TSL and Café Church TSJ 04-01-2014
Illustration: A story is told about Robert Louis Dabney, who was an outstanding Presbyterian theologian during the mid-19th century.
He served as a minister, as a chaplain and finally as chief of staff to the American Civil War General Stonewall Jackson before becoming a Theological College professor.
He also helped to set up a theological college in Austin, Texas.
As he got older, Dabney began to worry about his impending death, and he expressed his fears in a letter to a former student and theologian, C.R. Vaughan.
Dabney’s fear was about his ability to die honourably and to hold on to his Christian faith.
Vaughan replied: “Dear friend, let me advise you now as you often have me.
If you were about to cross a deep chasm, and there were a bridge over it, would you stand there looking in at yourself, wondering if you trusted enough in bridges to be able to cross?
Or would you not rather go and examine the beams and timbers of the bridge and the quality of its construction, and determine whether the bridge were trustworthy, and then pass over it in confidence?
Our faith is in Christ; spend yourself focussing on Him and His sufficiency, rather than on yourself.”
With that in mind, I have recently been mulling over a verse form Paul’s letter to the Galatians
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 New King James Version (NKJV))
As we begin a new year, it is time to take stock.
And I’d like to ask the question: Do I live the life which I now live in the flesh - by faith in the Son of God.
And I have been asking myself – am I doing enough to live my life to be living “by faith in the Son of God”.
And then I realised I have been looking at the wrong question.
The emphasis is not on me but on Christ.
If Christ is going to live in me – then it is Christ who is the important one – not me.
We can depend on having Christ live in me – because of who Jesus is – not because of whom I am.
He gave a clear promised in Jn 1:11-13
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
It is not what I do but what has given me.
He has GIVEN me the right to become a child of God – and that is how Christ lives in us.
I was trying to earn it – but the Gospel was telling me
It is not earned – it is a gift.
The question therefore is: Is Jesus dependable?
And so we need to consider who Jesus is:
And it is John’s Gospel which tells us a lot about who Jesus is:
William Carter summed this up very well when he wrote:
The other gospels focus more on parables and stories about Jesus.
And such stories can lead us to ask: "Who is this, that wind and sea obey him? Who is this who feeds the multitude on a couple of loaves and a few fish?"
But in the Gospel of John, there's never a doubt who Jesus is, because he tells us.
Usually he does so with a statement that begins with the words, "I am."
Put Jesus in a situation and he will clarify who he is and what he has come to do.
1. You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).
2. You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, "Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?"
And Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture" (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.
3. You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live" (11:25).
4. Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life's difficulties, and Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (15:5).
In the Gospel of John, in one situation after another, Jesus defines himself and says, "This is who I am...."
In the eighth chapter, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12).
His words echo the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, where the writer defines the person and work of Jesus in terms of light. "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1:3-4, 9).
(Praying for a whole New World – William Carter – Christmas 2)
For me, John’s Gospel seemed like the dark Gospel until I realised I had been asking the wrong question.
It is not : Am I doing enough for Christ to live in me but is Christ’s word sufficient?
The emphasis is wrong.
Why was Abraham counted righteous in Genesis 15: 6.
Because when he was too old to have children from his wife Sarah, God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars.
And Abraham believed God – he took God at his word.
Or put another way – he didn’t call God a liar!!!
As I thought about Gal 2;20 and Christ living in me - like Dabney I should have been looking at the bridge and not whether or not I trusted bridges.
And so at the beginning of a New Year I’d like to pause and think:
Can I see how Christ has been in work in me the last year?
Story: Jungfrau and 121
Last Summer, when I was Chaplain in Wengen, Switzerland and I was feeling “righteous indignation” at the news of ISIS’ murder of the hostages – and especially at President Obama for allowing ISIS to get away with its atrocities - we had a Thursday evening service.
I had taken Psalm 121 verse 1 as my theme and in that service, the churchwarden Maggie told us that etched into the side of the Jungfrau mountain was the number 121.
(click on 2 Slides)
And as I looked up at the chancel of the Church of St Bernard’s Wengen where I was the Chaplain I saw the opening words of Psalm 121
“I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come. My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth”.
The next morning, I saw the number 121 etched on the side of the Jungfrau by the Silberhorn for myself and I was reminded of the sovereignity of God.
It wasn’t in Obama’s hands – it was in God’s hands.
That is why John’s Gospel is important – because it tells us who Jesus is.
And we can do well to dwell on the eight “I am” statements Jesus makes:
Click on slides
I am the bread of life Jn 6:35, 48
I am the Light of the World Jn 8: 12 and 9:5
Before Abraham was, I am Jn 8:58
I am the door Jn 10:9
I am the Good Shepherd Jn 10:11
I am the Resurrection and the life Jn 11:25
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life Jn 14:6
I am the true vine Jn 15:1
And to really understand what each statement means we need to consider the audience and the context
But that would be another 8 sermons!!
So where does this leave us?
May I leave you with a story from Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday school. He tells this story:
Many years ago a pastor in Glasgow, Scotland named George McLeod chanced to look up at the stained-glass windows over the chancel of the sanctuary.
The phrase, "Glory to God in the highest" was carved in the glass.
As he looked he noticed that a pane of glass was broken and missing, the pane on which the letter "e" in the word "highest" was carved.
Suddenly he found himself seeing the words that were now there, "Glory to God in the High St."
The High Street was a nearby avenue.
It struck McLeod that the only way to glorify God IS to glorify him in the High St.
The only way to truly glorify God is to glorify him where we live, work and play.
Perhaps that is how we answer the question
Do I live the life which I now live in the flesh - by faith in the Son of God.