The Word: Exclusive Rights

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As all 5th graders know, that’s from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Our founders believed God had granted these rights to every single human being.

book2_350But God grants another right not listed in that document – and contrary to what many of us think, it’s not a right he gives to everyone. He only gives this special right to people who “receive him” and “believe in his name.” More specifically, it is a God-given right limited to those who believe Jesus is God and receive him as Savior. Those who do not believe Jesus is God don’t get this right. Those who do not receive Jesus as their only hope to be with God do not get this right. Believe and receive, John says.

Then and only then will Jesus give us the right to be God’s children, to be included in his own family, to belong with him in heaven forever. It is not a right we earn. And we do not make ourselves God’s children by believing and receiving. We are given the right and God immediately signs the adoption papers. We are his kids now.

Think: How do you feel about the idea that the right to be God’s child is not given freely to everyone no matter what they believe? Are you grateful to God for adopting you?

Pray: Thank God for helping you to believe in Jesus’ name and to receive him as the only way to be with God forever. (If you haven’t done that, what are you waiting for?)

Do: Make a short list of your God-given rights, as best as you understand them.

The Word: Rejected

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)

It’s no wonder the plot of so many science fiction stories are based on the true story of Jesus. The whole thing is mind-blowing. The creator of all things manages to somehow squeeze himself into the world of his creation, to be one of them, to experience life from the perspective of a created thing without losing an ounce of his “godness.”

book2_350And the creation is not a sculpture garden or a novel or an animatronic stage play. It’s a living, breathing collection of individuals, every one of whom has chosen to “go his own way” away from the creator. Still, he has come to rescue them, the rebels, his creatures, his self-declared enemies. He has come to surrender and to suffer and to save them from their defiance. And yet when he arrives, nothing.

From pure willful pride and foolish ignorance, they could not see that blinding light blazing in the darkness. Some walked past as if he were a stranger. Others joined the plot to kill him. A very few, we’ll see tomorrow, believed the creator could wear sandals and take naps and reclaim their souls.

Think: Do you sometimes wonder if the story of Jesus is too fantastical to be true? Why do you believe it?

Pray: Thank God for creating you – and then sending the Son to rescue you for him.

Do: List any movies or books you can think of about a long-awaited chosen one sent to save the world. Or at least notice how that story meshes with the gospel next time you see it in another story.

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 . . .”)