The Point of Christmas, According to St. John

14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John *bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”
16 For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:14-17, NASB).

The point of Christmas is grace. I’m not making this stuff up! Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is the Word who has become flesh. When He became flesh, there was glory which was observable by humankind, and John describes that glory as being “full of grace and truth.” It was not that rainbows shined forth from His ears or that His hair was like cotton candy. It wasn’t His miracles, as real and as important as these were. John doesn’t say, “we beheld His glory, full of miracles and power.” Miracles and power are wonderful, but they are not the manifestations of His glory that John means here; they are subsidiary fruits. It was that He was begotten from His Father, and full of grace and truth.

In John 1:1 it says that the Word was in the “beginning”. This is the Greek word “arche”, which means both the beginning in time (think “ARCHEology”) and in authority (think monARCHY). John implies that Jesus has preeminence in both time and authority and that there is a causality between the two ideas. He existed first, and He therefore has a higher rank. He is the beginning in both senses.

He was “begotten” from the Father. This is an important point – it is a crucial antecedent to the main point of Christmas. I love the way the Nicene Creed puts it:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

As C.S. Lewis notes, I make a statue, but I beget a son. There is a huge difference. God created us, but Jesus Christ is the only begotten son.

When God manifested Himself on earth, He could have appeared as a 500 ft. apparition that came down from the clouds and said, “I am God Almighty, believest thou in Me!” He could have made an overwhelming case. Instead, God thought this humble way was better. He wanted to start off as a baby, and grow up, and all of that. He wanted us to see that His fulness was not made of apparitions and signs and unassailable miracles, but of grace and truth. The point of Christmas is grace.

His appearing may have been humble, but make no mistake. He is begotten not created from the Father, very God of very God, and is therefore the very root and spring of truth. You don’t flipping ARGUE with flipping GOD. He is God incarnate, and whatever He says is true is true. Where were any of us when He laid the foundation of the universe, and calculated Planck’s constant and the weak nuclear force and the original idea and design of the DNA molecule? He invented time and space. He crafted the insides of stars. He made you, inside and out. You want to argue with Him about what is glorious? Be my guest.

According to the Scripture, His immense authority points to this: grace and truth. Grace upon grace. Apparently, He is full of grace and truth. There’s nothing else there BUT grace and truth! Could John have emphasized this any more?

John 1:17 is the crowning jewel of this passage. The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. Maybe all of us law and gospel fanatics are not so far off! Notice that the Law was “given”, but grace and truth were “realized”. There is a world of difference. Behavior-based ideas of holiness are a theoretical construct which are impossible to put into true practice. This why the law is given, but not realized. Grace contrasts with law in that it harmonizes with truth, with reality. It acknowledges the reality on the ground and gears the gears for honesty and action. This is wrapped up in the nature of authority, of “arche”. Under Moses, authority confers the power to condemn, but in Christ, authority confers the power to bless.

The truth is, we are all sinners and the the theoretical holiness the law espouses is not working. This is the truth. In 1 John 1:5-10, this pretense of the legalist is condemned soundly, and the acknowledgement of failure and the need for mercy and cleansing is seen as the highest virtue. Grace and truth. We want truth to be some grand hugeness, some philosophical and metaphysical perfection. It may be, but it is also walking in the light with our actual imperfect lives, and God’s love for us despite this.

So, if you are a pragmatic “roll up your sleeves and get-er-done” kind of person, it is time to see that legalistic religious practices will not work for you. You don’t want to hold to a theoretical religion, you want real life stuff! Well, you need to look into grace and truth. You need to start seeing that the glory Jesus wants us to behold is not carrot-on-a-stick legalistic success, but grace and truth. This is why the baby was born, begotten not made, who realized grace and truth. Christmas is about grace.

Merry Merry Merry Christmas! Have fun this season swimming in the ocean of grace and freedom and joy He has provided for us! Blessings forever! Amen.

Beloved, now we are children of God–1 John 3:2

You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,”
Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”;
But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” –Isaiah 62:3,4

For some of us, when we look in the mirror, we find it difficult to experience the obvious delight of a child who views herself as adorable.

We can only see the flaws and hear the taunts of “Forsaken” over the tremendous reality of God Himself calling us “Redeemed” (v. 12).

No wonder our Father asks us to “become like children” and reminds us that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

I look at the carefree, unhurried, joyfully exuberant face of this precious little girl and ask of Jesus, like the blind man on the road to Jericho, that He restore my sight to recognize and realize that I am beautiful in His eyes….

–Blessings Without Measure–Betty W McNeely

Photo used by permission of K. Fuller

The Woman at the Well

Who gets rebuked and called out on their sin and then gets excited and goes to tell everyone they know to come meet their rebuker? What is going on?

As I was listening recently to a wonderful message by Jono Linebaugh here, I was reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4:

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” 28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. John 4:27-29 NASB

I marvel at the hidden message here. After transgressing all kinds of cultural taboos to begin talking to her, Jesus began to turn the conversation around to His agenda. He knew things about her, things He couldn’t possibly know. He didn’t just know random things about her. He knew things she would rather keep hidden — her sin. He called this forth and declared it out in the open, straight to her face. She wanted to discuss theology and politics and life’s irritations, so He obliged, but now He began to focus on her sin. These were the things that she feared would be the basis for her rejection.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

Here is the thing I notice. There was something about the way this went, something about the way that Jesus called out her sin, that comforted and thrilled her! You would expect her to get upset, to throw something at him, or perhaps to slink off in shame. Instead, she runs off excitedly and starts to tell everyone she knows that here is a man that knows everything about her, and that this seems to her to be evidence that He is the Christ! He called out her sin in a way that suggested mercy and grace. He called out her sin in a way that inspired some kind of hope.

Who gets rebuked and called out on their sin and then gets excited and goes to tell everyone they know to come meet their rebuker? What is going on?

It was because he called out her sin in love. There was love and forgiveness and compassion in His eyes and in His heart for her, as He called out her sin. He called it out to forgive her and not to shame her. The net result was not embarrassment, but a stronger and more unbreakable acceptance. If our secret shame and fear gets spelled out in order to be forgiven, we have true freedom and real acceptance in that relationship. We hold back what we think is the deal-breaker for the other person, and if this is called out and yet we are still accepted, we have the release of liberty with them. This is the way to rebuke, the way to evangelize. God focuses so squarely on our sin, not to shame us or to judge us, but to release us from our fear and cowering guilt. First comes love and mercy, and then comes repentance. I love Him so much!!!!!!!!

The Two Universes – more thoughts

Colliding Galaxies

I have some further meditations on this idea of the two universes.

First, to clarify EXACTLY what I’m saying.

The main point is that there are two spiritual universes, the universe where you start off unapproved, and the universe where you start off approved. I think of them also as the “world” and the kingdom of God.

Whatever shape it takes in the unapproved universe, under the rubric of the knowledge of good and evil, you act from a position of rejection and work to achieve acceptance. This is true in dramatic ways and in small subtle ways, in the reasons people speak and act and think. Some people may even believe they have achieved acceptance in the universe of merit-proving. The pharisees felt that they had achieved acceptance, they were just wrong. In the approved universe, you start off with the assurance that you are accepted. It changes the way you do everything, the way you act, the way you think, the way you play, even the way you sin.

If you live in the universe where you start as disapproved, it is the same problem that people respond to in different ways. You might see that the situation is impossible, throw in the towel, and seize whatever pleasures you can to try to put aside the noise of your conscience. This is actually quite an honest response. OR, you can try to water down the conditions of approval so that they are marginally possible, and try really hard to obey the watered down conditions. I think it is true that a great deal of evangelism is really just the camp of the religious inside the the universe of condemnation trying to convince the camp of the heathen sinful inside the universe of condemnation to come over and be even more miserable and condemned. Ironically, even the religious would easily admit that no one is perfect, which makes them virtually indistinguible from the carnal sinful pleasure seekers. From outside, in the universe of merit-giving, the religious in the merit-proving universe look like one more camp of sinners trying to prove their legitimacy, like a thief pressing a code of honor among thieves.

The problem with throwing in the towel and seeking fulfillment through pleasure is that the community of pleasure seekers has its own laws of acceptance. Tell me that addictions are not laws to be obeyed! They are cruel masters; as Jesus says, everyone who sins is the slave of sin (John 8:34). Even supposedly non-addictive pleasures are led on by communities with strict rules of acceptance; not all that defines everyone as a sinner is a Jewish law (Romans 2:12-13). Pleasure in other words becomes its own law.

As an aside, I want to note that you can be religious in the universe of merit-giving, in the kingdom of grace. This meme going around that true Christianity is different than and opposed to religion comes off as disingenuous. I think that you can go to church, recite liturgies, take communion, sprinkle babies or immerse adults, and whatever else, and be in either universe. In fact, you can be for or against cigarettes, dancing, and alcohol in either universe (Romans 14:1). The real question is: what place does Christ and Him crucified have in your religion? Is Jesus an example, or a propitiation to you? Perhaps you don’t care about theological concepts like propitiation, but you do like practical religion? Chances are you are in the merit-proving universe, not the merit-giving universe. So, let’s put it in simpler terms: does it seem like Jesus condemns you or saves you? Is your “sanctification” from shame to less shame, or glory to glory?

When either camp (pleasure or religious) in the universe of merit-proving casts their gaze at people in the merit-giving universe, they see problems. They have to judge, because as I’ve said before, that is what the universe of merit-proving is all about. When people in the merit-gifting universe look at people in the other universe, they see a lot of people doing a lot of unnecessary stuff that really has no joy and no soundness. As Paul says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 There is a simplicity in humble devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Finally, to everyone who might want to nitpick at particular points of exegesis here, you really need to answer the fundamental question, and avoid taking rabbit trails. I know the full context of Romans 2 and I am saying that it is the principle of integrity and truth that our consciences judge us by, not religious law. The real question is, is Jesus’ blood enough to redeem us, or not? Does faith in Christ’s propitiatory death absolve us of all guilt, or is there something more we must do? If there is something more, what use is Jesus’ death? However, if I am right, and Jesus’ death is truly enough to absolve all guilt and every wrong, if the right wrath of justice is served in Christ, then it is a true game-changer. I am accepted! I am legitimate! I am made real! I am loved! I am forgiven with vengeance and power! I no longer need to work to prove my merit or legitimacy, it is a gift. If GOD died for me, isn’t that legitimate enough? He has declared me legitimate with great and unassailable authority, and I enter a very great rest from the world of criticism and judgement. I can freely acknowledge my imperfections and my sins, and be really forgiven and healed (Mark 2:17).

So I would appeal to you, if you are religious and still living in the merit-proving universe. Stop pretending like you believe in Christ while keeping your feet firmly planted in the universe of disapproval. Enter by Christ the door (John 10:9) into the universe of grace, and forsake the old universe of proving your worth and merit. He loves you (1 John 4:10). Believe it!

Alien Intelligence?

 

A recent article on NPR’s website postulates that it is credible science to think that aliens had a hand in creating life on earth. As a theist and an old earth advocate (not a young earth creationist), I have to say I marvel at the ends “science” will go to to suppress the obvious truth that there is a GOD.

Science itself tells us that universe is extremely finely tuned to produce life. “Science” is currently attempting to explain this – thus the multiverse theory: ours is just one universe in a frothy bubbly sea of other universes, so our universe is thereby somehow more likely. However, the multiverse is unprovable and untestable, and thus enters the realm of a metaphysical belief. You can’t tell me credibly that aliens fine-tuned their own universe which randomly produced them! Yet each parameter in the tuning of the universe multiplies the unlikeliness that it could have happened by pure chance. One parameter of our finely tuned universe, the cosmological constant, must be accurate to 10^23 decimal places, or else we don’t have a universe that could even remotely support life. Ultra advanced aliens could not have done this to their own universe. Are we saying that the ultra-advanced aliens are from a different universe? Are we talking about science here? Oh my goodness, I call BS! We have aliens of the gaps, but the aliens can only fill in the “where did the first living cell on earth come from” gap, but not the “where did the finely tuned universe come from” gap.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4lpjwUK0f0′%5D

Let’s do some simple math. Given that the universe is 14.6 billion years old (notice that there is pressure to ratchet this up a bit – it used to be 13.7 billion!), the ultra-advanced aliens would need to have already existed IN ULTRA-ADVANCED FORM prior to the emergence of any life on earth, 3.8 billion years ago (according the timeline on wikipedia). They needed at least 3.8 billion years to evolve into ultra-advanced form themselves, plus extra because supposedly there were no aliens to help them get started and they needed time to become ultra-advanced, so let’s be generous to the alien-science advocates and make that 4.5 billion years. That means the aliens started out as single celled organisms when the universe was 8.3 billion years old. What was the universe like at the ripe young age of 8.3 billion years? I am skeptical that it was at a point friendly to life.

Yet I’m the irrational moron for believing in God, and if I invoke God as a designer I’m accused of believing in a “God of the gaps”. I think that any normally intelligent person is going to have to come around to seeing that there really is a God, a creator.

Here is the mistake that is being made across the board. Science is not a world-view. Science is the investigation of the truth of what is there in the physical world. It is specifically NOT about metaphysical speculation. Because it isn’t supposed to pander to metaphysical interpretation, it doesn’t mean metaphysics doesn’t exist. If a miracle happened, it is the place of science to observe that, not to conjure up multiverses and alien designers. Cosmologists and astrophysicists are making themselves a laughing stock when they don’t stick to science. The emperor definitely has no clothes in this case.

Dying for Us Wasn't Enough? Yes it was enough.

Not Enough?

I had a small discussion on facebook this morning, and I thought it was worth reposting here as a matter of record.

When Christ came to earth, He came to bring to mankind the gospel of the Kingdom. Over the centuries, the Church has tended to emphasize only a portion of the gospel. That portion is the gospel of salvation. However, Jesus came that we might have more than just salvation. He came to give us a whole new life that was accompanied by signs, wonders, and His Spirit living in us and revealing Himself to us daily. He came so that we might walk on this earth as He did. If our lives are not reflecting the same things as Jesus’ did, we must ask why?

I am seeing quite a bit of this kind of teaching. “For the longest time, the church has emphasized that the gospel means Jesus dying for our sins. How quaint! It might mean this, but it also means (pet idea goes here).” I have come to believe that it is right to emphasize that portion of the gospel, because it IS the gospel. There is no other portion. Paul didn’t say “I was determined to know nothing among you except the Holy Spirit and Him manifested.” He said “I was determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) He did not say “For I am not ashamed of the Holy Spirit, for it is the power of God for salvation…”, he said, “For I am not ashamed of the GOSPEL, for it is the power of God for salvation…” (Romans 1:16-17) The gospel is a saving message, and this is the message: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” (Romans 3:24-25)

Romans 6 roots our sanctification wholly in this: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized INTO HIS DEATH, so that as Christ was raised from the dead we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

Jesus Himself taught that forgiveness is more important than the miraculous, and that physical miracles are only meant to corroborate the message of forgiveness, Luke 5:22-24. He also taught that those who based their ministry in works of miracles were likely bereft of knowledge of Him, Matthew 7:21-23. He desires compassion above all things, Matthew 9:13.

Romans 8 and Romans 12 are meaningless out of context with Romans 3 – Romans 5. Ephesians 4 – Ephesians 6 is meaningless apart from Ephesians 1 – Ephesians 3. 1 John 2 – 1 John 5 is meaningless apart from 1 John 1:5-10. You cannot even strip Jesus’ one commandment, that we love one another, of the context of 1 John 4:10, that love is grounded in the propitiation. If the gospel isn’t the propitiation, we have nothing. On the cross, He did not cry out, “it is begun!” He cried out, “It is FINISHED!” (John 19:30) How dare we change that or marginalize it!

This is not to say that we ought not pray for miracles, or expect the miraculous. However, these things are not the gospel. The precious blood of Christ spilled for us is the gospel, and as the writer of Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) We dare not marginalize it or add to it or change it.

You want to be zealous? Be determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified! When you start to see God as the One who is determined to redeem you and to grant you persistent overcoming one-way love, you will walk with such a sense of favor and compassion that miracles are surely inevitable. But do not be looking to become a person known for the miraculous. Become a person known for compassion and mercy, who is there for sinners. This is certainly walking as Jesus walked more than 1000 miracles.