I Am The Light Of The World

Jesus IconicIn the creation story, the first thing God said was, “Let there be light.” This light immediately separates day from night. Yet if we read on in the first chapter of Genesis we learn the sun was not created until day four. How could we have light in the world – dividing day from night – before the sun was created? There are various theories and ideas about this. Some ancient rabbis believed that the ‘light’ of Genesis 1:3 was the Messiah and that this shows God – from the beginning of creation – understood that the Messiah was to come to God’s people. (The Apostle Paul shared this belief – see 2 Corinthians 4:6)This is part of what Jesus was referring to when he said, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus made this extraordinary statement in the Women’s Court of the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles. In this courtyard were four huge bowls filled with oil, from which four smaller bowls of oil were suspended. These were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles at sundown, and worshippers danced for joy in their light. These blazing lamps represented the ‘fire by night’ that led the Israelites through the wilderness. Jesus was probably standing in the light of these great lamps when he said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”

John’s Gospel begins with an account of John the Baptist and the Gospel writer says this: “God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Where was John baptizing? In the Jordan River – the dividing line between the wilderness the Israelites wandered in and the Promised Land they were to call their home and it was to this very river that the “pillar of fire” led them. When he says, “I am the light of the world” Jesus is hearkening back to thousands of years of Jewish history while indicating that he is still the one to lead us to our ‘promised land’ today.

“I Am the Bread of Life”

Jesus IconicIn John 6, Jesus feeds a crowd of more than 5,000 using a five loaves of bread and a two fish. The next day, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds appear once more, looking for more bread. To their request Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

Jesus then goes on to describe himself as the “…living bread that came down from heaven,” referencing the manna God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness. The people looking for bread are seeing only the physical, material world and want only a physical, material benefit from Jesus. Instead, Jesus offers them something entirely different – eternal life. Jesus is saying that what we really hunger and thirst for is not food or drink, but life. We must, of course, eat food and drink water, and these will keep us alive. But Jesus is offering us a reason to live, a purpose to life, offering us the energy and vitality to live life to its fullest. That reason and purpose to life is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and the energy and vitality of a life lived to its fullest comes from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Our western, rational minds want to believe that this physical world is all we have. Jesus sees things differently. ”But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food,” Jesus says. “Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.” The only way this statement can make sense is if Jesus has the ability to give us eternal life, and if that eternal life is a life worth pursuing. Jesus knew exactly who he was and exactly what he had to offer the world. Do you?

For Further Reflection:

  •  Exodus 16
  • John 6
  • Deuteronomy 8:3
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14
  • Matthew 6:11
  • Matthew 4:4
  • 2 Corinthians 10:14-17

Part 1 of this series is here / Part 2 /

“Before Abraham was, I Am”

BJesus Iconicy the time we reach the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel, the opposition to Jesus from the religious leaders of the day is coming to a head. Jesus has a lengthy discussion with the people in the Temple courtyards, and this discussion is concerned entirely with Jesus’ identity. Is he a prophet, like the prophets of old? Is he a miracle worker, empowered by God – or a miracle worker empowered by the devil? Is he the long-awaited rescuer of Israel, sent by God?

Jesus takes their questions beyond his questioner’s wildest imaginings. As the climax to this discussion Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The full significance of this statement is lost to our modern, western minds. The Jewish people believed that they were descendants of their great father, Abraham. Moses received the law and gave birth to the nation of Israel, but it was Abraham who received the promise of God that, one day, a great people would arise from his lineage. That is, Moses created the nation of Israel, but Abraham gave it a reason for being. Abraham received the promise of God, and the Israelites then inherited that promise. They were to be the people of One True God, and no other.

By saying, “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus is placing himself as someone greater than Abraham; someone who is has lived since the beginning of time. He is telling us that he exists in eternity, existing simultaneously in the time before Abraham and in this present moment. And he is echoing back to the experience of Moses at the burning bush, where God tells Moses that his name is “I Am That I Am.” The religious leaders picked up stones with which to kill Jesus, not because those leaders didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but because they did. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he was telling his listeners, and telling us, that he is God.

For Further Reflection:

  •  Exodus 3
  • Genesis 15:1-6
  • Romans 4:1-3
  • Romans 4:20-25
  • John 1:1-2
  • John 17:4-5
  • John 17:24
  • John 10:30

Part 1 of this series is here

The “I Am…” Statements of Jesus

Jesus IconicHow is a person’s character formed? Is a person born with their character intact, waiting for life to uncover it? Is a person’s character shaped and molded by life? Or is it a combination of the two? What about a person’s identity? How is that formed?

Our self-identity is made of the things we believe about ourselves. If we’re to be honest, we all believe that we are flawed to some extent. We are wounded people, we are all broken in some place, we are all carrying hurts and failings. We have all done things we regret, and we have all hurt others with our words and actions (the old-fashioned way of saying this is to say that we have all sinned)

This is why accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour is such a profound act. When we do so, we are no longer broken, flawed, sinful individuals. We become, instead, children of God, dearly loved and made whole in God’s sight. The moment we understand and accept this fact as being true our identity changes. The problem, however, is that many of us continue to live with our old identity. We continue to identify ourselves as “a sinner, saved by grace,” instead of a “a child of God, enjoying his grace”. No, none of us are perfect. But when Christ is our Saviour, our acts of sin are the result of us acting out of character. When we intentionally wound the heart of God, others or ourselves, we do so because we have forgotten who we really are.

Jesus knew exactly who he was, and there was absolutely no doubt in his mind as to his true identity. He was absolutely secure in his relationship with God, and absolutely certain he was deeply loved by God. This is what makes the “I Am” statements of Jesus so profound and so powerful – they give us a glimpse into what Jesus believed about himself. And these statements give us the assurance and the power to see our identity and our character change into the perfect and beautiful likeness of Christ.

Silent Night, Holy Night

Nativity 01Advent is the time of year when Christians anticipate Christmas in a month long process called ‘Advent’. We look forward to to being with family, opening presents and eating the big dinner, but during Advent we also try to put ourselves in the shoes of the ancient Israelites. We imagine what it was like to wait, all those thousands of years, for the Messiah to come. We feel, more than we know, the longing of waiting for salvation to come. The Jewish people were waiting for someone to free them from the oppression of the Roman empire. In this we see a picture of longing to be free from our own guilt, sorrow, suffering and pain.

This is such a dark time of the year. Those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder become depressed at this time of year due to the absence of daylight. The suffering is real. All of us who live in Canada may find ourselves longing for the light during December and January. But right in the middle of this dark and difficult time is the Winter Solstice. On that day we have the least amount of daylight of any day on the calendar. The good news is that the days start getting longer the next day. The light comes, life comes, hope returns.

It’s popular to bash Christmas as being the corruption of a pagan holiday – the Winter Solstice. Truth is, the Christian celebration of Christmas and the pagan celebration of Solstice share a lot of spiritual elements. Darkness being displaced by light. Life, light, hope. But despite how much these two celebrations have in common, they are not the same. In Christmas, we have the eternal light of God entering the world in the form of a child. In Christmas, we have God reaching out to us, entering into our world, entering into our pain and suffering, bringing light, life and hope. The baby Jesus is called God’s gift because with Jesus came God’s love and his offer of a loving relationship. I love you, God said, and I want to be with you.

The essential difference between Solstice and Christmas is that with Christmas comes the offer of love. Christmas is not a corruption of Solstice, but a completion of it. In Jesus is the promise of Solstice made complete.

I Have Not Praised You

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i have not praised you
in the rumpled sheets,
the sleepy eyes,
the tousled hair.

i have not praised you in smoothness of yogurt,
the ripe, red roundness of strawberries,
the solemn breakfast coffee.

i have not praised you the lost blanket, doll, tiny metal truck,
the forgotten lunch, the left-behind school book.
i have not praised you in the mound of laundry.
in the sink full of dishes.
in the swish of the toilet brush.

i have not praised you in the car,
in the traffic,
in the bank,
in the parking lot,
in the chance encounter

i have not praised you in the tattered white lines
at the edge of the soccer pitch,
in the child’s skinned knee,
in the noise and haste of McDonald’s,
in the arguing children in the back seat.

perhaps one day, Lord,
if you’re really patient,
i will.

and i have not praised you Lord
in the fine china we save, and never use.
in the vase that sits empty, hidden in a cupboard,
in the music silent in its case,
in the cologne wilting in the bottle,
in forsaken after dinner walks,
in forgotten good-night kisses.

i have not praised you as I should, Lord
but perhaps one day,
if you’re really patient,
i will.

~Rick Webster

The Strength of My Heart

Doctor

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

(Psalm 73:26)

Illness, disease, health-care: We’re hearing a lot about this in the news lately. Some of us are genuinely concerned.

Many more of us, however, are struggling with very real consequences of illness right here and now. I have two very good friends who have recently put a parent into a nursing home; one with dementia, another with Alzheimer’s. Friends who struggle with mental illness, friends who are dealing with aging parents, friends who have cancer. The list goes on. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.

But God remains the strength of my heart. Our relationship with God, and our experience of God’s love, cannot be diminished by disease or old age. God’s love is not dependent on our health but is instead found in what Christ has done for us. Christ’s resurrection means that one day we – and our loved ones – will experience the resurrection as well. And the presence of the Holy Spirit means that our relationship with God is eternally secure. “The Spirit is God’s guarantee,” Ephesians 1:14 reads, “that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.”

One day, we will all experience perfect health. And yes, I believe divine healing is the right of every child of God. But in the here and now? Sometimes our health does fail. Sometimes, our spirit will grow weak. But God remains the strength of our heart. And sometimes, like right now, I just need to remind myself of that.

A Victorious Faith

surrenderI’ve been hearing a phrase in my spirit for the last few days – “Your faith must be victorious”. Not, “should” be, or “could” be, or “will” be, but must be.

Some days, though, my faith doesn’t feel victorious. Days when I have 16 hours of work to fit into a 12 hour day. Or days when I’m under stress, or days when I’m not feeling well. Days when all I seem to find are closed doors, stop signs and roadblocks. I feel a lot of things on days like these, but triumph isn’t one of them. On days like these, my prayer is usually reduced to “Lord, help me!”

Yet I keep hearing this word, “must”.

No matter what life throws at me, I have to remember that my victory over sin, my victory over evil, my victory over death, has already been won. This battle was won by Jesus at the cross, won by the power of the Resurrection, won by the Spirit at Pentecost. The battle over all of these things is already won. My victorious faith isn’t in what I do, or what the world does to me, or how I respond to trials and troubles. My victory is in remembering that “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Sometimes, a victorious Christian faith looks like taking a deep breath and remembering that God is bigger than my problems. And sometimes, a hurried and a harried prayer of “God help me!” has more power than we can ever know or imagine.

Love Feast

daily bread churchOn the third Sunday of every month we share a meal together. At some point during that meal we will have communion. We call these Sundays  “Love Feast”. Why do we do this?  Well… the following Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the word “agape” provides some insight:

agape, Greek agapē ,  in the New Testament, the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. The term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. The Church Fathers used agape to designate both a rite (using bread and wine) and a meal of fellowship to which the poor were invited. The historical relationship between the agape, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist is still uncertain. Some scholars believe the agape was a form of the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist the sacramental aspect of that celebration. Others interpret agape as a fellowship meal held in imitation of gatherings attended by Jesus and his disciples; the Eucharist is believed to have been joined to this meal later but eventually to have become totally separated from it.

Did you catch that? “The Eucharist is believed to have been joined to this meal but eventually to have become totally separated from it.”  We’re reclaiming a practice of the earliest Christians, who shared meals and communion together. Later, when the Church deemed that only a priest could administer communion, the practice was taken from believers.

“Communion” and “community” share the same origins. The act of sharing a meal together is our first and primary act of community, and we want our communion with Christ to be at the center of our gathering.

Everyone hungers for food, companionship and God. A shared meal is the only place these three needs can be met at the same time.

 

community_danceEric Geiger leads the LifeWay Church Resources Division. This quote is pulled from his blog.

“Community means common unity. It essentially means to unite around something that we have in common. What we have in common, what unites believers, is so much deeper than any other common unity. True Christian community is strong and lasts because it is built on the foundation of our eternal King who offered Himself for us. It is built on a foundation that does not shift and is everlasting.”

I really like the definition that “Community means common unity.” Of course, ‘unity’ doesn’t mean we will all look and sound the same, nor does it mean that we will always agree with one another. Unity means that there is something larger than ourselves that brings and holds us together. In our case, that is the person of Jesus Christ, as expressed in the Holy Spirit.

Full blog post is here.