Adventus

Advent gives us the opportunity to reflect on the good news of great joy we celebrate on Christmas.

Adventus (from which we get Advent) means “coming.” It’s the eager anticipation for the arrival of something – or Someone. We often read the Christmas story as Jesus showing up after the Old Testament to kick off the New Testament. But the Christmas story doesn’t begin in the New Testament with the Gospels, or even with the prophets who spoke of a coming Savior.

The Christmas story begins in Genesis.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebelled and sinned against God because of the serpent’s deception. They didn’t trust the goodness of God and disobeyed Him, creating a breach between mankind and the Lord. Instead of striking them dead on the spot, God curses the serpent and makes this promise to the enemy:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
He will crush your head,
    and you will strike His heel.” 

– Genesis 3:15, NIV

Because of this promise, Adam and Eve knew a Child was coming. This Child, wounded by the enemy, would seem to be defeated. But this promised offspring would crush the old serpent’s head and restore what had been lost in the Garden. Where Adam had failed his earthly bride by a tree, One would come who would save His eternal bride on a tree. Where Adam had disobeyed God, One would come who would obey God perfectly.

 And so they waited, and looked forward to this Child who would come.

As mankind grew and spread across the earth, God came to a man named Abraham and called him to step out in faith. God called Abraham to leave his country, his people group, and his family, to go to an unknown land. God promised Abraham:

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

– Genesis 12:2-3, ESV

The problem was that Abraham was old. As in 75 years oldAnd yet, God gave him a son in his impossibly old age as a sign that our circumstances are never greater than our God. The promise was that in Abraham, all the families of the earth would be blessed. The offspring promised to our first parents would be that blessing.

And then God did something that seems like too much: God asked Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham gathered his sacrificing gear together and trekked with his son to the mountain. When Isaac observed that everything was there except the animal to be sacrificed, Abraham displayed his trust in the promise and faithfulness of God:

“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together. “

– Genesis 22:8, ESV

God did provide an animal, a ram, to take the place of Isaac on the altar. But a day was coming when God would indeed provide for Himself a Lamb as a sacrifice. Where a ram was offered as Isaac’s substitute, a Lamb would be offered as another substitute. Where Abraham’s son was not sacrificed, a Son would be sacrificed as a display of the Father’s love.

 And so they waited, and looked forward to this Lamb who would come.

Within several generations, God’s people found themselves in slavery in a foreign land. God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, and to wander in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the promised land. And yet, even though God had shown himself in great power and through mighty acts and faithful displays of love, they still ran after other gods. Their hearts weren’t changed; Israel was still under the bondage of sin, shame, and death. Moses was a great leader, but he couldn’t cause his people to love and obey God wholeheartedly because it is never man who changes hearts. Only God does that, and He made a promise through Moses:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

– Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV

In hope, they waited for this promised Deliverer who would deliver His people from the oppressive enemy and the shackles of sin, shame, and death. The One who would circumcise their hearts so that they could truly love the Lord and obey Him. Where Moses delivered them from physical slavery, One was coming who would deliver them from spiritual slavery. Where Moses introduced the Law, One was coming who would fulfill the Law completely. Where Moses wasn’t able to fully lead his people into the promised land because of his disobedience, there was One coming who, through obedience, would be able to bring His people into the great promise.

 And so they waited, and looked forward to this Savior who would come.

In the promised land, the Lord raised another leader. David was the shepherd-boy-turned-warrior who famously felled the giant Goliath with a sling and stone. Described as “a man after God’s own heart,” he seemed like a great deliverer and God anointed him king over Israel. But as great of a king as he was, David was still a man beset with sin, and his household was wrought with brokenness. He wasn’t the promised One, but there was a promise made to him:

“When your [David] days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish His kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.”

– 2 Samuel 7:12-13, ESV

So David and Israel knew that the promised offspring was coming, a King who would have an everlasting kingdom. Isaiah would prophecy:

“Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”

– Isaiah 9:7, ESV

Where David was unfaithful to his bride, One was coming who would be perfectly faithful and protect His Bride. Where David would die and his kingdom become divided, One was coming who would be raised from the dead and have a Kingdom that would never end. 

And so they waited, and looked forward to this King who would come.

This is what the world was waiting for: a Child, a Lamb, a Savior, a King. The ancient, promised Messiah they longed to see.

And then between the last pages of the Old Testament and the first page of our New Testament, God was silent for 400 years. It seemed as if maybe God had abandoned them. Maybe He had given up on His rebellious people.

Into this silence broke a baby’s cry one Bethlehem night. Into this longing, a longing that began back in Genesis, God himself stepped into creation as the promised Messiah, the promised Immanuel: God with us.

This promised Messiah, Jesus, lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death, and was raised back to life. This Jesus, who reconciled us to God, promised that He would one day return.

Advent means arrival. In light of His first coming, we eagerly wait for and anticipate His second coming, when He will restore all things. Come, Lord Jesus!

____________________________________________________________________

Join us daily in our new digital Advent devotional at  austinstone.org/advent

anomaly

We all know the Christmas Nativity story, the events happening around the birth of the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth. A virgin gives birth under the auspices of a star in the sky, and the world has never been the same. Many of us have just finished celebrating this story, and the significance of that event: God put on human flesh and stepped into history to provide life. To provide salvation. To provide hope where there is no hope.

There is a short film that was released on Christmas Day that drew from the Nativity story to tell a story. From its own description:

“Set against the space-race canvas of the 1960’s, Anomaly is inspired by the traditional Christmas Nativity and explores, through a modern-day lens, the events of two-thousand years ago. It is a story about relationships that intertwine around an unprecedented astronomical event, as a couple navigate life’s realities at a time of unfathomable significance.”

I’m partially biased because the film was produced by my younger cousin, Jens Jacob, and his company, Sypher Films. It is a marked change from the days he used to run around, terrorizing his mom’s Sunday School class, of which I was a part.

I could rave on and on about this movie, but I’ll let the short film speak for itself. In under 40 minutes, it explores love and heartbreak, darkness and light, wonder and hope. It pulls at your emotions. And it does all of this behind a backdrop of brilliant camera work and a haunting soundtrack.

This is not the Christmas birth narrative recorded as we have it in the two accounts in the Gospels. This is art. This is art that explores the emotions involved in the Nativity story. This is art that moves you.

This is a story about how light broke into darkness.

Website: theanomalyfilm.com
Listen to the soundtrack on Spotify: http://bit.ly/1zJth5S

intermission: austin

Dear readers,

Over the last several years, I’ve taken steps in obedience to God’s calling upon my life to vocational ministry. It has been both joyous and a struggle, but God has been incredibly faithful!

I have a unique opportunity this next year to intern at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. Its over 770,000 residents have many interests from live music, outdoor activities and art shows to nightlife. 1 in every 8 Austinites attends church weekly. Austin is a city full of potential! It is a GREAT city like many other cities in the world, but it is a broken city in need of restoration.

So how do we address these needs? Thankfully, God calls churches and people to make a difference and one of those ways is through making disciples who have a variety of interests and in turn want to see Jesus change their city. This is where the Austin Stone Institute (ASI) comes in. ASI is the leadership development branch of The Austin Stone Community Church, and the program provides an environment for men and women to be challenged, trained and then go lead in their home, church, campus, workplace, city and world. Interns are developed in three ways: doctrine and theology (head), character and affections (heart), & skills and know-how (hands). We will be equipped to engage people with the gospel, connect people in community, and mobilize people into the mission of making disciples. The unique role the Lord is calling me to is in the Equipping department, where I will be able to help develop resources and equip church members with the tools and knowledge necessary to impact their spheres of influence with the transforming power of the gospel.

ASI has no central funds to pay 75+ intern salaries and ministry expenses. Like many other mission organizations ASI depends upon the consistent financial support of partnering individuals and churches. These contributions are used to fund the ministries of the interns and residents.

So, how can you join what God is doing? We must find a team of partners who will give $100 monthly or some other amount to support our ministry. As soon as this team is complete, we can turn our full
attention to reaching people for Christ. Everyone is called to make disciples, but not everyone can GO. God has enabled some to go and do, some to support those who go, and everyone to pray for the mission. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to partner with me in the mission of God in Austin!

My commitment to my partners is:
-To work diligently to touch the lives of people for Jesus Christ.
-To regularly let you know how God is blessing the ministry.
-To be financially faithful with the funds given for my ministry.
-To share prayer concerns with one another.

Your partnership can make a difference in reaching people for Christ. Would you make a monthly commitment of $50 or $100 or some other amount for the next 12 months? We must find a team of partners who will give $100 monthly or some other amount to support our ministry. As soon as this team is complete, we can turn our full
attention to reaching people with the gospel.

If the Lord impresses it upon your heart to partner financially with me, you can go to the following link to make a tax-deductible donation:
https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=7b652a
If you should choose to write a check, please include my project code 0962 so that any contribution you make will go to my account. And if you happen to know anyone else that would be interested in joining, please let me know!

There is another vital way you can help, and that is by committing to be part of my prayer support team. Nothing lasting will be accomplished without prayer, and we will greatly need it! Would you commit to also praying for me?

Thank you for your time and continued support for this blog! I’m grateful for the relationship I have with each of you and excited to partner with you guys in this! None of this would have ever been possible without the support and encouragement of the people in my life. I would love to answer any questions you may have, and if there is any way I can be praying for you, please let me know!

And I plan to blog even more the next few months, so be looking for that!

Praying for all of you!

-Brice Johnson
Equipping Resident
https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=7b652a

IMG_3272.JPG

ignominious ignorance

The last few weeks, I kept slapping my forehead in frustration. A week ago, I wanted to deactivate my Facebook and Twitter accounts. This last week, the madness has slowed down a bit — but not completely.

A week ago, America decided who their 44th President would be. The weeks before and even on the day of election, social media was an emotional, verbal battlefield as Republicans and Democrats attacked each other. Many of my Republican-leaning friends decried abortion, gay marriage, and the fear of a socialist America, attacking anyone who didn’t adhere to their definitions of life, marriage, and economy. Their left-leaning counterparts, also some of my friends, accused the Republican party of being a bunch of rich, white, bigoted, overly-religious hypocrites, and their fans. This was to be expected, but what bothered me most was peoples’ attitudes in all of this, and even the post-election sentiments: Democrats smugly boasted that America was “moving forward,” rubbing it in, and Republicans whined that America is crumbling and the end of society is imminent. Idiotic, ignorant and mindless statements were/are proclaimed from both sides as my newsfeed was clogged with regurgitated, emotional political opinion.

But not everyone. Some people were moderate, some people actually intelligently defended their hard political stance, and many just didn’t care (which is troubling in and of itself). I won’t divulge my own political leanings because I’m wary of people jumping to conclusions and painting me in a certain caricature of a stereotype. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. And there are things I appreciate about both parties, and many things I disagree with. I think most people, if they actually rationally thought things through, would probably be in a similar boat.

When you only listen to and trust your favorite pundits and ridicule anyone who doesn’t drink your favorite flavor of political Powerade, when you make “morality” or “tolerance” the only issues that sway your vote, when you don’t think through and dialogue calmly with people who disagree with you, but only spout regurgitated diatribe that you haven’t thought through, you run the risk of being ignorant. And I fear that many tiptoe that line.

Ignorance fortifies ignorance, and arrogance makes it near impenetrable. Charles Darwin (woah there, conservatives!) once said:

“Ignorance frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”

and Solomon, in Proverbs 18:2 (hold your horses, liberals!) says:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

The Republican party is not just some out-dated, fundamental group of untrustworthy white Evangelicals, and the Democratic party is not just some morality-killing ideology that’s enabling the “poor” or “lazy” by stealing hard-earned money. Start from that vantage point, and you’ll be much better off.

Barack Obama has been reelected as President of the United States of America for a second term, whether you like him or not. America will not disintegrate in the near future, and if so, it won’t be because Obama is in office. Same would go if Romney was in the Oval Office.

Regardless of your political leanings and convictions, remember that the United States is not the Kingdom of God. If we have put our faith in Christ Jesus and are in Him, we are a part of that Kingdom, where Jesus is our King. And it isn’t America. And the President is not our Savior or High Priest. As citizens of the US, we should engage in the privilege and responsibility of voting. But as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we put our hope in our true ruler who is neither red nor blue. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy or a republic, but it is a joyful Monarchy. And when He (Jesus) returns in power, He will hand the Kingdom over to the Father. Thus, we do not put our hope in presidents or policies or laws. They are just citizens and agents in God’s sovereignty:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” — Romans 13:1-7

Let that reminder keeps us all in check, whether we be conservative, liberal, Green Party, Tea Party, independent, anarchist, or whatever.

on the theory of angels

Angel stories are the believable sister of UFO stories. You’ll find them in nearly any community and culture. Most people listen with an incredulous mindset and a smirk tickling their lips, but we don’t pull out the straitjacket on them like we do with the people that say they’ve had aliens test on them. Books, songs, television all abound with these ideas of coming into contact with these emissaries from heaven.

It seems, at the very least, we want to want to believe them.

Do you have a story? I could share a few…

… I could tell you about the time I saw an angel in my attic, shining in frozen glory, and speaking soft words…

… or I could tell you about the angel in my room, sitting serenely and having that Touched-By-An-Angel glow radiating off them…

… or maybe you would be interested in hearing how an angel literally saved my life one grey Spring night on the roads of Waco. And several times after…

… or I could talk about the angel that came to tell me about Heaven’s activities and visiting old friends…

The word “angel” itself carries a wide array of meanings. The classical meaning is “messenger” and is what is often translated in the Bible, and is most commonly the role of these beings in other world religions. These are the ones with the message from God.

We use it to mean a dear one who is precious to us, like a significant other or a beloved friend. “Baby, you’re my angel.” “Angel of miiiiiiine.” (Whatever happened to Monica anyway?)

We think of a dead person that has risen in celestial rankings and now sits with soft down feathers and plays a golden harp on cotton clouds.

And of course, everyone seems to have a guardian angel. The one who watches out for them, prevents that car accident, stops the bullet from hitting you.

If you’re a Christian, you believe in the existence of angels because… well, because the Bible records them. In crucial moments in history, angels have heralded news to mankind. Think of the angel staying Abraham’s knife-wielding hand over Isaac. Or the fourth person in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Jesus?). Or even the troops that announced the birth of our Savior.

So I don’t doubt their existence. They may even interject into our modern day lives. Most of our uses of the word “angel” however? Well, maybe you could explain those away…

… maybe it was a fabricated story concocted by the over-imaginative mind of a young me told to entertain my parents…

… maybe it was just the light reflecting at all the right angles around a friend…

… perhaps the saving angel was just the grace of God preserving me through a phone call and a friendship…

… and maybe the angel was just a dream…

Sure, maybe my experiences aren’t angels in the true, classical sense. Maybe they’re not Gabriel or Michael. Yeah, I’m probably dubbing names on unique experiences and memories. But there is a reason why people want to believe in angels…. it’s hope. It’s hope in something more than this life, Someone higher than ourselves. Religious or not, we want to believe in heroes and the supernatural. Our hearts long for a wholly other.

Of course, angels aren’t the end all. They point to the ultimate messenger from God: God Himself in the form of a man — Jesus. We get to celebrate that He is our intermediary, our Hero, our hope.

All these other ideas we glorify, these other angels? Well they just point us to the greatness of our God. They remind us of the love of the Father.

It is Well with Her Soul

Today marks the anniversary of the day my friend Esther Boyalapalli passed away after fighting medulloblastoma for two years. To learn more about Esther’s story, please click here. The following is adapted from something I shared with my InterVarsity fellowship a few years ago.

_____________________________________________________________

Esther BoyalapalliIf you have been around OneWay in the last few years or so, you have inevitably heard about Esther Boyalapalli, accompanied by an assortment of adjectives: loving, caring, strong, unwavering, faith, beautiful, perfect, godly, prayerful, and the list goes on and on. All these can accurately be used to describe Esther, but my goal is not to talk about how amazing she was, but how I saw God work in her, and what I learned from knowing her.
Esther and I both came into UT in the Fall of 2005 and became plugged into OneWay. A couple of my earliest and clearest memories of her are from RISC 2005 and a memorable trip to Kerbey Lane that a couple of us freshmen went to. And when I think about Esther at that time, the first thing that comes to my mind is her smile that stretched from one side of her face to the other, a smile that really was infectious and contagious and hardly left her face. She spoke so demurely and with a grace that I know left an impression on those who came across her. I had the privilege of serving with her on Outreach team my sophomore year and really get to talk to her and see where her heart was.

In the summer of 2007, I received the news that they had found a tumor, and it was definitely a reeling hit. She had mentioned to me about her headaches, but a tumor? My initial response was, seriously, God? Of all people, You had to let Esther go through this?? Couldn’t You find someone else?

And there I revealed a huge misconception that I had, and indeed, I think a lot of people have: that because someone is “good” and does “good things,” they do not deserve to have bad things happen to them. Because Esther was such a “good” and “godly” woman, then it was unfair that she had to go through cancer. It is a sinful idea that one person is inherently above or better than someone else, and pulls us away from what the Gospel teaches us about grace and suffering.

The next year or so, Esther went through chemo and treatment, and it seemed like she was on the right road to recovery. She started driving and was going to start school again. The huge weight behind her eyes began to lift, and you saw the joy and cheer there. Then, in the Spring of last year, the tumor resurfaced.

On July 3, 2009, Esther walked from earth into eternity.

I had the opportunity to talk to her parents, and Esther’s mom told me that Esther had some of the same worries and frustrations that everyone else had, this “why me?” frustration. Just because she was Esther, didn’t mean that she was exempt from doubt and fear. In that fear, she held onto God, and she learned what it meant to truly trust her God. But when the second round came, her mom said that it was as if a transformation happened in Esther. She was no longer scared or bothered by what was going around her, it seemed like a peace just enveloped her. And it was something that God did in her, not a peace she mustered up on her own.

Right there, in Esther, in her story, I saw the transformative power of faith in Jesus! Here was a girl that you thought had it all, down to her walk with Jesus. If I have ever known a Proverbs 31 woman, a woman who’s heart is after God, it seemed Esther was her. But through this ordeal, she learned to really hold onto Christ, and His promise, that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And she clung to it, because that’s all she could cling to. And God took her heart of fear and doubt and misgivings and gave her a heart of trust, of faith in something larger than her and larger than medulloblastoma. You could literally see how God was shaping and changing her.

I believe, and I believe the Bible attests to this everywhere, in the absolute and complete sovereignty of God. The last couple of years, but especially the last few months for me, I see how there is no such thing as “chance” or accidents. Esther’s cancer wasn’t an accident. But it was something that God gave her to shape her into the woman that God wanted her to be. For us, when suffering and trials and hard times come about, and the Bible is clear that they will, we will have fear and doubt and worry and feel pain.

But in those moments, we don’t stay in that fear and doubt and worry and pain, we look at the hope and promise of Jesus, that He works all things for the good of those who love Him, that He had a plan for us that He wrote out before we were even formed in our mother’s bellies. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. We put our faith in that promise and glorify God with our lives. We have a hope and assurance that death is not the end of the story, that death has no victory over us because our victory was won on the cross in the person of Jesus.

Easier said than done, right? As I was writing this, I thought about what this looked like in my own life, and I was convicted in realizing it’s the same thing: clinging to faith, clinging to Jesus. Our strength and hope is not in anything we can find or create in this world, and it is certainly not in ourselves. We run to Jesus.

There was a guy named Horatio Spafford that lived in the 1800s who was a prominent lawyer in Chicago. This guy ran into a sea of bad luck. First, he lost his only son, and then shortly after that, the great Chicago Fire swept through the city in 1871, which ruined him financially. He had invested in a lot of real estate and the fire destroyed pretty much everything. Soon thereafter, he decided his family needed a vacation, and chose England because his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there. Delayed because of business, Horatio sent his wife and 4 daughters ahead of him. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all 4 of Horatio’s daughters. He received a telegram from his wife when she reached England that had only 2 words on it: “Saved alone.” He then sailed over to England, and the captain of the ship showed Horatio the spot where the previous ship had sunk and his 4 daughters had died. Horatio Spafford then went to his room and penned these lines:

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roar, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘it is well, it is well with my soul’

How’s that for suffering well?

We rejoice because death did not win over Esther. Because of Christ’s work, we will see her again, with a renewed body, having fellowship with her and all who have been redeemed by Christ!

Esther’s story is not ultimately about how great of a person she was, but how great our God is. It is about clinging to the the only true solid rock. I don’t know why He chose her of all people to suffer through and die with cancer, but I know that God formed the universe and trees and animals and humans and protons and neutrons, and He’s been doing this a lot longer than I have. He knows what He’s doing, and looking at Esther, I know that He loves us.

Defining Us

What defines America?

Is it our culture? Our religion? Our politics? Our landscape? Our race?

And therein lies the tricky part. You can’t compartmentalize America into any of those categories, because we are more than just that. There is more than one culture in America. More than one religion represented. More than one way of thinking, of looking at things, of living. We are the steamy stew of the West, a cauldron of every culture, religion, and idea on earth.

I was recently asked to write a very brief article on how Christianity has enriched America. I did so, and you can find it alongside other articles about the impact of other religions and faith ideas.

Now, let me lay some things out. I very much believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. He is not just “a way”. Jesus takes our brokenness and redeems it, restores us to how things should be. And if you are a follower of Christ, your role is to be His image, to restore the world through Christ.

This article is not meant to be an evangelistic piece, but was solely to show Christianity’s role in our country, and to encourage others to learn more about the faith. Several other faiths and ideas are presented on this website, and they all talk about how America has been enriched by their ideas. I think it’s a very good idea to engage in dialogue with other people who don’t think, talk, or act like us. How do we know how to reach those who don’t know Christ if we ourselves don’t know who they are or what they really believe?

I also encourage you to check out the website. The movement is called DefineUS and it’s purpose is to highlight the diversity in our nation and for greater dialogue between people who think differently.

You can find the link here. To read my article, simply click on my picture.

And if you don’t know yet… I’m the Indian guy with the beard… and a cross on my palm.

So what defines America? Well, that’s a tricky question. But what defines a Christian?

Simple. Jesus.