Tuesday, January 26, 2016

We Always Came Back

I grew up in a home dominated and controlled by domestic violence.

Drinking
Fear. Don't upset him. Too late.
Screaming
Crying
The sound of a mama being thrown against the wall
Then came peace when she left him
But it was short lived...we came back

Drinking
Fear. Don't upset him. Too late.
Yelling
Cussing
The sound of mama pleading.
Then came peace when she left him
But it was short lived...we came back

Drinking.
Fear. Don't upset him
Don't upset him, mama.
Let him sleep. For God's sake, let him sleep.
She never could leave well enough alone.

My step father was a drunk. My mama was his punching bag.
We left numerous times.
But we always came back. We always came back.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Revolutionary Words of John 1:1-2


1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  The same was with God in the beginning.


N.T. Wright, an Anglican Bishop in the Church of England, tells the story of visiting the home of a friend for the very first time. His friend told him his house was just beyond the village. “You’ll see where to turn—it’s got the name on the gate.”


The directions seemed rather straight forward. He drove through the village, past all the pretty cottages, the small shops and the old church. But as he got outside the village he began to wonder if he had misheard his friend because there didn’t seem to be any houses just outside the village. But then he came to a gateway. After entering the gateway he saw tall stones pillars, overhanging trees & an old sign with the correct name on it, but still no house. He continued up a long winding gravel road passing beautiful daffodils and rhododendron bushes. Then, Wright says, “I turned into the driveway. He never told me he lived somewhere like this! I drove around the corner, then another corner with more daffodils and bushes. Then when I came around the final bend, I gasped! There in front of me was the house. Sheltered behind tall trees, surrounded by lawn and shrubbery, with the morning sunlight picking out the color in the old stone. And there was my friend, emerging from between the pillars around the front porch coming to greet me.”


Wright uses that story to make a comparison to a reader approaching John’s Gospel for the first time. He says, “It [John's Gospel] is a bit like arriving at a grand, imposing house. Many Bible readers know that this Gospel is not quite like the others. According to one well known saying, this book is like a pool that’s safe for a child to paddle in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in. But though it is imposing in its structure and ideas, it is not meant to scare you off. It makes you welcome. Indeed, as you come closer to this book, the Friend above all friends comes out to meet you. Like many a grand house, the book has a driveway, bringing you off the main road, telling you something about the place you’re getting to before you arrive at your destination.”


That is an appropriate description of what takes place in this prologue to this Gospel, vs.1-18. In these verses John introduces us to the themes upon which he will elaborate as the Gospel develops. It is as though we are standing on the porch getting ready to tour an old mansion and the guide is whetting our appetite by giving us some background about the house and its original owner. Our focus, this morning will only be on the first two verses of this book.

This Gospel is unique. The opening scene that is set before us is truly outside our ability to imagine. We begin, not in a small recognizable town in Palestine, but in a place that is very foreign to us---eternity past. With words that are foreign to us.


The opening words of this book mirror the opening words of Genesis. It is hard to miss the similarity. That is intentional. Genesis starts, “In the beginning God…”.  Before anything, that we know existed God has always existed. Genesis is the account of first creation. John’s Gospel opens, “In the beginning was the Word…” With that simple phrase John means to associate the God of the first creation with the theme of his book, the New Creation. The New Creation that he will slowly unfold in this Gospel is brought about by the Word/Logos. By making this connection John is declaring, up front, the deity of the Word/Logos. The eternality and equality with God of the Logos!


But of all the terms for Jesus that John could have used he decides to use ‘Logos’. Why? Why not ‘Messiah’-or ‘Son’- or any other of a long list of possibilities that would sound less strange to our ears?


In order to understand John’s selection of ‘Logos’ we need to understand the culture into which John was speaking, indeed the culture into which Jesus had arrived and the Apostles had been called to penetrate with the Gospel. For John’s contemporaries this was not a strange term. It was very familiar to everyone even if they did not understand its meaning. Much like nuclear power is familiar to everyone in our day, even if we can’t explain it we’ve heard used. The “Logos/Word” was a well-known concept used in John’s day by both the Jews and the Greeks. However, they understood the term differently.


For the Jews the Logos was the OT Scriptures where God had spoken and clearly revealed Himself. For them “The Word/Logos of LORD was a revelation of His will” (p. 211).  The Logos was also the voice of God as seen in creation where He powerfully spoke all things into existence.


For the Hellenistic Greeks & others affected by Greek culture the “Word/Logos” was more a philosophical principle. For example, the Jewish apologist, Philo, saw the Logos as the projected thought of the transcendent God. He saw Logos as the clue to the meaning & purpose of life, to him it was the basis upon which humans were to understand reality itself. The Logos was the bond of rationality between humanity & the divine. The Logos made sense of the divine and the human, it brought them together in the realm of thought.



While both concepts were helpful they were inadequate when it came understanding what God was doing in Christ Jesus. You will recall that Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17, upon seeing a statue dedicated to the “Unknown God” realized an opportunity created by their culture to preached the Gospel. John does the same here. Recognizing the importance of this term to his contemporaries the Spirit of God leads Him to understand that both the Greeks and the Jews were on to something, but they were not quite getting it right.



By the time John wrote this book the early church had been preaching the Good News that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for the world’s redemption.  This proclamation had been going on for decades after the ascension of Christ and it too had been using the term “Logos”. The Church “preached the Word”, but the Church used Logos to refer not simply to its message, it spoken Word, but to the One who embodied its message. The Church understood Jesus, in His person, to not only be the focus of its message, but to be the very content of its message. Jesus, the person, embodied the Church’ message!

 
In Revelation 19:13, John, in the midst of a vision, speaking of Jesus, says, He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word/Logos of God. John’s decision to identify Jesus as the Logos is clearly not accidental, nor is it incidental to his message. It is His message! He clearly is writing to bring what he believes to be a proper and full understanding of Logos to his contemporaries, both Jew and Greek.



A Jew might read John’s prologue and understand him to be saying that the followers of Jesus believed their Lord to be “the agent of God’s creative power, the fulfillment of the OT Torah/Law, the physical embodiment of divine wisdom” (Hull p.212). And they would be right.

A contemporary thinking Greek might read John’s prologue and understand him to be saying that Jesus was the manifestation of unchanging truth , the perfect pattern of ultimate reality, the One who points humanity to the true meaning of the universe” (p.212). And they also would be correct.



But for the Church the Logos was these things and more. The Church believed that when she told the story of the Gospel she was doing more than setting forth propositions to be believed. In the Gospel the followers of Christ understood the life, death and resurrection of the incarnate Christ to be the content of its message. Our faith centers on a person! Christianity is not a faith about ideas, doctrinal propositions or ethical admonitions. As wonderful as Reformed theology is-- if we begin to equate a personal relationship with the God of the universe with memorizing doctrinal truths we will be sadly mistaken. Ours is a faith about the actions of the God-man, the actions of the eternal Logos/Word!



For the Jews the Logos was the power of God, for the Greeks it was the wisdom of God, for Jesus’ disciples the Logos was and is forever the power of God, the wisdom of God, yes the Son of God! John wanted to fill out the prevailing views on the Logos with a fuller revelation from God Himself.



In John’s easily understood and profoundly simple Greek there is profoundly deep theology.
Leon Morris notes that in the threefold usage of the word “was” in verse one John wants to draw out the truth of the eternal existence of the Word.



“In the beginning was the Word…”- Here we see the Word’s preexistence. Leon Morris says, “The verb ‘was’ is most naturally understood of the eternal existence of the Word.” He translates it this way, “The Word continually was…” (Leon Morris) [EXPOUND!]



Next is the phrase, “The Word [continually] was with God…” Here we see the Logos/Word’s proximity to God. He was in eternal fellowship with God. The Greeks understood the Word as existing in the realm of thought/ideas, but here it begins to dawn John is talking about something other than an idea, a philosophical concept.  

 

  • The phrase, “The Logos was with God” could be translated, “The Logos was towards God or before the face of God”.  Leon Morris suggests that we should understand this term to mean that the Logos has always accompanied and been in intimate relationship with God. When we think of the idea of being “toward God” or “with God” we think primarily of physical proximity, but it means much more. It is the concept that the Word is with God in all His purposes and His will as well.

 

  • The final segment of v.1 makes it certain that John is not speaking in the realm of ideas and metaphysics. John says, “The Word actually is the eternal God!” For John and the Christian community, there is both a distinction to be made between the Word and God and a unity that must be affirmed at one and the same time! The immediate reaction of a sane mind is to cry foul and point out the obvious contradiction in this claim! What are we to do? Could the Scriptures have gotten it wrong?

 

  • I have found R.C. Sproul to be very helpful at this point. Sproul, a philosopher as well as a theologian, in chapter 2 of his little book, “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith”, makes a distinction between paradox, mystery and contradiction.

 

  • A paradox, says Sproul, at first glance, looks like a contradiction. But upon further investigation one finds that it does indeed yield a resolution. He gives the example of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:39, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Initially this statement may seem to make no sense. But upon closer examination we find that Jesus is saying, “If someone loses his life in one sense, he will find it in another sense. Because the losing and the saving are in two different senses there is no contradiction.” We understand that Jesus is saying that one should give up his life, his dreams, his self -selected goals, his self-centeredness, etc., in order to gain the spiritual life available to him in Christ. Jesus & His will for you is to become your life’s driving principle. That is where true spiritual life is found.

 

  • Perhaps a more personal and less spiritual example is in order. I am both short and tall. At first that sounds like a contraction, but most of you already realize that I cannot be both short and tall in relation to the same object. I’m short as it relates to an NBA center. But I am tall as it relates to most people in this room. At first it seemed like a contradictory statement, but as we clarified some things it turned out it was only a paradox waiting to be resolved.

 

  • A true contradiction says Sproul, cannot be resolved, because it is a violation of the law of non-contradiction. A true contradiction is impossible to resolve because logically it is nonsense. For example, a man cannot be a bachelor and married at the same time. He can chronologically in time, but not at the same time and in the same way. That is nonsense. It doesn’t exist in reality. Likewise, God cannot make a rock so big that He could not pick it up. In realm of logic these are nonsensical statements. While it is true that God can do anything, making a rock too heavy for Him to pick up is not a “thing”. It is a “non-thing”. “Non-things do not exist in the real world of communication. Non-things violate the law of non-contradiction. They are inherently unintelligible! They cannot be understood even by God! Because God is not the author of confusion.

 

  • Sproul’s final classification is mystery. A mystery is something unknown to us now, but may be resolved at some point in the future. One of the attributes of God is His incomprehensibility. That does not mean that He cannot be understood or known. Instead, it means that we can only know what He has chosen to reveal to us. And where has He revealed Himself in a definitive way? In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

 

  • So what do we do with this statement that the Logos is both separate from God and identical to God? We must see it as a mystery, not a contradiction. He is separate in His person, but not His essence. All that God is may be attributed to the Word, as well. Jesus is not simply divine, He is God.

 

  • Can Jesus be both distinct from the Father and be God and we still confess to worship one God? Absolutely! How can we affirm both? Because the Bible does! We believe that in the Bible God has spoken and has chosen to reveal Himself to us. If God has spoken to us in His Scriptures, as the Scriptures themselves claim, and if God cannot do that which is against His nature (such as sin or lie), then the Bible must be a truthful and trustworthy word from Him as it claims to be. Therefore, what we have here is not a contradiction, but a mystery. Something beyond our ability to completely understand. We may accept truth w/o understanding it completely. Some truths can only be partially understood by us. Someone has wisely said, “I believe, therefore I understand.”

 

In verse 2 John reiterates what he has already said, “This One was in the beginning with God”. Apparently He wants to stress the eternality of this personality He calls the Logos.

 

  • One writer puts it this way, “The Word/Logos was not, as both the Jews and the Greeks thought, simply an attribute of God but rather an expression of the very being of God!”  This was John’s message.

 

Harold O.J. Brown, in his book Heresies, reminds us of something we tend to forget, “The first Christians experienced Jesus as a man whom they slowly came to recognize as the Messiah, and ultimately, progressively acknowledged, His deity. [They did not start out believing Jesus to be God. He was initially a miracle worker, a prophet] For them, the humanity of Jesus was self-evident. His deity was something they slowly came into and that became their confession of faith. Later generations of believers (everyone after the Apostles), through the preaching of His lordship & their need for a Savior, are usually initially confronted with His deity, not His humanity. It is only after confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior that we slowly come to recognize that He is fully human, as well.”

 

John opens His Gospel the way he does because he intends to challenge his contemporaries with the notion that Jesus is God right from the start! This would have shocked both Jewish and Greek sensibilities! But the Apostle is not doing it for the shock effect! Once he puts it out there he is going to take this amazing truth that the eternal Logos, the creator and sustainer of all that is---has broken into history as one of us in order to bring reconciliation between a holy God and sinful man! John’s desire is that his readers, as they engage his account are continually drawn back to the opening words of this book! So that in a sense, every time Jesus performs a miracle, John wants us to remember who just did that! It’s as though John is going to say at every miracle, “Hey, don’t forget, I TOLD you this one is the eternal Logos, and this miracle proves my point!

 

As William Hull points puts it, “John is concerned to identify the historical Jesus with the eternal Word/Logos and thereby contend that what men heard in Jesus’s ministry is what God has always been trying to say to the world all along.”  

 

Paul put it this way, “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself.” For both Jews and Greeks this was a revolutionary message!  And it is no less a revolutionary today.

 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dismissing Children During Communion

Evangelical and Reformed churches pay very close attention to their doctrinal statements. We want people to know what we believe and why we believe what we believe. But often, those same churches send mixed theological messages when it comes to their liturgy, the way they actually worship.


Within the past year I have worshipped in two churches that have similar statements of belief regarding what Reformed Christians call covenant children, the children of professing believers. Both churches believe that the children of believers should be baptized as infants. They see this as a corollary with the Old Testament sign of the covenant, circumcision. Both churches also see the Lord's Supper as having its corollary relationship with the Passover meal. In church 'A', lets call it, they retrieve the small children from "children's church", after the sermon, in order that they may participate in the family meal (the Lord's Supper). In church 'B' they dismiss the small children to "children's church" just before the meal is served. I know the pastor of this church and I know he has no intention of sending a negative message, but the message is stark and clear that the Table is for 'big people'.  I think it is the wrong message to be sending. I think church 'B' realizes that the best way to not have to deal with the children's questions regarding their inability to eat is to make certain they never see the adults eat. In the early church unbelievers and those under discipline were dismissed before the people of God came to the Table. Today we dismissed covenant children. We've come a long way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Do You Handle Past Mistakes?

It seems to me that there are two ways to handle past mistakes. We all have them and we all deal with them consciously or unconsciously. We can either spend our lives regretting them, thus remaining stuck in the past. Or, we can learn from them, using them as tools to embrace the future. The Gospel encourages the latter.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Grace and the Duggers

Yesterday a local talk radio host asked his listeners if they thought Josh Dugger's recent repentance for using an online adultery service was sincere, or did they think that Josh was just sorry he got caught. As I listened to people's responses it reminded me of how much we, me included, are like that Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, who thanked God that he was not like "those people" (my paraphrase). I have no idea if Mr. Dugger's repentance is sincere, half the time I don't know if my own repentance is sincere. And even when it is, too often I'm back pursuing the very thing I said I'd never do again. That's the power of the sin nature, just ask Paul in Romans 7. The host pointed out that Dugger didn't repent until he was caught. As I recall, neither did David in 2 Samuel 11-12. The public loves to stomp a professing Jesus follower when he's down, Christians even find some strength in it, sadly. Pray for the Duggers they're just redeemed sinners, they're not cultural icons. Perhaps they are starting to realize that too.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Who You Callin' a Senior Citizen?

Recently, while seeking a place to assuage my hunger, I decided to drop by KFC, the chicken place formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, and pick up a bucket of chicken for dinner. And lo, suddenly I was caught off guard by the wisdom and discernment of the young man behind the counter, before whom I stood. Yea, upon taking my order, he seemed to go into a beatific trance and then he uttered these confusing words (at least confusing to me), "And with our senior citizens discount, your order comes to..." Say, what! Did I miss something? I didn't even remember him asking me my age! What could possibly make this young man think that I was a senior citizen? Many thoughts ran through my mind. I was offended, shocked, disoriented. What should I do? Should I smite him on the pate? That's KJV for "Knock his narrow butt out!" Nay, said I to myself. Instead, suddenly I felt a strange sense of satisfaction when he gave the final total. For I realized that he had saved me 10% on the total of my bill! 10%! So, instead of smiting the young man I left with a new appraisal of his powers of discernment, for this young man had accurately discerned that I was over the age of 50 even though I bore no physical evidence of being much older than he.

This has changed my attitude and from now on I will not depend on other servers to be as wise and bold as this young man. Instead, I will claim what is rightfully mine! I will have my discount! I will boldly ask, "Uh, do y'all offer a senior citizen discount?" I suspect they will think I'm trying to lie about my age and cheat them, but I will be ready with my I.D.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The God Who is? Or is He?

There are times when I look around and I see very little evidence that God exists and even less that He cares. Where are the stories of God's mighty acts on behalf of His people? Where is He showing Himself to be a faithful God? On such days my faith can only best be described as sanctified hope. On those days I would be wrong to refer to what resides in my heart as faith, true biblical faith. At best it may resemble hope. Something that looks more like a child crossing her fingers and just wishing it were so. On those dark, confusing days if someone were to ask me, "Is there a God?" I would respond like the little Christian that could (to borrow an image from a children's story) "I hope there is!" I hope there is! I hope there is!" But I really don't know. The doubt causes me I want to let go of my belief in God, but something will not allow me to give up hope. Something holds me to the hope, not belief, mind you, that He just might be real. Try as I might I cannot allow myself to let go of the idea of God.

In the final analysis, for me at least, there must be a God. Not because of any evidence that demands a verdict (sorry Josh McDowell), but for the self-centered fact that I cannot face the alternative. He must care, because to contemplate the alternative is too much to bear. And yet, God forgive me, I do contemplate the alternative.