Monthly Archives: September 2016

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Friday, September 30, 2016 – Grace and Truth

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
– John 1:14

John’s account of the incarnation is simple: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The great mystery of God is wrapped up in that simple sentence. It reveals God’s great love for us, God’s desire to be known by us, and Christ’s willingness to come to meet us in our sinful state of estrangement.

It is important for us to take note of John’s word that Jesus brought “grace and truth.” It is tempting for us to understand Jesus as a bearer either of grace or of truth, not of both. One seems to reflect a liberal view of faith, the other a conservative view. One seems to speak of justice and law, the other of forgiveness and acceptance. One seems more concerned with holiness, the other more concerned with hospitality. Which is correct? Of course the answer is they both are.

Just as Jesus’ incarnation bound the human with the divine, so too his work binds grace and truth. This means on the one hand that God’s truth is unshakeable and on the other hand God’s grace is sufficient. God’s desire is nothing less than that we live holy, good, even perfect lives, but God does not approach us with an impossible standard by which we must prove our worthiness. Instead, God comes to us with love and grace, and he offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and a grand vision for life. He sees in us things we cannot see, and through his grace he calls forward the best and finest in our lives.

Good Father, I confess Jesus as my Lord and follow him through your grace and truth. Amen.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016 – Spiritual Vaccinations

He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.
– John 1:11

The second most-shocking thing for us to realize about Jesus may be that “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” The account of Jesus returning to Nazareth, preaching of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and calling for persons to join him in God’s mighty movement of salvation resulted not in the launch of such a mass movement, but rather in absolute rejection. It’s hard to imagine that those who knew Jesus best rejected him first.

Of course, in reality that kind of thing happens every day. The danger for us all is that we know Jesus… but only in part. When it comes to faith, it is abundantly true that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” Knowing Jesus in part may fool us into thinking we know enough. When this happens, we tend to domesticate our Lord; and we try to mold him into an image that suits us, a god who likes us just the way we are, and a master who asks little of us.

Such a partial knowledge tends to work like a vaccine, in which by receiving a weakened, less threatening form of a disease, a person is protected from getting the real thing. Perhaps the people of Nazareth knew something about Jesus, the son of Joseph, the little boy down the street, and this little knowledge served to vaccinate them from ever coming to know him as the Son of God. Perhaps the same thing happens to those of us who have known Jesus all our lives but have never found that our relationship with him threatens our way of living, upsets our sensibility, or calls us to take outrageous risks for the Gospel.

If you are happy with a cuddly little version of Jesus who never asks more of you than you are willing to give, then be advised that not a single person in the New Testament found Jesus to be so accommodating. By the way, that fact is the first most-shocking thing for us to realize about Jesus.

Good Father, forgive me for offering too little of me and wanting too little of you.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016 – When the Eternal Becomes Specific…

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
– John 1:6-8

John, the Evangelist, introduces his Gospel with an eternal assurance that God’s work of salvation was birthed at creation. Woven into this grand expression of God’s eternal plan is an account of the work of another John, John the Baptist. As we read the first chapter of John, we can see how the narrative moves back and forth from God’s eternal plan of salvation to John’s worldly work in Palestine. Back and forth the narrative shifts, as if the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world were being tightly woven together. Of course, this is exactly what the Gospel tells us happens through Christ Jesus, as the eternal grace and truth of God become specific in the lives of those who come to him in simple trust.

This blending of the eternal and the temporal, the heavenly and the worldly, the infinite and the finite is perfectly accomplished in the person Jesus Christ. This is also the offer of abundant life which Jesus makes to everyone who follows him. What happens in our lives as we encounter Jesus Christ is that the eternal promises, truth, and grace of God become powerfully specific in our situation, in our lives. As we respond, we are empowered to live fully and faithfully both in the world about us and in the kingdom of God within us. Our lives take on eternal significance, which is another way to say we “bear witness to the light.”

Good Father, shine your light in and through me. Amen.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016 – Light and Life

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:4-5

I am a hard-wired optimist, but even I have to confess that pain and sorrow, disappointment and death are no strangers to this world in which we live. What’s more, anyone who has been around for very long knows that the joys and sorrows of life are not evenly distributed. It seems heartache shows up every day at someone’s door as an uninvited guest.

Even those with the strongest faith must wonder why suffering abounds — not just why bad things happen to good people, but why bad things happen at all. John does not attempt to explain away suffering. Instead his Gospel is dedicated to the purpose that those who read it “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and that by believing they “may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

That life, John asserts, offers light, which is not only more powerful than, but is in fact incomprehensible to, the darkness of suffering and despair. Just as light dispels the darkness, so too a life centered in Christ Jesus finds powerful encouragement, hope, and wholeness even in the midst of doubt and disappointment, defeat and death. Such a relationship with Christ Jesus does not exempt a believer from experiencing the troubles and pains of this world, but it does rob suffering of its power to defeat.

Good Father, live in me… shine through me. Amen

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Sunday, September 11, 2016 – “In the Beginning…”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
- John 1:1-4

Everything has a beginning. September 11, a day in which Americans remember national tragedy, marks the beginning of “New Wine,” a college worship and Bible Study gathering. Perhaps today marks a beginning for you… beginning a new school year, beginning a new job, beginning a new relationship, beginning a new commitment to someone or something.

The Gospel of John begins at the beginning. Instead of recording a birth or infancy narrative of Jesus, John places the beginning of God’s work of salvation at the very beginning of time. Such an understanding is significant for at least three reasons.

First, experiencing a life of wisdom and blessing is rooted in God’s creative genius. God has created us to live in fulness in this wondrous universe.

Second, God had you and me on his mind at the beginning – even before we were born. This means that God’s love for us is neither initiated by our goodness nor negated by our waywardness. God’s blessings and love are designed on purpose for you and me… they always have been.

Third, we are assured that as we turn our lives Godward, we experience life and light on God’s grand terms, just as God planned in the beginning.

A life of wisdom and wholeness, blessings and purpose, begins in creation and in relation with God.  Perhaps today marks a beginning of that kind of life.

A Bible-study devotional by Gorman Houston