- One little girl improvised her own songs during craft time. To an unknown melody she sang, “My mommy will like this picture . . . she will think it is beautiful.” One of the greatest compliments a little girl can give her parents is to be happy.
- A little boy told me that his dad reads him the story about Jesus making a lame man walk. We need more dads who read Bible stories! Deut 6:4-9. (Get this book!)
- I learned new rules to “Duck, Duck, Goose.” I didn’t know that if you’re too slow you sit in the middle as “duck soup.” I like the rule because it meant I got to sit with a cute little girl. I hope mothers never stop buying black patent leather shoes.
- Several of the children reminded me that I have been to their houses. I wish I could clone myself.
- I wasn’t ready with any story in particular so we went over my favorites. One little boy predicted that the lions would eat Daniel. They knew most of the stories before I got to the end. The children especially remembered stories with songs (Luke 19:1-9, Matthew 7:24-27). Sing.
- I’ve stayed in the valley that inspired Tolkein about Rivendell. I’ve been to the palace of Versailles. But it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, the most beautiful site is children. Children are an easy first. Nothing else comes close.
I’m predicting that the book described in the below video will become a very significant resource for our church. And I hope the distinction between systematic theology and biblical theology is one that our leaders can learn now. When I saw this video I was planning to ask Chris to preach at our church. Then I figured out he is in Hawaii so I’m now trying to figure out how I can get him to ask me to preach . . .
Currently, I’m preparing to start a series on the Sermon on the Mount. But we’re already praying about our emphases in 2016 (if you can believe that) and our plan is to take our church through the Bible in a year (D.V.). It will take a lot of work to prepare for surveying the Bible in a year. One of our goals for the series will be to show how important it is to keep the big picture of Scripture in mind.
I think I’ve found a resource for seeing the big picture of the Bible. In the below video, Chris Bruno describes why he wrote a new book, “The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses.” This book will help the average reader see the storyline of Scripture from a high altitude. I wouldn’t be surprised if we use this book as a church in 2016.
00:00 – How can you cover the whole story of the Bible in just 16 verses?
01:14 – Can you give us some examples from the book of how you do this?
04:22 – What is biblical theology and why is it important?
08:08 – How did your identity as a pastor, husband, and dad help you write this book?
12:15 – What do you hope the Lord accomplishes through this book?
On January 25, I will begin a preaching series, Astonished: A New Series on the Sermon on the Mount. Here are 7 reasons I am really excited for it to begin. Some of my enthusiasm is evident in my study notes and you can see a draft of them here.
1. Jesus promised that in hearing his words and in following him we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). So many people in our community are weighed down and worn out. I can’t wait to share how Christ offers rest.
2. The Sermon on the Mount includes some of the most famous truths ever proclaimed:
· The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
· The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)
· Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged (Matthew 7:1)
· The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12)
· A Major Section on Worry (Matthew 6:25-34)
There is a reason these paragraphs are famous! Let’s meditate on them together.
3. The Sermon on the Mount changed the world. This is no exaggeration. We will see how so much of the Sermon on the Mount has shaped our understanding of ethics and morality.
4. The Sermon on the Mount is a manageable length. In my Bible, Matthew 5-7 is less than four pages long. These pages can be read over and over again. There is no reason everyone in our church can’t really get to know the greatest sermon every preached.
5. Our church has made it possible for me to prepare. I’ve spent a lot of time prayerfully studying. I have some of the best resources in the history of the world. The picture to the right is just a portion of my library. It’s a great day to meditate on and proclaim the Sermon on the Mount. You can see a draft of some of my notes here. Keep in mind it’s a draft of my own study notes so there are lots of errors and things that need to be reworded.
6. The Sermon on the Mount tells how we can be part of the Kingdom of God. Our joy is only as big as what we’re a part of. The Sermon on the Mount tells how we can be part of the biggest thing in the history of the universe.
7. Most important, the Sermon on the Mount is the featured sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ. Could any sermon be more exciting to study and preach?
What did I miss?
January 25, I plan to begin a new preaching series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Understanding key concepts is indispensable in seeing the rich beauty of the heart of Jesus’s message. So, one of the ways I prepare for series like this one is to make a glossary of terms that I make available to our people one way or another.
If you want to help, read through Matthew 5-7 and see if you can identify any terms or concepts that need to be defined not found on my list. Here is my list thus far.
What else would help you understand the Sermon on the Mount?
Working Glossary for the Sermon on the Mount
Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of God –
Disciples / Disciple –
The Law –
Matthew’s Gospel –
Mountain / Mount –
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
One hundred years ago on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 shooting on the Western Front stopped. Soldiers from opposing British and German armies walked peacefully over the top, shook hands with one another, and celebrated Christmas.
The below video is a dramatic account of that event. Such a bright light in a dark place is surely worth reflecting on.
When the Christmas truce of 1914 took place, the front lines of both armies were so close together that soldiers could talk to one another through the barbed wire. Because a large percentage of the Germans spoke English, language was not a barrier.
One soldier described in a letter how the Truce began. On Christmas Eve, a British soldier named Edgar Aplin sang a solo with a beautiful tenor voice. The German soldiers listened in the darkness and called out for another song. Aplin obliged and the Germans responded with Silent Night. Then, somehow, in the midst of the fighting, on Christmas 1914, a temporary peace took place. Despite orders to not fraternize, the soldiers agreed to not fire for 48 hours. When they were directed to fire, they shot in the air. Both sides had received special gift parcels. They exchanged gifts.
Some of the details of the Christmas Truce of 1914 are disputed. Historians argue about whether there was a “football” game much less if the Germans won it on penalties. But there is no question that the light of peace blazed into the darkness of the trenches on Christmas Eve of 1914.
A fallen world can be a very dark place. In 2014 at our church in Stillman Valley, IL we thought a lot about “darkness.” If you follow this blog, then you know there were many posts (see some of them here) about our study in the book of Job. We wondered how it could be that God allowed a man who had everything to lose it in the context of Satan’s dispute with God. We thought about the problem of evil.
Of course, our church didn’t just study darkness during the last year. We experienced it. Though our trials were nowhere near as severe as Job’s, we lived with darkness. Some found out that they have cancer. There have been broken relationships and disease. Death took a young member of our community.
Yet, as we saw in the Job series, and as we have experienced in our own lives – – light always wins. That’s how light is: the darker the night, the brighter the light.
In the Job series our church saw that, given Christ, we can trust God even though we cannot understand everything. We learned and experienced that a god small enough to be comprehensively understood is not big enough to be worshipped. But surely the God who gave his only begotten Son is the God who can be trusted and praised: the darker the night – – the brighter the light.
In the words of John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Light is a certain solution to darkness. We can picture it. Darkness never overcomes light.
Frederick Dale Bruner points out that in John’s Gospel, the verbs in the first four verses are all in the past or past-continuous tenses:
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 were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
But in John 1:5, when John says, the light shines in the darkness, with the verb, “shines,” John changes from the past to the present tense.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John’s switch in tenses is electrifying. Bruner comments “suddenly something shines on.” He explains that though, at Calvary, it had seemed to all outward appearances that Jesus was executed and that the darkness had prevailed – – Jesus rose again. Bruneer continues that even though now, too, by most outward indications in the present world, it may seem that darkness is winning, “nevertheless, appearances to the contrary . . . it will always be the deepest fact in all of history that, in John’s inspired words, it is ‘this Light that shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.’”
When the text of John 1:5 says that the darkness has not overcome the light – – the verb translated “overcome” carries the idea of “attacking with the implication of gaining control over.” The same word for “overcome” appears in Mark 9:18 where an evil spirit takes over a young man. The text reads:
And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:18 ESV)
The word translated “seizes” is the same one found in John 1:5. Satan —the darkness—attempted to throw our King down and conquer him. And, on Good Friday, it might have appeared that the darkness won, but Christ rose from the dead. And the light shines on.
John anticipates all of this in John 1:5.
And the Light still shines today – – There are times when the darkness is violent:
Cancer rips out our hair.
Heart disease saps our strength.
Sin ravages young people.
Death grips us.
Yet, Christ rose from the dead. He is coming again. We can be sure that the Light shines on, and will continue to shine on.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5a
The idea that God is light carries a number of truths with it. First, God chooses to tell us about Himself. The God of Heaven and Earth does not dwell in shadows, but he discloses himself, again using Stott’s words, in perfect purity and utter majesty.”
The idea of God as light also communicates ethical purity and holiness. So in the verses following 1 John 1:5, John encourages his readers to walk in the light. Indeed, The light that God shines does not simply tell us who God is — – but light from God allows us to walk. When we know Christ, the light that we find in God’s Word allows us to confidently move forward in life. We do not need to hesitate or be unsure. We should walk in the light.
And, as we have said, light defeats darkness. The book of Revelation promises that there is coming a time when there will be no more darkness.
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5
Verses like John 1:5 and Revelation 22:5 in mind, light, ought always to encourage the believer, especially on dark nights. Tonight when you see Christmas Eve lights, think of the Light. Look across the winter fields and remind yourself that God is light. In Him there is not even a trace of darkness. He does not dwell in shadows but He blazes a knowledge of himself into human history through His Creation and His Word. He gives us this light not simply that we can worship His excellence, but also that we can walk forward in life, that we may have right conduct.
Light always prevails over darkness. Every time.
There is another point of application that cannot be missed. In the coming year, with a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we will be reminded that, in the absence of the resurrected Christ who has ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church believers are called to be visible lights. Jesus said,
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
We ought not to romanticize the Christmas Truce of 1914. After all, the cease fire was at the beginning of the War before the worst of the hatred took hold. Gas warfare was yet to come. And there would be no cease-fires from 1915-1918. Before it was over, World War I was horrible beyond comprehension. The casualty numbers tell us that England lost around a million people (2 %of their population). The number was closer to 2 million for the French who lost an estimated 3-4% of their population. Germany lost 2.5 million and around 4% of their population. The United States came to the war late and our losses were comparatively smaller at 117,000. Altogether, in World War I, somewhere between 15-19 million people died with 22 million wounded. And a flu epidemic came at the end of World War I that killed many more.
Even the Christmas Truce of 1914 was imperfect. Though the cease fire was generally observed at one point in the lines, a German sniper killed a British soldier. The soldier’s sergeant was furious and tracked down the sniper and killed him. But then he decided to pursue another sniper. The two snipers spotted each other at the same time and the German sniper shot first. So multiple families received the word that sons, husbands, and fathers had died on Christmas day.
The daughter of the British sergeant’s remembers the last time her father was home on leave in 1914 shortly before he was killed on the Western Front on Christmas Day. He came home to see his family and she ran out to greet her father before he could get to the door. He had brought her a tea set. She was so excited to tell her mom that when she ran back to the house she fell and broke the tea set. It would be her last gift.
Maybe – – remembering that little girl’s precious gifts – – we ought to treasure our gifts more given the darkness.
In any case, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was only a glimpse of the light that will one day come when Christ appears. But the fact that it is still talked about 100 years later illustrates the truth that darkness doesn’t conquer light. In spite of the war that happened, the light of the Christmas truce shines 100 years later. Light defeats darkness. It did and it will. The darkness will never prevail over light because God is light and there is no darkness in Him.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
Now we need to be lights. We need Christmas Truces not of 1914 but of 2014. If soldiers in the Great War could see their way clear to be brothers on Christmas Day, then maybe we could be moved to hug more people one hundred years later.
 “How One Young Soldier’s Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11302440/How-one-young-soldiers-song-inspired-the-1914-Christmas-Truce.html.
 Katie Daubs, “When German, British Soldiers Carolled and Played (we Think) Soccer,” December 19, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/ww1/2014/12/19/when_german_british_soldiers_carolled_and_played_we_think_soccer.html.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 2012), 17–18. Emphasis his.
 Ibid., 18.
 “39.48 καταλαμβάνω”: to attack, with the implication of gaining control over—‘to attack, to overpower.’ ὅπου ἐὰν αὐτὸν καταλάβῃ ῥήσσει αὐτόν ‘whenever (the evil spirit) attacks him, it throws him to the ground’ Mk 9:18. The attack upon a person by a demon is often expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to ride a person,’ ‘to seize a person’s mind,’ or ‘to grab a person’s inner life.’” This verb appears 15 times in the Greek New Testament. Sometimes it carries the idea of “comprehending” or “understanding.” See the NIV translation.
 In 1 Thessalonians the verb is translated by the ESV “surprise.” But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4 ESV).
 John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, Revised, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), 75. Portions of this adapted from Chris Brauns, “Light: A Most Import Statement About God,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, August 2, 2011, http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/08/light-a-most-import-statement-about-god/.
 “Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11307513/Christmas-truce-of-1914-was-broken-when-German-snipers-killed-two-British-soldiers.html.
Mostly, what I’ve said this week is nothing. With the loss of one of the young people in our community – not from our church, but as a community, one of our young people – – more than anything, it’s a time to weep.
John 11:35 gives us the two words we most need, “Jesus wept.” The King cares.
But if I said just two more words, they would be, “Let’s talk.”
Rather than allowing the grief to wash over us until we are distracted in some way – – and the family will never be distracted – – let’s get together and talk. And whether we want to admit it or not, it’s far too easy to move on and address nothing.
Talking about spiritual matters is way easier than you think. The idea of getting together with a pastor sounds dramatic and intimidating. It’s not that bad. We’ll visit for a few moments and then, at the very least, we can decide what the questions are that we need to discuss.
Message me or call me or bang on my door.
Bring someone with you.
Come in a group of 2 or 3.
Ask for my wife to be there.
Or meet with another pastor or another spiritual leader.
We’ll visit for a bit. And then we will talk.
Think of it this way. Sunday, December 21, we’re having a Christmas oriented service. And at some point, pretty early in the service, we will take an offering. And the reason our church has the nerve to take an offering, even at Christmas time, is because we want to be there for our community. And the most tangible way our church is there is through our pastor. Vocational pastors are a gift that God gives to a local church and community. It’s humbling for me – – trust me (1 Peter 5:1-4). But the call on my life is to be a shepherd.
So let’s talk. Or talk to another pastor or leader who knows Christ and the Bible, but let’s do talk.
You might ask, “Do you have the time to talk?” And the answer is, “We’ll figure out the time thing.”
You might ask, “Do you really think we can accomplish much in one talk?” In a way, “yes,” but in another way “no.” Life is a long stretch of road and we need to start talking together. Then again, sometimes it’s not such a long stretch of road, so let’s talk now.
You might ask, “Do you really think you have answers?” Again, the answer is “yes,” but not because I have wisdom of my own, but because God is there, and he is not silent, and he has given us his Word and my call — and the call of all pastors – – is to open it up with you and show you how it speaks powerfully to our grief.
You might say, “Well, I’m just not the spiritual sort” . . . or “My life is already too messed up” . . . or “I’m too private” . . . Listen, those statements are lies. Don’t buy them. Let’s get together and see how there is hope. Truly.
For a sermon on the tears of Christ in the face of tragedy, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s 9/11 sermon in NY. The actual sermon begins at about the 29 minute mark. But the prayers and Scripture readings before the sermon are medicine for our souls as well.
By the powers vested in me by . . . I hereby announce that you can start your Bible reading plan on December 16. Consider this post your license to cheat by beginning to read through the Bible now. If you need a Bible reading schedule, try this one.
For motivation to read through the Bible in 2015, we need go no further than Psalm 19. C.S. Lewis said that he considered Psalm 19 the greatest poem in the psalter. Whether or not we agree with ranking the Psalms, one can see why Lewis was so enamored with Psalm 19. In it (Psalm 19:7-11) we are reminded that God’s Word:
- “Revives the soul” – Feel dead inside? Read God’s Word.
- “Makes wise the simple” – Big decisions ahead? Look to Scripture
- “Gives joy to the heart” – Feeling melancholy with long days? Rinse your minds with the Word of God.
- “Gives light to the eyes” – At a dark place? Let God’s truth illuminate your path.
Read through Psalm 19 – – or better yet Psalm 119 – – and purpose to read the Bible in the months to come.
But, “Alas,” you say. “I would be hard pressed to keep up with reading through the Bible in 2015.”
This is where I, Chris Brauns, ordained by Spring Creek Church in Pewaukee, WI, can be of great help. I am announcing a special blessing whereby you are allowed to start reading through the Bible as early as December 16. This is your green light to leave the starting blocks before the 2015 gun sounds: cheat.
Personally, I plan to use a schedule published by Faith Baptist Bible College (my wife’s alma mater). However, in celebration of Christians freedom, you are allowed to choose an alternative schedule. Look around on the web.
I haven’t started cheating yet. But will do so soon. If it makes you feel better, print this off and put it in your Bible to officially document that you have permission. The key is to start now. Get a jump on the new year. Take a swing at 2015 before it even makes the climb in Times Square.
Yesterday, I posted a summary of the doctrine of the trinity in anticipation of tomorrow’s sermon. Here is an alternative way to be reminded that using analogies to understand this doctrine always ends in heresy.
Can you precisely and concisely summarize the doctrine of the Trinity? Do you know which doctrinal errors to avoid?
Sunday we will continue our Making Merry at Christmas series at the Red Brick Church. Our children will be singing – – which always brings great joy – – but I will also be showing how if we properly understand and meditate on the doctrine of the Trinity it will give way to joy and celebration.
You will have to come to church (or listen online) to the sermon to see how I connect the dots. But it’s always a good thing to review the doctrine of the Trinity and be reminded of its basic parameters. Bernard Ramm is right when he shows how the doctrine of the Trinity is of incredible help.
“. . . once a doctrine has been clarified in this manner, it has a wonderful way of explaining Scripture when turned back upon the Scripture. We wonder why we did not see it so clearly before! Yet this is the nature of progress in theology. Only by pushes and pulls, by rushes to one flank and a counter-rush to another flank, does the ‘obvious’ in Scripture become ‘obvious.’” Bernard Ramm, The Witness of the Spirit, 29.
Packer is also helpful in reminding us that the goal of the doctrine of the Trinity is not to give us comprehensive understanding of the Trinity.
“The historic formulation of the Trinity seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is true.” J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, 40.
The statements in the below table summarize the doctrine of the Trinity. (1) God is 3 persons. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is one God. For more, see Justin Taylor’s post, Trinity 101. See also this important post on the Nicene Creed.
Table 1. Summary of the Doctrine of the Trinity: “One What, Three Who’s”
|Biblical Truth||Select Scripture References||Heresy or Error if Denied|
|1||God is three persons.||F & S: Jn 1:1-2 show distinctions, 1 Jn 2:1. Each must be a person for these to happen.||Modalism: One God that goes by 3 different names.|
|HS: Coordinate relationships (Mt 28:19, Greek grammar, personal activities assigned to HS: teaching (Jn 14:26), speaking (Acts 8:29, 13:2) and other personal activities.|
|2||Each person is fully God.||F: Gn 1:1; Mt 6:9||Arianism: The Son or the Spirit not fully God. Subordinationism: Son not equal to Father even though eternal. Adoptionism: Jesus ordinary until his baptism.|
|S: Jn 1:1-18; Heb 1:1-4|
|HS: Ps 139:7-8; Acts 5:3-4|
|3||There is one God.||Deut 6:4; Isa 45:22||Tritheism: three different gods.|
In a recommended sermon on the beatitudes (2/11/90), Tim Keller explains that the difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian mourns over his or her righteousness:
What’s the difference between a Christian and a moralist? Here it is: Moralists and Christians both repent for their sins. A lot of moralists are poor in spirit. A lot of moralistic people, religious people, mourn over their sin, and even are meek. The difference between a moralist and a Christian is moralists and Christians both repent of sins, but a Christian also repents of his righteousness.
That means a moralist says, “I’ve sinned, but look at all the good things I’m doing. Look how often I come to church. Look at how faithful a spouse I am. Look at what a great career I have. Look at this and that, and look at that and this and that.” The Christian says, “No, I even repent of that. I even give up that. I see the only way Jesus Christ can receive me is if I completely rely on what he has done, not on anything I have done.” That’s the difference between a Christian and a moralist.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6.