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It’s time to get free.

September 24, 2014 — 4 Comments
IMG 5695 300x300 Its time to get free.

Freedom in Christ

You may not think of me as someone who needed to be “set free” from sin.

But I was. And I am.

I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never had a problem with alcohol. I’ve never been to jail.
But the darkness of my soul was deep. My separation from Christ was profound. The distance between us was as a great chasm. I could not cross it.
Sin has its way with every person. And we’ve all earned what sin yields. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…”
We’re all casualties. But we don’t have to stay dead.
Christ has come to breathe new life into us, and set us free.

Are you ready to get free?

Take a look at this verse from one of my favorite hymns, “And Can It Be”.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
- Charles Wesley
Friends, my life has been set free by God. He sent His Son into this sin-stained world to rescue my heart, which was darkened and in need of His light. His perfect holiness blazed forth in Christ, opening up my eyes.
Maybe you know what it’s like to live in the dark. Sin has had its way in you for too long.
Are any of these true for you?
  • Addictions run you.
  • Anger batters your relationships.
  • Bitterness and resentment cloud your vision.
  • Lust keeps you from faithfulness and purity.
  • Depression and despair dominate the landscape of your life.
  • You just can’t resist the urge to gossip or speak badly of others.
  • You just want to experience complete and true freedom, but can’t seem to attain it.

It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.

Today could be the day He opens up your eyes. If Christ’s light is blazing into Your darkness, just get up and follow Him.
When our Father in Heaven sent His Son into the world, it was to “seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 NLT)
That’s me.
That’s you.
God sent His perfect Son into your life to “turn the lights on.” If you are reading this post, He is reaching out to you.
It’s time to allow CHRIST to free you from all the chains that have bound you. He has broken the power of sin by offering His perfect life as a sacrifice for your sin. When He rose from the grave, His power had the final word.
Psalm 107 talks about the freedom found in God’s redeeming power. It says, of the prisoners he sets free, “He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains.”
That could be you today. If God is “turning the lights on” in your dungeon, simply reach out in prayer to the One who freed you.

“It is for freedom Christ has set you free…” (Galatians 5:1)

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Baloney.

IMG 5257 300x300 God will never give you more than you can handle is NOT in the Bible

God will never give you more than you can handle

I’ve heard this quoted as Scripture one too many times. It’s just not in there.

It’s a nice sentiment. It looks good on a facebook post.

But it’s not in the Bible. You can Google it. Look it up on Bible Gateway.

You won’t find it. It’s not there.

It’s harmful.

Not only is this is not a Bible verse. It’s also not a benign statement. In the right context, it can constitute spiritual abuse.

Imagine the day I arrived at the ICU, just in time to watch a mother sign the DNR for her adult child. Or how about the next day, when I sat with the parents as they informed their little boy that his sister would not be coming home.

What do you think? Should I have looked them and said, “God will never give you more than you can handle”?

It would seem glib at best, woefully ignorant at worst. Assuring a grieving parent that, in essence, “you should be able to handle this” isn’t just not helpful. It’s malicious.

The same holds true for countless experiences that people you know face every day.

So where did this saying come from?

And how has it become so widely spread and accepted as true?

I think I know where the confusion comes from.

Here’s what the Bible actually does say:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Now I bet you’re confused.

You’re probably thinking, “How is that different than, ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’?”

It’s a LOT different. Let’s break it down.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”

You suffer through the same stuff everyone does. When you do, God is not picking on you. All 7+ billion people in this world go through trials and temptation. Yours are unique to you. But they are not unique.

This perspective matters.

One of the devil’s oldest tricks is to make you think that you are suffering pain that is exclusive to you. If he can win that battle in your mind, he can turn you away from going to God and actually getting the help you need. All it takes is a little seed of resentment to spout into full-blown rebellion of the heart.

“And God is faithful;”

Stop. Let this sink in.

When you run into trying times, do you run to God or away from Him? All too often, when we are faced with an obstacle, we assume God is somehow to blame. He’s not. He’s faithful. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t mean God has left you.

The sooner we take the focus off of our temptation and place it on God’s faithfulness, the better.

And this is the pivot point:

“…he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

This is where the wrong turn happens. People read this part alone and think, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Wrong.

It does say that God will not let you be tempted “beyond what you can bear.” So there is an outer limit to temptation. God will only let so much happen. But how can we know that’s true?

Read this last bit and I’ll explain.

“But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

If you and I are honest, we have to admit that there has never been one single moment where we had to give in to temptation.

(I’ll give your mind a moment to scroll through the memory banks, compiling an argument against me…)

Ok, I’ll go first.

Look, I have made innumerable excuses for my sins. I still do. I love to recall how different factors played in to how I acted, thought or treated someone else. Something about painting myself as helpless seems to make me feel less bad about doing what I know I shouldn’t. I wish it weren’t true. But it is.

But if I’m honest, I can tell you that there has never been a time I had to give into temptation. I just chose the easy way out.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? There is always a way out. But it often comes at a price.

  • You can choose to let that snarky comment slide. But then you’d lose the opportunity to air out that great comeback.
  • You can choose to claim all your income on your tax return, even the cash. But then it would, literally, cost you.

Whatever the temptation, there is always a way out. And God has given to us the power to make that choice. (Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:57) But we often just don’t want to pay that price.

God will never railroad you into disobedience. That’s what this is saying. You are never under compulsion to sin. Never. No matter how you try to explain it away in your head, you never have to sin. There is always a way out.

God will definitely give you more than you can handle.

IMG 5258 300x300 God will never give you more than you can handle is NOT in the Bible

God will definitely give you more than you can handle

But He will never leave you without the option to obey Him. Here’s the sticky part: You may not like the options in front of you.

Scripture is full of examples of people who God gave more than they could handle.

Job – I don’t know if you know this, but as far as we can tell, Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Yeah, isn’t that great? The portion of Scripture that has been in written form longest is a story about a guy who God allowed to lose everything! So much for the Bible being a feel-good story.

At the low point of his life, after losing his children, wealth and health, Job’s wife looked at him, pitiless, and said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Ouch.

I’d say God gave Job more than he could handle. Yet he did not sin by cursing God. Yes, he bottomed out. And it wasn’t pretty. But in the end, God proved Himself faithful.

Consider Abraham. God told him to move to a land that God had not yet showed him. God said, “Go” and Abraham went. I bet he wondered where he was headed. I sure am glad he responded to God.

Later, God told Abraham to go sacrifice his son. Like, with a knife. And he obeyed. I could not imagine…

In the end, God was faithful to provide a sacrifice to replace Isaac. (Hint hint, foreshadowing here.)

Noah built a boat before the rain clouds gathered. (Genesis 6) I bet he was tempted to throw in the towel. I bet he was glad he didn’t.

Moses was told to march into Egypt after 40 years of being on the lam for murder. (Exodus 3) He gave God a list of reasons he couldn’t do it. But God didn’t buy it. Eventually, Israel was freed.

Once the Israelites were freed, however, they whined. They griped so much that God wanted to kill them all and start over with Moses. (Exodus 32:9-10) Oh, and they rebelled too. (Exodus 32) All of them. It got ugly. But God was faithful.

David’s son turned on him and his kingdom fell. He acted like he was crazy to get out of a tight spot. (1 Samuel 21:10-15)

Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way to save the world. (Matthew 26:36-46) There was not. So Jesus was nailed to a cross, and the sins of the entire world were placed on Him. I am glad he didn’t give into temptation early in his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11) I am glad He never gave into temptation. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15)

How about Stephen? He was tried before the Sanhedrin. All he had to do is say, “Ok, I won’t preach anymore” and he could have walked away. It doesn’t even seem like the temptation to renounce Christ even registered. Instead, He preached, glorifying God, and paid with his life. (Acts 7)

Each of these men were tempted, yet chose to obey God above all else.

The price tag for their obedience was steep. But the price tag for their disobedience would have been much greater. In the end, their acts of faith are still telling the story of God’s faithfulness thousands of years later.

My point?

God gave each of these men more than they could handle.

I’m just glad it wasn’t more than He could handle.

What about you?

Have you ever had more than you could handle?

  • Maybe your marriage imploded.
  • Maybe you lost a child.
  • Maybe you’re addicted.
  • Maybe life just hasn’t turned out the way you hoped it would.

I am so sorry that you have had to deal with that. I know that nothing I can say will take away that pain.

If that’s you, I know you’re tempted. You’re tempted to turn your back on God, to blame Him, and walk away.

Or maybe you already have. I’ve been there.

The best news ever is that, even if you have walked away, God is still there when you turn around.

 

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Double Vision Double Vision   When Pain Blinds YouPain has a way of blurring our vision.

  • Friendships end.
  • Disappointments break our hopes.
  • Dreams die.

It feels permanent. Pain, when you’re in the middle of it, seems inescapable. It’s not. I know the way out.

Have you ever been so shattered by life that you couldn’t see straight?

Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ faithful follower, was broken in the wake of His death. It’s easy for us to say, “But the resurrection was coming.” That’s hindsight. For her, Jesus was dead, and He wasn’t coming back. Hope had evaporated.

We find this woman wracked with pain on Resurrection Sunday (John 20):

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The thought that Jesus had risen from the dead did not occur to her. She was so wrapped up in grief that, even when angels asked her why she was weeping, she could only focus on her worst fears. Not only had Jesus died, but now she thought that even his body had been stolen.

But then…

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus stood right in front of Mary, but she didn’t recognize Him. Her pain had blinded her.

  • Ever been there?
  • Have you ever been so wrapped up in the pain of your life that you did’t recognize God when He reached out to you?

Pain is unavoidable in this life. We live in a fallen world, and even followers of Christ are effected by the fallout. But just because we experience pain doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Even as Mary hurt, she stood in the presence of the resurrected Savior of the world.

Finally, Jesus breaks through her fog of confusion.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” 

He called her name. How personal. How just-like-Jesus. I imagine that the tone of His voice must have somehow cut through her pain, calling her back to clarity, pulling her out of the depths of despair.

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

  • Is it possible that pain has blurred your vision?
  • Is it possible that Jesus stands right in front of you, but you don’t even recognize Him?

Your God is not dead. He’s alive! And so is your hope, if your hope is in Him.

Jesus calls your name in the midst of your pain.

Turn to Him.

 

Feeling Empty?

This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

Logos 5 Final New Wine > Old Water   Logos Part 5

Jesus made some pretty great wine at the wedding feast at Cana.

I’ve seen people do back-flips trying to explain all the different ways that Jesus couldn’t have possibly made actual wine (with alcohol). All I can say to that is this: The master of the banquet thought it was pretty dang good. (John 2:10)

This post isn’t about alcohol.

This post is about how Jesus, fully God and fully man, stepped into a world filled to the brim with the same-old same-old. He offered something undeniably better than what we had tasted before.

When Jesus walked the earth, he gave us an accurate view of our Father in Heaven. Being God himself, Jesus was called the “logos“, the word. He was the representation of God in flesh. His first miracle, at the wedding feast in Cana, “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory…” (John 2:11)

Jesus’ first miracle started with a problem at a party.

The wine ran out at a wedding reception. In this culture, running out of wine for wedding guests would be a crushing embarrassment to the hosts.

Mary, Jesus mother, was somehow involved in the arrangements for this feast. Given the fact that she pointed to Jesus and ordered the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), it is presumed that Mary may have been doing the catering for the wedding.

Whatever the case, Mary knew two things:

1) There was no more wine.

2) Jesus could fix this problem.

Jesus didn’t really want to do what she was asking. He said, “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) But like any good son, he did what his mother wanted him to do.

Old Water = the Old Covenant

Sitting nearby were six empty stone jars, each able to hold between 20 and 30 gallons. Without running water, people would store their water supplies in these tall jars.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The water in these jars would have been used for the Jewish purification practices. The guests at the party would have washed their hands with this water. Their dishes would have been ceremonially washed as well. All this kept the Jewish laws of the Old Testament.

But the water had run out.

These empty vessels, now exhausted of their usefulness, sat there, waiting to be filled.

Jesus ordered the men to fill these jars with water. They did.

New Wine = the New Covenant

All the servants had to fill these jars with was water. But Jesus’ intervention made a whole new product.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:8-10)

Wine. New wine. Brand new wine. Wine so good the master of the banquet questioned why it hadn’t been put out yet.

Jesus stepped into this world to bring the new, the better, the best. All that had been poured out prior was good, but its usefulness had run its course. Now, in the fullness of time, the Savior stepped onto the scene. He came to fulfill the Old Covenant, where animals were offered as a temporary sacrifice for sins. He came to usher in the New Covenant, in which He would offer Himself as a poured out offering.

New Wine > Old Water

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce says, of Jesus’ first miracle:

Christ has come into the world to fulfill and terminate the old order, and to replace it by a new worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ which surpasses the old as much as wine surpasses water. (The Gospel of John, Introduction, Exposition and Notes pg. 72)

Jesus offers us something completely better than what we could ever attain on our own.

Would you like a drink?

 

Want to know more about Jesus?

Check out the other 4 parts of this “Logos” series.

1) “In the Beginning”

2) “Unworthy”

3) “Come and See”

4) “Go and Tell”

 

This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

Logos 4 Final Logos Part 4: Go and Tell

Logos Part 4: “Go and Tell”

Jesus’ first followers couldn’t not GO and TELL others about Him.

This Jesus, our Savior from Heaven, was called the “Logos” (word). He was the self-expression of God Himself. Looking at Jesus gives us a clear representation of what His Father is like. Looking at how Jesus’ followers responded to Him gives us great insight on how to live.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he recognized who He was and pointed Him out.

36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

Andrew was within earshot of John’s declaration about the Messiah. And as soon as he heard it, he decided to follow Jesus.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus.

What!? Just like that? He didn’t require Jesus to do anything, to jump through any hoops, or do a magic trick, a sign, to make it plain that He was God?

Nope. Andrew heard John’s word about who Jesus was, and followed. What a faith-filled guy!

What Andrew did next should be a lesson to us all.

When Andrew realized who Jesus was…

 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

Today we might think, “Well, maybe I should wait a while before I tell someone about Jesus.” We’ll go to great lengths to keep our mouths shut about Jesus.

Our list of cop-outs is never-ending:

  • “I don’t know enough about Jesus to go and tell someone else.” (If you know Jesus, you know enough)
  • “I can’t go and tell anyone because they might reject me.” (Jesus was rejected on earth. Are you too good to be rejected?)
  • “I don’t want to offend anybody who doesn’t believe the same way.” (You didn’t believe at one point. How can others have faith if you don’t go and tell them?)

Evangelism isn’t a program. At least it shouldn’t be.

Evangelism, telling those disconnected from God about how they can be in relationship with Him through Jesus, should be a natural outflow of our own relationship with Him. If you fall in love, you don’t need a class to learn how to go and tell other people about how much you love that person. You just do. You can’t contain it.

When we follow Jesus, we enter into a life-altering relationship that transforms us from the inside out. When we experience His love, joy, and peace bubbling up from our hearts, we can’t NOT go and tell others about this One who is transforming us.

Andrew’s simple example should make us bold.

  • He heard.
  • He followed.
  • He decided to go and tell his brother.

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. (John 1:40-42)

Andrew could not have known that this introduction would alter the course of history.

Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

This Simon, now Peter, changed the world. Peter became the anchor of Jesus’ movement on earth. God used him to establish the Church in the years following His death and resurrection.

So, are you willing to go and tell?

  • Have you decided to follow Jesus?
  • Who is God calling you to go and tell about Him?
  • What might God do with the life of the person you go and tell?

You’ll never know what God will do until you’re willing to step out in faith.

Meet Jesus. Follow Him. Go and tell others. It’s that simple.

 

Here’s the post that started this series:  Logos Part 1: “In the Beginning…”

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(This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.)

 

Logos 3 Final 2 Logos Part 3   Come and see.

Logos 3: “Come and See”

Jesus calls followers.

He doesn’t call observers, critics or competitors. Jesus calls followers.

Are you a follower of Jesus?

No, I didn’t ask you if you go to church. Lots of people go to church. What I want to know is this:  Have you responded, are you responding, to Jesus’ call?

Jesus, referred to by the Apostle John as the “Logos” (the Word) is the self-expression of God Almighty!

So, God the Father’s heart, His mind, His character and purposes were clearly defined through the life of His Son.

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized and tempted, identifying with us. Then He called his first followers. John records it this way:

35 The next day John [the Baptizer] was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (John 1:35-39)

Jesus calls followers. Have you responded to His call?

Maybe you’ve never responded to Jesus’ call because you know He’s asking too much. You’re right. And you’re wise to hesitate. Jesus doesn’t call us to just nod in acceptance, recognizing He is God. No, His call is all-encompassing. This One who came to earth, completely identified with sinful man, lived a perfect life, then died to make us right with the Father, is the One who calls us to a no-holds-barred commitment to Himself.

That kind of commitment should cause you to pause. You know that Jesus isn’t asking you to just check a box. He wants all of you. And if you commit to Him, He’ll expect you to follow Him. And if you follow Him, you’re going to have to leave behind a lot. Everything.

Jesus calls us to love Him so much that our allegiance to anything in the world pales in comparison. We all know love is risky. It’s not a neat investment. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s terrifying. But it’s absolutely worth it.

Jesus calls us to leave behind what’s dead. The old life. The old habits. The old toxins that once consumed us must now be left once we set out on this new course, walking in our Master’s footsteps. This means we separate ourselves both in heart, and physically, from the things we once found familiar, if not debilitating.

That’s hard. It’s a process. But it’s for our best. The more we let go of, the more free we become in Christ. And the more freely we grow.

Jesus invites us into a bright new future. Once we commit to follow Him, inviting Him to reside in our hearts, washing us clean, we experience new life, new power, and new purpose. What was once dead now comes to life! Where darkness once ruled, there is now light radiating from a new Source! The God we could never reach is now accessible for us who are re-born by the power of His Son, our Savior. And if you can wrap your brain around it, you understand that the very Holy Spirit of God now inhabits us.

But for those who set out to become Jesus followers, the immediate future is also full of uncertainty.

  • How will He lead you?
  • Where will you go?
  • What will you do?

This new direction, this path, this commitment to your Savior, is not for the faint of heart.

Surrendering complete control of your life to Jesus is at once the most safe and most risky decision you can ever make.

This decision secures your eternal destiny. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, then you are heaven-bound. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. (See Romans 8)

However, once you become a Jesus follower, your life is now not your own. (See 1 Corinthians 6)

This radical commitment to Christ…

What’s Holding You Back?

Jesus is calling you. He is inviting you into an adventure that will radically shape the course of your life. Don’t believe me? Just look at the lives of His disciples. Ordinary men, living ordinary lives, were called by Him. Within a matter of years they were turning the world upside down.

Jesus is calling you into this same level of commitment. He would like to walk with you in relationship. But you’ve got to go. You’ve got to step out. You’ve got to say, “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you with all I am, all I have, all my ways and all my days.”

What will happen if you follow Christ?

I won’t make you any guarantees for your safety or your comfort. His first disciples didn’t get any.

But I will tell you that whatever happens as a result of you following Christ, it’s worth it.

What will happen if you follow Jesus? I offer you His words to the disciples He first called:

 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (John 1:35-39)

Take the step. See the new future He has in store for you.

 

Logos Part 1: “In the Beginning…”

Logos Part 2: “Unworthy?”

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This post also appeared on the Blog of New Vine Media.

 

Logos 2 Final Logos Part 2   Unworthy?

Logos Part 2: “Unworthy?”

John the Baptist was the greatest man that ever lived.

You’re thinking, “WHAT??”

Yep. Jesus said so.

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a)

Let that one sink in for just a moment.

Can you think of a higher compliment?

Jesus was called the “logos“, the “word” or “self-expression” of God (John 1:1). This Son of God, one with the Father, perfect in every way, says, essentially, that John is the best person to ever be born. Not David? Not Solomon? Not even Moses? That’s quite a statement. What could make Jesus say such a thing?

Today we’re told that the path to greatness is found by making yourself the center of the universe. Go out and grab fame, fortune and everything that comes with it. If nothing else, our culture values the star. Go on a show, sing a song, and you’re an instant success. Your life is made. What more could you want?

Jesus’ attachment of great value to John should cause us to do a double-take, questioning our worldly assumptions.

  • How do we determine the value of people?
  • How much do position, possessions and popularity really matter?
  • Am I seeking God’s approval, or the world’s?
  • Is it possible for us to live a life that God values highly?

Let’s pause for a moment and see why Jesus regarded John so highly. Then we’ll be able to see our lives more clearly.

John’s greatness wasn’t derived from his position.

John’s birth was miraculous, his mother and father being very old when they had him. But his upbringing was simple.

“he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)

If Israel had a “Podunk”, this was it. John grew up far removed from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, the spiritual center of the Jewish people. He would not have run in the same circles as the “movers and shakers” of Jesus’ day. Growing up in the wild, away from the public eye, is not how people typically achieve notoriety.

God called John to a prophetic ministry. He was to call people to repent of their sins and prepare themselves for the coming of the long-promised Messiah.

When John’s ministry became popular, he didn’t exactly let it go to his head.

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

John wasn’t in this to make his own name great. He never changed his message in order to broaden its appeal. He was not interested in advancing himself.

John’s greatness wasn’t attached to his possessions.

Even as an adult, John lived a simple life in the wilderness of Judea. People came out to see him, and noted,

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

This was the dress and diet of a man who rejected the world’s view of success. My study Bible notes say, “John’s simple food, clothing and life-style were a visual protest against self-indulgence.”

John didn’t get into ministry to get comfortable.

John’s greatness wasn’t measured by his popularity.

He spent his time denying that he was someone great. He was so charismatic, and drew such a following, that people were puzzled. “Who could this guy be?” When the spiritual leaders of the day finally came to investigate, they had this interesting exchange:

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:19-23)

How could someone who had such a powerful personal ministry not jump at the chance to make his own name great?

That’s not what John was all about.

John’s greatness was rooted in his recognition that Jesus was the Christ.

It really is that simple.

John accepted and responded to what God had asked of him. He was one of the few unique figures in history that truly kept his focus on the task at hand. When faced with success, he did not sell out. He kept his eyes clearly focused on the mission God had put him on, to make a way for the coming Messiah.

John had this to say about the coming Messiah:

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26,27)

In Jesus’ day, a host would cater to the needs of their honored guest. But even the best host would not untie the sandals of his guest. This was a job for a house servant, a slave. John says that he is not worthy to complete even this menial task for this coming Savior of the world!

“unworthy”

  • unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals
  • unworthy to be mistaken as The One
  • unworthy to be called “The Man”

What humility. What focus. What a heart.

John’s entire attitude was summed up by this statement:

30 “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Are you now beginning to see why Jesus’ opinion of John was so high?

John did not consider himself unworthy because Jesus’ opinion of him was low. He counted himself unworthy because his opinion of Jesus was so high. I wonder what would happen in my life if I lived with the same kind of abandon of self that John did.

Are you willing to give up your position, possessions and popularity?

I’ve got to be honest with you. I wouldn’t mind an increase of any of those.

But is that where my heart is set? I think that’s the real question.

  • Are you ready to live your life for the glory of Jesus’ name?
  • Are you prepared to trade your position, your possessions, even your own popularity, so that Jesus’ name can be made great through you?

Let’s take one last look at Matthew 11:11. Jesus continues speaking about greatness:

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)

That’s right. If you are in the Kingdom of God, if you have been re-born into a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then you are considered greater than even John the Baptist. You are worthy of Jesus’ blood. You are worthy of a new status. You are now called a child of God, and the bride of Christ.

Jesus says you are greater than John because you have received Christ into your heart. This Savior is alive inside of you, and you are called to live a life that makes His name great. Are you ready to live as one who has been made worthy?

 

Want Part 1 of this Series? Check out Logos Part 1: “In the Beginning…” 

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This post also appeared on The Blog of New Vine Media.

Logos 1 Final Logos Part 1: In the Beginning...

Logos Part 1 “In the Beginning”

“In the beginning…”

We all know the story. In fact, I’m afraid it’s become all too familiar.

“In the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Hold on. Back up for a minute. Let’s click delete on all the flannel-graph illustrations, all the mental images of a cute little creation story. Let’s step way back from whatever has sapped our sense of reverence, holy fear, from this universe-originating event.

If we can read these words without gasping for breath, we’re letting familiarity dampen what should be an awe-inspiring experience. I don’t want us to miss out on the creative potential that’s dripping from every word.

So let’s step through this verse with a renewed sense of the violence and force in which it was originally penned.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

God spoke, and what had never been conceived of came hurtling out of His mouth and into existence. This event was anything but serene. In a breath, God created light that rips through the universe at 186,000 miles per second! He formed stars that dwarf our little sun in numbers so profoundly great that we cannot even count them. The complexities and mysteries of this universe, barely understood even today, were spoken into being by Him.

Just the scope of creation is mind-boggling. With all our advancements in technology, with all the billions of light years worth of galaxies we have observed, we still must call this realm, “the known universe”, because each time we gain the ability to look farther out, there is more to see. We haven’t found its limits.

God spoke all of this into creation. And now this creation speaks back, shouting the majesty of God 24 hours a day.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

(Psalm 19)

“In the beginning, God…”

God. He preceded the existence of our universe. He exists outside of it. He is not constrained to the limitations of His creation. This God who is Omni, who is all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing, was not in any way exhausted by the exertion of His force. His ocean of all-ness was not diminished by a drop when He spoke all into existence.

“In the beginning…”

There was a time when time was not. Wrap your brain around that for just a second. Before the earth existed, before billions of galaxies were flung farther than we can imagine, there was God. And as far as we cal tell, this beginning began in order to provide a context for us, created beings, to enter into a relationship with the One who created it.

This God who spoke this universe into existence cannot be contained by His own creation.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said this when He dedicated the temple God told him to build: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

This God of creation, when He spoke to Job, asked Him this:

31 “Can you direct the movement of the stars—
binding the cluster of the Pleiades
or loosening the cords of Orion?
32 Can you direct the sequence of the seasons
or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
33 Do you know the laws of the universe?
Can you use them to regulate the earth?

(Job 38:31-33)

Wow!!

These first words of Genesis resound in our hearts and minds as the opening of the story of God and man. At creation God displayed His ultimate power, and opened up creation to relationship with Him.

So, who is this God, and what is He like? Can we know more?

Yes. This God of creation, who spoke into existence the wonders of the heavens and the earth, did not hide Himself. Throughout the record of humanity He has taken great pains to make Himself known. He has revealed Himself, step-by-step, to man. He made Himself known plainly to Adam & Eve. Think about that for a second. Before sin entered the world, these two experienced face-to-face relationship with God.

But then they gave it all away when the chose to disobey Him. They chose to run the show, and so they hid when God came looking for them.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8)

You and I can only dream of what this must have been like. For God to just come strolling into our home… we can hardly imagine. That marked the last day Adam & Even would reside in paradise. Curses entered the world along with sin. This is the world you and I were born into. Because of sin we’ve been separated from this God of the Universe. No longer does He walk up to us face-to-face. Or does He?

I have good news. There is a second beginning.

“In the beginning…” (John 1:1)

Just as original life began long ago with “In the beginning”, so did NEW life.

The apostle John opened up his gospel account by echoing the creation story. He calls on the words of Genesis to mark the opening of an ancient and continuing narrative. He calls on the original account of creation to usher in his telling of this new creation through Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus is described as the “Logos”, the self-expression of God! It is through this God-man that our Father closed the gap between sinful man and His holiness. This new creation is no less energetic than the first. The movement of God to earth was no less significant than what God did when He spoke all creation into being.

And He did this all for you and me.

Jesus was the representation of God on earth.

  • Would you like to get to know this God of creation personally?
  • Are you ready to undergo the violent transformation His Word is capable of?
  • Get ready to experience creative power like you’ve never known.

This Jesus, made known to us, is waiting for you to discover Him in all His fullness.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-3)

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This post also appeared on the blog of “New Vine Media”.

Voice Part 4: Broadcast

February 28, 2014 — Leave a comment
Voice Part 4 Voice Part 4: Broadcast

Voice Part 4: Broadcast by Joe Wickman

Christians everywhere are called and commissioned to broadcast the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s design to get the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection out to the masses includes you.

Yes, you.

You don’t have to run a media company to broadcast the Good News. You don’t have to be a pastor or missionary to tell people the best news in the history of the world, that a loving God covered the expanse between Heaven and Earth.

In fact, the person who is best-positioned to broadcast this message to the skeptics and scoffers in your life is, you.

Yes, you.

God has uniquely positioned you to broadcast the Good News of Jesus to your own little corner of the world, one conversation at a time. Your family, friends, classmates and co-workers are familiar with the testimony of your life.

But maybe that’s the problem. You don’t want to be an example. You’re intimately familiar with all of your failures and flops. Relax. You’re not called to be perfect. You’re called to be fully engaged in a head-over-heels love relationship with Jesus. If you are, you’ll be transformed and you’ll be transforming. And that will add up to a testimony worth sharing.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you are a representative of God on this earth.

Like it or not, the eyes of a world separated from our loving Father are looking to you to determine whether this whole “God thing” is really real. More than looking, they’re listening. Their ears are finely tuned to your words, but also to the attitudes that inform your actions.

Jesus put every believer on a clearly-defined mission to broadcast His message.

This is a limited-time offer, expiring on the day you check out or Jesus comes back. So let’s take a look at exactly what He told us we should be doing:

(18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

It’s a clear and simple command. GO. Make disciples. Immerse them into the fullness of life that Jesus came to redeem. Teach them to follow Him with their whole lives, not just their lips. And He promises to be with us every step of the way.

The mission we’re on provides a fantastic filter for our speech. The “what” we broadcast is followed closely by the “how”. If our lives don’t line up with our lips, the world won’t buy what we’re saying. So let’s take a quick look at how we can broadcast a pure message out of the overflow of our lives.

Paul was a man on a mission to broadcast the message of Christ to a lost and dying world.

This highly-trained man was once propelled by religious zeal to hunt down and persecute Christians. Then he met jesus. Paul turned his life into a living sacrifice for his Savior. His own personal transformation, stemming from his encounter with the risen Christ, was total. He became the first missionary, broadcasting this message far and wide. His testimony has survived these 2000 years.

Paul once asked the church in Colossae to pray that he would broadcast the message of Jesus effectively:

(4) Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:4)

That’s a great prayer to pray for a missionary like Paul. Of course it’s HIS job to proclaim the message of Jesus.

But then Paul included his friends in this mission:

(5) Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (6) Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

“Be wise…” These ordinary Christians, just like you and me, were told to pay attention to their interactions with “outsiders”, those who do not yet know Christ. Paul paints each interaction with amplified importance.

Then Paul instructs us about the content of our broadcast. He says our conversations should, “always be full of grace, seasoned with salt”. This is only possible if we are in a full-contact relationship with the God of our salvation. We must constantly keep our hearts engaged with Him so that we can broadcast the pure, untainted message of Jesus Christ with both our lips and our lives.

So what about you?

What are you broadcasting?

Are you treating your interactions with non-believers as opportunities to “tee-off”, showing how smart you are, or how right you are? The only people Jesus was harsh with were religious people. Don’t be that guy.

Are you treating each and every interaction as though it’s a special privilege, an opportunity to display the love, grace and mercy of Christ, as well as His truth?

The world is listening to what you’re broadcasting with your life, your lips, and your attitude.

 

See how this series began:

Voice Part 1: Watch Your Mouth

 

Voice Part 2: Purify

February 12, 2014 — Leave a comment
Voice Part 2 Voice Part 2: Purify

Voice Part 2: Purify – Joe Wickman

We’re immersed in an age that is obsessed with being heard.

Today the average person has more ability to project their voice further, to more listeners, than ever before.

We assume this is always a good thing. But to be blunt, it’s not necessarily all that great. I would argue that the value of the distribution of our voices is directly linked to the quality of the content coming from within us.

In Voice Part 1: Watch Your Mouth, we grappled with Jesus’ words. He linked the words that come out of our mouths to the content of our hearts (Luke 6:43-45). If it’s really true that what comes out of our mouths is an overflow of what’s in our hearts, then the next step is to ask some tough questions:

  • Is what’s coming out of my mouth God-honoring?
  • Are other people being hurt or helped by my words? (More on this in “Voice Part 3″)
  • If the product is not good, how can I purify what’s in my heart so that what’s coming out of my mouth is good?

James, the brother of Jesus, discovered firsthand the ability of God to purify a heart.

The man who grew up in the same household as Jesus, and once mocked his brother, the Savior of the world (John 7), along with the rest of his brothers. Their words, flowing out of unbelieving hearts, poked fun at Jesus’ unique identity, as well as his mission to save the world.

However, James eventually had a change of heart. We’re not told in Scripture exactly when or how, but somewhere, somehow, James’ view of Jesus was fully transformed, and so was he. He experienced the power of Jesus’ indwelling presence to purify a heart that once spewed words that seared and cut down his own brother, the Lord.

James’ transformation was so complete and powerful he went on to boldly lead the church in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Christian faith. Not only was he considered by both Peter and Paul to be a linch pin in the newly-birthed church, James penned a no-nonsense letter to Jewish believers scattered abroad.

In chapter 3 of James we read:

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Wow. That’s bleak.

The tongue is a tiny part of our body. But it’s inordinately powerful. That’s kind of scary because I know it’s true. One inflammatory word, placed at exactly the wrong time, can burn up a relationship. It’s as if I’m walking around with a flamethrower attached to my face.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, put it this way:

The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.

(Proverbs 18:21)

No pressure. But we have got to get this right!

So let’s get back to what James said. Don’t worry, it gets worse.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Not helping yet. But I know this is true too. Even though I’m technically “in charge” of my tongue, sometimes it seems as through it’s got a mind of its own! Why is that? Well, it’s because I was born with a sinful nature. And so were you. So we’ve got this incredibly deep-seated problem that we are incapable of dealing with on our own.

The result?

  • We say things we shouldn’t to the people we love the most.
  • We don’t use our voice to build up, but to tear down.

Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, depicted this struggle this way:

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.24 What a wretched man I am!

(Romans 7:21-24)

So there we are. Without Christ doing a dramatic, game-changing work, we’re left unchanged and frustrated in our efforts to change ourselves. James captures the tension point here:

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

Taming the tongue is going to take more than just behavior modification. If we’re really going to see lasting change, we need God to purify us at the heart level. The second part of James 1:10 provides the hinge point:

My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

No, it shouldn’t. I shouldn’t talk out of both sides of my mouth. But how can I stop? What do I need? James provides a hint:

11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James wisely points to the source of our words. Jesus, James’ brother and our Savior, said our words are tied to our hearts. So let’s ask God to purify our hearts from the inside out. That is our great hope for real change.

Let’s ask God to purify us. Pray with me:

“Father in Heaven, purify my heart. I don’t want to know one thing and say another. I don’t want fresh water and salt water to be mixed together. I want my words to honor you and be used to love others. I know I cannot purify my mouth without you purifying me from the inside out. Please do this in the resurrected power of Jesus. Amen.”

In Voice: Part 3 we’ll see how purified hearts can produce tremendous fruit.

Read Voice Part 1 Here

This post was also syndicated on the blog of New Vine Media.