Friday, December 25, 2015

 

The Mystery of Christmas--My Annual Christmas Post

Hey y'all:

I started this blog 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 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 victory needed to be 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 a bad state. 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 so impress 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). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his 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 each of us 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! 

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Monday, December 21, 2015

 

No Reputation: The "Gift" of 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. 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”?

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 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?

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, December 11, 2015

 

Do You Hear What I Hear? A Christmas Sermon

A few years ago I preached a Christmas sermon on John 1 here in Lynchburg.  The history of this sermon is interesting.  In college (and later in seminary) I was challenged by my preaching profs 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 Christmas!



Do You Hear What I Hear?
John 1:14-18

Introduction
What’s 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—billboards, text messages, commercials, even pop up ads on-line.

We are a people drowning in information who at times seem to be longing for meaningful communication.

We want to hear a “good word,” something that is helpful or communicates hope. We want to hear some good news.

Have you ever noticed how often “words” play a role in Scripture?
1. In the beginning, God “said” or “spoke” and there was ______________
2. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the morning
3. God spoke the Law to Moses
4. God spoke to the Jews through prophets (Hebrews 1)
5. On the first Christmas, God spoke through dreams and angels
6. 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 is going on

Three elements in communication—the speaker, the message, the hearer
For good communication to happen, all three have to function properly

What happens when God communicates?
God is the speaker, and he reveals himself to us by his message (i.e., his Word)
God is infallible, and his Word is perfect, so that puts the emphasis on the hearers
God speaks, but are we listening?

This Christmas, God offers us a Word—that Word is his self-disclosure, his speaking of himself through his Son

When God speaks, we should listen
Do you hear what I hear?

John 1:14-18

In this passage I hear God saying three things. Let’s see if we hear the same thing.
1. I hear that the Word is among us, vv. 14, 18 (The Word Among Us)
2. I hear that The Word is Before Us, v. 15 (The World Before Us)
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. By being one of us, Jesus healed and redeemed our situation. Do you hear what I hear?

b. The Word dwelt among us (tabernacle)—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 pitching his tent (taking up his dwelling place) among us. He lives with us, he lives among us. He has not left us nor forsaken us. Do you hear what I hear?

c. 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 hidden (remember Moses and the Tabernacle), but with the birth of Jesus God’s glory now becomes obvious to all. God makes himself known in Jesus. Do you hear what I hear?

d. 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. Do you hear what I hear?

e. 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 God is capable of being understood. Do you hear what I hear?

When God speaks, we should listen
Do you hear what I hear?

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, that which no one had seen), he offered an explanation of God’s grace and truth, and our response is to witness his glory and 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)

i. Jesus’ superiority is explained in detail in the letter to the Hebrews
ii. 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)

Jesus is “before” us
Do you hear what I hear?

Because of his position, we are called to testify of his superiority and glory (this is what John does here)

b. But Jesus also lives “before” us in the idea of being right in front of our eyes. God is not hidden, he is in our midst. Jesus is known to us. 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
Do you hear what I hear?

When God reveals himself, he sometimes uses the testimony of others (John), he reveals his superior nature (he is before us and existed without us), as a result he is worthy of our worship and our testimony

Third, 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)
i. Jesus is the fullness of God (Col 2:9-10)
ii. Christ is the ultimate expression of grace and truth

1. He is grace in that he was freely given for us all (John 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2)
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)

i. The idea here is an endless supply of grace
ii. Like a warehouse with an unending supply of boxes stacked up against each other, so Jesus offers an ongoing and never exhaustible warehouse of grace
iii. He is grace beyond measure, He is grace yesterday, today, and forever
iv. His grace is never shallow and is trustworthy

c. Law reveals God, but Jesus brings grace and truth to reality (grace and truth “became” through Jesus, same word as “became” flesh)

d. We all receive his grace

i. 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)
ii. The grace of God is available to all people by means of the incarnation as Jesus reveals and explains God’s grace
iii. The grace of God is effective in the crucifixion as the blood of Jesus is applied to the sins of humans
iv. The grace of God is sealed by the resurrection in which God declares his work completed and finished

When God speaks, we should listen
Do you hear what I hear?

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 “incarnate” God’s grace and truth in our own lives

Application/Conclusion

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 God’s Word?

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 superiority
iii. Speak of his grace and truth
iv. Take opportunity to share the truth of God’s Incarnation during the Christmas season

When God speaks, people ought to listen
Do you hear what I hear?

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

 

"At Christmas," by Edgar Albert Guest

As as child I remember whenever I was required to visit the doctor's office (Dr. King's office, to be precise), I'd have the opportunity to peruse several pictures that included some pretty fascinating poetry.  My mother over the years has given me books of some of that poetry, and I have to admit reading them brings back some fond feelings of my childhood in Millington, TN.  One of the poets that I remember discovering in that quaint little office was a man named Edgar Albert Guest. 

I remember seeing a couple of his poems on the walls of that office, and I've since come to appreciate a number of his works.  The one below is a personal favorite about Christmas.  In it 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.  I hope this poem blesses you!

Thanks for reading!

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