Archive for the ‘Gospel of John’ Category

January 19, 2015

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

The implication of the word “became”, of course, is that The Word was something other than flesh from the beginning. Jesus later declared to Nicodemus God was spirit, which follows that Jesus was spirit before the incarnation.

Just so we’re clear about history and the legends of human religions, incarnated gods were not all that unique as a teaching. Every major religion has its incarnated god who does something special to reveal the Creator’s will. Oddly enough, the god incarnated usually justifies the doctrinal stance, lifestyle or specific practices of the said religious future.

What does this say of Christianity?

Christian thought grows out of the teachings of the apostles who distilled the message they claimed to have learned from their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently the writing of the four gospels (or more, if we include The Gospel of Thomas and other apocryphal writings) spoke of a need at the time for four different styled versions similar in content. Two thousand years later we find ourselves attempting to make sense of the original intent which distance and opinion have twisted or obscured to a greater or lesser degree.

The first thing to attack for detractors of Christian teaching is the incarnation of the deified Jesus, called the “Anointed One” to set Him apart as the Messiah Savior. It stands to reason those who object to this basic tenet taught first by the gospels and subsequently the Epistles would cast doubt on it vehemently. It’s the easiest target to doubt. The moment, however, one recognizes the apparent dichotomy or outright fantastical nature of the gospels’ claims a reaction sets in which defines what the person does next.

Stop right here to reflect how we react to doubt about our favorite teacher.

The first reaction to objections for anyone who believes whole heartedly is defensiveness. We humans cast about ourselves like cornered animals desperately looking for an answer or anything that will shut up those telling or yelling at us about what they consider to be myth–at best–and outright manipulative lies–at worst. How to justify such a belief in a fantastic story such as Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension in an age of science turns many into blubbering defeated believers or hard headed ignorant champions–neither of which is helpful.

I do not see why we beat each other up so much about an issue which at this time in history is pretty much moot. All the evidence doesn’t point away from or to a god or our God creating. Creation just is; we just exist; everything was made by some power more vast than we can imagine and probably more simple than our imaginations allow for at any given argument.

We know light travels at 186k+ miles per second, which then signifies for the creationists a real conundrum when we see exploding stars so far away their light is only now just reaching our best telescopes. I don’t know how far away they are and I’m not gonna’ argue the point except to say our ignorance keeps us looking like fools whenever we make assertions about the age of the universe. We don’t have the biblical authority to draw conclusions about timelines and limits because what we call the Bible is written without a timeline in mind. I mean, just look at the story of David in 1 & 2 Samuel. The incidents skip back and forth along the timeline depending on what the author’s point is. Genesis gives a symbolic/metaphorical timeframe in the seven days of creation because before the sun’s creation God created light. Days on earth can only be measured by its rotation around the sun. Therefore the first two days of creation were not earth days by our measure but something wholly other, which suggests (and I believe demands) we understand creation differently than tradition would dictate.

Atheists claiming conclusive proof there is no god or the Judeo-Christian God specifically have the burden of proof to present. If our God is spirit, then their assertions must first rule out the spiritual dimension before they can conclude anything for certain. I don’t say they are foolish for being atheists, merely their choice is not a fact set in stone but an interpretation of the facts already known. It’s easier not to believe in anything–ok, may be not socially–than deal with all the myriad claims of gods and goddesses running amok in history and human idealism. I don’t blame agnostics or atheists for their stance since I share their disillusionment and doubt since most religions misrepresent their doctrine of peace with genocide or war.

The stakes in this game we call life are not only high but vital to how we conduct ourselves during our time on earth. Belief in anything defines and directs not only our outlook but the interaction we have with other human beings. I’ve noticed on nearly every occasion I interact with other people about strongly held beliefs that each one looks on everybody else in the conversation with either outright disdain, sympathy, condescension, or worst of all pity. Each one of these responses grow out of an opinion based on a strongly held belief in one’s own view of reality–or it’s counterpart insecurity. Each perspective of reality, however, might be (and is to my grasp of reality) debatable. Since strong debate has already occurred in history to the point of killing millions of people over it, I would say we’ve about exhausted our arguments and methods of convincing others.

The best argument for Christ has to be the way it changes the believer.

And when I say “has to be” I’m not asserting that it is the best argument for a given debate but the only one capable of demonstrating the truth of what is taught in any debate. Unfortunately, with over 1 billion fragmented believers fractured even further into a combination of large to small denominations we have a credibility problem. The loudest voices rule the public discourse as a general rule. It makes no difference whether or not these people shouting down the opposition come from a knowledgable point of reference or not since what they do sets the stage for the observer.

On several occasions I have spoken to street preachers running the gamut of emotional pleas with their mostly reluctant, bemused, amused, or offended audience. The general consensus from all of them is that they are called to preach to save the unchurched/unbeliever from hell. Now while I can’t dispute their claim to their particular calling, my understanding of Jesus’ teachings lead me to believe shouting out to strangers about love while speaking of punishment for refusing Him is about as effective as telling a stranger’s child you love them while abusing them in some way. Both are manipulative and harmful, belying the very love we claim to support.

And it may be I’m wrong, that the God I serve believes in bringing in the lost by hook or by crook; scaring the hell out of them or throwing them into the darkness to suffer.

From the teachings and stories of how Jesus interacted with acknowledged sinners I don’t think “scare them into heaven” is the gospel’s message though. A city on a hill just shines it doesn’t attack other cities, the jungles or wild places around it. It offers safe haven to citizen and traveler alike with a loving acceptance–albeit disengaged–of its detractors and its supporters. It witnesses to its characteristics by lighting up the darkness–not for the purpose of contrasting itself to the darkness (which happens by default) but to see clearly. Those who don’t want to see clearly will leave the city or try to destroy its light. Those who ache to understand defend it by becoming part of it, adding and increasing the reach of their own light.

How does all this rhetoric relate to the incarnated Jesus?

The greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was life transformation. Those who focus on healing miss the point. Those who decry the world’s sin miss the point. Those who attempt to shout down the opposition miss the point. Anyone who declares the gospel as a means to world domination or wealth have missed the point. The message of the gospel can be summed up very simply: If we love God through Jesus, we will value not only ourselves but the people around us more. The value we place will not be merely utilitarian but wholesale care for the inner and outer person. We will be changed from demanding our own way to finding ways to lift our lives out of the the traps, holes we or others dig for the purpose of setting artificial limits. The teachings of Jesus tell us we will learn to live to the greatest possible limit of our beings. We will not attempt to change the world through means historically proven to fail human progress. We will not ever disparage truth for past held opinions or limited perspectives, but will embrace it fully.

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Gospel of John: The True Light

January 5, 2015

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13 NIV)

Light does certain things for us we take for granted. In a spiritual sense we use the words “revelation” or “reveal” to indicate something hidden or unnoticed being brought to our attention. Of course physical light doesn’t necessarily reveal anything hidden behind or in something else as much as it simply dispels the darkness enough to see. What light doesn’t do physically is rid our world of shadows, for it is through the use of shadows that we see dimensionally.

So here’s a conundrum we face as Christians who believe Jesus gets rid of all darkness: darkness is not evil in and of itself. Those who do evil use it to hide their intentions, actions, or the extent of the consequences, yet that only makes it an amoral tool. Therefore shadows cannot be said to be evil either since they reveal the shape of everything around us. Shading is a technique of the artist; God being the originator of art used it to great effect then created eyes that would recognize what it meant.

If shading is not evil, then what does the true light do?

To understand the answer to that question we have to quote Jesus for the clue to light’s mission: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20 NIV) Right. Now we know the reason those who practice evil choose the darkest shadows–to hide their evil. In contrast, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:21 NIV)

Those live by lies prefer shadows because it’s harder to see contrast where light is faint. Of course a good liar prefers a little light in order to sell the lie with just enough truth to fool the buyer.

John the Writer answers his own dilemma later on, which means we are getting ahead of the story here a bit. But establishing why those in darkness hate the light right from the beginning allows us to follow John’s reasoning better, I think. Jesus, The Word, is the true light which came into the world, and though the world was made by Him, it did not recognize Him as anything more than a man. Nor does the world at large acknowledge Jesus as anything more than a good man/prophet in the present either.

What’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that Jesus came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. Now that is a failed mission if ever there was one.

I dare say none of us likes being told we are someone or something other than who or what we truly are or desire to be. Jesus, by John’s testimony here, is God, Creator, The True Light, and Savior of all mankind, yet the very people He chose as keepers of this truth, refused to receive Him as such. In fact they rejected Him outright.

No discussion of light and darkness would be complete, however, without a glance at one of the more revealing statements Jesus made.

““The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23 NIV)

What we’re able to see–be it an issue of healthy eyes or darkness so deep nothing can be seen–determines what we consider light. Someone raised in the gloom of the deep forest and never seeing the direct sunlight would consider even minor increases in light to be great revelations. Another person living in open where they experience the sun’s rays in full force would look on the other’s little rays as weak. Perspective dictates what we consider to be great light.

That last statement what we consider to be light actually being darkness is scary sad. At the same time how would some of us know? I mean, when a person is kept in a prison of ignorance, shame, oppression, or whatever how can they know anything different? Yet it also goes right to the heart of the issue of availability in the sense that if true light is available but is refused in favor of darkness, then what can be said about someone’s perception?

Psychologically, lots.

For instance, a person conditioned to darkness receiving light for the first time would react instinctively to shield themselves from it. All we have to do is just walk into a well lighted area in the morning from a dark bedroom with sleep in our eyes to experience that issue. Light hurts us the first time we experience it with our eyes wide open–and anyone walking around in the dark knows we don’t have to squint to see so our eyes must be open wide.

Yet Jesus’ assertion “if what you consider to be light is actually darkness, how great is your darkness then?” confronts our notion of truth. As I have grown in understanding of what is versus what I wished to be–or was taught should be, it becomes clear that expectation, while being good on the one hand, clearly spoils the pot for reality on the other. A person who is taught that they can do anything will find out one day what “anything” means. Everything about our existence demands limits. A bird cannot be dog, a dog a cat, a man a monkey, and so on. The limits of intelligence in one species might be the very form given to another. Perception notwithstanding reality demonstrates a need for caution where truth and wishful thinking meet.

Jesus extends the “right” to become children of God. The Jews are natural descendants of the patriarchs chosen by God to be His people–children. We, through our Savior, become so by incarnated nature of the blood of Christ. The blood carries the identity, the stamp of the being. We take on His nature through the blood making us Children of God. In a similar way as Christ we experience resurrection or “rebirth” as it were through and incarnation.

John’s discussion of this subject pretty much dominates the rest of his book.

Gospel of John: The Forerunner

December 25, 2014

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

It’s interesting (to me) how John the Writer felt the need to clarify John the Baptist’s role in the story. Why he addressed JB’s (John the Baptist) status as the forerunner is not stated but I do think inferred. JB developed a following–of which John the Writer became a part before switching to Jesus at JB’s suggestion–who were nothing if not loyal to a fault. John the Writer seems to be targeting these disciples of JB in order to point them to Jesus.

In ancient and fairly modern times all rulers used heralds to announce their approach to a town, city or area. The person would wear the colors or bear the mark of a herald on his garments to give instant recognition as to the validity of his words.

John the Baptist’s livery defied the logic of kings, eschewing pomp and royal crest in favor of the humble camel’s hair and leather. This is vital to our understanding of the nature of Jesus, whom we call King of Kings. Every nuance held significance whether large or small. Jesus came humbly therefore his herald should take on the same demeanor. It also follows that those men He chose as His disciples would also come from humble backgrounds.

I don’t think God despises the rich and powerful it’s just these people tend towards a mentality which preserves their wealth and power. A person fully formed by education, shaped by being born into wealth and authority, will struggle to submit to a teacher who doesn’t present himself/herself within the familiar paradigm. JB’s humility must have been chosen since his father was a priest of some influence, one who performed in the temple, therefore probably not extremely poor. Meaning JB wouldn’t have needed to live in the desert eating locusts and honey but could have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a political influence in Jerusalem if he had so chosen.

So JB’s humility was chosen to a purpose.

Just to be clear: Jesus and JB were cousins, had to have known each other, and at one time or another connected. Anyone who suggests they didn’t can’t read between the lines. Mary, Jesus’ mother, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, JB’s mother, when she started to show she was pregnant. Elizabeth knew her cousin was pregnant after first laying eyes on her. These two women were close enough that an apparently “immoral” Mary went to Elizabeth to escape local social problems.

Nowhere does the Bible connect JB and Jesus socially. Yet the fact that Jesus and JB were related cannot be ignored. Did they have some sort of pact because of their mothers’ visions for them? I doubt it. Our modern travel abilities blunt our understanding of the past and how easily distances of even ten miles or less were accomplished. When one is poor, walking provides the only means of transporting oneself between destinations, therefore anything not within the needs of providing for the home become vital only out of necessity. So any collusion between the two women would have been exceedingly ambitious and probably not really possible. However, if they were in cahoots, why would Elizabeth take a backseat role as far as her baby being the forerunner instead of the Messiah? Selfish people tend to be ambitious, ambitious people don’t take to coming in second.

JB chose the path of the ascetic which in his culture gave him a certain credibility right from the start. Anyone, be they poor or wealthy, gained respect by rejecting the trappings of normal life in favor of seeking God or their gods. When JB came preaching people came to hear him in droves because he was a force to be reckoned with in their culture.

The difference between what JB and Jesus presented and the rest of the world’s self-proclaimed messiahs came down to message: our heroes proclaimed life change through attitude adjustment; the latter proclaim their own self-interest in the guise of religious or power-mongering stump speeches. What JB began through his preaching and baptism ritual about changing one’s life and attitude Jesus expanded on.

Whether through studied understanding or Spirit-driven insight JB’s message set people up for Jesus’ life and teachings. His entire goal was to point people to the Messiah–so that through him people might believe.

Gospel of John 2–The Word

December 15, 2014

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)

Unpacking a passage like this might seem like it takes some thought, I guess, yet this one is pretty simple to think through.

First, the repeated word is “Word” so we have to try make sense of that for a moment. If we take just that sentence by itself, we wouldn’t know who or what “Word” signifies. Just because the translators capitalized it doesn’t mean the original did. So to understand what the author is trying to say we have to know the context.

Taking this in the context just of the whole Scriptures Christian generally accept, Word could signify God speaking a word of power–like in magic where the wizard or sorcerer has a word that unleashes magic. And quite frankly without the rest of the passage that’s exactly what it sounds like John is presenting to us.

The next sentence (and verse), however, dispels any notion of a magical word of power. On the contrary John identifies the “Word” as a “He” not an it. This changes things quite drastically because now we have to look at the previous sentence in the context of a being with a sentient identity. The Word is a He, a person or being, a “who” not a “what” and that being was around in the beginning with God and was God. If He was with God in the beginning and the God we believe in is eternal, then the Word is eternal as well.

The third sentence takes this thought a step further: The Word is a He and created all things, with emphasis on the fact that nothing that exists came to be without Him. What we are presented with is a being of immense power, immortality and deity.

So we know a few things about Him now: He’s God, eternal, the Creator, and hangs out with God. That last one could be confusing since the text claims the Word Himself is God, which not only suggests but implies there is another being with that title hanging out in the universe.

Now we know the who, but the “what” is still coming.

Since the Word created all things, it stands to reason then that in Him is life. To put it another way this guy holds life in Himself, the bare essence of it, the source of it, and is the dispenser of it to all living things. John uses light as an example of what this means because light reveals things hidden in darkness. When it shines into a dark place it dispels and moves back sightlessness, showing what was unseen. One small candle reveals much about a room. Oh it might not take it over or completely dispel the gloom but the outlines of every object in the room is clearly seen because of it. Darkness has no power in the presence of light.

The Word then is the source of revelation. Anyone who understands truth is affected and touched by the light. A darkened understanding grows out of a place where there is no light. God spoke “Let there be light” and there was light. A word from God turns on the lamp of the universe; John is claiming the One who did the former turns on the lamp of the heart.

Which one is more difficult?

The heart, for it has a choice about receiving it.

The problem is no one can resist the will of God once He’s set the word in motion–spoken it. The light will rule everything, like a flow of lava coming down the mountain inexorable and steady, or the sun which shines whether or not we are turned towards it. Even the dark side of a planet or moon is affected by the rays of the sun… Planets or beings far away from our solar system will be affected by the light of it regardless. However, the light from God’s Word will either rule a heart or destroy it.

Does that last sound cruel and tyrannical?

Here’s the truth as I see it: Darkness allows the overgrowth of fungi, mold, mildew and a host of other unhealthy things on this planet the heat and light of the sun keeps in check. Without the Light of Life to infuse health to the heart and mind a human being will become destructive, self-absorbed (disregarding anyone else), use to excess, or hoard the gifts and resources God created to the hurt of not only him or herself but others. In other words they refuse to live in the light where it will limit the more negative side effects of the sinful nature because they prefer the autonomy of darkness. Since the light is life–hence the “name” “Light of Life”–those who refuse the light will get darkness, the end result of which is death. No life on earth survives without the light of the sun; no life survives in spirit without the Light of Life.

If I read the article right, geneticists have found the DNA lifespan switch. From what can be known about it they say the average switch is set to approximately seventy years. At this point not a lot is known about how to turn it off or on without unhealthy side effects–who wants to survive to a hundred and twenty with arthritis or some other painful condition? But the fact that there’s a switch at all leaves a question hanging in the air: Why this time limit?

As believers in the Judeo-Christian Scripture and God we accept ipso facto that there is a Creator who thoughtfully designed all that is so that nothing we see or know can be an accident of evolution. Yet if our conclusion from the factoids we know and the Bible we read is erroneous, then what does it say about nature’s evolution of the time switch? What would be the survival or purpose in the evolution of such a switch in our species specifically? The God of Judeo-Christian values limited our lifespan in order to limit out ability to do evil, if such was our desire. What would nature’s purpose be?

I have no idea except that everything in nature has a similar switch which ends one thing in order to bring life to another.

In our belief system, however, life is like turning on a light switch. The moment we are conceived the switch is turned on and goes off when we die. Yet in this passage the context uses the word “life” a different way than mere existence. So what does that mean exactly to us?

More thought is needed, methinks…John must expect to explain what he means by this later. I think for now he’s just trying to peak our interest like any good author.

Gospel of John Introduction

December 12, 2014

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2 NIV)

The above two verses start this gospel off with a bang rather than an apologetic whimper. John (or whoever wrote it) doesn’t mince words about what he thinks of the person he’s presenting us: the God who was with God created all that is was also the Word and is a He.

In the last several years I have heard many talks, read a few articles, and generally been in discussions about the nature of Jesus and His mission. And while I cannot stop these–nor want to–through writing down my own grasp of this gospel, I do believe in the clarity of the text.

The authenticity is another matter entirely.

Some “experts” would disparage the gospel and authorship casting doubt on its message; some would take it at its word verbatim without question and interpret the message traditionally. There are, obviously, several combinations of the two main opposing views, of which I will be but one. What you get with me, however, isn’t wholesale acceptance of tradition or outright rejection of it but what I get out of the text. My grasp of theologians colors the interpretation I present–namely, put 7 theologians in a room and you will get several different interpretations from any given text; varying from minuscule to wildly different.

For reasons I will probably repeat ad nauseum over the many devotionals growing out of this book I accept the book as authentic. Whether it is true or not is a completely different matter and just as completely unprovable without irrefutable testimony either side. I love the message John (again, assuming authorship here) weaves throughout the storyline. The message itself is so forceful in its gentle presentation the reactions to it stand to reason. John doesn’t mince words about what and who he believes Jesus to be. And therein lies the difficulty for those who believe they pursue truth but don’t accept Jesus as anything but a myth, at worst, or a good man at best.

If Jesus is but a myth, then the message attributed to him can be dismissed as pretty but not binding. If he is a good man, we can accept some without swallowing the whole. If He is actually God incarnate, we have a problem, Houston! Truth that big demands attention to detail and understanding the message.

Unfortunately, here’s where perspective raises its little ugly, interfering, and confusing head.

As many people as there are in the world there are as many possible interpretations of anything known. Recognize and please accept that I am but one. Humility aside my interpretation of this book grows out of a love for its message, first and foremost, but second, I have accepted it as truth. Do I understand the original intent perfectly? Nope. Am I the last word on what is written? By no means! I know just enough of theological methods to get myself into trouble probably–and sometimes that also means I can get out the same way.

So as I study the text I accept it has true to itself, whether the book is authentic or not, whether the authorship is authentic or not, and whether or not it remains true outside the context of its own micro-universe in the real world of flesh and bone.

For those interested I presented a study of this gospel on this blog before which encompassed 2008 into 2009, I believe. You are welcome to compare my thoughts, then, to see growth or difference and discuss them if you wish. I would find that fun and enlightening.