Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

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.

Attitude

April 8, 2011

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…  Philippians2:5.

The KJV uses the word “mind” from the implied meaning, since what is used in the Greek is the word “phroneo” which means either to think, to be minded in a certain way or to think of, be mindful of (Vine’s).  What we get out of this in the NIV is the word “attitude”.  “Attitude” is how someone displays what they think about a certain subject; in other words, it’s the posture we take about life, the mood, the action that tells the world around us what we are about.  The dictionary also interprets this word as one’s disposition, opinion, etc., which places it in the realm of the body showing what the mind is thinking or feeling.

So how we think needs to fall in line with how Jesus thinks.  This has to be a goal for us, unfortunately, since we’re not gonna’ be able to pull off a total switcheroo all at once without a miracle.  Paul isn’t making a request of the readers but commanding them to think like their Mentor and Master.  If we admire someone enough, we will emulate the things we appreciate the most.  With Jesus that’s an easy place to go since He’s so wonderful, don’t you think?

Children, sinners, outcasts, rich, poor and everyone in between the extremes loved to hangout with this man—ok, the Pharisees and rulers didn’t like Him much, but that’s because they disagreed with His acceptance of everyone they looked down upon.  His one goal was to seek and save that which is lost; for God didn’t send the Son of Man didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through Him.  John said in a letter to the churches,  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 2:6)

Do we crave to know what God requires of us?  Then we look at Jesus’ life and ministry to get an idea.

The Profit

March 29, 2011

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21.

Paul couldn’t know the outcome of his chains exactly.  God only told him not to worry about standing trial in Rome, so that’s what he did.  But he was conflicted with the whole thing…

To say Paul just rode the wave of human emotions without any strong feelings at all, I think would be a big misreading of this text.  He wasn’t stoic about the false teachers or his detractors rather he knows God can work all things for the good.  It’s kind of like knowing that a disaster won’t be the end of the story instead it becomes a catalyst to better things.

I probably read the key text with a specific filter over my spiritual eyes, for I see these words as a mandate for everyone.  Paul claims somewhere else whether we live or die we are the Lord’s so what happens to us is immaterial as far as the big picture goes, though it might be painful in the short game.  At the same time we don’t simply breeze through the trials with complete calm or no reaction whatsoever.

A good question to ask is:  If we are supposed to be completely calm and easy about the trials, why does God promise us comfort?  Why would we need Him to reassure us of His presence through the Scriptures and the Spirit if our hearts weren’t in turmoil?

Paul didn’t rejoiced over the bad things people were saying about him or false teachings they espoused, but over the fact the good news of salvation got preached at all.  He makes his argument here because the news of these people distressed him so he found comfort and joy in the one positive coming out of the whole mess.  Even through his imprisonment and chains he found a way to look for God’s hand in the depressing reality.  This means he knew the depressing reality not that he felt nothing.  There would be no reason at all to even speak of such issues if he didn’t experience, process and solve them as problems.

Yet, towards the end of chapter 1 he warns the Philippians For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.  verse 29, 30.  The word “struggle” means what to us?  Well, what do you contend with in your life that makes you “struggle” with it?  Paul tells us point blank he had struggled in the past and had another one now one in the present.  Folks, the path of the Christian goes directly through the cross, a place of death, humiliation and struggle.

I guess one of my struggles in the past was to look at these heroes of Bible legend as simply human beings with the same realities we have (except we have running water, electricity, toilets, affordable soap, deodorant and a host of other things they never even imagined).  No matter what we believe about ourselves or them, the truth is they struggled to maintain their confidence in their own calling and mission at times.  Acts claims they never wavered in their trust in God, but we know for certain that Paul struggled with the wisdom of coming back to Jerusalem after the Jews arrested him in the temple (see Acts 21:27ff).  If Paul wasn’t discouraged or afraid his situation compromised God’s work through him, why would the Lord come to him with reassurance and hope?  No, we read these stories and forget what God’s actions on behalf of the apostles implies.  Just to emphasize my point:  If God came to reassure Paul, it was because he needed it.

He says something strange that I had to chew on for a few days (a couple of weeks actually) to make sense for me.  For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. So does this sentence make you wonder what he’s talking about, or do you innately know?  Here’s the questions that popped into my brain-thingy:  Is he talking about being delivered from a death sentence and chains, or, is it simply he believed something would work out either now or for eternity?

It appears from the context that he doesn’t consider either option—martyrdom or release—as anything but deliverance.  He has two concerns that keep him conflicted:  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

His struggle here isn’t about dying for Christ because he says,  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. So we’re not dealing with a man conflicted about the trial and possible death, rather he’s worried about the churches he’s planted being firmly rooted and brought up in Christ.  That should give us pause to consider what we value while on earth.  Is the church of God and their well being of utmost importance to us, right up their with going to be with Christ?  Or are we more concerned with what we can build in the here and now?

Whatever happens…

Paul is content with either outcome, for he sees profit in both.  Yet what he’s most concerned about is being assured the Philippians stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them. This characteristic defines the body of Christ; the lack of it mars the image of the invisible God, the Son and Spirit, for they are one.  If we are to be the image of God, we must pursue and constantly encourage unity in the faith as well as standing together on His Word.  It is our greatest testimony to the world when they cannot divide and conquer.

The Important Thing is…

March 25, 2011

But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.  Philippians 1:18.

What is the the “important thing” according to Paul?

That Christ is preached.

From the very first time I read these words till now I’ve been impressed with the thought that I don’t have to worry about the various denominations, weird doctrines or motivations of those who preach and teach the gospel.  Many of these people Paul spoke of were either for or against him in their presentation.  Almost anyone who knows the NT can attest to the influence of Paul so I’m pretty sure he was a galvanizing figure even in his day.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I think Paul didn’t care about these crazy offshoot doctrinal rabbit trails kind of people, rather it’s not worth the energy it takes for me to worry about them.  Why?  Jesus predicted this type of craziness and confusion long before it happened—probably didn’t even have to get a prophetic vision or anything, knowing human nature as He did.

So many times I’ve heard other believers complain about this or that religion in either a plaintive voice or in resentment and I have begun to wonder lately to what end?  If the very Cornerstone of  our salvation predicted such things and instructed us not to be alarmed by them, then why bother being more than troubled?  We can’t solve the world nor can we stop the nature of the sin which destroys all it touches.

How often do we believe it’s our duty to police other Christians?

I grew up in a church that was exclusive, narcissistic and wholly taken with its own doctrinal position to the point we weren’t allowed to associate with other “religions” (which meant other Christian denominations oddly enough) because they might pollute our spiritual purity.  I don’t agree with their stance but I don’t consider them non-Christian or heretics exactly just misguided and conceited.  I can judge their attitudes and doctrine as to whether or not they conform to Scripture as I understand it, but I don’t have the right to judge either their salvation or connection to God.  To tell the truth, my current connection to Christ comes through several very godly people within the that church who brought me to the foot of the cross, so I have a hard time condemning anyone who can do that.

That said, churches or people who teach they are the only way to Christ are dangerous and divisive for they seek to kill off any other perspective but their own.  We don’t have to agree with the methods, attitudes or doctrinal urges of another person or organization to accept them as family in Christ.  If there’s one thing I’ve gleaned from this passage and being brought up exclusive, it’s how dangerous and dry the walk with Christ is when we refuse to expose ourselves to the big picture.  It would be like someone preaching that only primary colors are of God, which makes any other color godless and therefore those who use them should be shunned as playing with Satan’s crayons.

Paul makes a pretty bold statement about men he personally disagrees with in doctrine and presentation, he isn’t worried about them.  Yet notice he does see their error and point it out without hesitation.  Again, this is an important part of being solid in the Word.  To be accepting of those who differ from us doesn’t mean we ignore what we consider their mistakes to be nor do we refuse to speak up for fear of causing trouble.  Paul’s struggle for freedom from the law in the church is legendary, causing a big major conference in Jerusalem to determine whether or not he was right.  That should tell you how important he considered this new radical view of God to be.

His detractors were Jewish in origin, mostly, and dead set against the freedom from the law Paul preached as sacrosanct.  These men used his chains as evidence of God’s disfavor instead of recognizing them as a testimony to the gospel’s influence.  The reason he languished in chains awaiting trial came directly from his teaching that the old system of obedience was dead and buried with Christ.  The new way of righteousness came exclusively through Christ’s grace; meaning grace allows for God to live in humans who are bathed in the blood of Jesus.

Here’s another illustration from Paul’s own writings.

In 1 Corinthians 15:29 he makes an odd argument for the resurrection which seems incongruous to his other teachings on the subject of salvation.  Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? Without missing a beat or arguing the doctrinal accuracy of such a practice Paul moves on to establish his real point, the truth of Jesus’ being alive and well.  We know the Scriptures say …man is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment… which is as an effective argument against being baptized for the dead as could be given.  Yet nowhere in the rest of his letters does Paul troubleshoot this “erroneous” practice directly.

Does this mean he agreed with them?  Not at all.  But it does speak heavily on the side of tolerance where innocence and love prevail.  Why would Paul tolerate such a “false” practice to continue?  I don’t know, though I can speculate.  May be since these people did it in love and concern for those who died not knowing Jesus, he left them alone, for who knows, God might actually honor their faith.  From what I understand of NT teaching, I doubt it, but I’m not God, nor even a Paul, so I don’t have the authority to draw any conclusions.

What does this have to do with Paul’s statement in our key text?

Merely that quarreling over interpretations of vague Scripture references is useless.  The essential things of God are plain in His Word, those things we are not required to grasp are more obscure—e.g. last day prophecies, for instance.  I trust in God for the things I don’t understand in His Word because of what I do understand in the gospel message.  In other words, the truth I get is so effective and works so well, the other stuff that I struggle to get a handle on is accepted because of what I do know.  I don’t personally practice the law according to the legalistic way I was brought up, because I don’t want to be bound to a dead system.  The freedom here is that Scripture affords us leeway in these things—Paul’s argument for foods and Sabbaths in Romans 14 for example.

Those who teach the Word of God out of false motivations will get their reward on the Day, so they’re not our responsibility or concern.  If confronted by them, we must defend the gospel as we know it, but the moment the discussion goes into semantics or quarrelsome territory, we are told to walk away (read 2 Timothy 2:23).  And this is exactly how Paul could walk away from his detractors and basically ignore them for the most part.  If they preached Jesus crucified, resurrected and as the salvation of all men, he could rejoice; and therefore, so should we.

 

Like Father, Like Son

February 26, 2010

Then Jesus cried out,  “When a man believes in me, he does not believe me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  John 12:44-46.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  Of course we take that to be a literal thing, so in our minds whatever Jesus looked like in physical form is what God looks like physically…only the Father is spirit, outside our dimension and wholly other to us.  Jesus is speaking not so much metaphorically but about a different characteristic of Himself than His incidental physical makeup.

He told Nicodemus,  “God is spirit…those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth…for these are the kind of worshipers the Father desires.”

If God is spirit without a physical reference in our dimension, then we are safe to conclude that Jesus was speaking about something in His makeup other than the physical reality we see.  What else can we look at through Scripture and those in His time on earth could see?  His works of kindness, mercy, grace, healing and the like.  The miracles, the clear teaching, the realignment of Scripture which takes the misdirection of the teachers of the Law and rabbinical interpretations and turns them on their ears.

We cannot separate the Godhead.  In other words, those who say things like,  “That’s the Old Testement God, Jesus is the New Testement” forget the Scriptures say “God is the same, yesterday, today and forever” and also that Paul’s declaration about all Scripture is God breathed points to Old Testement Scriptures because there were no New Testement Scriptures since the apostles were in the process of writing them at the time.

So when Jesus declares above that believing in Him directly corrolates to believing in the Father, we lose the disconnect between OT and NT.  I’m approaching this from the back side of Jesus’ argument, however, for the Jews believed in God the Father but rejected Jesus.  Jesus argument above attempted to redirect their thinking into seeing the truth of who He was in relation to God.  We have a similar problem in modern Christianity where we make Jesus the nice God and the Father the stern disciplinarian who waits in eager anticipation to throw lightning bolts at sinners.  Jesus dispels this notion several times throughout the book of John by claiming a total unity with the Father.  If they are one, then the heart of one is the heart of the other; the desires of the one mirrors the desires of the other.

So what is Jesus saying we should be looking at in order to see the Father then?

Light.  Jesus came to shed light on the world concerning God.  God’s intentions were being skewed and misrepresented by the very nation called to be His representatives.  They were so far off base they killed His Son.  Not a good testimony of their faith, wouldn’t you say?  In my opinion, however, our modern Christian outlook is no different for we ignore Scripture where it disagrees with our want and trumpet the ones that say what we like the most.  In doing this we declare we don’t trust God to be right about everything.

If there are Scriptures we don’t understand or seem confusing, it isn’t Scripture that has the problem, it’s us.  I’ve come across texts that leave me baffled and thought may be someone had written in an addition or made a mistake in the script, only to find out later that I had a blockage in my grasp of God.  Jesus came to reveal the invisible God; He is the physical manifestation of the spirit God.  If we truly believe this, then we can look at the whole of the Bible and find our Master in the message.

Jesus is the filter for the OT.  Through Him, we see the message in a new light and gain an understanding of what it means to know God in Spirit and in truth.  This means that those who read the Scripture without the filter of Christ will be led into all sorts of false conclusions, rabbit trails and be unable to see God clearly, if at all.  Jesus sheds light on who God is by showing us not only miraculous power but compassion beyond anything humans have ever displayed.  It’s one of the reasons even antagonists to the gospel message don’t criticize Jesus directly most of the time but attack the source of the gospels or writings.  There’s nothing in Jesus to call “evil” so they must resort to disparaging it as a myth or tall tale.

Christ shown a light on the world, which revealed the sharp contrast between human and divine nature, through Him and Him alone will the world truly see.

What to Believe?

October 14, 2009

On hearing His words, some of the people said,  “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said,  “He is the Christ.”

Still others asked,  “How can the Christ come from Galilee?  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.  Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him.  John 7:40-44.

It’s important to notice details in Scripture because the details many times reveal things that flavors our understanding of what we’re reading.  For instance, John tells us the people were divided because of Jesus not just for the story to be accurate but to remind us He came to bring a sword that would divide those who sought God with all their hearts from those who merely acknowledged Him.  Where Jesus enters the picture for anyone, division rules the day—not because their growth in righteousness causes this but because of those who stand against what Jesus taught.

Why?  Why do we see such a polarization around Christ?

I believe it’s in part due to His demand for holiness, yes, but it grows more whacked than that into our reluctance to give over our whole being to God.  We desperately want “all this and heaven too” to quote my brother.

Again, some set out to take Him by force and arrest Him, but the timing wasn’t right so no one could lay a hand on Him.

Which brings us the fact the temple guards gave for not arresting Him once they returned to the rulers and Pharisees:  “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”  Jesus’ words held them spellbound, captivated and they lost all motivation to take Him in by force.  I know it sounds ludicrous they would arrest a man just for teaching in the temple, but such was the day when those in power could incarcerate anyone they chose for sneezing the wrong way in their presence.  Many rulers killed those who annoyed them on just a whim without forethought or any regret.

The rulers sneered at the temple guards for believing or even being affected by Jesus.  Yet notice they didnt’ go hear the man themselves because I think they were afraid of His power.  Enough of them had been brought down in debates with Jesus they were a little afraid to either confront Him or listen.  Were they worried He could convince them or just keep them at bay?  I don’t know.  What I do see in this example of their sneering denial is false bravado and distance.  These men kept themselves at a distance, insulated so they wouldn’t be tainted.  Many of them hadn’t even met Jesus much less heard Him speak, so their analysis was based on remote calculations rather than first hand experience.

This type of person doesn’t scare me half so much as those who hear the words of God on a regular basis but still harden themselves to its message.

Nicodemus rebuked their condemnation of Jesus by pointing out the law forbade them to do so without a hearing.  They weren’t allowed to condemn anyone without hearing the pros and cons of the case in person.  But look at their response,  “Are you from Galilee, too?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  This argument didn’t hold water at all and they knew it because Jesus didn’t come from Galilee but Nazareth in the hill country.  Plus, the rumors of His birth were already circulated, I’m sure by this time, so His origins would have been pretty well established.  If nothing else, these men should have asked Him to come to a confab in order to explore both His origins and message to discover the truth.  Then, if they were impressed by the personal evidence, all they would have had to do is get witnesses to His birthplace, story and education.

Instead they denied Him any right to the name messiah.  Why?  Because He came out of nowhere in their estimation?  Was it due to His poor background?  Was it because He didn’t belong to any of their sects or religious schools?

No, I think these things were just excuses for keeping the Christ at bay.  They wanted a messiah to conquer the oppressors of Israel and put them in power not change their hearts, which was a mistake.  The problem with sin is the craving for it after a while.  We get so used to our present reality we forget that it’s temporary and transient.  We actually begin to believe God wants us to remain here and in this condition—albeit glorified and somewhat righteous—without a cataclysmic change, and nothing could be further from the truth.

God’s work of salvation has nothing to do with earthly power in the sense of conquering nations or establishing kings, though He does this regularly, rather His purpose for us is to give us dominion over the heart of us.  The greatest power on earth is not the one which rules others but that which rules the inner being.  Our inability to be self-controlled should warn us about our mistaken goals when it comes to developing the “perfect” church or picture of God on earth, for this is impossible in our present condition—dual natures at war.

Another thing these men refused to explore or acknowledge was Jesus’ connections.  First, both His parents were descendants of David.  Second, He was related by marriage or heritage to the priestly line of Aaron because Zechariah was John the Baptist’s dad, a priest who served in the holy of holies, which means he was of the line of Aaron.  Since Elizabeth, John’s mother, was Mary’s, Jesus’ mother, cousin, we see both the prophecies for the messiah fulfilled.  He is the king in the line of David but a priest as well, which means Hebrews 7 calling Him a type of Melchizedek is spot on.

If these men, so eager to dismiss Jesus, had investigated the evidence, they might have taken a step back and been a bit more careful throwing condemnation around.  But they didn’t because they had no desire to understand truth.

And this is a warning, I believe, to us.

Two Miracles in One

June 15, 2009

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him,  “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants,  “Do whatever He tells you.”  John 2:1-5

I remember the first time I read this story.  I loved it immediately. Jesus partied, I thought, and that means parties must be okay.

Then I took a quarter of Greek, which opened the subject even more.  Jesus made wine, an undetermined type of wine, very good on the palette and of the best grade.  I asked around and found out the best wine at Jewish weddings is always fermented and carefully crafted for taste and texture.  I didn’t know much about wine but I did know a snow job when found one.

My church had colored this text to fit their bias.  It couldn’t be fermented wine, went their argument, because Jesus couldn’t do anything sinful or harmful to your health.  But Jesus made the best wine.  Either that meant Jesus needed to buck up and get His health teaching up to date with the conditions set out for Christian life in the conservative church manual or the church had it wrong.  Well, as you might guess, I sided with Jesus.  There are a host of issues like this that I won’t go into but it started me on a path to trying to understand the truth of Word rather than my preference, tradition or inherent bias.

Jesus partied in the NT on more than one occasion.  Hmmmm.  Wow, that has ramifications!

Another thing that stands out to me is His unwillingness to be miraculous.  It’s like you want to say to Him,  “You’re the Messiah just get on with it already!”  It took a little pushy Jewish mother to get Him to act.  It’s also significant that Jesus performed the miracle without waving His hand or making any big incantations.  Instead He used a quiet method of faith to work one of the most celebrated and oft used stories in Scriptures besides walking on water.  Popular songs use it as a metaphor for their points, people use it as political jabs or praise.

Instead of trying to gain from it politically, socially, ministerially, Jesus used it to validate a marriage, His mother, His new disciple’s fledgling faith and to just plain party.  It’s not hard to picture Him dancing in the wedding dance, talking and laughing with the other guests, not drawing attention to Himself by sitting on the sidelines but participating in a way which didn’t make Him holier than thou–even though He actually was (holier than anyone at the feast).  This story made me like Him all the more.  He took time for the little things–little by human theological standards anyway–some believe love and marriage to not be as high on the priority list as understanding the sanctuary doctrine or the rapture time table.  Jesus shows us this attitude is nonsense and doesn’t fit into His way of living.  He validates marriage by merely being at a wedding; He doubly validates it by making the best wine in the country for wedding already winding down to a close; then He goes above and beyond all that stuff by making this small, seemingly insignificant little miracle His very first of many.

Here’s another thought:  There was no fan-fair, trumpeted pronouncements, preamble act or announcement of the miracle itself.  When the servants poured the water into the cups it was wine.  He didn’t go into the main room and act humbly embarrassed, while secretly wishing for acknowledgement for John says only the servants were aware of the origins of the best wine at the wedding and the befuddled groom took all the credit.  No, it was with quiet simplicity and love for those present as well as the couple the day celebrated that He created something incredibly special.

Jesus showed love in this act.  He loved His mother and, though He sounded like every other kid objecting to doing something at His mother’s insistence, I think He wasn’t being whiny or petulant about it. The time for His miraculous ministry hadn’t arrived yet for Him but He went ahead to support His mother’s faith–I’m sure He thought she was just being cute and loved her all the more for her faith in Him, that would be just like Jesus–and, may be, to help His new disciples get a perspective on the true nature of the Messiah’s mission.

I just love the fact that His momma ignored His protests and just circumnavigated all objections by putting Him on the spot.  Do you get the poignancy of this fact?  The God of heaven was “manipulated” by His mother’s pushy motherly ways.  I bet He laughs about this story still, I know I would.  It demonstrated not only her faith in Him but His love and respect for her that He went ahead and obeyed her wish—though His authority to say “no” outweighed her motherly command by a long shot.  And what character!  She knew without any doubt He could take care of the situation.  Whatever possessed her to push for wine, is something I guess we’ll have to ask her when we meet her.  I just find it funny she chose wine at a party to be persistent about rather than some politically beneficial miracle.

God chose a lowly wedding to demonstrate His power and control over the natural order of things.  This tells us nothing is too small for Him to concern Himself with and we should be as careful of our world as He is and demonstrated while He walked earth.

Whatever His reasons for objecting, He performed His first miracle, according to John A, at a wedding for relatives or friends in a show of support and love for all involved. What do you think the servants’ reaction was after this clearly miraculous wedding gift?

I know what mine would be.