Got Jesus?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5; 10-14 (ESV)
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I memorized this passage as a child. And one part of this passage stands out to me today, because the wording of the verse has not changed, but our cultural reading of it has changed a bit. I remember churches, and evangelists, using the phrases like, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (or Lord, or Lord and Savior)?” “Are you ‘born again?'” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

I know in certain circles these phrases are considered “old fashioned”, “evangelical”, and even offensive. Some of us don’t identify as Christians anymore– many of us prefer the term, “Christ-followers.” “Born-again” Christians are seen as hypocritical, overbearing, judgmental, and intolerant– even violent! And there are individuals and groups who give evangelical Christianity a “bad name” by their behavior.

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Evangelicals have a reputation for putting people’s backs up, and putting people “on the spot.” They want to know, “have you GOT Jesus?” As though Jesus is a product and you either own Him or you’re missing Him. Can you get Jesus at the corner store? Do you “get” Him the same way someone “gets” a virus? Is He infectious? Can you sell Him? Lose Him? Trade Him away?

The Apostle and Gospel writer, John, was an evangelical. He was keenly concerned that His readers, friends, listeners– basically everyone he met, GOT Jesus. He wasn’t trying to sell a product, force a certain doctrine down others’ throats at the end of a sword, or offend those he met. But he DID want to make sure that people didn’t miss out on the GLORY, the incredible WONDER, the eternal GIFT of LIFE that had lived and walked and dwelt among us.

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Today, there are many who claim to “follow” Christ– they have great respect for His teachings; they want to live a “good” and even “righteous” life just as Jesus did; they believe He was a great role model. But they haven’t “received” Him. They believe what they have heard about Him; they believe “in” Him, but they don’t believe “in His Name.” Truly becoming a “follower” of Christ is to become a “Christian”– willing to be called by His name and identified with Him. Not just as a wise teacher or a gentle soul, but as a sacrifice–despised and rejected, misunderstood– and obedient even unto death. Not just the physical death of a martyr, but the social death of an outcast, the death of selfish dreams and worldly success through compromise, the loss of relationships, property, status, freedom… John knew all of this first-hand. He was standing by during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He watched as his brother and friends were beheaded, tortured, crucified upside-down, and driven into hiding. He spent the end of his life in exile for the privilege of being a “Christian.”

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Calling oneself a Christian, or a Christ-follower, or “born again,” doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. I can call myself a doctor, or an artist, or a prophet. I may have studied medicine, or created a painting, or made a prediction and be completely hypocritical. I may end up giving a bad name to myself, and causing people to be cautious about other doctors, artists, or prophets. That doesn’t make THEM hypocritical, and it shouldn’t cause them to stop doing what they do well. What matters is not what I say I am, or even what others say about me, but what and who I demonstrate that I am. I want to let my words and actions declare my relationship to Christ. At times, I would like to avoid the ridicule and misunderstandings. I’d like to be able to distance myself from the “bad examples,” but, like John, I long to testify to the GLORY of the one I follow and trust, more than I want to justify my own self at the expense of others. Yes, there are some “fake” Christians, and some who are sincerely wrong in how they attempt to live– and if someone were to catch me in a bad moment on a bad day, and show only that moment to the world, I would be counted among them– but my goal is not to ask if others have a perfect track record, or if they know all the right Bible verses or even if they have the “right” answers. My goal is to ask, ” Have you GOT Jesus?” “Do you KNOW Him– not just about Him?” When you pray, are you praying to an aloof idea or to a personal Savior? If He called you, would you answer, or let it go to voice mail? Would you scroll through and “like” His social media posts, or would you actually DO what He said?

Jesus came. He walked among ordinary people. Crowds “followed” Him, hanging on His parables, excited about His healings, and impressed by His miracles. But very few of them actually became His disciples and “received” Him. But to those who did, like John, He gave them the privilege to be called Children of God– not because they were smarter or wiser or more righteous in their own knowledge or efforts, but because they were made new, “born” again, and transformed by their relationship with Him. May that be so for all of us!

Face to Face

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The other day, someone complained that she couldn’t “hear” me because we were both wearing face masks, due to COVID restrictions at the doctor’s office. I remarked that the masks didn’t cover her ears, but I know what she meant. Not only did the mask cover my mouth, which limited my volume, but, more importantly, it covered the lower half of my face, so that she couldn’t see my lips or read my facial expressions. Nor could I see hers. It is terribly frustrating to be sitting half-face-to-half-face!

Effective communication is up to 90% non-verbal! That means facial expressions, tone of voice, choice of words, etc.. When we cannot see fully “face-to-face” we lose a lot of our ability to understand and interpret what someone else is saying– even if we can hear the words.

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The same is true in communication by phone or social media. Someone can read my words or listen to me talk, and still be confused about my meaning. Am I being serious or sarcastic? Am I fully engaged, or just “throwing out” words? How can I know if someone has understood what I’ve said or written?

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We crave the intimacy of “real” communication– talking and being “heard;” listening and being engaged with another person’s thoughts and feelings. Knowing that someone else understands and sympathizes. Someday, our human limitations will be removed. The Apostle Paul writes about it this way:

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
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The Apostle John also comments:

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

1 John 3:2 (NKJV)
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What an amazing promise! The next time you are having a “face-to-face” conversation with a friend, imagine what it will be like to be able to talk and share that kind of intimacy with God! And then, when you pray, remember that God ALREADY sees and hears you with perfect clarity and understanding!

There is a flip side to this, however. Imagine that your thoughts and “hidden” comments are also uncovered and known by all. One of the dangers of living in a digital, global age is that we feel free to post our immediate thoughts and feelings without regard to how they may be received and interpreted. We post things and say things that we might never say “face-to-face.” We spew out indignation, sarcasm, arrogance, snide criticism, and offense, assuming that others will admire our cleverness or our virtue, rather than seeing our selfish conceit and our rush to judgment. We spill out all the supposed “wrongs” done to us, but we excuse our own wrongs and failings– even brag about them.

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Someday, we will see how very hurtful, selfish, and short-sighted we have been– and so will everyone else. This will shock or embarrass many of us, but God will not be surprised or upset– He has already known the worst about us. And He still listens to us and speaks words of compassion that we often ignore or dismiss. Someday we will not only hear the words, but see the compassion, love, and mercy in His eyes as they meet ours.

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That’s the image I want to take into prayer today– and every day. Even though I can’t see it today, it is already eternal reality!

The Sound of Silence

The events of Good Friday are well recorded in all four of the gospels, (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=JOhn%2019&version=NIV ) but it is still difficult to imagine exactly what it must have been like that day. The first crow of the rooster came as Jesus was still on trial before the Sanhedrin, hours of questioning and betrayal that would continue as the sun rose and Jesus as passed on up the chain of power to Pontius Pilate for more questioning. The sun was still climbing as Jesus was beaten and paraded before the crowds. The swell of voices shouting for His execution would have echoed through the public square–“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” “We have no king but Caesar!” The same taunting would continue as Jesus walked the long Via Dolorosa and came to Golgotha.

By nine that morning, Jesus, bloodied, whipped, exhausted, humiliated, betrayed, and struggling for every breath, was nailed to the cross. He was fully exposed to the bright morning sun, the heat, and all the stares of the angry mob who came to revel in His anguish. He was unable to wipe the blood or salty sweat that trickled from His brow and ran into His eyes; unable to swat away flies who buzzed around His face, elbows, or cheeks. He was unable to block out the noise–curses, curious questions, His Mother’s agonized cries, and, in the lull, the ordinary noises of a crowded city preparing for a celebration.

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As noon approached, there would be the aromas of roasted lamb, market fish, baking bread. The crowds were quieter now, some may have left to seek out lunch or relief from the heat. But the heat and the sun disappeared as darkness rolled in. The angry energy gave way to fear and dread. The earlier shouting was now a an ominous rumbling among the remaining spectators. It was quiet enough to hear Jesus address His Mother and His disciple, John, and answer the thief on the neighboring cross, promising to see him in Paradise. It was possible to hear Jesus cry out later, His voice raspy and broken, but clearly in anguish, “Eloi, Elioi, lama sabachthani!?”

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Perhaps it even got so quiet, as it sometimes does in darkness, that you could hear the three men on the crosses struggling to take each breath–their tortured muscled straining to lift their weight enough to get air past their parched lips and tongues–in and out, as distended muscles demanded more oxygen than their bodies could provide. Did the members of the crowd listen to their own heartbeats in those moments?

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The unnatural darkness would have magnified the moment when Jesus, the Light of the World, breathed His last breath. And I imagine in the moment after that a silence so deafening, so complete, as the Word of God, the Creator of Life and Giver of Breath departed the Earth– as though all light and sound imploded at the loss. A split second only, but one so intensely silent that it must have taken the breath of every onlooker.

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And then, the sound returned full-force– the Earth quaking, the skies crashing, Creation gasping, the Temple Veil ripping, and terrified people rediscovering their ability to cry out. Noise–piercing, and violent and sudden, bringing with it a return of the angry energy of before. But the energy is different now. Subdued. Nervous. Desperate. Empty…

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Believest Thou This?

John 11 (KJV)

In the Gospel of John, there is the curious story of Lazarus. Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, were good friends of Jesus. There are other stories throughout the gospels of Jesus interacting with this family. But this story appears only in John’s gospel, and it contains some details that raise several questions.

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The story begins with an urgent message. Lazarus is gravely ill, and the sisters send word to Jesus to come quickly. Yet Jesus seems to dismiss the message, saying that it is not a sickness that will end in death, and he lingers two days before he decides to begin the journey toward Bethany. There is no sense of panic or urgency in Jesus’s response. And, though it says he loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, he seems unmoved by their obvious distress.

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When Jesus finally arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days. The two sisters both mention, with some bitterness, that if Jesus had come sooner, their brother need not have died. Jesus never gets defensive, but he challenges the sisters about their faith. In his exchange with Martha, he says that her brother will rise again. She agrees that he will rise again in the resurrection at the end of time. But Jesus redirects her faith–“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (v. 25b-26). Her statement of faith, in spite or her grief and bitterness, prompts her to act. She goes to find her sister and bring her to the Savior, that she might be comforted.

Martha’s faith is small comfort in the circumstances. Her brother is still dead. His body lies rotting in a nearby cave. Her faith is fixed in the distant future, even as the author of Life and Eternity stands next to her. Her belief is wispy– more of a wish or a dream than the solid God-in Flesh standing before her.

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Yet Jesus chose to use this seeming defeat as a showcase for His power to give life and resurrection. Many people who saw this were transformed and put their trust in Him. Others saw Jesus’ growing ministry as a threat to their own power and authority. They reacted with fear and even anger, that Jesus would bring the miraculous into their well-ordered normality. The Pharisees, including the chief priest, Caiaphas, determined that Jesus must die in order to “save” them from the Romans. Instead of seeing Him as the agent of their eternal salvation, they saw Him as an obstacle to their limited “freedom” to operate under the Roman oppression.

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What is my faith like as I pray today? Do I believe that God “could’ve” or “should’ve” solved a problem in my past? Do I believe that God is not acting fast enough or decisively enough? Do I have a wispy faith that God will make all things right in Heaven, but is uninterested in the “here and now?” Do I believe that God’s answers might upset my life or cause me to “lose” control?

God, as you challenge my faith, help me to declare even my weak and imperfect belief; help me to act on it, and bring others to you for comfort. For in doing, so, I may be preparing the way for an incredible miracle– for revival and renewal; for the glory of Your great Name! And help me to see your answers through eyes of faith, and not fear of the unknown. Help me to trust you for the future I cannot see– a future that is in your capable and loving hands.

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This Little Light of Mine…

John 1:4-5 American Standard Version (ASV)
 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness [a]apprehended it not.

Footnotes:John 1:5 Or, overcame.

via http://www.biblegateway.com
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I love words. But sometimes, it can be frustrating to find just the right word to express a complex idea. I’m sure the Apostle John felt the struggle as he began writing his Gospel account of the life of Christ. How can mere words describe the arrival of GOD– creator and ruler of the universe– into a darkened and sin-filled world, come to live among and serve the very lost souls He would die to save? John, of all the Gospel writers, uses the most visual metaphors to describe the Advent of Jesus (many of which he heard from the lips of Christ Himself)– He was the “Light of the World”, the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water,” the “Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the “Good Shepherd.”

But right away, the phrase John uses to talk about the “Light of the Life” causes modern English scholars confusion. John says that the light “shineth”, or “shines” in the darkness and the darkness “comprehended” (or apprehended, or understood, or overcame) it not. The phrase is simply too big for one word, or idea. The Greek word comes closer to expressing a dual idea, but even it can’t wrap up the totality of such an event.

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Consider–This Jesus, one with God from the beginning, and the “Word” of creation, spoke light into existence. Where there was darkness, He exploded– light upon light– stars and galaxies of light! Even on the darkest night we will ever know, there are millions of lights spread out across the vastness of space, including our own sun, even unseen on the other side of the planet. Darkness can never “comprehend”, let alone “overcome” the existence of light in our world.

Moreover, when we see physical light piercing the darkness, we are aware of it, but we rarely comprehend, or understand it. Whether we are blinded by a flash of light, or compelled to seek out a single hint of light in a darkened tunnel, it is not obvious at first glance (and sometimes even after diligent study) the source or scope of the light. It may be a candle, or a set of glaring headlights, or the glint of reflected light in a mirror. It could be a distant star, a satellite, or a street light shrouded in fog.

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But in a spiritual sense, it is even more true that “Light has come into the world” (John 3:19), and it “shines” in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood, or apprehended, or overcome it. Jesus came as an infant to His own chosen people, people who were longing for the advent of their Messiah. But few of them recognized Him. They didn’t understand– even Jesus’ closest friends didn’t “get it” at first. And some of them tried their best to “overcome” and “apprehend” the Gospel message– zealous religious leaders like Saul tried to stop the “light” of Jesus’ message and all those who trusted in it. Saul had to be “blinded” by a light on his way to Damascus, so that he could finally “see” Christ (Acts 9).

And the light is still shining in the darkness– as followers of Christ, we are to reflect God’s love and grace to those around us. Many of them will not comprehend; many will try to overcome or even destroy the message we bring. Our light may seem small and insignificant. It may seem like we are surrounded by the vast darkness of space, or shrouded in fog. But the light of Christ cannot be extinguished, or rationalized out of existence, or contained. All the words ever spoken, written, or thought throughout all the ages of mankind cannot compare to the power of God’s “Word”, who spoke worlds into being in an instant, and yet entered His own creation with a soft cry of an infant in the middle of a dark night so long ago.

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This is the “little light of mine”, and of yours if you are a follower of Christ. It pierces through the darkness of despair, hatred, addiction, injustice, greed, oppression, malice, rebellion, war, grief, loss, disease, and sin.

This season, as we anticipate the Advent, let us remember the greatness of the tiniest of lights, and the triumph of that light over the vast darkness. It is easy to get distracted by the twinkling of a thousand artificial and commercial lights this season, or blinded by the soot and smog and clouds of gloom and pain that surrounds us. It’s so important that we keep shining; continue reflecting the true light that only comes from the “Light of the World”

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“This little Light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine!
This little Light of mine– I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, Let it shine!”

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