Gospel Of John


Life is busy!  Right?  I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Fall always seems to be a busy time of year and just when I feel like I am starting to get a routine going and settling into the semester a bit…WHAAM!!! The Holidays Hit!  That’s right folks…Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. is almost a week away.  Insane isn’t it?  Well that has nothing to do with my post but I thought I would just reach out for some support here:) Misery loves company.

Anyhow, what I really want to think about  is how the world sees us Christians.  I feel like I have this issue on my heart a lot.

The other night I was sitting on the couch and my wife had one of those “girly” flicks on.  You know, those movies that are oozing with sappiness.  They have more sap than a Maple tree in February.  But here’s my confession–the other night as I was sitting on the couch reading, my man-eyes found themselves watching the ooey gooeyness.  I found myself being entertained.  I know…AHHHH!

The movie was based on a novel where this young Christian couple move out west in the 1870’s to settle a ranch.  They hire some farm-hands to help them keep up with the work.  This couple is unlike most ranch owners in that they genuinely care about the farm-hands.  They invite them for dinner in their home, give them gifts, and even have them in their home for a Sunday morning gathering in which they read scripture and pray.

What caught my attention most was how one of the farm hands turns to another worker and says, “If what they believe makes them the way that they are, then I want to know what it is that they believe.”  I thought immediately, “Well that’s Jesus’ vision of true evangelism in a nut-shell.”  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds pretty close huh?

If the world could see the love of Christ in the Church in how we act towards and treat each other they will know that we are the disciples of Christ.  A few chapters later in John 17:23 Jesus states that if we are one in relationship the world will believe in the reality of Christ and God’s love.  Sounds a lot different than what Ghandi said about Christians, “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Christians.”  You know, I don’t blame him.  I listen and watch what the Church is often up to today and I see so much division and self-righteousness that I know that it is the reason why the spirit of Ghandi lives in many unbelievers.

Want proof?  Turn on Christian radio and listen to the right-wing conservative Christains demonizing and bashing so called “liberal Christians.”  The term that usually get’s thrown around is “Pharisees” and “heretics.”  I hear a lot more “Rushian” (that’s my word for followers of Rush Limbaugh) and “Beckian” then Christian coming out of many of their mouths.  Their rhetoric is twenty-first century, capitalistic, republican jargon that often high-jacks verses of scripture to support their preconceived ideology.  They make Christ look like…well Rush Limbaugh.  If other Christians do not conform to this type of Christianity then they question the “other’s” committment to Christ and wonder if they are really saved.

In addition, I am in seminary and I hear plenty of moderate to liberal voices that dismiss the right.  They call them “fundalmentalist lunatics” who would burn everyone else at the stake if they got the chance.  They often view the right as uneducated and uninformed cavemen.  They feel that the right interprets the Bible way to literally and at times are offended if they actually accept scripture at face value.  Oh my gosh how horrible, wouldn’t want that!  Oh yeah…they call the people on the right “Pharisees” too.

Yet I can hear the voices of those Christians on the fringes of the Church bashing everything that is orthodox, doctrinal, dogma, creedal, patristic, traditional, ritualistic, theological, ecumenical etc. as nothing but traps put in place by mean authoritarian monsters who just want to control the nice and good-intentioned masses.  These people feel that they have been specially ordained by God to set the record straight and teach us all what Jesus REALLY meant that the Church has gotten completely wrong over the last two-thousand years.  Oh and by the way…they call the two groups above “Pharisees.”  Yet the two groups above call these people “heretics” and even “Pharisees” at times.

So will the real Pharisees please stand up???  I’m confused.  Yet I know that all of us usually fit into one of these categories and I probably just upset most everyone who read those descriptions.  I think I offended myself too actually:)

I wonder however, if there is a golden mean…that is, is there something in common we all have?  UHHMMM YEAHHH!  Probably 85 to 90% of what we believe if not more.  Yet we major in the minors and demonize each other.  We allow our differences to become divisive.  WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?  My guess: because we all think Jesus favors our point of view over everyone else’s and would be on our team in the arguments.  But I think we are getting it wrong.  I think scripture teaches that God is aware of the differences and that often times they are gifts and not reasons for division.  Scripture teaches unity and “one-ness” in the midst of differences.  Relationship in the face of disagreements.  Disagreements and differences are good.  The challenge is not letting them become divisive.

Paul in Galatians 5 says that in this new kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.  He is not saying that ethnicity ceases or cultural heritage is obsolete.  He is not saying that women stop being women and men stop being men.  That is mere foolishness.  What he is saying is that those things are no longer reasons for division and that we all look upon each other as equals…”one in Christ.”  The love of Christ is all-embracing and requires us to “love one another.”  NO EXCEPTIONS.

I admit, I am guilty of my own prejudice against a certain group of believers that I find rude and abrasive.  It may be okay for me to address this concern with my brothers and sisters but it is not okay for me to get on the radio and attack them in front of the whole world.  It is not right to name drop and attack like vicious wolves.  Whatever happened to correcting your brother in secret and in love?  I think we think it makes us seem more right  when  we boldly and abrasively demean each other.  If this is how we continue to act I am sure the world is not going to witness the reality of Christ and God’s love among us.  We are being a disobedient Church.  Ghandi said, “You Christians don’t act like your Christ.” (paraphrase).  He is usually right.  Not because we can’t but because we choose to ignore his command.  Yet Christ says in John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Loving Relationship in the midst of differences is what I am encouraging here.  As the world becomes more pluralistic and more violent toward Christianity we need to recoginize those precious things we have in common and embrace each other as family.  This is what our Christ commands.  We would do well to heed his words.  Let’s look past the differences and see Christ in us all.

Advertisements

Jesus taught that his sheep know his voice.  But have you ever told another Christian that the Lord told you something and they look at you like you have three heads?  Or they act like you just told them you met with Elvis, Tupac, and Ghandi and they told you that they wanted you to lead the advertising for a comeback concert? The fact of the matter is that many Christians don’t believe God talks to his people like that anymore, I mean individually, in their hearts, or like God spoke with Moses face to face (Exod. 33:1).  But has God really stopped speaking?  Does he have nothing left to say?  Does he not want to help us with the day to day moments of life?  Are we supposed to cast lots like the apostles did in Acts 1 to figure out God’s will is?  Are we to look around for “angel feathers” and interpret such things as God communicating to us?  Seems like God can do better than that, doesn’t it?

I think God has a better way of speaking to us.  He doesn’t have to resort to the Patrick Swayze’s methods in the movie Ghost.  Remember him struggling to knock vases over when he is trying to get Demi Moore to realize he still exists?  Maybe there are some Christians he has to do that for because they are not listening.  But this was never meant to be the means God had to go to get our attention.  He does speak and he wants to speak daily to you and me.  In the words of Richard J. Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline (which you can find a link to on the sidebar of this blog), “He [Jesus] is not idle, nor has he developed laryngitis.”  Thus his sheep truly do have the opportunity to hear and know his voice.

When can you hear his voice?  Well it is possible to develop your hearing to the point of being able to hear him throughout the day even amongst the hustle and bustle.  Yet I personally find that I hear from God most when I am able to quiet my mind and heart and in Christian meditation…LISTEN for him.  Will it be audible?  There will be times when it seems like it, but usually not.  And it may not come right away.  But we must learn to WAIT and LISTEN.  Those are two things in our culture that are not very popular to do, especially “waiting.”  We want everything instantaneously.  But God does not work that way.  In fact, I often wonder if God likes to see if we are willing to WAIT for him.  Or are we going to say, “Come on I need an answer now.  I haven’t got all day.” 

No, we need to patiently listen for God and wait, maybe days, weeks or months.  I have learned that one of the best ways to know it is God’s guidance is listening for consistency over a period of time.  If it is God, he will not give up, he is relentless…especially if you are being a faithful listener.

But how can we be like what Jesus describes?  How can we KNOW his voice?  Answer: Time, Commitment, and Patience.  Elijah spent many days and nights learning to hear the “still small voice of God” in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:9-18).  In time, one is able to distinguish God’s voice from others.  But be patient with yourself and don’t get discouraged and give up.  And remember, no one get’s it down perfectly, but we are all learning. 

It is no coincidence that the Gospel writers often mention Jesus getting away to be alone and pray.  It is in these moments that he heard from the Father.  It is at those times he saw what the Father wanted him to do, for Jesus did nothing unless he saw the Father doing it or saying it (John 5:19; 14:10).  Then he could truly say “as I hear, I judge” (John 5:30).  That is, Jesus made judgments based on what the Father’s judgments were.  Not on feelings, opinion, prejudices etc. 

There is no perfect formula for hearing from God.  Like anything else, one learns by practicing.  Begin to listen and take that time with God.  As you do, rely on his grace to help you to hear and recognize his voice.  Remember, “ask and you will receive.”  Ask God to help you and I promise he will.  In time, you will experience such an overwhelming joy and peace that you can  journey through this life with the guidance and companionship with the Creator.  Is there anything more exhilarating than that?

Let me start by saying this, “YOUR TESTIMONY AS A BELIEVER IS THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL OF EVANGELISM YOU HAVE IN YOUR ARSENAL.”   Piggy backing off of my previous article, it is apparent that the world is filled with Christopher Hitchenses.  That is, our faith as Christian believers is being challenged on a daily basis.  I have watched several of Hitchens’ debates against many Christians and people of various faith backgrounds.  He has debated theologians, scholars, authors, ministers, social activists etc.  As I have mentioned, overall, I think they have all lost the debates to Hitchens for various reasons.  Yet in the midst of all of these debates there was one debater, and one single moment that seemed silent but POWERFUL. 

During the debate between Marvin Olasky and Hitchens, Olasky says to Hitchens (my paraphrase), “I don’t know what teaching you have absorbed over the years that has made you believe the way you do.  But whatever the reason…I pity you.”  Olasky went on to say, “There is something that you and I have in common.  We were both married and then divorced.  In my first marriage, I was an atheist and did not know how to be a husband.  I was a bad husband.  It only lasted two years.  Then I got remarried but this time as a Christian.  Christianity taught me how to be a husband and a father.  I have been married for thirty years.”  WOW!

If you watch Hitchens, his demeanor changes and he seems taken back.  He even says something to the effect of, “Well said” to Olasky.  It may be the first time I have seen Hitchens like that.  Why do you think?  I think it’s because Olasky used, and maybe not purposefully, the most powerful element of Christianity we have.  EXPERIENCE!  No one can refute your testimony.  No one can dismiss your witness.  No one can reject your experience.  Why?  Because it is your proof that it is real, that something is going on here that no outsider can convince you with all their logic, reason, and rhetoric otherwise. 

What Olasky was saying was that he has experienced the power of the Gospel in his life and not even Hitchens in all of his brilliance can take that away.  Hitchens, I think, knows this too.  The Gospel has the power to change and transform lives and it has done exactly that.  Hitchens can’t convince the ex-drug dealer or alcoholic who came to Christ and was delivered that there is no power in the Gospel.  In fact, I know some of those people.  I have heard their stories how the impossible was made possible because they had an encounter with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. 

I work with a man who I knew as no more than an alcoholic bum.  God got a hold of him and flipped him upside down and then right side up. He went through a traumatic divorce during all of this and I thought for sure he would go back to drinking.  Yet the power of God that changed his life, identity, and desires stuck with him and he is still living strong for the Lord.  That’s an experienced reality of the power of God in someone’s life.  No one is going to tell that man there is no God and that Christianity is a flop.  I think he might just laugh at such a remark.

I am reminded of John 9.  I trust you have a Bible to look it up…if not you must be viewing this from a computer so you can search that passage on an online Bible.  If you need a Bible, email me and I will get one to you.  Okay back to John 9.  This is the passage where Jesus, rather sanitarily spits on some dirt and makes mud balls.  He smothers the mud onto some blind guy’s eyes and tells the man to go wash the germy mud off.  The man does and could see.  He was healed miraculously!  The Pharisees get their robes all in a bunch and get mad about the healing.  After much interrogation of both the blind man and his parents the blind man says one of the most profound things in scripture.  The Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a sinner and try to undermine him.  The blind man responds, “I don’t know if he is a sinner, but one thing I do know—I was blind but now I see.”  Wow that is awesome!!! 

The man was blind from birth.  Jesus heals him.  The Pharisees pout and have a hissy fit about it.  Who is really blind in this narrative?  Who?  Right…the religious leaders who should have known better.   These leaders were the intelligencia of their day.  You know…the guys who knew it all and were well studied in matters on many subjects.  But their whining and reasonable arguments did not matter a hill of beans to the blind man who could finally see.  HE COULD SEE!  Nobody was going to take that away from him…NOBODY! 

This is my argument against those who want to align themselves against the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ: all the bells and whistles of reason and logic don’t hold a match to what we have personally experienced as Christians.  I have so many testimonies I don’t know where to begin.  I know people who have so many testimonies it would take weeks to cover.  So while we sit around holding debates and theorizing about the God of the Bible and the reality of the risen Savior Jesus Christ being real or not—there are people all over the world experiencing his power NOW.  If you don’t believe me I will point you in the direction of many folks that are in the midst of it and seeing it move like wild fire across countries like China and Sudan.

For those of you who haven’t experienced it I say this…get out of your dead and dried up churches into a church that actually expects God to move and live.  If you haven’t been to church find one that expects God to be real and to move in their midst.  If you walk into a church that hands you a bulletin of how the service is going to go…walk back out… because they have obviously structured and choreographed God right out of the service. 

This may rub some of my Christian brothers and sisters the wrong way but listen.  There is a world that is hungry for the reality of God in this decaying world and they are depending on you to proof it to them.  Stop playing church for goodness sakes and start calling out for the fire of God to fall on you.  You don’t want to?  Then slowly wait for the day when your old church doors and windows are boarded up and ICHABOD is plastered across them. 

God is moving and waiting for YOU to jump in!  Throw off the chains of this culture that are holding you down!  Stop protecting your reputations and securities and get embarrassed for God!  Let him interrupt your controlled life and infuse it with the power of his Holy Spirit.  Does that make you feel uncomfortable?  Right…it’s suppose to. God wants to invade your life and fill it with his presence.  But you have to let him in.  Whatever is holding you back needs to be submitted.  Yuck, not that word again.  SUBMIT and YIELD yourself to God…I promise, you won’t regret it.

As you embrace him he will give you an experience, testimony, and reality that no one can ever take away. 

Blessings!

In John 8:31-38 Jesus describes to the Jews who had believed in him what true discipleship is exactly.  He says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  There response however, always strikes me as being a bit ironic.  They say, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free (NRSV)?”

Uhhh–what?  “Never been slaves to anyone”?  What about Egypt for starters?  What about all the times Israel and Judea were reduced to paying tribute to great empires?  What about the exiles?  What about being conquered by the Greeks and Romans?  Obviously Egypt is the strongest case but according to much of the extant literature of ancient times many Jewish leaders and rabbis thought exile was worse than slavery. 

Jesus doesn’t bring up the points that I just mentioned but perhaps he didn’t need to because he was making another point.  They were not free because they were bound in slavery by sin.  Sin is a horrible task master; the worst task master in fact.  Sin will drive you to do things that you don’t want to do.  It seduces you with lies and deceit.  It convinces you that its way is rewarding and fulfilling.  No matter how hard you try to resist its will…it fights against you and knows your weaknesses. 

Slavery has always been a part of our world.  Slavery plagued Africa and still does in some places far before Africans were enslaved by Americans and brought to labor for wealthy plantation owners.  Slavery existed among the Native Americans often a result of lost wars.  Slavery is an evil oppression.  But there will never be a more oppressive slavery than to that of sin. 

Thankfully, Jesus points to our emancipation from this slave master.  The solution is Jesus the Son.  Only Jesus can make us free.  And if he makes us free we are free “indeed.”  That is, absolutely free.  Yet there is a condition…we must continue in his word to truly be his disciples.  When Jesus says “in his word” what does he mean?  Does he mean the Bible?  Well yeah…sort of.  But I think it means to continue in his message, his teaching.  Obviously his teaching is recorded in the Gospels namely, and also in the rest of the NT.  But in addition, he is still teaching us through his Holy Spirit who leads us into ALL truth. 

“But what is truth?”  asked Pontius Pilatus.  We have to know what truth is to be free.  After all this is what Jesus says: “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  So if we are going to be free from the slave master SIN, then we have to know what truth is and know it intimately.  But to know the truth we have to continue in Jesus’ teachings. 

Well, a little later on John reveals what the truth is in 14:6.  Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the light; no one will come to the Father except by me.”  This passage is pregnant with meaning but it reveals one element that we are focusing on now.  Jesus is truth.  So when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?” sarcastically and arrogantly; he was looking right at it.  Jesus is truth and only Jesus can set us free from the power of the slave master. 

Once we are free however we have some responsibilities in staying free.  1. John 8:31 “continue in my word”; 2. John 15:1-17 “Remain/abide in Me/Jesus/truth”; 3. Gal. 5:1 “For freedom Christ/truth has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [sin].”  What these passages communicate is an ongoing process of us committing our lives to continuing, remaining, and standing firm in Jesus and his teachings.  This daily process will keep us free.  

Therefore I encourage those of you who are struggling with sin to be persistent in pursuing Christ and his teachings.  Be tenacious about fleshing out the live of Christ and his teachings in your life.  This will strengthen you and purify those sinful desires from your life.  Those of you who feel pretty safe and comfortable in your freedom…do not take it for granted.   Be even more purposeful in your pursuit of Christ because the devil loves to trap us when we are feeling the best about ourselves and strong.   

Stand firm therefore like a Roman Legion!

In a day when the so-called “prosperity gospel” seems to be growing in popularity, there are many passages in the Bible that are becoming unpopular.  On the one hand we may be aware of Jesus’ invitation to everyone to “follow me.”  On the other hand, we are not preaching enough about what this may cost us or what it all entails.  You see, scripture does not hold back on conveying the reality of following Christ.  It communicates to those who may consider discipleship that it is not all a bed of roses. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there is much to be attracted to and life in many ways will be better.  Yet it may not be the kind of improvement the world may expect.  Jesus does say that he came to give us life and life “more abundant” (John 10:10).  The Greek word for abundant is perrison in this passage and communicates a superlative.  That is, he came to give us a life that will be best, a life that will be full, a life that will be awesome.  Unfortunately, many have turned this term into a mainly financial word.  However, it is best thought of as an equivalent of zoen aionion, “eternal life.”  Eternal life is one of John’s main themes (John 3:15, 16; 5:39; 6:54, 68; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2,3; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11,13, 20).

Yet the reality is that with this great blessing of salvation and eternal life there is sacrifice.  There is a price to pay; there is a cost for following Jesus.  It is a sacrifice that is different for all of us.  For the rich young ruler it was his wealth and for others it is all that they possess (Luke 18:18-30; 14:33).  For many disciples it was leaving behind house and family (Luke 18:28-29).  For others it is not being able to do those things that seem like the right thing to do; duties that we regard as sacred and things that we must do.  For one man it was burying his father (Matt. 8:18-22).  In that culture to not bury a body was a dishonor to the body and the children who did not bury it (Deut. 28:25-26).  Everyone was supposed to bury their parents because of the command to honor one’s parents (Exod. 20:12).

Then there are those that are called to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.  Every time this is brought up in conversation it never goes over very well.  I believe this is partially due to the prosperity gospel we have been infected with in America.  It is a belief that all will go well for you as a disciple if you just do the right things.  However, scripture does not speak to this as being a promise.  On the contrary, we are guaranteed that things may get pretty rough because we are Christians and the world hates our message because they hate God; which brings me to John 21:15-19.

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Each time Peter becomes a little more frustrated and says, “Yes I love you.”  Each time Peter responds Jesus says, “boskeh ta arnia mou,” that is, “feed my lambs/sheep.”  Here Jesus equates loving him with feeding his lambs.  It is clear from scripture that his “lambs” are his disciples.  If Peter truly loves Jesus then he will feed Jesus’ disciples. 

However, through some imagery Jesus speaks to the fact that Peter would be martyred: “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  This enigmatic statement is clarified for the reader by the parenthetical statement that Jesus was speaking about the death Peter would suffer to glorify God.  As if the shock value is not strong enough here, Jesus then adds, “Follow me.”  Peter did follow Jesus. In fact, early church tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome on an upside down cross with his hands outstretched on the cross.   

This is not a passage that you will hear in a prosperity gospel church.  If you do, it will greatly be watered down and twisted.  Yet it is obvious that Jesus is inviting Peter to feed his disciples and that such a commitment will end in a violent death.  So the question must be asked.  Am I willing to follow Christ?  Am I willing to follow and be obedient to a calling that may end in a violent death?   What if that death somehow glorifies God?  Will you?  Will I, take up my cross and follow Christ?