Thursday, December 04, 2014

The One Greater than I

7And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I,
the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)

Here’s John’s message, there comes one more powerful than I. As ministry grows and influence increases, there’s a part of the human consciousness that likes, perhaps even craves the attention and popularity of others. However, we must never forget, we have been merely sent to prepare the way. All the road signs and on-ramps do not lead to us, but to Christ. Our ambition is not to be our notoriety, popularity or numbers, but in pointing others toward the One who is Famous. I love how the Gospel of John records John the Baptist’s comments. He sees himself as the “best friend” and “best man” of the “bridegroom.”

27John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30)

May I be like this! What best-man tries to steal the attention of the groom? Yet, how often do I/we, even unconsciously secretly wish to gain the attention of the masses, however small that “mass” may actually be?

God, show me any ways, however subtle that they may be, where I try or desire to draw attention to myself, rather than You – the bridegroom.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

An Invitation to Journey

Prepare the way for the Lord.
(Mark 1:3)

The word prepare means “to make ready” or “ to build.” As in to build a house and furnish it. It was used in reference to those who were about to commence on a journey. As such, they would begin to ponder the path before them. They would think through what supplies they would need and then they would begin “to pack up” and make ready for the trip.

The way
This word means “way,” “path,” “road,” “route,” also “course,” “journey,” “march,” and figuratively means, “procedure,” “manner.” Life is often compared to a way, as in phrases that speak about the path of life or the manner of life.[1]

John is out to the wilderness. People come to hear him. He invites people on a journey. They are currently traveling down the path of their own demise. They are given an alternative. Each person is challenged to “repent,” to begin to think differently about who they are, where they are headed and ultimately who they are following.


Change the trajectory of your journey – turn to God. And ultimately, follow the One who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Christianity is more than a adhering to a prescribed set of beliefs or doctrines. It is a journey. As Eugene Peterson said, it is a long obedience in the same direction.

The operative word is long. It’s ongoing and progressive. As we journey with Christ, the paths of our life, the internal routes of our mindsets and heart-sets continually need to be made ready, renovated and refurnished. There are things, perhaps that we started this journey with that now need to be laid down. Baggage.

God, may I never reduce this journey you’ve called me on to a mere set of beliefs, duties or doctrines. May I never take on the mindset of one who has “arrived.” For, as Merton said, I shall always be a beginner. May I continue to walk with open hands and “backpack” before You. As I journey before and with You, may I with great courage lay down any and everything (the sin and the weight) that so easily entangles me.

[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (666–667). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Wilderness Within

"a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " (Mark 1:3)

There’s a “wilderness” in me. Areas that have yet to become full formed to the image of Christ. What does it look like for these areas to be “prepared” for the Lord? How might they be made “straight paths”?

4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:4-5)

I have a part to play in my own formation. I am responsible for responding to the “voice” that is calling out to me – into these wilderness places. God is there, in the wilderness of my soul – calling – waiting – wanting for me to be baptized. To be immersed in the Holy Spirit. To experience forgiveness and freedom.

Will I go out to meet him there…? 
Will I confess my sin(s)…? 
Will I descend into the Jordan – the place of descending death to the self…

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Prepare the Way

"a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " (Mark 1:3)

Are we each not called to be like John the Baptist? Perhaps not in the same scope or fashion, but in essence similar, in that, our very lives become a “voice in the wilderness” calling people in their next step in faith.

To “prepare.” To make ready. To cultivate the ground.

That, with the Holy Spirit, our actions and interactions and preparations would assist in preparing people to experience “the Lord” in new and meaningful ways.
Shouldn’t all preaching in some way “prepare the way” and “make straight paths for him”?

What if everything we did – our entire lives were seen from this perspective? All tasks, even the seemingly smallest, would suddenly become a component of a larger picture.

  • ·      When I set up chairs for a gathering or class; I prepare the way.
  • ·      When I study for a sermon; I prepare the way.
  • ·      When I greet someone new with joy and care; I prepare the way.
  • ·      When I stand up and communicate God’s Word; I prepare the way and make straight the paths….

God, may I engage others with the same level of intentionality as John. May I see everything I do, simply as a part of the larger picture of what you are doing in our community and within individual life. May I never dismiss a task, no matter how small, nor forget that it very well could be a part of preparing the way for You…

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Drama of Scripture

There are a number of ways of engaging Scripture...

One is to engage it through the Lens of a Story.

Stories are powerful. They shape how we see the world.

Scripture is the most powerful story ever recorded.

It is literally, HIS-STORY. It is the Story of God’s pursuit of humanity. In fact, you can take the first 3 chapters of Genesis and the last 3 chapters of Revelation and you have pretty much the complete story in and of it self. Now much happens, we know in between…

If Scripture were a Drama or a Play, it could be broken up into 6 ActsCraig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, in their book Drama of Scripture, The: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story do a great job of laying out Scripture in such a fashion. I often reference this book and walk through this framework when introducing/teaching through the storyline of Scripture.

Scripture as a 6 Act Drama
  1. Creation: God Establishes His Kingdom
  2. Crime/Crisis/Fall: Rebellion in the Kingdom
  3. Israel: The King Chooses Israel
    1. Scene I: A People for the King
    2. Scene II: A Land for His People
Interlude: Intertestamental Period 

       4. Jesus: The Coming of the King - Redemption
       5. NT & the People of God
             Scene I:  New Testament and the Early Church – Jerusalem to Rome
             Scene II:  the ongoing story of the Church – To the ends of the Earth

       6.   Restoration of all Creation: The Return of the King

Helpful tips for engaging Scripture through the lens of His-Story.
  1. Begin to see Scripture as more than a collection of stories in which we can extract morals and principles from. It is useful for this, as well as for establishing doctrine and teaching. But, all of that needs to be framed in the context of the over-arching narrative of Scripture.
  2. Begin simply by reading through the Bible.(systematically // chronologically).
    • Bible Reading Plans.
  3. The following are some books and resources I've found helpful in this area:

All of human life is shaped by some story.

I can only answer the question
“What am I to do?”
if I can answer the prior question
“Of what story do I find myself a part?”

(Alasdaire MacIntyre)

The way we understand human life
depends on what conception we have of the human story.
What is the real story of which my life story is a part?

(Lesslie Newbigin)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Discovering Who I Am

“Who Am I…?”
This is the age-old question. Throughout the ages, philosophers, theologians, poets, psychologists, even historians have all made attempts to answer this question. Interestingly, of all the creatures of creation, humans are the only one’s who say, “Who Am I…?” The very one’s who were created with the greatest significance in the image of God seem to somewhere along the way have forgotten who they are. Henri Nouwen, in the book Spiritual Direction, points out that many of us are now prone to answer this question and define ourselves in one or more of the following ways.

I am what I do...

“I am what I do.” When I do good things and have a little success in life, I feel good about myself. But when I fail, I start getting depressed. To define yourself based on what you do is to live on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster. Isn’t this largely what one is doing when they experience what is commonly called a midlife crisis? They reach an age or season in life and they look around while asking themselves, “what have I done with my life…?” Then, based on what we’ve perceive we’ve done, we calculate how we’re doing. Our evaluations are often nothing more than the byproduct of how we faired when we compared what we’ve “done” to our peers and those around us.

As we get older and our body begins to deteriorate, rendering us unable to physically do much, all we’ll be able to say is, “Look at what I did in my life… look, look, look, look, I did something good…” Our value, worth, significance and identity will be nothing more than a distant memory and perhaps a faded plaque on the wall.

I am what other people say about me...

Another way we are prone to define ourselves is, “I am what other people say about me.” This is tricky and often subconscious. But, we have to admit, we often expend a tremendous about of head-space worrying (or at least thinking and imagining) what other people are saying about us (or at least what they think about us). Further, they don’t even have to say it or actually think it, but if we think they think it – it can control us just the same. Often, it’s not so much what other people think about you that is the problem; it’s what YOU THINK – THEY THINK.

Don’t be mistaken; what people say about you has great power. When people speak well of you, you can walk around quite freely. But when somebody starts saying negative things about you, you might start feeling sad. When someone talks against you, it can cut deep into your heart.

I am what I have...

Or, we might say, “I am what I have.” There’s a human tendency to let our things and our stuff determine our identity. The square footage of our homes, to the model of our cars, to the little designs on our hip pockets can all subconsciously serve as the building blocks of how we define ourselves in the eyes of others.

How much energy goes into defining yourself by deciding “I am what I do,” “I am what others say about me,” or “I am what I have”?

You are not, fundamentally, what you do, what other people say about you, or what you have. You are loved by God.

In the book, A Traveler Toward the Dawn, John Eagan describes an encounter he has with his spiritual director on the sixth day on his annual, silent eight-day retreat, “John, the heart of it is this:  to make the Lord and his immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth.  Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  God’s love for you and his choice of you constitutive your worth.  Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.”

“Who am I?”
“I am one loved by Christ.” 
Thomas Merton

Consider the first human, Adam. God created Adam for the very purpose of finding pleasure in his union with the Creator of the universe.  Before Adam was given any assignment, role or responsibility, he was put in a place conducive for intimacy with the Almighty.  Scripture says,

“The LORD God took Adam
and placed him in the garden of Eden.” 

-Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden. The word “garden” used here means, “a place of enclosure.” The word “Eden” means, “delight or pleasure.” In other words, Adam was enclosed in the place of God’s pleasure and delight. God always surrounds those in whom He takes pleasure and finds delight. This is how the first human defined himself. His identity was not based on what he did, what other humans thought, or what he had. It was based solely on what God said. And, God said, “You are loved.” If we were to rewrite Genesis 2:15 with this expanded understanding, perhaps it would look like this:

Now the LORD took the human that He had intimately formed and put him in a place surrounded and enclosed with the reality of God's pleasure and delight.  –Genesis 2:15 rewrite

This original common-union is one of the most vivid pictures of love.  Love, was to be the primary expression of Adam’s existence. Out of this love, Adam would “work and take care of” the garden. Adam was not defined by his work, responsibility, status or position in creation; rather he was defined by the reality of God’s love. He didn’t work to earn God’s approval. He didn’t strive to acquire God’s love. He was loved. All of his life and relationships were to flow out of this central truth. And, so it is for us. “You are God’s beloved child, in whom He is well pleased.”