Why no other holy book, origin theory or philosophy is as important as one child’s birth in Bethlehem.
God changed humanity’s view of him in one moment by becoming completely personal, taking away all reasons to describe him as distant, uninvolved, uncaring or unconcerned.
This is why we have the divine touchdown in Bethlehem. In a moment, God became more personal and greater than we imagined. Here are a few thoughts that aren’t normally addressed in the typical Christmas message series and are relevant year-round:
1) God is personal. No religion, philosophy, or origin theory can match Jesus’ taking our form in humility, to reveal love. This is seen most clearly in the cross, but it begins the moment Mary says, “Be it to me according to your word.” God takes on human form, to serve us in love, his hands in the dirt with us.
This matters, because we are all relational. In fact, we are nothing if not relational, and the most relational, meaningful connector is God. This is why Jesus’ incarnation was necessary. This is why it continually defied religious and political expectations while transcending human ability.
2. God does the impossible. This is not a theory. “Miracles” are not metaphor; they happen in real time. The impossible cannot be reinterpreted as a detached spiritual reality we can achieve like a monk in a meditative state. God breaks in holistically, healing physical bodies, delivering us from powerless spiritual philosophizing, parting physical seas and breaking down dividing walls in heart and just war.
Of course, monks are great. Yet the kind of spiritual life modeled by Jesus (and then the twelve, the 72, the deacons of the early church and others) meant something in the physical world. Material needs were met by compassion in hands-on care which often resulted in supernatural demonstration. In essence, God cares enough to break in to impossible situations and surpass our expectations.
3. Maturity is a relational process. Perfection grows in relationship. Morality, character and authenticity form through open-hearted relationship with the Father. God.
This means “perfection” cannot come through disinterested detachment -- everything in God, his created universe and created humanity is interrelated and relational. Detachment, if we can use the word, finds its only context in submission to God’s love. It is a tool to get us back on track, not the track itself. Maturity and “being perfected” in Christ occurs within relationship with God and the world around us, not apart from these things.
Jesus modeled this, as he who was without sin was born as a baby. Not only did Jesus enter humanity in the form of a servant, but in complete vulnerability as a child. He, though perfect, grew in perfection. This means that spiritual growth is not sin management. Spiritual growth happens through our relationship with God, as we grow. Sin is the hinderance, not a source of nutrition, for spiritual growth. Seeing sin in our lives can motivate us to grow, but only God can bring growth.
“Presence” felt without the Person known is a fire without fuel; it can flash, it can impress, but it cannot live. Its warmth is fleeting, a tease. A cold emptiness is the spirituality which has taken on the language and tone of intimacy as a cloak while leaving the Persons of the Trinity. It is possible to leave God relationally yet hold onto him theoretically, theologically and experientially. Each of these paths are also unspiritual, definitively unchristian. (See: Matthew 7; 1 Corinthians 13; Revelation 3:14-22)
We grow cold, even if wrapped in the pretense of experience, “knowledge”, or loving others through justice. Eventually, the source of our spirituality will no longer be named “God”, but philosophy, politics, maneuvering, or people’s need.
All of these are temporary, unjust and cannot satisfy the human heart. It is possible to appear spiritual and not know the One Spirit; it is possible to be called “Christian” without being Christ’s.
When God calls us, he calls us in one direction. To himself.
Jesus’ ministry is more than salvation from sin. It’s more than giving us spiritual gifts, integrity of character or other blessings. It is to bring us to maturity. The funny thing is, he uses other people to help us get there (see Ephesians 4:11-16). We'll talk more about that in a minute. First, let's talk about Jesus' ministry for a moment.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus often healed everyone present before teaching. He didn’t teach about healing before doing the work of healing! He healed masses, and those who saw him restore so many bodies stuck around to hear what he had to say. The spiritual gift and the blessing of healing was the beginning. It caused them to begin to see him for who he is.
The expression of God's power in healing is invaluable. Healing brings people closer to a good, heavenly Father. It prepares them to receive more. Before giving the Beattitudes, Jesus healed all and then went up the mountain -- Many were compelled to follow him and to listen to him. Because of the healing which took place, they stuck around to hear the Beattitudes, which is a simple teaching on how the Creator created the world to really work.
The power and compassion of God led people to listen, and learn how to live and what to believe.
Today, the ministry of the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus, empowers us to know him and become like him. This means we can grow up! When we spiritually grow up, yes, other Christians might note our maturity, but world will see us like Jesus. This is important! We become as Jesus is to such a degree those who don’t know him recognize him in our lives. They can recognize him through our works and through the way we live our lives.
Yes, following Jesus means we can learn to do the type of works Jesus did, while doing them according to his will. This means we do God's works the way he is doing them right now. It’s a terrible day when one sees a paraplegic healed... if the person who ministered to them, giving God’s merciful healing gift, then heaps onto the person a bunch of duties and legalistic requirements. Instead of legalism, the one ministering healing to them should lead them to Jesus, the one who healed them and shepherds their soul. Adding legalistic requirements and the traditions of people will both pervert grace and leave the person in a worse place than where they started.
In addition, Matthew 7 tells us we can heal, deliver, set free -- but it means nothing if we do not also obey. Those are two different things to Jesus. Paul reinforces this when says we can have prophetic powers and perform great acts, but they are nothing without love - Love is the reason we obey, and the reason we can exercise supernatural expressions of power in our lives (1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1).
In the mature Christian, acts of love, might and righteousness coexist. They happen together. Love, might and righteousness are united. When we are mature, we don’t think that it’s okay to compromise love in order to act righteous, or that we can pursue social justice in an unrighteous way.
The Father of Lights is the true light from whom every other light comes. He literally radiates from his throne in Heaven, and every good thing comes from him (James 1:17). Jesus was the perfect representative of the Father (Hebrews 1:3) and his nature in a dark world, and as such was the actual Light of the World (John 8:12). When his life comes into someone, they become lights to the world as well (Matthew 5:14). This is not figurative speech. It is a reality which others will notice in our lives.
When God’s Light shines through someone, we see them as righteous, happy, powerful, loving, gentle, or any other number of things. Yet these are all rays of the same light, like light shining through a prism and different colors coming out. Just as oranges and reds of a sunset are colors emanating from the same sun, so the works, the gifts, the fruit of the Spirit of the Father are all outshinings of his grace which touch our lives. We tend to prioritize what parts of God we want most, or which ones our church or community likes most. But we need all of them to become like Jesus. We need all of them to be mature (Ephesians 4:15-16).
We need each other, so we can each share our own relationships with Jesus with each other, so we can impart spiritual gifts to each other and so grow in love together. This is one of the reasons for Glory Nights -- we host speakers from other places in the Body of Christ to share with us their wisdom, teaching and gifts. It’s also why we have small groups.. Everyone has something to bring.
Jesus offers way more than we realize, and wants us to be mature in order to represent him and the Father to our world. To do this, we need more than to worship together on Sundays and hear a good message. Unity in community is one of the absolute best ways to grow in Jesus. Keep a lookout for our small group launch in the beginning of October, where members of Spirit of Christ will be launching groups. Each will be an opportunity for us to grow in Christ, and build each other up in love. Also, keep a lookout for upcoming Glory Nights and events (such as Dr. Melodye Hilton on September 8) to grow close to Jesus by hearing from someone who walks with him in the Spirit and truth, but with a different expression than you or I have.
I am EXCITED for the days ahead, and I am glad we’re doing it together!
All the best and God bless,
Spirit of Christ Church, Chambersburg
Christians value the Bible. Those who aren't Christians yet often first discover Jesus' reality and God-nature through reading the Bible. It is by far the best-selling book of all time, and would regularly top the charts if it were to be counted. In a world filled with debate and division, it’s helpful to know if the Bible can be trusted. However, there are many theologians and teachers out there who say the Bible is God’s word yet don’t trust it to be accurate.
If it is accurate, it gives us solid ground in an ever-changing world. If it is God's word, we have confidence to hold our convictions firm. Convictions and beliefs may grow over time, but they won't have to change. Even our identity as loved sons and daughters of God can grow stronger. As others struggle for acceptance, legitimacy and hope, we can be the open arms they need.
So -- Is the Bible accurate? Is it really infallible? Is it really God’s word?
Jesus believes it is.
Daniel Akin shows us how accurate and trustworthy Jesus found the Old Testament to be:
“Jesus consistently treated the historical narratives of the Old Testament as straightforward records of fact. He referred to Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Matt 24:37-39), Abraham (John 8:56), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt 10:15, 11:23-24), Lot (Luke 17:28-32), Isaac and Jacob (Matt 8:11), the manna (John 6:31), the wilderness serpent (John 3:14), David (Matt 22:43), Solomon (Matt 6:29, 12:42), Elijah (Luke 4:25-26), Elisha (Luke 4:27), Jonah (Matt 12:39-41), and Moses (Matt 8:4), among others. Nowhere is there the slightest hint that he questioned the historicity or accuracy of the accounts.
It is interesting to note that Jesus often chose as the basis of his teaching those very stories that many modern skeptics find unacceptable (e.g., Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Jonah). For Jesus, Scripture was the final court of appeal in his disputes with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In his battle against Satan in the wilderness, Jesus cited scriptural statements as arguments against which no further argument was possible (Matt 4:1-11). Jesus might set aside or reject the Rabbinic or Pharisaical interpretation of the Old Testament (cf. Matt 5:21-48), but He never questioned its authority or truthfulness.”
[Daniel L. Akin, “What Did Jesus Believe About the Bible?” from truelife.org.]
Jesus sees the Bible as historical fact!! And he doesn't only see it as historical fact, but filled with life lessons and trustworthy teachings. Jesus even declared that the Old Testament speaks of him. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44-45)
In the end, the Bible is not our hope, Jesus is. And Jesus says we can find him in the Scriptures, the Christian Bible. We can have expectation we will meet him there!
For an incredible article on this topic, read "Jesus Christ and the Inerrancy of Scripture" at Associates for Biblical Research. (link)