Dec
11

In Him Was Life!

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In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
(John 1:1-5, NLT)

The life giving life of Jesus, according to John’s nativity, was designed to provide light for those who live in darkness. To fully appreciate the interaction between light and dark we have to refer back to the creation story. Check this out.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.
(Genesis 1:1-4, NLT)

God’s first recorded words in Scripture were, “Let there be light.” Light is purposeful, because light reveals. When I was a kid, my parents took me to Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri. In the middle of the tour, the guide turned off the lights and told us that we were in absolute darkness. We were encouraged to wave our hands in front of our faces, and sure enough, we couldn’t see a thing! In a sense, darkness is nothing more than the absence of light.

Creation unfolded with light being introduced into absolute darkness. Like a high intensity surgical lamp, it reveals.

Light and darkness are opposites, but not equals. In the creation story darkness is not eliminated, its subordinated. If we use light and dark as metaphors for good and evil, the same principle is true. Good and evil are opposite but not equal. Evil has not been eliminated, its been subordinated.

But the good news is that in the end, both darkness and evil will be eradicated. Years later, the Apostle John would conclude the Revelation with this word of encouragement as he described the New Jerusalem:

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5, NIV)

Tomorrow I’ll return to John 1 and share three responses to the light. Thanks for checking in!

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
06

In Him Was Life!

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“In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.”
(John 1:1-4)

We usually turn to Matthew and Luke’s gospels to study the Christmas story. There we find the simplicity of the nativity, complemented with shepherd’s and Magi from the east. John’s gospel gives us a different, more abstract view of the same. In the prologue (1:1-18), John presents the birth of Jesus through three different phrases, the first of which is “In him was life.”

The New Testament uses three Greek words for life. The first is bios, (as in biography and biology) which describes the period or duration of one’s physical life. The second word is psuche, which describes the psychological life of the soul. John’s word, however, is zoe, which is the unique quality and quantity of God’s life. Apparently he really loved this word, because he used it 36 times in his gospel, frequently coupling it with the word “eternal.”

Therefore, John’s first observation about the advent of Jesus is that he came into the world to demonstrate and make available the life of God to whoever would believe and receive it.

Have you ever noticed those car commercials that appear on television during the holidays? The scene is set with the perfect, nuclear family awakening on Christmas morning to gather around the perfectly adorned tree. Every hair is in place and not one bed sheet wrinkle is on anyone’s face. The camera then zooms to the father, who looks out the front window toward the driveway where, lo and behold! A brand new luxury car awaits with a big bow on top! He is overjoyed that his wife would be so generous and thoughtful! Who wouldn’t be?

As the advertisement draws to a close, a dollar amount appears in bold lettering on the screen to share how affordable and attainable a luxury car can be. But then comes the fine print. Yes, the base model of the vehicle sounds reasonable, but if you want the fully loaded version in the commercial, the price is, well, much greater.

There are a lot of people, I believe, who have settled for the “base model” of life. They have the basic model but are not living anywhere remotely close to the fully loaded package. That’s why Jesus came to earth. He came into a world to live in the midst of people who were living base model lives, not knowing that life as God intended is the fully loaded package. The good news of the gospel is that you don’t have to endure living with a physical and psychological existence. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). You can have the quality and quantity of God’s life because he’s made it available through Jesus.

Categories : Advent, Christmas, John
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Dec
04

I Am Unqualified

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Deborah is one of the more under valued characters in the Old Testament, I believe, for a couple of reasons. For one, her story comprises a small section compared to the extensive coverage of characters like Joseph, Moses and David. The other issue, of course, is that Deborah is a woman, and many traditions don’t know exactly what to do with her.

The Book of Judges describes her as carrying dual offices. She was a prophet, whose responsibility was to receive and communicate direct revelation from God, and she was a judge, called upon to arbitrate disputes. Even with those offices she seems an unlikely and unqualified person to fulfill the task at hand.

What task? That requires a bit of background. In Judges chapter 4 we find that Israel had once again done evil in the eyes of the Lord and had been turned over to the tyrannical rule of a Canaanite king named Jabin. King Jabin’s commander was a rude dude named Sisera who in turn ruthlessly oppressed Israel. And predictably, Israel once again cried out to God for help.

No leader from Israel would stand up to the oppression. God spoke to Deborah and shared his promise of deliverance. When Deborah transmitted the message to Barak, he refused to go without her. She agreed to go, but with the clear understanding that “You (Barak) will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9). Yes, Deborah was a woman, but she also lacked any kind of military background or experience. Since Israel had no centralized government, she didn’t possess any form of commission from a formal leader. Not to mention, but four of the tribes of Israel refused to respond to the call to arms. Ultimately, she didn’t permit any of these things to stand in her way because she valued to calling and the promises of God more than anything else.

Deborah causes me to wonder and think about the God given opportunities that I have passed on because I have done the quick math of self assessment and considered myself “unqualified.” At the end of it all, God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16, NIV)

When I was in seminary, I had the chance to meet one of the professors of vocal music. As we got to know one another he suggested that I consider taking private voice lessons to strengthen my preaching voice. He pointed out the benefits of breath control, projection, and of course, overall care for my vocal chords. I was genuinely interested, until I discovered that as part of his course he would require me to sing a solo in a recital. That was the deal breaker. Looking back it probably wouldn’t have been that painful, but my initial response was stark because I don’t like the sound of my own voice. I mean I can’t stand to hear myself speak, let alone sing. (My congregation would question this claim!)

That’s why I enjoy corporate worship. We’re better together! I can sing at the top of my lungs and somehow I blend right in. Because others sing, songs of praise and thanksgiving are easy. Its also easy because I’ve been remarkably blessed.

I don’t like those sermons that are directed toward people who are presumed to be thankless. I really think people as a whole are grateful. If we stop long enough to think about it, how can we deny the manifold blessings from the generous and open hand of God?

But what about those times when thanksgiving is hard? Yes, we are blessed, but we’re also burdened from time to time with various issues including poor health, financial difficulties, wayward children, relational strife, and more. In those moments when life has dealt a hard hand, thanksgiving can be a challenge, making it hard to see all of the good through the lens of the problem.

It was my wife who pointed out to me that the Bible acknowledges that praise can be difficult at times. Hebrews 13:15 calls us to offer, “the sacrifice of praise.” The word sacrifice would have drawn the original hearers to those Old Testament sacrifices that were offered throughout the Jewish calendar year during times of feasts and festivals. For our modern purposes, we understand that a sacrifice is something that comes with a cost. Like David, we acknowledge that we “will not offer anything that costs us nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). The sacrifice of praise is conditioned by the word continual, meaning we are never exempt from the responsibility of offering praise and thanks to God.

So how do we do that? Hebrews 13:15 mentions that we offer “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Praise is the fruit of lips rooted in a heart that is inclined toward God. Jesus said that it is from the abundance of our hearts that our mouths speak (Luke 6:45). In other words, what’s in the heart will be revealed through the lips. If my heart is full of gratitude toward God, my lips will praise him, regardless of how difficult it may be.

I’ve never been a fan of the refrigerator magnet theology that boasts “praise God anyway” in the midst of adversity. Come to think of it, I don’t even know what that means. But I do know this. Life can be hard and filled with hurt. When it is, the praise I offer in those moments is received by God as a sacrificial gift of great value. My prayer is that I will be just as willing to praise God when its difficult as when its easy.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Oct
29

THINK Before You Speak

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This is certainly not original, but I was reminded of this principle recently and wanted to share it. It’s titled, “THINK Before You Speak,” and works as an outstanding guide to help remember some important guidelines for conversations.

Before you speak, ask these five questions:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Important?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

The apostle Paul would say it this way. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Categories : Uncategorized
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Today I finished an exceptional book by Jon Gordon titled, “Training Camp.” Its a leadership fable, written in the fashion of Ken Blanchard and Patrick Lencioni. The impact is tremendous. The fable that Gordon offers is built around 11 principles that help us move from good to great. Here’s the list:

1. The best know what they truly want.
2. The best want it more.
3. The best are always striving to get better.
4. The best do ordinary things better than anyone else.
5. The best “zoom-focus”.
6. The best are mentally stronger.
7. The best overcome their fear(s).
8. The best seize the moment.
9. The best tap into a greater power than themselves.
10. The best leave a legacy.
11. The best make everyone around them better.

Intrigued? Let me recommend this outstanding work to you. Its a quick and easy read that delivers incredible help to those who are tired of being average.

Categories : Books, Leadership
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Aug
28

Pray for Houston

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Father in heaven,

Be present in Houston today:

For those who suffer,
For those who are displaced, and
For those whose lives will never be the same.

We pray that family and friends who are separated will be safely reunited.

We pray for the leaders of the communities that are impacted, for the leaders of the state of Texas, and for those who guide and direct federal assistance.

We pray especially for those who are first to respond and the last to leave.

May your mercy and grace abound.

Amen

Categories : Uncategorized
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If we were to ask Moses to tell us about himself at the end of Exodus chapter 2, he would self describe as an 80 year old man with a past, who has found himself living the simple life of a shepherd in the Midian desert.
God had other plans for Moses and called him to return to Egypt to deliver the people of God from slavery. Moses was understandably reluctant to accept such a large assignment. His reluctance was so great he determined to argue with God about his personal worthiness. He does so by making five telling objections.

Objection #1: “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11)
In other words, Moses offers that he doesn’t think he can handle the assignment. One might note that he had already tried once to deliver an Israelite from the hand of an Egyptian taskmaster resulting in the taskmaster’s death. In response to his question, God offered his presence. He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

Objection #2: “What is your name?” (Exodus 3:13)
With this question, Moses is seeking authority. Names are necessary for relationships. It is the first thing one does when meeting a new person. If someone withholds their name, they are maintaining relational distance. Names signify intimacy, closeness and availability. In response, God provided not only his name, but a promise. In the following verses God outlined exactly what he was going to do through Moses (Exodus 3:14-22). And every word of his promise came true. But that still wasn’t enough.

Objection #3: “What if they don’t believe me?” (Exodus 4:1)
God’s answer to this question is interesting. “What is in your hand?” In Moses hand was his shepherd’s staff. One might assume that he used it with his livestock for a two-fold purpose–to provide direction and for protection. The point here is that from this moment in the story, the staff of Moses would be called the staff of God. The common, everyday item became uncommon when placed in the hands of almighty God (Exodus 4:2-9). God provided his power and enablement for Moses to accomplish the task he was called to perform.

Objection #4: “I am not eloquent.” (Exodus 4:10)
Moses appears to be reaching at this point. In Stephen’s sermon of Acts 7, he called Moses, “powerful in both speech and action” (Acts 7:22). Perhaps Moses has lost his confidence in Egyptian palace protocol. Nonetheless, God stated that he would provide Moses with the words he would need to speak (Exodus 4:11-12).

Objection #5: “Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)
Moses is finally reduced to admitting he didn’t want the assignment. God had pledged his presence, had made his promise, had offered his power, and guaranteed for his provision. God’s final response was to commend to Moses a partner for the task, his brother Aaron.

Do you hear or see yourself in any of these objections? Has fear caused you to become reluctant to respond to God’s invitation to serve him? The resources God provided Moses are the same resources he offers us today.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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Aug
22

Moses: “I am Afraid”

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Moses stands apart from many Old Testament characters in that he served as the great deliverer and law giver of Israel. He is a picture of strength and courage in the face of incredible odds. His feats of faith would establish him as one of the most revered of all the leaders of God’s people. If Israel had a Mount Rushmore, he would certainly be included in the memorial.

But he didn’t start that way. His story begins with fear and reluctance, standing barefoot before a burning bush, making excuse after excuse as to why he could not return to Egypt (Exodus 3:1-4:17). On the surface we see his hesitation, but beneath the surface we observe a man overcome by fear.

Why is Moses so afraid? For one thing, he has a past. Prior to this encounter with God we have two small vignettes from his biography that are forty years apart. There’s the story of his birth, hidden in the reeds along the water’s edge then taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter. Then, four decades later, his curiosity drives him to try to re-connect with his true people, only to lose his temper and commit murder. This murder would cause him to flee for his life to the Midian desert. So you can understand why he would be afraid to return to Egypt. He has a past.

Another issue Moses has is the fact that at the time of God’s call he is 80 years old. When I think of being 80 years old I think of being in the twilight of my life. For Moses, 80 meant a brand new start.

Moses certainly has reason to be afraid, no doubt about it. But he doesn’t see in himself what God sees in him. This is often true of us as well. God invites us to become involved in his Kingdom mission because he sees in us something we can’t see in ourselves.

What does God give us in our moments of hesitation and reluctance? I’ll take that up in part two of this post.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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Aug
14

Paper or Plastic?

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For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not of ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NLT)

We keep an empty gallon milk jug in our pantry. No, its not full of milk. Its been rinsed out and has a hole cut in its side and we use it to store our empty plastic grocery bags. The “single use bag” was developed by a firm in Sweden back in the 1960’s and made its way across the Atlantic in 1979. While many companies were trying to figure out what to do with this new material, it was the grocery stores that saw the value. They discovered they could save as much as 20% in the bagging costs by switching to these plastic bags versus offering the traditional paper sacks. In 1982, Kroger Stores introduced them to customers, followed quickly by Safeway. By 1985, 75% of all super markets were asking the question, “paper or plastic?” Consumers like me don’t consider them single use bags by any stretch of the imagination. We reuse them for everyday purposes from toting lunch to work to cleaning up after our pets in the back yard.

The Apostle Paul’s first century world had no concept of single use bags. His world was familiar with jars made of clay. Jars of clay were readily available. They were unexceptional, affordable and mass produced. They had flaws and imperfections and were used in a wide variety of ways. It would appear that first century citizens would have held them in the same regard as we do our common grocery sacks.

Paul used this image as a metaphor for discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God. Clay symbolizes the frailty of our mortal nature and the weakness of our flesh. Like clay, we are prone to imperfections. We crack and crumble.

The great paradox is that God entrusts the treasure of Christ to these jars of clay. The concept seems absurd at first, but it is not without purpose. God does this so that the weakness of our platform will highlight and not diminish the surpassing treasure of Christ himself.

Each of us has our own unique imperfections. Life has chipped and scratched us. Cracks have formed. The importance of that realization is that these imperfections become the very platform that God uses to display his Son.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about some of the jars of clay that God used in Scripture. We’ll look at their imperfections and weaknesses and see how God used those very things for his glory. I suspect that we will see ourselves once again reflected in the truth of God’s word.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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