Just a quick update this week. Kathy & I welcomed Hudson to our family on Friday, March 10. Labor and delivery went well with no complications. Jarren, Reagan and Ashlyn have taken to their newest little brother really well. Please pray for us as we adjust to the new normal. We're quite tired, but we feel very blessed!
Pastor Tim Swigarts Blog
Missio Dei is a Contemporary Baptist Church located in historic Galena IL. Senior Pastor Tim Swigart shares his thoughts on numerous topics concerning the church.
We've seen God moving in a number of ways this past winter and wanted to give everyone an update of where we're at and what's going on in the life of Missio Dei.
First, I have been working as a church planting apprentice with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA). Both organizations operate under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Lots of abbreviations that stand for lots of partners all across the United States partnering to see a new church planted in Galena. My apprenticeship ends at the end of this month. NAMB and IBSA are currently working toward approving my application to become a full-fledged church planter. This is an exciting development and signals NAMB and IBSA's support of our continuing work in Galena.
Second, we will be hosting some really exciting community outreach events this Spring. The first will be an Easter Children's Carnival on Saturday, April 15 from 1-3pm at the Galena Middle School Gym. We have lots of great fun planned for the kids, who come. We're hoping to get lots of families invited to our small groups.
Third, we have two small groups meeting. One meets on Monday evenings at 7pm. The other group meets every-other Wednesday evening at 6pm. We've seen both groups growing slowly over the winter months. We're excited to have the chance to develop relationships with more and more people in our community through this small group ministry.
We're looking forward to a great Spring. If you haven't already joined us and our mission in Galena, we invite you to do so today. Contact me through the contact page on this website.
Right before returning to Heaven, Jesus gave this directive to His followers: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 18:19-20). This directive is addressed not only to those who were listening that day, but to all who would follow Christ in the years to come. We are a missional people with a divine commission to share Christ with the world.
Now, most of us won't be quitting our jobs to become full-time missionaries. And that's okay. Not everyone is called to foreign lands. However, we are all called to be missionaries in our spheres of influence. God has placed all of us in a mission field. If you look around and think deeply about those people you spend time with each week, whether it be at home, work, school or play, you're going to notice that many of those people do not have a relationship with Jesus. I believe God has providentially placed you in their lives to be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, this week, begin to view your world through missional eyes. Who has God placed in you sphere of influence? Do they know Christ? If not, share the good news with them; share your own personal testimony or experience with Christ. It may be the most important conversation you have with them in a lifetime. We are everyday missionaries.
It seems nearly every single sin we commit against God, ourselves, or others originates with a thought. Thus, there is a battle raging for our minds. Does the Bible give us any practical advice on how to better control our thought lives?
The simple answer is: "Yes." The Bible gives us many practical tips on controlling our thought lives. One such tip is found in Philippians 4:8. In this single verse, Paul gives us a practical plan for managing our thought lives. He writes: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Essentially, Paul is imploring us to fill our minds with good and honorable thoughts. I believe his advice is good, because it crowds out those evil and vile thoughts that race through our minds. There's simply no thought-space available to dwell on sin, if our thoughts are fully consumed by that which is good.
So, how do we train our minds to dwell on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely...thoughts that Paul writes of in Philippians 4. I think one practical way is to spend time in our Bibles learning about Jesus. Jesus meets the definition of all these positive attributes. The better we know Jesus and the more time we spend thinking of Him, the less room there will be for harboring those thoughts that cause us to sin.
As I write this, I cannot escape the thoughts of being a hypocrite, myself. I struggle with my thought life - probably more than most. I have been earnestly trying to practice this process of dwelling on good thoughts to crowd out the bad for some time now. I won't lie, I still struggle to keep my mind from being overtaken. But, I will say, that I have seen improvement over time. That's why I feel I should share this with others. It won't cure you of the those thoughts that lead to sin, but it does help. Keep battling...I know I will.
Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16. It's well-known for good reason. It communicates God's love to those who are far and near. Let's take a look at this love:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." John 3:16-18
As a father, myself, the thought of giving my son to save others is almost unimaginable. God knew what it would cost to save us and He willingly paid the price. Can you imagine watching your only Son be nailed to a cross? Can you imagine the agony of seeing him whipped? I cannot imagine giving my son the way God gave His. His love is so amazing!
God is in the rescue business. God isn't out to get you; He's reaching out to you in love through Jesus, His Son. Jesus paid the ultimate price to secure a salvation you cannot earn. God is offering all people an abundantly good and eternal life through faith in His Son. No tricks...just an amazing offer of life through Jesus.
As with any gift, we must decide to accept it or reject it. Jesus says that those who receive God's gift through faith will be saved from the consequences of sin. Those who reject God's gift will not be saved. Why would anyone not receive this amazing gift?
If you have not received Jesus by faith and would like to know how to do that, contact me through the contact tab on this site. I'm not here to judge; I'm here to help people receive the gift God has given.
Imagine what the world could be like if Christians lived like this:
"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.' To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:9-21.
Is it possible to live this way? In God's strength it is. Pray with me that God would provide each of us with the strength to embrace this kind of life. Consider joining us as we attempt to encourage one another along the way.
One day, Jesus was tested by a lawyer. We find the test in Matthew 22:35-40. Matthew records the test this way: "And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'"
In a culture obsessed with the Law and with keeping rules, Jesus sums up all the Law in two summary statements - what we call the Great Commandments. In doing so, Jesus gives us the measure by which we must live.
If we really pay attention to this text, however, we find that we have a significant problem on our hands. Who can keep even these two commandments perfectly? We must ask ourselves: do we love God with all our heart, soul and mind all the time? Do we really love our neighbor as we love ourselves all the time? The simple answer is no.
The beauty we know as the Gospel is crucial at this point. The Gospel recognizes that we do not and can not keep the Law. Even when Jesus pairs the whole totality of the Law into two commandments, we fall woefully short. The Gospel teaches us that we are not saved by rule keeping. Rather, we are saved, because God has shown us mercy and grace. God has rescued those who trust in Jesus through Jesus's death and resurrection. Our sins were placed on Jesus and punished in His body. In return, Jesus' perfect obedience to the Law (including the two greatest commandments) has been imputed upon believers. When we stand in Christ, we stand in perfect righteousness.
The Gospel is amazing! If you'd like to hear more about this Gospel, contact me through the contact tab on this website. I'd love to share God's love with you at a time convenient for you.
Many people wonder if they have to believe in Jesus to be saved. Aren't all religions equally valid ways to approach God? Isn't it arrogant of Christians to believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven? These are great questions.
I always think it is best to go directly to source material to see what has been said regarding important subjects in theology. Don't let the word "theology" scare you; it simply means the "study of God." So, let's go to the Bible and see what Jesus and his disciples had to say about this very important subject. I'll let them speak for themselves. Ultimately, my answer to this question is of little importance. Jesus' answer, however, carries weight.
In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." This is an exclusive claim made by Jesus. In John 3:36, Jesus says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." Jesus clearly saw Himself as the only pathway to eternal life and to a restored relationship with God, the Father.
Jesus' disciples struck a considerably similar tone. The words of Peter in Acts 4:12: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." The words of John in 1 John 5:12: "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." Those who knew Jesus best testified to the fact that Jesus was the only way to have eternal life and a restored relationship with God, the Father. I think it's safe to assume they got that idea from Jesus, Himself.
Jesus gave us many proofs to support His claims. Many miracles are documented throughout the New Testament. The most important of all was His miraculous resurrection from the dead. Romans 1:4 tells us Jesus "was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead." Jesus did what only God can do, which means we'd be wise to listen to what He says. He says He's the only way to salvation. I take Him at His Word.
It's not uncommon for people to ask whether or not we can trust the Bible. How do we know the Bible wasn't manipulated throughout history by the church to make Jesus into something He never claimed to be? It's a good question and one we must ponder carefully.
I believe we can have great confidence in that what we have in our Bible is what was written by the original writers and that it hasn't been changed. I base my assertion on the fact that we have a tremendous number of very early manuscripts that all attest to the authenticity of the Bible. In fact, the manuscript evidence alone speaks volumes.
The Bible has the most manuscript authority of any book from ancient times. Second place goes to "The Illiad" by Homer. The Illiad has 643 manuscripts to authenticate the words written by Homer. By contrast, the New Testament of the Bible has 24,633 early manuscripts to authenticate the words written by the authors. The New Testament of the Bible has roughly 24,000 more manuscripts than the second most authenticated book from antiquity. The sheer volume of authenticating texts allows one to take and reconstruct the original with a very high degree of certainty as to the original words penned by the New Testament writers. Author Josh McDowell argues that one can take the 24,633 early manuscripts from the New Testament and reconstruct the original to a 99.5% pure text. That's incredible!
The New Testament of the Bible can be relied upon. We can know with great certainty that the words in our Bible are good representations of what the original writers wrote. I believe the message of the New Testament is so important that God providentially worked to preserve the text beyond a shadow of a doubt.
For further research, I recommend Josh McDowell's book "The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict." It provides lots of great research into many of the questions people have about the Christian faith.
Over the next several weeks, I'd like to spend some time pondering some of the deep questions concerning the Christian faith. Let's begin our discussion with one of the most often asked questions a pastor hears. How good is good enough? Put another way: how do I know if I've been good enough to make it to Heaven?
Can you imagine how tremendously difficult it would be to determine the standard by which people would be deemed as either a good person deserving of Heaven and a not-so-deserving person? How many good things are required? How many bad things until you're out? Does quantity even matter? What if a person only committed a handful of sins in their entire lives, but those sins were big sins like rape and murder? How do they compare with someone who has committed thousands of sins of trivial nature? Where do you draw the line that is ultimately fair?
The Bible teaches us that in God's wisdom, He set a standard that is ultimately fair to all. The standard is total obedience. The only true good individual deserving of Heaven is the individual without sin. This is a fair standard. You're either sinless or a sinner. There's no need to rank people based on the number of times one sins or the severity of their sins, etc.
Though this is the fairest way to settle the question of how good is good enough, it doesn't put us in a very good position. Any honest person would admit to the fact that they have done things that are sinful. I've yet to find a person who claims perfection. God has spoken to this fact in His Word - the Bible. Romans 3:10 states: "None is righteous, no, not one." Romans 3:23 states: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, we all fall short of the standard for getting into Heaven.
Fortunately, God has not left us in this miserable and hopeless state. God knew that we could not meet the standard, so He sent His Son, Jesus, to take our sins upon Himself and bare the punishment we deserve. In His death, Jesus literally removes our sin from our shoulders and places it on His back and suffers God's holy wrath in our stead. As a result of Jesus removing our sin, we now stand sinless - meeting the standard. In addition to removing our sin, Jesus also places on our shoulders His perfect obedience to the law. When God the Father looks at a born-again Christ-follower, He sees Christ's sinless life and righteous obedience to the law. Through Christ, a believer becomes "good enough."
As an interesting side note, the question of being good enough begs the question: why did Jesus come and die on the cross? If we were able to meet the standard of what is good enough on our own merits, why would it be necessary for Jesus to come at all? For those who weren't as good as those who were good enough? How is that fair? No, Christ came, because it was the only way to save all men who receive Him by faith.
If you haven't received Christ by faith (you may not even know what that means), contact me through the contact page. I'd be happy to discuss it in greater detail.
If you have other questions worth considering in this forum, please comment on this post with your question. I'd be happy to tackle it in the weeks to come.
Happy New Year! The new year marks an opportunity for new beginnings. No matter what happened in 2016, 2017 gives us reason to be optimistic about our future. Like many, I've set a number of resolutions for the new year that will hopefully shape the year in positive ways. As I was reflecting on this chance at a new beginning, I was drawn to a passage in the book of 2 Corinthians. Specifically, 2 Corinthians 5:17, which states: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
This single verse provides such hope for us all. When we trust Jesus and submit ourselves to His rule and reign, something amazing happens. The old us passes away; a new us is born. No matter how miserably we've screwed things up, we have the opportunity to start afresh with Christ. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose from the dead so that we could experience an abundantly good life that lasts for all eternity. He offers this new life as a gift.
If you're looking for a fresh start...a new life, I'd invite you to contact me through our contact page. Our church is all about new beginnings. I'd love to connect you with other Christ-followers, who are on this journey through life together. May God richly bless your new year!
I've had a lot of time to reflect during this Christmas season. I've been reading the Christmas story in Luke these past few weeks. The verse that has captivated my mind these past few days, in particular, is Luke 2:7. It reads, "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."
Out of all the places on planet earth to be born, Jesus was born in a stable and placed in an animal feeding trough to sleep. Why was he born in the stable? Because there was no room for Him in the inn. All the best places in town were completely full. Only a lowly stable could be found to shelter the young family.
Jesus began his infancy as an outcast. You can't have a more humble beginning. As Jesus grew and became a man, we see that He often associated with the outcasts of the community. We was described as a "friend of sinners." This title was given to Him by those in important positions, who would never dream of spending their valuable time with the hurting and hopeless in their midst. Yet, Jesus never forgot His humble beginnings. He always took time for those the world had rejected..
I am so thankful this Christmas season, that Jesus came as one who can relate to the hurting in our community. Though Jesus is the King of all creation, He calls the humble "friend." If you're hurting this Christmas season, try turning to Jesus. He cares for you. If you'd like help doing that, contact me through the contact page and we'll talk about it. I'm here for you.
While reading in the Book of Luke this week, I came upon a heading for Luke 9:7-9. The heading read: "Herod is Perplexed by Jesus." Here's the biblical text that follows: "Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, 'John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?' And he sought to see him."
Jesus is the most intriguing person to ever have walked the earth. There's literally no one in the world like Him. So, as you can imagine, He is one of the most often discussed religious figures in the world. With so many discussions, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction. So, I'm hoping to open this blog to address the questions you might have about Jesus. What has you perplexed? Please join in the discussion by commenting to this blog post. Together we'll seek the real Jesus as revealed in Scripture.
My family and I have experienced many changes over the past year. As we are now feeling more settled in our new community, I've had an opportunity to reassess my priorities. What's really important to me? Why is it important? Should it be important? I'm sure many of you ask yourself the same kinds of questions.
As I pondered my priorities, my mind was moved to the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:44-46. In these three short verses, Jesus points us to what should be a priority in our lives. He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
The men in these illustrations valued their treasure above everything else they had. The men sold all that they had to gain their treasure. Jesus says that we should value the kingdom in a like manner. We should desire it more than all that we have. It should be our priority.
I must admit that I don't always passionately pursue the kingdom. I don't always seek it as the treasure that it is. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Other very important priorities are always competing for our time and attention. So how do we foster the kind of excitement for the kingdom that puts us in a place where we gladly give up all things in order to gain it?
I'd suggest beginning with prayer. Pray that God would stoke your passion for the kingdom. I'm sure God will hear your plea and will light the fire within you.
Second, read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Get to know King Jesus. He's the most amazing person to have ever walked the earth. Be prepared to be blown away.
Third and finally, imagine what Heaven is like as routinely and as often as possible. No more tears; no more sadness; no more sickness; no more disease. Only pure joy - beyond what we've ever experienced before. Imagine standing with Jesus; imagine standing as a co-heir with Christ, adopted into the family of God as a son or daughter. It's simply breath-taking.
I'm wanting to stoke my passion for the kingdom. Feel free to share your ideas on how to do that.
Our church's mission is simple. "Missio Dei exists to help people take their next step toward Christ...together." So, as you can imagine, next steps are very important to us. But what does that mean?
We're all on a spiritual journey. We're all trying to make sense of the world we live in and our place in that world. This isn't an easy journey. It's filled with questions, struggles and doubts. But, it's also an exciting adventure full of wonder, suspense and awe. Missio Dei seeks to come alongside people in this journey and point to Christ.
So what are next steps? Everyone's next step looks different. Everyone is at a different point on their journey through life. For some, the next step may be simply acknowledging the possibility that God exists. For others, the next step may be to visit Missio Dei for the first time. For others still, it may be mustering the courage to ask their spiritual questions. Next steps take many forms. Your next step may be to share Christ with a co-worker or friend; it may be to invite them to church or small group; it may even be to go on an international mission trip to share Christ globally. We're here to help you take that next step...together.
No matter where you're at spiritually, Missio Dei is here to help. We welcome visitors and the questions they have. We strive to provide biblical answers to life's many difficult questions. We're not perfect. We make mistakes. We're all on a journey. But, together, the journey takes on new life. Please consider journeying along with us. We'd love to share the ride!
Missio Dei seeks to provide practical and godly wisdom that addresses real world concerns. We believe the Christian faith provides practical solutions to all of life's situations. With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that Missio Dei will be offering the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class this fall.
Statistics tell us that the number-one cause of divorce in North America is money fights. CNN found that "A couple with $10,000 in debt and no savings is twice as likely to divorce as a couple with no debt and $10,000 in savings." Clearly, financial health is important!
In Financial Peace University, Dave teaches us how to pay off our debts, build savings, invest for retirement, invest for college for our kids and to become generous givers. Financial Peace provides the plan to make these things a reality.
This course is 9 weeks and begins on Tuesday, September 20. We meet weekly to learn Dave's time-tested plan. If you're interested in participating, please click the following link and sign up:
The Apostle Paul wrote a profound statement in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. He wrote, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." In these verses, Paul identifies himself as the worst of sinners. I think much can be learned from this humble understanding of our own personal sin.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer (a German theologian and pastor Feb. 4, 1906 - April 9, 1945) clarified Paul's statement to an extent when he wrote, "If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all" (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community). Clearly our understanding of our own personal sin is important.
Like Paul, I have grown to see myself as the worst of sinners. I have grown to loathe the sins I commit and wage war against them daily. I am very much a sinner in need of a Savior. If Heaven was awarded on merit, the doors would remain closed for me.
Fortunately, Jesus Christ has saved me from the wretched life I live. He took my sin (removing it completely) and placed it on Himself and paid the penalty I deserve to pay. He died in my place. My sin was punished in Christ Jesus. It is solely by this work of Christ that I am saved.
So, how does this affect the way I pastor Missio Dei? Well, for starters, I love all people and have great empathy for the struggles we all face. The sins of others pale in comparison to my own. I am but a broken man, whose found forgiveness in Jesus and works tirelessly to point others to the salvation I've found. Missio Dei's pastor is a sinner, I freely admit it. I will undoubtedly let many of you down at times. Christ followers aren't perfect, we're forgiven. Be very wary of spiritual leaders who believe (or feed the perception) that they have it all together!
Bonhoeffer writes, "Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!" (Life Together)
Are you tired of living the lie? Are you tired of your own hypocrisy? Missio Dei seeks to be a safe place where you can take your next step toward Christ. I'll be with you every step of the way, while demonstrating the same grace toward you that Jesus has bestowed upon me. Stop by the Stoney Creek Inn on Wednesday night (7pm) to hear more about this Jesus and how He can work positive change in your life.
Last night, we sought to answer the questions: who, what, when, where and why. A good understanding of these questions will help us to understand the message the author sought to communicate through this Gospel.
WHO. The author of the Gospel of John was a disciple named John. Jesus selected twelve disciples from the crowds that had begun to follow Him. He spoke to the crowds in parables, but gave the meanings to the disciples. Within the twelve, Jesus had an inner circle consisting of Peter, James and John. These three disciples were given unparalleled access to Jesus. Thus, John gives us a very good look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He was an eyewitness with exclusive access to Jesus, Himself.
WHAT. The Gospel of John is a biography of Jesus. We'll be looking at several key themes as we make our way through our study. These themes include: how a person is saved from the penalty God places on our wrong doing, the importance of belief (used in its various forms roughly 100 times in the written account), the nature of eternal life, the work of the Holy Spirit and the personal relationship of Jesus to the believer.
WHEN. Most scholars place the writing of the Gospel near the end of John's life. Early estimates put the date just before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70AD. Most estimates, however, place it during the 90s AD.
WHERE. Again, scholars put the place of authorship in the Roman provincial capital of Ephesus. It was an important political city where John served as an elder later in his life.
WHY. John gives us his purpose for writing this Gospel. In John 20:31, John writes, "But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
Next week, we'll be discussing John 1:1-18. We'll meet at 7pm at the Stoney Creek Inn in Galena, IL. As you read this text, jot down any thoughts or questions you have and bring them with you. I look forward to seeing you real soon!
The Incarnation is at the heart of Christianity and is a topic we're currently discussing at our discussion forums on Sunday mornings. Incarnation is a word that originates in Latin. The Latin root of incarnation is "in" + "carnes" (flesh - as in "carnivore). It literally means "in [someone's] flesh." The most significant incarnation is that of Jesus (God the Son) becoming flesh and dwelling among men (John 1:14). After studying theology for years, it's still difficult to fully wrap my head around what this means and how it works.
I like how the legendary Paul Harvey described the incarnation many years ago. He shared the following story: "One raw winter night a man heard an irregular thumping sound against the kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny, shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass.
Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights, tossed some hay in a corner, and sprinkled a trail of saltine crackers to direct them to the barn. But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, still hid in the darkness, afraid of him.
He tried various tactics: circling behind the birds to drive them toward the barn, tossing cracker crumbs in the air toward them, retreating to his house to see if they'd flutter into the barn on their own. Nothing worked. He, a huge alien creature, had terrified them; the birds could not understand that he actually desired to help.
He withdrew to his house and watched the doomed sparrows through a window. As he stared, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: If only I could become a bird - one of them - just for a moment. Then I wouldn't frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety. At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He had grasped the whole principle of the Incarnation.
A man's becoming a bird is nothing compared to God's becoming a man. The concept of a sovereign being as big as the universe He created, confining Himself to a human body was - and is - too much for some people to believe."
In order to save us, God became one of us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He taught us how to love God and love each other, thus recovering a piece of God's original design. Ultimately, Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins committed by those who have faith in Him. Without the Incarnation, this would not be possible.
As Jesus taught, he confronted a common misconception about how a person becomes right with God:
"[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'" (Luke 18:9-14)
The fact that an irreligious tax collector would be justified in the sight of God and not the religious Pharisee would have shocked those who listened intently to Jesus' words. This would be outrageous, incomprehensible and even shameful in their sight. The truth that Jesus taught had no place in the way they viewed the world. You see, they embraced a human achievement view of salvation. They believed that they could be saved through their many religious works and moral behavior. Jesus, instead, insists that one is not justified before God by good works, but by faith in the saving work of God. Salvation comes from Divine Accomplishment, not Human Achievement.
When we read this parable in the Bible, we, too, are quick to point out the arrogance of the Pharisee. But, so many of us view our relationship with God in the same way the Pharisee did. We trust in our own moral behavior, our good deeds, even our religious actions to save us. We compare ourselves to others. I'm not as bad as so-and-so. How is this attitude any different than that of the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. We simply cannot save ourselves. We must recognize our great need for a Savior.
This is where the tax collector got it right. He recognized that his only hope for salvation was in the mercy and grace of God. He saw his own sin and was repulsed. He beat his chest and could not even bring himself to gaze into heaven. He recognized his need and begged God for mercy. May we be so wise.