a string attached.

Worship him with the passion he deserves (vs. 21-26)

The woman has asked Jesus where they should worship—on Mt. Gerazim or in Jerusalem. Hear his reply: “…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (v. 23). Why? Because “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (v. 24).

Anyone can worship God. As Augustine said, we can trust our past to God’s mercy, our present to his love, and our future to his providence. Any of us can know God as he truly is. But only if we worship him “in spirit and truth.” Let’s explore both.

First, we must worship God “in spirit.”


The Cure For An Injured Soul

The Cure for an Injured Soul

John 9:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

Readers’ Digest recently reported on the Wacky Warning Label Contest and some of the actual warning labels it recognized this year. In 4th place: a five-inch fishing lure with three steel hooks and the label warning that it is “harmful if swallowed.” Let’s hope fish can’t read the label. And the Grand Prize winner: a bottle of drain cleaner which contains this warning: “If you do not understand or cannot read all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product.” If I couldn’t read or understand the label, how would it help?

These examples aside, life really does need warning labels. Florida is still recovering from Hurricane Charley. The fledgling democracy in Iraq is still under constant barrage and terror attacks. The three-year anniversary of 9-11 is approaching. Our world has never been more fallen or flawed than it is today.

This morning we will discover the cure for injured souls. In our text Jesus claims, “I am the light of the world.” The “I” is emphatic. He is the light of the “world,” not just the church, or religion, or Sunday. Light for every room of our lives, no matter how dark.

Where are you in the dark today? What guilt from the past or fear of the future plagues you today? Are you worried about the new school year for yourself or your kids? Are you worried about the economy and the election? Is your marriage or body in pain? Do you know someone whose eyes need healing today? Here’s what to do.

Know that God knows your pain (v. 1)

Our story occurs on a Sabbath (v. 14). Jesus has returned to Judea, where he has been teaching in the temple courts (John 8:2). It is mid-October; the annual Feast of Tabernacles has just occurred.

Now Jesus notices a man who could not see him: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1).

The Greek word translated “saw” here means to fix the gaze, to look earnestly. Jesus gave him more than a passing glance—he paid attention to his predicament.

And when he saw the man, he saw his need: he was “blind from birth.”

Simple observation could not have told him this. How would anyone know when the man’s blindness had begun?

It’s possible that the man told him, or that his reputation preceded him (cf. v. 8). But the syntax suggests to me that the instant Jesus saw the man he knew that his blindness was congenital. If he could heal this man’s blindness, he could certainly determine its source. And he knew this man had no medical options. He needed not a physician, but a miracle.

What Jesus knew of this man, he knows today of you: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (Psalm 139:15-18). The Physician who saw this man and his need sees yours. The blind man could not see Jesus, as we cannot see him today. But the one who cannot see is visible to the One who can.

He sees you and your problems today: “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Our prayers do not inform God of our needs; rather, they yield them to the only One who can solve them.

Pain is isolating. We think no one knows our problem. But the One we cannot see, can see us. Where you are, at this moment. He has stopped at your side today, whether you know it or not.

Bring your pain to your Father (vs. 2-7)

The disciples relate to the man not with compassion but curiosity: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2).

The rabbis taught the same: “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity” (Rabbi Ammi, Shab. 55a). The Pharisees said to the man, “You were steeped in sin at birth” (v. 34).

Hindus believe that present suffering is punishment for previous wrongs. Buddhists teach that all suffering is due to wrong desire. Muslims believe that the pain we experience is part of Allah’s will for our lives.

Christians know that much of life’s pain is the result of our own misused free will. We’ve seen marriages end because of adultery, drug users contract AIDS, alcoholics die of cirrhosis of the liver.

And so it is easy to think that all suffering is our fault and God’s punishment.

But Jesus disagrees: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). A better translation is, “this happened with the result that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Some suffering is the result of sin. If that’s the case for you, God is waiting to forgive every sin you’ll confess, and give you his healing and hope (1 John 1:8-10).

But much of the world’s grief and pain is not the result of anyone’s sin or failure. Remember Job’s plight; think of the 9-11 victims; remember Jesus’ innocent crucifixion. To attribute all suffering to sin often increases the suffering of the innocent.

So bring your hurting eyes to your Father, however they were blinded. Do not allow your grief or guilt to keep you from him. We need a doctor most when our pain is at its worst. We don’t wait to bathe until we’re clean. We don’t avoid the kitchen until our hunger passes. Come to God with your pain today.