An Unusual Beginning

How would you begin to explain Jesus?

As we come into the holiday season, I started looking again at how the four Gospels begin the narrative of Jesus. Every time I read its beginning, the Gospel of John baffles me! Yet this time, as I studied in depth what the Apostle John wrote, it started to make more sense, and the breath of his theological discourse is nothing short of stunning.

Here is what John 1:1-5 states, in the NASB translation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

I love that we have four Gospels in our New Testament. I’ve heard many critics deride the fact the New Testament has four Gospels instead of one uniform Gospel, but truth be told, four are a blessing for this very reason: they offer a variety in their depiction of the life of Jesus. For instance, in regards to the nativity, or the birth of Jesus, Matthew and Luke start with genealogies and traditional nativity renditions, each with its own emphasis. Mark, on the other hand, chooses to begin immediately with the ministry of John the Baptist, and then the launch of Jesus’ ministry as an adult. That leaves John to begin his story uniquely: he chooses to go all the way back not just to Abraham or even Adam, but to before time began!

Come and discover what I mean and see why we should celebrate the uniqueness of the fourth Gospel and its “nativity.”

Here are some of my thoughts from John’s “nativity” (please read John 1:1-5 again):

  • As John sees it, to accurately comprehend Jesus, you can’t begin with Abraham (as Matthew does) or even Adam (as Luke does), but must start “in the beginning” as John states in 1:1. Another way to express “in the beginning” is “before time began” so John is deliberately referring back to Genesis 1:1 and adamantly declaring that the coming of Jesus in the flesh is just as paramount as the creation of the world!
  • The term “the Word” used by John to describe Jesus is a profound word steeped in both Greek and Jewish culture, or to state more academically, is both philosophically and theologically rich in its meaning. Therefore, John is saying Jesus is the sovereign rational principle guiding all of life (part of the philosophical heritage of the word), or even more, as seen in the Old Testament, Jesus is “the Word” because he is the powerful self-expression of God as is seen in creation (see Psalms 33:6).
  • Jesus’ exact role in creation is as the agent of creation: “all things came into being through him” (1:3). Think of it this way – Jesus was born into a world he gave birth to!
  • Jesus brought life, but we didn’t “comprehend” it, and not only that, depending on the context, this specific word can also mean mankind could not “conquer” it. Ironically both are true in John’s present context, and still true today: Jesus is the misunderstood king of kings!

So not a bad start for the Apostle John as he presents Jesus to the world. Let me close with one of my prayers for this Christmas season: I pray that we will recognize the babe in the manger brought love and salvation to a desperate world not only by what he did, but because of who he was, and is today.

RA

The Dark Night of the Soul

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I’ve heard various people state that most Christians, especially maturing Christians, will experience a time of trouble unlike any other, often called the “dark night of the soul.” Yes it will involve a form of suffering, which typically lasts for an extended period of time. But to understand the traditional view of the “dark night of the soul” as famously rendered by St. John of the Cross in the 16th Century, one crucial ingredient is missing.

What makes the dark night of the soul so horrific? It’s not only the suffering or the trials you go through, but during those struggles, you experience the silence of God. Even though you cry out to God, plead for a response during one of the toughest struggles of your life, it’s as if God’s not there.

Silence.

I think all of us would agree with Martin Luther, that German Protestant Reformer who boldly stood before the political and religious rulers to declare he would stand only on the Word of God, who also experienced a dark night of the soul and in the midst of it cried out, “Bless us, Lord, even curse us! But don’t remain silent!”

So what should you do if or when you are in the midst of that “dark night”? Here are a few encouragements to ponder:

  • You are not alone because as mentioned above, this has happened to many others. In fact, some great people of faith have experienced this! Marvel at the incredible people of faith on this list: the great prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, and even Jesus as we see during his prayer at Gethsemane, and modern Christians such as Martin Luther and even Mother Teresa.
  • The silence of God does not mean the absence of God. Numerous theologians have stated this point, and it’s crucial to bear in mind. Our faith is not based on hearing God, but trusting in his Word daily.
  • And lastly, during this agonizing time, obedience is more important than ever! We have a saying at our church: “You don’t have to completely understand to completely obey.” All of the above people would testify to the truth of this statement, but an illustration may be even better. C.S. Lewis in his classic book The Screwtape Letters has the mentor demon Wormwood advising his underling about such a situation:

Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

If or when you find yourself in such a time, may your obedience lead and sustain you during your dark night of the soul, and then the words of 2 Corinthians 5:7 will become more true than ever – “For we walk by faith, not by sight (or sound)”.

RA

Who Are You?

truth-1123020_1280As we continue our study of “Soul Care” this week, and begin reading from Peter Scazzero’s masterful book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I was reminded of the description of Job. Here is what Job 1:1 states according to various translations:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (NASB)

“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (NLT)

Most other translations do one or the other: they follow the NASB by using nearly identical words, or they summarize those four key traits regarding Job and essentially declare he was a “man of integrity.”

The problem is we need to know what those four traits describing Job really mean! So let’s begin, with the help of Christopher Ash and his great commentary on Job from the Preaching the Word series.

  • When the word “blameless” is used of Job, it doesn’t mean he never sinned, but that he was “genuine” or “authentic” and “sincere.” I love how Ash describes this, quoting an ancient rabbinic tradition – “his ‘within’ was like his ‘without'” (p. 31).
  • The word “upright” tells us more about his integrity, but the emphasis is directed on the way he treats other people. So to be upright is to treat others well, and to be honest with them.
  • Then, Job was a man “fearing God” which stresses that he had a healthy reverence for God and ascribed the proper respect God is due.
  • Lastly he “turned away from evil” or as the NIV states he “shunned evil.”Notice the order of the traits: if one is blameless and upright, fearing God, then such a person must logically turn away from evil. The New Testament will state this same principle another way: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6 NIV). In other words, when one turns to God, they must simultaneously turn their back on evil.

What a description of a person who was healthy emotionally and his spiritual life was integrated into every aspect of who he was. May all of us have this as a goal.

RA

These are Worth Your Time!

Here’s two post I really enjoyed. We’ll probably get to talk about them at some time.

4 Reasons for Suffering

While this is not the final word on suffering and why God allows it to occur in our lives, I do appreciate Pastor Brian Cosby’s insightful excerpt from his book on this subject. I wholeheartedly agree that the American church has lost “a biblical view of suffering.”

Reading v. Entertainment

Although this is  wrapped in a post on parenting, this is a piercing commentary on our culture’s love of entertainment. It reminded me of the French philosopher Pascal and his stinging assessment of humanity’s love of “diversions” (Pascal’s word for entertainment): “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”

See all my Cadre folks Thursday night!

RA

The State of Your Soul

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As we continue to study the nature of the soul this Thursday night, a few thoughts came to mind. First, I was reminded of Jesus’ words on this subject:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

                                                                                                                   Mark 8:35-37 (NASB)

The soul is hard to describe, but I like how author Dallas Willard defines it in his book Renovation of the Heart:

 “What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being.” (Italics mine)

 And what does it mean to “lose” or “forfeit” your soul? Admittedly, most of the time we speak of “losing your soul”, we’re simply thinking of it’s ultimate destination – Hell. Once more, let me quote Willard here:

“We must rethink how we view a lost soul . . . Just someone God is mad at? . . . [There is] considerable confusion on this topic [because it] has resulted from trying to think of being lost in terms of its outcome. Theologically that outcome is hell . . . But the condition of lostness is not the same as the outcome to which it leads. We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” (Italics mine)

This leads Willard to summarize being lost as:

“To be lost means to be out of place, to be omitted. Something that is lost is something that is not where it is supposed to be, and therefore it is not integrated into the life of the one to whom it belongs and to whom it is lost.”

The first time I read those italicized words, I was stunned: We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” I realized I needed to stop thinking so much of “lost” as being Hell-bound, and start communicating more clearly of it as a state of being unusable, unable to fulfill one’s intended purpose, and leading to a life of frustration and ruin since one is separated from his/her Creator in this life now, but also in the one to come!

Now that we’ve defined it and described its lost condition, let’s return to Jesus’ thoughts on the soul from Mark 8. Two truths I see here:

  • Jesus states the soul is more important than anything on planet Earth (“for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”)
  • Yet, Jesus states many still try to trade their soul for other things (“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”)

As I’m sure you’ve recently heard, the Powerball Lottery is expected to approach record levels before the next drawing this Wednesday night – possibly as high as $1.3 billion! Like me, I’m sure you know folks who have exchanged their soul for a lot less than $1.3 billion, or maybe for physical pleasures, or a host of other possible idols. The saddest truth about this is no matter how you try to satisfy a lost soul, it will never find its rest and peace until it is united with God in a vibrant and loving relationship.

As we continue our study of the soul this week, may we truly become good “keepers” of our soul, and also develop an urgency to share with others to evaluate the state of their soul too.

RA

Keep Doing Good!

Help Others

I’m tired.

I can’t believe summer is over (school started this Monday for some counties in South Florida!).

Whew!

And then, I came across a story out of Minnesota a few weeks ago that encouraged, and yet challenged me. A wife lost her husband to a motorcycle accident, and as she received his belongings, his wedding ring was missing. Desperately she asked the police if it was anywhere else. When they assured her it wasn’t, she returned to the scene of the accident, frantically searching for his wedding ring.

She didn’t find it.

Later she told a friend who is also a biker, and soon a dozen friends and strangers who were bikers came to the scene of the accident to search the fields in waist-high weeds and grass. Finally, they found the husband’s glasses, and a flashlight that belonged to him.

And they found the precious ring covered in mud!

The wife was amazed at the lengths everyone went just to help her.

This beautiful story reminded me of the book of Galatians, which I have just finished studying in my quiet time, and specifically Galatians 6:9:

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (NLT)

Here’s my personal translation from the original language:

We should not become inwardly weak or tired of continually doing good, for indeed in time we ourselves will reap a harvest, if we don’t succumb and quit!

Yes, I’m tired.

Yes, I had so much more I wanted to accomplish this summer.

But this passage, and the stirring story above, remind me of one thing: as Christians, we should always look to “continue doing good” to everyone. It shouldn’t matter how we feel, how frustrated we might be, or whatever may be going on in our “personal bubble”. We can’t miss an opportunity to serve another person and take the time to share the love of God with them.

And, notice what else the verse says . . . we stand to “reap a harvest” if we don’t quit (doing good).

Scholars debate what that harvest may be, but I think it’s enough to know we made someone else’s day better and were able to be Christ-like to them.

How were we Christ-like?

By giving of ourselves.

Strangely enough, I’ve noticed when I’m tired, and at times frustrated and buried in unfinished work, if I take the time to give, I’m refreshed! I’m renewed! And, I am blessed knowing God used me to bless another person.

Isn’t that reward enough?

So . . . what are your plans for today?

RA

Randy’s Weekly Reads (6/5/15)

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This has been a great week of encouraging articles. I could have listed five more, but for now, here’s my favorite “reads” from this past week:

3 Current Cultural Crises That Provide Great Opportunities for Leaders (If You Seize Them)

I thought this piece by Canadian pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof was insightful and a proper assessment of the culture and the opportunity leaders have if they seize it. I loved this statement: “The crisis in our culture isn’t a crisis of information, it’s a crisis of meaning.”

 5 Reasons Why America Remains the World’s Only Superpower

I have always been a history buff, and while this piece is not typical of what I usually highlight, I still found it incredibly informative, and a reminder to all Americans, and especially all Christians in America, of just how influential America is on the world’s stage.

 Seeing the Invisible God

I was thoroughly encouraged by this article by counselor and professor Ed Welch. He addresses a question all of us have asked at one time: Can’t I just see God, at least once? His answer is profound as he shares that God has already answered that question.

Lastly, Pastor Ray Ortlund had a great quote from scholar Francis A. Schaeffer describing what the real problem is in our culture, and life in general:

“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

I hope you have a great weekend!

RA