Archive for December, 2017

Dec
27

In Him Was Love!

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So the Word became human and and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
(John 1:14-18, NLT)

As a kid who grew up in church, every December meant an opportunity to participate in the annual children’s program where we, under the direction of our Sunday School teachers, would present the Christmas story in costume. I use the word costume very loosely, because there weren’t any real costumes for us to wear. Our costumes consisted of our dad’s bathrobes and a dish towel tied around our heads with an old neck tie.

We would receive our parts, learn our cues, and take our places as the story was read. If memory serves me correctly, I usually played the role of one of the shepherds. In costume, of course.

John’s perspective on Christmas reminds me of those plays. Jesus came to the earth, robed in flesh and blood, and made his home among us. I like how The Message translates verse 14: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

In so doing, he demonstrated grace and truth in perfect balance as he revealed God’s glory to the world. This balance is important, because truth without grace is legalism, and grace without truth is sentiment. Jesus provided them both in perfect balance, kind of in the same way that the Old Testament and the New Testament provide balanced Bibles.

In so doing, Jesus revealed God to us. The literal interpretation of the word revealed tells us that Jesus interpreted or explained God to us. He would later go on to boldly claim, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

That’s John’s version of the Christmas story. Our problem is death and darkness. God’s solution is life and light. And the solution comes to us through the birth of a baby.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
19

The Cause

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For the last two years, my youngest has been an active part of The Cause, a church geared toward reaching the millennial generation in Kansas City. Here is an article from The Kansas City Star featuring The Cause. Enjoy!

Categories : Church
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Dec
18

I Am Uncertain

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As proverbial “jars of clay,” each of us have one or more issues that can serve as limitations to the great things God wants to accomplish through our fragile lives. For some of us, uncertainty regarding God’s will can be one of the greatest limitations of all.

Take, for example, the story of Gideon, found in Judges chapters 6-8. The story begins with God’s calling to his life, to which he responds with a detailed litany of how he is the least of the least of the least. As God patiently pursued Gideon, he then requested a sign involving a fleece. I find it fascinating that God actually indulged Gideon’s request not once, but twice.

Gideon’s story serves me personally in two ways. First, God is uniquely inclined toward weakness. To Gideon, it made no sense that the “call” would come him, given his lack of pedigree. To God, however, he was the perfect choice.

The second helpful feature of this passage is that God is acutely aware of our struggle between faith and doubt. Belief often is mixed with levels of uncertainty as evidenced in the experiences of others in the Bible as well as our own. We, like Gideon, feel the need for “fleeces” or signs to help us navigate the direction God provides.

We need to be cautious about taking Gideon’s example as anything more than a description of what happened. Just because he asked for a sign and God in his grace granted the request does not make this practice normative or prescriptive. So how do we find certainty as we attempt to discern God’s will?

For years, I’ve pointed to four ways we can discern God’s will, in this particular order.

1. Is it consistent with Scripture?
You may always rest assured that God will never ask you to contradict the Bible.

2. Do I have confirmation from the Holy Spirit through prayer?
Like Elijah, we can find confirmation from the “still, small voice” of the Spirit. This voice will provide a sense of peace in the midst of confusion.

3. Have I consulted the counsel of the community of faith?
In other words, what input can I gain from the wisdom of others who are of similar spiritual conviction?

4. Do I see God at work in my surrounding circumstances?
Can I make connections between God’s call and the activity I perceive God to be doing in other areas of my life?

Those four things, independently, may not provide the confirmation we seek. However, if you stack them all together you’ll find that you are better equipped to proceed with the direction you perceive.

So what if I do all of these things and I’m still uncertain? A long time ago a wise person once answered that same question for me in this fashion. He said, “If you’re not sure of what God wants you to do, do the last thing he told you to do until you are sure.”

Amen.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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Dec
14

In Him Was Light! (part 2)

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The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:9-13, NLT)

John reported that the light, Jesus, was coming into the world. Then, in seeming disbelief, he wrote of three responses to the light.

First, he was unrecognized by the very world he created. Recently I was in my hometown to conduct some business on behalf of my mother. We drove by my old high school on the way out of town and decided to stop for lunch. We stopped at one of those country buffets where the food and calories are stacked to the ceiling. Because of my mother’s mobility challenges, the server seated us across from the serving line. While we ate I saw two of my high school classmates walk in together to eat. Both of them looked directly at me and turned away, clearly not recognizing who I was. As I finished my meal I picked up the check and walked to the register and paid. I then walked over to their table, pulled out a chair, sat, and began a conversation as though we saw each other on a daily basis.

They clearly felt awkward, but were polite. I asked about their siblings, how things were, and so forth. By this time they knew they should know me but still couldn’t quite place me. Then one of them, Jimmy, looked up from his plate and said, “Deatrick?” We had a good laugh.

John wasn’t laughing. He could not believe the very world that Jesus created (John 1:3) didn’t have a clue who he was. But it gets worse before it gets better.

He was rejected by his own. If the Bible says nothing else, it is profoundly clear that Jesus was sent to the Israelite people first. Paul confirms this in Romans 1:16, citing that the gospel of Christ came “to the Jew first, then the Gentile.” Yet those who should have been first to receive him rejected him in the face of countless fulfillments of prophesies, miracles, and other forms of hard evidence.

John is bewildered by both of these first two responses, but his tone lifts as he shares the third. Jesus was received by all who accepted and believed. It is those who accepted and believed who actually received the true light that was coming into the world. John would later quote these words of Jesus, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Not much has changed in the last two thousand years. There are still those who don’t recognize Jesus, and many more who openly reject him. But the gospel is still the power of God to all who believe, whether they be Jew or Gentile, and those who receive him can walk in the same light and find life.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
11

In Him Was Light!

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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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