A Self Diet

Dieting and weight loss have become a stand-alone industry. I'm amazed by the onslaught of ads and commercials everywhere I look—TV, social media, billboards. Physical fitness programs are often linked with specialized diets.

I don't know why I'm amazed by all the focus on diet and fitness. It all lines up with our cultural obsession with self and appearance. Of course, even selling "healthy" junk food and trendy cars appeal to this obsessive focus.

It's a paradox of sorts. Culturally, we honor self-sacrifice and service to others by first responders and military personnel, while we elevate the value of whatever promotes ourselves for our highest satisfaction. We're values-conflicted. Self-sacrifice and self-exaltation are two opposite values.

I use to hear people say, "America is a Christian nation" or that we have a Christian heritage. Not so much anymore. Perhaps one reason is our values conflict. As a Christian—a follower of Jesus—exalting our self isn't just a paradox, it's the exact opposite of Jesus' call to follow Him (Matt 16:24). Concerned about your diet? How about a self-diet? It's the diet John the Baptizer was on, along with Jesus.

Scripture

Later, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized people. John was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim. Water was plentiful there. (People came to John to be baptized, since John had not yet been put in prison.)

Some of John’s disciples had an argument with a Jew about purification ceremonies. So they went to John and asked him, “Rabbi, do you remember the man you spoke so favorably about when he was with you on the other side of the Jordan River? Well, he’s baptizing, and everyone is going to him!”  [vss 22-26]

John answered, “People can’t receive anything unless it has been given to them from heaven. You are witnesses that I said, ‘I’m not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’

“The groom is the person to whom the bride belongs. The best man, who stands and listens to him, is overjoyed when the groom speaks. This is the joy that I feel. He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance. [vss 21-30]

“The person who comes from above is superior to everyone. I, a person from the earth, know nothing but what is on earth, and that’s all I can talk about. The person who comes from heaven is superior to everyone and tells what he has seen and heard. Yet, no one accepts what he says. I have accepted what that person said, and I have affirmed that God is truthful.  [vss 31-33]

The man whom God has sent speaks God’s message. After all, God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, he will see God’s constant [continuing] anger.” [vss 34-36]

(John 3:22-36 GW)

Key phrase—

He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What prompts John the Baptizer's disciples to question him about Jesus?

  • What seems to be bothering John's disciples about Jesus?

  • How does John answer the concerns of his disciples? What does he tell them?

  • In what way does John say he needs to decrease while Jesus increases?

Reflection...

John the Baptizer's final testimony about Jesus is consistent with what he said at the beginning of his ministry. He knew his role as the "the best man" to the groom—that is, Jesus (verses 27-28). John's own disciples were jealous of Jesus but John set the record straight for them— He must increase... I must decrease

John's testimony is what every follower of Jesus ought to hold true in their heart. A true encounter with Jesus and His grace is a humbling experience. We realize who He is and our place as a believer. As John said, "(He) is from above... I (am) from the earth (verse 31).

John's testimony at the end of this chapter (3) ties into the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus at the beginning. Jesus told Nicodemus of his (and our) need to be born from above. It's an invitation to enter into a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

But there's a caveat. Whoever rejects trusting in Jesus will not receive eternal life. Rejecting a relationship with the Lord means continuing in a self-focused life. There is no upside to this choice. It brings exclusion from God's kingdom—His domain of gracious love and eternal life. This is a choice we all make at some point in life. If we're unwilling to go on a "self-diet," this choice is made by default.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is John's statement about decreasing in importance just as relevant for us now as it was for him then?

  • How is it possible for us to decrease in importance so Jesus can increase in importance?

  • In what way can this take place in your own life? How can John's example guide you?

  • Since this idea of decreasing our self importance is so opposite of what's common in our culture, what are specific steps that anyone can begin to take to do this?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This—  A personal relationship with the Lord Jesus only comes through a personal encounter with God's grace. When we truly experience God's grace, it will bring a humility and desire for the Lord's nature to increase in us and our selfish nature to decrease.

Prayer Focus—  Does your heart desire and cry out for the Lord's nature to increase within you at the cost of your own selfish nature? If not, ask the Lord to work in your heart in a fresh way by His grace.

©2018—Word-Strong

The Value of Orality and Biblical Storying

This week I'm featuring the first of two podcasts I was privileged to be a part of with Pastor Jeff Jackson and Bryon Mondok of Shepherd's Staff Mission Facilitators whom I've worked with for many years. Shepherd's Staff has also been and still is our agency for handling our missions support for many years.

You might want to check out Part 1 for some background to this podcast– Orality Movement Part 1

I hope it's an encouragement to you and gives you some insight about orality—what it is—and biblical storying and how it became one of the ministry tools I gained in the process of doing ministry overseas and at home in the US.

Drawn to the Light

Light attracts insects at night. Living in the tropical climate of the Philippines for many years, it seemed like zillions of insects came out at night. They would gather at porch lights and our security lights around the property. So would the geckos and other creatures who fed on them.

Light is powerful. Daily activity dramatically increases with the dawn of a new day. Many people are drawn to seashores as the sun breaks through the night and floods the sky and sea with its powerful beams of light.

When encouraging people in the midst of their personal darkness, we speak of light at the end of the tunnel as an expression of hope to come. But when a person's soul is crushed with anguish and hopelessness, they tend to draw back into the darkness and shadows around them. And too often, many dark deeds seem more likely to occur at night than during the day.

The first act of creation is God speaking light into existence (Gen 1:3) and God is—by nature—Light (1 John 1:5). John declares at the beginning of his gospel that, Jesus is the light of life for all humanity and His light is never conquered or extinguished.

Scripture

No one has gone to heaven except the Son of Man, who came from heaven. “As Moses lifted up the snake ⌊on a pole⌋ in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” [vss 13-15]

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Those who believe in him won’t be condemned. But those who don’t believe are already condemned because they don’t believe in God’s only Son. [vss 16-19]

This is why people are condemned: The light came into the world. Yet, people loved the dark rather than the light because their actions were evil. People who do what is wrong hate the light and don’t come to the light. They don’t want their actions to be exposed. But people who do what is true come to the light so that the things they do for God may be clearly seen. [vss 19-21]

(John 13-21 GW)

Key phrase—

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who alone has gone to heaven and come from there? What illustration is given that is connected to this?

  • How does this statement about the Son of Man and this illustration relate to the famous Bible verse—John 3:16?

  • What great assurances and promises are given in this familiar Scripture?

  • What are the contrasting statements given in this text and how are they not in opposition or contradiction to each other?

Reflection...

Probably the most quoted Bible verse is found in this chapter—John 3:16. But to understand the greatness of God's love and His promise of eternal life, we need to understand its context.

John speaks of the Lord's death on the cross as a point of restoration and likens it to when Moses erected a bronze snake in the sand as a visual connection to God's healing power for those bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness (Numbers 21:5-9).

John then points out the purpose of Jesus coming to earth—when God became human—to bring redemption for all humanity—to heal and restore humanity. God personally intervened in human history to provide a cure for the poisonous effect of sin.

But, receiving this promise of restoration and eternal life is a choice. Sadly, many people can't or won't let go of the darkness in their lives to embrace the light and receive this promise of abundant and eternal life Jesus offers. But those who are drawn to His Light and receive this promise are healed and restored by the great love of God.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • What condemns a person—their sin or their unbelief? How is this known from this text?

  • What is the important choice a person needs to make between light and darkness and why do you think it's difficult to make?  

  • Why do you think many non-believers see Christians as judgmental when Jesus did not come into the world to judge it?

  • How would you tell others these truths in your own words (IYOW) so they understood them?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— God so loved the world but the world did not love Him back. God proved His love by giving His Son as a Mediator and Savior for all those who choose to trust in Him—turning their backs on the darkness of sin to embrace the powerful light of His love.

Prayer Focus— If you haven't experienced God's healing restoration by believing and trusting in Him, don't wait any longer—simply ask Him to be Lord of your life in your own words. If you've trusted in God's Son, ask the Lord for opportunities and simple, clear words to share this great promise.

©2018—Word-Strong

Born From Above

Christian believers use a lot of terms and expressions foreign to nonbelievers. Even many who attend church regularly don't know the meaning of some of these terms.

A common one is born again. Believers will ask people, "Are you born again?" as if the person would know what they're talking about. Sometimes believers approach a person and tell them, "You need to be born again!" But unless it's explained, the term doesn't mean much to them.

Trouble at the Temple

Under the Mosaic Law even when Jesus walked the earth, Jewish men were expected to attend three feasts celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem—the Feasts of Passover (and Unleavened Bread), Pentecost (or Weeks), and Tabernacles (or Booths).

These were important as memorials of God's faithfulness to His people at pivotal points in their history. They were also events that held greater meaning and significance for the future of those who trust in the God of Israel—the Living God.

As with many events and miraculous signs in John's gospel, this event at the end of Chapter 2 was illustrative of the Lord's ministry on earth with eternal impact and significance.