Sunday, January 07, 2018

 

A Communion Meditation at Epiphany

Yesterday was Epiphany on the Church calendar. Epiphany usually means something like “a moment of sudden insight or understanding,” but in the Christian calendar it represents the day that Messiah was manifest to the Gentiles when the wise men came to visit. So, January 6 was Epiphany, the last of the 12 days of Christmas, the day when the wise men from the east came and found Jesus. As of yesterday we have officially ended the Christmas season and are starting the build up to Resurrection Sunday. As we started Advent, we spoke of hope—the hope revealed in the first coming of Christ and the hope in his imminent and sudden return at the end of the age. We are at the “in between” time of that hope. Jesus has indeed come, and his coming is not for the Jews only, the Messiah is born for all nations. For our Lord’s Supper today, we thought we’d look at a couple of passages for Epiphany as part of our communion meditation.

Isaiah 60:1-5 (HCSB) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. For look, darkness covers the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine over you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance. Raise your eyes and look around: they all gather and come to you; your sons will come from far away, and your daughters will be carried on the hip. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will tremble and rejoice, because the riches of the sea will become yours, and the wealth of the nations will come to you.”
Matthew 2:1-11 (HCSB) “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ . . . ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they told him, ‘because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel.’ . . .  After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was--the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.”

The passage of Isaiah contains some extravagant promises. The prophet speaks of “brightness,” “glory,” “radiance,” and overflowing heart, and the “wealth of nations.” And who first heard these glowing words? Exiled Jews who had just returned home to a Jerusalem in ruins. Somehow, the words of the prophet didn’t quite match up with the realities on the ground. But that didn’t stop these believers from committing themselves to God’s work to see the glory that God had promised to them.

Similarly, how did the wise men recognize an earth-shaking event in the humble birth of Jesus to Joseph and Mary? Even the religious and political leaders of Israel missed the coming of Messiah. So how could these foreigners fall to their knees so readily, and offer such valuable treasures to this lowly child? Again, their expectations didn’t match up with what they found when they first laid eyes on the Messiah.

The wise men represent the “nations” mentioned in Isaiah, and as they come bringing gifts to Jesus they are the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah. They brought gifts to a promised king that they had never seen until that day. They also represent true worship by their humility (they kneel before this child, the king of the Jews) and later they obey God by not returning to Herod to tell of Jesus’ location. Like the exiles in Isaiah, their situation was not ideal, but they trusted in the God who promised.

Like the wise men and the returning exiles, we find ourselves in an interesting time, one that is not always ideal. Maybe our situations and circumstances are not what we expected. We came through the joy and celebration of the Christmas season, but for many of us the joy seems short lived. The “reality” of life around us seems to darken the sky once lit bright with hope and joy. We celebrated the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God, but maybe after the new year we no longer feel like celebrating.

Yet, the New Year is a promise of new beginnings, and it is the promise of God’s continued watch care. We can trust him. The New Year is a time to look back and see God’s hand, and a time to look forward with expectation to his continued faithfulness and grace. It is a time to surrender to God and offer a gift of obedience. We start this new year with a recognition of our Messiah, the one who came for ALL people,  the one who came as a Lamb to be “slain, and to purchase for God with his blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” We celebrated Messiah’s birth, and now we celebrate his obedient death in the Lord’s Supper.

When we come to this table before us, we renew a covenant made long ago at a place called Golgotha.  The elements here—the bread and the cup—symbolize the body and blood of Jesus.  When we take these elements, we remember that Messiah Jesus gave his life for us.  At the beginning of the new year, we can do nothing more appropriate than to come to this Table and let Communion be for us an act of consecration, an act of giving ourselves again to the Lord Jesus our Messiah.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” This bread is his body, eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him.  Jesus also said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Paul reminds us to take time to consider our lives before we partake in this supper. It is time to prepare our hearts for Communion. Make sure you have nothing between you and God or between you and another human. Look at yourself, and then look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Consecrate yourself to God.

As the hymn says:

Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be, Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing, always, only, for my King.

Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.


Let’s pray: Thank you, Father, for the way you have traveled with us so far, and for the journey that lies ahead. As we begin this new year, remind us of your faithfulness and grace. Remembering these things, we come to celebrate this supper, and we remember the last meal between Jesus and his disciples. His body was later broken for us as a way to remember the greatest gift ever given, his life for ours.  We ask that you bless us to your service.  Lord Jesus, you taught us how to serve.  You taught us to be faithful.  You have blessed us in so many ways.  May we be reminded daily of the ultimate sacrifice given for us through the giving of your blood, and may we find the courage to offer our lives to you in obedience.  We ask these things in your name.  Amen.

Thanks for reading! 

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Monday, December 25, 2017

 

Advent 2017: The Mystery of Christmas (Annual Post)

Hey y'all:

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 rescue we need to become the people God always intended us to be.  What an amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the 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, the life of 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 food, 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, during 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! 

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

 

Advent 2017: Have Yourself a Humble Little Christmas

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. For still others Christmas is simply a winter break, a time to regroup for a new year.

I know I’ve left some groups out! One group is comprised of 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 (among others) is credited with saying something like: “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?

We came up with the idea that made the company money, shouldn’t we be rewarded? Maybe we found a problem and fixed it, and that fix saved someone’s job. Shouldn’t we be shown gratitude? Maybe we did some kindness for someone we knew couldn’t pay us back, . . . shouldn’t we get credit for that? We gave that money to charity, shouldn't someone say "thank you"? We gave of your time to that charitable organization, shouldn't there be some "benefit" in it for us?

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 we heard “I quit going to that church because MY needs weren’t being met”?

No reputation.

Let that sink in.

NO Reputation!

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."   

Ouch!

We love our awards, the acceptance of others, the glamour 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” or "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 us 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?

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in God is in the Manger: 

“Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”

What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and produce 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?

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

 

Advent 2017: Waiting on Joy

We are almost one week away from Christmas! Are we ready? Have we experienced hope and love as we intentionally take time to reflect on the season? This week’s advent focus is joy.

Eugene Peterson says “Joy is nurtured by anticipation.”

The third Sunday of Advent marks a shift away from the solemn tone of the previous two Sundays to a more joyous atmosphere of anticipation and expectancy. The third candle we light on the Advent wreath reminds us that our waiting is almost over, and we can hardly contain our joy.

This is the joy candle because “The LORD had done great things for us; we were joyful.” (Psalm 126:3). The coming of Jesus our Savior and Lord gives us joy. 

Psalm 126:1-6 "When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD had done great things for us; we were joyful. Restore our fortunes, LORD, like watercourses in the wilderness. Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves."

This Psalm starts out with the exiles rejoicing. They had experienced deliverance and blessing from God, and they were almost giddy with joy! We all like living in the times when we feel the blessing of God’s provision and our hearts respond with praise. Of course, the Psalm doesn’t stop there, and neither does real life. Verse four reminds us of the need for restoration. No matter how much we enjoy God’s goodness in this life, we know that this isn’t all there is. This life has areas that aren’t “restored”, that aren’t as they should be. During Advent, we find ourselves waiting for that promised joy, that restoration.

This Psalm talks about dry times, it mentions wilderness times, it reminds us that we have to wait for some things. Like a farmer who sows seeds, we must persevere in doing what we must do, but we must also wait for growth, for watering, for refreshing. Two water images are found here—the gushing forth of mighty streams in the wilderness, and the patient ongoing work that sometimes requires tears.

Jesus had a time of tears, and Scripture reminds us that his time of sorrow also produced great joy. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that we should “keep our eyes on Jesus, the source and completion of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.” We must remember that Jesus was born to die, that he was born (as the prophet reminds us) as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Yet he faced the cross, this grim situation, with joy. Jesus looked beyond the cross to a joy that was ahead of him.

What was that joy? Maybe it is the development and growth of his Bride, the Church. Jesus knew his sorrow and suffering would reap a fine crop of restored lives and renewed relationship with God. He saw joy in spite of the hard times. His suffering provided the greatest reason for rejoicing—as he gave his life as a ransom for our sins, he provided for us the opportunity to be adopted as children of God. Jesus rejoiced at the hard labor that faced him, for he knew that God had promised to bring joy through his sorrow, to bring life to the dead.

So it is in our lives. We may enter this Advent season with heavy hearts. We may find ourselves laboring, sowing seed with tears, and enduring hardship while looking forward to a future harvest. Or, we may find ourselves enjoying the presence and the joy of our Lord. We may be in a season of restoration where God is making all things new and pointing to the promise of his kingdom: that future kingdom of love and peace where full fellowship with God is restored and all will be brightness and life.

We all have that hope, even if we aren’t always living in the joy of that kingdom.

As we enter this season of Advent, we may be living in both parts of Psalm 126.  Hearts overflowing with God’s provision and goodness—but still crying out for restoration in some dry areas of our lives. Take heart! There is still reason to rejoice! A flood may be coming our way, and the promise of God’s kingdom is still true.  Rejoice! There may be a slow, seed planting that is watered by our tears and prayers. If so, stay in the field. Persevere. Plant and water. Because even the lone farmer sees his harvest and will break into song. This is a season to celebrate joy.  

Let us not hurry our lives through Advent. Let us be patient with the in-between and not-yets in our lives. Let’s praise God for the goodness flooding us and plant seeds in the barren spots.  As we enter the season of Advent, let us look forward with hope, love, and joy. Let us take a moment to rejoice over those things God has done and will do. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. 

Thanks for reading! 

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

 

Advent 2017: God's Love at Christmas: Love Manifested

During Advent Christians focus on the love of God. I wanted to take a slightly none traditional passage on this issue for my thoughts on God's Word of Love. So, this devotion looks at 1 John 4:7-12 and discusses the idea that Christians should be a people who love like God loves. We need to be aware of and to share the love that God has given to us in Christ. His gift of grace becomes visible to others when we live the love Christ has shown us. When we love others, we give a living example of the love Jesus showed in the cross. In this Christmas season, we need to be ambassadors of God's manifested love. We need God to love us and to love through us. In this passage, John gives us the character of love, the definition of love, and the result of love. If you have any questions or would like to add a comment or two, that would be great!

I Want to Know What Love Is
Love Manifested

1 John 4:7-12

Introduction
How many of you know the rock group Foreigner?
Yeah, I’m old, that is certain!
One of their hits was “I Want to Know What Love Is”. I liked the song, but the point I want to make is this—there are lots of people in our world who make the same statement.

People want to know love; they want to experience it, they want to see it--just look at movies and magazines today. Many of the materials give instructions on finding love. Some movies exemplify romantic love as the goal of human existence. In fact, I would dare say that love is a dominant theme in many movies and magazines. The problem is that the love exemplified in these “sources” rarely offers real satisfaction or any sense of fulfillment.

Love in the world often ends in hurt or disappointment. We've all experienced this in some way of another. A "love" that we thought would save us ends up hurting us, or a "love" we thought would complete us ends up ruining us, or a "love" we hoped would end our suffering actually produces more pain. These stories could unfortunately be multiplied more than we'd like to admit!

The problem is that many of those experiences were not real, unconditional love. These "loves" described above were in many cases simply counterfeits of the love that can indeed help us (even if it sometimes wrecks us first!). What does real love look like?

Our passage in 1 John 4 today addresses the issue of what love looks like.

Verses 7-12 offer us John’s view of love, and in them we find three points to consider:
1. The character of love
2. The definition of love
3. The result of love

As we unpack these three topics, we will see that for John “Love resembles Jesus” in his character, action, and empowerment.
1. The Character of Love
1 John 4:7-8—John likes to repeat himself. This is now the third time he has instructed his readers to “love one another.” In 1 John 2:7-11 and 3:11-12 John has already given this command, now he returns to his earlier message.

John seems to repeat himself in an effort to make sure the point gets across. Church tradition/history tells us that John's message as he grew older became simply “Little children, love one another”. When asked why he repeats this message, John reportedly replied: “It is the command of our Lord, and it is enough.”

“Love one another” in John’s mind flows naturally from the basic character of love. John defines the character of love as being tied to the character of God.

Notice that John says in v. 7 “love is from God”.

The kind of love John to which John is encouraging us is not a mere emotion or an expression of human concern. The love mentioned in 1 John usually refers to a divine source, a love of a heavenly origin (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

We don’t learn this kind of love simply by attending seminars, reading books, or trying harder.  We learn to love one another in this way only as we draw closer to God through Christ.

Love’s true character is divine. Notice that in v. 8 John says, “God is love”. As John Stott reminds us: “"This is the most comprehensive and sublime of all the biblical affirmations of God's being."

We must not confuse this with the idea that “love is God”. We do not define God by our view of love. Rather, we define love by God’s nature (thank you, Ray Stedman, for this insight). God is the exemplar of love, he is the very definition of love. We know love if we know God.

God’s love includes his holiness—Psalm 138:2 (On Holiness see: Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:14-16). God’s character is just and loving—the two always go together as we will see more clearly in our next verses (H. A. Ironside).

So, John tells us we should love one another because of God’s nature or character. John adds that those who know God (i.e., know his character or know him intimately) will as a direct result love others. John’s argument is simple—if the life of God is present is us, then his love should be present as well. If we know that God’s love for us, then we should love others.

Passages that show Jesus as the example of God’s love: 2 Timothy 1:13: John 8:42: 1 John 2:5-7.

Real love resembles Jesus in his character. If it is real love, then it will look like Jesus. Of course, that insight reminds us that we still need some kind of definition of love. John offers us a definition in the next few verses.

2. The Definition of Love
1 John 4:9-10—Here John shifts from discussing the character of love to giving the supreme example of love—John now sets out to define love for his readers. His definition is centered on the central fact of Jesus' loving sacrifice for humanity. 
John describes the manifestation of God’s love and sums it up in one historical event—Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. John 3:16-19).
a. In this one event God revealed a love that has never since been surpassed (2 Cor. 4:6-7; 9:15)
b. This love sacrifices to make things right
c. This love empowers others to do the right things

Let’s unpack these ideas.

Love is sacrifice. John says that love was manifested (i.e., made known, made visible, made clear) by God’s act of sending his only Son Jesus into the world. The reference to Jesus as God’s “only begotten” refers to their unique relationship. Only Jesus is God’s “only begotten” Son—it refers to Jesus’ divine status. Nonetheless, Jesus was sent by his Father to accomplish a demonstration of true love. 
Please remember that this sending was not simply to tell the world what it needed to hear—(John 3:16-19)—rather God had another thing in mind. Jesus is sent to be the “propitiation” for our sins—1 John 2:1-2--(meaning to appease or to bring reconciliation). It has at its core the idea that two groups are estranged—one is angry at the other (Rom. 1:18-19). Jesus was sent to reconcile us to God.

God’s wrath was aimed at humanity because of sin. We were guilty and deserving of death (Romans 6:23). Instead of holding us guilty for our own sins, however, God decided to appease his own wrath by his own plan. Jesus took our place and received the just punishment of our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Do you see in this act the coming together of God’s justice and love God’s justice demanded holiness and required an ultimate sacrifice for sin, while God’s love provided the only true means to atone for that sin (Ray Stedman). Love is sacrificial—it does what is necessary to set things right..

But God’s love is not simply sacrificial, it does not simply “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)—rather it also gives us what is needed to live love ourselves. In other words, love empowers us to emulate Jesus. God’s love was manifested “in us”—this can mean either “on our behalf” or “in our midst”. The point is that God’s love is manifested in space and time. It is not simply theoretical—it is real—it is “in us”.

In v. 9 John says that God sent Jesus into the world so that we could “live through him”. Let that sink in—we who deserved death for our sins are being given life by the one who actually died for the sins of the world. The greatest sign of love is the bloody cross—there by God’s grace and love we lost our burden, our guilt, even our inability to live as God intended—in the cross our Lord died so that we might live through him. This is the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That baby in swaddling clothes is born to bear our sin, to die on our behalf, to bring reconciliation and healing to those who are broken by sin.

God’s love is for our benefit—it enlivens us--it is empowering. That is the true definition of love—It sacrifices that others may gain.

How does our love for others measure up?

Love resembles Jesus in his sacrifice. The definition of love is sacrifice for the improvement of the beloved. The lover is willing to sacrifice to bless the beloved. And this sacrifice is not just the definition of love, it also reminds us that love results in something. The result of love is John's next topic.

3. The Result of Love
1 John 4:11-12—Now that he has shown the character and definition of love, John now offers a description of the result of love.

“If God so loved us” is reminiscent of the “so” in John 3:16. It probably refers to the manner in which God loved us. John seems to be saying, “If you have received love in this way, you should then love others like that.” In other words, the way we love should be sacrificial and for the benefit of others—that they may gain God. We should love with the result that others are drawn to God through Jesus.

This God kind of love also has a moral imperative to it—because God has done this, we “ought” to respond in a similar manner (1 John 2:4-11).

How and when did God love us?
a. God loved us when we were sinners (Romans 5:6-8). We cannot understand grace or the love of God until we understand the nature of sin. We will not understand the wonder of the atoning sacrifice until we grasp the horror of that which needed atoning.
b. God loved us by giving a means for us to be reconciled to him—he gave Jesus as our atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; 5:9-11). As already noted, Jesus died so that we could live.

God’s love should be our motivation to love others.

Verse 12 is incredible—here John states a well known doctrine—God is not visible to the human eye—we cannot see him. Yet John seems to claim that when we love one another, God becomes apparent. The verse claims that when we love with the love God has given us in Christ, then God abides in us and his love is “perfected” (i.e., made complete, accomplished, finished, brought to its goal) in us. Our relationships of love become the place where God and his love become visible to others. When we love others, we show them God.

Love resembles Jesus as we make him known by loving others. This Christmas season, let's give the gift that will keep love alive and growing--let's love others so that they may know God's love.

Application
This is a weighty thing—how are we to be “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20-21) when we are still fallen and prone to let God down?

How can we claim to know God when we cannot love those closest to us?

How do we respond to John’s exhortation in these verses?

First, we must recognize our need to experience and live in God’s great grace and love—knowing God through Jesus Christ is the starting point. Remember that John says that loving others comes from loving God. This week make it a point to spend extra time with God. Take 15 minutes a day to look up verses that speak of God’s love (start in 1 John 2, 3, and 4, but don’t neglect John’s Gospel—chapters 3, 5, 13-15)—learn of his love and ask him to empower you to emulate it.

Next, take some time to ask where you can share this love of God. Start with your brothers and sisters in Christ, but don’t neglect those outside of the household of the faith. Look for opportunities to tell others how God’s love has changed your life, just be sure to love them while you tell them. Here are some suggestions (thanks to Bruce Goettsche for these):

1. Seek for ways to get beyond feelings of competition.
2. Speak of other’s with honor instead of enjoying or gossiping about their shortcomings, struggles, or inconsistencies.
3. Rally to the side of those who are hurt or experiencing injustice—offer them a word of encouragement or stand with them in prayer.
4. Look for opportunities to help those who can’t help you back—give sacrificially into the life of one who may not pay you back..
5. Extend forgiveness to those who offend.
6. Be patient with someone who desperately needs it.
7. Be quick to show hospitality to others.
8. Be willing to pray for and with each other.
9. Share the story of Jesus and your salvation with someone.
10. Bake cookies for someone who is down and write them a note of encouragement.

Love resembles Jesus.
How are we doing?

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

 

Advent 2017: The Hope of Messiah's Coming

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. The focus is also placed upon the return of Jesus to complete the work of salvation by rescuing those who trust in him.

The expectation that God would intervene, even invade this earth, to provide a means of humanity being properly related to him finds expression in the Jewish hope for a Messiah and in the Christian belief that Jesus is that Messiah who has come and will one day soon return. Jesus' sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection are the means by which this rescue is effected for us in the present time, but the completion of the rescue will not be complete until Jesus returns to establish God's reign as intended from the beginning.

Some of the passages associated with this first Sunday of Advent include Isaiah 63:19-64:5 and 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. Here they are from the HCSB translation:
Isaiah 63:19 We have become like those You never ruled over, like those not called by Your name. 64:1 If only You would tear the heavens open and come down, so that mountains would quake at Your presence--2 as fire kindles the brushwood, and fire causes water to boil--to make Your name known to Your enemies, so that nations will tremble at Your presence! 3 When You did awesome deeds that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains quaked at Your presence. 4 From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened, no eye has seen any God except You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him. 5 You welcome the one who joyfully does what is right; they remember You in Your ways. But we have sinned, and You were angry; we will remain in Your ways and be saved.  
 1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of God's grace given to you in Christ Jesus, 5 that by Him you were made rich in everything--in all speaking and all knowledge--6 as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by Him you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Both of these passages remind us that God's invasion into creation in the form of the 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". Paul speaks of this in the Corinthian passage above as God's provision of spiritual gifts from Christ himself to aid us in accomplishing the present work here on earth as we await the return of Jesus to finish the rescue.

God invaded in the past as a babe, but he will return in a more dynamic way. This is what we celebrate in this season of Advent. The promise of Messiah's advent, the coming of God's Messiah to rescue humanity from sin, from darkness, and from oppression. The first coming set the standard as Jesus lived the life God desires of us all and then sent his Spirit to empower us to live as God intends. The second coming will set into concrete the kingdom way of life that God has for his people. The ideal will be realized in the future, but in the time between then and now God provides for us all that we need for life in his way.

That provision is revealed to us in that Child who was born to die and to rise and to redeem, and by these acts Jesus creates a kind of opportunity for humanity to imitate his humble service and sacrifice in everyday life until he returns again. The very atmosphere at Christmas can sometimes seem 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. 

As we remember the promise of Jesus' return, we are hopefully incited to live in a way that he will find acceptable when he comes to establish his rule. In other words, the "Christmas Spirit" should become the everyday life of the follower of Christ who looks back to Jesus' sacrifice and forward to his return/reign. What does that life look like?

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 repentant 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 Advents 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!

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Monday, November 20, 2017

 

A burnt offering acceptable to God . . . What it means to burn

Today I was reading through some old posts, and I came across one from 10 years ago that caused me to stop and to think. I wrote this note as I was preparing to teach on the book of Hebrews at Liberty, and the thoughts below strike me as especially helpful during the season of Thanksgiving. As we consider this week all the good things we have received, let us also think of ways we can show our gratitude by giving back. Let us strive to be like Jesus and to serve humbly those around us. What do we need to put on the altar today to let God consume? Where do I need the fire of God in my life? I hope this repeat blesses you!

As I sit here in my comfortable home reading the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, I am listening to Caedmon's Call (the first album). I am struck by the honesty and character of the lyrics (of course, it doesn't hurt that Derek Webb wrote a bunch of the songs). Nonetheless, the interesting mixture of the admonitions of Hebrews with the alternative/folk feel of Caedmon's Call has put me in quite the introspective mood. Before I go any further, then, I want to quote for you the song "Coming Home," written by Aaron Tate and copyrighted by Cumbee Road Music in 1994. Here ya go!


You say you want a living sacrifice
Well here I am a burnt offering
Crawling off the altar
And back into the fire

And with my smoke-filled lungs
I cry out for freedom
While locking and chaining myself
To my rotting desires

And I hate the stench
But I swallow the key
And with it stuck in my throat
Can you hear me
Can you hear me

(Chorus)
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
But I'm still a long way off

I am shell shocked and I have walked
Through the trenches full of tears
With the mortars of memory
Exploding in my burning ears

You've stripped the trees of Lebanon
And now you're stripping me
Of the bark of false morality
The bite of selfish greed
Lord, can you hear me

(Chorus)
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
But I'm still a long way off

Will you run to me
Will you come to me
Will you meet me
Will you greet me
Will you drag me home
Cause I'm still a long way off

(Chorus)
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
I'm coming home. I'm coming home.
But I'm still a long way off

I guess the reason that this song struck me today is the imagery of fire. Fire plays a big role in the letter to the Hebrews.

God is depicted as a burning fire.

There is a bit of discussion about the altar and sacrifices aflame.

Even Christ is depicted as a type of burnt offering offered on our behalf outside of the city--the same place where the author of Hebrews wants us to join Christ so that we can endure the abuse that he suffered.

Why? Because our God is a consuming fire.

What does fire consume? It consumes anything that is not like it. God will also consume those things in us that do not correspond to his character. That is why we are admonished to "Strive for peace with all people, and for the holiness without which no one will see God."

The song above reminds me of these things. We are on an altar whether we like it or not. We are either on the altar of God (allowing our non-God aspects to be burnt away and changed into his likeness), or we are on the altar of our own selfishness (burning away with our own deceit and sinful wishes). Like Aaron Tate points out, we crawl off the altar of God into the fire itself. We cry out for freedom while chaining ourselves to our own rotting and despicable desires.

We are on fire. We are burning.

What are we burning and why are we burning?

Many of us burn for all the wrong reasons--we are aflame with our own passions and desires, pursuing things that not only will not satisfy, but that will scar us forever if we continue to make ourselves a sacrifice to stuff. We look for stuff to fill the hole in the seat of our beings, we strive to come to wholeness through means that will not make us whole--we try to make ourselves something we are not, we try to obtain possessions that we do not need, we spend and are spent pursuing more stuff that not only clog our homes but clog our spiritual and physical veins and keep us from living our lives as God intended.

We can also burn for the right reasons--we can give ourselves over to a life of sacrifice or selfless living that puts the needs of others before our own desires and wishes. We may be aflame with a love that desires the best of God's blessings for our neighbors. We burn in God's presence so that we may lose anything that is not of God and gain Christ as "all that is really important." It is not an easy place to be, being consumed until only God is left. Nonetheless, such a place is necessary if we are to live a life abundant.

Let us come to God's consuming fire to be purified, to receive the delicious grace of God in Christ, to find all our rotting desires removed and transformed. If not, we are merely burning on our own waste.

Hebrews 10:31, 39
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. . . . But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls."

Thanks for reading!

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