Saturday, December 24, 2016
Advent 2016: The Mystery of Christmas
I started this blog several years ago, and every year I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditate on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem and to rescue us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might accomplish the plan to make his grace and glory known in humans and in all of creation. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. He would break the power of sin, condemn sin in his own flesh, and provide for all of us the rescued we need to become the people God always intended us to be. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our King Jesus the Messiah, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in less than optimal conditions. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.
First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would have such an impact on generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not so much). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his own humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness and mercy, out of his inexpressible love for humanity he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, in this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!
Labels: Advent, annual Christmas post, humility of Christ, incarnation, Jesus first advent, mystery of Christmas
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Advent 2016: The "Gift" of Christmas--No Reputation
A few years ago I posted this little meditation on Christmas, and as I read through it today I realized that I needed to hear it again. It is easy in our society today to be a bit too full of ourselves, to think a bit more highly of ourselves than we ought, . . . but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that that is not the Spirit of Christmas, and it certainly was NOT the Spirit of Christ. Bear with me, if you will, while I contemplate what it means to have no reputation as a follower of Christ.
Philippians 2:5-8 HCSB
"Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-- even to death on a cross."
This passage may not usually be associated with Christmas, but for some reason that is how it comes to me this year. Look closely at the passage above, then read the quote from The Jesus Style by Gayle D. Erwin below.
“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.
“He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.
“I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
Christmas in America means lots of things to lots of different people.
For some it becomes a political event that pits “the true meaning of Christmas” against the bias against religion. For others Christmas is just another time to visit families and to pretend to get along with each other. For others Christmas is a season that involves incredible profits (or expenses) and lots of activities. This year some may see Christmas as a bleak season filled with bad news and the dread of a new year. For still others Christmas is simply a winter break, a time to regroup for a new year.
I know I’ve left a large group out! There are those who see Christmas as the celebration of the birth of the world’s Savior and the Incarnation of God. I want to twist the prism a bit and look at Christmas from a different angle.
Almost all of the views above look at Christmas from the perspective of what humans gain from the season. I wonder if we can look at the season as something we can offer to others, a gift of sorts. I wonder, can we make a gift of Christmas? Can we this year find a way to give the "spirit" of Christmas to those around us?
Hear me out . . .
This passage from Philippians reminds me that Christmas for Jesus wasn’t about what he would gain. In fact, he lost just about everything! He left the comfort of his Father’s place, he became a tottering, dribbling little baby, he had to learn to talk, to walk, to eat, he left his riches behind for the starkness of a feeding trough, and ultimately he would even become sin and die for humanity even though he was innocent. Remember, dead and sin were two things he had never experienced before in his eternal existence.
As Paul says, he made himself of no reputation.
Imagine what Christmas would be like this year if those of us who follow Jesus would do as Paul admonishes here and have this approach to the season. Imagine if we actually attempted to have the same attitude towards others that Jesus has towards us! What would Christmas look like if we didn’t care about what we got out of it but became more concerned about what we could give to others? How would our world change if we laid down our lives . . . our reputations . . . our desires in order to bless others this Christmas? What if we even went further and did it anonymously, with no expectation of reward or recognition?
Ronald Reagan is credited with the saying “There is no telling what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” We don’t like that approach though, do we? We kick against it! I mean, we deserve to be recognized, don’t we?
You came up with the idea that made the company money, shouldn’t you be rewarded? Maybe you found a problem and fixed it, and that fix saved someone’s job. Shouldn’t you be shown gratitude? Maybe you did some kindness for someone you knew couldn’t pay you back, shouldn’t you get credit for that? You gave that money to charity, shouldn't someone say "thank you"? You gave of your time to that charitable organization, shouldn't there be some "benefit" in it for you?
Don’t we all think that we should be center stage, center of the world, the most important person in the world? How many times have you heard “I quit going to that church because MY needs weren’t being met”?
Let that sink in.
No fame, no credit, no automatic acceptance, no celebrities, and no place where who you know or what you know earns you admittance or recognition. That requires true humility!
Jesus made himself of no reputation; he humbled himself. The very God of the universe became nobody. He emptied himself, he became a servant. As Isaiah said, he was not handsome or attractive in such a way as to draw attention to himself. He lived to give attention only to God. Jesus was truly humble. He had "no reputation."
We love our awards, the acceptance of others, the glamor of being “somebody,” or the wonderful happiness of fame, don’t we? We like to be recognized, remembered, acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated.
“Don’t neglect me” of "It's all about me" could be the slogans of many in our society.
The motto of Christ followers should be “No reputation.” God chooses such people to further his agenda. Will we be involved, or do we like our perks too much?
In Job 1, Satan appears in God's court. God acknowledges the good job done by Job, and asks Satan if he has noticed what a righteous person Job has become. Satan's response is a tough challenge: "Does Job fear God for nothing?"
Think about what the evil one is implying here. He is asking, "Will a human serve God with no expectation of something in return?"
Will humans serve God for nothing?
That hurts, doesn't it? Even the mere thought of it as a possibility smarts a bit. Surely the mighty God of the universe wouldn't expect me to show him respect and serve his purposes without expectation of payment for services rendered, right?
Can we humble ourselves to the point where we realize that God owes us nothing? Quite literally, we have done nothing to merit a reward from him. Even our service is a response to his continued mercy.
Will we, like Christ, humble ourselves to the point of no reputation? Are we willing to be "nobodies" in God's service, among his people, even among those who ought to "recognize" us?
What would Christmas look like this year if we (all of us) decided to give with no expectation of return? What if we humbled ourselves and expected no acknowledgment? What if we chose to serve anonymously and to bless others without receiving a blessing in return? What would happen?
What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and garnish no reputation for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us recognition. Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to the needs of others. Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing others.
How would that change Christmas in your neighborhood?
Labels: Advent, Christmas, Christmas gift, humble service, humility, no reputation, Philippians 2:5-8
Sunday, December 04, 2016
Advent 2016: God's Word of Love at Christmas--Do you hear what I hear?
years ago I preached a Christmas sermon on John 1. The history of this sermon is
interesting. In college (and in
seminary) I was challenged by my preaching professors to do a Christmas sermon
on John 1. In both classes I wrote just
such a sermon. It was not until I moved
to Virginia, however, that I decided to share these thoughts. I borrowed the name of a popular Christmas
song, and the notes below are the result.
As I've been thinking about the story of Christmas, I kept coming back
to these thoughts on John 1. So, I
decided to reprint these sermon notes (with some changes). Feel free to leave some comments, I hope
these notes are a blessing to you! Merry
God’s Word of Love at Christmas: Do You Hear What I
the good word? Our world seems obsessed with communication. We have phones that
are not for making calls only, but are also used to surf the internet, to send
text messages, to even read books and watch movies! All around us we are bombarded by some sort
of communication—and yet we have never seemed so disconnected, even so lacking
in genuine love or depth of relationships.
are a people drowning in information who at times seem to be longing for
meaningful communication. We are people who are desperate to be loved. We want
to hear a “good word,” something that is helpful or communicates hope and grace.
We want to hear some good news.
you ever noticed how often “words” play a role in Scripture?
1. In the beginning, God “said” or “spoke” and there
2. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the morning
3. God spoke through prophets (Hebrews 1)
4. God speaks to us today through his Son the Word and
through his written Word—Scripture
Whenever God wants to make something known, he speaks.
God likes to communicate, he wants us to know what he
He takes a personal role in this communication, and
through it he shows us what true love looks like.
Christmas, God offers us a Word—that Word is his self-disclosure, his speaking
of himself through his Son. In Jesus, God offers us a communication and a gift,
and both of these speak of his great mercy and love.
When God speaks, we should listen
In this passage I hear three things:
1. I hear that the Word is among us and reveals God’s
true character, vv. 14, 18 (The Word Among Us)
2. I hear that The Word is Before Us, v. 15 (The World
3. I hear that The Word is full of Grace, vv. 16-17
(The Word of Grace)
First, I hear that the Word is among us, vv. 14, 18
(The Word Among Us)
a. The Word became “flesh”—when God spoke, it was
personal and a bit messy. God spoke in these last days to us through his Son
(Heb. 1:1-3). This “Word” takes on flesh (Romans 8:3). The word “flesh” here is
not a pretty word. God doesn’t say that his “Word” became simply “human.” No,
Jesus became “flesh,” he took on our situation; he identified with us; he was
tempted like us (yet without sin—cf. Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 2 Cor. 5:20-21).
Jesus got involved in our messy existence and by doing so offered a means to
clean up our mess. He came to offer God’s mercy and grace, and he came to deal
with our sin. By being one of us, Jesus healed and redeemed our situation. Do
you hear what I hear?
The Word dwelt among us—When God spoke, he didn’t do it from a distance. He
came among us. In the OT, God’s presence among his people was signified by the
tabernacle and its three chambers. The inner chamber (where God’s glory dwelt)
was only accessible once a year by one person on the Day of Atonement. Jesus’
coming as God’s Word makes that glory accessible to all of us by making his
dwelling among us. He lives with us, he lives among us. He has not left us nor
forsaken us. God is not distant, he comes to us in our situation to show us his
character, to reveal his love. God loves us by being among us. He is here to
rescue us by that grace. Do you hear what I hear?
The Word is full of glory—When God spoke, he made his glory known. When Jesus
came, we saw God’s glory. In the OT, God’s glory was sometimes hidden, but with
the birth of Jesus God’s glory now becomes obvious to all. God makes himself
known in Jesus. The full character of God is explained in Jesus. All of God’s
holiness, justice, mercy, grace, faithfulness and love are in the Incarnate
Word. Jesus is here, so the full character of God is here as well. Do you hear
what I hear?
This Word was never seen before, but now we see him—He who was invisible has
now become visible (Colossians 1:15-17; cf. Rom. 1:18-20). In Jesus we see the
invisible attributes of God. Jesus makes God visible and known. God’s character
and love is clear. It is not hidden to us. Jesus has made it known. Do you hear
what I hear?
The Word has explained God—Jesus showed the way to God, he “exegeted” God. He
explained God. Jesus made God understandable. What was inexplicable now is
explained. What was inscrutable is now “scrutable.” In Jesus humanity can now
see God’s character in a way they can understand. God’s person is now made
known in the words and actions of Jesus. God’s incredible grace and love to
rescue condemned people has been made know. We can know God. He is not a
distant Father. He is here, and Jesus makes him known. Do you hear what I hear?
of us who claim to follow Christ should seek to imitate Jesus in making God
clearly known to others, but like Jesus that means we must engage a hurting
world lost in the destruction of sin and death. That engagement requires us to
be humble and to serve. In the spirit of Hebrews 10:24, I’d like to incite my
fellow Christians to love and good works today.
we in this Christmas season find ourselves like our Lord wrapping a towel of
humility around our collective waists as we pursue the greatest job ever—loving
those God has loved in a way that they do not expect. Remember, Jesus came as a
child—a seemingly defenseless, helpless babe. He lived among us as a “normal”
person—he worked with his hands, he talked to people, and he showed them love.
was human (in the “flesh” as John and Paul tell us), and in community with us
he revealed to us the character of God: selfless love, humble service, and
unmerited grace. Jesus also encouraged and admonished his followers to serve
one another, to outdo one another in being kind and in service. "The one
who serves is the greatest" says Jesus. We have to go where they are if we
want to serve as Jesus serves. Will we go? We will be examples of Jesus’ grace
by giving our own lives to help others find life in him? Will we hear God’s
Word of love to us today? Will we “explain” God to others by our service of
When God speaks, we should listen
When God “spoke” in Jesus, he became one of us
(flesh), he pitched his tent among us (tabernacle), he made visible his
invisible glory (we saw his glory which no one had seen), he offered an
explanation of God’s grace, love, and truth, and our response is to witness his
glory/character and to proclaim it to others.
Second, I hear that The Word is Before Us, v. 15 (The
World Before Us)
a. He is superior to us because he existed before us
(John 1:1-3; Phil 2:5-8)
Jesus’ superiority is explained in detail in the
letter to the Hebrews. Although the author of that letter dwells on Jesus’ superiority to many things
and people (i.e., angels, Moses, Aaron, the Levites, the sacrifices, etc.), he
also goes out of his way to remind us that Jesus is one of us (cf. Heb.
2:14-18; 4:14-16). He is not an alien. He is superior, yes, but in his humanity
the child in the manger brings God’s glory to all people (remember the angels,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is
pleased."—Luke 2:14). God, in his great mercy and love, came among us to
rescue us from condemnation. God’s love is made clear in the life and words of
Because of his position, we are called to testify of
all that relates to him, and this is what John does here.
b. Jesus is “before” us in his superiority, but he is
also “before” us in the sense of presence. He is there—in front of us and before
our very eyes. He is the revelation of God’s character. His coming is an
expression of God’s amazing humble love. God loved, and he showed that love by
means of the birth of Jesus. He showed that love in the life and death and
resurrection of Jesus. This is the scene “before” us this Christmas; an amazing
scene of self-sacrificing grace, amazing holiness, and wonderful, giving,
humble love. Remember, what was unseen is now visible. The babe in the manger
makes the glory of God known to all humanity. Jesus’ very existence has
explained God to us all. He is right in front of us. Will we pay attention?
When God speaks, we should listen
God reveals himself, he sometimes uses the testimony of others (John), he
reveals his character (he is before us, existed without us, and makes himself
known to us), as a result he is worthy of our worship and our testimony.
I hear that The Word is full of Grace, vv. 16-17 (The Word of Grace)
a. We have all received from his fullness (full of
grace and truth—cf. John 1:14; Col. 1:5-6)
Jesus is the fullness of God (Col 2:9-10). Christ is the ultimate expression of grace and
truth. He is
grace in that he was freely given for us all—He is the expression of God’s love
for humanity (John 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2). He is truth in that he reveals
clearly who God is and how to get to God (John 14:6).
b. Grace stacked up on grace (cf. Heb. 4:16)
Like a warehouse with an unending supply of boxes
stacked up against each other, so Jesus offers an ongoing and seemingly never exhaustible
warehouse of grace. He is grace beyond measure, He is grace yesterday,
today, and forever. His grace is never shallow and is always trustworthy.
c. We all receive his grace
1 John 2:1-2 reminds us that Jesus is the
propitiation for the sins even of the whole world (i.e., in 1 John 5, the
“whole world” is described as those in the hands of the devil). The grace of God is available to all people by
means of the incarnation as Jesus reveals and explains God’s grace. The grace of God is effective in the crucifixion
as the blood of Jesus is applied to the sins of humans. The grace of God is sealed by the resurrection in
which God declares his work completed and finished.
Followers of Christ are called to share the testimony
of his mercy to others and to offer those wrecked by the destruction of sin the
promise of rescue through Jesus. Who are these people? Who are our modern day "lepers"? Are they the drug addicts? The alcoholics? The divorcees? The liberal
democrats? The conservative republicans? The victims of cancer, aids, etc.? Are
they the orphans of war? The ones left behind by our refusal to care? They may
be all around us.
Finding them isn't hard--they are out there.
Loving them is sometimes harder.
May we learn today to offer debt-free love and service
to others. Like Jesus may we learn to take joy in the smiles and laughter we
receive. May we (like Jesus) even be willing to be killed by those we love and
yet love them anyway.
When God speaks, we should listen
When God “spoke” the word of grace, he provided an
unlimited storehouse of the gift of grace, he made it available to all (we
“all” received it), and he makes grace and truth a reality in Jesus, our
response is to live God’s grace and truth as a tangible example of God’s Word
spoken to us—we (in a sense) “incarnate” God’s grace and truth in our own lives
by living out what he has worked in us.
a. Are we listening to God during this Christmas
season? Are we paying attention to the “Word” he speaks in Jesus and the
Incarnation? Do people see his “grace and truth” in how we live in response to
b. Have you experienced his grace? What a Christmas
gift you could receive today if you yield yourself to God and receive his grace
in Jesus Christ. John 1:11-13 reminds us that to those who receive him (i.e.,
put their trust in him) he gives authority to be called the children of God.
(Give an overview of Gospel here, offer salvation to all).
c. For those of us who have experienced this wonderful
gift, how can we respond to this “word” from God? Do you hear what I hear? If
so, here are some suggestions for you:
i. This Christmas, testify of his
glory in the “baby Jesus”
ii. Speak of his grace and truth,
his character, his holiness, his love, etc.
iii. Show his love in service to
iv. Take opportunity to share the
truth of God’s Incarnation in Jesus
When God speaks, people ought to listen
Labels: Advent, Christmas, do you hear what I hear, God's love, God's Word, God's Word of Love, incarnation, John 1:14-18, love
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Advent 2016: The Hope of Christmas
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the time when Christians the world over begin the celebration of the Incarnation, when God became human and made his dwelling among us in the form of Jesus, the Messiah. The first Sunday of Advent is typically dedicated to the idea of "hope", and the focus is on the expectation of the completion of the rescue of humanity from sin and death. Jesus' sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection are the means by which this rescue is effected for us, but it all began with the expectation and hope of a Redeemer, a Messiah who would come to the aid of God's people.
Some of the passages associated with this first Sunday of Advent include Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14. Here they are from the HCSB translation:
Isaiah 2:1-5 "The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the LORD's house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about His ways so that we may walk in His paths.' For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war. House of Jacob, come and let us walk in the LORD's light."
Romans 13:11-14 "Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires."
Both of these passages remind us that God's invasion into his creation in the form of his Incarnation not only began the rescue so desperately needed and expected, it also provided the means by which humanity could live in the manner God intended them. Some might call that the "magic" of Christmas or "the Christmas Spirit". The idea is that this season of remembrance of that Child who was born to die and to rise and to redeem creates a kind of opportunity for humanity to imitate the humble service and sacrifice of Jesus in everyday life. The very atmosphere seems charged with the energy of Christ; an energy that helps humans act in ways that God intended.
As we embrace the idea of God becoming human, as we recognize the humility of Jesus (who being God chose to humble himself to serve us all to the point of death), we find in these actions a pattern for life. We find that humility and service is our proper end, and we also find that as we serve others we introduce the possibility of "hope" for all humanity. In fact, sometimes the very spirit of Christmas can cause people to act better and with more grace. It reminds me of a poem by Edgar A. Guest.
In the poem below Guest elaborates on how a person responds to the "Christmas spirit" and how it can cause a change in a person's life. The poem puts into my mind the image of a reformed Scrooge, fresh off his encounters with the ghost of Christmas, now engaging faithfully to live a less self-focused life.
I know that times have changed, and I realize that people do not always have "Christmas cheer" at this time of year. Nonetheless, my prayer for all of us is that we become the people God intended us to be, especially now as we celebrate the Advent of our Lord Jesus. May we live in such a way as to create "hope" in others. May our humble service lead to changed lives and a more hopeful future. May the Hope of Advent cause you to emulate the life of Jesus. I hope this poem blesses you!
Thanks for reading!
At Christmas by Edgar Albert Guest
A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season is here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.
Labels: Advent, At Christmas, Christmas spirit, Edgar Guest, hope, hope of christmas, Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14
Monday, October 31, 2016
On September 18, I had the honor of preaching at Gospel Community Church in Lynchburg, Va. My sermon was on John 8:1-11 and the woman caught in adultery. I entitled the sermon "Exposed". You can find a link to watch the sermon here: Exposed--John 8:1-11
. The notes from the sermon are below (and I should note that I read several sermons and commentaries in preparing this material. I am grateful for their wisdom and help). Thanks for reading!
Technical Issues: If you have a modern translation of
the Bible (i.e., after the KJV), then you will likely find this account in a
footnote or in brackets. Many scholars feel that it has been inserted into the
Gospel of John at this point. In many ancient manuscripts it is found in
different places. Some place it at the end of the Gospel of John (or in other
locations in John); some place it after Luke 21; and some omit it entirely. As
a result, there is some question as to whether this account really occurred at
the time we find it in John's gospel. Scholars generally agree, however, that
this event did actually occur, and that it was part of our Lord's ministry. It may
be put here in John because it illustrates so well the statement of Jesus in
Chapter 7, "Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge
according to righteous judgment." (John 7:24 HCSB). Suffice it to say,
even though John may not have written this story, the consensus of scholarship
and the early church is that this location is best. So we will deal with this
passage as an inspired text that provides some kind of insight into how John
presents Jesus in this Gospel.
32:23 “. . . behold, you have sinned
against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.”
Luke 12:2-3: “There
is nothing covered that won't be uncovered, nothing hidden that won't be made
known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light,
and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on
Proverbs 28:13 “The
one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces
them will find mercy.”
A story of
someone being unexpectedly “exposed” as a fraud. Sam Hurd: “He seemed like
a great guy, quoting the bible and always friendly,” said an official with the
Chicago Bears—the last team to which the former wide receiver Sam Hurd was
signed. Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Sam Hurd was a state football star in
high school and a standout at Northern Illinois University, placing in the top
five in many of the categories in their receiving records. In 2006, he signed
as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. He was released five years
later and signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears in July 2011. In
December 2011, Hurd sent shockwaves through the NFL when he was arrested after
purchasing cocaine from an undercover agent, set up by his friend and an
informant at a Chicago steakhouse. Hurd was a man with bible scriptures
tattooed on his torso and a drug baron who made an alleged $700,000 per week.
According to the official affidavit, a man connected to Hurd’s drug trafficking
referred to as “T.L.” set up many deals with and for Hurd. Police found $88,000
cash and marijuana in a car T.L. was operating during a routine traffic stop.
T.L. said that the car and money were not his and that it all belonged to Hurd,
claiming that he performed routine maintenance on his cars. The authorities
seized the money and released T.L., who later tried to broker a deal with an
informant on Hurd’s behalf to traffic 5-10 kilograms (11-12 lb) of cocaine and
450 kilograms (1,000 lb) of marijuana per week. Authorities met Hurd at the
steakhouse, where Hurd told the undercover agents that he currently trafficked
4 kilograms (9 lb) per week in Chicago. The undercover agent provided Hurd with
a kilogram (2 lb) of cocaine and left the steakhouse. Hurd was arrested once he
left the restaurant. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013. (from http://listverse.com/2014/10/29/10-people-who-lived-shocking-and-conflicting-double-lives/)
“Be sure your sin will find you out . . .” God reminds
us in his word that taking a path opposite of what he wants will result in
exposure at some point in our lives. When we least expect it, the things we’ve
tried to keep hidden will spring up and be revealed. There is an old saying
that “If our thoughts were broadcast on our foreheads, we’d never remove our
hats.” Many of us here this morning would probably agree with that. So, what is
it we hope will NOT be exposed? What is it we hope no one finds out? Our
passage today shows the experience of some folks who were exposed, and the end
results were not always pretty. Let’s see what happens when the things that
were covered become uncovered in John 8.
This passage reveals to us three kinds of exposure.
Sure, there is the exposure of the woman caught in adultery, but she isn’t the
only one exposed here. In fact, during preparation for this sermon, I concluded
that there are three kinds of exposure here:
Righteous Exposure—(John 8:6-9)
Redemptive Exposure—(John 8:10-11)
Let’s explore these a bit to see what hidden things
Exposure—(8:1-6)—the Pharisees—the first exposure we see here is the sin
of the woman. Jesus is going about his usual day of teaching in the Temple.
Nothing hidden and nothing exposed. He is simply behaving like a Rabbi teaching
those who will listen. During one of his class sessions, the Pharisees
interrupt to bring a woman in who they say they caught in the act of adultery.
They demand a verdict from Jesus on the woman. Should she be stoned for her
Let’s be honest about the situation. This woman is
guilty of adultery. Now, adultery is a terrible sin, but it is no worse than
any other sin (cf. James 2:10). In fact, none of us in this room can claim
innocence of sin, we are all guilty (Rom. 3:10; 3:23; Gal. 3:22). Like this
woman, we are deserving of condemnation and death. We have sinned, even if our
sin has not been exposed like hers. Nobody gets away with sin! (see Rom. 6:23; Eze.
18:4) For all who sin, there will come a payday someday!
In his book Mere
Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, “If anyone thinks that Christians regard
unchastity (sexual sin) as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the
flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures
are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of
bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of
power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self
and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That
is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far
nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!”
The reason we call this exposure “unrighteous”,
however, has little to do with the nature of the woman’s sin. It has to do with
the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. They brought this woman to Jesus not
to find out about righteousness, but to try to trap Jesus in saying something
they could use against him. Did they think he’d let her go? If so, then they
could say “See, he doesn’t keep the law!” Did they think he’d offer to kill her?
Maybe then they would talk about his insensitivity and his lack of compassion.
Knowing that Jesus hung out with people like this woman, however, the leaders
probably wanted him to let her go. The problem is this: the people trying to
spring a trap by exposing this woman’s sin, will end up exposed themselves. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "
we get ahead of ourselves. Here we simply want to see that these leaders wanted
to use this woman’s failure to further their own cause. They exposed her to
shame and condemnation in order to trap Jesus and get him in trouble. They were
unrighteous in their exposure. They wanted to make the woman look bad, to make
Jesus look bad, so that they could in turn make themselves look good. This is
why this is unrighteous exposure. They do not want to help anyone become right
before God, they want to look like they are right while everyone else looks
wrong. Unrighteous exposure looks to reveal the failures of others simply to
make ourselves look good in contrast. Sin may be exposed, but at what price? We
see the results in the next section when Jesus shows us what righteous exposure
looks like. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "
Exposure—(vv. 6-9)—Jesus and the Pharisees. The second exposure is a contrast to the first. The
scribes and the Pharisees think that they have an advantage over Jesus because
of the woman’s sin. They think they’ve exposed Jesus to a problem--one that he
will not be able to work out. The problem is that they have also exposed
themselves by their unrighteous exposure of the woman. Those who wanted to trap
someone now find themselves in a trap. They who wanted to expose another’s
wrong find themselves uncomfortably exposed. "Be sure, your sins will find you out . . ."
After they set a trap for Jesus, he responded by
stooping down and writing on the ground. What did he write? Wouldn’t we love to
know? Maybe he wrote out the 10 commandments, or Lev 20:10/Deut 22:22 (which
deals with the sin of adultery), or the names of the girlfriends of the leaders.
He may have written Jer. 17:13 (“LORD, the hope of Israel, all who abandon You
will be put to shame. All who turn away from Me will be written in the dirt,
for they have abandoned the fountain of living water, the LORD”). We don’t know
what he wrote, but the impatience of the leaders is clear as they pressed him
for a decision: “We’ve exposed the sin of this woman, what should we do with
Jesus never answers their question. He exposes their
own sin. He stood up, and he challenged them: “The one without sin among you
should be the first to throw a stone at her." He isn’t advocating that one
has to be sinless to judge. No, Jesus is pointing out the failure of the
scribes and the Pharisees to follow the law they seem so zealous to enforce.
You see, Deut 22 reminds us that in cases of adultery, two people are to be
judged and then condemned if the charge is true. But here the leaders bring
only ONE person—the woman! Where is the man with whom she was caught in the act
of adultery? Was he one of the leaders? Did they allow him to escape? We may
never know, but we know that they are genuinely guilty here of failing to keep
They want to condemn the woman (without her lover) and to use that
condemnation to trap Jesus. Jesus turns the trap on them. These sanctimonious
prosecutors were themselves in stark violation of the law. Had Jesus been under
a commission to render a civil judgment in this case, he could not have
countenanced this “kangaroo” procedure. The thrust of Christ’s statement—“He
that is without sin . . .”—was this: “None of you is in a position to stone
this woman, for you have disregarded the very law you profess to honor. It is a
travesty.” The Pharisees’ inconsistency had been laid bare. Jesus exposes
them. They were breaking the very law that they claimed to uphold when
they did not include the man to be stoned. They are guilty of sin, they are
trapped, they are exposed! Proverbs 16:2: “All a man's ways seem right in his
own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.”
What happened then? The exposed leaders, caught now in
their own trap, begin to leave one at a time. As they realize that they have
been exposed, they decide that the better part of valor is to leave. Turning
away from Jesus (who they wanted to trap) and the woman (who they wanted to
expose), they walked away defeated, done, exposed for their own
unrighteousness. Let's at least give them credit for the fact that when they
saw themselves as they really were, they stopped calling for the death of this
woman. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "
Seeing ourselves as we really are is one of the hardest things we can
face! However, when we see ourselves in our sinful state, then we can do
something about it. When we are convicted of our sins, then is the time to come
to Jesus. After all, He is the only One who can deal with our sin problem! The
guilt of the Pharisees is exposed in their failure to bring the man and their
intention to “trap” Jesus instead of pursuing justice and righteousness. When
you are intent on “trapping” someone, you will often find yourself snared.
Selfishness and self-righteousness may lead to exposure and ensnarement. This poem by Elton Higgs illustrates the predicament of the Pharisees well:
We slink away, heads hung in shame,
With tongues and hands disarmed
By flash of sin reversed;
Not one of us had conscience clear
Enough to start the slaughter.
We came to trap him in his words,
Yet our words became our snare.
He turned on us the double-cutting sword
Of Law-based righteousness,
And bleeding now we leave the field,
Our cleverness in ashes.
Jesus showed righteous exposure here when he revealed the true nature of the
Pharisee’s actions. Jesus exposed them to their own sin, and they walked away.
Righteous exposure reveals sin for what it is—a falling short of God’s glory, a
turning away from God’s expectations and plans. But if we respond to that
exposure by turning away from Jesus, we have missed the third kind of exposure:
Redemptive exposure. This is what we find in the end of our text. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "
Exposure—(vv. 10-11)—Jesus and the Woman. The end of our story today is the end that many of us
have encountered. We look up and there is no one there but Jesus alone. The
woman’s accusers have left, they are not there to condemn her. She is left
alone with Jesus.
Jesus asks her if there are any witnesses against her. Is
there anyone left to condemn? She responds with “No one, Lord.” Maybe at that
moment she realizes that the only one who could condemn her was standing in
front of her. As Paul notes in Romans 8:33-34: “Who can bring an accusation
against God's elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at
the right hand of God and intercedes for us.” We may never know what the woman thought, but we know
that Jesus looks at this sinful, guilty, and rightfully condemned woman and
says, “If there are no witnesses to condemn you, then neither do I.” Jesus
isn’t overlooking her sin, he is acknowledging the law--if there are no
witnesses, she cannot be stoned. Jesus didn’t see her commit this sin, and none
of those who claimed to do so are there, so Jesus acknowledges the redemptive
truth that no witnesses means no condemnation. (cf. Rev. 12)
The Greek word for “condemn” is a strong one and suggests
handing down a judgment, passing sentence. The Lord was informing the woman
that she was not judicially sentenced. As Bloomfield observed, Jesus was simply
making “a declaration that, since his kingdom was not of this world, so he
would not assume the office of a temporal magistracy.” He was not sanctioning
adultery, nor minimizing the woman’s wickedness—quite the contrary. Christ was
commenting upon the legal aspect of the situation. With the accusers gone,
there was no case left! The witnesses were required to throw the first stones
(Deut 17:7); without them the matter simply could proceed no further.
The woman had reached a place in her life where it was
just her and Jesus. It always comes down to that! Eventually, somewhere,
someday you are going to have to face Jesus. Eventually, somewhere, someday you
are going to have to bow to Jesus! The beauty of the woman’s situation is that
she is now face-to-face with the one who can redeem her. She is alone with
Jesus, and he tells her to “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus addresses her sin, and
then addresses her need. This is redemptive exposure. Jesus will not command us
to do something he will not give us the ability to do. So when he commands her
to sin no more, he intends to provide her what she needs to accomplish that. By coming to
Jesus alone, by recognizing him as Lord, she could walk away not condemned but
redeemed! We don’t know the rest of her story, but we can be sure she was never
the same. Here is another poem by Elton Higgs to explain the woman's situation:
Only when He spoke did I meet His eyes,
Full of beautiful severity.
As ugly the sin as it was before,
But condemnation gone!
Reproach was swallowed up
In “Go, and sin no more.”
No backup plan for being stoned,
I walk toward home to find my way again.
Old way of life must now be buried,
As--rising from forgiveness—
His love replaces carnal lust.
Unjust escape from penalty say those
Who hide behind the Law,
But blissful boon to her who heard
The quieter voice
Replacing heartless rage.
What about us? Are we being exposed? Is someone taking
advantage of our failure or sin to trap us or to further a selfish agenda? Has the
Holy Spirit exposed sin today that needs to be addressed? Will we respond like
the Pharisees and walk away, or like the woman and receive redemption? "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . ."
This beautiful story brings us to that place this
morning. We understand that when our sins are forgiven, it is to free us that we
might begin to live a different lifestyle and never to go back to the things that
we have left behind. Sometimes we may. Sometimes we are weak, and need again
the forgiving grace of God. But forgiveness is always designed to set us free.
That is why it is given. When our Lord forgave this woman that is what he did:
He set her free to be a different kind of person than she ever was before.
How do we respond? Here is what we need to do:
1) Take inventory. What is being
exposed in our lives? Where are we trapped? Where do we need Christ to free us?
Today do real business with God and the Holy Spirit. Do not walk out of here
without dealing with the exposure God’s Word has brought today.
2) Take heart. No matter what your
situation, Jesus can bring redemption.
3) Take note. Are we looking to Jesus
alone, or are we looking for ways to justify ourselves? We cannot find
redemption without Jesus, and he alone will not only expose our sin but give us
the means to walk in freedom. Remember,
we are not destined to lives of condemnation but to lives of freedom. How we
respond to exposure is as important as the recognition that exposure is a
we leave here today, let us commit ourselves to living in the light of
redemptive exposure. Let us deal with each other as Jesus dealt with this
woman. He did not use her sin to his own benefit, nor did he hold it against
her in a way to keep her from progressing to holiness. We need to learn
redemptive exposure today—to expose the sin in our lives in a way that leads us
to embrace Christ and each other. This week, look for opportunities to expose
truth and to be people of redemption. No sin is too big for Jesus.
are you exposed? Jesus is there—cling to him alone.
Labels: "be sure your sin will find you out", "go and sin no more", Exposed, Jesus' grace, Jesus' mercy, john 8:1-11, redemptive exposure, righteous exposure, unrighteous exposure, woman caught in adultery
Friday, September 30, 2016
The Great American Novel: A Song by Larry Norman
Tonight as I have been hanging out with my family, I have had a song running through my head. The song is by Larry Norman, something of a pioneer in Christian music. Norman wasn't afraid to take on controversial topics in his songs, and in many ways he was a bold man. I dearly loved his music, and I own several of his albums on actual vinyl records. In some ways Larry Norman (along with DeGarmo and Key, Petra, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Sweet Comfort Band, Chuck Girard, Rich Mullins, and others) wrote the background music to my Christian life as a young man. Nonetheless, there was one song that sticks with me. That song is entitled "The Great American Novel." Here are the lyrics:
i was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and i grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon
and when i was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but i know you better now
and i don't fall for all your tricks
and you've lost the one advantage of my youth
you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don't believe but still you keep on
and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies
the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote
well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence
well you try to make my way of life
a little less like jail
if i promise to make tapes and slides
and send them through the mail
and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son
Although the issues he addresses in this song are predominantly issues of the 60s and 70s, the song still has a lot of relevance for today. How often do we (as Christians, or even as Americans) think of our own needs first, putting our needs before the needs and suffering of others? As Norman sings, our silos are full of grain, but we don't make a move to fill another person's empty spoon. As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, and yet so often we fail to do so (or we write a check or expect the government to do it because "we pay taxes"). Love for others should require us to consider the concerns of others as more important than our own (see Philippians 2).
And that is only ONE issue Norman addresses. He addresses corrupt politics, racism, war, and a multitude of other issues, many of which still linger in our society.
I can almost see him, looking a bit prophetic in his long hair and faded jeans, singing his words of truth into my soul. I remember seeing him in concert, and I remember wondering how he was able to read my heart and address my concerns so clearly.
I was young, I was idealistic. And Larry Norman fed my soul things it needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that the kingdom of God is more important than presidential elections. I needed to be reminded that how I treat my neighbor says a lot more about my faith in God than how often I read my Bible. I needed to be reminded that how I spend my money shows my real concerns and my true convictions. I needed to be reminded that what I think of God often says more about me than it does about God.
I needed someone like Larry Norman to remind me--Christianity isn't necessarily a panacea for the world's problems. It is a relationship with a living Lord who invades our lives with His amazing kindness and expects us to spread that love to others. Christianity should be an ongoing journey into the Light, into the Truth, and a continuous connection and growing into the image of the One who made me and who laid down His life to save mine.
I needed to be reminded that Christianity isn't simply about creeds, belief systems, or doctrinal statements. It is action. God loved, and He acted. How can we who follow Him expect to do anything less? If we love as He loves, we will (indeed, we MUST) act.
Larry Norman wasn't perfect, but he was a good reminder for me at just the right time. God used Norman to shore up my conscience, to remind me that in all my gaining of knowledge I needed to also gain wisdom to live life as God intended. In some of his music, Norman shared that wisdom.
As he reminds us in the song above: "you say all men are equal all men are brothers/then why are the rich more equal than others/don't ask me for the answer i've only got one/that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son."
How are we doing? Are we walking out of darkness into God's great Light? Are we moving in God's direction? Where else can we go, Jesus alone holds the Words of Life . . .
Thanks, Larry Norman, for sticking in my head. May your tribe increase!
Thanks for reading!
Labels: justice, kingdom of God, Larry Norman, music fed soul, philippians 2, politics, The Great American Novel
Sunday, July 31, 2016
"Beautiful Letdown" (Switchfoot) and Dual Citizenship
This morning our pastor preached a sermon on "Dual Citizenship" to remind us Christians that we are NOT citizens of this world. Our citizenship in Christ and in his kingdom must take priority in how we live out our lives as citizens here on earth. Before he started his sermon, he mentioned the lyrics of the Switchfoot song "Beautiful Letdown". Since it is one of my favorites, I wanted to share it in its entirety here:
It was a beautiful letdown
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone
Unknown and hurt
It was a beautiful letdown
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do
In a world full of bitter pain
And bitter doubts
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in
Until I found out
That I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song
Where I don't belong, I don't belong
It was a beautiful letdown
When you found me here
Yeah, for once in a rare blue moon
I see everything clear
I'll be a beautiful letdown
That's what I'll forever be
And though it may cost my soul
I'll sing for free
We're still chasing our tails in the rising sun
In our dark water planet still spinning
In a direction no one wins, no one's won
See, I don't belong here
Well, I don't belong here
I will carry across with a song
Where I don't belong, I don't belong
I don't belong here
Well, I don't belong here
I'm gonna set sight and set sail
For the kingdom come, kingdom come
Your kingdom come
Won't you let me down, yeah
Let my foolish proud
Forever let me down
Ah, easy living you're not much like the name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Would you please take me off your list?
Easy living, please c'mon and let me down
We are a beautiful letdown
The church of the dropouts
And losers and sinners and failures and the fools
What a beautiful let down
Are we salt in the wound?
Hey, let us sing one true tune, hey yeah
I don't belong here
No, I don't belong here
No, I don't belong here
It feels like I don't belong here, yeah
No, I don't belong here
It goes like I don't belong here
Yo, I don't belong
Won't you let me down?
C'mon and let me down
You always let me down
So glad that I'm letdown, hey
C'mon and let me down
'Cause I don't belong here
Please, won't you let me down
The sermon focused on John 17 and Jesus' prayer for his followers to have unity. One of the things Jesus mentions is that his followers are in this world, but they are also not of this world. He prays for God to protect them, to help them be unified, and to show them how to love as God loves.
No, I don't belong here . . . the story doesn't seem complete. This world is missing something . . . it is incomplete. Would be messiahs will tell us that they can fix what's wrong with this world, but ultimately it will take the return of the One who created it to make it right. The story isn't over yet, and even though the current chapter is less than happy for many, the truth is that it will not remain that way forever.
I don't belong here . . . every fiber of my being reminds me that there is something better that comes because of Someone by whose humble love I can learn to be truly alive.
May we all learn to be good citizens to that kingdom that will come! May we learn to be more like our King!
Thank you for reading!
Labels: beautiful letdown, dual citizenship, John 17, switchfoot, this world is not our home