Tuesday, March 31, 2020

John 1 - Part 3

Read John 1

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I often add the words, Merry Christmas, after reading this verse.  This is about as short a Christmas story as you will find. 

God—almighty God—entered this world in human flesh and stayed a while.  He didn’t just pop in.  He dwelt—he tabernacled among us.  He set up his home here.

While he likely had a home in Capernaum, that’s not what tabernacled with us means.  It’s not about a house of stone or stucco.  It’s about dwelling in the human condition on purpose. 

It’s about bringing the glory of God to humankind in person.  He came because it was his Father’s will which he fully embraced as his own.  He came to bring grace and truth.

We as people deserved condemnation but the truth that Jesus brought was centered in how much the Father loves us.  The Father desires mercy—forgiveness that we have not earned.  The Father desires to give us grace—blessings that we do not deserve.

What are the trademarks of the one whom the Father sent?  Mercy and grace!  He is the way, the truth, and the life, but we will get to that later.

Later on, it would be John who would pen the words, God is love.  We see the manifestation of that love in Jesus who came to bring grace and truth.

We don’t get the babe in a manger story here.  There are no angels and shepherds.

John skips the poetry of the birth and goes straight to the mission.  Jesus came to live with us and bring us truth and grace.  The truth—if we would really see it—would bring us to repentance.  Grace would bring us home, a home that we have forsaken again and again.

Much like the father in the Prodigal Son, God stood ready to receive his children once again in spite of what we had done.  He loves us so much that he sent his own Son into the world to be the light of the world, the hope of the world, and the sacrifice that brings reconciliation to the world.
God is love.  His Son came with mercy and truth.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas.


John 1 - Part 2

Read John 1

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

This is not an autobiographical section.  John is not speaking of himself but of the one whom we often call John the Baptist or John the Baptizer.  We get a little more background on John the Baptist  from the Synoptics, but here he sets the stage for the arrival of Jesus.

Here we find that while John the Baptizer was getting a lot of attention, John the Apostle notes that this man was a witness to the light and not the light himself.  He knew who was coming, one whom he would later call the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

We also get a little time shift from the eternal perspective of Jesus to the temporal time of John.  Jesus was on his way.  We know that John was born shortly before Jesus.  He was the forerunner who was to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Jesus always was.  He created everything but when he entered that which he created—coming in the flesh—his creation didn’t know who he was.  Humankind did not recognize him.  This is a generalized statement for some did recognize him and believe in him and were born again, not like the first time to a human mother and father.  This time they were born as children of God.

Imagine one day that your children did not recognize you.  This is not impossible.  Many mothers and fathers having surrendered their lives to drugs and alcohol become unrecognizable to friends and family.  As we grow older and our mental capacity diminishes, we sometimes have difficulty recognizing those we love the most. 

But we are talking about the Creator not being recognized by the creation, at least by humankind.  How rebellious a people had we become at the time of our Lord’s first advent?  What a bunch of bums!

We should not be so critical as today our society is at least as rebellious as the one from two thousand years ago.  I would venture to say, that we are even more rebellious.

People—as I said a generalization—did not recognize their Lord; except, some did and some would in the days and years and centuries to come.  These people would be what Jesus would call born again.  We will get to that in the third chapter when our Lord and a Pharisee named Nicodemus have and interesting conversation that culminates in some very familiar scripture.

As we look at our Savior entering a world that didn’t know him, we find a promise for those who do know him and have received him and believed in his name.  We will be born of God.  We will be God’s children. 

We are God’s children.  John has a wonderful introduction that connects his gospel to the beginning of the story between God and humankind, but John does not bury the lead.

For those who believe in the name of Jesus, we have been given the right to be children of God.  Now that’s the headline of some good news.


Monday, March 30, 2020

John 1 - Part 1

Read John 1

There are three creation stories in the Old Testament and 1 in the New Testament.  Some have more detail than others.  Some are given in the context of something else, but this one from John is meant to tell us that what proceeds from his gospel account goes back to the very beginning.
At some point if you are not already familiar, read the creation accounts from Genesis.

For now, let’s consider John’s words which take us to the  beginning.

God, whom we know best through Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  God did not create us and say, “Good luck.  See you at the judgment.”

He has always been with us, guiding us, disciplining us, rebuking us, but most of all loving us.  We are not his experiment.  We are his masterpiece.  God wants us to live a full life and bring glory to him

He walked with Adam and Eve.  He sent angels.  He sent prophets.  All were to show us the way to right living. 

God also let us make our own choices.  I guess it’s hard for a robot with preprogramming to bring glory to God, but an individual of free will who seeks the Lord over his own comfort and welfare is someone who does bring glory to God.

But the angels and prophets didn’t get us to the destination.  The law, which worked from the outside in, never got us out of our disobedience.  In fact, it increased our disobedience.

So, it was time for the judgment.  It was time for God to say, “You had your chance and you blew it.”

Yes, the axe was at the root of the tree.  This was going to be a done deal for humankind, except that God was not in a hurry to condemn us.  He was patient, not slow to judgment.  His love and mercy exceeded anything that we could imagine.

But what else could he do that he had not already done?

He came in the flesh.  He manifested himself in human form.  We will get to that part in a few more verses, but for now, know that the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us has always been there.  He was with God from the beginning. He is God.

Through him everything that is was created through him.  Father, Son, and Spirit were there in the beginning.  Now come four important statements compressed into two sentences.

·       In him was life
·       That life was the light of all humankind
·       The light shines in the darkness
·       The darkness has not overcome it.

Light invades darkness.  Life reaches out to the lifeless.  Everything proceeds from Christ Jesus.  We will find many references to light and life and darkness as we proceed, but understand that light and life originate in Jesus.

This letter was written in Greek but had it been written in Hebrew and the Hebrew traditions continued, it would have been called bə·rê·šîṯ, or In the beginning. 

John is telling us that this gospel account is not a stand-alone story.  It goes back to the beginning.  It accounts for the manifestation of God’s Word who was present at creation into this fallen world some two millennia ago.

John reminds us that however the story appears to unfold—and in writer’s terms, the human situation would have been what writers sometimes call the dark night of the soul—this world could not overcome the One who was from the beginning.

John tells us before we know the whole story that we will be singing Victory in Jesus. 

Three of the gospels follow a generally parallel track.  These are often called the synoptic gospels.  John is more reflective.  John accounts for the life of Jesus while he was with us in the flesh, but John also prompts us with statements such as these first five verses.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Powerful and Effective

Read James 1-4

Here’s your Christian attitude for trials of all kinds:  God is with me in this.  My part is to be faithful to him.  He will bring me to grow in his grace.  

Because of this Christian maturity that is in store for me, I will be joyful.  I will be joyful even in my trials.

Ask God.  Don’t doubt.  Don’t be like a wave tossed about the sea.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  Human anger doe not improve our discipleship.

Don’t play favorites.  God’s love is for all.  The judgment seat is taken.

The only person honored and revered in our worship service is God.

Live by the Royal Law, the law of love, the law rooted in loving God and loving one another.  It’s not I’m not very good at obeying the commandments, so I think I will dabble in the law of love.  Be governed by this law.  Be passionate about living in response to God’s grace by living a life governed by love.

There will be evidence of our faith.

Faith without works is dead.  Good works—deeds which God planned before you were born—are the evidence of our faith.

Faith and works work together.

The tongue can be the spark that starts a forest fire or the rudder that turns the ship off course. 

A salt spring doesn’t produce fresh water.  A grapevine doesn’t produce figs.  The words of the believer do not blaspheme God and praise him at the same time.  If there is any doubt, it should be only the latter.  Our voices were designed to praise God.

Biter envy and selfish ambition are indicators that we are living by the wisdom of the world instead of the wisdom of God.

The wisdom of God is pure, peace loving considerate, submissive, full of mercy, producing good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

It’s less about the devil made me do it and more about wrestling with our own sinful nature.

You can’t be a friend of the world and a friend of God at the same time.  Christ died for us while we were his enemies.  Let’s stick with being a friend of God.

Don’t expect God to grant your petitions if they are from the wrong motive.

God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee.

Humble yourself before God and be ferocious before your enemies.

Stop being double-minded. When you sin, you need to check that it’s no problem because grace will abound even more attitude, and put on the sackcloth and ashes mindset until you have confessed. 

Remember that repentance is a complete turnaround.  We leave behind the old mind, the old ways, the old life and completely exchange it for the new.  In this case, we are to live as Christ’s disciple.

When we judge one another, we are putting ourselves in the Seat of Moses and desiring to make the law conform to us.  We are taking on a role reserved for Christ.  We are not focusing on our discipleship.

When we condemn our neighbor, we are trying to put Jesus out of a job as the only one who can rightfully judge our sins.  Remember the first part of the Great Commission:  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Jesus didn’t opt for early retirement.  There is no job opening.

Planning is good.  It is very educational and good in the practice of stewardship.  Just don’t get married to your plan.  God tells us that he has good plans for us.

Do the best you can as you plan what you will—your plans will be more and more pleasing to God the closer that you draw to him.  But take the best plan that you have and put it at the feet of Jesus.  Put it at the feet of Jesus. 
Thy will be done!

Plan away but know that the Lord directs our steps.  We know it’s the Lord’s will for us to love him and love each other.  We don’t have to ask the Lord if that is his will.  He already told us that it was.

We should include in our plans in our daily dialogue with the Almighty, asking if our plan is in step with and pleasing to the Lord.

If you must boast, boast in the Lord not in your plan.

We are on this earth for such a short time.  We are but a mist.  Consider the psalmist’s counsel to learn to number our days.

Let’s talk sin.  If you know what to do and don’t do it, that’s your sin.

So, here’s a nugget to put in your plans.  Do the good that God planned for us before we were born.  The Royal Law—the law not only of love but freedom—liberates us to live as God designed us to live.

Bubble buster:  You are rich.  Get over it.  It’s for real.  You who are listening today, you are rich.  Go take the interrogative series I put together for the first part of this chapter.

You are rich!

But does our wealth get in our way and is it used against others?  Do we leverage blessings to help others or to manipulate them?

That’s our flyover of James at 30,000 feet.  I hope that your personal study and your classes got down to tree top level.  Perhaps you found a landing zone and got down in the weeds for some of this.

Do you see how some frame James as the Proverbs of the New Testament? 

Now, let’s finish the chapter and the book.

Read James 5

We have been told that we are only on this earth for a short time.  We are but a mist, but sometimes it feels like a long time.  We do not yet fully understand the eternal perspective.  So, what do we do?

Be patient.  Take note of the farmer who does not plant on Monday and harvest on Friday.  The farmer knows patience.

If you go a few pages past the end of James, Peter gives us these words:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

James says, his is coming is near.  We don’t know the day or the hour but it’s the next big thing on God’s cosmic calendar. 

That’s cool.  We don’t know when but we should be ready now.  Anything else?

Stand firm in your faith and quit grumbling and picking at each other.  That’s not what you want to be doing when the Lord comes again, and he is coming again.

Consider the prophets.  Consider how Job persevered in the face of suffering.  He did not lose his faith and you know what the Lord brought about for him.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.  Keeping the faith is worth it.!

We need to talk about swearing.  I’m not talking profanity, but the kind that says, “I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles.”  Does the number of Bibles in the stack increase the veracity of you statement?  Must all Bibles of the same translation or does some variety help?

“I swear on my grandmother’s grave.”  For the person with a Christian grandmother, that might seem like a powerful statement, except she’s not there.  You are swearing on a chunk of ground with a headstone.  OBTW—what do people say if their grandmother was cremated her ashes scattered?
Well, how do I get my point across that what I am saying is the truth?

Always speak the truth.  Answer yes when you should answer yes.  Say no when you should say no.  Watch out for caveats and exceptions.  Think before you speak.

Sometimes that is difficult.  Here’s some counsel.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Let people know what you say is trustworthy because that’s the way that you live.  This whole faith being manifested in our deeds rings true with our speech.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Don’t try this in geometry where sometimes the answer is y=mx+b.

Now we come to confession and prayer.  Which brings us to prayer in school.  So long as there is testing in school, there is prayer in school.  Perhaps there is more prayer in the homeschooling approach these days.

OK, that one is not from James, but if are in need, in trouble, or just struggling, then pray.  We are doing our best to consider all of our trials with joy, but we are not called to do it alone.  Pray.

If things are great, sing to your Father in heaven thanksgiving and praise.

If you are sick and need more than your own prayers, get put on the prayer list, or better yet, call for the elders of the church to pray for you.

Prayer is the vehicle to healing and forgiveness.  Pray all the time.  Keep the conversation going.  Listen more than you speak.  Believe in the power of prayer.

Great!  I have to be righteous for my prayer to count.  Great.  I’ll never get there.  Hey, I’m not Elijah.

That’s true if you think you can get there on your own.  Even David when he sinned with Bathsheba, knew that if endless bulls and goats were sacrificed, it would not make him right with God.

But the blood of Jesus made you right with God.  You have been made right with God

We are still called to live up to the standing that God gave us, but you have standing to come before the Throne of Grace with confidence and ask God for what you need.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Believe it or not, no just believe it, that’s you!

Pray!  Pray for others.  Ask others to pray for you.  Prayers are powerful and effective.  For the one made right in the blood of Jesus, our prayers are powerful and effective.

God is all knowing.  He knows what comes next and he also wants to walk with us in prayer as we live moment-to-moment in faith.  Pray!

Faith without works is dead, but understand our prayers are evidence of our faith.  Hopefully they are not the only evidence, but our prayers are convincing evidence of our faith.

Here’s something that we don’t do much of these days:  Confess our sins to one another.  We need accountability partners.  We need a real friend that can speak the truth in love to us and us to them.  We need to be that kind of friend to a few others.

Let’s consider the coupling here:

Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

And now we come to the end of the chapter and the book and James tells us to Connect the disconnected.

OK, he didn’t use those words but if there are those who are not drawing closer to God and enjoying God grow closer to them, then go bring them home.  Home does not have to be inside the church building.  The first century church spent a lot of time in gathering in homes of believers. 

Connect the disconnected is still possible in this age of social distancing.

If there are those running away from God, bring them home.  There are blessings in connecting the disconnected.

March is the month of the Bible.  Our classes and sermons have come to an end, but March has two more days.  If this journey through James was more than the flavor of the month to you, then meditate upon the words you read, the words you heard proclaimed, and the discussion that ensued for these past weeks. 

Dedicate the last two days of March.  Make comments, add more questions, put your evaluation on the Book of James Facebook page.

I pray that this month was pleasing to God and produced good fruit for you.  If you think that something like this bears repeating, talk to one or more of your elders currently serving on the session.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Rich Oppressors, who me?

Read James 5

Everyone here can take a breath for the next section.  It’s just talking to rich people.  Is anyone rich?  No, we’re just regular people.  No rich folks here.

On your personal Facebook page, post Marked safe from James 5:1-6.

I’m not rich.  Who is rich?  Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, those people are rich.  I’m not Warren Buffet rich.  I’m not even Jimmy Buffet rich.

We’ve got a billionaire president and another billionaire who wanted to be, but I’m nowhere near having that kind of money.  I’m just not rich.

Let’s put it this way.  Do you:

·       Live indoors

·       Have heat or air conditioning or both

·       Own a car or have access to a car

·       Have more than one set of clothes

·       Eat every day

·       Have clean water available to you every day

·       The water comes into your house via plumbing

·       You have a phone

·       You have a smartphone

·       You have television

·       Your bathroom is in the house

·       Your culinary decisions are where not if we are going to eat

·       You go hunting because you like to not because you will starve if you don’t
·       You have a device that plays music

·       You don’t worry about your town being pillaged

·       You have attended a play or show or concert

·       You tithe

·       You made extra offerings to help the Children’s Home of our Local Benevolence Fund

·       You had something more to give to Martha, the Goat and 2 Chickens, VBS, F4, or camp

·       You have a storage room or building that would outfit another entire family or two

·       You think that diet means to lose weight instead of meaning whatever you can come up with to eat.  If you went to college, that time period doesn’t count.  Four-day old pizza is a legit diet

·       You have access to college or trade schools

·       You pay another person to cut your hair or your nails

·       You have posted online

·       You complain because you had to wait 10 minutes to get your fast food
·       You purchased a suit or dress for a special occasion

·       You have a bank account with at least enough money to keep it open

·       You had money for the book fair at school

·       You have a job or other source of income

·       You know what MSI stands for

·       You have said the words: What are we doing for fun tonight?

·       You have a microwave oven

·       You were able to give your kids and grandkids very nice gifts

·       You are still trying to figure out MSI.  OK, it’s Multiple Streams of Income

·       You may worship where you want without fear of persecution.  You might be doing it in isolation but you are not persecuted.

Now let’s see where you stand as far as being rich.

If you said yes to fewer that 5 of these, you likely live in poverty and probably outside of this country.  If you said yes to more than 5 but fewer than 10, you are better off than half the world regardless of where you live.

If you answered yes to more than 10, you are rich.  You are rich.  You are rich.

OBTW—did I mention that you are rich.

You should realize just how blessed you are.  Before you get too excited, realize that you also lost your exemption to the counsel in the first part of chapter 5.  Yep!  James is talking to you.

And as you read his words they should bring to mind the words of Jesus.

Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in an steal.  Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

James is admonishing the rich among them who have hoarded their riches for themselves.  He is saying that the very things by which you measure your wealth and comfort have corroded. Your worth is worthless!
Your corroded wealth testifies against you.

Part of this warning is if you use your wealth to manipulate others.  That is, you slow pay your helpers.  Why?  Because you can.  What are they going to do?  You are the person of influence and they can’t pressure you.

We hear the word oppressor than automatically think, Well that can’t be me.
But what if it is?

We might think of oppressors as plantation owners, communist governments, sweatshop owners who pay pennies to make a $100 pair of shoes, but not us.

Those are extreme examples, just as Warren Buffet is an extreme example of being rich.

But what if our riches are corrupting us?  What if, let’s put this in familiar context, we are not putting our Master’s money to work right away.

What if our comfort level has blinded us to the need around us?

What if our When I get around to it attitude is corrupting what we have?

We have been here before.  Money is not evil; in fact it is not the root of all evil.  The love of money is not even the root of all evil. The love of money is a big player in sourcing evil.

The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.

Our money and our stuff and anything else that contributes to our wealth is not the problem.  Those things do not have a life of their own.  They have no free will.  The fact that we store up treasure here on earth and those treasures  become infested or corrupt is the problem.

Sometimes we don’t see the problem.  Oh that junk?

If it’s junk, why have you not discarded it?  Well, it might have some usefulness.

Then why don’t you give it to someone who will use it?

Some of you here consider me a pain in the neck because as I walk around the church building during the week, I find items that are just stuck in a room or in a corner of a room or behind a sofa and I take them and put them on a table in the fellowship hall.  I am asking for one of three things:

·       Claim it and take it home

·       Discard it

·       Give it away

There may be other options but accumulating stuff is repugnant to me in an organization that should be committed to putting what we have to work at once.

I know there are always exceptions but we must be on guard that the exceptions don’t become the rule.

I moderate the session.  Sometimes I offer new ideas.  Sometimes I will put a draft out there to start a discussion and hope that that discussion leads to something fruitful.  I try not to use any power of persuasion.  I want people to be led by God’s Spirit.  I ask the session to spend a lot of time in prayer.

I did put out the year of the Bible and it was met with an underwhelming response, but the idea was not dead.  So, we took on this Month of the Bible – The Study of James as a trial method.  I did not want to do it unless I had significant buy-in from the congregation.  This sort of thing will just be the flavor of the month if people are not reading daily and discussing profusely.

I’m telling you this not just to remind you to read daily, discuss frequently, and come full of thoughts and questions for class and worship.  I’m bringing up session meetings to let you know one time my skin was about ready to crawl off of me.

We have a space challenge in this building. Think about that.  A church in Spaceport Oklahoma has a space problem.   Sometimes it has to do with people and sometimes stuff and then sometimes we have all the space we need.  It is a challenge that comes with the blessing of acquiring this building 15 years ago. 

But one Sunday evening as the session was discussing this issue that is an on again/off again issue, someone said we could just get a Conex box.  It’s a metal box like you seek on the back of trains and sometimes trucks that usually max out at about 40 feet in length.

Right away people started looking at the cost and availability on their phones.  That’s when my skin started crawling.  It’s not that it would have been an eye-sore.  We could have stuck it on the east side of the building across the right-of-way.  Unless you lived in the trailer park, you would never even notice it.

The session asked me for my thoughts, and I said I didn’t want something to accumulate stuff and if we did this it would need a manager—someone to make sure it wasn’t a new and improved junk room.

Why was I such a stick in the mud?  Because I grew up fairly poor, that is rich by the world’s standards, and this is my experience.  I grew up in the United States of America.  See if you can relate.

We accumulate stuff.  It fills a closet.  Then it fills a garage.  Then we rent or buy or build a storage room.  Then we have room to accumulate more stuff.  Then one day we go to the room and to get something we would like to use and it’s way in the back and we just say, I’ll just go buy another one.

We hold on to stuff because one day we might use it.  Then the day comes and we use something else because we don’t want to sort through the stuff.

One day we may get a Conex box for our stuff.  I never argued against it, nor will I in the future.  I will simply include my counsel that we must guard against the accumulation of stuff and as such, we would need a Storage Manager.

Let me return briefly to money. We are called to be wise with our money, even in the worldly sense.  The proverb says that the wise man stores up an inheritance for his children’s children.

The coupling in the proverb is that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.

Are we living in such a way that the wealth of those made right by the blood of Jesus is stored up for the wicked?  Is it stored up just to be consumed by corrosion or by vermin?

Once again, James is not the Lone Ranger in his instructions and challenges.  The master in the parable of the talents addressed the third servant as wicked and lazy. 

Wicked?  Really?  Yes.

We should consider that not to use our wealth for the benefit of the least of these our brothers and sisters is the same as being oppressive.  We had the means to help and did nothing.

What am I saying as I present this part of James to you?  Put out a BOLO—Be on the Lookout for opportunities to put our wealth to use for the glory of God and not just to feather our nest or increase our own prestige.
Are we rich?  Yes!

Are we oppressive?  There’s your food for thought for this week.

When we complete our study of the Book of James, take this question to Luke 12:13-21 and the Parable of the Rich Fool.  Then ask yourself this question:

Are you rich towards God?

You thought that you got the day off with this short pericope.  Well, it might just cause us to meditate upon what it says as much if not more than the rest of the counsel we find in this book.

Re-read the first six verses and then ask yourself this question. 

Am I rich towards God?