Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Biggest Question


Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. -- Matthew 16:13-17
What if I told you that I am one with God and said, "If you've seen me, you've seen God". By the way, what if I also claimed that I can raise the dead and I will judge all mankind, both the living and the dead, at the end of the age. Furthermore, what if I claimed to forgive sins?

Now keep in mind, forgiveness is a really tricky business. Strangely enough, it can rub people the wrong way. Imagine if someone has hurt you in some way, and I forgive THEM for hurting YOU. What kind of person goes around doing that? Well, that is exactly what Jesus did. As C.S. Lewis observed:

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did.
He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.*

So one thing should be clear; if I said those things about myself, I would be claiming to be God. Those who assert that Jesus never claimed to be God couldn't be more wrong. In John 5, Jesus is clearly asserting His deity, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We will see much more in the weeks to come. It is also clear that the religious leaders understood that Jesus was claiming to be God (John 5:18, John 10:33). The Bible testifies through and through to the divinity of Christ. Both with explicit statements, as well as implicit (and beautifully pictured) allusions to the deity of Christ. Once again, Lewis is helpful in delineating our options when facing the claims of Christ:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.*

Now think about what that means for just a moment. If God really did come to us wrapped in human flesh, that should startle and shake us to our core. But does that knowledge truly arrest our attention? Do we really feel the weight of it? Once again, I fear that because we have heard it so often, we no longer really hear it, we no longer really see it, and we've long stopped considering what it means.

For thousands of years, God sent His prophets to speak to man on His behalf, but they were rejected and persecuted. So finally, God Himself came in human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Our God and Creator came to us, not to condemn us, but to seek and to save the lost -- and we crucified Him. We crucified the Lord of Glory because we did not want our rightful King to reign over us.

Although it was God's sovereign plan from eternity past for Christ to die, man is still responsible and guilty for the murder of Jesus (Acts 2:23-24). At the cross we see man's hatred of God and love of sin on full display. But thankfully, at the cross, we also see God's love for man and His hatred of sin on full display as well. It all intersects and collides at the cross of Christ. What man meant for evil, God used for good.

Which brings us back to the question asked by Jesus Himself: Who do you say that I am? Is He Lord, lunatic or liar? That is the biggest question and it demands an answer -- it is impossible to sit on the fence. If Jesus was and is Who He claimed to be, then it really does change everything. And if we really believe it, if we really feel the weight of it, then it will change us as well.


* Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis




Considering Culture: Jesus is My Homeboy?


One thing I hope to do on a recurring basis is step outside of our cultural context and consider how our culture might influence how we understand Scripture. That old question, "Does a fish know that it's wet?" is an apt illustration. In the same way that a fish doesn't realize he's wet, we often don't realize how much we are influenced by our culture, because we are swimming in it.

For example, I live in America which is a representative republic. Because of this, the citizens of America have some say in who runs the country. We have the ability to elect our leaders and remove them from office. (Of course this is true in any democracy.) Even our president, who is considered the world's most powerful man, is elected every four years, and he is limited to eight years in office. In other words, despite the tremendous power of the presidency, it still comes with great limitations placed on Him by the people and our constitution. 

In fact, in a republic such as America, the voter is referred to as the sovereign, or absolute ruler. Benjamin Franklin said, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns."

sov•er•eign [sov-rin, sov-er-in, suhv-] noun
1. a monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler.
2. a person who has supreme power or authority.
3. a group or body of persons or a state having sovereign authority.

Because I have lived in America my entire life, I have no concept of what it means to live under an absolute monarchy in which the king's word is final, and he has absolute power over life and death. In the ancient world, the word of the king was law, and this was the most common form of government. That being the case, we need to remember that this modern form of government was a foreign concept in the ancient world.

Why is this important for us to understand? Because the claim that Christ makes on us is that of a King with absolute power and authority, not that of a president hoping to be reelected. He is our Sovereign. We didn't elect Him, He will never be termed out of office, and His word is law. And there will come a day when every knee will bow to His authority on earth as in heaven.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -- Philippians 2:9-11
Because of these same cultural influences, we have a stubborn habit of giving Jesus a makeover to better suit our time and sensibilities. In the 70's we made Jesus a hippy in movies like Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 80's we made him a conservative republican, in the 90's we made Him a New Age guru, and today we're trying to make Him a green socialist. We are forever trying to mold Jesus into our own image to enlist Him to our pet cause. Even worse, we have lost all sense of reverence for Christ in the process.
The phrase Jesus is Lord is so ubiquitous, we no longer stop to think about what it means. Instead of Lord and Savior, we think of Him as Life coach and Savior. We live any way we choose and think of Jesus as a personal assistant or a consultant who gives advice on how to make our dreams come true. But, once again, that is not the Christ of Scripture. If we don't learn about Jesus from Scripture, without realizing it, we will simply believe whatever the culture is selling about Jesus at any given moment.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. -- Galatians 1:8
It is vital that we understand who Jesus is on His terms, and according to Scripture, not according to the shifting sands of culture. Jesus is the Sovereign Lord, He is high and lifted up, and He is due proper honor, respect and reverence to the glory of God.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. -- Colossians 1:16-18

To further illustrate, let's consider an Old Testament appearance of Christ (known as a Christophany) from the book of Joshua. Jesus appeared to Joshua as the Commander of the Lord's Army on the eve of battle with Jericho.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" And he said, "No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, "What does my lord say to his servant?" And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.  -- Joshua 5:13-15

After an encounter like that, can you imagine Joshua saying anything like, "Jesus is my homeboy"? Jesus refused to be pulled into any man's cause, and that is the pattern throughout Scripture. Christ is Sovereign. When Christ is seen in His glory, men are overwhelmed and fall at His feet as if dead.

We must never forget that Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords. But this King is like no other. He is perfect in humility (Phil 2:5-8), He came as a servant to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), and yet He calls us friend.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. -- John 15:13-15
This is the same Jesus who wrapped Himself in a towel to wash the feet of His proud disciples, and this same Jesus will serve His servants in the kingdom to come. What kind of king does that?
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. -- Luke 12:37
So yes, while we can bask in the warm glow of the love of Christ and enjoy His friendship, we must never forget Who He is.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. -- Revelation 19:11-16

Jesus is not a lump of clay that we can mold into any image. He is the Almighty God and King who wore a crown of thorns and vouchsafed to us the privilege of friendship. The only proper response to such a King is reverence, wonder, joy, awe, and worship. Once again, I will close with the words to another wonderful hymn that says it all so well:
Amazing love, how can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true
It’s my joy to honor You
In all I do, I honor You






The Lion and the Lamb


Martin Luther once said, "Music is the handmaiden of theology." So just take a little time to enjoy this wonderful, Christ exalting song, and contemplate the person and work of Christ, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God.




Who is He...Who's the mightiest of all
Who is He...Creation trembles at His call
Who is He...The lowly sacrifice, who paid a victims price
His name is Jesus

(chorus)
Jesus...From the Father's own right hand
Jesus...Son of God and son of man
Jesus...Who died and rose again
Jesus...He's the Lion and the Lamb

Who is He...With the power none can tame
Who is He...That every foe would fear His name
Who is He...Who was humbly led away, to suffer that dark day
His name is Jesus

(chorus)

He's the Lion and the Lamb

(Hook)
He's the Lamb that was slain
He's the Lion that reigns
My Savior and King both the same

Who is He...With the eyes that burn like fire
Who is He...Oh the wonder He inspires
Who is He...Who bore the guilt and shame
For those who've gone astray
His name is Jesus

(chorus)

He's the Lion and He is... healer from the Father's own right hand
Jesus...Son of God and son of man
Jesus...Who died and rose again
Jesus...He's the Lion and the Lamb

He's the Lion and the Lamb (repeat 2x)


Monday, April 22, 2013

Idol Worship - Then and Now

Broken Cisterns


Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns* for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. -- Jeremiah 2:12-13
As we make our way through Scripture, we will continue to meet various people. Last week we met Nicodemus, and this week we meet a Samaritan woman at Jacobs Well. She is never named, we only know her as the Woman at the Well, but we learn a lot about her back-story.  She had been married and (presumably) divorced five times, and now she was living with a man that she was not married to.

As we meet people in Scripture, one thing should start becoming abundantly clear, they suffer from common human maladies. In other words, they are very much like us. In Nicodemus we saw the best of the best, a  highly respected religious leader with great influence. And in the Woman at the Well, we see what society counted as the lowest of the low, a social outcast with a checkered past. Nicodemus was a somebody, and the Woman at the Well was a nobody. This is a study in contrasts and it tells us something; whether we are counted as the best of the best, the worst of the worst, or somewhere in between, we are all laid bare before Christ. When Jesus confronts Nicodemus, or the woman at the well, He is confronting the full range of humanity, which includes you and me.

It is fitting that Jesus first encountered this woman at Jacob's Well while she was working to quench her physical thirst. Because for many years she also had been working hard, trying to quench her spiritual thirst with men. She had gone to the well of relationships, time and time again, only to pull up empty buckets. She was trying to find in men that which can only be found in God. Her meeting with Jesus was not just a chance encounter, she had an appointment with Divine Providence.

Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." -- John 4:13-14

Biblically speaking, this woman was guilty of idolatry, and we humans have a long history of committing the sin of idolatry. What is Idolatry you might ask? To put it simply, idolatry is anything we put in God's rightful place; it can even be good things.

As modern people, we tend to ridicule our ancient counterparts for their primitive forms of idolatry. How could they fashion idols from things like gold, wood and stone and worship them as gods? Not only did they have personal idols for their households, they also built elaborate temples for their idols. So we look around our land today and think, no temples, no household idols, we're good -- we're better than our ancestors. Well, not so fast. We are no less guilty, the only difference is that our modern idols are mostly idols of the heart. But rest assured, idolatry is alive and well.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. -- 1 John 5:21 


So what does it look like to have an idol? An idol will hold a supreme place in our affections, passions, and thoughts. At base, we believe that our idols will save us. They will save us from meaninglessness, hopelessness, a lack of respect… the list could go on and on. Our idols also give us a sense of pride, in that, if we have our idols securely in hand, we will feel superior to others.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest." -- C.S. Lewis

An idol is also our attempt at self-salvation and self-justification. For example we might say, if I can only do this, or accomplish that, then my life will have meaning. My place in this world is justified because of what I have accomplished. We look to our idols for ultimate meaning and purpose. To one person it might be a successful career, to another it might be the pursuit of a dream, to another person it might be sex and romance, or even marriage and family. These things are not inherently bad in themselves; but even a good thing can become an idol if we make it our god and our reason for living. And know this, our idols will always fail us.

For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? 
-- Mark 8:36

Furthermore, an idol will also shrivel our souls, because we will ultimately become what we worship:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. -- Psalms 115:4-8

In short, idols will leave us spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind. Ancient Israel abandoned God, the fountain of living waters, and replaced Him with idols, (also known as broken cisterns). When we commit idolatry, we do the same. Essentially, we fail to give God the rightful place in our heart. 


To use another analogy, idolatry is like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. In the end, it creates a vicious cycle of thirst and dehydration that will ultimately end in death. It is like a cycle of addiction, in that you crave more and more of the very thing that is killing you. But idols can never fill an eternal soul, only an infinite God is big enough to do that.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" -- John 7:37-38

We foolishly believe that our idols will give us life, meaning, and joy. But in reality, our idols are heavy burdens and harsh task masters that will destroy us in the end. In contrast, Christ offers us a light burden and rest for our souls:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." -- Matthew 11:28-30 

Jesus confronts our idols. He said that you cannot serve two masters, you will hate one and love the other (Luke 16:13). A Christian is someone who, by God's grace, has turned away from his sin and idolatry and has come to treasure Christ above all other pursuits, pleasures and ambitions. In short, we renounce all other masters, including self, to follow Christ.

"Having made Jesus his all, he shall find all in Jesus." - Charles Spurgeon 

As God takes His rightful place on the throne of the heart, something wonderful begins to happen, we begin to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Although we will never be perfect on this side of heaven, the Christian is already being transformed into the image of Christ. (Remember, we become what we worship.)

The grace of Christ frees us. We no longer need to be slaves to our idols, and we will no longer try to get from others that which only comes from God. We begin to understand that not even the best of circumstances, the best spouse, the best children, the best job, none of these things can carry the burden of being our God. And that frees us to love people and have joy and contentment through the trials and tribulations of life, because we have already found our greatest treasure in Christ.

By God's grace, the Christian grows to understand that, in light of all that Christ has done, we no longer need our idols because He is our salvation, our justification, and our joy. We rest in Him. God is the fount of living water that quenches our dry and thirsty soul. For the Christian, God is the fountainhead of all true and lasting joy. He is not a means to an end, He is the end.

In closing, I leave you with the words of this wonderful old hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus:

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


__________

Cisterns: ...Jerusalem depends mainly for water upon its cisterns, of which almost every private house possesses one or more, excavated in the rock on which the city is built. The cisterns have usually a round opening at the top, sometimes built up with stonework above and furnished with a curb and a wheel for a bucket. ( Ecclesiastes 12:6 ) Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons and places of confinement. Joseph was cast into a "pit," ( Genesis 37:22 ) as was Jeremiah. ( Jeremiah 38:6 ) - Smith's Bible Dictionary

Setting Your Affections Above

The true cure for a dull memory in religion, is to get deeper love toward Christ, and affections more thoroughly set on things above. We do not readily forget the things we love, and the objects which we keep continually under our eyes. The names of our parents and children are always remembered. The face of the husband or wife we love is engraved on the tablets of our hearts. The more our affections are engaged in Christ’s service, the more easy shall we find it to remember Christ’s words. The words of the apostle ought to be carefully pondered: “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Heb. 2:1)
~ J.C. Ryle


Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 2 , [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 494.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Familiarity Breeds Contempt


"We never hear the Gospel until we've been made uneasy by it"
-- Ravi Zacharias


This week we are going to look at one of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture, John chapter 3. I say that because so many people, Christian and unbeliever alike, can probably quote John 3:16 from heart:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Because this passage is so familiar, I'm guessing that there is a good chance you didn't read the entire verse above, or give it serious thought. Which brings us to the old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt". Although contempt might be too strong a word, at the very least, familiarity does breed a level of apathy. I believe John 3:16 is too often dismissed by unbelievers as well as Christians. It is dismissed by unbelievers as foolishness, and it is often dismissed by Christians as mere milk, or a starting point from which we should quickly move beyond. But in reality, there is so much theological richness in this verse, we will be mining its treasure into eternity. In this verse we see the nature of the Triune God and His many attributes such as wrath, righteousness, mercy, grace, love, and holiness, working in perfect harmony to redeem fallen humanity.


In fact, because we live in a culture that has a church on every corner, and because a lot of silliness is done in the name of Christ, we tend to view the entire Bible with a kind of "been there, done that" complacency. That being the case, sometimes it can be a challenge to come to the Bible (especially familiar passages like John 3) with a fresh set of eyes, and a heart of anticipation that is ready to receive from God's Word. It is my hope and prayer that, as we read this familiar passage of Scripture, we will be able to see it with new eyes and grow in our understanding of the person and work of Christ.

In John 3, we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, and we are more like him than we realize. When Jesus began teaching Him about salvation and the Kingdom of God, Nicodemus did not understand. The teachings of Christ were shocking and unsettling to Nicodemus. Jesus replied, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" (John 3:10).

There is a gentle rebuke from Jesus in those words to Nicodemus, and by extension, there is a rebuke to you and me as well. How is it that Nicodemus could be a highly esteemed teacher in Israel who spent his life studying the Scriptures, and yet, he did not understand what Christ was saying to him? It was because his heart was dull and glazed over with sin, self-righteousness, and a poor understanding of Scripture. But I won't be too hard on Nicodemus, because we will soon discover that the disciples of Christ had similar problems. And guess what, we do as well. It is the human condition.

Part of the problem with modern "churchianity" is that we have tried to file down the hard edges from Scripture and fashion a god in our own image. We've tried to explain away difficult passages that pierce the heart and shock our sensibilities. We are guilty of wrapping the Gospel in a user-friendly media package that is sure to offend no one. But when that happens, the Bible is no longer being taught.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. -- Proverbs 27:6

Here's the reality, the claims of Christ are shocking and unsettling, regardless of the era and place in which you live. They were shocking in Jesus' day, and they are shocking to our generation as well. Great kingdoms have come and gone, but the Word of Christ remains. His words echo through time, and they continue to confront us to this very minute.

If the words of Christ do not, at times, unsettle us and rattle our shaky foundations, we are not reading them correctly. Christ does something that makes us all uncomfortable; He is the faithful friend that tells the truth about our condition, and wounds our foolish and self-righteous pride. As a result, fallen cultures will tend to deal with the Bible in a few different ways; it will change the message to fit the culture, ridicule the Bible, or ban it all together. But it has proven to be a hard book to ignore.


C.S. Lewis wanted to breakthrough that cultural blindness when he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. He wanted to awaken our hearts to awe and wonder so we could better understand the true nature of Christ. In Chronicles, Lewis wrote about a Christ-like figure named Aslan, a mighty lion who sang the world of Narnia into existence. When a little girl named Lucy first heard about Aslan, she was frightened and wanted to know if Aslan was safe. To which Mr. Beaver replied, "Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you."

What we've tried to do is make God "safe" and easy to manage. Or, to put it in the vernacular of Lewis, we've tried to "tame" God. We want a God that we can control. We've tried to change Christ, whom the Bible calls the Lion of Judah, into something as benign and innocuous as Barney the purple dinosaur. But that is not the Christ of Scripture. To truly read Scripture is to encounter Christ, and that is like walking side by side with a lion. We can only do that by the good graces of the Lion, we are not in control.

 

Like Nicodemus, we become unsettled, and begin to discover that everything we thought we knew about God, and even what we thought we knew about ourselves, begins to change when confronted with the person of Christ. (That is not only true before we are Christians, that continues to happen after we are Christians.) 

John 3 is both comforting and unsettling. It is shocking to our sensibilities, because we learn that we are alienated from God by our sin and abide under His wrath (John 3:36). We learn that it is our nature to run from the light of Christ because our deeds are evil (John 3:19-20). We also learn in Romans that we are perishing under a sentence of death, both physical and spiritual (Romans 6:23). It is against this backdrop of despair that we learn about an amazing hope, and the Gospel shines like a brilliant sunrise after a long dark night of the soul. We read, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

In John 3, we see the eternal vistas, ranging from deep chasms of despair and alienation from God, to the mountain peaks of hope we find in the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel means good news, but we can only understand the good news in light of the bad news about our true condition. And with that truth, Jesus brings grace upon grace (John 1:16-17) and love that is beyond comprehension (Romans 5:6-8, Romans 8:38-39).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Setting the Table

"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"
-- Psalms 119:103


A good meal takes time.

When I was growing up, my Grandmother would spend days preparing a holiday meal, and she would start by shopping for the best ingredients she could find. As a kid, that drove me nuts. Because she would drive to the farmers market and every roadside produce stand she knew about. I didn't understand why she didn't just shop at the nearest grocery store and call it a day. But now, looking back, I realize that she knew what she was doing. She knew where to find the best quality produce and meats, and it took time.

Once the ingredients were purchased, she would start cooking everything from scratch, and she would spend up to three days, cooking around the clock to prepare a big meal. I'm confident that I speak for the entire family when I say that our Grandmother set the standard by which all later meals would be judged. Why was her cooking so good? Because she cooked with love, and it took time. That's why you can't find food like Grandma's at McDonalds or Taco Bell. It just takes time to set the table for a good meal.

I hate to admit this, growing up, I took it all for granted. If I had those years to live over again, I wouldn't complain about how long the shopping took, and I wouldn't complain when she occasionally asked for help in the kitchen. I would just enjoy my time with Grandma, and be thankful.

What we know about a good meal is also true about God's Word. It takes time to savor the deep truths of Scripture. God has demonstrated His love through Christ and He has given us His Word; and to discover its riches takes time. But let's face it, we live in one of the most impatient societies in the history of mankind. Even the microwave oven seems to take too long these days. An even bigger problem is what modern entertainment and media has done to our attention spans. For example, how can the nightly news claim to cover a story "in depth" in less than three minutes? To truly understand anything takes time. Our modern way of life has taken a toll on us all, and we are more effected by it than we realize.

If we approach God's Word like a microwave oven, we will not discover its riches. It takes time to till the soil, and it takes time for a rose to bloom. If we give God's word prayerful time and thought, it will yield a bountiful crop, and bloom like a fragrant rose. God is the beauty by which all other beauty is measured and He is the ultimate joy that all lesser joys point to; and He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Let us not take that for granted.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Once Upon A Time...

Every great story has a beginning, middle, and end. Even a great piece of music has a beginning, and a middle (where it builds to a crescendo), and an end, when it comes to a resolution.

We see that pattern written on life itself. Life begins at conception, the pregnancy builds for nine months, rising to the crescendo of childbirth; then it finally comes to a resolution, with the mother holding a newborn baby in her arms.

The beat of history will also rise to a crescendo. As history progresses, the drums will beat faster and harder, the horns will blow longer and louder, until finally, history's trumpets will rise to a crescendo with the return of Christ. Then, history will finally come to a resolution with a new heaven and a new earth.

Because God is the author of life, it should not surprise us that the Bible is also a grand story with a beginning, middle, and end. History is not an endless road leading to nowhere; history has a destination and a purpose, and it is centered around the person and work of Christ. Once we understand that, we will be better able to understand the sweeping, awe-inspiring, grand narrative of Scripture.