Thursday, December 31, 2015

Remembering God's Goodness


Around AD 100, the Apostle John wrote a personal, passionate letter to the Church. John, once a fisherman who left his nets to follow Jesus, was an old man who had walked with Jesus for many years. The Resurrection had happened many years prior, and the believers were growing cold and indifferent in their faith. Most of us can relate to losing our enthusiasm about God; this happens to all of us at some point.

 

When we lose our passion for Jesus Christ, it is helpful to stop and remember who Jesus is and what he means to us. If we fail to rekindle our love for Jesus we risk being led astray by the world. This is the danger Paul cautioned the church at Ephesus about when he said, “After I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29ff.).

 

John draws us in close to God. He reminds us of who God is. God is light, and in him, there is no darkness. God is love, and he loved us before we loved him. God is light and love. God is not darkness and hate. Allow God’s Word to draw you close to him and to the people in your life.

 

1 John 1:1-5 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

 

John has had a personal experience with Jesus Christ. He uses this personal experience with the Risen Jesus, that had happened more than fifty years before this letter, to drive his point home. John said, in essence, “I know Jesus. Listen to what I have to say about him.”

 

God is light. Light is a metaphor for righteousness and goodness. God is absolutely perfect. He has no defect. We can add nothing to God to make him better. God is original in his goodness. He did not inherit or learn his goodness. God is inherently good and is goodness itself. God is the greatest good.

 

God’s commands are good. God’s laws are good. God’s Word is good. God’s plan is good. God passed his good onto creation.

 

Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

 

Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love (goodness) of the Lord.

 

God made us to be good.

 

Psalm 139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

 

In the Bible, God’s goodness is compared to light. Light is the divine spark that reveals and illuminates. Light makes visible what is true. God’s light is a transforming light in that it has turned those who are in it to lights themselves; Jesus said that believers are the light of the world.

 

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

 


 

“Due to its location among sheer mountains and its northern latitude, Rjukan, Norway, does not see natural sunlight from October to March. To lighten up the town, the citizens installed large mirrors on the mountainside to reflect the sun rays and beam sunlight into the town square. The continuous glow is made possible because the giant mirrors rotate with the rising and setting sun. I like to think of the Christian life as a similar scenario. Jesus said His followers are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). John, the disciple, wrote that Christ the true light “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). So too, Jesus invites us to reflect our light into the darkness around us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).”[1]

 

Living in the light of God, according to John, relates to loving one’s brother and keeping the commandments of Jesus. Being in the light is fellowshipping with God instead of walking in darkness. God, in his goodness, cleanses us and restores us when we confess our sins to him.

 

John, in this first letter of three in our New Testament, said that he encountered the goodness of God firsthand in the person of Jesus Christ. In verse one, John said he “heard,” “seen,” and “gazed upon” Jesus with his own ears and eyes. John stressed that he “handled” the Risen Christ. This is an important message to our culture today; many, regarding Jesus, ask, “was he” instead of “who was he?” John wrote that he had fully experienced Jesus Christ.

 

The word “see” means to see with physical sight. The words “looked upon” are from the Greek “theasthai” which means to “gaze at someone or something until something has been grasped of significance.”[2] John had the opportunity to look with wonder at Jesus and think deeply about the mystery of who Jesus is.

 

What amazed me most was that he actually touched Jesus. When Jesus came back to his disciples after the Resurrection, Jesus welcomed them to touch his risen body.

 

Luke 24:39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.

 

John actually touched Jesus. Jesus, flesh-and-blood, really walked this earth. The debate about whether Jesus lived should be put to rest. In the late first century, Josephus wrote about Jesus. His words are accepted by classic historians including Eusebius. Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote, “About this time, lived Jesus, a wise man, if it be proper to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And, when Pilate condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him for he appeared unto them again, alive on the third day” (Josephus 18, 3:3).

 

Not only did Jesus live, but he also died and then lived again. John heard him. John saw him. John gazed at him. John touched him. Jesus, who is God in human form, came to this earth to meet us. Jesus, who is light and goodness, entered time and walked into our world to have a personal relationship with us. He came to reconcile us to God and tear down the barrier that sin had built.

 

For many, finding the light and goodness of God is difficult because of the pain we experience in this world. We should never believe that because we are living in a broken world full of evil that God is not good. God is light in a dark world.

 

“God is Light” reminds us of God’s goodness.

When any of us think of God, perhaps trying to visualize him, the best we can do is to think of light, remembering Paul’s teaching that God “lives in unapproachable light” (1Timothy 6:16). Psalm 104 says that God “wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2).

 

1. God is splendor and glory in this dark world. Like a shooting star on a dark night, God lights up the darkness and grabs our attention. The darkness cannot conceive of God, who is light.

 

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 

According to Stephen Hawking, “A 1-watt night-light emits a billion, billion photons each second. Photons are the little packets that light comes in. Confusingly, they, like all particles, behave as both a particle and a wave.”[3] Can you conceive of the power of God?

 

2. God has revealed himself. God is not hiding from us. God is making himself known. God is not secretive. God has no fine print or hidden motive. God wants you to know him.

 

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

When Jesus stated He was the Light of the world, He was clearly (contrary to what so many claim) stating he was God, for God is Light!

 

Physical light bears the image and stamp of its Creator. What an amazing and remarkable thing light is. Darkness cannot drive out the light, but light can drive out the darkness.

 

3. God is pure and holy. In a dark, evil world, God is holy. God does not hide under darkness. He is the light of purity and holiness. God’s light shows us our own imperfections and flaws so that he can make us complete.

 

Life as we know it craves light. A plant will always turn toward the light and struggle to reach it.

 

4. God is here to guide us. Headlights show the way on a dark road. God guides our journey. Light dispels the worries and dangers of darkness. When we walk in the Light, we won’t stumble in the darkness.

 

How have you seen God’s light displayed in our broken world? In what ways have you shared His light?

 

I have been to New Orleans many times. I remember the first time I went to the French Market for the first time as a young man, I could feel the darkness of that place. Perhaps you can sense the darkness in your home, workplace, or neighborhood. You have the opportunity to be a light in this dark world. You can reflect the light of Christ to those around you.

 

The LORD bless you, and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine on you,

And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance on you,

And give you peace.’

Numbers 6:24-26

 

Reflect the Son and shine for Him.

 

“Lord, the world around us is sometimes so dark that it 's hard to see Your power and goodness. Thank You for the reminders that the darkness does not and will not last forever. Help us wait with great expectation for the day when we will see You on Your throne.”[4]



[1]http://odb.org/2015/11/18/reflecting-the-son/, (Retrieved on December 15, 2015).
 
[2]William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters of John and Jude, (London, UK: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 46.
[3]http://www.livescience.com/8869-8-shocking-learned-stephen-hawking-book.html, (Retrieved on December 15, 2015).
[4]http://odb.org/2015/09/29/piercing-the-darkness/,  (Retrieved on December 15, 2015).

Friday, December 25, 2015

Finding Peace in a Fearful World


Last week I heard an interview with Michael Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a position informally known as "drug czar." I do not know enough about his approach to fighting drugs to comment on his performance. However, I do appreciate one thing about him. Botticelli is a recovering addict.

 

Botticelli began drinking alcohol regularly in his junior year of high school. By his 20s, he was an alcoholic. He also experimented with cocaine and marijuana. He was arrested for driving under the influence following a traffic collision on the Massachusetts Turnpike in 1988. A judge gave him the option of going into treatment or being sentenced to prison, and he chose to enter treatment.[1]

 

Botticelli’s story reminds me of what church is supposed to be about. We are sinners who are being saved by God’s grace. Now, we are called to bring the hope of a new life in Jesus Christ to those around us. People are looking for hope and peace in our fearful world.

 

We find out about peace and fulfillment in the Bible. The Bible is our way of hearing from God. The Bible tells the story of how God is restoring peace to the world—a peace that was disrupted by the Fall.

 

Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

 

Rome had experienced peace from war. However, the peace was an outward peace, not peace in the soul. Times were desperate when Jesus came into the world, especially for the Jews. Taxes were high, good jobs were hard to come by, morality was in decline, and classes and races were fighting against each other. An angelic announcement was the beginning of God’s answer to the problems we face.

 

Luke 2:8-18 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

 

I love how the fearful shepherds became the ambassadors of God’s peace. The word “host” is a military term. This “army” from heaven came to announce peace to these fearful, lowly shepherds. The peace they promised was from Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. The angel spokesperson reassured the frightened shepherds and told them the good news of Jesus’ birth.

 

The shepherds traveled to Bethlehem from some distance away to see the Prince of Peace. I am sure they had to make arrangements for the flocks to make the journey. When the shepherds saw Jesus, a newborn Baby wrapped in cloth, they worshiped him.

 

These shepherds were promised peace on earth by the angels. After hearing the angelic announcement, the shepherds took the Angels’ place in telling others about Jesus. These shepherds, unlike the angels, were fallen sinners who could tell the story of God’s grace, forgiveness, and peace from personal experience. The Angels have never been in our shoes as sinners needing a Savior. The shepherds have.

 

What is this peace on earth that is promised by angels and shepherds?  God’s peace is available to the broken and needy. Shalom, peace in Hebrew, is more than the absence of strife and conflict. Shalom is well-being and wholeness of the soul. We need peace and calm in our world today.

 

Max Lucado wrote, “In the days leading up to the war with Germany, the British government commissioned a series of posters. The idea was to capture encouraging slogans on paper and distribute them about the country. Capital letters in a distinct typeface were used, and a simple two-color format was selected. The only graphic was the crown of King George VI. The first poster was distributed in September of 1939: ‘Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory.’ Soon thereafter a second poster was produced: ‘Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might.’ These two posters appeared up and down the British countryside. On railroad platforms and in pubs, stores, and restaurants. They were everywhere. A third poster was created yet never distributed. More than 2.5 million copies were printed yet never seen until nearly sixty years later when a bookstore owner in northeast England discovered one in a box of old books he had purchased at an auction: It read: ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ The poster bore the same crown and style of the first two posters. It was never released to the public, however, but was held in reserve for an extreme crisis, such as invasion by Germany. . . . It became so popular that the bookstore began producing identical images of the original design.”[2]

 


Today, people need encouragement to “keep calm and carry on.” We need to hear “peace on earth and goodwill to all men.”

 

1. Peace is available only if we admit we need it.

 

One of the great themes of Luke’s Gospel is that the Savior is for all people. The theme of “Good News for all” is why Luke, who was a historian, is careful to report that Jesus was born in a Jewish family, under Roman law, and with shepherds visiting. The King of Kings was born in humble circumstances, cradled in a manger, and at first noticed by outcasts like shepherds.

 

·         Admit your brokenness.

·         Don’t be afraid to talk about your struggles.

·         Don’t try to present yourself as perfect and flawless.

·         Avoid pretense.

·         Admit your need for grace and Jesus.

 

I think we should all admit here and now, as the church, that we are broken people in need of God’s peace! We are a bunch of misfit toys like Sid’s creations in the movie Toy Story.

 

 

The shepherds in the Christmas story were a culture of misfits and broken people who found peace in the birth of Jesus.

 

“There is a powerful scene in Black Hawk Down that might help. Lt. Col. Danny McKnight is in a fierce battle. The transport is filled with the wounded, and there is blood everywhere. He yells at Private Othic, ‘You, get up there and drive!’ Othic pleads, ‘But I’m shot, Colonel!’ McKnight could speak for us all when he says, ‘Everybody’s shot!’”[3]

 

When our desire to keep up our image or to appear excellent is greater than our willingness to communicate that we are fallen, imperfect people in need of God’s grace and peace, we have missed the point. The shepherds remind us that God does amazing things through unlikely people.

 

In the angel’s announcement of the virgin born Jesus, they mention that peace is directed to those with whom God is pleased.

 

Luke 2:15 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

 

2. Peace is available to all who have faith in Jesus Christ.

 

From a simple reading of the Bible, one quickly discovers that the way to God’s favor is to believe in him.

 

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

 

If it is impossible to please God without faith, we know that by faith we find righteousness in Jesus Christ, our God. With faith, we find ourselves to be the objects of God’s good will through Jesus’ death on the Cross. Do you have faith in Jesus Christ? Do you want an inexplicable peace?

 

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

We can have peace when we are in a fearful world. In Max Lucado’s recent book You’ll Get Through This, he outlines ten biblical truths to encourage us when we go through life’s challenges.

 

Here are ten biblical truths explored in Max Lucado’s book You’ll Get Through This.[4]

·         Nothing in my life is unknown to God (Psalm 139).

·         God is near to me (Psalm 23:4).

·         The Lord will work out his plans for my life (Psalm 138:8).

·         God uses experiences of testing to train and prepare me (James 1:2-4); all tests are temporary (1 Peter 1:6).

·         God is always at work in me (Philippians 1:6).

·         I can wait for the Lord because he is faithful, merciful, and powerful (Psalm 130:5-7).

·         The reward for perseverance is a glorious life (James 1:12).

·         An eternal perspective puts my troubles in perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17).

·         Jesus advocates for me (Romans 8:34).

·         In God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good (Genesis 50:20).

 

Think about these biblical truths. Which of these truths are most relevant to your life right now? Which do you feel that you need to embrace more fully?

 

I’m not sure what the shepherds were going through personally when they met Jesus. I do believe that they had tough lives. Their encounter reminds us that peace comes when we least expect it.

 

Remember, in Jesus Christ we can . . .

 

KEEP

CALM

AND

CARRY

ON

 

The peace we find as broken, imperfect people will inspire others to trust God.



[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Botticelli_%28politician%29, (Retrieved on December 14, 2015).
[2]Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2013), 148-149.          
[3]Ed Stetzer, Lost and Found, (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2009), 200.
[4]Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2013).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Experiencing Love


One of the most well-known verses in the Bible is John 3:16. I see this verse on posters, automobiles, t-shirts, and church marquees often. Most of you could quote this verse from memory.

 

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

I am afraid that your familiarity with this verse may have dulled the impact of the meaning of  John 3:16. I will share the context of this powerful, hopeful verse.

 

A “teacher of the Jews” named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to learn more about Jesus. Nicodemus and a few of his colleagues were convinced that God was using Jesus. Nicodemus called Jesus a “Rabbi,” an interpreter and teacher of the Law. Rabbis gathered disciples and authenticated their teaching by their works for God.

 

John 3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

 

1. God loves us in spite of our questions.

Nicodemus was a seeker. He was a real man with real issues and problems. Nicodemus is a representation of many. He had seen enough evidence to believe that there was something unique about Jesus. However, he had not made the connection yet in his life. Thankfully, Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ miracles and signs. He sought out Jesus.

 

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the only way to enter the kingdom of God is through the new birth.

 

John 3:3  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

Being “born again” means a new birth from above. It is the work of God and not the work of human beings. It is the new birth that the Holy Spirit gives. Jesus explained the new birth as being like the blowing of the wind.

 

John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 

The new birth is possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and through faith in Him as God’s solution for the separation we have from God caused by sin. Jesus said we must all experience the new birth to have a personal relationship with God.

 

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

 

One must be born of “water,” meaning the natural birth—perhaps as the water breaks in the birth of a child. Physical birth is not enough, though. One must also be born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and illumines the message of God’s Word so that we can believe on Jesus and experience a relationship with God.

 

2. God loves us enough to tell us the truth about our need for new birth.

One thing that amazes me about this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus is the boldness of each of them. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night questioning him, searching for answers. Jesus boldly instructed Nicodemus that all must be born again, including the religious leaders and Pharisees. All must be born again. Jesus did not provide any exceptions to God’s plan for redemption.

 

Jesus Christ is here for the ungodly. Jesus Christ is here for the religious, even the most pious. Those who have never been to church need Jesus. Those who have been a part of the church their entire lives need him. No one is so religious or moral that he does not need the new birth that comes through Jesus Christ! No religious group controls Jesus. No doctrine adequately explains him or defines him.

 

Although Nicodemus was educated in the Law and was respected as a teacher, he did not understand what Jesus was saying about a “new birth.” Jesus did not let Nicodemus slide.

 

John 3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

 

Nicodemus, an intellectual leader of his day, struggled to comprehend and believe. He could not understand the path to eternal life through Jesus Christ.

 

John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

 

 

3. God loved us enough to send his Son Jesus Christ into this world to save us from our sin.

Frankly, I am glad Nicodemus struggled to understand. The reason I am delighted Nicodemus could not grasp this concept is because of Jesus’ response. Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ question with a clear, precise expression of the Gospel story.

 

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

This verse explains salvation in a way that we can all understand it. The eternal God, who never had a beginning, sent his eternal Son to this earth from his home in Heaven. Jesus came from Heaven to earth to be lifted up on the cross for our sins to give us eternal life.

 

Jesus coming from Heaven to Earth is the story of Christmas. Jesus entered into the universe he created, during a particular time in human history to redeem us to God. Charles Wesley, a favorite songwriter of ages past and author of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” wrote a lesser-known verse:

 

Let earth and heaven combine,

Angels and men agree,

To praise in songs divine

The incarnate Deity;

Our God contracted to a span,

Incomprehensibly made man.[1]

 

God loved the world so much that he gave his Son to die on the cross for us. Jesus lived on this earth for about thirty-three years and died as a substitute, paying the penalty for the sins of the world. Salvation is not something we do. Salvation comes as a gift when we believe what God has done for us. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is the pure Gospel, the Good News!

 

God the Father did not want anyone to perish in sin. Those who have not believed in Jesus are living under the wrath of God. They need to believe and accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus. People are either in one of two groups: those who believe and are not condemned, and those who do not believe and are condemned already.

 

Are you a believer or are you condemned?

 

The word “perish” is about the eternal death that will be the reality for those who do not have eternal life. Those who refuse God’s gift are alienated from Him without hope for the present or the future.

 

Why did God send Jesus? He did it as a profound expression of his love for us. The gift of Jesus, God’s only Son, to be our Savior was an expression of God’s love for each person for whom Jesus died.

 

I want to help you understand about God’s love. The word translated “love” is one of unique significance. This “love” is a love that “seeks to give itself away on behalf of its object. It is a love that seeks the best interests of its object while seeking nothing for itself in return.”[2]

 

It was not God’s priority to judge but to save.

 

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

I am moved by what God did for me! An Italian artist named Franchetti is said never to have completed a painting of Christ on the cross because every time he tried to paint it he wept so hard he could not put his brush to the canvas! I feel like Franchetti when I try to tell people what Jesus did for me.[3]

 

Jesus is the gift of salvation to the world. He is the only way of salvation. God did not want people perishing; he wants them living! God did not want people destroyed; he wants them saved! God sent Jesus here out of his profound love for a world separated from him.

 

I want to report on what happened to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, an influential religious leader, and teacher, eventually identified with Jesus. Nicodemus helped to bury Jesus before Jesus was raised in power at the Resurrection.

 

John 19:39-40 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

 

I am grateful that Nicodemus sought out Jesus and found the answer to life’s most important question: “What must I do to be born again?” Have you found the answer to this question in your own life?

 

Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us with such love that You would be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We cannot comprehend it, nor do we deserve it, but we are eternally grateful.

 



[1]Kenneth O. Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary: John, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2000), 65-66.
[2]“Note: John 3:6,” The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1988), 1320.
 
[3]Jim Henry, In Remembrance of Me, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 153.