"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, May 16, 2016

Living to Hear "Well done!" (Sword of the Spirit, Part 3)

Imagine, for a minute, a man who applies for a job in a hardware store. On the application, he answers questions about his abilities and experiences. Once hired, he shows up at the workplace in the proper attire. He listens patiently to the instructions and job requirements.

On his first day of work, he wanders out onto the sales floor and essentially does nothing. He browses the aisles and chats with acquaintances as they pass through the store. Eventually, his boss asks him why he is ignoring his responsibilities. The new employee responds, "I didn't know you actually expected me to do those things! What matters is that I am an employee and have the benefits and insurance. That's good enough for me!"

Of course, that example is ridiculous. In most sectors that attitude would result in dismissal. Yet, we sometimes approach Christ's Kingdom with a similar attitude: "I signed up, prayed the prayer, got the certificate, and, my eternal life insurance. I show up for church and faithfully listen to my instructions week after week.  I didn't know I was actually expected to do those things!" I know this is uncomfortable truth. I have been there myself and I understand what a broad and easy road it can be. However, it is not the path we were meant to take.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your lives in reverent fear." I Peter 1:17

Jesus' teaching is peppered with action verbs: Take up your cross; follow me; go into all the world; teach; baptize; give; help; serve! To be clear, we are not talking about working to earn your salvation. Ephesians 2:8-10 states that we are saved by grace through faith (not works) so that we can walk in the good works God has prepared for each one of us. Such a great salvation demands an active response. As James 2:18 puts it, "I will show you my faith by what I do."

Armed with God's enduring word, the motivations of our lives is to hear God say "well done!" Jesus taught this principle in the parable of the talents (coins). Various amounts were given to several servants. To the one who invested his talents wisely, the Master said, "Well done! Come and share your master's happiness!" For the one who took the "safe" route and buried his talents, there was a harsher judgment. Matthew 25:14-21


Monday, May 2, 2016

A Stranger in This World (Sword of the Spirit, Part 2)

Since Jesus and the Apostles clearly taught that God's Word is our offensive weapon in the spiritual warfare which surrounds us, it raises the question, How do I know if I am armed with God's Word? The passage we are diving into offers some interesting clues. I hope to examine them over the next several weeks. Here is our passage:

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creations of the world, nut was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that your have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the hgrass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever." And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:17-25

In those final verses, Peter reminds his readers that they have been born again as a result of God's enduring word. What they are reading is not new; it is exactly what he has been telling them all along. He wants them to fully realize that these truths--God's truths--will never change. One rooted in God's word has come to the full, experiential knowledge of these basic truths.

One of these truths is that true believers in this Word will. live as foreigners here (vs. 17). Even a brief scan of these verses shows that Peter is contrasting the temporary (silver, gold, an empty way of life) with the eternal (the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without blemish, the enduring word of God. So many of he things we value highly are temporary: retirement accounts, impressive homes and cars, human philosophies, fame , physical beauty. By contrast, Peter, in this passage, challenges us to cling to the eternal. Similarly, Jesus taught his followers to store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21), concluding that where our treasure is, our hearts will also be.

When you travel to a strange place, you travel light--the less the better! Who travels to a foreign country and buys furniture and appliances to carry from hotel to hotel? That's just crazy! But if we really believe our home is in heaven, why do we put so much time, energy and money into this, our temporary home?

Ask yourself:

Based on my calendar and checkbook, where is my treasure--where is my heart?

Whatever the answer, take it to God and have a heart to heart.

Next week: Working to hear "well done!"

Peace of Christ!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sword of the Spirit

In his biography of General Douglas MacArthur, Major Courtney Whitney recounts an incident that occurred during the Korean War on the night before the Inchon landnig:

General MacArthur planned to encircle the North Korean forces that had driven south to Seoul and cut off their supply lines from the north. If successful, this stratagem might not only accelerate a drive toward victory, but more importantly, save lives of some 100,000 UN troops.

It was a daring scheme. While encircling an enemy force was not a new strategy, it had never before been accomplished by way of the sea. Furthermore, the peculiar tides and unfavorable terrain at Inchon militated against an amphibious landing of troops. Yet that also contributed to MacArthur's decision to proceed; because of these impediments, the North Koreans would be caught unprepared for such a maneuver.

On the night before the landing, Courtney Whitney, who was aboard the flagship Mount McKinley with General MacArthur, retired early in anticipation of the action at dawn. He'd been asleep only a short time when he was summoned to MacArthur's cabin. He found the General in a bathrobe and slippers, pacing the floor. Whitney was told to be seated. MacArthur, in a kind of self-debate, talked as he walked the cabin, reviewing one by one the arguments against the proposed landing in the morning. MacArthur then countered with reasons for the surprise assault.

Finally at about 2:30 AM, he concluded that his decision was a sound one. "Thanks, Court," the General said to Whitney. "Thanks for listening to me. Now let's get some sleep."

Then Courtney Whitney added these words:

General MacArthur threw off his robe, climbed into his bed and reached to the table alongside to pick up his Bible.

Why the Bible? Why not Shakespeare of Tennyson or Hemingway? Because only one book has the power of life. It strengthens, encourages, challenges and comforts us. Day by day, year by year, decade after decade, it can be read over and over again until its words become a part of life itself.

At a pivotal moment in history, the leader of the most dominant military force on earth kept the most powerful weapon in the world close at hand: The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. He valued God's Word more than he valued his sleep--on the night before a decisive battle. MacArthur, though not without his personal flaws, was one of many great leaders (like Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan), to depend on  God's Word for guidance. It is no less important for you and me.

Contrast this dependency on God's Word with today's culture, where right is determined by what seems best to each individual. Universities call this philosophical relativity. The ideas is, there is no absolute truth (which is itself an absolute statement). Right and wrong are up to each of us, and can change depending on perspectives and circumstances. Like novice hikers lost in the woods without a compass, each one follows his own sense of direction. Then we are surprised when we, as a culture, are very lost, with escalating acts of violence and inverted moral values. These things are the inevitable consequence of life without the absolute standard of God's Word.

The New Testament teaches that the Word is a crucial weapon in our spiritual warfare:

"Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17

When Jesus did battle with Satan in the wilderness he didn't rely on what seemed right to him--and he was (is) God--but he accurately quoted Scripture (correcting Satan's twisted version of it.) One thing is clear: if Jesus needed it, I need it!

Over the next several weeks, I hope to mine some gems from 1 Peter 1:17-25. In this passage we will find significant clues to what it means to be truly armed with the Sword of the Spirit, God's eternal Word.

"For you have been born again, not if perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' And this is the word that was preached to you." 1 Peter 1: 23-25

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


When we attended the Grand Ole' Opry we noticed an odd circle of older wood, front and center stage. We later learned that this patch of boards is from the original stage at the Ryman Auditorium. It was brought to commemorate the history of the original venue, and contemporary artists have the honor of walking the exact same boards as historical artists. Similarly the gathering of believers I worship with is not meeting in its original building. When the newer building was constructed, the cornerstone of the original building was brought along as an homage to the founders and history of the local church. The cornerstone is considered foundational, and represents the  whole building.

In ancient times, the cornerstone was the principal stone placed at the corner of the building. The cornerstone was key, as the most solid and  carefully constructed of any in the edifice. Biblical references to Jesus as the Cornerstone of his Church (comprised of both Jews and Gentiles) are many.

Among the book of Isaiah's many references to the coming Messiah, several refer to him as the cornerstone, as in 28:16-17: “So this is what the sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.’” Through the prophet Isaiah, God is speaking of his Son when He refers to the Cornerstone, the one who provides the firm foundation for the lives of all who trust in him. Isaiah used construction terminology to make his point because these are things the people would have understood.

The cornerstone metaphor is continued in the New Testament  For example, when the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians for the purpose of helping them know Christ better, in chapter 2, verses 19-21 he says: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”  1 Peter 2:6, affirms what Isaiah said centuries before  in exactly the same words.

The question for us today is this: Is Jesus the Cornerstone of our lives? So many things compete to be the foundation of our lives! If our happiness and peace are based on anything temporary, our lives are built on shifting sands, and will not stand the trials and storms of life. We need to continually bring our focus back to the one solid Rock, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. He is our foundation now and for eternity.

"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;" (Psalm 118:22)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lamb of God

The title "Lamb of God" is one of Jesus' most familiar names. It carries many layers of meanings throughout Scripture and throughout time. In order to understand who Christ was and what He did, we must begin with the Old Testament, which contains prophecies concerning the coming of Christ as a “guilt offering”(Isaiah 53:7-10). In fact, the whole sacrificial system established by God in the Old Testament set the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect sacrifice God would provide as atonement for the sins of His people (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 10)

 Probably the best known New Testament reference is when John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). Here the prophet John declared the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. By his death on the cross, Jesus would pay the penalty for all sin, once and for all.

The gentle, docile Lamb of the apostle John's gospel undergoes a radical transformation, however, when we see him again in the same John's apocalyptic vision in Revelation. Here the Lamb emerges as almighty, worthy of praise and authority, and wielding righteous wrath. The resurrected Lamb is one to be worshipped and even feared. Being written in his Book of Life is our only safety.

For the one seeking to understand the way to relationship with Jesus, the Gospel of John is arguably the best place to start. It is very easy to find, being the fourth book in the New Testament (the second part of your Bible). Bibles are available free online these days, so if you are serious, take a couple of days and read this love letter from God. John's Gospel is relatively short and to the point. Less concerned with the retelling of miraculous stories than the other gospels, here, more clearly than anywhere in the New Testament, John quotes Jesus about the way to salvation. Probably the most famous quote of Jesus to emerge from John's gospel is:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Jesus willingly laid down his life for us. He put aside his power and authority in submission to God the Father out of love for us. Having done so, God has given him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2). When he appears again, it will be to gather his followers to him and to judge the world. How you view his second coming depends entirely upon your relationship with him--or lack thereof. Each of us is given a choice. Choose wisely.

Isaiah 53:7-10

"7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand."

John 1:29      

"The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Revelation 6:16

"and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;"

Revelation 17:14

"These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Something Greater

Recently I noticed an ad for the Marines with the slogan: Are You Ready to Commit to Something Greater than Yourself?  No doubt this ad has been effective in persuading lots of young people to enlist in the Marines. It is a high impact message. I think it strikes a chord in us because God placed a need inside of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

People seek to fill this need with lots of stuff. People join organizations, health clubs, and country clubs. People spend up to thousands of dollars to watch the Super Bowl in person when they could watch it from the comfort of their living room. Why? We as a culture have decided the Super Bowl is a big deal, and people want to be a part of it, to witness it firsthand and to be a part of the energy and roar of the crowd.

Lots of people show up at Church for similar reasons. You can read your Bible at home or watch church services on TV, but there is something about learning and worshipping elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder with like-minded others. The book of Hebrews cautions us not to forsake gathering together for a reason. God created us social beings. We need one another in ways we don’t usually even recognize.

In the twelfth Chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul points to God’s reason for giving people this need to be a part of something bigger. Often quoted out of context, when read together, these verses actually build his case:

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Paul is talking about being committed to something greater than yourself. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices runs in direct conflict with the pattern of this world which is competition and self-promotion. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (What is God’s will? Paul is about to tell us…)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Our minds are transformed as we embrace the upside-down Kingdom where the first become last and the shared goal is service for the benefit of others. In this context, to think more highly of ourselves than we should is to imagine ourselves to be self-sufficient. The truth Paul teaches us here is that no individual gets all the gifts. We are interdependent by design. We need each other.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Bold text is my commentary.)

Not thinking more highly of ourselves than we should in this context just means knowing who God wants you to be in the Body of Christ (i.e., how he wants you to serve others). Conversely it means accepting who you are not, and not judging others because they lack your particular gift (when God has another plan for them entirely).

Here’s the take-away. None of us is all that on our own. But together, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are the Body of Christ, and that’s pretty great!

For the Body of Christ to function as it should, each part is needed to join the others for the Glory of Jesus. As we press on to the finish line, picking one another up when we stumble, pushing and pulling one another along when we hesitate, cheering one another on when we grow weary, let’s fix our eyes on Him who called us to be a part of something—something greater than ourselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Gate

Gates are essential. They are the opening in a fence that allows people and animals to come and go. Failure to fasten a gate securely can lead to tragic outcomes. Gates can be fastened by heavy chains and locks, formal latches, or a simple as a loop of wire. Urban gates keep people out of dangerous areas or plush communities. Almost always, gates serve to protect whatever or whoever is inside them.
When Jesus called himself, "the gate for the sheep" he gave us a surprisingly intimate glimpse of his care for us. In biblical times, shepherds drove their sheep through wilderness areas to market or to greener environs. When it grew dark, they sought a way to secure the sheep from predators and from their own tendency to run headlong into danger. Since there were no wire pens out there, they would look for rock formations that formed appropriate sized box canyons. The shepherd would stand at the opening to the canyon and call the sheep to safety. (Remember, "My sheep know my voice.")The sheep would pass between the shepherd's legs as he touched each one, calling them by name. Literally the gate, the one way in to safety, the shepherd showed intimate care for the sheep, expressing his special fondness for each one.
As you travel through the wilderness of this life, your shepherd is there to guide and protect you. When darkness gathers, he calls your name. Other voices compete and lie about the danger, the purpose of your life, and your identity. Spiritual maturity is about tuning out the lies and heeding the call of the Shepherd, our gate. He is trustworthy, laying down his life for us. He loves the flock and, very importantly for you and me, he loves each one with a special fondness.
"Therefore Jesus said again, 'Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.'" John 10:7