Christian, Uncategorized

Reflections on John 12

Earlier this month I challenged the folks at Midway to join me in a journey through the gospel of John by reading five chapters of the book a week.  I did this for several different reasons.  First, I believe that the word of God is powerful and able to change the life of the reader.  Second, I believe that our average church member has not yielded themselves to this life-giving word.  Finally, I believe that people are more willing to engage with the text if they are held accountable by their peers who are also reading it.  That being said, whether you have been traveling with us on this journey from the get-go or you’re just beginning your journey, let me share with you some reflections from one of this week’s chapters.

Chapter 12 marks somewhat of a shift in attention in John’s gospel.  Jesus does the impossible:  he strikes his first blow against that enemy death by calling Lazarus out of his grave.  By doing so Lazarus becomes a walking billboard for the Messiah.  It’s hard to argue with a formerly dead man.  I’d like to draw your attention to another change that has occurred from chapter 11 to chapter 12.  In John 11:1, John introduces Lazarus as “Lazarus of Bethany” but when we arrive at John 12:1, Lazarus receives a new title.  He is identified not as “Lazarus of Bethany” but instead as Lazarus “whom Jesus has raised from the dead”.  Again in verse 9, we read that the crowds came to see Lazarus, “whom (Jesus) had raised from the dead.”  This leads me to my first reflection:

  • When Christ raises an individual from death to life our identity changes.

Lazarus was no longer average “Lazarus of Bethany” instead he was well-known as Lazarus, the one who lives again.  What, then, is our identity in?  Do we find our identity in our jobs? “That’s so-and-so the mechanic.”  Maybe we find our identity in our family.  “That’s whats-her-names son.”  Maybe people know us because of our hobbies.  They know us as a golfer, hunter, camper, or cook.  Yet, we’ve been given a new life that brings a new identity.  We are the born again.  We, like Lazarus, were once dead, but Jesus spoke and now we live.  Our identity must be in Christ.

  • Our new identity should point people to Christ.

Next, because of Lazarus’s new found identity, verse 11 says, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”  Once again, it’s hard to argue with someone who has been brought back to life.  The evidence is clear.  His heart is beating, his blood is pumping; his lungs are operating.  There is no doubt that Lazarus is alive.  This natural draws a crowd.  People are not impressed by someone coming to a new-found intellectual conclusion.  Thank God, that is not biblical conversion!  Biblical conversion is reanimation.   It is a “quickening”.  Christ brings us back from the dead.  The heart of stone that was formally ours is replaced by King Jesus with a heart of flesh that will beat!   Verse 18 says, “The reason why the crowd went to meet (Jesus) was that they heard he had done this sign (raised Lazarus).”  Our transformation should be undeniable.  I pray for a work of God in our church where we see many come out of their graves at the mighty shout of Jesus.  I pray for a work in which all we can say is, “Look what God hath wrought!”

  • Only Jesus can bring this change.

Through the gritted teeth of the Pharisees came the amazing testimony, “Look, the world has gone after him.”  May God grant this again!  No politician can bring this change!  No country can bring this change!  Only Jesus brings this change!  Immediately after this statement John shows us that even the Greeks proclaimed, “We wish to see Jesus.”  If we desire that these statements be made again then we must do one thing:  lift up Jesus.  Jesus says in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Today we must lift up the person and work of Jesus to a dead world.  It is only through death – Christ’s death – that we can live.  Church, point to Jesus!  Lift high the person of Jesus and God will draw all people to him.  Our message has not changed; we must tell every man the sweet words of Jesus, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” – John 12:36

I hope you continue to see and savor Jesus in the book of John.  What a blessing are these words of life!

 

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Matchless Beauty in the Redeeming Grace of God.

Passion.  Pleasure.  Desire.  These themes seem to drive our society today.  The banner of our culture’s moral therapeutic deism avidly screams, “Do what thou wilt!”  This has become our great commandment.  If it pleases you, do it!  Unfortunately, because of our society’s crazy, almost overpowering lust for pleasure the church has too often been pushed into an unhealthy dichotomy.  Simply put, the church has been characterized as those who are against pleasure.  For some of us this condemnation is just.  We have put up our “no fun” signs at the front of the church doors and have determined to live a boring, tasteless, passionless life until Christ calls us home.

But what if we were meant for more?

What if the biblical writers understood something about passion that at best we’ve forgotten, or at worst that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel?

When it comes to the problem of seeking pleasure, I’m inclined to agree with the venerable C.S. Lewis.

Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If this is true, and I believe it to be, then the question that would naturally be set before us would be, “How do we redirect our passions in order to experience what Lewis called, infinite joy?”

David, another man of righteous passion, gives us a clue in Psalm 16.

If we are to live a life of true joy we must first understand the beauty of the Lord’s redeeming love for us.  David writes, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)”

One thing I desire for myself, my wife, and my church is to see more clearly the infinite beauty of God on a daily basis.  Christianity is not stale; Christianity is not boring.  It can never be without pleasure.  In fact, our inheritance with God is aesthetically superior than anything our feeble human minds can imagine.  It is beautiful.  The love of God for helpless, hostile sinners and his work of grace to make these rebels into sons is not only a display of God’s infinite greatness, but it is also art!  Imagine, the Creator has chosen to recreate!  God has woven a beautiful tapestry of grace that even the angels long to look into!  God, being the very fountain of beauty, has given us a pearl of great price.  To fail to recognize the beauty of it would be an insult to our Creator.

It is in this beauty that we find our true source of joy.  David again writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)”

Did you catch that?  In the presence of God, there is fullness of joy.  Nothing in this world can bring us fullness of joy.  This is not found in wealth; it is not found in influence.  It cannot be found in our perverted pursuit of desire.  It can only be found in the shadow of the Almighty.  Our world has fallen to the great deception of Satan that suggest we can find this fullness in our finite, trivial pursuits.  This is not possible. Nothing gold can stay.  Only the gifts of the Infinite One can last forevermore.

We must seek this true and holy pleasure.  We must not cede authentic pleasure to the world.  It is ours, the Lord has given it to us.  We must not be content until we truly know what it means to bask in the glory of God.  This relationship that God has given to us should make the depths of our being rejoice!  O, how I long to see this great beauty with untainted eyes!  I long to sing of it with an untainted tongue.  I long to feel it in perfection, completely separated from the corruption of sinful flesh.

This, my friends, is full redemption.

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Death Be Not Proud

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

– John Donne

Death is an ever pressing reality in our world today. From the war torn Middle East to our home in America, death seems to reign supreme in our world. No one can escape it. Everyone is affected by it. So how should a Christian react to death’s proud presence in our lives? For the Christian, we have a paradoxical view on the realities of death. Paul told the Galatians that, “to die is gain” but the reality is death does not feel like gain. We feel little “gain” when a loved grandparent passes away. We feel little “gain” when thousands are slaughtered in a mass genocide. We feel little “gain” when a small child struggles daily with the pains of death until finally Death overcomes it’s victim. What then should our reaction be? Is this God’s will that Death should viciously take and take, until there is nothing left?

In Genesis 3 we witness an event that would change our world forever. God’s warning to Adam was clear, “the day that you eat of (the fruit) you shall surely die.” The Great Deception of Man not only brought sin into the world, but this event introduced us to our long time enemy Death. Death then is an effect of sin, it is the fruit of a fallen world. The first reaction a Christian should have toward Death is that we should detest it. We should loathe death, and the reality of death should cause us to loathe sin even more. Where there is no sin, there is no death. Death is a constant reminder that we live in a fallen world.

Death has been Conquered:

Death, however, should not cause us to question the Sovereignty of God. God is the Creator, and death is just a creation. Death may be a consequence of man’s sin, but death is limited by God’s grace. It is God’s will that we live in a fallen world, and death comes along with that, but God has not left us to struggle with sin alone. When a Christian is face to face with death, we should hate sin more, but praise God for his graciousness. God is well known for using evil for good, and that’s exactly what he does concerning death. Is God not gracious in taking a Christian early to heaven? When we realize the superiority of being in the continual presents of God, we realize that God uses the horrific reality of death as a tool of grace. God shames death by taking what death has meant for evil and using it for good. We also know that God ultimately defeated death by the cross. The resurrection was God’s confirmation that Jesus has indeed bridged the gap between man and God. Death has been defeated and is now on a timer. When Christ returns to usher in the consummation of his church, death will be done away with for good, sin will be no more, and we will see Christ face to face. This is the reason Paul could say that for him, “to die is gain.” For a Christian, death is just a passage we take to live with Christ forever more. Death leads us on to heaven to see our reward. We should not fear death, but should instead boast in our God who has defeated death.

Jesus is the only ailment to the stings of death:

Still death is a hard pill to swallow. Thank God that he is the Great Comforter. When we experience the stings of death, we must run to our Heavenly Father and be comforted by his great love and grace. We must trust his sovereign choice in death. He is not in a dualistic battle with death. He is all powerful, and his hands are not tied by any created thing. So if we think lightly of God we will think heavily of death, but if we esteem God to his rightful place, and acknowledge that he is God, then the fact that death has been defeated will become a reality in our lives, and we will cast ourselves before our loving Creator, who through his sons’ substitutionary death accomplished our salvation, and worship him.

These realities should cause us to join with John the Apostle who said in Revelation, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.”

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Praying the Word of God

It has been said that prayer is the life-blood of the Christian.  Prayer is, as John Piper so fittingly put it, the “communication by which the weapons of warfare are deployed according to the will of God.”  It is the very spark that ignites us to action, and the fountain that refreshes us in our weaknesses.  A non-praying Christian is simply an oxymoron.  Yet, prayer seems to be something that I struggle with in my day to day life.  I always feel as though I don’t pray enough, and when I do pray I feel as though I’m being terribly repetitive.  I read stories of the giants in church history who were known for being mighty men of prayer.  Men like John Knox and George Muller lived and died praying to the God they loved.  I am certainly encouraged and challenged by their example, but more often than not I become overwhelmed, discouraged, and ultimately frustrated by my lack of ability.  Did these men have something that I don’t?  Were they just more focused or did they just have more time on their hands?  Is there a secret to powerful prayer that has been eluding me?  Unfortunately, there is no cheat code to prayer.  There is no one time fix-all to having a perfectly consistent and effective prayer life.

However, I have found a technique that has helped me tremendously.

I pray the word of God.

Here are four advantages to praying the word of God, specifically through the Psalms.

1. Praying through God’s Word gives you a structured guide to prayer.

One of my biggest problems in prayer before was that I did not have much structure during my prayer time.  This caused me to lose focus faster and more frequently than I’d like to admit.  When I pray verse-by-verse it helps me to stay on course.  For example, when I pray through Psalm 67, I begin with verse one. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” I begin praying for God to be gracious and to bless me, my family, my church, and whatever else is close to my heart.  When I get done with that I go on to verse two.  I continue this until I’m done with the Psalm or I run out of time.  This method allows God’s infallible Word to be our guide in prayer.  John Sampey, former president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote, “If one wishes to learn how to approach God acceptably in worship, the Psalms are the best manual to put into his hands.”

2. Praying through God’s Word helps you to grow in the love of the Word.

Is there a better way to come to appreciate God’s Word more than to make it the center of your prayer life?  Martin Luther was a man of great resolve who stood opposed to the most powerful institution of his day.  His life is said to have been “full of dangers and conflicts with men and demons.”  Written on his personal Bible in his own hands are the words of Psalm 119:92: “Unless thy law had been my delight, I should have perished in mine affliction.”  When we pray the Word of God it has a way of burying itself into the depths of our heart and affections.  We begin to understand why the Psalmist loved the law of the Lord enough to pen Psalm 119.  It becomes our food and our drink.  We crave it and we uphold it as the perfect masterpiece that God himself sent to us in love.  We become enamored by the very heart of God by simply praying back to Him the Word that He has given us.

3. Praying through God’s Word helps you to have a more effective prayer life.

We as humans seem to be consumed by the idea of being as efficient as possible.  Our consumerist society is best characterized by Frank Gilbreth, the father in the beloved children’s novel Cheaper by the Dozen. We are told from a young age not to waste time, and we are tempted to feel it would be more productive to just do something other than prayer.  However, as a Christian we know that prayer is the most productive action that we can do.  We can petition that the all powerful Sovereign of the Universe would act in our lives.  How do we do that correctly though?  Pray the Word of God.  The Word of God is a “rich vocabulary of praise for stammering lips.”  When we don’t know what to pray, we can always pray the promises of God found in his scriptures.  What better reason can we give God to answer our prayers than, “Lord, based upon your unchanging Word.”

4. Praying through God’s Word helps you to have a more consistent prayer life.

Ultimately, we are an inconsistent and an imperfect people.  This can only change by the Holy Spirit growing us closer to God.  Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  Jesus did not say that we’d be sanctified by neat daily devotionals or by Christian books and he certainly did not say that we’d be sanctified by occupying a pew on Sunday morning.  It’s only by dwelling and abiding in the scriptures that we see spiritual growth in our lives.  In fact, it’s a love for God and what He has said that is a characteristic of one who has truly been saved.  Don’t spend your time waiting for a future unrevealed word from the Lord.  Dive into the truth that He’s already spoken in His Bible.

Obviously, a lot can be said about the attitude of prayer.  One cannot have any of these things if they have not been radically transformed by the grace of Christ.   Prayer is not the Christian equivalent to rubbing the lamp of a divine Robbin Williams-esque genie, and we must not treat this sacred act as such.  Discipline in prayer only comes to those who work at it.  Those that understand that prayer is a lifestyle and not just an escape hatch when we get ourselves into too much trouble.  These are the ones that will preservere and will honor their Lord by seeking his face continually.

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Are we there, Yet?

My family thought it was a smart idea to drive from west Tennessee to Washington D.C. one time. Just once. With three young, hyper boys in the back seat we didn’t make it down the drive way without someone fighting with someone and a stern look from my parents. It wasn’t until one of us had the bright idea to ask, “Are we there, yet?” for the one hundredth and twelfth time that we realized that the threat to leave us somewhere in Virginia was no idle threat. How often is the Christian life like a long car ride? It’s so hard not to keep asking the same question, “are we there, yet?” Sanctification, or the process of becoming more and more like Christ, is a complex subject. For Christians we are stuck between two worlds of salvation, the “already” and the “not yet”. We have already been declared righteous by God based upon the atoning work of Christ therefore being free from the power of sin, yet we have not yet been liberated from the presence of sin. I don’t know about you, but often times I get frustrated with the process of sanctification. I get frustrated when I lack consistency in my daily Christian walk. I get frustrated when I struggle with worry and doubt and fear and guilt and a whole long list of things I feel like I should have put away a long time ago! The problem is that the process of becoming more like Jesus is one that is gradual. So how are we as Christian to react to inconsistency?

Here are some brief tips I think can help:

1) Realize the guarantee of sanctification.
Paul was pretty confident in Philippians 1 when he said, “He who began a good work in you will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.” Our sanctification is guaranteed because the work is not done primarily by us. The work is done by God. God began salvation in you, will continue to work salvation in you and will one day perfect you in full salvation. It is sure! In Ephesians 5:25-26, we see that Christ gave himself up for us in his death, not just to make us right with God, but “that he might sanctify her.” What a beautiful truth! That Christ is the one that cleans us up and makes us more like him.

2) Strive for sanctification.
Although God is the one that works salvation in us, we are still accountable for our actions. How foolish would it be of us to claim it is God’s fault we don’t trust him enough because he hasn’t sanctified us to that point yet? So for the Christian we strive in sanctification. We fight for it because we have been given a new heart that desires to be like our Heavenly Father. If we have no desire to grow in Christ then chances are we are still under the bondage of sin. Our pursuit in sanctification shows outwardly a change that has occurred within us.

3) Read the Bible consistently.
Jesus prayed in John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Ultimately we will grow more and more like Christ when we dwell in his word.

4) Break some bad habits.
We all have things in our life that we know aren’t healthy to our spiritual walk. Cut them out. If you want to lose weight stop eating Big Macs for every meal. Maybe you need to cut out the types of movies you watch, the books you read or the music you listen to. What ever it is, it is a small price to pay for the glory that is to come.

5) Gather with a fellowship of believers.
Sanctification is better done in community. Community helps to encourage and rebuke, and these things are required in sanctification. If we neglect these things then we are selling ourselves short. A famous saying of an early church father was, “He cannot have God for his Father who will not have the Church for his mother.”

Regardless of how beat down we get in our battle with sin, let us trust that God will complete the work he started in us and give us the power to live a life holy and pleasing to him.

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