"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Monday, June 30, 2014

About Judgment

"Judgment" has such a bad ring to it. Probably this is because it has been misused so often. We have so easily judged one another, oblivious to the fact that we have been guilty of the same (or worse) offenses. Jesus clearly taught us not to judge one another, for by the same standard that we judge others, we ourselves will be judged (Matthew 7:1,2). In his inimitable style, he taught that we should remove the beam from our own eye first, then we will be able to see more clearly to remove the speck from our brother's eye. This latter implies an attitude of discernment (the Greek word anakrino shares the same root and is sometimes translated as judgment) but the motivation is one of helpfulness, not condemnation. Note that Jesus ultimately does not teach us not to remove the speck from our brother's eye, only to remove the plank from our own eye first.

And that attitude is the pivot point. There are times, in scripture as in the spiritual life, that we are called upon to discern and to be helpful to one another. If someone is found in a sin, a spiritual brother should go to him in order to restore him (again, the goal is not condemnataion or punishment without a plan of reconciliation). Paul begged the question, as if it was widely understood, "Are you not to judge those inside the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:12), while in other places, he cautioned believers not to become petty and judgmental over disputable matters (Romans 14:4). As usual, these matters become complicated simply because they are NOT all or nothing, black or white. There is a time to share our judgments and discernments, and time not to. Figuring out when, why, and how is part of the group process of spiritual maturity. We can sin by judging, to be certain, just as we can sin by turning a blind eye to the sin of another. Sorting this out on our knees before the Lord is crucial, being careful lest we stumble ourselves. A basic rule of thumb for deciding to confront might be: "Is it helpful? Is it truthful? Is it necessary?" Consulting with other mature believers can bring perspective when the problems have become too emotionally charged for us.

We are to exercise judgment (discernment) in listening to what we are taught. These days, teaching comes at us in the forms of books, articles, blogs (that's right), music, commentary from the platform before and after the message, and the sermon proper. We are admonished to pay attention, and to run what we hear and see through the filter of scripture. This takes some maturity, but even a new believer can do this with some effort. In fact, the new convert is more likely to exert the effort. The complacent Christian may become lax and drift away from the discipline of guarding the pure and simpe truth. A healthy, spiritual leader will welcome your questions. Luke describes the believers at the church in Berea as more noble than the rest, for they searched the scriptures daily to see whether the things they were being taught were true(Acts 17:11).

As our lives become informed by scripture (truth), we develop a frame of reference that gives us judgment about our lives. Beyond the obvious choices of avoiding sins, there are issues of motivations, obedience to God, benefit to His Kingdom versus self. These kinds of values begin to inform our decisions and guide our choices. Our judgment becomes grounded in biblical wisdom. This happens only when the collection of thoughts and facts become integrated, and we develop integrity. I beleive this is what James is referring to when he says we should not be like the male (Greek aner) who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he sees; rather, we should look deep into God's word and let it inform all that we are and all that we do.

Then we will exercise judgment and discern wisely for our own sakes, and for the sakes of others. Our judgment will be grounded in grace because we will not forget our own need of it. Our motives will be empowered by love because His Spirit flows through us to do His will for the sake of His Kingdom.

"You hypcrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted." Galatians 6:1

"Are you not to judge those inside the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Waiting is no fun. Recently I heard a character on Downton Abbey say, "There is no worse feeling than waiting for something to happen." As a young man in the 70's I used to hum along with a song about anticipation..."it's breaking my mind...keeping me waiting..."

For centuries, the Jewish people had waited for their Messiah to come and restore the fortunes of Israel, liberating them from oppressors, and extending his rule over Gentile (non-Jewish) nations. Generations came and departed and still they waited. Then came the announcement of the angel at the birth of Jesus, "I bring you good tidings of great joy! Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord!"

The name we use today, Christ, is actually a transliteration of the title Messiah. That just means that the English translators chose to spell out the word in Greek (christos) rather than giving its original meaning. So "Jesus Messiah" is really a more accurate way of saying "Jesus Christ." Jesus responded to the question put to him by the high priest, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" by saying, "It is as you say." He was acknowledging, for the record, his identity as Messiah.

As a member of the family of David, Jesus was proclaimed as Messiah both before his birth and after his resurrection. Jesus himself was slow to make messianic claims because of the ideas about the Messiah in the minds of the Jewish people. Those ideas were very different from the character and purpose of his ministry and so, he did not want to encourage the wrong ideas.

When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus told him and the others to tell no one that he was the Christ. It was a matter of timing because he had first to suffer and die. After his death and resurrection, what he had done changed the old concept of messiahship. He was proclaimed as Messiah, God's Anointed King, resurrected in glory to occupy the throne of the universe.

What are you waiting for? Do you wait for a time when everything will come together harmoniously so that you can live happily ever after? Are you waiting for the world to change to match your expectations? Are you waiting for that special someone to complete you and make you whole? Is it possible that, like Israel at the time of Jesus, we misunderstand the meaning of what he has provided for us?

Jesus has done what was needed to grant you peace and joy right now, in the midst of apparent chaos, confusion, and loneliness. He waits patiently for you to turn to him to find all you  need, and more.  He is the Messiah who longs to reign in you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Alpha and Omega

We see it all the time and, few things are more disappointing. Athletes, celebrities, politicians, race horses and marriages start strong but falter before the big finale. Once we see a promising beginning, we long for a victorious finish. Followers hopes rise to the Sun--only to have their waxed wings melted--and plummet to despair.

The story of Jesus' life has two tracks. On the surface, he was born to impoverished teens under suspicious circumstances. He grew up on a remote village, the son of a common laborer. The religious authorities of his day rejected his claims. His followers misunderstood his teachings and, in the end, most of them abandoned him as he died like a common criminal. From the perspective of people at the time, it must have seemed like a weak start and a weak performance followed by a weak finish.

But from an eternal perspective, Jesus (the Word) existed before creation, created everything and, at just the right time came into the world to bring light into the darkness. The gospel writers traced his lineage back to King David. His life and words changed the world, and still cause controversy and faith 2,000 years later. Three days after his redeeming death on a cross, he rose and appeared to hundreds of people over an extended period of time. He promised to come back for those who trust and follow him, to judge the world, and to reign forever.

The writer of the book of Revelation quotes the resurrected Jesus saying, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." (Rev. 22:13) In recording this, John is acknowledging Jesus Christ as Creator, Redeemer and Final Judge of everything.

More than a teacher or philosopher, Jesus radical claim placed him alongside God the Father and the Holy Spirit as Eternal God. Either he was what he claimed to be or the authorities were right to kill him as the greatest heretic who ever lived.

He is the first and the last. Far from weak, his plan and execution might not have been what was expected but, it was flawless. His purpose was accomplished. The way to God is open for all who will walk in it. The Eternal One, the Alpha and Omega, has already seen and promised the glorious outcome.

His plan for you is good. Your life runs on two tracks. To society you may not look like much but, from an eternal perspective, if you are trusting and walking with Jesus, you are already a winner. Your life is hidden with Christ in God, ready to be revealed at just the right time. Keep the faith and finish strong!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Man of Sorrows

I see posts on facebook from time to time asking friends to use a word to describe the poster. There is sometimes even a menu of choices. I cannot remember any of them giving "sad" or "sorrowful" as options. After all, everybody knows facebook is about fun, right? And wouldn't we consider it a slam if someone said that's what they thought of us? At best, we might think they felt sorry for us. No, sorrow is not good public relations.

Isaiah either did not know that, or did not care when he prophesied about Jesus:

"He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:3)

When was the last time you saw a church named "First Church of Sorrows" or "Sad Man Sanctuary?" You have not seen them because we do not like sorrow. We are not attracted to it. To call Jesus a man of sorrows makes him sound...sad. What in the world was the Holy Spirit thinking when he gave these words to Isaiah?

Consider this: You have just come through a terrible patch in life. You are closing in on 50 and your job and marriage are on the skids. Your kids hardly acknowledge you any more, and you just can't seem to shake the feeling that life is over for you. You look in the phone book and find the name of a counselor. You make an appointment with Caring Carl and show up for your appointment. The counselor walks into the lobby and you are surprised to see that he looks to be about 25 years old. He tells you he is not married, has never had a serious relationship (or a job before this new practice). He is from a privileged background and has never wanted for anything. Oh, and he looks like Tom Cruise. What are you thinking at this point? Can this man, so unacquainted with sorrow begin to understand or empathize with you? Probably not. He may offer some sound textbook advice, but you leave his office feeling worse than when you entered.

What you need is a counselor who has had some sad days, weeks, or even years, and has overcome them. Someone with some experiences under their belt. Someone who has been in the darkness and found the switch. What you need is a man or woman acquainted with sorrow. It is this the writer of Hebrews refers to when he says that we have a compassionate high priest (Jesus) who understands our pain because he has been there.

Jesus came, the first time, to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins. Many today want to shy away from the so-called down side and focus on a "happy gospel" where it is all about your joy, your happiness, your blessings, your best life...YOU. The gospel of the Bible is one of suffering, a sacred sorrow that leads to repentance. The outcome is joy with its foundation firmly planted in eternity--not whether God is coming through for you the way you think he should here and now.

It may not be the best public relations. Not many people are signing up to follow Jesus into a sacred sorrow. Maybe that's why the gate that leads to salvation is narrow and few find it. We have to know we are sick before we can ask to be healed. It is the gate that leads to peace with God and eternity-based joy. Like Jesus, we long to do the (sometimes unpopular) will of the Father. The thing is, the Father really does know what's best for us.

The Man of Sorrows stands by to walk with you through your darkest valleys (and your brightest paths). There is no circumstance that will cause him to walk away from you. He will never give up on your broken life or your broken heart. Compassionate and patient, he is there for you, always, and his promise to all who trust him is to bring beauty from ashes. He is the redeemer of everything, and he is not afraid to get down in the mud and the muck to do it. He gets it; he understands you. His love never fails and, by his stripes we are healed.

... behind it, and what is the meaning behind Christ, The Man Of Sorrows