Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

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.

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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.

Too Much is as Good as Nothing

March 27, 2012

Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he.  The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?  Ecclesiastes 6:10, 11.

 

For years now that last sentence has haunted me.  I’m a talker, as anyone who knows me locally can tell you, and the verbiage can run on and on.  But as I was looking at various translations of this passage it started to look like Solomon made a statement more about naming things than just talking too much—though I’m sure this principle still holds even there.

The context suggests that increasing the names of whatever exists or who man is doesn’t mean anything; for it doesn’t change who we are.  Today’s names mean less than nothing to us.  We don’t name a child for heritage most of the time, nor do we give them names because they represent something about our lives or the future of our children.  We give them exotic sounding names or good, solid traditional ones for the sound of it.  The reasons hold no depth, no life, no identity, merely a nice way of getting someone’s attention.

Solomon is not only suggesting but emphatically proclaiming that the names humanity gives things matter very little because God has already identified them.  In our modern societies (and this holds mostly for the western nations) we don’t give depth, history or identity to much of anything.  In fact, in all our pursuit of self-actualization and –realization this is the one area we’ve abandoned.  From my perch up on this soapbox I see Americans and Europeans alike obsessed with knowledge and information but rarely about the true meaning of individual identity.  Oh, we’re lonelier and more isolated than ever, for sure, but the more “individual” we become, the less part of the tribe, family or nation we feel or behave.  On the other hand, genealogy is very popular as way of connecting us to our past but deriving much in the way of meaning about lives today.  Whereas in God’s view we are who we have become precisely because of where come from and from whom we are descended.

I’ve often passed by a stream or river and wondered how it got its name.  I mean, living in Portland, Oregon, there are lots of those names running around too.  Just thinking about the name “Portland” makes me stop to consider why it was named this.  Was it just because someone liked the name?  I mean Maine has a city named “Portland” too, which is much older than ours.  Does that mean anything?  Yes.  Ports were places were goods were loaded and unloaded.  “Port land” is a landing spot for goods and services on the Willamette river several miles up from the Columbia river.  What started out as a docking place in a river or beach because a community of traders and whatnot, which turned into a village, then a town, then a city.

I find it strange, now that I know Scripture fairly well, how we lost this tradition of identity through one’s name.  In Hebrew literature a name meant being known for oneself and finding a place within the community.  In a lot of ways this sounds limiting because societies tend towards conformity to the point of pain if we don’t.  Yet in a healthier sense it is about belonging to a family group, tribe and nation.  John tells his readers in Revelation we will all be given new names that only God and we know.  A name is our identity; the more we name things different out of new traditions or convenience, the more they lose their meaning for us as monuments to our past, which plays into our identity.  David met up with a man named “Nabal” meaning “fool”.  I’m sure it wasn’t his given name but one which his reputation warranted.  In our era to call someone a fool is to imply they are stupid and can’t learn, in David’s era it pointed to a person’s lifestyle morally and ethically.

So the more names we give our memorial stones (a tradition Israel had of remembering important events by piling stones up) the less we remember the meaning.  Part of this is due to the language changes over the centuries and especially in the twentieth century.  Five hundred years ago the language adjusted every hundred or so years; today it does so every five to ten (the latter time might be off because the article I read about it is probably two years old).  This means global communication affects how language is used.  Technology changes how words and some names are applied now more than ever.  For thousands of years the abacus was the most sophisticated common “computer” known to mankind; now it is a relic.

How does this affect our subject?

Simply this:  when we change the use of a name or word we affect society’s reaction and understanding of it.  The most we increase the names and rhetoric around a subject or person the less either of those mean to us.  I believe the enemy of our souls knows this and is using an abundance of literature to cloud the person and name of Jesus.  Those who refuse to believe His teachings or in Him as the Son of God will look for and find other explanations for the gospels and Jesus’ life.  The more the words the less the meaning, which ends up not benefiting anyone.  If we truly want to grasp Jesus as He and the disciples presented His message, we must go back to the original language intent on finding words in our own which will as accurately as we can convey His meaning.

Circling the Block

December 12, 2011

Whatever has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past into account.

And I saw something else under the sun:  In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.”  Ecclesiastes 3:15-17.

Let’s digest this together for a bit, what ya’ say?

Before we go on I need to declare my belief and faith in this book as intrinsically factual and true.  This is an important statement because what comes next flies in the face of convention.

When we say we need to take an account of some part of our lives, business (social, economic or religious practices) or possessions/wealth, it’s the same as saying “take stock of…” in another context.  To check the accounts of financial records simply means adding and subtracting the ebb and flow of it in order to see if they balance out on the side of profit or loss.  It’s not that deep of a concept, really.  The phrase “take stock of” just needs to be dissected minimally to see from where it originates:  The stock house or room.  To check the stock means (I’m really not trying to insult your intelligence here, just focusing on why we use these phrases) to count what’s available or lacking.

Ok, why was that word study important to our take on the judgment?

God will take the past into account, meaning weigh up the good with the bad, right?  So if this is true, then what has to happen for the “financial” (in the spiritual sense, of course) to be in the black or at least even?  I can answer this from two perspectives, I think, with ease, but first let’s work with Solomon’s question from his worldview.

Habits are behaviors or attitudes which come back around on either a regular basis or when a stimulus of some sort pushes a specific habit button.  What has been will be again.  Though Solomon is probably speaking about inventions, conventions and human relationships or accomplishments, his words can also apply to our deeds.  Why else would he include the subject of the judgment in a discussion of things going around in a circle (or cycling back around) to reinvention?  But what caught my attention was how he looked at the judgment, so let’s dwell on that, since we’ve already discussed the repetition of history.

In the Jewish economy the law provided forgiveness through sacrifice, yet it required restitution through either paying four times the amount stolen, a payment of some type to those wronged by rape, accidental death or debt, and, finally, death in extreme cases where premeditated murder or violent theft occurred.  But in every case, repentance did bring mercy from God; the debt to Him could be paid through sacrifice.  I don’t know what happened in Solomon’s case since we aren’t given anything past this book and the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, but the book seems to suggest something happened at the end of his life to turn him back to his God.  Oddly enough this works for me, given the copious examples in Scripture of some real scoundrels receiving mercy.  A man who lived most of his life in pursuit of pleasure and wealth found it all to be meaningless at the end of a race he won by all accounts and standards.

From the perspective of one whose life is now hidden with Christ in God, it seems to me to be easier to find grace in the sludge of human relationships—at least from the One who counts.  In this case we know a grace Solomon could only hope for but had no chance to see.  If I stand on my own in the judgment, my life is weighed by how my deeds balance out.  The bad thing is:  If I sinned even once in my life, the sin outweighs everything else good I did by God’s accounting, so I’m lost anyway; so one tiny sin or an excessive amount matters little when coming to the judgment.

Yet here’s where it really gets good:  if I’m like the thief on the cross, about to die for a life of crime and violence, and repent with a sincere heart, the blood of Jesus covers me like a white wedding garment and all my stinkiness is erased.   In other words, His good outweighs the world’s bad by the infinite power of the death and resurrection of Christ.  His good is weighed on the scales of the nature of His being, the Son of God; which makes Him God as well (see John 10:31-38).  The infinite nature of God outweighs by infinity the rebellion it takes to deny Him, which is the essence of all sin.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord prevails in the accounting.  Like a good friend of mine, Jerome says constantly, “When someone asks me how I made it into the kingdom, I’m gonna’ say,  ‘I don’t know.  I’m with Him!’”  then he’d point over his right shoulder to signify Jesus.  That’s all we get in the judgment; it’s the all or nothing clause; it’s a winner (Jesus) take all (anyone who submits to Him and all creation) situation.  Nothing can be added to Him and certainly nothing taken away.

But there is one final addendum to this subject I’ve just begun to understand.  The issue of the reward for the righteous never really made it on my radar until a few years ago when I read it again in the book of Revelation.  I’m not going to go into this in depth right now, but what came out of it and every other text which speaks of this subject is that our salvation is guaranteed by the blood of Christ.  The crown and rewards in the kingdom however are based on the trend of our life in His service.  If the good outweighs the bad, we receive a reward; if not, we squeak through the fire of His judgment saved, but with the sludge of sin burned away and all that remains of our entire lives is the foundation of Christ and the apostles (refer to 1 Corinthians 3 for Paul’s illustration).

I’m good with that, how about you?

What is in Man

March 10, 2011

Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and believed in His name.  But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.  John 2:23-25.

I sometimes forget this passage and what it signifies for those who believe in the Name of Jesus.  It’s easy to get sidetracked by people’s opinions and begin to trust them too much; to get so blinded by the praise or criticism of those who have no heart or love for God—and even those who do.

The good or bad opinion of someone given over to belief in us because of something we’ve done for them or in front of them is not all that trustworthy really.  Three years after Jesus began His ministry, thousands rejected Him outright.  If He judged Himself according to their fickle opinion of Him, He would be one very confused man/God.

But He didn’t.

I went to Vine’s Expository Dictionary and found the word which in the NIV is rendered “entrust” and in the KJV, “commit” to find the word meant “to be entrusted with” or “to commit to one’s trust.”  Young’s Concordance gives another word “confide” to expand our grasp of what is being said here.  In other words, Jesus wouldn’t trust the flaky, transient nature of human good will for He knew how volatile and inconsistent it could be.  He had the Father’s testimony so human perspective meant nothing as far as what He knew or thought of Himself.

At the same time, everyone has to trust someone else sometime as far as perspective is concerned, otherwise no one would ever take advice or become wise.  The difference between what John is saying here and the human experience is this:  Jesus didn’t believe His own press.  In fact, I doubt He really listened to it much, if at all—unless, like in Nicodemus’ case, He couldn’t escape the comments.  But if we read that story in the very next few verses of John 3, we see Jesus deflecting Nicodemus’ praise or “testimony” about Him by redirecting him immediately into truth.  It’s almost as if He says non-verbally,  “Yeah, yeah, thanks.  You’re impressed but not convinced or committed, what good is that?”

Nicodemus happened to be a very influential man who’s support could garner Jesus much goodwill in powerful circles, yet Jesus wasn’t impressed by this man’s connections or good opinion of Him; which is very disturbing when you’re the one handing out the compliments or praise.  I doubt Nic was used to anyone not stopping to listen when he chose to criticize or praise because the rich and powerful get used to being deferred to automatically by the rest of the world.  Even people who disagree with a powerful person react to them out of a knowledge of the place they hold in society.  A vehement over-reaction to a leader’s words or deeds usually tells the tale of the powerless screwing up their courage to confront or counter whatever that person in power represents at the time.

Jesus didn’t do anything but redirect Nic’s attention to truth.  He wasn’t interested in the man’s opinion of Him nor impressed by his status in the world for what He wanted from Nicodemus was beyond him at the time.  Jesus works on the heart before anything else.  A person’s actions might change to adjust to society’s demands for a public peace all the while harboring deep seated brokenness behind the smooth words or facades of social decorum.  True change, however, always begins in the heart of a person’s being.  Anyway, the only change worth anything at all is one where the thoughts precede the action taken.

We’ve been warned by the Master in several places to beware of the praise from fellow humans.  When one thing is true, the other side of the coin is too:  Beware of the criticism of others as well.  The good or bad opinion is meaningless without a healthy relationship to go along with it.  Anyone who praises us declares their authority to do so, which means they are giving us their opinion based on what they think it’s worth to us to hear their praise.  If we look at praise in this way, we can see John’s slant a bit clearer.  A man who accepts another man as good does so with a sort of socially accepted authority to do it, which in turn testifies to society’s right to give or take a person’s worth.

Jesus didn’t need man’s testimony about man because He already knew us to be broken, fallen and blinded by sin’s effects.  To gain the good opinion of the masses is like having the river smooth out for a time because eventually we know there will be rapids and they will test our ability to survive.  A crowd of people can turn ugly on quickly if what they want is thwarted and Jesus knew the good will of those who “believed in Him” didn’t spring up from deep roots.  Public opinion goes with the miraculous and celebrates the facades.  However, when we get too powerful, those who watch those of us who reach the pinnacle of human wealth and power will celebrate our downfall just as much.  The good will of the people in Jesus’ POV was too fickle to depend on for His identity or work.  He refused to even ride the river of human opinion about Him—good or bad.

And here is where we meet the lesson we need to take away from this text.

We cannot depend on the praise or criticism of anyone but must check and balance these against God’s Word.  It is not enough for a brother or sister in Christ to confront someone else about their sin, for they must be willing to continue the journey to wholeness if they take this step.  If anyone one of us feel the call to confront another about their life or brokenness, it means we are being called to journey with them as they heal, grow and step away from what is dragging them down.  The call to “make disciples” is one which signifies teaching the disciplines of Christ, not merely bringing someone to God’s Word and letting them run amok or flounder.  The discipline of Christ is to be wise toward God, and this takes time and input from someone with knowledgeable experience to guide.

Yet here’s where we make our mistake the most often:  If the praise of other humans makes us feel good about ourselves, we will be devastated by their criticism.  In other words, the moment we accept their praise as valid and authoritative, we open up our hearts to receive the criticism the same way.  The moment we put value on someone’s good opinion of us is the same moment they hold sway over our self-worth.

I don’t think Jesus was conceited or self-absorbed, which is another danger to navigate in these tricky waters of self-perception.  This is precisely why I believe both the gospels and the apostles commanded us to find our worth through the eyes of God via the cross.  Our worth to God is infinite and should be calculated by the price He was willing to pay for us—His Son.  Jesus’ Father declared at His baptism,  “This is my Son, I love and I’m pleased with Him!” Deciding His worth based on the tide of human feelings would have put God’s opinion on par with man’s.  With God as His witness, Jesus already had all the praise He needed to be confident in His worth.

And so do we.

The Unwritten Stories

March 1, 2011

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.  We know that his testimony is true.

Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.  John 21:24, 25.

And so we come to the last verses of the gospel of John, which have always fascinated me.

Recently I read a blog where the man writing felt the need to debunk tradition’s take on who the “disciple whom Jesus loved” happened to be.  He claimed the internal evidence didn’t match the assumption about John being that disciple.

I disagree.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.

I’m not 100% certain who wrote the gospel of John (I wasn’t there to witness the original writing), but the context of this passage suggests strongly that whoever wrote the book was that disciple whom Jesus loved.  He was an eye witness to everything that transpired and wrote it down from a first-hand perspective.  He could testify to what he had seen and heard because he was there.  I mean, look at him in this very last story.  Jesus is talking to Peter about personal matters and John is following them.  I don’t think he’s doing so because he’s nosy or a gossip, but because he wants to be near his Master.

And that’s all I’m gonna’ say about that.

What I want to concentrate on is those last two sentences where John (I’m assuming it was him, remember?) tells his readers that Jesus did so many wonderful things the whole known world at that time wouldn’t have room for the books.  Now he could be exaggerating to make his point, or, Jesus really did so many things in his ministry and lifetime the world wouldn’t have room for the books.

I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle of these two truths.  Jesus did live a full life and all of it in about 33 years.  He also accomplished some pretty amazing things, while, if true, could turn any world on its collective ear.  What we have in the gospels is just the stories, parables and miracles which serve to make each writer’s point—Jesus is the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lamb of God, God incarnate and all around miracle worker of the highest order.

Do you ever feel like you need more evidence of Christ’s presence in your life?  Do you wish God would give you a miracle you couldn’t question to convince you He is real, loves you or approves of your direction in life?

I know the feeling.  What did Jesus tell Thomas?  “Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  We believe because of the disciples’ testimony, though none of us have ever met them, seen the dead raised or witnessed a miracle on the scale of walking on water.  Still, it’s not hard to imagine all of these stories being cleverly devised fables couched in a message of grace towards human nature.  Mankind has sought peace and a clear conscience for eons and will go on doing so until human history is over one way or another.

Why do I believe the gospel records?

Simply because of the teachings of Jesus.  They make so-o-o-o-o much sense in the internal workings of human relationships that the stuff which is pretty far-fetched, such as walking on water, healing and feeding serveral thousand people from a little boy’s lunch, seems almost like a side note to the real important stuff.

However, before someone begins to argue for the miracles being true or important, let me just add that I accept them not out of reluctance or despite the lack of evidence, but because of the miracle of change happening constantly in my own heart.  Believe me, I’ve seen miracles (or what I consider to be such), I’ve also attended churches which thrive on pressing God for them.  In so many places I’ve attended the emphasis is not on a changed heart and mind but on the fantastic nature of God’s power.

Which in my opinion misses the point entirely.

If God created the heavens and earth, healing the body, walking on water, feeding thousands, etc., are simply insignificant or, rather, par for course in God’s golf game.  If Jesus made the human body, He could certainly restore it to health, raise it back to life—since He gave it life in the first place—and generally make food out of nothing without a moment’s worry or thought.  In other words, it ain’t no thang!

No, the real miracle is not those “magical” circus tricks (no insult meant here) but the change which happens from a renewed mind.

As I read the gospels and other books in the Bible, what I see is God’s resilience and determination to restore His creation.  I see grace for a people who have no idea how far they’ve fallen or what they’ve fallen from except in a some misty theology they learned at the feet of teachers.  I see a God who refuses to give up on His creation and plays a game of chicken with the adversary and dies in the attempt, but who finally wins the day because He is risen.  I see a God who risks, feels loss and rejection, who gives to the point of where it hurts and stands firm in His resolve to never surrender to death.

I see not only Jesus on a cross but risen, glorified and grinning at His disciples at their amazement.  I like this Man.  I will follow this Man.  I believe in this Man.

Where You Don’t Want to Go

March 1, 2011

Jesus said,  “Feed My sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.  Then He said to him,  “Follow Me!”  John 21:17c-19.

Ever noticed people have little catch phrases they use over and over again till those words seem to be identified as a part of their personality?  Jesus uses “I tell you the truth” (or “Verily, verily” in KJV) a lot when trying to make a point.  He also said a couple of things which stood out for me this time.  One is pointing out to Peter the freedom he knew to go and come as he pleased earlier in his life.  Now that his lot was firmly cast for Christ’s cause, however, that freedom to go and come at whim would not be his again until the other side of the resurrection.  From now on his footsteps led him steadily to the death he would die for Christ.

Jesus welcomed Peter back into the inner circle first by testing his honesty with himself—the first step in true humility; next by telling him what to expect when he got older.  The fact that John phrased it in this way shows Peter probably had already glorified God in death by the time he wrote this gospel.

I’m not sure why Peter was told, really, because none of the other disciples knew what end they would meet, as far as we know.  Tradition has it that Peter, when told he was condemned to die on a cross, asked those executing him to crucify him upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die like his Lord.  Be that as it may, we get the hint of crucifixion in our text from the phrase “you will stretch out your hands” which is what happens on a cross.

John goes so far as to inform us Jesus told no one else their end through Peter’s inquiry about himself.  When he understood Jesus’ meaning of his own end, Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them.  (This is the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said,  “Lord, who is going to betray You?”)  When Peter saw him, he asked,  “Lord, what about him?”

I love Jesus’ reply,  “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.” In other words, Peter, it’s none of your business.  You just stay focus on following me the way I told you and know I am with you till the end we just talked about.   Too often we Christians get wa-a-ay too curious about someone else’s walk or fate in the Lord, to the point we actually try to micromanage said person’s walk or life.  I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time managing my own walk without attempting to do so for someone else.

This reminds me of a point I’ve made before but which bears repeating.  Galatians 6:1-5 instructs the church to restore sinners gently while being careful we aren’t tricked into sin as well; all the while carrying each others burdens.  In helping each other we fulfill the law of Christ and complete what is lacking in the body of Christ.  However, there is a warning attached to this instruction to restore sinners and bear burdens:   If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. In other words, we shouldn’t go around being the solution for everyone’s problems or thinking we’re more authoritative than we are.  Since no one is perfectly sinless this side of glorification, no one is allowed to be the lone crusader for righteousness or judgment.

It occurs to me reading this again for umpteenth time that those who think they are something when they are nothing are those inflated with their own importance in the body of Christ and to God.  It’s easy to get conceited (a scary form of self-deception by the way) when we know the scriptures well.  Paul warns in another book,  Knowledge puffs up; love builds up.  The type of person deceived by his or her own importance attempts to do the work only God can do—or—what is given to the church as a body to do.  One person on a crusade can do a lot of damage; I’m sure we’ve all seen them from time to time.  Those who believe they have the answers for your life or mine scare the wits out of me, for without a doubt they are self-deceived and dangerous to whomever they persuade to submit to their authority.

All this to say, Jesus told us to mind our own business; Paul told us to bear one another’s burdens for a time.  No one is to live any life but their own.  We can assist and be the helping shoulder or arm to support the wounded in Christ, but we are never ever to live for them.  Paul continued to say,  “Each one sould test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. As my counselor, Chuck, said when he was helping me through my divorce,  “Everyone’s got to live their own life and no one else can live it for them.”

What happened to John had nothing to do with Peter and visa versa.  But… Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.  But Jesus did not say that he would not die; He only said,  “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Even among the disciples there were great misunderstandings.  C. S. Lewis loved to tell his characters through the words of Aslan,  “This is your story.  No one is ever told another’s story, just their own.”  John died an old man, and tradition put him in his nineties somewhere; whereas all the other disciples died martyr’s deaths.

No matter what Jesus said, rumors and misunderstandings grew around His words.  And you know what?  He didn’t attempt to correct it all nor did He send anyone to clarify what He said where it didn’t matter.  What happened to John mattered to God, for sure, but it had nothing to do with His will or purpose necessarily for anybody else.  John served God’s purpose till the end; so did Peter.  Yet they met very different ends in human terms, though not in God’s POV.  Death is death, folks.  How we die matters very little to the bottom line, if we get technical.  The only reason the method of Peter’s death mattered at all was because it glorified God.  The only reason the method of John’s death mattered at all was because it served God’s purpose.  The “how,” the “why,” the path we take to get there, are all human obsessions in their pursuit of meaning.  When we get our meaning—the reason for our existence and how we live—from God, all these questions fall away.

All this isn’t to disparage knowing the testimony of other people.  If it were, half the Bible would be useless to us for it’s one big story of God’s faithfulness in human experience.  Yet knowing these stories is on a need-to-know basis and for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.

This leads me to one more point I wish to make:  Peter’s calling, while similar, was not John’s calling, neither could they reverse roles or replace one another.  Each person in body of Christ is as valuable as the next.  The guy that led Dwight L. Moody to Christ and mentored him shares in Moody’s success.  There are no unimportant cogs in the wheels of God.  Yet Jesus made it clear that Peter’s life would intersect with His own at a cross—a place no one would want to go, not even Jesus.  No one wants death, especially such a painful and degrading one like this, though this is where all our lives lead.  Still, all die one way or another.  I just like the fact that Jesus didn’t make martyrdom something to be desired, rather He bluntly stated Peter wouldn’t like where those who were to execute him would lead him.  Peter went willingly to his death, I have no doubt, but I don’t think he desired to die at all—unless it would bring glory to God, of course.

Do You Love Me?

February 26, 2011

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,  “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,”  he said,  “You know that I love you.”

Jesus said,  “Feed my lambs.”   John 21:15

Three times Peter denied he even knew Jesus; three times he was given a new scenario in which to declare his loyalty.  In the law one who betrayed or cheated another person had to restore four fold, Jesus only asked tit for tat.

But…

The wording in the text is lost in translation, as many of you probably know.  The first two times Jesus asked Peter,  “Do you love me…” He used the agape‘ form of the word “love” which raises the stakes quite a bit higher for him.  Peter for his part was humble enough to realize he couldn’t answer back with the same wording and chose the brotherly love word phileo instead.  For those who don’t know, the Greek words for “love” have four different meanings, but in this instance we’re concerned with only two of these.

Vine’s dictionary explains it this way:  “The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17.  The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the “love” that values and esteems (cf. Rev. 12:11).  It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.”  p. 382.

The whole incident comes down to wording.  John shows Jesus being subtle in His question when at first He asks Peter,  “Do you have an unselfish love for me?”  Peter answers that he loves Him like a brother or family.  The second time goes the same then suddenly Jesus switches questions,  “Do you really love me like family, Peter?”  This why Peter felt hurt by the fact his Master questioned even this kind of love in him.  I’m sure Peter wondered where Jesus was taking this conversation, since He seemed to be feeling him out.  The third question probably startled him and shook him quite badly.

Most people when they use this type of exploratory questioning are using it to put the person who betrayed them in their place.  There might have been a little of that in Jesus’ motives, but the place He wanted to put Peter wasn’t the one the rest of us desire.  He longed for Peter to come to humility, whereas the greater number of us want to humiliate them and stomp on their self-esteem.  Instead, Jesus sought to open Peter to his own foibles, show him the road to restoration and give back a sense of belonging to the mission.

Many of us have heard about the word differences and preachers expound on what the significance of this story happened to be.  I agree with the general consensus that Jesus intended to give Peter three questions for three denials.  But to my way of thinking Jesus had another goal entirely in mind, for He wanted to remind Peter self-sufficiency failed when the chips were down and a person is staring at a gun barrel in their face.

Every instruction Jesus gave after Peter’s replies focused on service, did you notice?  Agape’ is the sacrificial, service oriented kind of love so Jesus revealed what He wanted for Peter’s life from that point on.  “Feed My lambs.” The seemingly insignificant among us, the children, the little ones.  Though children were highly prized by the Jews, they weren’t considered to be important in spiritual matters until they came of age.  Sure they were instructed in the Torah and wisdom of the rabbis but their value to the community and nation of Israel could only be assessed once they reached adulthood.  Jesus desires us to reach into the worlds of those who aren’t movers or shakers in the broader sense and bring them to the place where they can be fed heavenly bread; such as these make up the kingdom of heaven.

“Take care of My sheep.” This instruction differs from feeding in that it means to care for the whole person rather than just one aspect.  The job for a disciple of Christ is to care for the whole person not just give them the gospel information.  This means in practical terms that like a sheep, which needs good pasture, protection from the elements and predators, we as servants of God must look out for our fellow believers—especially if we are called to leadership.  I’ve owned several animals and one thing I can tell you is that if you are not social with them, they will not trust you with anything but their food.  A good owner is not only the supplier of the basic needs but a servant of the hearts of those he/she feels responsible to.

Dad and I owned a horse named Frosty.  She was originally a brood mare for a friend of ours,  Quarter Horse/Appaloosa, and definitely gorgeous.  This little mare had personality in spades.  My dad treated her like one of the family and they even had a game when carrots or sugar were offered.  Dad would come to the paddock to give her something special and Frosty would sniff, turn her nose up and begin to act like it wasn’t good enough.  The whole time Dad would dialogue with her,  “Oh, so you don’t want it, huh?  Well, I guess…” and as he started to walk away she’d trot back up to the fence and look anxiously until he glanced back (knowing she was doing this) and acknowledged her.  This would go on a couple of times until she accepted the treat and gave him a horse kiss.  Then he’d talk to her, groom her or just simply hug her.  That mare was the most gentle animal with children I’ve ever seen.  Adults made her nervous but with kids she was careful and sweet, always watching out for them.

It was the relationship Dad developed with Frosty which made this scenario a routine they played almost daily.  She flirted with him, played with him and, at times, followed him around like a puppy.  He served her and she adored him.

Jesus asked Peter to serve His sheep in this way.  To become more than just what the world considered a leader of people to be.  To go beyond human ideals, to be like Jesus Himself, who gave Himself for His sheep to the point of death.  But when He said,  “Feed my sheep” to Peter after his protest,  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you,” I think it was to tell Peter to start first at the basics, preaching the gospel.  The other duties would come naturally as he grew in the Lord through the Spirit’s power.

Our Master accepts us as we are, which means He knows our limitations and will accept what we can give.  However, once we start on that path to service, we will be given more and more responsibility because God wants us to be whole.  A fragmented heart gives only out of the areas where there is something to give—or hands out its brokenness instead.  As God’s Spirit serves the soul He changes and adjusts the broken spots, replacing parts (spiritual surgery) where possible (meaning somethings won’t be whole until we are glorified) and sewing up the open wounds or stubs of spiritual limbs that are missing.  In our brokenness He becomes our prosthetic legs, hands and arms through the relationship to the body of Christ.

No one is ever completely whole this side of Jesus restoring all things when we receive new spiritual bodies.  If this is true, then when Paul tells us each person completes a part of the body of Christ, he’s reminding us that none of us are the whole enchilada.  We all have missing parts, numb appendages and useless tools when we come to Christ.  These things are not made whole right away but Jesus instructed us to work together for the good of the kingdom of God by completing in the body of Christ what is lacking.  You might be an eye, I might be a foot, but without both parts neither of us can work the work of God.  Yet if we work together under the direction of the Head, which is Christ, we can go places.  A foot can travel but without the ability to see where its going it will bump into stuff and hurt the body.  An eye can see things but has no power to travel anywhere on its own.  The eye is not more important than the foot, neither is the foot more important than the eye.  In Christ all are of equal importance.  It is the world that values one thing above another not the followers of Jesus.

So Jesus accepted Peter as he was and asked him to do the basic service of feeding His sheep.  Just like Dad with Frosty, though, in the process of taking care of the sheep, talking to them, troubleshooting their problems and caring for their needs, Peter would grow to the place where even the lambs would benefit from his love for Jesus.  Feeding the lambs is the job of discipleship.  In the Great Commission Jesus told us to make disciples, not just preach the gospel.  The difference between them is simple, one develops a relationship with those who accept Jesus as their Savior; the other is just concerned about information or numbers.  Neither method can replace the other in the kingdom of God, so our job is to grow into not only preachers, teachers and leaders, but caretakers, medics and doctors of the soul.

Our example, the way we live, is the best sermon anyone can hear.

Breakfast!

February 24, 2011

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them,  “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore.  It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them,  “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask Him,  “Who are you?”  They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.  John 21:9-14.

It always strikes me how practical Jesus seemed to be.  On the one hand He already had fish and bread cooking on the coals; on the other, He had the disciples bring some of the fish they caught (by His power, I might add) to fill out the meal.  First He gives them a miracle, then makes a meal for them from nothing as well.  In other words, the fish and bread on the burning coals were just as much a miracle as the ones in the net for the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  Yet here Jesus was with food already prepared—and I’m sure no one saw Him fishing on the lake.

We need to recognize Jesus whenever we see Him in our circumstances.  The disciples didn’t ask the man feeding them who He was because they knew the trademark of how the Master worked.  Earlier in His ministry He’d done something similar after the fishermen had worked all night.  They caught so many that time both boats were in danger of sinking.  He began His ministry with a catch of fish and now was ending it with same thing.

Why?

I think it was to remind them of where the power for their success would be coming from and what they could count on in the days ahead.

Hudson Taylor, one of the most successful missionaries to China, worked nearly seventeen years for one convert, who backslid shortly thereafter.  In the course of his labors for the Chinese he lost his first wife to sickness, lost support from many in the churches in England and generally showed not an iota of profit for the kingdom of God by humans standards of measuring such things.  His ministry looked like it was about to end because he himself got sick and discouraged.  A few years later, because of God’s power through this determined man, he saw over 100, 000 people come to know the saving grace of Jesus.  Nearly twenty years of seemingly fruitless work would discourage anybody; this kind of investment brings ridicule and censure from those who look to make quicker profits for the kingdom.  Instead Hudson planted his roots deep in the land where God called him, giving the people of China where he lived an example of Jesus they couldn’t ignore.

Towards the end of his life, Hudson Taylor made this famous quote,  “God’s work, done God’s way, in God’s time, never lacks God’s provision.”  (It’s been a long time since I read it so I might have a word or two wrong.)

What is the lesson of Jesus making breakfast for the disciples?  Just this:  Being faithful in our work might not appear profitable to anyone who watches Wall Street Christianity for Kingdom gains or losses, but it yields fruit if coupled with the power of God.  It isn’t the method, folks, it’s the Lord’s power that matters.

The Prophetic Fish

February 23, 2011

Afterward Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias.  It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,”  Simon Peter told them, and they said,  “We’ll go with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3.

Fishing can be boring work until a fish strikes or the nets fill up, and then it’s pretty intense work.  Peter and the other disciples worked at something they understood, i.e. fishing,I’m not sure what inspired it exactly, may be they were broke and just needed something to get them by, I don’t know.  What I do know is Peter wanted to go out.  Fishermen worked at night in that day, so possibly with such a lot to think about, he just wanted to keep his body busy while he thought through all the strange happenings of the last week or two.

Another thing that struck me is five of the twelve disciples were named (the sons of Zebedee were James and John) but two weren’t, which means they might have been part of the 72 or more other followers.  I wondered why John said it this way.  Why not just name them?  Dunno, but he didn’t for some reason.

Anyway the main fact that stood out to me was their own natural efforts produced nothing. It’s almost symbolic  Jesus came along after a full night of no results and in one moment changed the outcome.  My first reaction, of course, centered on the fact that they were trying in their own natural strength to do something ordinary and failed.  John didn’t necessarily emphasize this as the point, I guess, though since he took the time to mention them catching nothing, it is significant.  No, the real point is Jesus doing the impossible with improbable odds.  I don’t know if the guys had been just using the left side of the boat or not, but there’s no reason why the right side would seem to be any better unless it was facing east and the sun put a shadow on the left, warning the fish an enemy was above them.

Jesus takes the situation and turns human logic on its ear—again.  I like it when He does this because it speaks to me of a higher logic than man seems to be able to fathom.  I don’t know if I’m a miracle junkie exactly, but it always thrills me to see God work in the most illogical and off-the-wall ways.  The right side of the boat versus the left side doesn’t seem to be a logical choice (unless there’s some reason like shadows), so the guys probably just thought,  “Oh, what the heck!” and did it.  When the net filled up (John makes it sound like that happened pretty quickly), they were unable to haul in the catch.

The lesson?  Our efforts (casting the net) coupled with God’s method and purpose always equals miraculous profit.  Yet even then we might slave all night long trying to do what we have in front of us and not see any results except sweat and fatigue.  Sometimes God comes through at the beginning or in a “reasonable” time, then at other times He waits for 11:59:59 p.m.   I don’t understand the “why” though I’ve attempted to several times.  What I do get is that God pushes us to our limits for sheer the purpose of stretching and growing us.  It’s not like we have this faith thing down anyway.  Most of us don’t like to think on anything that doesn’t fascinate us (our passions which come easy to us) so He uses our weakest point in order to keep us from mistaking our efforts for His blessing.

The natural order of things could have taken over with those guys out on the boat—fishing is fishing, after all, and once a person does it for a lifetime, they kind of get a handle on what does or doesn’t work.  These guys knew their business well enough to make a living at it, still they caught nothing.  The miracle might be their lack of catch as well as the 153 large fish.  God displayed His glory by preventing them from exercising the natural results of things for the purpose of catching them for Himself.

What was Jesus’ message to Peter at the time of his calling?  “From now on you will catch men.”

Peter didn’t sin or doubt God’s will or disobey his calling by going out on the lake to fish.  He did what he saw in front of him.  I don’t know what he thought about the situation now that Jesus was risen, but from his choice to fish it might be he thought the whole parade was over for them.  You know, Jesus told them He was returning to the Father so what should they expect to do once He was gone?  The fun was over, the work all done, so back to the old grindstone…or may be he just felt like fishing cuz it was familiar and quiet, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, this miracle shook their world up and pushed them in a different direction all together.

Jesus had another reason, however, for coming that day.  Peter.  The man probably had been feeling like a complete traitor since the night in the high priest’s courtyard.  Jesus came to take this burden away from him.

Catching the fish was just a fun way of getting their attention.  On the other hand, may be God purposed it to make another point at the same time—you know, two birds with one stone.  Either way, the impossible catch and the net’s improbable strength (holding together with all that weight) became a prediction of what the disciples could expect in the coming years.  They would turn the world on its proverbial ear and do it not by the human method of invasion or war but by living, teaching and preaching the message called the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven.  They would catch human fish in a supernatural net powered by the Holy Spirit and held together by the love of Jesus.