Posts Tagged ‘following God’

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.

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Gospel of John 2–The Word

December 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which one is more difficult?

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

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

Does that last sound cruel and tyrannical?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of John Introduction

December 12, 2014

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

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

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

The authenticity is another matter entirely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will You Really?

March 24, 2010

Simon Peter asked Him,  “Lord, where are You going?”

Jesus replied,  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked,  “Lord, why can’t I follow You now?  I will lay down my life for You.”

Then Jesus answered,  “Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”  John 13:36-38.

People who ignore the habits of their life usually end up being quite surprised in a crisis.  For instance, if one of us has a problem facing humiliation and loss in small situations, the problem will magnify exponentially with greater stress.

I understand Peter somewhat because I can’t even watch other people get humiliated without cringing.  In fact it’s so bad for me that when I watch movies or shows on TV where one of the characters is about to embarrass themselves, I have to take a break and walk away.  I’m sure there are those of you out there who are going,  “Uh huh!”  because this trait tells you something about my Christianity, as it should.  But here’s the kicker:  When someone confronts me about serving the Lord Jesus in a frontal assault, I’m all armor and heroic intentions.

The failure to stand comes where I see humiliation or bad opinion about to happen…such as when a person who believes in another god or no god at all confronts my beliefs.  I want to be wise, broad minded and open to them without compromise but I end up just sounding wishy washy.  I know some who read this blog might be disappointed by this fact since I’m such a strong advocate on paper—or in this case, on blog—yet I see the same traits in many I know.  They are either obnoxiously strident about their belief in Christ or, like me, a dog who whimpers in the presence of a more aggressive animal.

I didn’t always step back, however, so I must explain my current condition so you’ll understand the why of it.

In years past I have been strident, confident in my knowledge and a little cocky about my God.  I grasped the opposition’s position but thought it uninformed and foolish, so I tended condescend a bit.  I don’t think my Master liked my attitude because I ended up sliced and diced several times, which then brought me to humility.  Unfortunately, that humility turned to fear in certain situations and now I find myself worried about overwhelming people with the gospel.

On the other hand, I’ve become more merciful towards those who believe differently, more circumspect, if you will, because I know how badly some outspoken Christians have represented the gospel to the world overall.  So now I’m more gentle about how I approach those with other views, because I know how much I hate it when someone is strident or mocking with an opposing viewpoint with me.

Peter’s great mistake here, though, wasn’t just over confidence in himself, but a lack of understanding about what Jesus was saying.  Look at the phrasing and you’ll get the nuance:

Simon Peter asked Him,  “Lord, where are You going?”

Jesus replied,  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked,  “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? “

His problem wasn’t a lack of loyalty or courage in the face of battle; I think he demonstrated heroic courage in cutting off that servant’s ear.  No, what He lacked was a grasp of the cross looming on the horizon.  Jesus’ next step after this evening meal would be the Gethsemane, soldiers, beatings, mocking and a cross.  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter died years later on a cross, albeit upside down, according to tradition.  At the moment of this conversation, however, his claims sound absurd because though he would willingly fight a war on Jesus’ behalf, history shows he couldn’t follow the Master into humiliation, false accusation and public condemnation until much later.

I am like Peter in this, so much so that it scares me.  As long as the battle lines are clearly drawn between “them and us”, I’m a lion; the moment I have to lay down the sword, fear of being humiliated paralyzes me.  Yet his subsequent death after years of fierce loyalty in ministry encourage me to keep pressing on.

To follow Jesus for each and everyone of us will lead us to and through the cross.  Most of us don’t see the cross for what it was and should remain:  a means of stripping us of all our worldly grandeur, pride and self-worth.  The glory of the cross begins when we lay down our own value system, lay aside everything we could ever use to hold up our self-perception and humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.

So the question Jesus asks us all is, “Will you really lay down your life for me?” which is then followed by,  “Before the night is here you will have denied me…” put a number to it.  Every sin we commit denies Him Lordship over our lives, every detour we take away from His authority over our behavior or choices denies His Word access to our hearts; and every single time we ignore our own habits of the heart for a grander portrait of our own character, we set ourselves up for colossal failure.

Yet like Peter, if we fall at Jesus’ feet and cling to Him, He will forgive and restore us.  Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

“One of You…”

March 17, 2010

After He had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified,  “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant.  John 13:21, 22.

The confusion gets worse when Jesus answers John’s question about who the culprit was, with,  “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.  He identified Judas but the disciples were not even close to tracking with Him.

Their reaction to Jesus’ assertion shows how our mental context plays out in our understanding of reality much of the time.  It’s the same reason why in an accident report there are always discrepancies in the stories where two or more people are involved or witness it.  The disciples were in a another frame of mind, one which had nothing to do whatsoever with a crucifixion or betrayal.  They brought their context with them, the preoccupation with which they functioned, and inserted it into the conversation without ever stopping to consider whether or not it fit the subject.

Understanding Scripture takes concentration, focus and a willingness to suspend our own agenda for the sake of one which may not have anything to do with our current state of being.  In other words, it takes us out of our own context and plops us down in another.  The disciples’ thoughts were a million miles away from any idea that Jesus might die within a couple of days from this meal.  It never crossed their minds because the context in which they lived was one of seeing the miraculous messiah, who changed water into the finest wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands from a small basket of food and walked on water with a command over the elements that baffled the mind.  Their context wasn’t ready for His suffering or death; nor could their spiritual house withstand the storm of humiliation and loss they were about to experience.

I guess this is one of the many reasons why I harp on this subject so much.  I find the general Christian teachings about how life should be, out of step with Christ’s teaching to the contrary and the whole of Hebrews 11 where it tells us not to get discouraged when we suffer.  In order to gain membership, many have set the church of Jesus up for a rude awakening as well as a fall, because they teach a feel good gospel—much like motivational speakers do for their audience.  The message becomes about the here and now instead of the hoped for reward of change.  Our true hope looks forward to a city not built with human hands, which God has built us.  I am wary of people who preach a self-help gospel, one which makes us feel good about ourselves—the “I’m okay, You’re okay” teachings of pop psychology has no place in a Christian church.

Why?

We’ll study this more in depth when we reach John 16, 17, but for now suffice it to say that Jesus promised not only peace, joy and love to His followers, but with them persecutions.  When we ignore the latter for the sake of teaching the former, we do so to our own hurt; we set ourselves and others up for discouragement or a shipwrecked faith.  Our faith is for the purpose of helping us through the worst our world can throw at us and remain standing.

Jesus overcame the world for our sake—and by “our” I mean the whole of humanity throughout the history creation.  What is expected of us is to follow suit; to stand firm though the heavens fall.

Yet the context in which we live speaks to us louder than the one God creates.  We see the world’s wealth and compare the message of Jesus with it and think somehow they match up, when they don’t.  We compare lifestyles with the world only to see that pieces of the message don’t match up with it so we create a hybrid religion made up of both, which then sets us up for a split personality spiritually.

What’s our mistake?  Comparing the message and life of Jesus with the norms of the world.  The disciples heard Jesus say to Judas,  “What you are about to do, do quickly” yet it never even entered their minds what He meant.  The words didn’t compute; the actions of giving Judas a piece of bread dipped in wine flew by their consciousness.  How did they interpret the words and actions?  Some thought He was sending Judas out for more supplies for the feast, others didn’t track at all.

John later gives us a clue how to clear our minds of everything but the priorities of God.  Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.  1 John 2:15-17.  Subtract the world’s priorities and immerse ourselves in the kingdom of heaven and we will see clear enough to grasp what role we are to play in the here and now.

The Sound of His Voice

January 11, 2010

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  John 10:2-5.

I grew up with a fear of deception—make that borderline paranoia.  The denomination I was raised in protects its “truth” very carefully (and forcefully would be another understatement) to the point that I think some people in it worshiped the fundamental doctrines more than Christ or even God the Father.  I’m not criticizing the denomination itself because I also learned to know Jesus through some beautiful people in the local church and schools.

So many, both inside and outside the Christian faith, claim to long for knowledge of God, to know Him or Her and understand the purpose of their creation.  Our biggest obstacle to knowing God is which source material truly speaks His/Her mind.  Since I am a Christian and believe wholeheartedly in the message of the gospels, I will refer to the God I worship as the one for whom all are searching, though this may not be accurate in motivation as much as it is in theory.

How do we get to know the Judeo/Christian God accurately so that we can get a handle on what He wants?

By getting to know His voice.

That’s nice. 

So how do we get to know His voice?!?

By studying our source of His message.

The problem of understanding God, which then leads to knowing His voice, is that we have so many seeming contradictions in nature and the Word itself to overcome that we get confused.  Not to mention thousands of voices in this century and all through the ages writing, spewing and proclaiming opposed views of what it means to know Him.

At the council of Nice, back in the 4th century (I believe), they decided to go with known authors for the source material of what we call the “Bible” and reject any writings that were not supported by known authorities.  They chose first the gospels which we now read, the apostolic letters, then studied these to determine which of the OT writings were authoritative in eyes of the NT writers.  In other words, if the NT writers quoted from the OT source, they included the book in the canon.

I don’t know if they got it right or not, though I agree with the method of discernment.  What I do know is that what we call the “Bible” has a voice, a tone to its message and a sound if read out loud which comes from not only the message but the language as well.  Through the gospels, we get to know the Godhead by way of Jesus.  For example, later in the book of John Jesus tells Phillip,  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  Therefore we may conclude that Jesus represents the heart, intent and character of God the Father on earth.  This, too, gives us a grasp on the voice of God.

Our Shepherd’s voice can be heard throughout the history of Israel and the Christian church’s beginnings.  If we keep ourselves from becoming myopic (tunnel vision), we will hear the tonal consistency of the Scriptures and know the voice of God clearly.

I think being a musician makes me aware of tonal ambiguities more and the harmonic quality of how a thing sounds.  For instance, almost every entry I make on this blog is read aloud so I can hear how it flows rhythmically and in its tonality.   I also want each entry to have a coherent main point which is supported by the small rabbit trails I indulge in—like this one I’m writing.  Paul, when talking about tongues, speaks to the commonsense of playing an instrument clearly and with purpose so that those who hear won’t be bored or confused by its sound.

God’s voice in the Scriptures can sound confusing if one doesn’t take the time to know Him through the eyes of His Son, the only one who can truly interpret the Godhead’s purpose or intent.  Many times preachers or evangelists focus so much time on one aspect of God that people never understand the balance.  Like hell fire sermons, for instance, are preached to scare people away from the punishment to come.  We see the results of this in the fact that we know many a bitter non-believer.  On the other hand, merely focusing on God’s desire to save to the exclusion of His warning about final punishment leaves out a vital aspect to God’s message as well.

Without teaching the whole of the message, we don’t see God’s heart.  In fact, if I hadn’t courageously taken my reluctance in hand and read the book of Ezekiel, I would never have found the message of God’s heart about the lost.  When I read the words,  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD,  Repent and live!  in 18:32, then found the same message in other chapters, the way I heard God’s warnings about punishment and disaster changed.  The tone of His voice went from stern eagerness to fry us to a Father pleading with His foolish children to turn away from something dangerous.  The warnings of punishment are God’s last resort.

Looking at the history of Israel I see God’s patience and long-suffering work with them in their seesaw loyalty to Him.  It took almost a thousand years from the time they entered Canaan till they went into exile for them to be stripped completely of their homeland.  Even then God gave it back to them out of faithfulness to His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of anyone, then His children must not.  The tone of a preacher that speaks more of the judgment of God to the utter disregard of God’s longing to save is out of balance and therefore just as bad as a lie.  On the other hand, if a preacher only speaks of God’s love without His discipline, he or she has repeated the same mistake as those who focus on hell-fire.  Half-truth is a lie of sorts, even if it is all true within the half that is spoken.  To me, speaking half of God’s message without the balance is like drawing a person’s face without features.

No, hearing God’s voice takes careful study as well as His children properly dividing the Word of Truth in not only their teaching but the way they live.

The Work of God

August 19, 2009

Then they asked Him,  “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered them,  “The work of God is this:  to believe in the one He has sent.”  John 6:28, 29.

That’s it?!!!  Just to believe in Jesus is all that’s required?  Wow, that’s easy.

Wait a minute, I detect another play on words here.  Let’s see if I can work this out, so if I believe in Jesus, then that must mean I trust what He says to be true.  If I believe Him to be telling the truth, then that means I must follow what He says to do, be and think. 

Bah!  It’s a trick answer!

Not that I really feel resentful about this being true, but you get the point, I hope, that many people do.  They come to Jesus’ party for the free food and drinks, then come to find out they must wear the robe of His righteousness in order to stay.  It just isn’t fair in their eyes, and it’s something no one in the believers camp can explain to their satisfaction either.  Those who look for a free ride into heaven without anything required of them won’t like the consequences of being with Jesus for His very mission is to change us back into the original design—with a couple of modifications.

The reason this statement by Jesus is important is what He was about to say next would challenge them to their core.  For them to really become His followers (not that many really desired this, I’m just saying it for the sake of the discussion) they would have to accept what He was about to say.  Their beliefs were about to be challenged and they would be required to step up or step off.  I know many today who don’t like this view of Jesus because it excludes them and many others due to their lifestyle choices, but it is part of His message.

Those who object want a softened truth, one which requres very little from them and allows all to be saved—whether they conform or not makes no difference.  Dietrich Bonhoffer calls this type of Christianity “cheap grace” because it doesn’t demand anything of the follower except to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  James refutes this assumption (one reason some would like to elliminate his book from the canon) by exclaiming,  You say you believe in God?  Good!  Even the devils believe and tremble!  Belief isn’t enough for eternal life because one can know God as supreme and still refuse to worship Him as such or submit to His authority.

Notice the answer is in the singular the question is in the plural.  They were willing to do great works for God to earn His favor but to actually have to change…that’s just asking too much.  Ok, we might be willing to change a little, you know, conform to a modified version of love…”as long as I can stay similar to the person I like to be.”  We humans like being Knights in Shining armor.  In fact, I think some of us believe it’s better to be the Black Knight or bad guy than to be an obscure nobody, such is our skewed vision of living.

To be important in the kingdom of God one thing is paramount, ultimate and final in our reach for eternity:  To believe the One God sent into the world.  Just one work to be whole, one person in whom we place our faith, and trusting with all our hearts what He has to say.

The Jews questioning Jesus were looking to be heroes of the kingdom through gallant deeds and quests, they looked for a Messiah who also met those goals.  Jesus disillusioned them quite badly by making it far more simple in choice, though incredibly difficult in scope.  All they had to do was believe in who He was and act on that belief in faith.  It wasn’t what they were looking for, instead they demanded a sign—this right after eating the big dinner on the other side of the lake.

What do we demand of God in order for us to believe and trust Him?  Do we come at Him with conditions, addendums and quid pro quo?  What do we have to offer that’s so special the God of the universe would even consider making a deal with us?

Only ourselves in the shape of a heart willing to serve.

Cleaning House

June 16, 2009

In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves He said,  “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  John 2:12-16.

The place where this market was located happened to be in the Court of the Gentiles, an area cordoned off for those converts to Judaism from other nations.  They were not allowed in the Jewish section of the temple by law until the third generation, so the Jewish leaders took advantage of this and exploited their vulnerability.  Jesus considered desecration of even this area as disrespect to God, contrary to popular opinion.  For a long time I didn’t grasp the significance of why He used the quote “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (see Mark 11:17b) until I realized where the leaders set the market for all the sacrifices up.  The very word “gentile” means broadly “nations” so Jesus used Scripture to set the whole temple aside for worship not just the area for the Jews.

Jesus actions protected people’s right to worship in peace.  Another thing I struggled for years to reconcile was Jesus’ violence here because I couldn’t accept violent behavior and peace as coming from the same place.

But it did and does.

Jesus stood up for coming to God in worship with a vehemence few accept today as really in His nature, but John A states it clearly that He drove the marketing strategy out of the temple courts.  The kingdom of heaven could not be, nor would it ever be in Jesus’ view, a marketing ploy, an excuse for the already rich to scrape some more profit off the backs of the poor for the word “sanctuary” is used in many ways but its primary meaning is to protect.

Jesus came to protect not only the Name of God, His Father, butalso the His body—those who believe in Him.  He came to represent the God and creator of all–basically Himself.  Jesus refused to be pacifistic about the worship of God so He made a whip out of ropes and declared war on greedy racketeers who profitted off of people’s desperate need for grace, peace, forgiveness and mercy.

What a futile act of war.  The market was probably set back up and running the very next day or day after that.  What, in heaven’s name, did Jesus accomplish through this futility? 

He made His point.  And sometimes that’s all we can do.

The temple represented Jesus Himself.  What did He say to those who challenged Him? “Destroy this temple…” and John A makes it clear He was speaking of His own body. The leaders were making the worship of God a means to grow wealthy.  Jesus made it clear that’s not what the temple was for at all, so He cleaned it out for one day so that those who came to worship might experience a moment of peace.  Now we know through the teachings of the disciples that we are His body, which begs the question:  What does He say about us as His body through this act of violence?

Jesus won’t put up with anyone poluting His people for long.  There will come a time for cleansing and restoration, and since we are His temple, this means the true worshipers of God will be cleared of stuff that distracts from coming to God.

The leaders wanted blood.  They wanted to know just who this Jesus thought He was, when they were the religious authority here and He a mere Rabbi peasant, born out of wedlock and not even educated by them.

Jesus gave them metaphor as an answer.  They, in all their learning, intelligence and authority, missed His point entirely and took Him literally.  The disciples misunderstood too, though at least they would have come to a different conclusion.  Their experience at Cana showed Jesus able to perform miracles so they had no doubt He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, still they all missed the point.  Jesus spoke about Himself, His own body.  The true temple, of which the building merely worked as a model, was Jesus’ body, for Revelation says, “I saw no temple in that place (the New Jerusalem) for God and the Lamb are its temple.”

Jesus knew even then how He would die and what that entailed.  He needed to make a point which was:  My body should not be used for profit but rather worship.  I am not to be used to make money or extort from people, I am free to all who come to me in repentence (a word in the Greek which means a “change of mind” or to ” change the direction of one’s view”).

The disciples didn’t understand until for later, for John says, “After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said.  Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”  Remember the only “Scriptures” in John’s day were the OT law and prophets.  The NT hadn’t been established yet.

The Jews demanded a miraculous sign, but they didn’t get the one they wanted–I think they hoping for Elijah to bring fire down from heaven to prove God the true way to heathen priests.  The people who beleived, however, did get miraculous signs.  Why the disparity here?  Why would the common man get the miracles and the leaders who could have helped Jesus so much in His mission got nothing?

Both parties saw the same miracles because later it says the leaders had Jesus watched constantly to trip Him up.  This says something very important about man’s attitude:  we see and believe exactly what we want to see and believe.  If something doesn’t fit our preference, we will ignore it and find ways around it.  I’ve done it for years and when confronted, sidestepped the issues.  Truth, however, won’t let us sidestep it without some form of spiritual fragmentation bordering on insanity happening.

When we trust in human reasoning, values and agendas, we lose sight of the real and vital.  When give ourselves over to the temporary goals of the world around us, no amount of explaining the Word Made Flesh will bring comprehension to a mind darkened in this way.  So the last two verses have become a point of growth for me:

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 man.  John 2:24, 25.

I tend to trust man’s view a little too much.  Proverbs says, Fear of man will prove to be a snare… We cannot use man’s reasoning to get to God because man’s reasoning extracts God from daily life and viewpoint.  We must seek this same quality Jesus displayed by letting go of man’s opinion whether positive or negative in order to understand the truth about ourselves and the world around us through the filter of the Word of God.

Jesus didn’t trust man’s opinion about Him in His mission.  Just because people believed in Him didn’t mean they had it right.  A person can believe in God in a loose way but still reject everything God stands for, it’s just not enough to believe God exists.  James addresses this by saying, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.  Belief about something is not enough we must take that belief into our daily life and let it change us.  We cannot and do not change God for He must change us.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  God even says, “I am the LORD and I don’t change!”   Even sincere, intense or devout belief isn’t enough always, for a person can be intense about believing lies, devout to their own agenda, sincere about complete nonsense.

We conform to Him not He to us.  He doesn’t need out simple, distorted views about Him to be what He will be anyway–God.  Jesus is the savior of the world whether people believe it or not; accept it or not; conform to it or not.  We can be part of the testimony or party to those who try to destroy it or shape it to what they want it to be.

The leaders of Israel crucified the Son of God because He wouldn’t play their game or conform to their way of being religious.  They hated God in Jesus because He showed them how very shallow their view of life was and how lost they were without God’s way.

A few years ago I came to a decision, after a long time of wandering around the philosophical landscape:  Jesus is right. 

Human beings might have elements of truth, a form of godliness, be good hearted, generous, kind, gentle and host of other attributes that make people great, but without Jesus, they really had nothing but a temporary life.  God still might choose to save them in the end–and I believe many will be–but their life down here would lack the wholeness Jesus promised those who truly believe in Him and acted on it.  We can’t trust their viewpoints on things eternal because everything they tell us leads us to profit in merely the here and now.  We enter eternity the moment we accept Christ as Savior and Lord over our lives.  Everything we do must conform to this eternal thinking.  Our temporary choices must be made in light of living with Jesus for ever after.  Nothing comes close to this viewpoint in importance, but everything we do in our daily life reflects it and is affected by it.

I have never seen anyone love another human more deeply being than a person who leaves all for Jesus.

Jesus didn’t need man to tell Him who He was, justify His mission or character because He already knew the truth and it set Him free from the opinions and wishy-washy views of public scrutiny.  To conform to Christ we must follow Him here where the world–even the religious world–gains no hold over us.  Only Jesus holds us in His arms of love, protection and the armor of the Spirit.

Man’s opinion without conformity to God, is an exercise in futility.  Because of this, I must admit I am not really interested in living a meaningless life or continue stuck in futile thinking or living.

The Cost of Following Jesus

September 11, 2008

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciples.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.  Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to compelte it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying,  ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king.  Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Luke 14:25-35.

What is the foundation of our lives?  What do we consider to be the strength of it?  And, more importantly, what do we think we get when choose to follow Jesus?

Jesus was popular with the crowds because they looked on Him with celebrity status not because of His mission, message or purity.  They travelled with Him to see what He would do next, that next miracle, that next story of the kingdom of God, which most didn’t grasp the significance of anyway.

What would it have been like to be in the crowd when Jesus turned to tell us we needed to hate everyone including ourselves before we could be considered His disciple?  What would it have meant to us?  Then He not only told us to hate our loved ones, He made it clear we would be carrying our own cross, which everyone in that day and age would have equated with execution and death.  A man carrying a cross was going to be hung on it, to suffer and die.  That doesn’t sound very rewarding does it?

Then Jesus tells us through three parables what He’s driving at:

1.  Estimating the cost of a tower and building it in that era usually meant protection against raiders and thieves.  A tower wasn’t just for show but a functional reality for safety.  In the story of the gospel Jesus is considered the foundation, the walls and roof, the doctrinal building blocks (see 1 Corinthians 3).  Anyone building an earthly tower would first figure out if he/she had the means to purchase the materials and ability to erect the structure to completion, otherwise they wouldn’t even start such a venture.  Jesus is telling us that unless we are willing to invest not only the foundation but the teachings as well, we waste our efforts just laying the foundation.

2.  A ruler of a smaller nation had better be pretty sure of his army before venturing out to war against a larger force, for if he’s wrong, death and destruction will result.  Jesus makes it clear that surrender is the only option here for the last sentence tells us that anyone who isn’t willing to give up everything he/she has, cannot be His disciple.  A ruler seeking terms of peace is in essence surrendering to the more powerful king before the mayhem of war destroys his nation.  Jesus tells us that if we do not surrender to Him as sovereign Lord and Master, we will be destroyed.  Notice, however, that it is not only those who serve Him who lose everything.  One way or another we all must die to everything–either dying through the cross or at the judgment.  No one gets to keep their stuff.

3.  Salt was used as a preservative as well as flavor for food.  Salt that has lost its flavor loses its primary role in our lives.  A person who loses the flavor of God in his/her life has lost the essential ingredient needed to be identified with Christ.  When we use salt, we expect it to taste a certain way and do certain things.  Salt that has lost its flavor becomes innert and useless for the property which gives it that singular taste is also the ingredient needed to preserve even the manure pile.  Jesus calls us the salt of the earth for He is the flavor in us; His teachings give us the unique taste and function for the rest of the world.  If we lose the distinctive flavor He gives us, we can no longer be said to belong to Him but have either perverted His message or let go of it completely.  In either case we lose Him and therefore no longer represent Him.

The end of the message is simple:  God created it all so it all belongs to Him.  Unless we not only acknowledge this fact but live in harmony with it as well, we will be thrown out like the bad salt, destroyed like the rebellious and defiant king, and scorned for our failure to pay the price.  God will not be the one calling us to account in scorn, but the world which practices hypocrisy themselves will call us down for ours because ours is a higher calling.  Those who follow Jesus claim the Name and therefore must live up to it in humility.

The investment is all or nothing, God gives no credit for cautious involvement.  Speculation and consideration is something we do before we give ourselves to Him not afterwards.

“This is the Way…”

August 29, 2008

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more.  How gracious He will be when you cry for help!  As soon as He hears, He will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more;  with your own eyes you will see them.  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,  “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 3: 19-21.

Everybody is looking for a direction in life.  God promises that we will have this if we are listening to His teachers.  But how will we know those teachers?  Isaiah 8: 20 gives us a clue,  To the law and to the testimony!  If they don’t speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

Jesus said something quite profound that fulfills the prophecy of the passage above:  “When He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…”  The Holy Spirit’s other job is to guide us into all truth (see John 16: 13).  Through His ministry, we find the way in which to walk.

So now we know that anyone who has spiritual wisdom for us must conform to the teaching of the law and testimony of Jesus or they speak darkness.  This is not about specifics but ethics.  Our God isn’t about choosing our clothes for us as far style, color or cloth, what He seems to care about is our ethics in doing so.  The law and testimony are guidelines for life in general not directed at individual tastes unless they cross the ethical boundaries.  When we need to know if we should get involved with another person romantically, we can look at their ethics to see if they match what we know of God’s.  Jesus taught us it was by their fruit we would know them.

A person’s fruit is their actions, decisions and general expressions about life.  So the decisions

 for business, friendship, romance and family should be guided by this ethic.

The Way is simple, the Truth is living for it is a risen Savior, and the Life is Jesus’ sacrificial attitude for the world around us.