The Messenger and The Messiah

The last scriptures this week are in Matthew 11:2-11. John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus asking if He is the Messiah or if they should keep waiting.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciple sand said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

John the Baptist was a powerful prophet with a message of truth told with a love that began before he was born. He leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came near with Jesus in her womb. John is the epitome of what it looks like to eagerly await the Messiah. He spent his entire life preparing for Christ’s coming, a messenger pointing the way to The Messiah.

Messengers still point to Christ, and I am fortunate to have many friends who deliver God’s messages of truth with a love much like that of John the Baptist. I thank God for all those who are faithful to His Word because they help prepare our hearts for His return.

John Tagliarini is a powerful messenger and dear friend who has patiently taught me to love and understand God’s Word for almost a decade. Ted Duncan’s quiet example encourages me keep listening and following God’s lead even when I don’t understand it. Jeff and Jodi Helpman are helping me open my heart and love God and those in my path in beautiful ways. Each messenger is unique, but each shares a love of God very like that of John the Baptist. I thank God for placing them in my path and pray I will pass along the learning and love I get from each.

You can hear John Tagliarini and Ted Duncan at FBCBC Podcasts and you can hear Jeff and Jodi Helpman at The Grove Church Messages. The messengers may be different, but the message is the same. All point to One Who is coming again, and each speaks the truth with love.

“Highway to Heaven”

I’ve heard many messages about repentance and John the Baptist, but few have been comforting ones. When I heard “Highway to Heaven,” I saw repentance in a new light. It is about coming home to open, loving arms. That beautiful truth makes much more sense than the fearful messages of my past.

Here’s the message by Dr. John Alden Tagliarini Highway to Heaven

You can listen to this and other messages by Dr. John Alden Tagliarini at FBCBC Podcasts

“Become What You Believe”

When I read Matthew 9:27-30 this morning, the lessons of the week came together in a beautiful way. Listen to the scripture.

As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, “Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!” When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, “Do you really believe I can do this?” They said, “Why, yes, Master!”

He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met. (The Message)

Faith is much more than believing God can do anything. It is also about believing I can become who He made me to be. Often Jesus asked those coming for healing if they wished to be healed. Here, He asked the blind men if they believed He could do it. They not only said yes, they said, “Why, yes, Master!” That’s the equivalent of “Duh!” today. Of course He can heal. I think most everyone would believe that.

The more difficult question is whether or not I could move past my vision of me and embrace God’s. It’s not easy to let go of the negative voices that have shaped my view of myself or rid myself of the hands that hold me back, but the Holy Spirit has helped me believe that Christ not only came to heal; He came to heal me. The first step is for me to change my mind about who I am. That’s the metanoia about which John the Baptist speaks.

Before I can become who Christ knows I can be, I have to be ready to be whole. The blind men in Matthew 9 were ready to be whole, and they could not keep the wonderful news of their healing to themselves. I believe Christ asked them to be quiet about their healing because it was about something so much more than a parlor trick. It was a change that took place within them that allowed God’s healing to come through His beloved Son’s touch. Repentance and healing is very personal, and it isn’t something that comes easily; but when it does come, it causes those who are healed to want to tell everyone they meet about it.

Believing I am God’s beloved hasn’t been an easy process for me. I had to first see the me I believed myself to be and want more than that for myself. I had to want to be healed. Opening my heart to His desires allows me to see and believe I can become who He created me to be, and that is something worth shouting about!

Do Not Despair!

God always gives me just what I need, just when I need it. This week’s lessons have been powerful ones that went straight to the core of my heart. Matthew 3:1-12 put John the Baptist in my path. I could not escape his simple message to change my life because God’s kingdom is here. Four years ago, I learned it was possible to walk in God’s Kingdom now. I wish I could say I have been walking in His kingdom since then, but I’m afraid I’ve tried to walk in His kingdom with one foot in my own. Here John the Baptist’s message.

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” (The Message, Eugene Peterson)

Each time I read the story of John the Baptist, I’m struck by his humility. He had folks flocking to him, but he continued to point to the true Messiah and kept his perspective. He heard God’s voice and continues to make the way smooth and straight for us. He says, “It is your life that must change, not your skin!” Appearances are easy to change, and it’s very easy to put on a happy face when your heart is breaking. The repentance John calls for goes much deeper than the surface; it goes all the way to the heart and allows God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in our lives.

In “A Cure for Despair: Matthew 3:1-12,” Barbara Brown Taylor says,

“As scary as John was, it was a pretty great offer. No wonder people walked days to get to him. No wonder they stood around even after their turns were over, just to hear him say it again and again. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What sounds like a threat to us sounded like a promise to them. We hear guilt where they heard pardon, and at least part of the problem, I think, is our resistance to the whole notion of repentance.

The way most of us were taught it, repentance means owning up to how rotten you are. It means saying out loud, if only in the auditorium of your own soul, that you are a selfish, sinful, deeply defective human being who grieves the heart of God and that you are very, very sorry about it. It means dumping all your pride on the ground and stamping on it, since pride—as in ego, arrogance, vainglory—is the root of so much evil.

Only what if it isn’t? What if pride isn’t the problem at all, but its very opposite? What if the main thing most of us need to repent of is not our arrogance but our utter despair—that things will never change for us, that we will never change, that no matter what we say or do we are stuck forever in the mess we have made of our lives, or the mess someone else has made of them, but in any case that there is no hope for us, no beginning again, no chance of new life—? Now that is a problem.

I cannot tell you how many people I know who are all but dead with despair. It doesn’t happen just one way; it happens all kinds of ways. A little girl is abused by her grandfather and forty years later, although he is long dead and gone, his hands are still on her. She has not married. She will not let anyone get close. She is still keeping her forty-year-old promise never to let anyone hurt her like that again.”

I can relate to being dead with despair, but the message of John the Baptist reached deeply into my heart and touched my despair. I’ve had the Bible used to create the feeling she describes and have had my pride dumped on the ground and stomped more times than I can count. Today, I saw the verses in Matthew differently with the help of the Holy Spirit. I see hope and pardon instead of guilt and grief. John’s message was the same as Christ’s. There is hope and a cure for the utter despair in which I find myself.

Like the green shoot in Isaiah, verse ten describes a green and blossoming changed life. Deadwood goes into the fire where it belongs and clears the way for a new life, a kingdom life, a life worth living forever. My heart has been dead with despair for decades, and I still struggle when it comes to love. Letting others in causes deeper hurt and despair each time I open my heart. God made it crystal clear to me today that I am baptized into a changed life. He has the cure for despair, and John the Baptist’s message is as relevant today as it was when he first began crying out in the wilderness. Despair is a dark wilderness, but Christ’s Light offers hope at the end of the tunnel.

Power Pointing:)

John 1:1-5 amazes me as I think of God’s Word becoming flesh. Jesus took God’s Word and fulfilled it in a way that changed everything. Hear the amazing scripture:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” NASB

Powerful words indeed! The whole of my salvation rests in the first verse, and the last verse describes Christ perfectly. I’m humbled by the notion that darkness didn’t and still doesn’t comprehend the Light. I find myself stumbling in the dark holding on to my little match when there is a flood light at my disposal.

Why God puts up with me is the first question I plan to ask Him. I already know the answer because Jesus made it crystal clear. He loves me, and that love brings life where there is death, love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness, and hope where there is hopelessness. God does not force His Light or Love upon me. He doesn’t put me in a chair, aim a blinding light at my face, and interrogate me to the breaking point. He simply shines and invites me to come.

Christ is the Light, the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Love, and God’s Word made flesh. He gives me the choice of accepting or rejecting Him. I often try to do things on my own, and that little match of mine burns the dickens out of my fingers! I’m learning to let go of my match and point to His Light. It’s better to bask in His love than worry about burned fingers. I don’t have to provide the light or be the light, I just have to turn toward it, reflect it, and help others do the same.

Once I bask in His sweet Light, nothing else will satisfy my heart or soul. The Light creates a desire to tell others about Him.  Verses 6-8 go on to say:

“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” NASB

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be the Light, he simply and powerfully pointed to the light. Witnessing is about knowing who I am and who I am not. A good witness points in a way that causes others to find His life-giving light. It’s what true love is all about, and John loved Jesus. His testimony is still bringing folks to His Light.

I cannot be the Light, but I can tell others how much I love Him and live a life that reflects His Light. It’s not only polite to point in Christ’s direction, it’s exactly what God has in mind for His witnesses. There’s power in pointing if I make sure it’s Him and not me getting the attention:)