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SENT TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE LIGHT (WEEK 2 OF ADVENT 2014)

THE TIME HAD COME FOR GOD’S UNFOLDING PLAN TO SAVE THE WORLD.

FIRST, A BARREN WOMAN BECAME PREGNANT, 

THEN, A VIRGIN CONCEIVED.

N. T. WRIGHT WROTE:

IT BEGAN WITH TWO WOMEN ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF SOCIETY

ELIZABETH, THE MOTHER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST,

AND

MARY, THE MOTHER OF OUR LORD

WERE THE BEGINNING OF VERY GOOD NEWS.

mary and elizabeth rejoicing
MARY AND ELIZABETH REJOICING IN THE NATIVITY STORY

We are memorizing John’s famous prologue this Advent, and this week we will add John 1:6-8. (In green)

If you say, “DEE – I’M OVERWHELMED!” Then do the amount you can do and stay with us in the study. Just keep memorizing at the pace that you can.

(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

(2) He was in the beginning with God.

(3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(4) In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

(5)The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

(6) There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

(7) He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light,

that all might believe through him.

(8) He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

AND INDEED, JOHN BORE WITNESS.

WHEN JOHN SAW JESUS THIRTY YEARS LATER HE SAID:

Bound Lamb
17TH CENTURY Lamb of God: Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei

BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!

 

JOHN WAS A POWERFUL WITNESS, AND MANY BELIEVED BECAUSE OF HIM.

JohnTheBaptist

HE KNEW HE WAS NOT EVEN WORTHY TO UNTIE THE SANDALS OF CHRIST.

HE KNEW THAT HE MUST DECREASE SO THAT THE CHRIST MIGHT INCREASE.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

AND WHY, WHEN THE WORD SAYS “HE WAS SENTTHAT ALL MEN MIGHT BELIEVE,”

DO SO MANY FAIL TO BELIEVE?

TIM KELLER SAYS THAT ALL MEN BELIEVE AT FIRST,

BUT THEN THEY SUPPRESS THE TRUTH. (See Romans 1:18)

iNDEED, WE SUPPRESS THE TRUTH SO WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT TO DO.

BUT SOMETIMES THE FAILURE IS ON THE PART OF THE WITNESS,

WHO FAILED TO DECREASE THAT JESUS MIGHT INCREASE,

WHO FAILED TO LOVE WELL,

WHO FAILED TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE,

AND IN SO DOING,

HID CHRIST’S LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL.

Lift-Light-1

Every year I choose my best book of the year. This year it was, hands down, Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace

(Thanksgiving week he came on our blog. Did you see that? He is a grace-giver.)

vanishinggrace3

One of the startling facts Yancey begins with is that 75% of the non-churched are what he calls “post-Christians.” That is not to say that they were actually Christians, but that they were in church, and were hurt by religion, and have backed away not only from the church, but also from God.  

I am seeing this firsthand in the evangelistic Bible study my friend Twila and I are facilitating with friends we’ve reached out to playing “pickleball” at the YMCA. Most are not believers, and indeed, many are post-Christians. One had a son who committed suicide and was shunned by church friends who considered this a “mortal” sin. Two were forbidden communion after a divorce. Some only heard rules, never the good news. They came thirsty and received vinegar. They came, battered and broken, only to be turned away. Their opinion of Christians is very negative as well. When we asked them to define a Christian, we got the same kind of answers Yancey received in his conversations with others. So many see us as self-appointed “moral police.” Among the definitions of a Christian we heard were:

  • A judgmental person

 

  • A holier than thou person

 

  • A Gay-hater

 

  • A Republican like the ones on Christian television 

 

How is it we have represented Christ so poorly?

I am guilty. Early on in my Christian life I had to go to my sister Bonnie and ask her forgiveness for how I had been such a poor listener, only spouting my new faith, making her feel pushed. I also have engaged in conversations about homosexuality, abortion, evolution — and have regretted it. I have even been so stupid as to post something on Facebook, making a comment when the Girl Scouts starting donating cookie money to Planned Parenthood. My post unleashed a fury of anger. Then I thought: How foolish, Dee! Why did you do that? Examine your heart.  As important as this, it is not what matters most — not the gospel — not lifting up Christ.  I failed to decrease so that He could increase. I argued, wanting to be right. Or I failed to really love that person and reach out to them, just to love them as I have been loved. I want now, as John the Baptist urged, to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Yancey’s book is helping me.

Why are these “post-Christians” coming to our study? Twila, and Debbie (who came to Christ early last year) are loved at the YMCA for their sweet non-judgmental spirit, their good sportsmanship, their willingness to play “pickleball” with beginners, and their kindness. They have both reached out in various ways — and if those they love never show an interest in Christ — they will keep on being their friends. When one of our dear unbelievers found out Debbie was coming to Bible study, she said, “Everybody I like is going to that Bible study!” And she came. And two weeks ago she invited her unbelieving friend. Both of these women have been hurt by the church, but love is drawing them back. And they are lovely — truly! I have often scratched my head on why some non-believers are so much nicer than some believers. (But that’s for another post.)

I have never been in such an exciting or honest study. We laughed when one woman said, “I love this group — it’s just that I don’t believe in God and He keeps coming up.”

When we were looking at the early chapters in John, I said, “Jesus hated religion.” Vicki perked up — and said that was the beginning for her. I often recommend Tim Keller sermons and one day she leaned forward and told the whole group how to find the free Tim Keller sermons. I could have done a little dance for I knew right then God was wooing her. Vicki says  she has “come back” to God after being so hurt by “religion” and graceless people who claimed to be Christians, and indeed, may be.  Vicki’s heart is growing softer toward those who hurt her. It is so exciting to see the Spirit of God bringing light into her eyes. And she is a reader — reading lots of Keller, Ann VosKamp, and recently went through the Jesus Storybook Bible! Where does that thirst come from? Only the Lord.

We have damage repair to do. We must love, love, love, and avoid, if we can, arguments that will go nowhere, and lift up Christ in a way that is winsome and non-judgmental. (I realize sometimes we cannot avoid discussions about hard issues, for our friends bring them up, but then we need to listen so well, repeat what they are saying back to them so they know they have been heard, and only then attempt a response to dismantle if we attempt at all.) It has been interesting to do training for Alpha, a ministry that has brought so many to Christ. Their main goal is to get the people to come back — so they love, love, love — and when they come back, the Word does its powerful work. If someone says something completely off the wall, the response is, “That’s so interesting!” 

People long to be loved for themselves, and not as objects to be won. We need to have them over just to get to know them, and love them — especially the post-Christians who have been hurt, for they are understandably wary. 

One of the sweetest nights we had this summer was a dinner on the porch with seven of us where we asked these questions which we e-mailed them ahead of time to think about:

1. Share a childhood memory that had a part in shaping who you are.

2. Share an obstacle you faced in your life, but overcame. What did you learn from it?

We had games ready in case the questions flopped. But they didn’t flop. They talked and talked and talked. One dear man, as he was leaving, said, “I’ve never had an evening like this. It was wonderful.”

We have to love as He loved — not with an ulterior motive. We have to forget about ourselves and be other-centered, as He did. We must, as Rebecca Pippert put it, “play the host in conversation.” We must decrease, as John the Baptist did, so that He may increase. I am praying, with all the opportunies we have to socialize during Advent, that this is what we will do.

john3-30

 

Sunday Icebreaker:

1. What stood out to you from the above, and why?

2. Review John 1:1-4. Write it out on a separate sheet, check it, and tell us how you are doing.

Print this off in this ESV translation or your own translation and put it in a plastic sleeve. The red is review, the green is new.

(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

(2) He was in the beginning with God.

(3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(4) In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

(5)The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

(6) There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

(7) He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light,

that all might believe through him.

(8) He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

Monday: Prepare your heart with Michael Card’s The Promise:

3. Review John 1:1-5 and share any new meditations.

4. There are three very rich words in the prologue (and perhaps more.) The first is the “Word,” which in the Greek is logos. Part of the meaning,  is that logos has to do with purpose. Keller said that the Word shows us our purpose in life (to love God and glorify Him forever!) Share a way this purpose is giving your life meaning and joy.

5. Add John 1:6 to your memory work.

Tuesday:

A voice crying in the wilderness
A voice crying in the wilderness

6. Review John 1:1-6. Add John 1:7 to it. Share any contemplations.

7. Why was John sent according to verse 7? Why do you think that though men begin to believe, they then suppress the truth? Was that true of you or is it now in any way? (We suppress the truth too — because our idols lie to us.)

Wednesday:

8. Review John 1:1-7. Add 8 to it if you can.

9. Share your contemplations.

Thursday:

10. Review John 1:1-8.

11. Read John 1:19-34 and share your impressions of John the Baptist.

12. How might you better “play the host” in conversation this Advent?

13. How might you decrease that Jesus might increase when it comes to being a witness?

Friday: Optional Keller Sermon (I am going to list the four I will be recommending this Advent in case you want to purchase them all at once. Check to make sure you don’t already have them.) This week is The Lamb.

This week listen to The Lamb and share your thoughts.

http://www.gospelinlife.com/the-lamb-7947.html

Here are the other three that will be in future weeks in case you want to purchase them all at once:

http://www.gospelinlife.com/in-the-beginning-7937.html

 http://www.gospelinlife.com/sermons/new-life.html

http://www.gospelinlife.com/myth-became-fact-5179.html

Saturday:

14. What is your take-a-way and why?

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214 comments

  1. Not able to submit my answers for some reason but that is okay. I will let David know.

  2. 11. Read John 1:19-34 and share your impressions of John the Baptist.
    John Seems like a humble sort of man. But here’s my question, if he was so good at spreading the word, then why did he end up getting his head lopped off?

    1. He probably got his head chopped off because “he word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  If I had been present at that time, I likely would have thought he was weird, strange clothes, strange diet, and the answers to the first questions seem evasive.  John’s non-direct responses would have increased my curiosity, and his ‘incomplete’ answers regarding who he was pointed to Jesus.  

      1. Dee, can you direct me to the scripture about this?

  3. Dee, I often err towards grace because lack of grace has been painful, and sometimes lack of grace makes me MAD!  I do lack grace plenty of times.  Yet because I err toward grace, truth sometimes suffers — and that can lead to a slippery slope of not even seeing the truth. It only takes about 5 seconds of someone asking the right question to help me focus on how truth and grace fit together.Actually, I was posting this to ask if sometime we could study how to find the balance between truth and grace.  But now I’m starting to ponder the possibility of having 100% truth AND 100% grace (not gonna happen because of sin). I’ve always described it as a balance…but maybe it’s not??  Thinking on screen here, but not able in terms of time or clarity to say more.  Curious how the two ideas are described together in Scripture, but brain is pretty fuzzy.

    1. IGNORE THIS ONE.  Sorry about the duplicate post.  I got the red spammer ban so tried posting again.  I didn’t get an edit button this time, so can’t just replace the post with “Sorry” or edit for paragraphs.

    2. Renee, I think I remember a Keller sermon where he said that Jesus modeled the perfect balance of truth and grace – “truth and tears” – can’t remember the name of the sermon. I guess we need to look at how Jesus responded to people to find our example; but I know I am so far from achieving that balance.

  4. Dee, I often err towards grace because lack of grace has been painful, and sometimes lack of grace makes me MAD!  I do lack grace plenty of times.  Yet because I err toward grace, truth sometimes suffers. That can lead to a slippery slope of not even seeing the truth. It only takes about 5 seconds of someone asking the right question to help me focus on how truth and grace fit together.Actually, I was posting this to ask if sometime we could study how to find the balance between truth and grace. But now I’m starting to ponder the possibility of having 100% truth AND 100% grace (not gonna happen because of sin). I’ve always described it as a balance…but maybe it’s not?? Thinking on screen here, but not able in terms of time or clarity to say more.  Curious how the two ideas are described together in Scripture, but too much swirling around in my head to think more.

    1. Renee one of my favorite Keller sermons was this one:http://www.gospelinlife.com/the-centrality-of-the-gospel-7790.html
      It came to mind instantly when I read your comment.
      Perhaps you already have it in your downloads, I know we listened to it at some point on the blog, it has this quote from Tertullian who said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” The thieves are moralism or legalism and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. Moralism stresses truth without grace, relativists/irreligion stresses grace without truth, saying we are all accepted by God and we have to decide what is true for us.
      Truth without grace is not really truth, and grace without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes one or the other of these, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other.
       
       

  5. LIKE both of your posts, Renee and Chris.  The idea of 100% of both has to be true (even though an ideal we can’t achieve) because how could we just tell half of the truth or give half of the grace, but I suppose it is more ‘how much’ grace and ‘how much’ truth we meter out at certain times that creates a balance?  Studying this would be good.
     
    Chris, the quote you posted is wonderful.  I will copy and paste so I can save.  That one is a keeper!  Must keep the sermon in mind too.

  6. My take away from this week is the joy and the wonder of Scripture memory work!  Love, love love that you have directed our hearts and minds to this Dee!!  This week has been so arduous for our family on so many fronts – my dying sister in law who doesn’t know the Savior, my daughter struggling with the very same cancer…..and needing to be hospitalized again imminently to have fluid drained once more…..my heart has been sorrowful, heartbroken and even fearful.  Time and time again…..I have found the wonderful words of LIFE from this passage in John 1 flowing through my mind and my soul.  What a GIFT this advent season…..in the midst of the brokenness of our world.  🙂

    1. Praying Jackie. So much going on there! More of the Lords strength to carry you. I so appreciate you! 

    2. Oh Jackie, you have been through and continue to go through so much and yet what a testimony you are to both grace and truth (and love.)  How I long to meet you and all the others on this blog on day, face to face!  Meanwhile, this is a gift to tide us over. 🙂

    3. Dear Jackie,  I wish I lived nearby and could give you some practical help and encouragement.  Know that you are so loved and your sister in law and daughter and your family are in our prayers.  ‘Oh Lord, give our dear sister peace and bring healing, relief, salvation to those who are in need.’  

  7.  I AM ASKING FOR PRAYER.  THE PERSON WHO IS BEING DECEIVED BY THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE WORD IS MY DAUGHTER AND HER HUSBAND MY HEART IS SO BROKEN RIGHT NOW ESPECIALLY DURING THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON.THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS INSTRUCTED ME TO NOT GET INTO ARGUMENTS OF SCRIPTURE BUT TO LOVE LOVE LOVE. I HAVE GONE THRU GREAT PERIODS OF PEACE AND KNOW GOD IS IN CONTROL AND I AM NOT.THESE ARE 2 KIDS WHO HAD BEEN THRU SOME STUFF WITH THE CHURCH LEAVING A BAD TASTE AND AT YOUNG AGES YES THAT SPIRIT OF OFFENSE, NOT TO MENTION DIVORCE AND FAMILY STRUGGLES. THEY ARE GETTING SO MUCH LOVE AND ATTENTION FROM THERE NEW FAITH FAMILY AND THAT HAS BEEN THE DRAW I AM SURE. IT ROCKED MY WORLD THIS YEAR AND I HAVE SEEN GODS AMAZING GRACE CARRY ME THRU A WEDDING AND ALL. COULD I TELL YOU ABOUT EXTENDING GRACE!  I WOULD RATHER NOT PUT NAMES OUT THERE BUT ASK THAT YOU LIFT THEM UP THAT THE TRUTH BE REVEALED. I KNOW WE HAVE MANY CHILDREN WE ARE PRAYING FOR COLLECTIVELY MY OTHER DAUGHTER IS CHOOSING TO LIVE WITH HER BOYFRIEND SO TRUTH THERE AS WELL.  I HAVE SPOKEN WHAT THE LORD PLACED ON MY HEART TO SAY AND HAVE LEFT IT. I KNOW I NEED TO BE EXAMINING MY OWN LIFE AND THE SIN IN MY HEART. AND THIS WEEKS STUDY HAS BEEN SO GOOD. I ALSO STRUGGLE WITH THE LIE THAT I HAVE BEEN A FAILURE AS A MOM DUE TO WHERE THINGS ARE AT AND THE STRUUGLES IN MY MARRIAGE, A FAILURE AS A WIFE. TRUTH IS I HAVE FAILED AT SOME THINGS. WORKING NOW WITH LESLIE AND I HAVE SUCH GREAT HOPE. JUST HURTING RIGHT NOW.
    JACKIE PRAYING FOR YOUR DAUGHTER AND SISTER-IN LAW. 

    1. Liz – SO thankful that you have been freed up to share this with this caring, praying group of women here on the blog.  Many times in life we try to bottle things up and the Lord gives us the body of Christ to hold us up in prayer and service when we are weak and hurting terribly.  My prayers for your entire family will continue, for sure.  Liz, I continue to see you following Jesus, no matter the cost …..and this is beautiful indeed.  I take courage from your courage!!  🙂

    2. Liz,  I know that if we were all in the same room, we would feel such comaraderie because, as you said, several of us have felt this kind of pain with our kids.  I know there are similarities with the kinds of things our kids have chosen.  That feeling of failure does rear up from time to time and it is hard to overcome.  I’m glad that you are working with Leslie.  And I will be praying for your kids too.  Take heart, dear one.  May the peace that transcends understanding be yours this day.  

  8. 11. Read John 1:19-34 and share your impressions of John the Baptist.
    Johns responses to the question about who he was and what he had to say for himself were short, they pointed to Christ, he didn’t say anything about himself really. I wondered when reading this if Mary and Elizabeth spent any more time together, if Jesus and John had been together at all as they grew up. 
     
    13. How might you decrease that Jesus might increase when it comes to being a witness?
     
    During the discussions here this week and staring my new employment, I keep thinking about “Apart from me you can do nothing”. And  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  If abide in Christ, letting the truth of the Word fill me up, and do anything I am doing, be it conversing with an unbeliever, exercising, worshiping, reading, shopping, eating, or potty training a 3 year old, if I do any of those things as unto God with his glory as the goal, I will decrease. 
     
    As I focus on him and rest in the identity and future he has secured for me, I won’t be so preoccupied with what others think of me that I can’t REALLY see them. I pray this will be more and more and more true in me.

    1. Chris, your words are lovely.  I know you have shared some of your struggles with how others might perhaps view your humble work choice, but, wow, I think you’re really going to shine there!  And by that I mean that CHRIST is going to shine through you dear one!  

    1. Oh, Rebecca, praying for you. I hope you have been to the doctor. Kidney infections can be very serious.
       
      I listened to a free sermon from Keller called The Purpose of Christmas. It was very good. Others might be interested in it as an alternative to the others which cost money. It is found on his website called Gospel in Life.

      1. Thanks for mentioning the free sermon called The Purpose of Christmas.    On your suggestion, I did listen to that one, and found it to be excellent!    It’s not the cost that precludes me from purchasing a sermon, it is the fear of using my credit card on the web site.    I am thinking it was you who got a notice once from Gospel Life saying they had been hacked.    I know it happened to someone on the blog a while back.     

        1. Yes, Deanna. It was I who was hacked a while back on Keller’s old site. I am sure they have as many safe guards as they can now, but  I too am hesitant to give my credit card information on any site. I am glad you appreciated Keller’s sermon.

    2. Oh Rebecca, that is VERY painful.  Praying right now!  

    3. Praying for relief and healing, Rebecca

  9. Takeaway:     In some ways, I fell off the wagon this week and didn’t stay focused on the lesson per se.  In other ways, the many lessons of Advent were prominent in my mind all week.  Went to an incredible Advent concert by a highly skilled choir at the Basilica in Minneapolis last night.  The acoustics are heavenly and the lyrics of poetry and the songs blessed me so.  In fact, there were songs with lyrics verbatim from Song of Songs, Isaiah 40 and 1 Corinthians 2:9.  All of which have a deep meaning for me and especially from things shared recently on this blog.  Sorrow this week too as our next door neighbor was killed in a car accident right at the intersection of our quiet lane (only 10 homes here) and the busy highway.  Shocking and terribly sad.  And in the midst of this sadness, the healing balm of the light of life.
     
    I learned some things about John the Baptist and I really liked the Advent poem that Diane shared.  How I long for it to be answered for my children.    
     
    and if there is one word from the week, it is GRACE.  Grace, grace, grace.  

  10. My takeaway for the week: How much we need to bear witness of the Light in our own lives…
    The focus of our study, John the Baptist, has been a good focus for me. I am impressed by his boldness and his humility.
    He was so focused on his mission to be a witness, and to decrease so that Christ may increase.
    We have looked at how Christians have failed to attract others by being judgmental, narrow-minded and so on.
    Recently I missed a single mother and her teenage son from my small congregation. When I inquired of my pastor’s wife,
    she said, confidentially, They have decided they will not attend because he is identifying as a gay. So our debates about this
    issue affecting us is a difficult one indeed. I decided to send a card and let them know I missed them, as I truly do.
    I will pray that he comes to a belief in Jesus as Savior at some time. Our pastor is doing a sermon series on Romans and
    that topic is prominent along with so many other sins in which people choose to go their own way. I think our sharing is very beneficial.
    Most of all I love Dee’s outreach in her community and the great response by individuals who are being wooed by the Spirit.

  11. I love verse 5 “…and the darkness has not overcome it.” Hallelujah! Jesus’ light will not be overcome by any form of darkness. I have to believe this with all my heart and mind and continually seek the Light. If issues take on a dark side, I need to come humbly to the throne of God and plead for mercy and illumination. And I know I will find it as He has promised.

  12. Thank you for your prayers.
    Rebecca thinking of you as well.
    As I was driving home tonight John 1:1-8 was recited on the radio and I just gleaned from the Power of the Word.

  13. Thanks so much for praying for me. It is painful but I am on antibiotics and a pain med. I hope this takes care of it. They said it was pretty inflamed. I should have gone earlier but I hate taking off work. :/

  14. i have had trouble keeping up with study this week. However I am holding to memorizing and it is going well. I am so blessed in that. God does speak to me deeply in my quiet time and I do feel it is related to Memorizing. 
    Highlights for me this week are how God announced the coming of the Savior. He sent a man specifically for that purpose yet the Jews did not believe then and for all the generations since. As Dee said it is simply hiding the truth and I think we do that when it does not serve us or when we are not repentant of sin. My take-a-way is to be alert to that tendency in my life. In His mercy God speaks. I love hearing His voice so why would I ignore or hide from Him. It is a mystery of this brokenness.
    Shirley I got to read your comment about the mother and son in your church. How wonderful that you missed them and let them know. I have the same issue with my sister’s family and they also stopped going to church. In their case the judgementalism did not come from the pulpit but from comments from people in the congregation. I hate to say it but I have been guilty of the same but Oh how much I am learning! Now I am just really focused on loving them and particularly my nephew. I will pray for this mother and son to come back to church, to lean in the the Lord rather than to pull away.