The Eaton Family

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fully God, fully man. So what?

In John 1, we hear that the word became flesh. Later on, in John 5, we see this idea expressed a little bit differently when Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man while claiming the same authority as the Father. The concept of God coming down to earth, taking on flesh while not abandoning any of His godly attributes is a difficult one to grasp, yet it is vital to understanding why Christianity is totally unique among world religions.

It's also vital to our understanding of how we relate to God. 

Every other faith depicts a god(s) that is elevated above and set apart from humanity. He, she, it is superior, powerful, sometimes demanding, frequently fearsome, always distant, capricious, difficult to access or approach and, quite often, dangerous.

In Christ, God, rather than being set apart from man, becomes man. He dwells among us, even dwells in us (John 14:17). He is a God who relates to His people, experiences the things they experience (Heb 4:15), walks where they walk, feels their pain and knows their joy. He is a God who delights in His children (Psalm 41:11).

He suffered (Heb 2:18). Try to find a god in any other religion that lives among His people and suffers, not just as  a martyr, but in the place of  His children, providing a way for them to come to Him, not by their efforts...but by His, ensuring their salvation by the works of His own hand.

In Christ, we have a God that comes to us rather than a God that must be aspired to, worked for, searched for, always apart from and never attainable, at least not in this world. In Jesus, God
becomes a God that relates to us and we to Him. He is flesh and blood, accessible, loving, self sacrificing and drawing His children to Him by His grace and mercy, not by His demands. Jesus comes to us with open arms, ready to embrace us, becoming our advocate to the Father, not as prosecutor. 

Our Savior is unique, personal and loving, bestowing honor and blessing upon those who come to Him, believe in Him and obey Him. Even our obedience to Him rises up, not out of fear...but out of our love for Him. 

What an awesome, amazing, singular, one true God we serve!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Such A Rich Tapestry

One of the fascinating aspects of the story about the woman

at the well (John 4:4-32) is how delicately orchestrated, by the hand of God, everything had to be in order for that meeting between the Samaritan woman and Jesus to occur. You could say that every event, every twist and turn, in the lives of all involved led them to that particular spot on that particular moment. 

Consider the things that might have happened to cause the woman to get to the well a few minutes early or a few minutes late...and miss Jesus.

If we could see an overview of our lives, I think it would reveal a rich and beautiful tapestry of decisions, influences, surprises, successes and failures, times of elation, boredom and drudgery,  all of it orchestrated and/or used by God to bring us down a carefully laid path to where He wants us to be.

We may not always like where we are. But, if we truly believe God is sovereign, we are always where He wants us to be. God uses the mountain top, the valley, the wilderness and the land of plenty to draw us nearer. The tapestry is always woven by His hand, always revealing His presence in our lives.

We caught a peek at the tapestry yesterday at church. 

Right after the service, folks were welcoming our new Pastor, Seth and his wife, Beka. Kelly was chatting with Beka's mom,
Terry Kubik. Terry and Alan made the trip from Orlando with Seth, Beka. We're all excited and eager to see what God does in and through Seth and Beka in the life of our church family. The Kubiks are excited about this new chapter in Seth and Beka's life. But the moment is bittersweet for them as they move their loved ones 900 miles up the coast. Still, Alan, a godly man, has been confident that this was all God's plan from the moment we contacted Seth and asked to interview him. 

Yesterday, Alan's confidence got a boost. 

Kelly spent her high school years in Orlando, where we met. She was chatting with Terry about their common hometown and found more things in common than they thought. They lived on the same side of town, in roughly the same neighborhood, at approximately the same and attended the same local college. 

Do you see the weaving beginning to appear?

From there, they discovered they went to the same high school. Then they found they were in the same graduating class! Not only that, but they had actually been in a few classes together! They had common friends, teachers, classroom, experiences...God was unfolding a plan that was at least 35 years, if not two generations, in the making, right before their eyes. 

The tapestry was amazingly intricate and wondrous.

There was great joy, blessing and peace, all at once (and a lot of giggling and laughter.) Further discussion revealed that Terry's parents live in the same neighborhood where Kelly's mom lives, approximately three streets away! 

God was working on bringing Seth to Warrenton for quite some time. All the while, He was working in our lives as well, forming an amazingly complex, awesomely beautiful tapestry in order to put on display His great love for His children and His absolute, sovereign, immutable and perfect plan for our lives.  

Look at the results! Alan and Terry are no longer leaving their daughter and son-in-law with aliens in an alien land. Seth and Beka can take joy and peace in a difficult decision to trust God, uproot themselves from all they are familair with and begin anew. The church family at WBF can bask in answered prayers and heartfelt desires to honor God in all we do. 

When I sat before a local ordination council, ten years ago, the moderator said this prior to recommending ordination for ministry, "John, we acknowledge your calling. If you ever face a dark hour in your ministry, remember this day when you sat before twelve men of God...and they affirmed that you are right where God wants you to be. Don't despair in that moment, know God is with you and learn from it." That had a huge impact on me as we faced the struggles of realizing there was so much to learn and so much to thank God for, every day. 

God's tapestry should be that same type of encouragement, keeping us level headed and thankful for our triumphs...and
keeping us humble and trusting in  our stumbles, always aware that God is in control and using whatever we are going through to refine us, sanctify us and bring us closer to Him. It doesn't make the hard times any easier. Painful times can still be painful. But it does, at all times, give us hope for the future and the promise of glory regardless of what we endure today. God's tapestry is His promise, His deposit, on our future in eternity with Him (Php 1:6). 

The blessings continue. When  we got home last night, Kelly looked in her yearbook. She found a note from Terry, "...let's keep in touch!"

Indeed...and Amen! The tapestry is not yet finished. It continues to be woven by the Master Craftsman. I can hardly wait to see what it reveals next.

Monday, May 26, 2014

5 Lessons We Can Learn From the Woman At the Well

I don't always get to share everything I'm thinking nor everything I've discovered in a passage when I preach through it on Sunday morning. Never has this been more true than in our current series in the Gospel of John, "Light In the Darkness". Yesterday's sermon, "The Gospel Comes to Samaria" was on the last half of chapter 4 which deals with the Samaritan woman at the well, verses 27-42. 

John's gospel is rich in theology, rich in its depiction of God's redemptive plan and rich in practical application, as well. In chapter 4 we see the sovereign, omniscient nature of God in how Jesus knew about the woman's life (John 4:17-18). We also get a glimpse of God's plan of redemption for all mankind being rolled out to the world in that Jesus was sharing His truth with people other than the Jews. We find practical application in seeing that all the events in the lives of all the players in this scenario converge on this little well in an obscure town, demonstrating that God's plans and purpose are the anchors and guides in our lives. We can trust in Him and in His promises. 

Still, there are lessons to be learned about sharing the gospel as well, at least 5 of them:

There's never a bad time to share the gospel
Jesus was in a hostile area in the presence of an undesirable person. While I would not recommend that any man witness to a woman in any inappropriate context, looking at this situation for what it is, Jesus was in a wide-open public place and maintained an attitude of respect and compassion when many would have turned up their nose. Folks need to hear the truth, whenever possible, in the most kind and loving way. 

Everyone, all people, need to hear it
Chapters 2 and 3 of John prove it. The Jews, who thought they didn't, the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews,
the woman, who was despised by the Samaritans, the lowest of the low and the highest of the high all need to hear the gospel. In our time, that means atheists, Muslims, Hindus, serial killers, even members of the opposite political party. No one is beyond redemption. No one is unworthy of the truth. 

There is no way to tell how much impact our sharing will have
We may never see it. Our call is not to see the results. It is to share the message. No doubt, the disciples were surprised to see the townspeople coming toward Jesus (John 4:35). It didn't stop with the woman (John 4:39). It didn't stop with the original group that came out to the well (John 4:41). It's still going on today. The message is eternal. That's why it's so powerful.

We all have a part in how the gospel goes forward
This is the beauty of the sower/reaper analogy (John 4:36-38). It takes teamwork with everybody pitching in. In an actual crop field (at least back in the 1st Century), there were sowers, cultivators, many who watered, many who weeded, some who watched over the field at night, some who guarded it from predators and many hands involved in the harvest right on in to storage and distribution. This is why God assembles us in church families. Every member is important. Every member has a gift and a job to do (1 Cor 12:12-26). 

Wherever you are, that's your mission field
The disciples could easily have missed the opportunity in Samaria, thinking their goal was Galilee (John 4:3). We can make this mistake of believing all the important work of evangelism is in some far-away, foreign land or in the inner-city. It's also easy for us to consider John 4:35 to be an end-times directive and miss that the harvest is right now, right here! There is much to be said for the idea that a sovereign God has placed us where He wants us to be. Our mission field is right here, right now. Look around you, what do you see?

John 4 is an important building block in John's case for establishing Jesus as Messiah for all people, and us as those who are called to proclaim that truth. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Happened to Uzzah??

One of those passages we tend to struggle with is the story of Uzzah (2 Sam 6:5-7, 1 Chron 13:9), the hapless man who, in apparently good intentions, tried to keep the ark of the Covenant from falling off a cart. 

Here's a quick recap of what was going on:

The ark was a symbol of the presence of God among His

chosen people, the place where God would "meet and speak to His people" (Ex 25:22) With it came a set of precise and complex guidelines regarding its handling and transport (Num 4:15, 7:9). 

The Philistines had captured the ark, incurring a whole raft of problems (1 Sam 5). Rather dramatically, they send it back to Israel (1 Sam 6:1-11) with results that should have been cause for great concern and care in its handling (1 Sam 6:12-21). The ark ends up in the house of Abinadab in Kiriath-jearim. Abinidab is in charge of the ark and Uzzah is one of his sons. 

David miraculously defeats the Philistines and decides it's time to bring the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:2). 

This is where the trouble starts.

Instead of following the strict protocols, given by God, in
transporting the ark, Abinidab and his sons, now apparently consecrated to serve in moving and caring for the ark (Num 4:4-20, 1 Sam 7:1), change the way the ark is moved. They decide to put it on a cart. There's no explanation given for why they decided to do it this way. All we know is they put it on a cart, which was contrary to the way God had given them for moving it. Perhaps they thought it was OK as that's how it came back to them from the Philistines...maybe they thought it was a better way. In any event, they felt comfortable enough to change the way they were told to move the ark. 

There is an appropriate amount of celebration and reverence. They are not totally arrogant nor casual about what they're doing. These are good people, people chosen and blessed by God, dispatched to do a good thing. 

At some point, on their way to Jerusalem, the oxen stumble, 
the cart tilts and the ark begins to teeter. Uzzah reaches out to steady it...and touches it. Maybe his reaction was instinctive. Maybe he just thought he was the closest and somebody had to do something.  No matter what the motivation, this is an act strictly forbidden for anyone other than a member of the Aaronic Priesthood (Num 4:15). The repercussions are disastrous...and fatal for Uzzah (2 Sam 6:7). Look at what the text tells us, "The anger of the Lord was kindled...God struck him down there..." Why? "Because of his error."

Whatever Uzzah's intentions, whatever his heart motivation, he had made a mistake in going counter to God's explicit instructions. As clear as this is, it defies our notion of a God who is gracious, loving and forgiving. 

As difficult as this may be for us to understand, it reveals a few valuable lessons about our relationship with God, lessons that reveal facets of His character and nature. These are lessons we would do well to keep in mind: 
  • When God says, "This is how I want you to do this." We do not have the option of trying to improve upon it. God's holiness and purity are subject to neither our ideas nor our circumstances.
  • The very best of heart intentions is not enough to make us holy enough to come into God's presence. Our sincerity, feelings or impulses never trump His word. The very best of our feelings will end in disaster if they lead us to function outside the guidelines He has given us.
  • This should have a profound impact upon our worship. We worship God on His terms, not ours. The foundation of our worship is in His holiness, not our experience. Uzzah was having a great experience. There was song and celebration. He was intimately involved in the proceedings. His experience led him to believe he could defy God's clear instructions.
  • We can't "make it up" as we go. We are guided by His word, enabled by His Spirit. Anything we do in and of ourselves will fall short of His holiness and glory. 
  • The final arbiter of our ideas, no matter how brilliant or practical they may seem, must be God's word. 
  • There is no way for unregenerate man to come into the presence of a holy God. 
  • God does not need our help. If you look closely at the passages above, you'll see that God was capable of protecting and preserving the ark without Uzzah's intervention. 
  • Uzzah was a good guy, doing a good thing. He died for touching that which was holy. There was no mediator between Uzzah and God. His touch, as good a man as he was, would have defiled the ark. Coming into the presence of God can be deadly without a mediator.
Ultimately, Uzzah's biggest mistake was not in how the ark was transported, but in coming into contact with the holiness of God before being cleansed. The priests had an involved ritual to cleanse themselves before touching the ark. Uzzah was neither cleansed nor a priest. 

We no longer have an ark. We no longer have a cleansing ritual. Instead, we have Jesus Christ, whose blood cleanses us, prepares us to be in His presence. Uzzah made an impulsive move, disobeyed God and had to pay the price himself. Christ pays the price for our disobedience. Because He did, instead of death, we receive life. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why Was Jesus Baptizing Those People?

As we began our look at John 3:22-36 last Sunday ("Whoever Believes"), we found in John 3:22, that Jesus, actually His followers (John 4:2), were "baptizing". This raises a question:  What sort of baptism were they practicing? It was certainly not Christian baptism. Baptism the way we understand it today, is a symbol of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, among other things.  In John 3:22, Christ had not been crucified nor buried nor resurrected. 

So, what were Jesus and His followers doing in the Judean countryside?

From the rest of the passage, we can assume they were

baptizing in the manner of John the Baptist, a baptism of repentance (John 3:26). Jesus was certainly underscoring the need for sinners to repent, supporting John's call to repent because the "kingdom of God was near." It's important to understand, though, that none of these baptisms saved those folks. If they had, there would have been no need for Christ to die on the cross. Salvation involves more than, "I'm sorry I did bad things." 

Repentance alone is not enough to save. If it was, we could be saved by our own efforts to repent. John could have ended His gospel with Chapter 3. In order for our salvation to occur, we must be regenerated by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). That regeneration manifests itself in true, contrite repentance and a longing to please the Father (Rom 8:8, Heb 11:6), the evidence of a changed heart. 

In John 3:22, repentance was there, but not regeneration. We see Jesus emphasizing the need for repentance. But the plan of salvation was not yet complete. The Spirit had not yet been poured out. Eventually,as the New Testament unfolds, we see that salvation and regeneration is a work of all three members of the Trinity, each one assuming His role. 

Our salvation is based on the work of the Holy Spirit, poured out through Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5-6). That salvation manifests itself in heartfelt repentance. We need all of the essential elements at work for this to happen! God the Father who creates the plan of redemption, Christ the Son who implements that plan, the Holy Spirit who draws men into the plan, bringing change, transformation (regeneration). The repentance we're talking about is a natural out-flowing of that change and is the necessary element of our participation in that process.

Why is this important?

Jesus' sacrifice is what bought our salvation. His lordship in our lives is the evidence of that salvation. Our repentance is

far more than grief over ungodly behavior. It is the very evidence of a transformed heart that longs to please God and hungers and thirsts for His righteousness. It is the evidence that Jesus has become, not just Savior, but Lord of our life. Repentance without the lordship of Christ is as incomplete and inadequate for salvation as the Gospel of John is incomplete and inadequate without chapters 4 through 21.