Christ at the Center

“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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5 (ESV)

J.I. Packer, in his classic book Knowing God, refers to the opening section of the Gospel of John as “the deep end of theology.”  To truly mine the depths of these words – to fully unpack the impact of the simple word Logos and how, in one word, John reaches both Jews (by tying Jesus to creation and Creator) and Greeks, with their idea of Logos being the force that makes the world go ‘round – would take a much longer piece than is reasonable for a blog post.  (There are times I feel like my rambling tests those boundaries the way it is, brevity not being my gift.)  Truly, the concept – and I do not like the limitations / connotations behind the word “concept,” but it is the best I can come up with at this early hour – of Christ as the Logos, as presented in John’s Gospel, is beyond the grasp of a simple fisherman (a clear indicator of Who the True Author is here).

When I read John’s prologue (John 1:1-18), many messages about Who Jesus is ring out loud and clear.  One that has particularly stuck in my craw lately is the centrality of Jesus Christ.  In fact, I’m not sure that it is enough to say Christ is at the center of it all.  I believe it just might be best to say Christ is the center.

Consider the other Gospels for a moment.  Mark starts right off the bat with John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus.  Luke begins with the set-up for the birth of Jesus.  Matthew does good Jewish theology by legitimizing Christ through genealogy.

But John…

John shows us Jesus all through history – and beyond.  His life did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem.  As you read John 1:1-18, understand that the apostle is telling us that the Word – the Logos – is Jesus Christ.  In other words, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.”  “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, ESV).

Jesus is God Incarnate – the Creative Word, the Logos, in flesh, walking and living among us (“dwelling,” just as God did in the tabernacle with the Israelites).  Jesus provides all of us with the perfect example of how we are to live our lives.  He teaches us what it is all about, what it all means.  Most importantly, He became the sacrifice for our sins.  Without Christ, there is no life.

Without Christ, there is no life.

Let that marinate for a bit.

Right now, I am speaking to Christians.  And I am going to be as direct with you as I have been with myself lately because, frankly, sugar-frosting the message does nobody any good.  If you really saw Christ as the pivotal point in your life, the hub around which all of your existence orbited, how would you live?  How would that play out in your daily, everyday, mundane routine?  Would it still be mundane?  Would life be boring?

How would you approach your job?  Would it be a curse because of the junk you deal with, or a blessing because of what it provides?

How would your home look?  Would the stress level go down?  Would you be better equipped to cope with the spouse and the kidlets and the critters and the dripping faucet and the garage door that sounds like a freight train every time it goes up and down (and, yes, I apologize to my neighbors when we leave at 5:30 in the morning…)?

How would your church look?  How would your calendar look?  How would your checkbook look?

What would you watch on TV tonight?  What would you do with your evening?  Your weekend?

Would you be more purposeful with your assets (and I do not mean merely money)?  Would you be more purposeful about your approach to life?

What if you saw yourself as Christ sees you.  Would you stop striving for perfection and realize the only true perfection comes from God?  Would you see that it is the Lord Who enables and equips and ease up on yourself a bit?  Would you stop beating yourself up for the sins that Christ has already forgiven?  Would you stop worrying about a mistake made?

How would you view the disaster, the sadness, the stress and the troubles that come to each of us at some point in our lives?  How would you view this earthly existence in the light of an eternal perspective?

What would be important to you?

If you lived recognizing the reality that Christ is the center – if we truly saw Him as the definition of our lives, letting His presence indwell and permeate every aspect of our existence  – how would that look?  Would we be better equipped to accept trouble when it strikes?  Would the fruit of the Spirit be present in our lives?  Would people see us and be drawn to Jesus through us?

I’m not writing these things to condemn or criticize anyone.  How hypocritical would that be!  Nor am I saying we should try to be perfect.  In fact, just the opposite.  I am saying that Christ is the center of existence – He is life!

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:6-7 (ESV)

And I am saying this: the simple fact that Jesus is God Incarnate – Jesus Who loves us, loves you and I personally with a depth beyond our grasp, not just as an arbitrary concept but personally… that reality alone should be enough to make us leap for joy, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:13-16, ESV).

And what have we attained?  Eternal life through Jesus Christ, Who is the center of it all.

Somehow this feels incomplete.  I could go so much farther, so much deeper.  And will, God willing, in future posts.  But for now… have a blessed day.  Consider Christ at the center of every decision, every word, every action today.  And watch Him work through your life!

Can You Identify, Beloved?

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved…” – John 13:23 (KJV)

It occurred to me during our men’s Bible study this morning.  We’ve started a study of the Gospel of John and were going through background material. We were discussing the Apostle John, talking about how alike he and Peter were when he was younger and the fact that John seemed to mature quicker.  The point came up that, in his gospel, John never refers to himself by name.  He always calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Just at that moment, as we looked at the scene at the Last Supper where John is reclined against Jesus, it struck me.

John so closely identified himself with Jesus that he truly surrendered all to the Lord – including the very definition of who he was.  He was no longer the former fisherman John, son of Zebedee and Salome and brother of James.  He was no longer one of the “Sons of Thunder.”  All of that former life was gone.  He was a new creation, so thoroughly identified in Christ that he humbly referred to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John isn’t being boastful, or claiming himself better than the others.  He is simply stating fact: he is recognizing that the love of Christ defines who he is.  After all, the true mark of a disciple is to live a life as close to your Lord as possible.

We all claim an identity.  For some of us, it is our career that defines us.  Perhaps it is our place of birth, or religious or political affiliation.  Inwardly, we often define ourselves by our self-image – whether healthy or unhealthy.  But, the simple fact of the matter is, if you are truly a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ who seeks to do His will and follow His precepts and walk in His love – then you are defined by the Lord as a disciple whom Jesus loves.

You are not identified by what you do for a living. 

You are not identified by your former glories, or your past failures.

You are not identified by any restrictions you feel society has imposed on you.

You are not identified by what somebody said you were.

Shame does not identify you.

Guilt does not identify you.

Mistakes do not identify you.

Hear me, beloved… Christ defines you.  Your identity is found in the Lord Jesus Christ!  What exactly does that mean?  It means, if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior have confessed your sins and repented (which means turned away from your sin and turned to Christ to save you and guide you), then you have a new identity.  The old you has disappeared in the shadow of the cross.  It means you are redeemed, reborn, redefined.

It means you are loved, beloved.  Drop the old identity and let Christ so redefine you that the world knows you are His.  You were once a slave to your old identity.  Now, in Christ, “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17, ESV). 

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV).

Maybe you used to be identified by one of the sins listed in verses 9 and 10 above.  But, if you have turned your life to Christ, you have a new identity (verse 11)!  You are CLEAN.  You are FORGIVEN.  You are FREE FROM THE PAST.  Most of all, you are BELOVED, a child of the Most High God, Maker of Heaven and Earth. 

And if you haven’t accepted Christ, what’s stopping you?  It’s never too late – not as long as you draw breath.  There is no sin too bad that God cannot forgive, no life so far gone that God cannot restore, no person out of the reach of Jesus Christ. 

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:19-23 (ESV)

The Thorn Is Not The Point

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

It is a question that has been discussed and debated and argued for eons: what exactly was the thorn in Paul’s side?  I’ve heard many explanations – some plausible, some ludicrous.  In the end, the answer is simply that we do not know.

And maybe – just maybe – that is the point.  Maybe it is supposed to vague, for now.  I love how the absolute truth and reality of the situation is presented without the details about the thorn.  In doing so, Paul has made this passage of Scripture very widely applicable (as verse 10 shows us it should be).  After all, the thorn isn’t the object of the lesson. 

The grace and power of Jesus Christ is the lesson.

Everybody has a weakness.  Indeed, if we were totally honest, we’d probably confess to more than one.  And, right now, it would be easy to sit here and tell all of you about the pain that’s been keeping up at night.  But the pain isn’t the point.  The illness (or astheneia, which the ESV renders as “weakness,” is more literally translated as sickness or disease) that has befallen us isn’t the point.  Nor are the slings and arrows we suffer for the sake of Christ (yes, “slings and arrows” is Shakespeare, not KJV Bible).  Likewise, the difficulties of life, the troubles and tragedies every human faces and one point or another, are not the point.

The point is that we have Jesus (or, more to the point, Christ has us).  No matter what we are dealing with, He is there.  God is keenly aware of what each of us is going through and He is ever present in the lives of His children.  Everything has it’s season.  There are situations God puts us in and situations we bring on ourselves.  Sometimes God is teaching and preparing us through our hardships.  Sometime we are an example to someone else.  What is important is to remember that we are to focus on the grace and power of our Loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who provides just what we need, just when we need it.  However choppy the waters you are sailing, no matter how deep and painful the thorn, the Lord will see you through it.  Rely on His strength, not your own.  Even when it makes no sense.  Especially when you want to give up.  Rest in the grace and power of God through Jesus Christ!

(Jesus said) “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:27-30 (ESV)

Keeping the Peace (or Two Fingers and a Painful Reminder)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Tonight I was praying, asking the Lord what I should write about – for guidance and just the right words to touch someone’s heart in a very real way.  It is my prayer every time I sit down to write.  Then I looked on Facebook and saw a friend of ours had posted Philippians 4:6-7 on their wall.

Over the past twelve years, I don’t know how many times I have written on this passage.  But it is one of those passages of Scripture that we should never forget.  Why?  Because the peace of God is assurance in His love and care for our lives – yesterday, today and eternally.  And it isn’t just for us, lest we become nothing more than consumer Christians.  It is the peace that transforms us from heavily burdened people to joyful sojourners, a light to others – especially when we facing troubles.  People will see the peace of Christ at work in our lives and wonder, “Hmmm… what do they have that I am missing?”  The peace of God expressed through our lives takes Christianity from dogma to reality when viewed by others.  It strengthens and encourages fellow believers and attracts (or at least befuddles) non-believers.

So… tonight I want to begin digging into this passage and find hope for what we’re facing in life.  Understand, please, that these words come from the heart of a man who has wrestled with anxiety and doubt, knows what it is to go nights on end with very little sleep, and worry about life.  If this sounds familiar to you, read on as we unpack the Good News that is crammed into these few short verses…

1.: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Spring 1999 was a low time in my life – very low, very stressful, very tough all around.  We had been without a solid church family for five years.  In fact, this was – although we didn’t have a clue at the time – the last months of five years of self-imposed exile in the Chicagoland desert (a long story for another post).  We had just gotten involved in a church because of an amazing connection through some friends of ours (which is an even longer story).  One Wednesday evening, we were at a church service and the pastor was preaching on this passage from Philippians.  He was aware of what I was going through at the time and I was sitting in the pew, feeling (and I assume probably looking) particularly sour that night.  The pastor was talking about being glad, caught sight of me, walked over to where I was sitting and – index and middle fingers sticking out – reiterated the words “BE GLAD!”, punctuating his point by poking me so hard in the chest that he left two fingertip bruises on me that remained as a reminder for a few days. 

Look at what Paul is saying… “Rejoice!”  He says it not once, but twice.  Rejoice!  Now… when Paul repeats himself – whenever you see a point repeated in rapid succession anywhere in the Bible – take notice.  Pay attention.  An important point is being made.  Paul is telling us, be glad!  When should we be glad?  Always!!  Not when circumstances are happy.  Not when life is peaches and cream.  But always. 

An important point: rejoice comes from the Greek word χαίρω (chairō).  Despite being translated as “rejoice” – a word that, in English, indicates some sense of excitement – chairō actually denotes a more peaceful prosperity of soul, what Strong’s calls “calmly happy or well-off” (Strong’s G5463).  It is the manifestation of the peace of God in our countenance, our actions, our reactions, our example.  And Paul says that, as Christians, that is our “reasonable” (re)action to life. 

That seems perhaps far-fetched.  After all, isn’t it only reasonable to worry – worry about our kids, about the economy and the state of the world, about our jobs, our security, etc. etc. etc.?  Not according to Jesus:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

What is more reasonable – being twisted up in knots over situations we have little or no power to change and being unable to think straight because we’re nerve-wracked, guilt-ridden and exhausted from anxiety, or trusting in the ability, might, love and grace of the Eternal Creator God Who exists outside of every barrier that hems humanity in?  Personally, it took beginning to realize that God loves me – me, sinful, useless me – despite my failures and faults to begin getting some peace in my life.  Not only that, but understanding exactly what the agapē love of God is (and that I could never earn it or deserve it, which is fine because I didn’t have to!) helped me to see that the peace of God is, in fact, the reasonable response to whatever situation I face in life. What have I to worry about?  “The LORD is at hand.” 

Do I succeed in keeping God’s peace all the time?  Hardly.  But, that’s ok.  I keep coming back to God and His Word.  It isn’t a matter of losing faith, but of being human and needing the reassuring reminder from time-to-time of my Father and His love for me.  After all, even Peter had his thorn to keep him tuned in.  Sometimes we need a bruising thump in the chest to remind us that God is at hand.  Rejoice and be a light by letting others see your reasonable response of God’s peace!

Which is where we will leave this for tonight.  We’ll pick up on verse 6 next time around.  Rest well, be at peace, and know you are loved and blessed.