Tag Archives: Scripture

The incarnation of Jesus and the thoughts of St. John

The apostle John was fixated on the physical reality of Jesus–on the fact that in Jesus, God became a man. In becoming a man, He loved John and became John’s closest friend, and John never forgot the friendship.

In 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle is giddy to be remembering Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the sight, sound, and feel of being with the Messiah (“heard… seen… looked upon… touched”), and how the physical reality of Jesus is related to John’s fellowship with God and with the people reading the letter (which includes you and me):

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched…the life was made manifest, and we… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father… so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son… And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

The reality of God in a physical body fascinated John for his entire life. In the verses above there are echos of the opening words of John’s gospel–Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is life; and Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Word in physical form. 

When Peter and John were defending themselves in the temple in Jerusalem, the reason they gave for talking about Jesus was, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Having seen Jesus was irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ reality as God, and John implies this in the verses above and in John 19:35. Referring to himself, John says, “He who saw it has born witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you also may believe.” Peter was also captivated by his physical experience of Jesus, as he mentions in 2 Peter 1:16 (“but we were eyewitnesses.”)

Perhaps Peter and John learned their fascination with Jesus’ physicality from Jesus Himself, who emphasized this to the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24:39-43 (“see my hands and my feet”) and famously to doubting Thomas in John 20:27 (“put out your hand, and place it in my side”).

But in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle also refers to Jesus briefly as “the word of life–the life was made manifest.” Jesus himself also said that He was “the life,” and the reality of Jesus’ physical existence makes His life exuberant and powerful, powerful enough to light a fire under John, and powerful enough to unite distant Christians in fellowship with each other and with the Father.

And the power of Jesus to catalyze fellowship is why John is writing. As he says in verse 3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” In the friendship of Jesus and His disciples, the love of God began to spill over into humans, so that if we come to know Jesus, we also can have fellowship with the Father. And through fellowship with the Father, we have better fellowship with other believers.

This is why John was “writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John already had fellowship with Jesus–it had changed and motivated the entire course of his existence. But his joy was completed when he shared this fellowship with other people, when he could participate in the work of Christ on this earth.

Jesus had spent time with John, and John shared these experiences with other people. These people told other people, who told other people. The cycle continued over millennia, while the Spirit worked in the lives and minds of generation after generation of believers, until eventually somebody told me, and now I am telling you.

I’m writing this post for the same reason John wrote His letter. Jesus is real, and He has lit my life on fire. When I meet other believers, or when I pray, or when I read Scripture, the energy is electric. The Spirit is at work in me, and He is at work in all believers.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.”

For what does it profit a man?

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'” -Luke 9:23

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” -Luke 12:15

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” -Luke 12:33

“Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no theif approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Luke 12:33-34

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” -Matthew 5:42

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” -Luke 12:48

“And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.” -Luke 14:17-18

A perfect retelling of ancient truths

The other day I overheard someone saying that Christian stories are actually not very original, and that in ancient history there are scores of other stories very similar to those of the Scriptures. Predictably, the Epic of Gilgamesh was mentioned as an example.

The implication was that the Christian Scriptures are merely one tradition among many traditions, and they are insignificant when considered alongside the parallel myths of other cultures.

Actually, the implication is exactly the opposite. If you look in multiple places and in multiple different contexts, and you see the same truths expressed, shouldn’t that convince you that perhaps these things are extremely important? God has revealed truth to everyone:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” -Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

If the stories of Scripture are true, we should expect to find some of them told in various forms in other cultures. Many of the stories predate the Bible, but this shouldn’t surprise us either. We see in Scripture that the Lord has been speaking to men and women since humanity was first created. Scripture is not an imitation of these ancient stories, it’s the crystallization of the truths in these ancient stories. After all, these truths “have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” 

Lectio divina: Ezekiel 36:22-38

Awhile ago my pastor spent a bit of time talking about lectio divina and suggested that it was a good way to study the Scripture. I’ve tried this a few times, and the Lord has used it in my life. I would encourage you to try it as well if you’re looking for a different way to structure your quiet time. For me, it just involves reading a text repeatedly over a few days or weeks, praying about the text, and writing about the text. The idea is to spend a prolonged period of time in a small section of Scripture, so that God uses the Scripture to transform your mind and focus you on Him.

I’m going to spend a bit of time on this Scripture, and I’ll be writing my thoughts here as I do so:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

-Ezekiel 36:22-38 (ESV)

Did King Jehoram have Crohn’s disease?

Maybe:

“And after all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony.” -2 Chronicles 21:18-19

Crohn’s disease is known for causing fistulas between the bowels and other organs, including sometimes the skin. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything else that could cause his bowels to “come out”. The etiology must not have been infectious, or at least not transmissible, since the text singles out Jehoram himself as having the disease. He died at the age of 40, and so the time of onset of the disease was probably about right–it usually starts between the ages of 15-35. Since it wouldn’t have become so severe as to kill him immediately, it makes sense that he may not have died until age 40. Additionally, Jewish ancestry is a risk factor for Crohn’s disease. Anyone else have any other plausible ideas for King Jehoram’s differential diagnosis?

A confession of relative incompetence

I need to confess to you that I’ve been lazy. I’ve known the Lord for nearly ten years, and God speaks to us through reading the Bible and through prayer, both things Christians should do regularly. There have been times when I’ve done this, but largely I’ve been sporadic in my habits, especially for the past few years.

By now, I should know the basic principles of Scripture, but I barely do. Hebrews chapter 5 tells us that we need to learn the basic principles, and then move on to become a more mature Christian. We need to train our “powers of discernment” by constant practice. My confession to you is that I haven’t done this adequately.

Why does this matter?

It matters because I’m writing. It matters because “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Scripture is how God changes our hearts. We need to learn Scripture intellectually, but we also need to feel Scripture. We need to fear God’s wrath, faint at His love, be saddened by the crucifixion, excited by the resurrection. If we are Christians, then God changes our hearts through the Holy Spirit and with Scripture. And our hearts and minds desperately need changing.

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
-Matthew 12:34-35

What’s in your heart? I believe that evil is the absence of good (1 John 3:4–“Sin is lawlessness.”) I had been filling my heart with other things, many of which are good, but many of which are neutral at best. Lately, I’ve been reading the Scriptures more. I’ve always taken breaks from studying, usually to read the news. So lately I’ve been reading less news and more Scripture. I manage to read about ten chapters a day, and this has been a tremendous blessing to me. The Bible is an enormous book with a great story, but you can’t understand it unless you’re diligent in reading it.

If you haven’t read the Bible and you want to start, I might suggest reading these books in this order: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, and then the Psalms. That’s just a suggestion of mine. Otherwise, read what you’re interested in. For me lately, it’s been best to read large sections of Scripture at a time. I’ve also found it helpful to study a chapter in depth and take notes, or to look at only a few verses and think and pray about them for several days.

So read the Bible somehow. It’s God’s word to you. God’s word to you. Let Him change your heart. Let Him place good treasure there, so that it changes your thinking, makes you a more loving person, makes you a joy and an inspiration to everyone around you.

The sound of a low whisper

This weekend I’ve been frantically studying for a test on Monday. My routine is to wake up, study all day, and then go back to sleep to study again the next day. I usually manage to take a few breaks with my wife, but test weekends are hectic. This evening my wife is in bed, and I’ve taken a few moments to read Scripture and pray.

It makes me wonder why I ever let busyness push these quiet times out of my life. All the noise of school and responsibility stops, and everything feels silent. It reminds me of being in a dense forest, miles from any road, with thick, fat snowflakes muffling even the sound of the breeze in the trees–the quiet is complete.

Somehow, this is when God speaks. It’s nothing profound, but he’s here.

Scripture is a very, very good gift. It gives me times of silence like this. God speaks through it. For some reason, the Lord has chosen to work in our world this way–quietly and slowly. He shows himself through small, insignificant things.

God could work more obviously and with greater haste, but I imagine the world as we know it would cease immediately. We would all be so terrified, loved, and humbled that all our culture and commerce would fade to silent awe as the world was purged of evil and glorified to show God’s goodness.

Instead, God remakes the world silently and slowly, through quiet moments.

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of a low whisper, a thin silence.”
-1 Kings 19:11-12

Behold, I am of small account

I’m way behind in my studies, so I woke up at six this morning before church to get some work done and catch up. Instead, I ended up reading several chapters of Job. I sat with my coffee for about an hour with the Lord, reading about Job–confused, broken, and ruined Job. This morning, I was feeling a little confused myself. If you scroll to some of my recent posts you’ll see what’s been on my mind–I’ve written about debt, my doubts, and the church’s failures.

Needless to say, reading Job sounded better than choking down more pharmacology. The passage was about men mining into the “gloom and deep darkness” of the earth, scraping the flinty rock, making slow progress, and perhaps emerging from a shaft with a few grains of gold, but with no wisdom and no answers to Job’s burning questions. I stopped when I had to leave for church, about midway through chapter 28, with man groping in the dark.

We went to church, then came home for a quick lunch, and I left to go climbing with some friends. When I got home and showered, I again sat down to study, but I got distracted and read the rest of Job, with his timeless and disturbing questions.

Why do the evil prosper?
Why do people suffer?
Why is God so distant?

The questions are phrased in poetry that somehow sounds beautiful even in modern English. Eventually God speaks, but without answering any of Job’s questions.

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements–surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?'” (Job 38:1-4)

God overwhelms him, answering Job with more questions, almost as if to say, “Why are you confused about this? There are so many other questions you also don’t understand.” Over the pages at the end of the book, the Lord dazzles Job out of his confusion, and Job can only answer God with silence:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:3-5)

By the time I finished Job, it was time to visit friends again, and my wife and I had a wonderful time with them. My books sat stacked on my desk–I still haven’t even cracked them open yet. I don’t usually have so much trouble focusing, but today I couldn’t get away from Job. I’m quite sure God was overwhelming me also. My confusion faded away, because who can understand God? If God is real, shouldn’t he be complicated, and even confusing at times? If I ever think I understand God perfectly, I hope I’ll have enough sense to realize that I must be making some terrible mistake in reasoning. God is confusing because he’s real. There will always be some unanswered questions. “Behold, I am of small account.”

Don’t be surprised if you see the Christian church screw something up

An old professor of mine hated Paul the Apostle. If you read the Epistles, Paul is always correcting someone. It’s almost like listening in on a mother scolding her children. My professor liked the tranquil, albeit edgy and revolutionary, teaching of Jesus, but all this fighting and scolding in the epistles–he hated it.

In the gospels, everything is going pretty well, but that’s because God himself was walking with us. Jesus and his small band of disciples was the church. Jesus always knew what to say to his critics. He knew how to balance true teaching with genuine love, and he always did the right thing. He was the central figure of the church until he ascended. Of course, Jesus is still the central figure of the church–I just mean that he’s not physically here anymore. He doesn’t walk around and say “I agree with you, and I disagree with you.” He left us with the message we needed, and now we choose rightly by reading his Word and praying. The problem is that we don’t always come to the right conclusions.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, church got messy. By design, the church welcomes sinful, fallen people into its fold. It’s full of searching people, saved people, and probably a few sinister people. Of course, Christians still sin. When we die and are taken to heaven, God will perfect us. But for now, we’re still on earth, and now that Jesus is no longer physically incarnate in our church, what did you expect would happen?

This, I think, is why Paul is always scolding churches in his letters. Humans are fallible, and we do damaging things to each other. Paul was doing his best to maintain order, but this is battle. The church is doing battle against the ideas and the values of the world. Through the church, God is advancing his kingdom. Through the church, God is offering grace to the world. God’s love and grace are present, and God is changing people’s broken lives, but it shouldn’t surprise us that those same broken people sometimes make a terrible mess of things.

The crusades are the classic, heartbreaking example of this, and if you don’t think “the church” is messing up today, then visit Westboro Baptist Church’s www.godhatesfags.com (but prepare to be saddened and infuriated). God doesn’t hate anyone–he loves the world. Racism is another example of people in the church–the white church–messing something up. But listen to Dr. King’s sermons. When one church is doing something wrong, you can usually find another church doing something right.

Despite our brokenness, God is working good through the church. The unseemly things done by people in the church are from sinful, fallen men, not from God. I’ve given some extreme examples, but all of us are fallen. I’ve certainly done things that misrepresent God’s love and mercy, and I imagine that Paul might write a very stern epistle to the American church today.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
-Matthew 9:12-13

And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.'”
-Matthew 22:37-40