Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Word of God (recording)

I shared the message in church today. I explained how the Word of God can be quickly summarized for someone who says they don't understand the Bible by walking them through Romans 6:23 - only 20 words! Click here to listen.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas is for Children - meditations on John 1

 “In the beginning was the Word.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”

Christmas is for children – I’ve heard that said many times. Picture the wonder and excitement of children as they anticipate the bountiful gifts that will be given to them. Their shining faces and their bright eyes. The stringing of Christmas lights, getting out decorations, and the joyous event – helping to decorate the Christmas tree! Think of the delight of children helping to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. That seemingly endless supply of cookies, candy canes, fudge; it sometimes seems like Christmas is one giant sugar high for children!

But, what is Christmas really? Christmas is, in essence, a gift exchange, but on a much higher level.

The Word. The One who was fully God and yet His own person, chose to give Himself to make all of who God is known to the likes of you and me. The Word, in order to reach us, resolved to become one of us, but how to do that? The Word could have come in glory, with the splendor of thousands of angels blaring trumpets, announcing His entry. He could have come in majesty as the son of the most powerful king on earth. He could have come in power and simply overcome all nations. And how long would He stay? The Word could come and make a quick inspection, with a few suggestions on how we could improve. Or He could come for a friendly visit, spend some “quality time” with us and then be on His way.

But, no, none of that would do. The Word resolved that He must fully identify with us if He were to come at all. He must come to dwell with us, to stay for a lifetime. So he chose to start as we all do. The Word became a tiny, little embryo, embraced by the womb of a young woman. He grew within her, and was born, just like each one of us.

And with that birth the Word became Jesus, born in Bethlehem, the son of Joseph; later to be called the Christ, the Anointed One of God. He chose to be born in humble circumstances, in a tiny, forgotten nation, to a people known to worship the only true God.

So God gave us Jesus as a baby in a manger, so Jesus could give his life for us as a Savior.

Now, when God gave us Jesus, what was heaven like? The angels murmured. “Jesus, gone to live on earth! But how can heaven be the same if Jesus is – there?”

Every gift that has ever been given is given at a cost. The cost of Jesus becoming man was a temporary, but very real separation of Jesus from the Father and Holy Spirit while he dwelt in a human body. Did the heart of God the Father ache while Jesus was with us in a humble, human body? We may never know for sure.

But we do know that God gave us Jesus as the way for us to have a good relationship with Him. To those who received Him, He gave the right to become, listen carefully, children of God! Christmas IS for children – God’s children! It doesn’t matter if you are 9 or 90, any one of us can be a child of God. And what gift do God’s children get on Christmas? Why, only the best – they get Jesus Himself.

You and I may not have the best the world has to offer, we may not be in the best of circumstances, we may not BE the best of people – but we have been given God’s best – Jesus.

And what does it mean if we have been given Jesus? It means that we have hope. We have God’s promise that we will experience true life – eternal life, with no more sorrow, no more tears. We will share in His victory over death, we will someday no longer struggle with doubt, fear, evil, aging, compulsions; we will be freed to be all that God originally designed us to be.

So Christmas really is for children. Christmas is an intimate gift exchange. We receive the gift of life from God through Jesus. But an exchange requires giving from both parties. What is to be our gift to God? What could we give to God that He would value, that He could even appreciate?

It’s very simple really, when he sent Jesus as a gift to us, he was basically saying “I love you.” What He wants from us is just to hear those four special words:

    “I love you, too.”

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Built It, But Will They Come?

This is from the book The Hidden Half, nearly 40 years old, but is such an excellent story, I had to post it!

Marilyn Laszlo is a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She told a story recently that summarizes the hear cry of the unreached people of the world.

For the past thirteen years I have been working in Hauna, a little village which is 500 miles up the Sepik River in the heart of the jungle in Papua New Guinea, an island just north of Australia.

On the island of Papua New Guinea, there are over 700 distinct languages, most of which are unwritten. Actually, there are over 3,000 language groups in the world that have no written language. They do not even have an alphabet, much less any books.

That is the way it was in Hauna Village, home of the Sepik Iwam people. They had no idea that the words that came out of their mouths could be written down.

My partner and I were given training in linguistics and we began learning the language one word at a time by pointing to objects and by acting out concepts. Eventually the Lord gave us a team of fourteen translation helpers to work with.

When we started translating, I became very burdened about the older people in the village. The witch doctors were being left out. They are the most powerful men in the village and are always busy because there is always someone sick or someone dying.

My partner and I wanted to have these older men come from 6:30 to 7:30 every night, after we had translated that day. So we had our translation helpers go out in teams of two to each of the four clans in the village and get one older man from each clan to join them.

Every day these witch doctors or “spitters” came to listed to the Word of God. Their word for doctor is inkam hiiswoki, which means “the man who spits” or “the spitter.” If you have malaria the spitters take a sharp bamboo and cut your forehead where it hurts to let out the bad blood. Then they chew on a plant that supposedly contains a very powerful spirit, and they spit and blow into those cuts. This is the power that will help heal you.

We had translated a portion of the Gospel of Mark, chapter eight. As we were reading these verses we came to verse 23, the story of Jesus spitting on the eyes of the blind man to heal him. Now we have blind people in the village, but no medicine man has been able to heal them. So when we read this verse, the older men jumped up and said, “Wow! Why Jesus must be the most powerful spitter in the whole world!” From that day they started coming to church. They identified with this spitting man, Jesus, and wanted to know more about him.

As we translated and taught the people to read and write their own language, we became burdened for all of the unreached tribes around us. Hauna was becoming a shining light throughout the area as people started to hear about our work. One day a canoe loaded with fifteen people came for medical help. They spoke another tribal language and came into our house with the smell of their rotting sores and other diseases. I told them in the trade language, Pidgin English, that they must stay in our village at least a week so I could give them a penicillin series for their sores.

While they stayed with us they watched what was going on. They saw 200 people coming to school to learn to read and write their own language. They saw us write God’s talk ion the people’s language and listened to the Sepik Iwam pastors preach the Word of God in their own language.

When it was time for them to go home, the leader asked, “Do you think you could come to my village and put down our talk so that we might know about God, too?”

I had to shake my head and say, “I’m not finished here yet. I have several more years of work in this place/” I could tell he was very disappointed, and I promised that someday I would at least come to visit his village.

Several weeks later, we organized a party to find his village. When we got there, the leader was thrilled to see us. He called everybody to come and see the two white misses. As we were walking through the village I noticed in the center a new building, very different from their regular houses. I asked, “What is that building there in the center of the village?”

He said, “Oh, that is God’s house-that’s our church.”

“Your church? Do you have a mission here?”

“Oh, no, we have never had a mission here.”

“Well, do you have a pastor here – you know, someone that comes to preach God’s Word?”

“Oh, no, we’ve never had a pastor here.”

“Well, is there someone here in the village that can read and write Pidgin English who holds services in your church?”

“Oh, no! There is no one here that can read or write. And we have no books.”

I looked at him and said, “Then what is that building for?”

He said, “Well, we saw the little church in your village and our people decided to build a church, too. Now we’re waiting for someone to come and tell us about God in our own talk.”

I turned and started crying. I have never seen that kind of faith. Out in the middle of the jungle stands that little church, and today they are still waiting – waiting for someone to come and tell them in their own language about Jesus. There are thousands of groups just like them, waiting to hear the Word of God in their own language. They are waiting for you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Do You Beleive . . .

It’s that time of year, when children ask if you believe in ghosts. Do you? Do you believe in Dense Wave Divisional Multiplexing? Do you believe in harmonic syncretism? Do you believe in transubstantiation or consubstatiation or something else? Do you believe the gospel?

Most of you are scratching your heads saying, “I don’t know if I believe some of these things because I don’t know what they ARE!”

Unfortunately, a recent study showed that most church go-ers who claim to believe the gospel are not able to put into words exactly what the gospel is. In other words, they don’t know what it is, but they believe it!

So let’s define the gospel (the other stuff you can email me or Google it, if you’re really that curious.)

C. R. J. R.

Sea are junior. Bad grammar, but it will help you remember what this gospel is that we believe.

What is C? C is for CREATOR. Before there was time, God had an idea, a plan, and decided to create a universe. When I start on a project, it takes me multiple trips to the hardware store, and some new tools, and raw materials and a plan that I go over and over again, and still don’t get quite right. God on the other hand, decided to create and did it simply by speaking.

God’s spoken word formed everything we know today, and everything we have yet to discover. The energy of a billion suns instantly existed because God spoke, and it did not diminish God at all. He wasn’t worn out , he wasn’t tired, he was just getting started!

Think about God’s creation. Right now, just spend the next 5 minutes meditating on this amazingly complex, wonderful, beautiful creation that God the Creator simply spoke into existence.

So what? When you write a beautiful song or poem, you submit it and have it copyrighted. If you have a brilliant idea for a new product, you submit your idea and receive a patent. Your copyright or your patent is the proof that what you created belongs to you.

God created the universe. You are part of the universe. God created you, which means he has the patent on you and you belong to Him. If they ever perfect human cloning, and someone creates a perfect clone of you, they will have violated God’s patent on you.

Why did God create you? So you could know Him, have a relationship with Him, and worship Him.

Now what? Simply, because you are God’s and He desires time with you, you should spend time with him daily worshiping Him and talking to Him.

What is R? R is for RULER. God didn’t just create everything and walk away. He defined how things are supposed to work. Then he wrote them down and told them to people. The most famous are the 10 Commandments, but they are not the only rules.

God created the rules for a purpose. These rules are not to prevent us from enjoying life, but rather, to guide us in understanding how we were designed and what will bring us true inner and lasting joy, rather than just fleeting pleasure.

So what? God created laws and we break them. Too often, we think that God doesn’t understand the situation, that He is unaware of how complicated our lives are, and he doesn’t care whether we are happy or not. This is what we think, but those are all lies. God loves us. That’s why He created the rules. He understands the situation better than we ever will. Often our lives are complicated because of all the rules we have broken, but God sees how each decision we make impacts our futures, and the futures of everyone we interact with – now that’s complex! And God does want us to be happy, but not at the expense of forfeiting what is right and true and just and equitable.

Now what? Examine you life. Obey God in all the details.

What is J? J is for JUDGE. What point would there be in having rules if there were no consequences to breaking them. Kind of like the bully who says, give me your money or else… Or else what? If there’s no “or else” you keep your money and walk away. If there is a for else, you give the bully your money and walk away with your teeth intact. God knows our every action and keeps track of them. He knows our every word, our every thought. And He judges all of them. We will be held accountable for everything we’ve every done or said or thought.

So what? God does judge on the curve!

Everyone below a 3 on this curve is in prison (or should be.) Below a 5, they probably spent time in jail. Most people are between 8 and 18. Then, there are the really amazingly nice people who are like 24 and 25. When you look at this graph, think of where you would place a vertical line, separating those who will go to heaven from those who will not. Now, where would you place yourself. (Be honest.)

God has decided where that separating line is. Unfortunately for us, it is off the chart of the previous drawing. So I’ve adjusted the horizontal scale below so you can see where God drew the line, which is in red.

(Actually, the red line is much further to the right, but I ran out of room.)

Unfortunately for us, only perfection is good enough to meet God’s standard so you can spend eternity with Him. Even the best people we know fall far, far short of God’s standard of perfection.

Now what? God will judge each person that ever has or ever will live on this planet. Everyone has fallen short of God’s expectations, and all of us are condemned to be separated from God for all of eternity. We need to be ashamed and to repent.

What is R? R is for REDEEMER. Redeem is not a word we use much anymore. If we do, it’s usually just for those little pieces of paper. But the history of the word redeem is powerful. When two cities went to war, eventually the sides would get to a point where they would want to exchange captives. When I was bought back out of bondage to my oppressors by my family, I was redeemed! We have been bought back by God from bondage to our ongoing sin and the punishment that comes with it.

God sent His Son, Jesus, to be the Redeemer. Jesus is the One who bought back all who would desire to return to God. The price? His life!

So what? We have hope! Without a Redeemer, we have no hope of pleasing God, of knowing Him, of living with him for eternity.

We are redeemed. Coupons, those little pieces of paper, have expiration dates. So do we. We don’t know our own expiration dates. But God does. We cannot be redeemed after our expiration date.

An unredeemed coupon is valueless. Have you been redeemed?

Now what? Rejoice and love God!

So, the gospel, in a nutshell is this: God created us and everything, which implies that He owns us. He also made rules that govern how things were intended to work, but we often fail to follow these rules. If we break the rules, God as judges demands that a penalty be paid – eternal separation from God. But because of God’s great love for us, He sent His own Son, Jesus, to be our Redeemer.

Each man, woman, boy and girl needs to decide if they will allow God to redeem them. If they do, then their full value as humans is realized and they will be filled with joy and peace and be restored to a right relationship with God the Creator.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who Do You Love

I haven't posted for a while here, but I did preach a few weeks ago. This is a link to my message.

(Click the title to listen.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Xmas and Christmas

I have always loved this obscure piece written by C. S. Lewis. I hope you enjoy it as well.



And Beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north-western parts of Europe though they do no agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas, and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. Bur the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or eels men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them, And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, the throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year then now sell as Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, the become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, It is not lawful, I Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left. And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, It is, O Stranger, a racket; using (I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis.)

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Clubhouse

So, our local baseball club has started the season 0 and 23. Every game was lost by default, because they wouldn’t come out of the Clubhouse. I managed to visit the Clubhouse after their 23rd loss and talked to a few of the players.

Rog said that this was his first year playing ball. He was really excited to get into some games, but some of the guys who had been around for a while “showed him the ropes,” so he’s following their lead. Rog admitted that before the third game, he actually left the Club house and made it all the way to the dugout, but then he saw all the people in the stands, and the opposing team looked pretty formidable. He noticed he was the only one in the dugout, so he headed back to the Clubhouse to be with his teammates.

Doc was really talkative and a really fun guy to have around. He plays a lot of practical jokes, and gets the guys to open up and talk. Doc makes the Clubhouse a fun place to be. The problem is Doc’s more of a night owl, and he often doesn’t get home until its getting light again, so Doc doesn’t even make it to the clubhouse at all some days.

Ruben has been around for a while, and has some injuries that cause him a lot of pain. The whirlpool and massage just do wonders for him. So he will often come in and get his massage and spend some time in the whirlpool then catch a bite to eat before heading home.

Tank tells me the buffet they put out for the team is fantastic! He said he has never had such good food with any other team, that’s why he loves this Clubhouse so much! He has the menu memorized every day, and helped me get a plateful of food like I haven’t had in a long, long time. The lobster tail was amazing, and the Death by Chocolate mousse was top notch. Tank admitted he’s put on a few pounds since joining the club, but assured me it was worth it.

I visited with a couple rookies in the film room. They were studying film, and picking apart the opposing pitchers in the league. They were able to point out subtle little things that these other players that were doing that were all wrong – if they ever faced them, they would be able to read these unwitting signals these opposing players were giving, and just tear them to pieces. But they both said they needed to spend more time in the film room before they even thought about dressing for a game.

Management has brought in the best coaches available, modern equipment, all the resources this team could ever need to win. I was really impressed with every person in this organization – they have great chemistry on this team! This is a team that wants to win, that has one of the best Clubhouses around, great coaching. And some day, when they take the field, they will be awesome!

The local church is our Clubhouse. It’s where we go to encourage one another. To learn. To heal. To rest.

But the local church is not what we are here for. There is a battle to be fought. And it’s not against another team, it’s against the evil spiritual forces that oppose God and his people. We are called to attend our local church so we can charge out of the clubhouse, get on the field, and have a “winning season.” We won’t win every game, but we know in the end, the championship is secure.

Jesus Christ, God in a body, is the reason we gather. He is the reason we go out into a hostile world and share the gospel with those who have never heard. Or those who have heard and not yet understood. Or those who have been predisposed against the gospel and need to see it lived out before their very eyes. If we stay in the clubhouse, we have missed the reason we are on this team.

We don’t get people to join the team by inviting them into the Clubhouse. We get people to join the team when they see what the team does, how passionate the team members are about what the team is doing (living a life of worshiping God). The team only has any impact when it is out on the playing field, doing what they are intended to be doing.

Each team member is welcome in the Clubhouse any time, but the Clubhouse is not the most important place in the team’s life. The team needs to study the play book, to understand the fundamentals of the game. The team needs to work out, to exercise, to practice on their own so they will be ready. Sometimes the team will have team meetings where more extensive training and instruction is given. They are expected to attend these training sessions and learn all they can to be better team players.

We have one life. When we are with Jesus for eternity, we will no longer be able to engage in the sport of bringing people who are spiritually dead the Good News that Jesus is LIFE.

So go to your local “Clubhouse.” Spend some time there. And then get out and play ball!