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BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM

She’s an instructor at Curves.

One of three.

I’ve asked leading questions of all of them

while I was working the machines.

But it was “Sandi” in whom I sensed a little spark.

So it seemed time to have a real conversation about what matters most.

I asked her to lunch.

And so we went — last Wednesday.

 

TABLE FOR TWO BY VICKI WARNER

 

Before we were even out of the Curves parking lot, she initiated things, telling me she had really been thinking about one of my questions — and so I asked her if I could tell her my story. She said, “Yes.” And so, before we even arrived at the restaurant, I told her how I had come to believe Jesus was God, and what He meant to me.

When we sat down I told her I sensed a hunger in her. That I wondered if God was wooing her.

She said, “I don’t mean to make you feel badly — but I don’t think you can fix the emptiness in me over lunch.”

I nodded. We ordered our salads. She was quiet, and I waited, wanting to hear whatever it was that was keeping her from Christ.

She had some of the usual objections. I had them once too. I don’t think you can live in this world and not have these questions because you hear them all the time. She said:

  • I don’t like it when people think they know the way to heaven or imply that the other religions are wrong.
  • What about the people who never hear about Jesus?

I listened. I shared some of the things that Keller says in the wonderful message you will hear this week. Good truths I’ve heard before but expressed in fresh ways. Things we need to have in our hearts so we will be ready, as Peter says, to explain the hope that is within us. Oh — we’ll feel awkward — and we’ll stumble — especially if we care deeply about the person to whom we are speaking. When I’m with my sister Bonnie I get as quivery as jello — it’s just so important to me that she hear and understand — even though I know that is not up to me ultimately.

One of my all time favorite CD’s is Sara Grove’s Conversations, and the leading song describes exactly how tongue-tied I can get when I talk about what matters most. This is a good You-tube version:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QVykEC1VIs

This is the chorus of “Conversations:”

I would like to share with you what makes me complete.

I don’t claim to have found the Truth, but I know it has found me. . .

the only thing that isn’t meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and and way he set me free.

This is all that I have. This is all that I am

I love the line: “I don’t claim to have found the Truth, but I know it has found me…”

That’s how it is. I didn’t know if Jesus was wooing Sandi or not, but I thought He might be.

I do know that without Him we are SO blind. One of her objections shocked me, and I knew she had it because the blindfold was still in place. She said:

It doesn’t seem right to me that, at the end of my life,

if I have refused to be forgiven by Jesus, that I go to hell.

I asked,

But wouldn’t you be so thankful that there is a way to be forgiven?

When I dropped her off, back at Curves, she said “I’m sorry to have this time end.” I thought You are not shutting down. He must be wooing you. And Saturday, when I went in, she had a gift for me.

Somehow I think I’m not the only one sowing seeds — somehow I think that beneath the dark soil, a little seed might be germinating. Life might be coming…


I hope you’ll take copious notes on the Keller message to prepare you for “conversations.” A few of the things I remember are:

NO OTHER FOUNDER OF ANY RELIGION

MAKES THE CLAIMS JESUS MADE

 

WHO DOES HE SAY THAT HE IS?

THE GREAT I AM


HE DIDN’T HAVE A BEGINNING

HE WAS WITH GOD, CREATING THE WORLD

HE MADE THE SEAS

AND ALL THAT SWIM WITHIN


HE SAYS OUTLANDISH THINGS SUCH AS

I KEEP SENDING PROPHETS AND WISE MEN TO YOU

AND YOU KEEP KILLING THEM

 

HIS CLAIMS ARE ASTOUNDING

AS R. C. SPROUL THUNDERS:

 

HE COMES AS THE DOOR

Photograph by Mark Paul Bishop, M.D. from Wisconsin

He comes as the Resurrection.

He comes as the Light.

He comes as the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

He comes as the Good Shepherd.

He comes as the Vine.

He is the One who before Abraham was, is.

 

The passage we are studying this week is one of the richest in all of Scripture. It’s so rich that I long for you to take extra time. One reason people fast a meal during Lent is to give themselves extra time with the Lord. Consider that if you are pressed for time.

Not only does it explore the fascinating question, “Who does Jesus say He is?” but the frightening but important truth that so many who think they have found the way may, indeed, not have found the way.

I’ll share more about this in the Bible study lesson — a thought that is swirling and swirling around in me — and which I long to have a conversation with you, my dear sisters who are seeking the truth.

SUNDAY/MONDAY: ICE-BREAKERS

1. What stands out to you from the above, and why?

2. Can you think of a moment in your life when you began to realize that Jesus might be God — not just a prophet — but God? If so, what do you remember?

3. Report on your Lenten discipline. I am going to suggest that this week your discipline be doing all of this lesson! But walk in His Spirit.

Bible Study: Monday – Wednesday

This is the fierce argument the Pharisees have with Jesus and it is dense truth — so go slowly during this holy Lenten week. I’m suggesting two Keller sermons: one for 2.50 and one free sermon. Hopefully you can listen to both, for I would hate to have you miss the one that is entitled I Am The I Am. The second one supplements, but goes into a bit more detail about the question swirling about in my mind, and which I had when I talked to Sandi. The Pharisees were in bondage, but they couldn’t see it. They thought they were saved, but they weren’t. How many people who think they are Christians, are even in Bible teaching churches, are deceived, and are not really saved? Here are the big questions: If you are religious to feel good about yourself — if you are doing Bible study, giving to the poor, and going to church — all to feel good about yourself, but not loving God — is it possible you are not saved, even if you can explain the gospel? That question has been swirling about in me, and continues as I read this passage and listen to these sermons. And here’s another one. Is there a danger in issuing an invitation that is more on the basis of what you will get from God than on who He is? Keller has said that we should confront idols right off the bat. These are the questions swirling in my mind.We’ll take them up at the end — so please get to the end!

I am so thankful for this group. The very fact that you are doing the lessons and listening to the sermons without getting a lot of praise for doing so is evidence to me that we have true seekers of God here. How you bless me!

Let’s do the lesson — and then contemplate these hard questions. Ask God to help us all!

Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

 

It’s the Festival of Lights. Jesus is in the Temple surrounded by candles, and He astounds them all as He claims:

I AM the Light of the World.

Background for sermon passage

1. Read the dynamite of John 8:12-20.

A. Describe the debate.

B. Who does Jesus think He is? Find several astounding statements and comment on them. (Go slowly.)

2. Read John 8:21-30

A. Find evidence for blindfolds on the Pharisees.

B. What does He tell them they have to do to be saved and how do they respond? (vs. 24-25)

C. What do you think He means by verse 28? (I’m asking because I am puzzled. Does He mean some of them will believe?)

3. Read John 8:31-38

They are trusting in the fact that they are “offspring” of Abraham. Yet what evidence does Jesus give that they are not saved?

4. Read John 8:39-47

A. Our father is either Satan or God. Find characteristics of each family.

B. Why does Jesus say they do not believe? (vs. 43) What does this mean?

C. Keller says the real hesitancy to Christ is moral rather than intellectual. People don’t want to give up what they think is  freedom. Do you agree with Keller?

D. Give an example of how a surrender to God in any area of your life led to real freedom. Several of you last week: Chris, Rebecca, Anne, Elizabeth, Pollyanna — more — commented on your increasing awareness of God’s goodness. This, I believe, is what helps us surrender. Eager for testimonies!

5.  Read John 8:48-59

A. Trace the debate — the accusations of the Pharisees and the responses of Jesus.

48: accusation

49-51  response

52-53 accusation

54-56 response

57 accusation

58 response

B. What are the implications of “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

C. How did the Pharisees respond? Why, do you think?

Thursday/Friday (The sermon, or if possible sermons)

The main sermon is 2.50 (I think I promised no more than 10 this Lent, so may have reached my promise limit. But this one is so key I’d hate to have you miss it. However, if you really can’t afford it, the supplemental one covers some of the same issues, but is on a different passage. )

The first link is to the 2.50 sermon entitled I AM the I AM.

http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=17296&ParentCat=6

6. Give us your notes, and as you write them, think of how you might make these statements when you have “conversations” with unbelievers.

7. He also addresses how it is so easy to trust in religion instead of God. What notes do you have?

 

Supplemental Sermon: How To Find The Way http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/how-find-way

8. If you listened to this, write down key points.

9. Would love your input on the questions swirling in my head:

A. If you are religious to feel good about yourself — if you are doing Bible study, giving to the poor, and going to church — all to feel good about yourself, but not loving God — is it possible you are not saved, even if you can explain the gospel?

B. Is there a danger in issuing an invitation that is more on the basis of what you will get from God than on who He is? If so, how would that impact your evangelistic conversations?

Saturday:

10. What’s your take-a-way for the week and why?

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484 comments

  1. Saturday:
    10. What’s your take-a-way for the week and why?
    (Kim—I changed my avatar in thought of you—the 50 tulips my husband planted in the fall just started popping up)

    Kind of of two parts to my take-away—both come from what Dee said above, “The Pharisees were in bondage, but they couldn’t see it. They thought they were saved, but they weren’t. How many people who think they are Christians, are even in Bible teaching churches, are deceived, and are not really saved?”

    1)Part of me didn’t want to have to answer #9A. I want to say it’s not up to me to determine, it’s like the time we studied the soils…only God knows and sees the heart. I asked myself why I didn’t want to answer—I think it makes me uncomfortable to think about them–about those on the fence who call themselves Christians; those on the Broad Way. I feel completely humbled to be on the narrow Way—to be chosen by Him—for I know it was nothing I did. And then too maybe I feel responsible to engage—as Dee did with Sandi, as Diane did at her tea. I feel convicted that while I love to pray for others—I do not step out in bold faith to share the Gospel. I’ve been taught many “ways”—even recently we went through a class at church, and maybe it’s that I tried twice in the past with very intellectual professed atheist and “failed”—I know it’s the Spirit’s work, and yet I also know we are called to share the Gospel. I’ve also let the lack of opportunity be my excuse—and yet—hearing Dee’s example, I have no more excuse. And she didn’t use a memorized track, she shared her time, her ears, her heart. I don’t know where He wants to use me, but I want to be willing, and ready.

    2)I also asked myself the ways I am still like a Pharisee–in bondage and don’t see it—at least not at first. I am having to give up more and more “control”. I can be so stubborn about the “right way” (my way) of doing anything around the house—I don’t use those words, but…I’m also continually apologizing for my lack of patience, my irritability—it’s so humbling and exposing. Yet last night in the bath, I just asked Him to please use this—use this all for Him, somehow—don’t let me miss it by not seeing what I am still clinging to—I want Him to use it to shape me.

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s study!

    1. 😉 Did you make it through the week alright without your hubby?

  2. What’s your take away for the week?

    I think what I will take away most is the image of Jesus stating “I AM.” The holiness, the power of who He was. All the bible study and sermons point to that. And love to be reminded that Jesus said outlandish things; He’s not a Jesus who is all precious moments but a Warrior King.

    Also Aunt Dee’s conversation with the woman at Curves; to ask God to show me times I can have a conversation, and use the leading questions to get women to open up a little. Am pondering all that!

  3. 9. Would love your input on the questions swirling in my head:

    A. If you are religious to feel good about yourself — if you are doing Bible study, giving to the poor, and going to church — all to feel good about yourself, but not loving God — is it possible you are not saved, even if you can explain the gospel?

    Oh yeah. But being religious doesn’t make me feel very good about myself because my track record hasn’t been very good for several years, but I do love God 🙂

    I’ve been thinking about this for months; we’re told in Scripture that people will know we are His by our fruit. But I am thankful that only God knows our hearts — and that He is gracious. Fruit grows at different rates, and the quality of fruit varies, and I guess you could even hang fake fruit on trees. It seems as if different denominations have different measures to assess whether someone is really a believer (e.g., baptism, altar call, repeating the prayer… maybe even being able to explain the gospel). When I think about this question too much, I get nervous. Like others, I’ve had some assurance when some people died because I knew/thought that they had believed in Jesus. When I think about it too much, I wonder “what if ‘X’ really wasn’t a believer?” I think sometimes our spirits can discern when someone really is a believer. Sometimes those who talk the best talk are real jerks!

    It’s pretty easy to answer “yes” to the question, but really hard to apply it to specific people. I know that my righteousness is in Him alone; but at one time, it was easy to turn things like a “decision for Christ” into a behavior or hoop to jump through. When thinking about whether others are believers, it’s important for me to love others in response to His love for me. Explaining the Gospel to someone who already can explain it might not be the best approach. Yet, I can’t assume that a godly heart is present with churchy talk.

    Dee, no wonder this swirls around in your head. It’s hard to respond in a way that makes sense, even though I think I know what I believe 🙂

    B. Is there a danger in issuing an invitation that is more on the basis of what you will get from God than on who He is? If so, how would that impact your evangelistic conversations?

    Maybe! I think it’s most important that our lives reflect who God is — and that comes out in speech, too. But in terms of specific evangelistic conversations, it depends… Although I wouldn’t intentionally leave out who God is, each specific conversation may not include EVERYTHING. Also, I think of Jesus. He often met people at the point of their need, and I don’t think (I haven’t looked!) He claimed to be God every time. I’ve been thinking about Matthew 11:28 (Come unto me all ye that labor… learned it in KJV first) this week; but when I looked up the verse, I saw that Jesus was talking about his relationship with his Father just before. But I do agree that the focus shouldn’t be “come to Jesus to get all your problems solved” — both because of who Jesus is, and also because those responding might get new problems!

  4. Take away:

    “I AM” His power, His glory, His LIFE.

  5. My takeaway?

    I AM means I have always existed. Nothing exists without me existing first. Everything IS because of me. WOW. (and duh)!

  6. 9. Would love your input on the questions swirling in my head:

    A. If you are religious to feel good about yourself – if you are doing Bible study, giving to the poor, and going to church – all to feel good about yourself, but not loving God – is it possible you are not saved, even if you can explain the gospel?

    This is such a hard question. I am sure churches representing every denomination are filled with many who are not saved. I recall a patient, a woman I met many years ago. She was in her late 50’s. We were talking and she told me how she and her husband were active church members all their married life, but about 5 years ago, they were saved. They had been faithful members, serving, teaching, witnessing – and then the light went on that they had never received Jesus by faith themselves.
    Sometimes I wonder, as many of our churches become larger and larger, and you are kind of anonymous in them; meaning the pastors cannot possibly know every person in a personal way, and people aren’t really getting discipled – that many slip through the cracks that way.
    But, I think there is a danger in Christians slipping into that, too. I think of the letter to the church in Ephesus, in Revelation 2, where Jesus says,
    “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men…you have endured hardships for My name….yet I hold this against you; you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”

    We can get busy, serving and being at the church every time the doors are open, even witnessing, yet forget and forsake our first love.

    Oh, and I can relate to Joyce and her white dress! I started to go to church by myself when I was in high school and college, a small Methodist church. I would wear my sister’s dress – it was white with lace trim and little blue flowers. I imagined I looked quite lovely and “pure” sitting there in church. The minister even came to our house to visit and talked to me and my mom. In fact, I had several conversations with the minister – he was a very nice man and became a friend – he always told me when I got married, he wanted to be a part of my wedding. When I got out of college, I met my husband, who was Catholic, and started to attend his church. During our engagement, we had several meetings with the priest for premarital counseling, and got to know him quite well, too. My minister friend – I also called him and he and the priest married us in the Catholic church – since my side of the family was not Catholic. These were very kind, wonderful men, but neither one ever really asked me about my spiritual condition, or presented the gospel to me. I was as lost as lost could be.

  7. B. Is there a danger in issuing an invitation that is more on the basis of what you will get from God than on who He is? If so, how would that impact your evangelistic conversations?

    I’m thinking about how evangelism was done in the Bible. Like in Acts, Peter goes through a short history course through Scripture, shows how it all points to Jesus, how Jesus died for them, and the emphasis is on repentance and turning to Him in faith. I think it was Philip who explained the Scriptures to the Ethiopian on the road, causing him to believe. Paul preached Christ everywhere he went. It seems their emphasis was on who Jesus is, and, in light of that – that He is God – you need to repent and be saved; turn away from other gods to the true God and believe.
    I guess we need to be careful that we’re not presenting Him as the “great problem solver”, without engaging a person’s mind and intellect. Jesus often asked this question, “Who do you say I am?” How can a person place their faith in Jesus, if they aren’t really sure who He is? It is who He is that opens our eyes to our dire circumstances in relationship to Him, that makes us tremble.
    Like many have shared, I really struggle in this area. In my head, I can think of all kinds of great things to say, then when I try to share, I falter. I think so much of it is the approval idol kicking in – what if I look stupid, what if I can’t answer a question, what if I lose the relationship b/c now they think I’m weird? Isn’t is wonderful the apostles didn’t have that problem? Approval?! – Hah – they were beaten, thrown in jail, run out of towns, eventually martyred; John was exiled.

    Here’s a “mental picture” – what if, when we went to tell someone about Jesus, that He was really standing right next to us, and we took hold of His hand and went up to our friend or whoever, and said, “Hey, I have someone I’d like to introduce you to, let me tell you all about Him”. Would we feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or have nothing to say about Him?

    1. I appreciate your mental picture here Susan, food for thought.

  8. 10. What’s your take-away for the week and why?

    I looked again at that picture of the table set for two. Here are my thoughts – this picture represents to me a picture of our relationship with Jesus. An intimate, table for two – long conversations, sharing our heart, listening to Him speak to us (oh how often I do most of the talking and need to listen more!). If this could be what we strive to maintain – unbroken fellowship and intimacy with Him – then, in regards to sharing Him with others, it would be as natural as pulling up more chairs to the table and asking others to join in.
    Isn’t this what we studied weeks ago in 1 John? “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3-4). The joy of pulling up more chairs, of inviting others into the circle. We love to do this with our family and friends – why not with Jesus?!

    I also take-away a renewed image of Jesus. Strong, bold, courageous, pushing the envelope, not backing down – not backing down even to those who He knew would pursue His death – like staring down the lion with its open mouth and teeth bared. (Only they didn’t know HE was the real lion) The Keller sermon and how we studied the passage in John 8 and the debate helped me see Him in a whole new way. Jesus was always very clear, never wishy-washy, never settling for the middle ground. He always was an “all or nothing” Jesus – why would He let us be anything different?

  9. 10. What’s your take-a-way for the week and why?

    It was good for me to write my surrender story down. It helped me to share some of it with my sister who lost her husband in October. There is a long and difficult history between her and the rest of the family.

    Opening up my mind to who Jesus really is, seeing the whole picture of Him in scripture, and beginning to depend on His love, frees me to let Him have all of me. Really trusting Him, not hiding parts of myself or refusing to believe He wants to help lowly pitiful me. I pray that this growth of trust will continue in me.

    I keep thinking about, I shared this too with my sister, the recent thought Dee presented ‘If I fear God I needn’t fear anything else’. I hope to go and learn what this meaneth!

  10. EXODUS 3: 14-15
    15 gives a similar explanation: God, asked by Moses for his name, provides three names: “I Am That I Am”, followed by “I Am”, and finally “YHWH”:

    אהיה אשר אהיה … כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם: … יהוה אלהי אבתיכם … זה־שמי לעלם …

    When Jesus gave this answer to the Pharisees who demanded to know who He thought He was. Jesus gave Himself the most sacred of names for GOD in the Hebrew language. Yahweh, is considered to be the Covenant Name for God and was not used often in the Old Testament because of its intimate meaning.
    Which is why when Jesus reveals His Deity to them, verse 59 of John chapter 8 says,” they picked up stones to throw at HIM.” The punishment in Hebrew law for blasphemy was stoning ( Leviticus.24:14-16)
    Of course we also learn in this verse that Jesus passed in the midst of them. His time had not yet come.

    We often hear others say how, ” they are on a path to God and are still searching.”
    ” All paths lead to God.” ” we all have an inner god.”

    But when you read the Words of Jesus, He clearly points out who He is. Which narrows the search. His claims of who He is are not compromises.
    Jesus Christ did not come here to look for compromisers. He never said take what I say lightly or take only what makes you comfortable in my words.
    If He is who He says He is, GOD. There is no compromise in those Words!

    And if you only have head knowledge of who Jesus is, that is still not enough.
    He wants all of you. Because by revealing Himself as Yahweh, He reveals the fact that He is seeking a Covenant relationship with those who are searching for God.

    ” I AM the Truth, the Light, the Way” John 14:6

    pretty much narrows the search!

    Love the Keller sermon, listened to it several times over and was in awe of the lesson!