worship Posts

Jesus: the God-Man

Jesus raised questions as soon as He appeared on the public stage. Since the first century the questions have continued: Who is He? Where does He come from? How can He speak with such authority? Believers, skeptics, the curious, and opponents continue to debate the answers. 2,000 yrs. later, Jesus remains the central figure of history and still the dominant influencer of our culture. A recent updated TIME magazine lists Jesus as one of the “100 People Who Changed the World”. He’s on the cover with the Beatles, Mother Teresa, Hitler, and others.

I remember, many years ago, at the turn of the century- the millennium- TIME ran it’s normal “Person of the Year” cover story and then added, the “Person of the Millennium”. Guess who? You got it: Jesus Christ. I remember thinking, “Yes, and the millennium before that, and the one before that, and the millennium to come, and the one after that one…” Jesus is the central figure of all of human history.

So, “Who is Jesus?” remains the key question. Many Christians don’t realize that Jesus made His identity the focus of His teaching. Think about it: the central focus of His teaching was not a certain principle or truth, (in fact He said that He IS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). He personified Truth. Who He claimed to be was the central focus of His teaching and ultimately, their reasons for crucifying Him. This is why His question from Matthew 16:15,  “Who do you say I am?” echoes through time and space into our hearts today. This is the big question. And it’s a very personal question He’s asking: Who do you say He is?

Through the years it seems that we have drifted away from the biblical Jesus and preferred a safe, ethereal, sanitized Savior. It seems this has left many with no choice but to conclude that the stories about Him are myths and legends. For some, He doesn’t seem real or “now”.

This is not a new thing. Rudolf Bultmann, an influential German theologian and New Testament scholar – a prominent liberal voice in the 1800s – is best known for his concept of demythology – which was actually not what it sounds (a divesting or a “getting rid of”) the so-called mythological approach to the historical Jesus. Instead Bultmann advocated that theologians need to interpret, what he called, the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Meaning, he contended that faith in the kerygma or “teaching” and proclamation of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. Or to say: You don’t need the historical Jesus to have faith.

But without the historic Jesus, He’s just a fairy tale. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop and today’s leading New Testament scholar, said, “It’s been said often enough, but it bears repeating: without the real human (historical) Jesus of Nazareth, we are at the mercy of anybody who tells us that “Christ” is this, or that.” So through the eyes of the historical Jesus we see God for who He is – the sent and sending God. He is the God who is on mission, “up close and personal” in our world, throughout history, and is at work today. We say Jesus was the God-man. Perhaps the more accurate expression is that Jesus was “the God, in man”.

And indeed, a man with flesh and bone and blood running through His veins, given the name, Jesus. Non-Christian historian sources reveal the historicity of Jesus. The First Century Roman historian, Tacitus, others like Suetonius, wrote about Christus (Christ) and His crucifixion. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writes of Jesus, as does Thallus and other government officials like Pliny the Younger, the Emperor Trajan, the historian Hadrian, and more Gentile and Jewish sources all wrote about Jesus and the emergence of the early church. Not long after His crucifixion (and resurrection), they immediately began gathering and worshipping Him as God. In fact, without the historical Jesus and His crucifixion there is no way to explain the birth of the Church in the First Century. There is no other explanation for it.

Without the historical Jesus, we tend to sanitize and tame Him by encasing Him in abstract theology. The idea is this: Let’s get our Christology right and then determine to put everything else at its service. In other words, let’s make sure that we understand who Jesus really is and then recalibrate who we are and all we do according to His character, His Person, and His life in us. In fact, let’s get our Christology right and then dare to place our deeply held desires for how to do church at its service. Not vice versa. Are we fundamentally aligned with Jesus’ purposes and His will for His community on earth? Let’s recover the absolute centrality of the Person of Jesus in defining who we are, as well as what we do.

If we do not recognize Jesus in His humanity we will see Him as distant, almost fictional, a kind of super hero or mythical character whom we may worship, but we will never follow. Some of us do not approach the Gospels in order to emulate Jesus but only to read stories about Him. A good place to start with a proper Christology is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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 2:5-11

Transformed by His love, may we behold Him. And in-so-doing, be transformed by Him.

Christmas Presence – The Presence of Our Need

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Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

As a kid, you know it’s getting serious when mom says, “Wait until dad gets home.” At other times dad shows up when a child is in need or, as we’re older, when we have car trouble or a financial need. Dad shows up when there’s a big announcement or a surprise. Sometimes dad shows up just to save the day. When the Father has to show up in person, it’s always a big deal. Think about it: at that first Christmas, God had to show up. He came in Person, to set things right. He didn’t come angry (“for God so loved the world”), but He did come to bring justice, to set things straight – not to punish us, but to rescue us from our sin.

But He had to show up in Person? Christmas begs the question: Why? Why did Jesus come? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15-17:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. “The true value of anything is known only when it is wanted.” J. B. Stoney

What did Jesus do? “… Christ Jesus came into the world…”

Matthew 1:23 says, He will be called, “’Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:14. This is Christmas presence. God showed up in Person.

Why did Jesus do it? “… to save sinners…” Christmas and the resulting Gospel, is not a gentle exhortation towards a more fulfilling life. It is the announcement of divine rescue from a life of self-destruction and an eternity in hell. The Good News of the Gospel is not that there is hope for you to change yourself, it’s that Jesus has “saved” you. This is why it’s not incidental that this story of redemption is called “Good News”. If it were merely information or a program for self-improvement, it would be called something else, like good advice or a good idea, or good enlightenment. Instead, Jesus came to SAVE sinners. Not improve them.

Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation.

Why did He come in the flesh? – (Why the Incarnation?) Why did He have to show up in person? Couldn’t God (from heaven) just fix things? He came in the flesh:

  • to show us that God exists – How do you know God exists? He came here in person to tell us so, to show us that He does and how He would live “IN PERSON”
  • to empathize with us – to understand, to identify with us

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 He came to sympathize with us- so that we would TRUST Him.

  • to live the perfect life on our behalf – He came not simply as our good example, He came as our perfect Substitute. He lived the perfect life FOR us, because we could not. God demands, not our progress, but perfection. And only in Christ is He satisfied.
  • to physically die on the Cross – This is why our Message is not, humanity and it improved, but “Christ and Him crucified”. Christ is not just our good example; He is our perfect Substitute.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22

  • to physically be raised to life again
  • to be glorified in bodily form – Death results in the separation of the body and the soul. Our bodies go to the grave and our spirits go to the Lord. The separation continues until the resurrection. But w/ the Lord, He rose again, with a glorified body, the same as it was before & is now into eternity- and we will follow Him one day, at the final resurrection. He had to come in the flesh- to be born like us, to live, to die, & to be raised again, and to reign forever as the Risen King.

D.A. Carson: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.”

What is my response? “… of whom I am the foremost…” Like Paul, we recognize our sinful state and humble ourselves before God. We will never truly celebrate Christmas until we realize how sinful we are. We will never be truly transformed by the Gospel until we realize how desperately we need a Savior.

For many of us, our greatest problem is not our badness but our goodness. We’ve concluded that “good people” are those who “do good” and “bad people” are those who “do bad”. Even our good works are done with sinful motives. Ironically, as theologian John Gerstner points out, “The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it’s your damnable good works. ”

Consider sin, not so much as breaking the rules, but putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge- through your own self-salvation project, it puts you in control. Sin is not as much about bad behavior up against good behavior. Sin is a condition of the heart. This is why we cannot rescue ourselves. Romans 3:23- “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, but that doesn’t stop us from measuring distances. We’ve forgotten that God demands perfection not progress. And He still does. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. We say that we’re not saved by works but by grace, but many of do not believe that we’ve been saved by grace alone. We could say that we are saved by works, just not our own – we are saved because Christ fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law and He lived the perfect life on our behalf. In Christ, you are not defined by your past. You are defined by Jesus’ past. And His is perfect. Consider the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. The older son was kept from the feast of salvation, not because of his remorse over his bad deeds, but pride in his good deeds.

When was the last time you realized your need? When was the last time you were truly broken over your sin? When was the last time you expressed your need for Him or thanked Him for it? The only thing that we bring to the table, is our sin that makes Christ’s sacrifice necessary for us.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one?” – Romans 3:9-12. Christmas begins with the recognition of our great need for a Savior. Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. It all starts with a recognition of our need. J. N. Darby, (a theologian/author in the 1800s) said it this way: “Wisdom and philosophy never found out God; He makes Himself known to us through our needs; necessity finds Him out. The sinner’s heart- yes, and the saint’s heart too- is put in its right place in this way.

“Necessity finds Him out.” Only in your need for God do you find Him. Do you live with a constant realization of your need for Him? If so, I know this about you: you are a worshipper. You live in constant gratitude for God’s grace to you. Let’s let Christmas Reminds you of your Greatest Need and your Greatest Gift. Christmas brings forth worship.

Paul’s response was worship: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” When you have an awesome dad, you know what you do- when he shows up to save the day? You praise him, you thank him. You talk about him. You tell all of your friends about him. You want everybody to meet him. God came in the flesh and the response of the angelic host was worship. Luke 2:14 says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

We know whom to thank.

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Have you heard the one about the atheist who, on Thanksgiving Day, suddenly realized he had no one to thank? Thanksgiving is explicitly, a theist’s holiday. But it’s a good day for everyone to pause and to, “Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” Psalm 100:3.

The atheist must acknowledge that you cannot get something from nothing. It’s simple logic and it’s scientifically impossible. Nor can you get living matter from non-living matter. Scientifically impossible. Simple cause and effect is proof of the existence of God. Every effect must have a cause and God is the Cause of all things. This means that He has created us and we are His. God has created us to seek Him and to find Him. We were created to worship Him.

Herein lies the challenge for the atheist. To acknowledge God ultimately means you are accountable to Him. For many, this comes as bad news. Initially, for all of us, this is bad news. Because we all know intuitively that, if there is a God, He is holy, just, and all powerful. We know God exists but we do not want to acknowledge Him. Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” But to those who understand the Gospel, this is Good News. Though He is holy and demands perfection, we know that Jesus has lived the perfect life on our behalf. He has fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law for us. He died on the cross for our sin and became the perfect sacrifice for all who would receive His gift of grace. He rose again, conquering death and hell so that we might live in power over sin and experience the freedom of living as God created to, all to His glory.

We know whom to thank. Don’t miss this. In the midst of all that is Thanksgiving, enjoy all the great gifts of God’s grace, but pause to acknowledge Him as the Giver of these gifts. The greatest of which is the gift of Himself in the Person of Jesus. May thanksgiving give rise to great hope that the God who has so richly provided for us will continue to reveal His grace to us as it continues to increase for all eternity as He shows us “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:7.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”- Ephesians 1:3. The grace we’ve seen thus far is only a taste of the grace that is to come. Practice your thanksgiving now. Be ready for much more to come. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever”- Pslam 136:1.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Calm Faith in Anxious Times

… and why it’s a great time to be a Christian.

 

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

We live in troubled times. In America we find ourselves in a political season that is unprecedented. Our country is more divided, volatile, conflicted, and confused than it’s been in my lifetime. Recent news of the UK’s departure from the European Union reveals that we are not the only ones. At a recent gathering in Charleston, on the anniversary of the massacre of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. nine, I was reminded of how much further we have to go to bridge the racial divide in our country. We have a long way to go. Today the stock market is in a spiraling free fall, terrorism threatens us domestically and abroad, and immigration, sexual identification, abortion, financial disparity, and mental health, all top the news. Even as I write this, I discover that at least 36 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, by suicide bombers who blew themselves up. Is there any question, we live in fearful times? Understandably, these events result in skepticism and unbelief for many, while a few see the birth pangs of a coming new Creation. As a pastor, I’m reminded every day of this undercurrent of cultural anxiety, that inevitably surfaces in our personal lives- in our relationships, marriages, families, the workplace, and yes, in our churches.

I would like to offer the crazy notion that these are the best of times to be a follower of Jesus. In this cultural moment, we have an opportunity to bring forth a Gospel witness that we have not had in a long time. Indeed, every day is a good day to share the love of Christ and the hope we have in Him. But light shines brightest in the darkness. It is dark, and this is Good News. Hang with me; the Church needs to hear this.

The Jewish Rabbi, Edwin Howard Friedman, was a family therapist who applied family systems theory to congregational leadership. Years ago, I read his book, From Generation to Generation, in which he explains that one of the qualities to effective leadership is a non-anxious presence. He says parents must offer this non-anxious presence in the family in order to bring security, peace, and direction in the home. This, he describes, is the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes through self-differentiation. This differentiation involves the willingness to be exposed and vulnerable and includes “a persistence to face inertial resistance”. He describes a self-regulation of emotions in the face of volatile criticism. This self-differentiation is not simply an emotional detachment, though it may lead to some, but is more the ability to attach one’s core identity to something outside of the role of leadership and all that entails. It is this self-differentiation that produces the necessary non-anxious presence.

This is what we need in our day. And no one can display this kind of non-anxious presence like those who have found their truest identity in Christ. One’s ultimate self-differentiation is found in Him. Christ offers Himself as the primal example. He defined Himself only in relation to the Father. He was the Beloved Son of God the Father, pure and simple. In John 12, He says He did not speak on His own authority, “but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak” (v. 49). He only did what the Father told Him to do and He only said what the Father told Him to say. Jesus differentiated Himself from all else- His followers, His circumstances, His personal well-being – and found His identity solely as the Beloved Son of the Father. If anyone ever had a non-anxious presence, it was Jesus. And yet, He lived up close and personal- incarnational- fully engaged.

Hear this: If you are “in Christ”, you too are a beloved son or daughter of God. By receiving His grace, through His death upon the cross, by faith, you are now found in Him. His identity is yours. The truest thing about you is found outside of your circumstances. The stock market, terrorism, political polarizations, relational conflicts, personal failures, nor any other thing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.

In anxious times, Scripture takes on new meaning; but only as is applied. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

We are not defined by the circumstances around us; or perhaps we are. Our anxiety, anger, and fear, reveal our hearts and point others to our idols. Let us prove where our hope lies. Let us show the world the non-anxious presence of those who have been differentiated by the love of Christ. Now is the time to put our faith into action. Now is the time to differentiate ourselves as God’s beloved. Be the non-anxious presence others are looking for, and point them to the One who has made you so.

 

The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.