Dec 15

Witness Testimony

This last week I’ve heard a couple of news stories that highlighted the importance of witness testimony. One story was from one of the survivors of the Charleston church shooting. That witness described the events of that horrible night and the hatred that the shooter had towards them.  Another news story was about the prosecution dropping charges because there was no witness and no way to confirm the charges against one of the Charlotte rioters from late September. In both cases, the witness and evidence, or lack thereof, made all the difference in understanding what happened.

In Matthew, there is some amazing testimony that points to the fact that Jesus is more than just an ordinary man. It is the scene where John baptized Jesus. In the account, three witnesses show Jesus’ astonishing prestige, power, and position. The verses are in Matthew 3:11-17 and it starts with John the Baptist prophesying about the “one” who comes after him. John says that he is “not worthy to carry” the sandals of the one coming (verse 3:11). In these Ancient times, it would be the position of a slave to hold the master’s sandals. Yet John, a free man and prophet, is claiming that he is not even worthy to be a slave to the one coming because of his prestige and holiness.

We learn more about the one coming after John because he will also baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire, and bring Judgment on the wicked. All of this is Old Testament language of the Messiah. Then we learn that Jesus is the one John has been referring to. Jesus was the one who baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire on Pentecost and will bring Judgment on the world in his second coming. Jesus is the one who John was not worthy to carry his sandals and didn’t want to baptize in water because of his holiness. But Jesus insisted to “fulfill all righteousness.” That phrase means to complete all that is required to have a relationship of obedience to God. the testimony of the prophets was that Jesus is the prestigious one, the holy messiah, the one who would work in power on God’s behalf.

After Jesus baptism we see the second testimony, the Holy Spirit “descending like a dove and alighting on him” (3:16). In a time when the Jews believed that God had stopped filling people with his Holy Spirit, they see the Spirit anointing Jesus. It had been 400 years since a God gave a prophet and people had seen the Spirit’s filling. That’s longer than our country has existed! It’s no wonder they didn’t think God worked in that way any longer. The Jews believed that the anointing of the Spirit was God’s way of working through that appointed individual in His power. Here stood Jesus, with a visible sign of that power.

Then we come to the crown Jewel of the account, God’s spoken testimony. Jesus is confirmed by “a voice from heaven, ‘this is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (3:17). It is the final confirmation of not just Jesus’ power and prestige, but of his position as the son. Jesus is the very Son of God who is loved and whose actions pleases the father.  In intertestamental times, the Jews had a belief in God speaking through heavenly voices since prophecy had ceased. But written prophecy was still seen as more authoritative. What’s interesting is when God spoke, he took portions of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 which were messianic scripture for the pre-Christian Jews.

All of this testimony of prophets, prophecy, Holy Spirit and God point to the same conclusion. Jesus is God’s beloved son, holy and mighty, the promised Messiah. The presentation of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry is just a handful of verses but packed full of significance. It all works towards the truth that Jesus who was born in a manger and grew up in obscurity, would change the world with his short ministry and death. A death and resurrection that gives life to all us who believe. For all this, we celebrate Him at Christmas and will praise Him for eternity in glory.

 

Dec 08

Full of Grace and Truth

 

Last month on my trip to India, I had plenty of time catch up on some movie watching as I flew on the long international flights. One familiar technique of the directors was to start out with an opening scene which gives some critical information necessary to understanding the rest of the film. It might be part of the characters past such as in Disney’s Up, or just an introduction of the character such as in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark with Dr. Henry Jones navigating a dangerous temple and eventually running from a giant stone ball to escape.

In the movie Up, we learn that the main character had a wonderful life with his wife and lifelong friend and they had dreams that never materialized. He wasn’t always just a grumpy old man. That opening was critical to understanding the motivation and reasons of the character during the rest of the movie. These crucial opening scenes are great techniques to storytelling, but Hollywood wasn’t the inventor of them. Throughout history, there have been many great opening scenes in stories and books.   Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 01

Who is like the Lord?

village-churchLife can be discouraging at times. Last month on my trip to India, I talked to a village pastor that Good Shepherd supports who has dealt with persecution (see the picture). An undercover government official came to him pretending to be a minister from another village. Through the conversation, the agent learned that some members of the church had converted to Christianity and got baptized. The agent then asked if he could borrow his Bible as he didn’t have one. Later that week, the police jailed 14 new believers in his church for being baptized without government permission. The evidence against them were the words of the pastor and the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 27

Masters of Disguise

octopus-camo

I grew up around the water. One of the things I loved to do most is snorkel and scuba dive.  One day I came upon one of the most fascinating sea creatures, an octopus. They are masters of disguise, and in an instant, they can change the color and shape of their skin to match anything around them. That day I saw one stop and hide on a rock, so I swam over to see him better.  I reached out and lightly touched its back, which needless to say it didn’t care for. It instantly changed colors to a solid dark brown, almost black color, and flipped a tentacle up as one of its suction cups latched onto my hand. Needless to say, I didn’t care for it touching me, as I snatched my hand away a little bit startled at how fast it all happened. That gave it the perfect opportunity to flee as it changed colors again to a lighter pattern and inked me as it swam away.  It was incredible.  Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 20

The Queen of the Night

kadupul-flowerThere is a rare flower called the Kadupul flower, also known as the Queen of the Night. It is a beautiful flower that is priceless. It literally has no price because no one can sell them. The moment you pick it; it starts to die. It is native to Sri Lanka, but few people ever see it because it only blooms near midnight and withers by dawn. The Kadupul flower gives a new perspective on the frailty of flowers. Yet God compares our frailty to flowers just like these, then contrasts us to His Word which endures forever.

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25)

The beauty of this comparison is that the “living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23) is what brought us to the knowledge of Christ and His precious sacrifice for us. We know that everything around us is temporary. We will die and our stuff will be gone. But even before creation, Christ was chosen to make an imperishable way for us. A way that is priceless. The Kadupul flower is priceless because it has no price tag. The flower doesn’t last long enough. But our salvation is priceless because it cost the eternal and “precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19).

Peter used the word “redeemed” (1 Peter 1:18) when talking about how Christ bought those he was writing to from the empty life of their ancestors to a new life in Christ. Redemption is what a family member, or kinsman-redeemer,  would have done in the Old Testament Law. When land was in jeopardy of being lost, or maybe a person’s freedom due to debt. A close relative would have the responsibility to redeem them from their burden and make things right again. Christ redeemed us when he took our debt and guilt and paid the price for us. He was our kinsman redeemer.

When Peter wrote these words, he was talking to Christians who has been scattered all over the Roman empire. He was encouraging them to live out their lives in holiness and love. They were foreigners in the lands that they dwelled in and they were to live focused on God’s ways, not the ways of the people around them. Their motivation to live this way was because of the enduring nature and truth of God’s Word, and the precious blood of Christ which redeemed them.

Today, we live in America, but we must always be aware that this is not our real home. Just like Peter’s audience, we to have a charge to live as responsible citizens but must live according to God’s truth, not the culture around us. God calls us to “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) and to “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). It is not always easy, but I find it helps to remember two things. The first is that this life is temporary; only souls will last forever. Second, that Christ gave a priceless gift for my soul and offers the same for others. I know we appreciate our soul and Christ’s grace, but do we value other souls? Are we willing to share Christ’s love and grace with them so they can be redeemed as well? I know we want to say yes, but what do our actions say?

Oct 13

Going it Alone

In 1930, a single 30-year-old English woman spent her life savings on train passage to China. Gladys Aylward traveled alone because she had failed missionary training school, the school believing she was not smart enough to learn Chinese. Determined to go to China, she heard of an elderly missionary woman looking for someone to take over her work in China running an Inn and left to join her. God saw her through the perilous journey through Russia and Japan where she finally arrived in China. Her story is a twisted tale, but ended with many coming to know the Lord, hundreds of orphans saved, and the respect of the Chinese people who called her “The Virtuous One.” Gladys was the single woman that was not good enough or smart enough, but that God used mightily.

I tell this story because it is important to understand that the church has a long history of influential singles. Historically, marriage has been the norm throughout the world for adults. It was certainly true in Jewish and Greek cultures. But since 2014, at least in America, there are now more singles than married adults. Now by ‘single,’ this just means not married, it also includes those in relationships and those who were married. But there is also a social shift in the norms with many singles staying single because they are content not being married. It’s a complicated topic, but something that we in the church should be aware of because singleness is now just as common as marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 06

Discipline and Love

“This is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you,” is one of those phrases we have all heard parents say from our childhood, some of us might even have said it. I’m sure every kid would disagree, but every parent knows that disciplining our children is never easy. It’s easy to yell out of anger, but purposeful correction with the intent to redeem their hearts and correct their behavior is hard. Discipline comes in many forms, and each child and situation are different, so it requires a look at the bigger picture and not just the present situation. It takes love and determination to give rebuke that trains a child in this way, and I know we never hit that goal all the time.

The amazing thing is that God disciplines us in this way. The writer of Hebrews says,

“…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 11:10b-11)

Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 22

More Violence…

Charlotte ProtestsNothing ever seems to change at least not when human nature is involved. We are capable of great acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, or anger and brutality. Just this last week we had two acts of terror with a mass stabbing at a mall in St. Cloud and bombs placed around NYC. Then violence in Charlotte erupted this week over a police shooting. We react differently to each of these situations, but one thing is for sure, people have been violent and angry since the beginning, literally since the second man alive. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 15

The First Origin Story

Origin stories have always been popular. Just look at all the superhero movies over the last ten years. There are numerous others like Darth Vader in Star Wars, Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, James T. Kirk in Star Trek to name just a few.  Leave film and others appear in writing like King Arthur, Frankenstein, Dracula, and even the Greek gods and heroes. Though not all origin stories are fictional. It might be in the form of a biography or a historical account. The library known as the Bible includes some significant historical origin accounts, ones such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and Adam.

Adam had the first origin story and it affected us all. In the first couple chapters of Genesis, we see the creation of Adam and Eve and how they were in a perfect garden and were innocent. Genesis 2:25 says, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The reason they had no shame was that they had no guilt. In ancient Hebrew culture to be publically naked would have been very shameful and disgraceful, but here, in the beginning, there was no guilt. God had created humanity as whole, sinless and good beings.

All of this changed after they ate the fruit. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 08

A Wee Little Man…

 

ficus sycomorus

Sycamore Fig Tree

“Zacchaeus was a wee, little man, and a wee, little man was he…” are the words to a familiar children’s song I bet most of you have heard before. I have three kids and so about the time one child was growing out of the song another one came along. It’s a fun little song that teaches the story of Jesus interacting with Zacchaeus, the tax collector. What the song doesn’t tell you is all the rich details after Jesus said “Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today!” Luke records the account in chapter 19 of his book.   Read the rest of this entry »

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