John 1:1-2

We often think of beginnings. How did something start? This is true whether we’re talking about  human movements, epidemics (patient zero), or cosmology (Big Bang). God has something to say about His son 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. – John 1:1-2, ESV

If you believe the Bible is the true, inerrant Word of God, then there is no question that Jesus has always existed. He has been here from the beginning. 

The word choice John uses is interesting, because it also reveals something about the nature of Jesus. Jesus is God. But He is also with God, indicating some sort of distinctness from God. In Greek, Word is logos and God is theos. This word choice, as well as other passages in Scripture, is where we get the concept of the Trinity: one God yet revealed in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). You’re not going to find the word “trinity” in the Bible. But it best captures what we understand about how God has revealed about Himself. 

It is also important to note that in addition to being told that the Word (Jesus) was present from the beginning, that God was there then, too. “Beginning” is actually a bit of a misnomer, though. Beginning is based on our concept of time. It is better to say “has always been.” Jesus, the Word, and God have always been. 

How did it start? Everything started with God, with Jesus, who has always been. Therefore, it is only logical that John starts with Him. 

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Our Center, Our Foundation

Too often we make Christianity about what God does for us. We try to extract how we can be better, how we can get more out of life, and even how we can find happiness (not joy, which is a different word) from Scripture as we seek to pump ourelves up and feel better. I’ve been guilty of this myself. One of my mentors, Dr. Tom Fillinger of IgniteUs, penned this wake-up call, 

“I heard lots about leadership, commitment, courage, faithfulness, sheep, shepherds, prayer and devotion, I heard very little of Jesus Christ. Often Christ was mentioned almost as an afterthought.”

What spurred Tom’s words were the sermons given during chapel at a well-known seminary. While all of these subjects may be worthy to speak about, they should be of secondary importance to the Christian. What is primary? Jesus Christ is. He is our foundation:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  – 1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV

Paul is speaking of foundations in the portion of Scripture, talking about what lasts and what doesn’t with respect to life. His point is that nothing else works other than Jesus Christ. It’s easy to get so caught up in life that we unintentionally lose focus on Jesus Christ. We are so busy dealing with life’s issues that we get centered looking for solutions to them. In order to remain spiritual, we may even look at Biblical sources for those answers. However, if we get to the point where Jesus Christ is not the first one we see and the first one we think about, we’re off. We aren’t where we should be, no matter how well we backup whatever it is we’re trying to deal with using Scripture. 

Take a look at what it is you take in. Whether it’s a Bible study or a sermon or Christian music, examine the content. Is Christ the center? Is He the one who is pointed to? As Christians, we cannot (should not) get away from the Gospel and Jesus Christ, as it and He is the source of our joy. And we should not want to do so, either.

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“Move with a sense of urgency!” was a phrase we first years at The Citadel heard quite often. The Citadel is a military college and the first year is a plebe year filled with hardship. Part of that hardship is moving everywhere with increased speed, whether in the barracks or around the campus itself. If an upperclassman felt one or more of us wasn’t moving fast enough, that’s one of the phrases we heard. 

In reality, we wanted to move as quickly as possible. Moving slow meant more time to be stopped and harassed. Therefore, when we were out in the “open,” there was an urgency to move quickly and get out of sight again. 

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  – Luke 12:20-21, ESV

As Christians, we must have a sense of urgency around the Gospel. We believe that one who dies without Christ is doomed. It is a punishment well deserved, but one which can be avoided. Therefore, there should be an urgency in sharing the Gospel in order to give folks every opportunity for eternal life. 

Once someone is saved, we should have an urgency towards discipleship. We aren’t to stay babies, and that goes for spiritual matters, too. The Bible is God’s Word. We must know it, meditate on it, and follow it. This text tells us what pleases God and what doesn’t. It catalogues His myriad of promises to us and for us. It is essential for our spiritual well-being. 

But too often I don’t find a sense of urgency in either area. We put our own comfort or problems or goals over another’s eternal destination. Speaking of which, there is often missing a sense of urgency in reaching out to people with kindness and compassion, as we are commanded by Scripture. This is true as individuals and as congregations. We might give money or collect cans of food, but committing personal time, expending personal effort, on that we pass on often saying we do enough by donating. 

When I read Scripture, like the passage I’ve included, I come back with a realization that if we keep putting off important things, eventually we will run out of time. This foolish man thought only of his own gains. He is declared a fool because he didn’t prepare spiritually. And then he ran out of time. 

When I say I see a lack of a sense of urgency, I include myself. And for this I must repent. There is time and resources for personal things, but not at the cost of spiritual ones. If I want to see authentic revival, God moving mightily and calling people back to Him, I must have an urgency about spiritual things, about reaching folks with the Gospel and helping them to grow in Christ. I must also have an urgency in meeting the needs of others around me. Do you sense the need for this urgency? If so, will you join with me?

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On Our Own, We Fail

Too often we try and do things under our own power. I have seen ministries and churches try programs and people, thinking those are the answers. Or they will go back to old methods, like “revivals,” hoping those result in some turn around because of a historic event which did. 

And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”  – 1 Kings 3:11-14, ESV

Solomon had it all. If anyone was going to succeed spiritually, we’d have expected Solomon because he lacked for nothing. He even was granted wisdom at a level none of the rest of us has ever been blessed with. But you read about Solomon in Scripture and you realize that even thought he expanded Israel to its largest size, Solomon departed from God. He broke the tenets about not having too many horses or wives, as the Law commanded Israel’s leader to be wary of (Deuteronomy 17:15-17). He worshipped the false gods of his foreign wives. He finally wrote how much of his life was vanity. Instead of succeeding spectacularly, Solomon had a great number of failures. 

If we rely just our own abilities, programs, people, and methods, we will fail spiritually. This is true whether we are talking as individuals or as congregations. It isn’t the program that results in spiritual success. A person himself or herself doesn’t guarantee results. And just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work now. See, none of those take into account God. If we are relying on anything or anyone else, we will eventually fail. 

The good news is that we can keep trying to rely on God. Yes, we will have our share of failures. Even Solomon did, so to expect otherwise in our own lives is foolish. However, when we discover we have turned away from Him, we can choose to return. He is faithful to forgive us when we truly repent. And if we want spiritual success, we need God. God is the reason for our success. Yes, God can use a program, a person, or a method. But it has to be about God first. 

The Shorter Westminister Catechism asks as its first question, “What is the chief end of man?” Unfortunately, many within our churches don’t know the Scripture-backed answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” Without Him we fail. With Him we succeed. And when we succeed with Him, we glorify Him. And we enjoy that success. Let us lean on Him ever more and reap the spiritual benefits and joy. 

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Blessed to Be Forgiven

Imagine for a moment that you’ve done something to hurt and disappoint someone extremely important to you. I’m not talking about a little thing. I mean something big, so big that you couldn’t blame them if that person never forgave you. You expect that person to hate you forever, because that’s how big a mistake you made. As a matter of fact, it is so catastrophic a mistake that you can’t even begin to make amends for it. Got that pit of your stomach feeling as you imagine this situation? Good. 

Now imagine that despite what you did, how heinous it was, that other person turning to you and saying, “I forgive you.” And they pursued you with such passion to talk to you again that you know this other person meant it. Not only that, but that other person took it upon himself or herself to undo your mistake, if that’s possible. The mistake was undone but at great cost to the one you care so deeply about. Yet there was no hesitation. So the other person not only forgave you, he or she made everything right again. Unbelievable, right? 

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.  – Psalm 32:1-2, ESV

The scenario we just imagined together has already happened. That person is God Himself. Too often we don’t think about how deeply our sin hurts God but Scripture reminds us that He pleads for us to obey. He describes our relationship in different ways to impress upon us how much He loves us. Sometimes He uses analogies as a father to his child. Other times it is as two who have suffered together as siblings and made it through, stronger for it. Still other times He describes the relationship as husband and wife. Therefore, our sin is that catastrophic mistake that should cause Him to hate us forever. 

Yet He doesn’t. He not only forgave us, but He has pursued us. In order to make everything right, He went to the Cross for us. Sin demanded a price. He paid it. Such is His love for us that He did all of this in order that our relationship with Him might be restored. Unbelievable, right?

Too many people look to God for what He can do for them. Be it money, or earthly success, or some other ephemeral goal, that’s what they focus on. They forget what He has already done. They forget that our iniquity happens every day and that His forgiveness is extended over and over again. His hatred should fall upon us more times than we can count each day. They forget this simple fact and demand (not just ask) for more. How wrong are they! Then we realize it isn’t “they.” It is us. We all forget. We all are guilty of not realizing how blessed we are just to be forgiven. When I realize again just how much He has already done through His forgiveness and redempting acts, I am humbled and grateful. Unfortunately, I too quickly forget again. Lord, help me to remember more how blessed I am to be forgiven and counted as blameless because of your Son’s loving sacrifice upon the Cross!

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God is not like us. Though He described Himself to us in human ways throughout Scripture, we do well to remember that He is beyond our understanding. A likely reason we don’t, within the modern Church, give Him the reverence and worship He is due is because we forgot that we were created in His image, not He in ours. 

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?  – Exodus 15:11, ESV

Part of revival is the clear realization that God is not like us. He is perfect. He is holy. He is all powerful. He is all knowing. He is to be feared as well as loved. He is to be worshiped and glorified. He is to be exalted. 

That’s what Moses was doing here. The Lord had just delivered the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. They had just seen God deliver a miracle, holding up the water of the Red Sea, allowing His people to cross. Only God could do that. Moses recognized that and praised Him accordingly. 

God continues to work in this world. He continues to demonstrate to His people that He is worthy of worship. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords and the definition of majestic. Not only is He majestic, He is majestic in holiness. He is set apart. He is unlike us. This is good. 

Imagine if He were like us. Imagine if He could be swayed from His plan of redemption. Think about the implications of God having moments of weakness and acting against His nature. What if He could fall prey to whim like we can?

Praise God that He is not like us and that He does not sway, does not suffer moments of weakness, and does not act on a whim. Thank God that He is so unlike us. He is majestic, majestic in holiness. Let us not forget that this is the God we serve and love. And let us worship continually in His majesty. 

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Because of Grace

I don’t like pain. However, dealing with my personal sin, repenting of it, and seeking to do things God’s way is painful. Sanctification isn’t an overnight process. We will spend the rest of our days undergoing it. Yet I willingly face up to my sin and ask God to hold me accountable because I have hope in Him. That hope is found in His grace. 

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  – John 1:16-17, ESV

One of the things I had to grasp was that if left to the Law, that which God revealed was His standard, I couldn’t do it. I would violate it whether in deed or thought. I could and tried to put forward an outward appearance of goodness but it was just a facade. And when I tried to embrace this false self, the biggest person I fooled was myself. 

Understanding that now, I still strive to adhere to what God has commanded because I love Him and I want to please Him. I keep after it because it is what He expects of me and because He deserves no less. However, when I fail, and I do more often than I’d like, I realize there is grace. Jesus brought grace. He brought forgiveness. He brought restoration. This doesn’t excuse my sin, but it provides a way forward if I seek to follow and love God and attempt to overcome my sin. I can’t do it without Him and I don’t have to. This is grace upon grace to me. 

God doesn’t beat us down and tells us we will never be good enough and never make anything of ourselves. Throughout Scripture we find God lifting up those who have failed if they turn to Him. We see Him redeem and restore people we would give up on, like murderers, prostitutes, swindlers, power mongers, tyrants, and thieves. They sought Him and turned from their sin and He was there for them. We have these examples because God is trying to get us to understand that He is there for us, too. This was so hard for me to accept. 

I used to think I had to do it all on my own merits. When I failed, rather than facing up to the fact that I needed others, I instead blamed others. This was true whether I made a bad play in a game, didn’t get a good grade, was an obnoxious jerk and treated someone badly, or anything else that wasn’t a favorable outcome. It was always somebody else’s fault. Or so that was my line of thinking. That was my defense mechanism to keep me from admitting I failed and dealing with the pain of that failure. I told myself I didn’t fail; someone else prevented me from succeeding. After the Holy Spirit through Scripture helped me understand grace, if only in the smallest of ways, I finally understood my previous way of thinking and existing was all nonsense. Grace helped me understand how foolish I was and how I was responsible for deceiving myself. 

Yes, God demands perfection but He knows we can’t meet it. That’s why His Son is our representative, our propitiation, our stand-in. He’s the perfection we can’t attain. It’s okay not to be perfect. God made a way for it to be okay. We still do our best but we understand that our best isn’t enough and we need Him. And He’s there. Grace. Grace upon grace. 

If you’ve fallen into any of the traps I’ve discussed, allow Him to break you out. Fall back on grace. Give yourself permission not be be perfect, to accept that you will fail.  This is true in pursuit of our goals, in our relationships, and in our obedience to God. By being able to admit defeat, we are able to better understand what we should do next time, how we should avoid that which derailed us, and be able to do it God’s way. Then we try again. When we are disobedient we repent. We seek His forgiveness, which He promises to give, and we try again. We seek to do better out of love for the One who first loved us. We live grace. We extend grace. We rely on grace. We are grateful for grace. We live more abundantly because of grace. All because of grace. 

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