The Finding Gospel: Seen Outside Your Shell

John 1:35-51

Have you ever had someone notice and appreciate the little things ? That seemingly insignificant characteristic or act that flowed naturally out of who you are. It was a nice feeling, yeah? It’s refreshing to gain a little self-confidence when we are seen by others and not ignored.

It’s freeing to not have to compete for attention.

There is this interaction in John 1:47-51 in particular, where Jesus after gaining a couple of followers, meets Nathanael the brother of Philip. As the brothers walk toward Jesus, Jesus calls Nathanael a genuine son of Israel and a man of complete integrity.

Nathanael asks, “how do you know me?”

Jesus answers, “I saw you under a fig tree before Philip found you.”

In turn Nathanael makes a declaration of belief, stating that Jesus is the Son of God. But it is just the beginning. Jesus states that there are greater things  in store for Nathanael as he follows Christ.

Jesus has tracked me down several times in my life. He found me on my college campus my freshmen year hoping to connect with other individuals that were fully committed to their pursuit of falling deeper in love with God. He found me on a volleyball court. He found me while I was wearing a cross for two weeks. He saw me in the midst of my sincerest desires and greatest disappointments.

Jesus saw me.

Jesus saw you __________.

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Where, though?

Where were the things we were hiding behind? Where are the things we were standing in front of, in an attempt to hide a part of ourselves? What were we hiding from, trying to escape from, trying to be released of?

What shell was I hiding in that I needed to be pulled out of in order to walk again?

People sit under trees to relax, to rest, to find shade from heat, to daydream, to reflect, to find themselves, to be still.

Jesus saw us in our time of introspection, in our time of uncertainty, in our moments when our only hope was to protect ourselves.

He saw me through the strange seasons, when I finished education to find a place in ministry, when I traded ministry for financial security amidst the hope matrimony, when I traded wealth for spiritual and emotional wellness in order to find myself again, when I found my Heavenly Father and became confused about my calling as a child of God. when I ignored confusion and began trusting for contentment.

He found us under our fig tree and said, “Come, Follow me.”

That invitation to follow and to step outside our shells also comes with a promise. It’s a promise that we will see great things and be transformed in love. Our life is filled with a new purpose that God himself reveals to us day by day and choice by choice.

I’m glad God tells us he saw us and found us because it gives us assurance that God is always there. We are never unnoticed. We are forever found.

 

The Revealing Gospel: Entrance Music

John 1:29-34

I have this idea that has since been replicated. I want to come out to entrance music before the ceremony at my wedding and give high fives to the people who have shown up. I know that usually happens at the reception when a DJ introduces the bridal party. I also know realistically, that people will much more likely enjoy the tradition of standing for my bride.

In John 1:29, we see Jesus makes his first entrance in the last gospel to the cue of John the Baptists introduction. The Lamb of God shows up and I love Him for it. The only thing that John knew of Jesus up to this point was that Jesus was his slightly younger cousin. John admits that he didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, something a lot of seemingly well-intentioned folks at the time could relate to.

Thankfully, God had a plan for a slow reveal by telling John he would see a sign. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, descended on Jesus like a dove resting upon him. God told John to expect this, and he testifies of the experience in verse 34 when John explains: “I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Son of God.”

Admittedly, I feel as if the whole experience described adds a little more mystery to God’s plan of salvation. How could so many people miss God? He was literally standing in front of them. Why did God in Christ choose to be so inconspicuous so much of the time?

Why wait until the last chapter to make a grand entrance?

I don’t want my introduction to take away from the arrival of my bride. I want my introduction to enhance her arrival. I want the rush of excitement from coming out to goofy music to ease my nerves as I prepare to see the only other person I hope to commit my life to.

I imagine Jesus’ second coming to run a similar course. An eager glorified Jesus coming for his radiant bride in the Church.

But I don’t want to separate the end from the beginning because this first appearing was Jesus getting ready to propose, trying to keep it all a secret before the moments leading up to getting down on one knee or more literally getting lifted up to die on a cross.

IMAG0877Jesus doesn’t just burst on the scene, he prepares for what is believed to be 30 years. He doesn’t announce himself. He shows up and one person believes in Him after his baptism. It’s the beauty of the small reveal and the beauty of the kingdom of God.

God really wants us to be looking closely, searching diligently, loving liberally, He wants our affection and excitement before the reveal. He wants us to cultivate faith, hope and love, the unseen but palpable currencies of the Kingdom.

Today if you’re having your doubts about the reality of the love of Jesus or God’s plans for you, ask for revelation?

The Identity Gospel: Jesus Saves therefore I am.

John 1:19-28

Sometimes knowing who you aren’t is as powerful as knowing you are. Renouncing actions and dispositions to maintain a character, faithful to a vibrant relationship with God is a powerful step in expressing our truest self. It’s a step that declares, “I am so much more than my desires. In Christ, I am so much more than my mistakes.”

Equally freeing is the ability to say, “I am not my own savior.”

In John 1:19-27, John the Baptist starts with who he is not. He knows crowds are coming to see and hear him. The ones in the crowd questioning his identity are the “more intelligent” spiritual leaders of the society. They are the ones deemed capable of seeing through his exterior to make a judgment about who John actually is. After establishing he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet they were expecting, John is free to state plainly: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘clear the way for the Lord’s coming!”

Our identities and calling beg expression. Our God given destinies are unique and equally valuable in the eyes of God. John the Baptist’s calling was a spiritual landscaper. He was cutting the cover crops to prepare for the planting and harvest.

The moment John expresses his identity, his actions and motives are questioned.

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The question: “What right do you have to baptize?”

Our question: “What right do you have to believe you are walking out the will of God?”

John’s answer: “This baptism is merely pointing to someone greater. This is a precursor to a better baptism from Jesus, himself. I am nothing compared to Him.

Our answer: “This new life we live is the product of someone greater. It is a shadow of the greater joy of spending eternity with God. I am valuable to God.”

John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” The paradox of our identity as children of God is one of worthiness. Because of our former life, we are unworthy to even be God’s slave, yet because of the life of Christ we are worthy of the riches of Heaven.

The right God gives us to live fully from our identity as children of God is good news.

 

 

The Poetry Gospel: Word, Light, Sound, Sight

John 1:1-18

                Where were we in the beginning? Because prior to the beginning was the Word, Jesus. Simultaneously, the Word/Jesus was with God and God. The process of creation was set forth through him and all that exists comes from Christ. Life exists through and in Christ. Life is also light, light shining in the darkness, not to be overtaken by any darkness.

In the beginning we, that is the collective us was in the mind and heart of God looking for creative expression, perhaps part of a divine experiment or an epic story, but more likely, this human existence was the product of God’s love desiring a tangible expression. While I find this the most likely scenario, John 1 does not bring us to that conclusion yet because John is interested in establishing an entrance for and an introduction to Jesus. John conjures up the familiarity of Genesis, the familiarity of fairy tale, and the familiarity of story-telling. John starts us not in the middle but in the beginning and then fast forwards to another man named John.

John the Baptist was a witness, a man who was an announcer, the person on the loudspeaker in a stadium, the person in the fancy clothes hosting an award show, a voice in the wilderness looking for someone to listen. But even more than that, the gospel describes him as one bearing witness to the light or in other words bearing witness to that which should be obvious. Honestly, light is so obvious and necessary it’s hard to be taken for granted.

 
1But light does more than allow us to see, tan and sometimes blind us. More than seeing, it is revealing.

The world did not know Jesus. Even though He came by way of the world and created the world, we were and sometimes still are oblivious to who Jesus is. As obvious as the light is, we can just as easily move our eyelids an inch together and no longer see the light. As easy as it is to see the light, it just as easy to close our eyes to it. That is what humanity did. We went to sleep, yet in our slumber we sensed we were missing something, perhaps everything while we slept. As great as sleeping can be we couldn’t help but recognize we were missing out.

We were missing out on childhood, wide-eyed splendor and wonder of seeing God be and do all that is awesome. Upon reception, or comprehension, or through a simple recognition of a need for Jesus, we were given the privilege to become children of God. Believing in Jesus gives one a massive advantage in that access to God as a Father is now possible, meaning anything we need and want to ask for can be asked for of Him.

We are given a completely new identity. God is Dad. We were not the intentionality or the accidents of our parents. We are the intentional creation and the dearly beloved of the Father and of Jesus Christ.

This is demonstrated to us in Jesus dwelling on earth, so the earth could see him for a little while. To see the heart of God in human flesh. To see the fullness of all that is true and all that is gracious in a living person, but it was too much to handle. It was so foreign for man to observe and experience perfection that the best bet was to kill Him. Kill perfection and see what happens.

But in his life and in his death was released overflowing grace and truth. Trying to stop perfection let loose the levee of love and the world couldn’t remain the same because Jesus has been and is being declared to the world.

 

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In John 1, John the Baptist begins the declaration. Even he, only knows part of the story. He just knows Jesus is greater and better and the one we should look for. For those who have found him and experienced the power of a renewed life in Christ, many other questions and misunderstandings follow. For those who don’t know about receiving Jesus and becoming a child of God, there is simply no greater choice. Jesus reveals Himself and begins to transform those who receive Him.

 

Word and Light. Hearing the word and seeing the light guides our path. Hearing shapes what we believe and seeing shapes how we live. The people went out to hear and see a man who pointed them to God in John the Baptist.

May we be transformed and gain our rhythm from the things that lead us to Jesus.

Would You Like to Continue?

Ezekiel 44 – 45:6 and 46:19-24

It seems to me that at a certain point in life your choices permit you continuations rather than do overs. There are exceptions to the rule, but a complete restart with a new lease on life are meant to be infrequent rather than common threads in our lives. We are created to be built up not consistently broken down to our foundation. Repairs will always pop up but as a new creation in Christ, we are not destined for regression. We are not meant to stay in a broken condition.

Continue_ScreenI remember playing video games when I was younger, and when I failed to complete a level (my character would die), I was asked, “would you like to continue?” If the game had the option of saving my progress, I 95% of the time would select “yes.” You don’t stop playing a game on a sour note unless your parents or friend turns it off on you. Pssht parents. Pssht friends. What are those, am I right? Whether it’s a video game, a project in need of completion, or life in general, the desire for completion is what drives those of us who remain hopeful forward.

In Ezekiel 44, both prince and priests are pushed to take their next steps. The prince is encouraged to walk through a gate reserved for him alone. Inside the gate the prince is permitted to eat bread in the presence of the Lord. He is invited into communion with God.

As for the priests from the tribe of Levi, one specific group of Levites were not permitted to continue in service as priests but still maintained some ministerial tasks. They are cut off from the most holy things, but the sons of Zadok are the individuals encouraged to minister to God as the priesthood. They are to wear specific garbs for specific tasks. They aren’t supposed to get sweaty and they must change their garments to prevent holiness from transmitting to the common folk.

The priests are supposed to live differently to demonstrate to the rest of Israel the separation between that which is holy and that which is common. The priests are to abstain from wine, they aren’t supposed to shave their heads or let their hair grow too long, they are supposed to marry pure individuals, they can’t go near the dead, they boil and bake the sacrificial offerings of the people.

Lastly, the priest had no possessions in Israel. God is their possession so they only eat from the sacrifices that the rest of Israel devotes to God. As for their land, the Levites were to live in a holy district near the temple, but they did own the land. The land belonged to the whole house of Israel. For the priests to continue, to subsist, they relied on God moving the hearts of the people. If the people turned away from God the priests could potentially starve were they to remain faithful.

Would you like to Continue?

In an arcade, to continue, one adds quarters to a machine, your continuation is predicated on cost. I once spent $9.50 to beat the arcade version of Time-splitters. I’m not sure how much the person I was playing with spent. In life, it costs more than $9.50. The cost to continue is often toil and suffering with a great joy set before us. Which is why the cost to continue is far less than the cost to not.

The cost of giving up or starting completely over costs you the front end of what lies before you if you kept going and costs you all it takes to start from scratch. There are times it’s worth it to start over; I’ve done it; I think it was worth it?

untitled To continue forward, not in a circle is always worth it. The apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12-14 illustrates what it means to press on, to continue in Christ for the goal that exists in the fullness of life in Jesus.

 

Phil 2:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Continue.

Authors Edits Altars

Ezekiel 43

The things we return to are a good indication of what is going on inside of us. The past month or so, I’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff. The past few weeks, it has been paper. I’ve taken all my old writing and notes and scanned them, saving them to google drive and a USB.

I’ve done this because I previously lost one USB containing all my writing, and broke one in half midway through writing extensively about what love does not do. That USB also contained edited versions of two other stories I had written including proposals that I submitted to writing agents in December of 2015.

I’ve come back to one particular comedic fiction story I began writing in 2010 that has endured 5 revisions. At this point, it is a story, that may never be finished and one that can’t exist without a sequel. I’ve recently come back to it, to check on it, to see how it sits and to recycle some of the hard copy paper it is printed on. In doing so, I was confronted with one version that was entirely edited by someone who I cared deeply for. The edits were valuable as I looked back on them. They actually did make the story better.

Edits can only improve a story if you actually changed the draft. If I decided, “these are good edits, but I’ll keep it the way it is,” the story would suffer. Returning to these pages often made me smile, until the last 10 or so pages where the investment in the editing took on a more personal and intimate nature. The story sounded too true to life, but it was comedic fiction.

I like the story, how it looks; it still makes me laugh; it is innocent and hopeful, yet feels real but is obviously fiction. I’ve had this thing, since I was about seven, where I told stories, created alternate worlds that looked a lot like ours. It became a coping mechanism for pain when I used fiction and fantasy to avoid reality. Now, everybody has gotten pretty good at this to some degree or another varying in creativity.

The problem I have now with my story, particularly the 10 pages of edits I’m stuck on is the tension of the editing. The editing, the notes in the column, tell a better story than the chapter I wrote. The notes make me feel, more than the writing does. Because the edits provoke me to deeper questions than the ones the protagonist is asking.

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Did I allow the edits God desired to make, make me better?” Forgetting the questions of why or how did I get there or how I got here, the question of, “am I living a better story? If not, why not?” takes center stage. And that’s a question that can’t afford to sit on a coffee table for 7 years or worse, a plastic bin in a moldy garage.

The Return of Glory

In Ezekiel 43, the prophet walks through the Eastern Gate and is greeted by the Glory of the God of Israel, the God of the entire World. And the sound was like water thundering down a river. The earth was bright and the vision was familiar. Familiar enough to make Ezekiel fall on his face again. The glory of God fills the temple as Ezekiel is lifted up and brought into the inner court to witness the presence. This type of return is worthy of musical accompaniment. God declares the temple to be His throne. Israel, as a result, will be changed. There will be no more defiling, no more whoring, and no dead kings.

God returns to dwell with and improve Israel. After the vision Ezekiel is commanded to share the new plan, the edited blueprint with the house of Israel if they are sorry for what they previously had done. Interestingly enough, the chapters prior describe rebuilding the place for God to dwell. What follows is the instructions and benefits that come with God’s presence dwelling among the people.

This is why the first thing restored after the glory of God returns is an altar. Now that God arrived, he expects our sacrifice and our offerings. He expects our whole heart. The response when God’s glory and presence arrive in Scripture always requires sacrifice and worship. In chapter 43, God even prescribes the steps in presenting the offering. God returns to make things better and restore relationship.

Returning to Your Story

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I try to write about identity often because I want others to know that it is very easy to forget yourself. It is very easy to lose ourselves in what has hurt us or what we have lacked; then miss all that God has in store for the ones He loves. God is reading my story back to me and while the content is hard to revise, He is not asking me to live in the previous chapters to change what happened. God asks us to live from the past into a glorious future and a contented present.

God seems to be prescribing steps for me to take that I must take. And as I take them, I find myself tempted, not to forget myself but to hold myself higher in order to compensate for the perception of lost time. A child in me is calling out, “I really am better than what I’ve done. Dad, let me prove it to you. I’m better. I wasn’t trying my best before.” And my Father responds back patting me on the head, “It’s okay; let’s do this together this time. Let me deal with the things you can’t.”

When the next step seems impossible look up, don’t listen to excuses of inadequacy and take the step. When the next step seems tempting to boast in or receive praise or even criticism, look down, humbly taking the next step in obedience not for sake of personal gain or for the sake of your reputation. When your past is creeping up tempting you to feel former pain or pleasure, look straight; God is taking you somewhere better.

The past has made me who I am today. No matter how much I wish to rewrite it, no matter how familiar the sorrow may seem to me, no matter how good things may have momentarily been, who I am now can only receive fullness of joy if I am faithful and obedient to God’s guidance for today.

Jesus, you are the author, the edits to my life are on the altar and the rest of the story is yours too.