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The Word: Coming Soon: Light!

“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)

We usually think of John the Baptist from our Sunday School lessons as that rugged guy who lived in the wilderness dressed in itchy clothes eating locusts and honey. And he was that guy, the one who baptized Jesus. But what an amazing place he is given in John’s epic telling of Jesus, the Word. He is The Witness.

book2_350John is the first human mentioned by name in Jesus’ story. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he was given a specific mission to tell God’s people God’s message for a specific place and time. The people, hungry to hear God’s voice after 400 years of silence (i.e., no true prophets), flocked to hear this radical man’s teaching.

The message: “You people live in darkness, and you’ve been waiting for the light. Change your ways now, because the light is here. Repent, be baptized, and get ready to really see for the first time in your lives.”

Think: What would it be like to live your whole life in total darkness (underground or something) and then one day suddenly see light for the first time? How would that change your life?

Pray: Thank God for sending John the Baptist to prepare the way for the light.

Do: Find a dark room in your house and sit in the darkness for five minutes. Think about the difference between living in darkness and living in light on a spiritual level.

The Word: Life Light

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:3-5)

John 1 reads like poetry in that you almost have to read every simple line two or three times to really get what it’s saying. John continues to make these giant claims about Jesus in very straightforward statements. From this passage, here’s what we know about him.

book2_3501) He is the Creator of all created things in the universe. (That includes us.)

2) Life is in him. He took part in igniting the spark of life – and he is the only path to eternal life.

3) His life is our light. Without him, we are in blind spiritual darkness.

4) His light is not hidden. It shines out for all to see.

5) The darkness cannot extinguish his light; it will never go out.

Think: Do you usually think of Jesus as the Creator? If not, how does that change your perception of him?

Pray: Thank God for sending the light into your darkness to give you real and eternal life with him.

Do: Make a list of 20 things that Jesus was involved in creating – things “made” by him at the beginning of time.

The Word: First Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

In the first chapter of his book about Jesus, John packs some huge ideas about Jesus into just a few simple sentences. That’s good writing. Even those of us who take God’s Word as just that don’t often give it credit for being well written. God took great care to make sure the words used to communicate his Word were not just meaningful, but also delivered with excellence.

book2_350It’s no accident, then, that John’s first big idea is to call Jesus “the Word.” You’ve probably heard that the original Greek word for “word” is logos. That word was known both to Greek philosophy and Jewish theology. It was a perfect word to introduce the idea of Jesus to everyone in John’s audience – on the way to introducing us to the reality of Jesus as the Son of God.

The first thing we learn about this logos is that it’s more than just a connection between God and the material world; it is a he. The logos is a person – a person who has been around since the beginning, a person who has been with God, a person who is God.

Think: Have you ever wondered why John called Jesus “the Word” and not “the Picture”? Why do you think God puts such value on words? Why not reveal his truth in video instead of text?

Pray: Ask God to help you get to know him better by better understanding his Word and all the words in it.

Do: Think about memorizing John 1:1-14 this week.

Like Jesus: Nothing Left

“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:17-18)

A drink offering was one of several types of offerings used by the Jews for worshipping God. It usually accompanied a “meal offering,” and most of Paul’s Jewish readers probably could picture the priest pouring out the wine as a sacrifice to God. Paul saw his own life being poured out; he was in prison and knew he might be killed soon for teaching about Jesus.

steps_350Did you notice what the drink offering, Paul’s life, is being poured over? The Philippian’s “sacrifice and service” to and for God. Paul had introduced them to Jesus. They had responded by trusting in Christ. That faith resulted in living such good lives that they stood out as shining stars in their generation. Paul said it was worth his whole life to help make that happen.

If you play sports, some coach has probably yelled at you at some point to “leave it all on the field” or the “court” or in the “cage” (depending on your sport). Paul’s life was poured out. He used it all up to hand his faith off to the next generation. The result? Gladness and joy for him — and for his readers.

Think: If you were in prison for preaching Jesus with a real chance of being killed, do you think you would see that as a “victory” worth being glad about?

Pray: Ask God to help you use your whole life up in serving Him.

Do: If you watch a lot of sports, give yourself one point for every time you hear the worlds “leave it all on the court” this next month.

Like Jesus: Run for Nothing?

“. . . in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” (Philippians 2:15-16)

Some people don’t like the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a book of great wisdom, but it asks a lot of hard questions — and it doesn’t answer all of them completely. The author’s most famous line is the first one: “Meaningless, meaningless, says the Preacher, all is meaningless.” Solomon concludes more than once that you won’t find the answer to life’s meaning “under the sun.”

steps_350In his writings — also inspired by God but after the mystery of Jesus is revealed — Paul answers a lot of Solomon’s Ecclesiastes questions more fully by showing all the meaning that flows into our lives from “beyond the sun” through knowing Jesus. Today’s passage is one of those answers. Here he says that his life — his mission — will be meaningful when the Philippians (and other believers of his day) live in such a way as to “hold out the word of life” to the next generation of Christians.

A life that matters involves passing the torch of faith in Jesus to others who are looking for meaning in their lives. As Paul describes it, those living in the darkness of a crooked generation will notice people in the light. Are you ready to talk about the source of your light with anyone who asks?

Think: Do you think Paul’s life would really have been less meaningful if the Philippians had not pointed others to Jesus? Do you think he was confident that they would?

Pray: Ask God to help you live in a way that would attract unbelievers to come to you looking for the light.

Do: Whatever you do, do NOT start singing the camp song “Pass It On” in your head today; you’ll never get it out. (“It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .”)

Like Jesus: Shiny Much?

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

I heard somebody say recently, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” That’s a sticky idea that is both true and false, I think. The true part of it is that I cannot hope to make people judge me fairly. I can’t expect that everyone will like me for who I am. I shouldn’t make it my job in relationships to be universally accepted. Some people will like me; others won’t. That’s okay.

steps_350But in the verses we’ll notice today and tomorrow, Paul says that statement is also false. What others think of us as Christians is exactly our business. Why? Because people will base their opinion of Jesus on how much of Him they see in us. Our reputation can attract seekers to life in Christ — or make them want to gag at the thought of being “one of us.”

How to be attractive? Paul says, “Don’t complain.” “Don’t argue.” That will lead toward our being “blameless” (no obvious big failings in our lives) and “pure” (belonging only to God). We will become known as God’s children — good kids who stick out in a generation that loves to do wrong.

Think: Be honest with yourself. What does the reputation of you and your Christian friends together say about Jesus?

Pray: Ask God for the self control to obey Him so you can shine for Him in your generation.

Do: Listen to yourself today. Write down on a list every time you complain or argue. If it’s a lot, track it every day this week and see if you do it less by thinking about it more.

Like Jesus: Fear and Tremblin’

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

What this passage is NOT saying: In order to keep your salvation — your place in heaven with God forever — you’d better do everything right. You’d better earn it with lots of good works. Be very afraid, because if you don’t keep working out your salvation God won’t let you in.

steps_350Why it is NOT saying that: Paul had written this to these same people one chapter ago: “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:6). Paul was confident every person in Christ would be made perfect. No need to worry that you won’t make it.

What I think this passage IS saying: You are saved people! Saved people obey God! Don’t stop obeying Him. Be afraid. Be awestruck. Why? Because the all-powerful God of the universe is going to use your obedient life to accomplish His plan for the universe. It might be hard, but what an amazing and meaningful (and thrilling and sometimes terrifying) way to live!

Think: Does the idea of the God of all using your little life to accomplish His forever plan scare you a little? Does the idea of disobeying Him scare you? Why or why not?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be afraid of all the right things and fearless of everything else.

Do: Read Philippians 2:5-11 again and notice how the Father used Jesus’ obedient life to accomplish His plan.