The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Shining Like Stars In The World!

-God Enables Us!

Over the last few posts, I’ve asked you to read with me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. In writing to this church, Paul shares something significant in v.15, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” God intends that we would shine like stars in the world as He enables us & gives us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus. Go back earlier in the chapter & re-read verses 5-11.  God will enable us to shine like stars in the world when we empty ourselves of self-glory as Jesus did.

-Empty Yourself Of All Self-Glory!

Consider that phrase, in v.7, where Paul says that Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” It means He “emptied Himself.” The word, in the original Greek language, means “to empty, or to pour out.” In a practical sense, the word means “to give up status or privilege.” When Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” or “emptied Himself,” Scripture means He willingly set aside some of the privileges He enjoyed as God.  Paul says that Jesus also took on the “form” of a slave. The word “form” means “the exact essence.”

-The Exact Essence Of A Slave!

Jesus was the exact essence of what a slave looks like, but He took it on voluntarily. No one forced Jesus to do it! He willingly took the form of a slave! He willingly came to earth! He willingly died so we could live!  Then, Paul says He came “…in the likeness of men.” In other words, He wasn’t just God in a human body. He took on all the essential attributes of humanity— He experienced all the emotions, the pain, and the suffering of betrayal & death! So, here is the application— Paul calls us out, as the church, to think of ourselves in the same way as Christ who emptied Himself! To set aside self-glory; and, become slaves to one another in the church, until it spills over into our city!

-Serving Our City With The Mind Of Christ!

Until we serve the people of our city in a way that the mind of Christ would direct us! God will also cause us to shine like stars in the world as we humble ourselves of our self-importance. In v.8 Paul says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus so humbled Himself that when a man looked upon Him, many of them only saw a “man.” He had no glory glow about Him; no halo as artists have erroneously depicted Him. He just appeared to be a man to them. He left the glory of heaven where He was “King of Kings & Lord of Lords.”

-Angels Worshiped him In Heaven!

In heaven, Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without angels bowing down to worship Him & singing Him songs of praise! While He could have strutted onto this planet with a spectacular display of His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, and His justice— so that no one could mistake Him for anything other than the God He was— instead, He humbled Himself so that many disrespected Him & saw Him as nothing more than a mere man! Application? Paul said the Church of Philippi filled his heart with joy (v.3) because they humbled themselves of self-importance. When they esteemed the needs & interests of others as more important than their own & become more concerned with the rest of the faith community’s needs above their own, that’s when they were thinking like Jesus. That’s Christ IN YOU! The Spirit produces the mind of Christ IN YOU! We can’t! But He changes our minds & attitudes when we trust Him.

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!

Our Savior Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Christ’s Humility!

The humility of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in after His birth. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  There’s significance to the swaddling cloths that can easily be overlooked at first glance.  But, those cloths foreshadowed Jesus’ death. According to the Mishnah, which is the collection of the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap the lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs. As soon as the lamb was born, they’d wrap them with these cloths or bands to keep them from injury; because the lamb could have no blemishes or broken bones.

-He Was Wrapped In Burial Cloths!

And, it’s interesting that the same type of cloths was also used for burial cloths; and, the manger, used for cattle, was typically a cave; though, caves were also used as tombs to bury the dead. Someone put it like this:  “On the first day of Jesus’ earthly life He was wrapped up like a Passover lamb and laid in a cave, and on the day of His death He would be wrapped in the same type of cloth and laid in a cave” (Robby Gallaty). Our great God is humble! To the Church of Philippi, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus; and, said, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

-Jesus Christ’s Humanity!

But, the Bible affirms not only the humility of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus. And, what makes Jesus’ humanity unique from the humanity of every other person who’s walked this earth is His “incarnation.” The “incarnation” is just a big, theological term that means Jesus “took on human flesh”; or, the act of being made flesh! So, why is that significant? For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to live the life of a perfect, sinless man to die as a substitute in our place. The Gospel writers are methodical in pointing out that Jesus was a human baby planted in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

-The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You!

Luke wrote that Mary had a conversation with an angel; and, when she asked how she could become pregnant when she had never been intimate with a man, “The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). So, Jesus was a real human baby born to a real human mother; without a human father. The Gospel writers bear that out!  Jesus had all the typical needs of a human man. He slept. He ate food. Luke says He perspired (ch. 22:43-44). He bled; and, He died like a man. He also showed the human emotions of joy & sorrow & anger. Luke also records that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (as a man), and in favor with God and with people” (2:52).

-Our Great High Priest!

The N.T. book of Hebrews calls Him our High Priest; and, says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  He shared in all the human weaknesses of the flesh without sinning; so, that He could be the sacrifice that God required for the remission of our sins. But, the Bible also affirms the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was God! The divine nature of Jesus was joined with His human nature; so, He became the God-Man. He didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus & I’m God, and here are 10 reasons why!” But, it’s clear each & every time when the Jewish religious leaders understood Jesus to be making that claim! They called it blasphemy & picked up stones to stone Him! He fulfilled all the O.T. prophecies; which, one mathematician calculated to be 1 chance out of 13 trillion. If it’s true, God visited our planet! Do you know Him?

The Incarnation Of Jesus Christ!

-God Writing Himself Into The Story!

A while back I finished a 4-book series of novels in which the author admitted, in the end, that the main character, in the story, was someone very similar to himself as he was growing up. I can see how that could be tempting to a writer. It would be a way of transferring his thoughts, his feelings; and, his opinions into the story; and, expressing them through a character.  I came across a Bible study by Thomas Lancaster, called the Chronicles of the Messiah, in which he described Jesus’ entry into the world from the viewpoint of a writer. Let me read a portion to you: “An author is writing a novel. He creates the settings, situations, stories, and plotlines, and populates his novel with characters. He likes the characters he created so much that he wants to interact with them but he cannot because the novel is his creation. It’s just a story. The characters in the book cannot hear the author; they cannot see him; they cannot experience him because the author completely transcends the words written on a page. What does the author do? He writes himself into the novel as one of the characters, creating a written story-version of himself with which the characters can interact.” Is that not exactly what God has done? He’s written Himself into His story!

-The Word Dwelt Among Us!

The Word became flesh,” John, the Gospel writer was INSPIRED by God to write, “and, God (the Word) dwelt among us.” From the beginning of creation, God desired to be present with His people. The story begins in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, with God, Himself, walking in the Garden with Adam; and, then Eve, in community with them. And, the story ends in the book of Revelation, chapter 21, with God tabernacling with humanity for all eternity in the new heavens & the new earth. It says, “He (God) will pitch a tent and live among us.”  And, all of God’s interaction with people in between the start of His story; and, the end of the story reveals God’s great desire to be with us! But, never has God’s desire to interact with us been more indisputable than when He set aside His heavenly robes; and, wrapped Himself in flesh to enter the world He created as Jesus Christ!

-The Absolute Uniqueness Of Jesus!

Never has our world seen anyone else like Jesus. No single person has ever impacted our world like Jesus has. And, because of Jesus’ absolute uniqueness, He is worthy of our love, our worship, our loyalty; and, our devotion. In all the stories of humanity, Jesus’ story is the most unique of all!  God has written Himself into the story of human history as Jesus, the 2nd member of the triune Godhead; and, He has severely & forever changed mankind’s trajectory from death & destruction to life & restoration. In pondering Jesus’ uniqueness, what words come to mind when you think of God as the Scriptures reveal Him in Jesus?

-God’s Character!

How would you describe His character? Do you remember when the disciples observed the way that Jesus prayed; and, they asked Him to teach them how to pray? And, He answered them, “When you pray, pray like this…” And, He went on to outline what we have called “The Lord’s Prayer”; though, He never intended that we would mindlessly repeat those words over & over like some kind of chant. He was giving them a pattern or the way to pray— pray LIKE THIS… And, in Luke ch.11, He says to begin by remembering who you’re talking to: “Father, Your name be honored as holy.” That’s how I begin my prayer time each day. I begin by remembering & praising God for who He is. In Scripture, God’s “name” refers to His character! He is love, mercy, grace, kindness, faithful, transcendent, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent! He’s benevolent, immutable, righteous & just! And, that was the character of God incarnate; or, Jesus in the flesh!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.