Passionately His

Pursuing the Christian life in all its fullness

God in the flesh

Posted by Jeff on December 19, 2014

Christmas wasn’t always a given. The world marks it as a game-saving, end-of-year commercial venture. The church marks it as the celebration of God, having come in the flesh. But even in the first century, not everybody was willing to believe that God could possibly have come in the flesh.

I’ve been preaching through John’s first letter for the past nine weeks. It was intentional that I would conclude it at the end of the season of Advent, because the letter is all about emphasizing that God did take on human flesh; as the prophet foretold, Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us.

John had to emphasize the incarnation because there were people in the first century church he led who were trying to convince the believers that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh; they believed that God was 100% spiritual and 100% not physical. But John had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, lived with Jesus – he knew God had come in human form.

The church needs to celebrate this truth publicly and loudly! And the great irony of Christmas is that people who might not otherwise engage with anything theological, or have a conversation about Jesus, will gleefully sing excellent theology at this time of year. Consider the words of this ancient carol, which streamed over my computer while I was writing this:

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King;


Peace on earth and mercy mild,


God and sinners reconciled!”


Joyful all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim:


“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”


Hark! the herald angels sing,


“Glory to the newborn King.”

 

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:


Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”



 

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!


Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!


Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings,

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.


Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”

 

These words of Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield (that’s another story!), proclaim the truth of Christmas, and the heart of the message of 1 John: God has come in the flesh. God! No less than the Creator of the world has broken into history to be one with us, born of a Virgin, laying aside his glory…for what reason? “Born that man no more may die,” said Wesley. Jesus came to break the cycle of sin and faithlessness, opening the door of heaven to all who will believe.

Jesus is God in the flesh – and even in the malls this is proclaimed for a twelfth of a year! Let’s rejoice – and pray that these words so much of humanity joins in singing will reach the hearts of all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, NLT).

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LOVE ONE ANOTHER: The Key Factor

Posted by Jeff on December 14, 2014

John writes to his faithful community of believers that we show our love for God when we keep his commandments, and that this is no burden to us – but we can’t do it on our own. Based on 1 John 5.1-12, you can listen to this penultimate message in the series here:

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Rejoice!

Posted by Jeff on December 12, 2014

This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally marked with rejoicing. You might wonder why there is a single Sunday set aside for rejoicing in a season that is supposed to be filled with rejoicing! But, as with so many things, there is a story behind it.

Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Advent is actually the newest. And, like Lent, for the longest time, it was a season of penitence: that’s right, the church spent the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in reflection and repentance. Holy celebrations like Christmas and Easter were prepared for by examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin so that we would be fully ready for the birth, or resurrection, of the Saviour.

That’s why the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent were traditionally set aside as Sundays for rejoicing amid our penitence. And the traditional colour of rejoicing is pink, which is why the Advent wreath has a pink candle that is lit on the third Sunday.

Because the season of Advent particularly has lost its penitential nature, we have lost the special significance of this upcoming Sunday of rejoicing. We look at the whole season as one of rejoicing! And that’s not all bad, to be sure: we should revel in celebrating Jesus’ birth.

But maybe it’s not a bad idea, too, to remember the history of the season, and examine ourselves. After all, the best way to be ready for Jesus’ coming – and coming again! – is by confessing our sins and accepting the good news of our forgiveness, which comes through that coming Saviour.

Think of it this way; forgive the odd nature of the illustration, but I think you’ll find it will work. Besides getting popcorn and a drink, what’s the one thing you do before you go into the theatre to watch a movie? Come on, admit it: you go to the bathroom. You don’t want to have to miss any part of the movie, so you do your business beforehand so you won’t have to get up in the middle, right?

Think of the penitential aspect of Advent in the same way. We don’t want to be blinded to any part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by sin. We don’t want our unrighteousness to block our rejoicing in the Righteous One. So take some time in these crazy weeks to void yourself of whatever keeps you from a full-out love relationship with the Lord whose birth we celebrate.

But this Sunday, make sure you rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7, NIV).

 

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LOVE ONE ANOTHER: God is love

Posted by Jeff on December 7, 2014

Last week, we talked about how to tell the difference between what is of the Spirit of God and what is not.  It might’ve seemed a bit black-and-white – and to be fair, some aspects of our faith truly are.  But even that need not stop us from loving others, because God is love.  In this message, we consider that because God is love, we are able to experience new life in Christ, love one another, not live in fear, and not hate others.  Based on 1 John 4.7-21, you can listen to the message here:

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Get the job done

Posted by Jeff on December 5, 2014

As is quite common with newly-elected politicians, the new mayor of the city of Toronto, John Tory, has come out of the gates bucking to get the job done. Yesterday, he announced that traffic gridlock in that city will be a top priority. Indeed, he said that even if he had to drive a tow truck himself, he would do everything he could to ensure that traffic begins to flow more smoothly within the city as soon as possible.

Whether or not you appreciate his politics, you have to admire Mr. Tory’s gumption. He wants something to happen, and he’s prepared to roll up his sleeves and make it happen. Now, he may have been speaking somewhat rhetorically, but if he is serious about his own participation in solving the problem, that’s impressive.

How often are we, as God’s people, quick to point out a problem? If we’re honest, most of us can think of more occasions than we can number when we’ve been willing to highlight a problem. And how often have we, as God’s people, been just as quick to jump in and help solve the problem?

Hopefully, almost as many times as we have pointed out problems, we have helped find solutions. But that’s not always the case. The most helpful and effective people are those who will not only show us what’s wrong, but will help us make it right.

Jesus was like that, wasn’t he? More often than not, in his case, the Pharisees would point out the problem, and he would create the solution. But one example of Jesus acting on his own came when he cleared the temple of the money changers and buyers and sellers of animals for sacrifice (cf. Matthew 21.12-13). He saw the problem, and he solved the problem – in a more practical way than some people were (and are) comfortable with!

The hands-on Jesus might seem a little less “meek and mild” than the teacher Jesus. But there is only one Jesus. And he, too, is bucking to get the job done. Are you?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4.16b-17, NIV, emphasis added).

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LOVE ONE ANOTHER: How to tell the difference

Posted by Jeff on November 30, 2014

Few topics are harder to preach about than the reality of evil in the world – not because it’s hard to find examples of it, but because evil does not want to be exposed for what it is.  Therefore, preparing to preach, and actually preaching, on evil spirits is very difficult, because those evil spirits work to try to keep you from exposing them for what they are.  Such was my challenge this week.

John, in writing his first letter, is dealing with false teachers who are denying Jesus’ incarnation.  John, then, out of love and care for his flock, writes to remind the church that believing Jesus is God-in-the-flesh is the litmus test for teaching.  He writes this in 1 John 4.1-6.

Listen to the message here:

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Jesus is worth the wait

Posted by Jeff on November 28, 2014

Though the radio stations are already playing Christmas music, and Wal-Mart has gifts and tinsel up for sale (heck, Costco had decorations up in October!), it’s not Christmas yet. That doesn’t start until December 25.

This Sunday, we begin the Christian year with the season of Advent. It’s a season of waiting, of anticipation. In years gone by, it has been a season of penitence, though that seems to have gone by the wayside. But I think there’s great value in celebrating Advent, in waiting for Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a household where, if you wanted something, you saved up for it until you could afford to buy it. Credit was unheard of in my parents’ home, unless you count the mortgage. And there was a certain satisfaction in that, wasn’t there? You saved up to buy something you wanted, and there was anticipation in it. If you really needed (or wanted) it, the anticipation only made the acquisition all the more sweet. If it was just an impulse, and you didn’t really want or need it, saving up for it saved you from buyer’s remorse, because the interest waned while you saved.

Nowadays, saving up for something seems like a quaint custom of a bygone era. And I think that has cost us – not only in terms of interest paid on credit cards and lines of credit, but also in terms of the value of waiting.

For many people, what the world calls the Christmas Season is a frenetic time. Celebrating Advent can actually slow us down a little bit. When we focus each Sunday, and perhaps the surrounding week, on hope, peace, joy and love (or whatever other themes your church might want to use beyond the traditional), we are able to savour all the more fully the amazing gift that is the birth of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus know that the birth of the Saviour was no ordinary birth. This was God’s entrance into history in a tangible way, unlike no other time before – a gift beyond measure…a gift worth waiting for.

Let me encourage you, this year, to celebrate Advent. Even if your church doesn’t mark it in any significant way, you can celebrate at home. There are Advent calendars (though most involve chocolate and only recognize the month of December, it can still be a useful tool); you can make and light an Advent wreath in your home; you can (and this is radical!) even consciously decide not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas! If you can’t handle that, you might consider saving one special Christmas carol for Christmas Eve. (I do this with “O come, all ye faithful”.)

Jesus is worth the wait!

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous.   Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 27.14, NLT).

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Do unto others

Posted by Jeff on November 21, 2014

I heard a story the other day about a woman who was in labour, preparing to give birth to her second child. Her husband got her and their young son packed up, so that the son could be delivered to his grandparents’, and so that the woman could be taken to the hospital to deliver their next child! But there was a problem: this happened earlier this week in Buffalo, New York.

In case you missed it, Buffalo, and other parts of New York state close to the Great Lakes, have been hammered with lake-effect snowfall; Buffalo alone had received more than a metre-and-a-half as of Wednesday, with the promise of more yesterday. The photos have been astounding.

So the trip for this young family to get to grandparents’ and hospital was not exactly routine. In fact, with mom in labour, they actually stopped to help a stranded motorist to get out of her car. They brought her into their vehicle and carried on toward the hospital – difficult though that was, with the roads clogged with snow and trapped vehicles.

Soon it became apparent that the baby wasn’t going to wait for the doctor. That child would make her arrival in the car. So the vehicle was stopped, and they prepared for the delivery – stranger and all!

What if they hadn’t stopped to help the stranded woman? Would they have made it to the hospital? In the end, they knew they did the right thing, because this stranded stranger turned out to be a paediatric nurse who specialized in labour and delivery! She was able to give guidance toward the safe arrival of the family’s newborn little girl. And eventually, they made it to the hospital. All are well.

The man had no idea that he was helping someone who would help him and his wife. He stopped to help because it was the right thing to do, irrespective of the outcome – even though he, if anybody, had a good excuse to avoid stopping.

How often are we “too busy” to stop to help someone in need? What could you do today that would make a difference in someone’s life, even though it might not benefit you in any way?

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12, NIV).

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LOVE ONE ANOTHER: God’s Children

Posted by Jeff on November 16, 2014

One of the things John strongly affirms in his first letter is that we are children of God if we do what the Lord commands and live in him by faith.  What does that mean?  What has to change in us in order for us to be children of God?  Based on 1 John 2.28-3.10, you can listen to this message to find out:

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Waiting, waiting…

Posted by Jeff on November 14, 2014

Today is a day of waiting, for me.  Granted, it’s not as serious a form of waiting as, say, loved ones waiting for the results of surgery.  And it’s not as exciting a form of waiting as, say, anxious grandparents waiting to hear of the birth of their first grandchild.  No, this waiting is much more (if you’ll pardon the expression) peripheral.

Today, I’m waiting for the Bell technician to come to the church to install a new Internet connection.

I was told that the technician would arrive sometime between 8:00 a.m. and, well, next Thursday.  (Not really.  He’s supposed to arrive before 5:00 today.)  And it’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy around the church.  But when you are waiting for someone to arrive, and you don’t know when it will occur, there is a certain impatience, a certain anxiety, that goes with that waiting.

God’s people have been in just that sort of waiting mode since the ascension of Jesus.  Time and again, the Lord Jesus told us that he would return to earth to consummate time as we know it and to receive his faithful, dead and living, to himself.

When we look at world events, it’s tempting to expect that Jesus is coming back soon.  Of course, he said as much, revealed to John, in the penultimate verse in the Bible:  “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22.20, NIV).  So if he has been coming “soon” since the end of the first century, when Revelation was penned, how long is “soon”?  Of course, Peter reminds us that for God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day (2 Peter 3.8), so if that tells us anything, it’s that making predictions is a dangerous thing to do.  Even Jesus himself said that only the Father knows when that time will come (Mark 13.32).

At least with the Bell technician, I have a day, and a window in which to expect his arrival.  In the meantime, I carry on my normal activities – but confined to the church building for the day.

As we await the return of the Lord Jesus, we ought likewise to carry on our normal activities – not confined to a building, but confined to the world in which we live, constrained by the will of God to wait with patience and endurance for our safe redemption, whatever that may look like.

Waiting can be hard.  But, as the apostle Paul reminds us, the fruit of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5.22).  It’s good to wait expectantly for the Lord, because eternity in his presence is going to be amazing.  But it’s also good to wait patiently, because “No one knows about that day or hour” (Mark 13.32, NIV).

There will be no sure sign of the Bell technician’s arrival until I see that familiar blue and white van.  Likewise, there will be no sure sign of Jesus’ return until we see him face to face.  There are those who will claim to be him, but if I understand Scripture correctly, there will be no mistaking his return.  You won’t have to wait for Jesus to introduce himself, or to read about it in the newspaper.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2, NIV).

Want a little inspiration for your day?  Listen to Sandi Patty sing what it will be like to meet the Lord.

That’ll be worth the wait.  Blessings for your weekend!

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