Day 310: John 8-9; Darkness and Light

As we talked about a couple days ago when we began the book of John, one of the things that John masterfully weaves into his writing is the interplay between darkness and light as it pertains to Jesus’ and His incarnation in the world.  John writes in the first chapter:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John is also, no doubt, drawing from some of the prophecies that come from Isaiah as well.  There is one in particular, from Isaiah chapter 9, that I can think of right away that contains the theme of darkness and light, one that we is often looked to during the Christmas season, a passage that Matthew also picks up in Chapter 4:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Jesus bears witness to Himself in our reading for today, saying that He is the “Light of the world” and that all who believe in Him will have “Light of life.”  In this small discourse, Jesus relates what He says to His status as the Son, pointing to the fact that it is through Him, and only through Him that we can know the Father.  He also uses the same wording here as yesterday, the I AM “ἐγώ εἰμί statement.  Jesus is the Light, the Truth that sets us free!

Reading these two chapters more carefully, we see that John is relating darkness, the slavery to sin, and even physical ailments as being part of the darkness that we are seeing here.  In contrast, Jesus says that He is the light, He is the truth that sets us free from slavery, and He is the one who heals the blind man.  I love the narrative of chapter 9 here, when Jesus heals the blind man and he is hauled before the religious leaders.  They ask him all sorts of questions about his blindness and the man that healed him.  They simply cannot put it together that Jesus could possibly be someone sent from God.  The man’s response?  “Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… I was blind but now I see.  Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Remember that in the past we have talked about God’s dwelling being in darkness.  From the very beginning, when the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and darkness was over the face of the deep.  Even in the Tabernacle and the Temple we noted that the place that God dwells is in complete darkness.  While this is true, I think that we can see this darkness in a couple of different ways.  First and foremost, darkness is the natural habitat of God and most definitely not for humans.  In the darkness we stumble, we cannot see, we are compelled to sleep, and we are vulnerable.  For us darkness separates, alienates… it is even dangerous.  We are light dwellers.  John’s Jewish readers would have picked up on this almost immediately… the Gentile readers wouldn’t have been far behind.

Yet, in Jesus Christ, those walking in darkness have seen a great light.  Though God has been with us in this dark world, the world that God created but that has been marred with sin.  We are not able to effectively be in relationship with God because of our sin.  It is only in Jesus Christ that our world has been illuminated, that in the presence of God we can now see!  We were blind, lost in darkness, and now we can see.



Day 309: John 6-7; I Am… The Bread of Life

While we didn’t do a great deal to connect yesterday’s reading to the prologue in John 1, today’s Scripture cannot be read outside of that text.  The implications of what Jesus says in John 6, and the subsequent “I AM” statements of the Gospel of John stem directly from John original assertion that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, the Divine taking on human flesh that has “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among us.  There are other narratives in today’s two chapters of reading, signs of Jesus power over creation and the abundant provision that He offers to so many people.  Jesus’ teaching in several different places and events are also very powerful and could even be called intrusive, at least intrusive to the societal norms of the day.  We see that they elicit two responses: questions about who He is and the teaching that He offers and that of the leaders who send soldiers to arrest Jesus.  All of this though, is linked inextricably to John 1.

I would like to spend a brief amount of time talking about Jesus’ “I AM” statement here in John 6.  To do this though, we need to think back a little bit, all the way to Exodus and the story of Moses’ first encounter with God at the burning bush.  Remember with me that when God first reveals Himself to Moses, calling Him to be the leader of Israel, Moses asks for God’s name in case “the elders of Israel” ask who sent him.  Do you remember God’s answer?

God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

This is The Name that is given to God for all time.  It was deemed so Holy that the people of God, out of reverence for God’s Name, chose other words as a substitute for it like “Adonai.”  In any case, the Tetragrammaton, which is another name for the name of God, was extremely Holy and to say it was to dishonor God… at least in that culture.  However, when Jesus is talking about the bread of like says, “I AM the bread of life.”  It is likely that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic here,  but when John translates this into the Greek he uses the words “ἐγώ εἰμί” (pronounced“egō eimi”).  Literally this means “I I am” or more appropriately, (I AM that I AM)… the Greek equivalent for the name of God.  Jesus is communicating here, as God did to Moses so many years prior, that He is the very essence of being… the ontological beginning if you will.  While people are always something (I am hungry, I am tall, I am Jon), Jesus is just I AM…  This phrase, to all who were listening, especially the religious leaders, would have linked and set on the same level Jesus and God.

Now, I understand that Jesus also says “I AM the bread of life.”  He places this caveat on Himself, perhaps linking Himself with Scripture.  Deuteronomy 8, which Jesus also quotes when He is being tempted by the devil, says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  He is linking Himself also with this Word, THE WORD.  Jesus is the Word of God, the Bread of Life, and it is only through Him that humanity can live at all… physically and spiritually.  Jesus Christ is the great I AM, the Word of God who was and is and is to come.



Day 308: John 4-5; The Woman at the Well

We continue along in the Gospel of John today and the first thing I think to write today is that it is such a shame that we didn’t talk about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus yesterday.  There is a whole lot of talk about the Spirit and all that goes along with being a believer in Christ and being born again.  What I realized though, as I was reading today is that much of what Jesus is talking about in His encounter with the Samaritan woman is an extension of this.  After a brief exchange, Jesus talks to her about receiving living water and about worshiping God “in Spirit and in Truth.”  These are all things that He had just talked about with Nicodemus.  Life in Christ, like worship isn’t about location, it isn’t about the things that you do, it isn’t even about how well you do them, it is TRULY about the inward change that takes place.  While there is certainly room for right worship and right works, they are not the main theme; they are simply a response to what God has done for us.  Really, in many ways, it is like the Shema!

We have talked about this passage in Deuteronomy so many times.  Deuteronomy 6 is one of the central themes that flows through all of the Bible and it too is about the inward change that happens, not simply about the outward actions.  The woman at the well is asking who is right about where the people worship, a mountain or the Temple.  I can only imagine Jesus head falling into his hands and thinking “you people just don’t get it!”  Fortunately, He is much more gracious than that.  He takes the time to explain to her why neither place is important as far as worship goes, but rather it is about the spirit in which you worship that is the important thing, in much the same way that it is the inward spiritual transformation (being born of the Spirit) that takes place when we become Christians.  There is nothing that we can do to put ourselves in right standing with God, but there is plenty that we can do in response to the grace that we have received!  God won’t like us more… He already counts us as righteous in Jesus Christ… which is the best place that we can be!  However, our actions after our salvation, in worship and service and life in general stand as a testimony to all that God has done for us!  Hallelujah!

I included here, for your reading pleasure, a paper that I wrote in my undergrad studies.  It is a paper about how worship is laid out in John chapter 4.  I hope that you find it worth the read!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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“Music may seem to be a surface matter, mere decoration,[1]” but there is no issue or hot topic in the church that has polarized congregations across this country more than the topic of worship and worship styles.  Though seemingly a problem that the church has only faced in this current generation, it is clear in the reading of the forth chapter of John that our idea of “worship wars” is in fact not at all a new one at all but something that people of God have been facing for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Given the extensive history of this particular issue, it would seem that there is a plethora of information that is, or should be available for the church; information that could provide direction in this time of conflict.  When it comes to comes to a discussion such as worship, there is arguably no verse that has been quoted more on both sides than that of the verses in John four.  Suffice to say though that neither side is quite sure what it is that Jesus is actually saying to the Samaritan woman at the well and both sides are taking the verses out of context to serve their own arguments.  Especially true is this on the side of “contemporary worship” proponents.  In this post-modern age of overly spiritualized life, Jesus saying that ” a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”[2] has been the rally cry for those who seek music that they say touches them in a spiritual way.  Is this what Jesus really meant by this though?  Perhaps this phrase should be examined more closely if in fact worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth are ” the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”[3].  While it is true that God the Father is seeking worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth, this is not a statement of type or style of worship.  God is seeking worshipers that will worship Him authentically, in the Truth of His Word and by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

“God desires worship – in fact, He commands it.[4]”  Worship to God actually happening is a non-negotiable fact when it comes to the debates on worship.  “I am the Lord your God,” say God in to the Israelites at mount Sinai, “you shall have no other gods before me[5].”  Jesus echoes these words and words of the Moses in Deuteronomy 6 in his rebuke of Satan in the desert when he said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only[6].”  These words are spoken to the people of God to make sure that their worship wasn’t divided.  There is to be no other worship than that of the worship of God almighty.  The words that Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4 don’t offer any question on this fact either.  “True worshipers,” Jesus says, “WILL worship God in spirit and in truth.[7]”  This is a redirection of the idea of worship from a place or a style to the nature of worship itself.[8]

Father God is actively seeking true, authentic worshipers to worship Himself and is no longer concerned with sacrifices, locations, or styles.  Foster points out that “it is God who seeks, draws, persuades[9]” us to worship.  “Worship is the Human response to the divine initiative[10]” that must be Christ centered and God focused.  When our concerns about worship change our focus from God to what type of music we are playing, where we are worshiping, or even those that we are worshiping with, we are no longer focusing our worship on God.  In effect, this is idolatry; the idolatry of self and it is in absolute contradiction with God’s command to us to worship Him only.  However, so much emphasis has been placed on the two words “spirit” and “truth” that it is difficult for people to not focus on them and what exactly they mean.

Spiritual life has taken on a very new meaning in the last 50 years.  Since the 1970’s, the general populous have become enamored with the spiritual nature of our existence.  Although this is something that Christians need to be especially aware of, secular culture’s attempt at defining what spirituality hardly reflects how the Church is, or should be looking at Spirituality.  Gary Burge points out that the “Spirit” that Jesus is referring has nothing to do with the so called “human spirit” but has to do with worship that is directed and “dynamically animated by God’s Holy Spirit.[11]”  The actual word “spirit” uses here comes from the Greek word pneuma.  When translated, this word refers largely to spirit, breath, or wind and is the word most often used to refer to the Holy Spirit[12].  In this particular context it would be best translated as “the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God.[13]”  Worshiping in spirit then would undoubtedly mean that the worshipers that God is seeking, those that worship in spirit and in truth, are worshipers that are responding to God alone and not focused on or distracted by other things.  God the Father is also pure spirit, and the worship which pleases Him is spiritual worship – “the sacrifice of a humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirit.[14]”  Clearly, this is Jesus speaking of worship as being an inner transformation, the change and refocus of the inner self, feelings, the mind, and the will to God alone.[15]

Postmodernism and truth has and continues to be a largely debated and discussed topic.  Today’s truth, as it has been undefined by postmodernism, is no longer absolute and can be completely contextual.  However, the Truth that Jesus is speaking of here is hardly contextual and is absolutely absolute.  The world truth here, when translated from the Greek refers specifically to truthfulness that corresponds to reality.[16]  Reality is simply the words that Jesus speaks later in the book of John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[17]”  Simply put, worship in Truth means worship that is Christ centered.  Sin had separated us from communion and relationship with the Father and it is only though the redeeming blood of Christ that we can come before God and worship Him.  Paul also points to this when he writes that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.[18]”  This is understood almost universally as Christ perfecting prayers and worship as it rises to God the Father which means that when Christians authentically worship God, they can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[19]” Worshipers that God is seeking are those that are in Christ because Christ is Truth just as He is the incarnate Word, which is also Truth.

If these worshipers, those that worship in Spirit and in Truth, are the worshipers that God is actively seeking, why is it that we are so caught up in the so called “worship wars?”  Generally speaking, the term “worship war” is actually an incorrect term because no one is truly fighting about whether worship happens or not on a Sunday morning.  Everyone wants to worship God and it seems that everyone is comfortable with praying and hearing the Word preached as well.  Most people are comfortable with receiving the sacraments as well even if there is disagreements about the means and the frequency to which it happens.  No, the worship war in the church is actually a music war, one in which the focus of worship has been taken off of God and has set it on personal preference of style.  Why is this the case though?  John Frame points out that “Musical questions are foundational questions. These questions ask, in one way or another, ‘what is worship?’ If we can answer that, then we can decide better what sort of music is right.[20]”  Musical portions of worship is very important to people.  Many times it is the music that is remembered first in the church, that which we is remembered when we go home from church and throughout the week as well.  It stands to reason that if we are truly asking foundational questions when we question and debate musical styles, it is an important issue for the Church to not only address but handle in a Biblical manor as God directs.

However this revelation of what worship is, or should be, does not seem to have stifled the conflict and looking to scripture for help doesn’t seem to have helped as it should.  Christians seem to relate more closely to the woman at the well rather than the teachings of our Savior.  We counter Scriptural directions and Jesus’ teachings on worship with questions about the venue in which worship happens.  When worship is discussed, questions and discussion quickly digress to questions about the best church or denomination.[21]  It seems that we have to repeat again and again that worship is not about a place or a time, worship is about the heart!  Scripture, especially these verses, show that worship is deeper than outward actions, which aren’t bad in and of themselves, and is much deeper than a building, art, music, and/or design.  “God wants more than ritual.  God wants the worship of the inner person; an inner heartfelt response.[22]”  Moreover, the two Greek words most commonly used for worship, proskynein, which is used by John here in chapter, and latreuein actually suggest worship as an “all-pervasive and ongoing condition.[23]”  In and of itself, worship is more than just faithfully attended Sunday morning church services; it is more than a type of music or even a style.  Worship is life.  It is with this understanding that we as Christians can and should proceed in our discussions and debates about worship.

Echoes of Paul’s words in Romans 12 flow through this understanding of worship as being a lifestyle, not simply an event.  We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which he calls this offering our “spiritual act of worship.[24]”  This isn’t a onetime offering that Paul is speaking of though.  He speaks in the next verse about being transformed, a work that is done through and only by the Holy Spirit.  Work of the Holy Spirit in this light is just as much an ongoing thing as our worship should be.  Christians call this sanctification which is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.[25]”  Like sanctification, worship is a state of being, a continuing action.  Harold Best uses the term “continuous outpouring” in his description of worship as relentless, lavish, generous giving of one’s life as a worship offering to God.[26]  The Church can no longer afford to support, or better stated not discourage the idea that worship is in a certain place and at a certain time.  Just like our lives our changed by the saving work of Jesus Christ and continually regenerated by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, so too must our worship be continually given to God the Father.  As Burge eloquently states it, the true authentic worship and worshipers that God seeks in “not tied to holy places but impacted by a Holy Person, who through His cross will inaugurate the era in which the Holy Spirit will change everything.[27]

What does this mean for the Church then and for individual Christians struggling to discover what authentic worship in spirit and truth really is?  Furthermore, how then do we go about doing it?  First of all, it is important to point out and understand that God is pointing here to a “big picture” look at worship.  To use this passage as a way of saying that one style or type of music is superior in worship to the others is a foolish, gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ words.  Jesus is pointing towards what would be the ends, the result of worship, not at all to the means by which we worship.  There are very few places in which God speaks negatively about the means of worship when it is directed to Him.  Why is this?  Because worship is about motivation and right focus.  Isaiah writes in the beginning of his book that God is upset with His people because of their wrongful worship.  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” God declares, “Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.[28]”  The worship of the Israel was wrongfully focused and wrongfully motivated.  They had lost the true meaning of what worship is supposed to be.  Christian worship is supposed to be centered on Christ and focused on God when we worship.  When we take the focus off of God and place it on what we want and desire, our ‘worship’ is a burden to God as well.

How is it then that we take the focus of worship off of God and what can we do to change this?  Our worship wars have done, in a different way, have accomplished that which the Israelites came to as Isaiah describes in his first chapter.  The focus of the Israelites was on the actions and the duty of what God commanded them to do in worship.  They didn’t look to God but to what it is that they were doing as a means of salvation and worship.  Duty and tradition was their so call worship war cry.  Sounding this call has happened again in our generation though it is not the only call that has gone out in regards to worship.  Contemporary worshipers have taken up their own rallying cry and sought to follow after what moves them and makes them feel good as well.  Notice then that in neither of these factions does God get mentioned as their source or their objective.

God is the source of our worship; He is the origin of it and the focus of it.  The Church and its churches must come back to that one truth about worship.  “In Christ alone my hope is found[29]” go the words of one song, and it has never needed to be more true than in this time of trial.  Christians everywhere must return to this truth.  As this worship war has gone on we have not only taken the focus off of God and Christ, we have made it about ourselves.  In essence, we want what we want and we are unwilling to move from our position.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their own things that move them, but this is not what worship is about and it is certainly not the type of worship nor the type of worshipers that God is seeking.  Worship isn’t about us, it is about God.  Whenever we place what we want and desire in front of God and make it more important than God we commit idolatry; the idolatry of self.  We have the audacity, knowing what we know about God, to place our own desires in front of Him.  This means we are not loving God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” nor are we “loving our neighbor as our self.[30]”  If we were to be truly loving each other as we loved ourselves we would be loving them enough to want to sing the songs they like just as they would love us enough to sing the music that reaches them as well.  Jesus himself has emphasized the loving of each other by equating loving each other with loving God in the book of Luke.  Do we do this?  No, we argue about whose music is better and what songs we should be singing.  People want what they want and are unwilling to change or even look to the needs and desires of others.  How are we to reach out to the non-churched and unsaved people of this world if we cannot even agree with our own brothers and sisters?

Christian worshipers need to pull away from this ‘me first’ mentality.  We need to come to the realization that Worship is about God and God alone.  If we don’t return to the Lord and Christ as the focus of our worship and of our life we cannot expect to be a witness to those lost people that we are called to reach.  “The Heart of worship” is what we must seek, worship that is all about God.[31]  It is notable that neither ‘contemporary’ nor ‘traditional’ worship is designated as part of that heart of worship.  These styles of worship can both be used and are both good ways to worship God because worship isn’t about musical style, it is about the heart!  Matt Redman writes, in his song “Come Let Us Return,” that worship is about the rending of the heart, the bowing of a knee, a prayer, and a fast.[32]  The essence of worship is that which is in the heart, the interaction that goes on between God and our true selves, our Spirit.  Our worship must be in Spirit and in Truth as Jesus said or it is wrongfully motivated and not what the Father seeks.  May this be true for us and for the Church as we seek to honor, glorify and praise God through the worship of our Sunday services and in our everyday life.


[1] Sibley, Laurence C.  “Worship in Spirit and Truth: a Refreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship,”  Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 170.

[2] John 4:23 (New International Version Bible).

[3] Ibid

[4] Boice, James M.  Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 587.

[5] Exodus 20:2-3

[6] Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8

[7] John 4:23 (emphasis added)

[8] Boice, 578

[9] Foster, Richard J.  Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 158.

[10] Ibid., 158

[11] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 147.

[12] Lee, Dorothy A.  “In the Spirit of Truth: Worship and Prayer in the Gospel of John and the Early Fathers.”  Vigiliae christianae 58 (2004): 280.

[13] Goodrick, Howard W. & Kohlenberger III, J. R.  The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1584.

[14] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 111.

[15] Collins, C. J.  “John 4:23-24, “In Spirit and Truth”: an idiomatic proposal.”  Presbyterion 21 (1995): 121.

[16] Ibid., 1526

[17] John 14:6

[18] Romans 8:34

[19] Hebrews 4:16

[20] Sibley, 170

[21] Bochert, Gerald L.  Worship in the New Testament.  (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008): 46.

[22] Webber, Robert E.  Worship Old & New.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 28.

[23] Best, Harold M.  Unceasing Worship.  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003): 35.

[24] Romans 12:1

[25] “Sanctification.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctification

[26] Best, 19.

[27] Burge, Gary M.  The NIV Application Commentary: John.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 147.

[28] Isaiah 1:13-14

[29] Townsend, Stewart & Keith Getty, In Christ Alone, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 3350395.

[30] Luke 10:27

[31] Redman, Matt, The Heart of Worship, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 2296522

[32] Redman, Matt, Come Let Us Return, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 4107633



Day 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 306: Luke 23-24; The Emmaus Road

As we again come to the narrative of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, like yesterday I would like to encourage you to not allow yourself to just brush over the familiar stories here.  Especially in Luke, there are a couple of things that happen here that aren’t recorded in the other three Gospels that are important to the story and to our understanding of Jesus and the nature of the salvation that He offers us in His blood.  One of these stories that we encounter today is that of the interaction between Jesus and the thieves on the cross.  Jesus was not crucified alone, but with two others that were being punished by execution.  We see here, at the end of Jesus life, yet another person who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God.  We also see here the true nature of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.  There are always discussions in Christian circles about about the details of salvation, death-bed conversions, etc.  Here we see this thief, in the final moments of his life, acknowledging Jesus as the one who will usher in the Kingdom of God and humbly asked to be remembered in that Kingdom.  Without hesitation, Jesus assures the repentant sinner that he will be in paradise with Jesus that very day.  The thief could do nothing more than repent of His sins and ask for Jesus’ mercy, and that is all it took!

The other narrative that we encounter today that is not found in any other Gospels is that of the Emmaus Road.  After Jesus resurrection we join the story of two men, presumably followers of Jesus Christ in some fashion, on the road to a town called Emmaus which is about seven miles outside of Jerusalem.  Scripture says that, as they were walking, Jesus drew near to them and started to walk with them, yet they did not recognize Him.  Obviously the Spirit is keeping their eyes closed though, because if  you think about it, for Jesus to “draw near” to two people that are walking, it means that He would have had to be running to catch up.  That in and of itself would have been undignified for any Hebrew male, yet the two men don’t appear to notice.

Next in the story, we see that Jesus picks up the conversation and them runs with it, explaining to these two men all about Himself and the things that had happened through all of the Old Testament.  Now, again, I understand that the Spirit was keeping them oblivious to who Jesus really is here, but I have to imagine that the authority with which this mystery man was teaching would have to at least kind of clue them in to who He really was.  There were no other religious leaders at this time that were teaching about Jesus.  Clearly, as we have seen, there wasn’t anyone around that was teaching the things that Jesus was teaching… especially not about Him either.

Yet it isn’t until the end of the journey, when they are eating together that His identity is revealed to Him.  And what instance?  At the time that Jesus breaks the bread.  I think this is an important point for us to see because not only does it encourage us to be alert and listening and watching for God action and teaching in our lives (which is what this story’s message is often boiled down to), or that we need to recognize Jesus in our day to day life (another practical tidbit that overly summarizes this story), but that in all things it is Christ that comes to us first and reveals Himself.  We believe that we are saved by grace through faith, but it is God that first draws us to Himself.  These two men talk about how their hearts were burning inside of them as He spoke to them, yet they did not recognize Him until a particular moment.  It is that moment, when clarity breaks through the fog of sin in our lives and we can see God and believe in Him.  So often we talk about faith like it is something that we do, but even faith itself is a gift from God through which we accept Him and are reborn into true life.



Day 305: Luke 21-22; Scripture Must Be Fulfilled

One of the beauties of the three Synoptic Gospels is that you read a lot of the same material over and over again, each time from a bit of a different perspective.  As we have mentioned before, the Gospel of Luke is much more like a movie documentary that is concerned with getting all the facts and details in the right order.  Unlike Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, showing them all the different ways that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, Luke doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus’ actions to scripture.  So, when I was reading through today’s reading I was surprised to find, nestled in between a couple of sections, a small part about how Jesus was to fulfill Scripture in His death.  In fact, all of Jesus life death and resurrection were a direct fulfillment of Scripture.  There were over 350 distinct prophecies that had to do with the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled every one of them!

It is important that we remember this.  Today we begin going through the narrative of the death of Jesus for the third time in less than a month.  While these scenes are often taken as horrific and sad, they are also part of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that, while we are and should be very familiar with them, we don’t box them into their own little category.  We need to hear this narrative, and all of Jesus life while keeping in mind the greater context of Scripture.  It helps  us to better know who Jesus is, why He came, and what exactly His death accomplishes for us!

As Christians, it is important for us to be familiar with these Scriptures.  It is also important for us to be familiar with the Scriptures that Jesus fulfills.  These prophecies and narratives, as well as the many things written about them in the New Testament are at the very core of what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is also important for us to know what they mean for us.  If someone asks you, “what does Jesus’ death on the cross mean?”  We need to be able to answer them effectively.  Interestingly enough, my typical answer for this would have been somewhat vague and perhaps very simply put, because I hadn’t thought about it much.  This semester though, I’ve had the opportunity to take a class on the creeds and confessions of the Church, of which we looked primarily at the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are great tools for Christians (and non-Christians) to look at as the stand as a witness and summary of what the Church believes supported fully by Scripture.  Not only are they good summary statements of our beliefs, they are also great teaching (and learning) tools for us as we grow deeper in our faith.

While I would never elevate these documents above or even to the same level as Scripture, they are definitely important and good as seek to continue to grow in our faith!  I would encourage you to take a look at them.  Belgic Confession Article 21 is a great place to start when talking about atonement through Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism has a great deal to say about Jesus Christ as well, starting at Question & Answer 29 and continuing all the way through 52.  May they be a guide and a companion for you today and tomorrow as we once again encounter the narrative of Christ’s death and Resurrection.



Day 304: Luke 19-20; Questions… Questions…

We talked a while back about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and about His ministry in Jerusalem throughout the last days of His life on earth.  So today, I would like to focus on the questions that Jesus fields from the religious leaders.  While today I am referring to a very particular section of of Luke 20 in which the religious leaders are challenging the authority of Jesus, I think that most of the questions from the religious leaders towards Jesus would fit into this category save those from Nicodemus in the book of John.

So Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem in a rather humbly triumphant manner and has gone into the Temple and cleansed it, driving out all of the people that were in there buying and selling, cheating many for the sake of religion.  The religious leaders did not like this so they devised a way to trap Jesus by “asking” Him a question.  Their motive?  To try and trap Jesus publicly so that they could “de-frock” Him and thus remove Him from prominence.  There is an even deeper goal here I think, and its one that we often share with these religious leaders.  This goal is also one that is shared by those that are not believers, in order to trick Christians into saying specific things.  What is this goal?  They want to be right… or at the very least for Jesus to be wrong.  They want to catch Jesus to prove that the way they believe is correct.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t do that at all.”  But I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we do this with God all the time.  Whether we read our Bibles or just go to worship on Sunday mornings, we want to know that what we are doing is good (or at the very least okay).  If we read in the Bible or hear the pastor say that we should not hate our brother because it is just like murdering our brother, do we not often say, “well its not exactly like murder” or “I don’t really hate them, I just strongly dislike them.”  We justify our actions as a way of making ourselves feel okay about the way we are living.  We don’t want to feel guilty and we certainly don’t want to change, so we justify ourselves in our own minds.

We often do this with pastors as well.  In come classes that I have taken at seminary, I have witnessed some of my peers try to justify their own beliefs in front of pastors and professors by twisting their words or tweaking their statements so that they will be okay with what is being said.  In the same way, I have seen people go to their pastor and even had people come to be that try to justify their sinful actions by talking about how the context of a particular passage clearly means that what they did in the present is not what the Bible meant.  What they want to hear is that their sinful actions, their way of believing is good enough… what they want is cheap discipleship… cheap faith.

I think the greater world does this a lot too, posing questions like the ones Jesus is asked to the Church in an effort to somehow get a religious pass for immoral or unjust action.  To be honest, I think that the Church has long been silent about a lot of things, refusing to answer and thus affirming the direction that culture is going.  Sure we speak up every now and then on hot-button issues, but do we really care about the deep day-to-day living of those around us?  Do we really want to stand idly by while our friends and neighbors plunge deeper into darkness?  We need to have an answer for these questions… we need to have an answer for the culture.

What is Jesus’ answer here?  Well, He turns the question on its head and throws it back at the religious leaders.  He is well aware of their intent and traps them in their trap.  However, earlier and later in His ministry, even in our reading today, Jesus references time and again the words of Scripture in His answers.  Jesus doesn’t need to come up with a new and creative answer for the time because He has the Word of God inside of Him.  It is close to His heart and deep in His mind and at any time He can pull it out at any time.  Not just His favorite verses that have little meaning, but all of Scripture at all times.  Are we familiar with the Word of God in this way?  Do we have answers for the questions that the world poses to us?  Do we have answers to the simple questions?  Can we back them up with Scripture?  Are these words truly our life, as Moses says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, or are they just idle words that pass in and out of our ears.  We need to recover the Word of God in our hearts and on our minds that we may answer the questions for ourselves and for others!



Day 303: Luke 17-18; The Cost of Discipleship

As we come to the Word of God today, I would like you to take a moment to reread this section from yesterday’s reading in Luke 14:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

In the midst of all the healing and teaching that is taking place, Jesus takes time to talk about what it means to follow Him.  The passage we just read from yesterday, Luke 14:25-33, we see Jesus is addressing the crowds that come to hear Him teach.  Word has spread around the countryside that Jesus was a great speaker and healed people.  Everyone was flocking to hear and see Him; much like some of the celebrity pastors and speakers that we have in our own Christian faith (but without the God being man factor).  Today we see Him address a rich man, an individual who seems to have all the right motivations and wants to sign on to this discipleship thing:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here Jesus is addressing much the same thing.  First we had a whole lot of people who were “following” Jesus, wanting to hear His speak and be inspired by His teaching.  Now we have a wealthy young man who has says that He has lived a good life, keeping to all of the laws that were laid out for the people of Israel.  In both cases, Jesus lays out what it means to truly follow Him and, at least in the case of the rich young rule, that cost seems a bit too high for him.

So what is the cost of discipleship?  Well, too often we talk about how Jesus tells the man that he has to sell everything and give it all away in order to follow him.  While I don’t think that this is a call for us to live without a house, job or means of providing for ourselves, for indeed these things are a gift of God as His way of providing for our needs, Jesus is talking about the priority that these things need to take in our lives for us to be followers of Him.  At other times Jesus has said that someone “cannot serve two masters,” yet another example of priority and orientation in our lives.  What Jesus is truly saying here is that the cost of discipleship is our very lives.

What metaphor does Jesus use to talk about discipleship in Luke 14?  The cross.  We need to take up our cross.  Later on in the New Testament Paul picks up this idea talking about how we need to die to ourselves (the desires of our flesh) so that we may rise again in Christ.  We see this theme come up in baptism, salvation, and the Christian life over and over again in Scripture.  The cost of discipleship is our lives.  Not physically giving up our lives, but as Paul writes in Romans 12,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  I think this is a very apt description that goes well with what Jesus has to say here.  In our current cultural context, with the mega church movement in full swing, we see people flocking to these large churches to hear really good speakers.  Now, I believe that good ministry takes place in churches like Mars Hill and Willow Creek just as they do in many small churches.  I also think bad ministry takes place in these places (as it does in smaller churches too).  People come to hear the newest, the latest and greatest… or perhaps the go because they have always gone and just need to check their Sunday worship of their “spiritual checklist.”  This can happen in either church.  The problem and the fact of the matter however, is that this is not the discipleship that He had described here.  Going in and out of Sunday morning worship is not what Christ has called us to, it is not the whole of our Spiritual lives.  If it is… we aren’t doing it right.  We are called to something greater, to take up our cross, to a long obedience in the same direction… and to help bring others along with us as well!



Day 302: Luke 14-16; The Lost are Found

As we read today we continue to see Jesus teaching in parables to the people that are around Him.  Today’s reading contains probably one of the most famous parables of all time, the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  However, before we talk about that particular parable, we need to pay attention to the context in which that particular passage is found.  Jesus, as He continues His journey and gets close and closer to Jerusalem, is continually responding to questions from the religious leaders and the pharisees about different elements of the law, ever challenging their way of life and in many cases rebuking them to the point of speechlessness over what they thought was the “right way” to life vs. what God was calling the people to do.  We have also seen many times throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, that Jesus says that He is called to the lost sheep of Israel and that He was called as a physician to the sick, not to take care of the healthy.

This, in my opinion, kind of turns on its head the religious practices of the time and also some of the Church’s religious practices of today as well.  Most specifically I see this in the three parables that comprise Luke chapter 15.  As I am thinking about this I am worried that I am going to go on a rant again, which is something I would like to stay away from.  That being said, with all the talk of the Church hemorrhaging people and being in decline, I wonder if these parables shouldn’t speak, at least in some way, into our current situation.  What do I mean by this?  Well…

Jesus tells a parable of the lost sheep.  A shepherd that is out with his flock notices that there is one missing.  Rather than saying, “that’s alright, I still have the 99 sheep so I’m still good,” he leaves the sheep out in the open country and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.  Mind you, the idea of the open country is that of a dangerous area where the shepherd is both leading and defending the sheep.  Chances are the sheep would follow him in his search, because that is what sheep do, but the point is that the shepherd is more preoccupied with looking for the lost sheep than caring for the other 99 sheep.

In the same way, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin.  Rather than being okay with the nine coins that she does have, this lady literally seems to turn her house upside down looking for that coin.  I think that I am only this thorough in looking for something if I lost my wallet, keys, or phone.  But the nine she has is just not enough, and the 99 sheep are just not enough.  Both of these characters are saying that is one gets away, it is 100% worth it to go after them and find them back.  I wonder what would happen if we went after our young people, those that are leaving the church, to try and find them back.  First of all, I suppose, we would need to be willing to commit to looking for them and to discipling them (something we’ll talk about more tomorrow), but I actually wonder if this is something that we would consider a worthwhile endeavor in the church today.  Or are we just okay with the 99 that we still have?

Now, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the prodigal son.  This man takes everything that he can from his father and his family and goes off without regard to their needs, love, care, or life.  He utterly scorns them with his request and completely abandons them.  We might not think this so bad if he left and invested his money and made a successful life for himself (being that we too believe heavily in the American dream and want to see our children do that for themselves), but He doesn’t.  Everything that was given to him is squandered, wasted on the trappings of a seducing culture.  The interesting thing in this story, in my opinion, is that this young man realizes the error of his ways and understands what he needs to do.  In an act of sheer humility, being as humbled now as he was scornful earlier, he returns to his father to ask to be a servant, just so that he can eat.  What does the son’s father do?  Does he hesitantly welcome him back, offering him a trial period before he can become a “son” again?  Does he turn him away because of his actions, refusing to forgive?  NO!  Absolutely not!  He pulls up his robe and goes running out to meet him (a very dishonoring action for a man of wealth in those days).  The Father throws his arms around the lost son, weeps for joy at his return and even has a huge celebration for the return of the son despite his other son’s protest!

So… what is the real question here?  I hate to boil this down to some sort of pithy moral statement because I think that these parables present a HUGE challenge for the Church today.  So many churches are losing people left and right.  More churches are closing in the country than ever before.  But I wonder, are we going out to find those lost sheep?  Are we pursuing our children, friends, neighbors and seem to be falling away from their faith?  Are we really rejoicing when they are found?  What about when a prodigal child returns home?  Do we run out to meet them with arms open despite the lifestyle that they may have been or are possible still involved in/recovering from (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc.)?  Or do we treat them more like the father’s son, questioning why it is that we have allowed them back within our walls?

These are tough questions… questions that churches need to think deeply about… Jesus is pretty clear on what the answers are.  I think the question for us is whether we are in line with those answers… or not…



Day 301: Luke 12-13; Teachings and Parables

All throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him teaching in both lessons from the Scriptures, much of which comes from the Law.  Our reading today starts off with Jesus directly addressing the teaching of the pharisees.  They too spend a great deal of time teaching on the Scriptures and the Law.  We’ve actually spent some time talking about that teaching too, about all of the laws that the religious leaders of that day had put in place over the course of a couple hundred years to put a hedge around the true law.  Rather than working to understand the true meaning of the Law, to hear the words of Deuteronomy 6 which say very specifically that all of God’s direction is about loving God with all that we are.  Yet, instead of looking to this and learning from the mistakes that sent them into exile, the religious leaders of Israel made more laws to protect the law.  If you weren’t supposed to do work on the Sabbath, they made sure that you didn’t even potentially come close to doing work on the Sabbath by saying that you weren’t even allowed to wash yourself or pick something up off the ground.

Jesus warns His disciples here to beware of the “leaven” of the pharisees because their teaching is hypocrisy.  The Law was meant to guide the people, God’s way of showing His people how they were to live in a way that would be both life giving and God glorifying.  Yet the pharisees had taken it and turned it into a chain, binding the people into the lifestyle that they demanded rather than helping them to love God more fully.  More than that, the religious leaders lived lives of false piety, making it seem as though they were living perfect lives while everyone else was struggling.  In some ways I would liken them to some of the false churches that are out there today, those that say you’ll be more blessed based on how much you give.  The teaching of the prosperity gospel by people like Joel Osteen doesn’t focus on loving God and living into the redemption that we have in Jesus Christ, but on how much you give… things that you can do to earn your own salvation… something we know to be not possible.  It is only in Jesus Christ that we find our salvation.

We also see Jesus teaching through the use of parables.  It is interesting that, when asked about why He speaks in parables, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah 6, when the Lord calls Isaiah to ministry.  What Jesus is doing for us, as He teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven and even the life of faith is to bring it into language and imagery that the people He is interacting with can understand.  The church that I worship at, Overisel Reformed Church, is a rural church that is in the middle of a farming community.  It would make little sense for us to talk about urban street life.  The reverse is true for urban churches.  Farming metaphors probably wouldn’t make much sense there.  The Kingdom of God is something that is completely foreign to us, and living the faithful life was something that wasn’t taught to the people in Jesus’ time… at least not in the way that it should have been.  So what does Jesus do?  He condescends to the level of the people, just has He condescended from the throne of Heaven to become a human.  This is a very real sense of divinity being translated to humanity in a way that we can understand.  God continues to do this as well, in the continuing revelation of Himself to us through His Word as well.



Day 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 299: Luke 8-9; The Sent Community

I feel like today I need to post an article that I wrote for my church’s monthly news letter publication for November (you’ll be seeing it before they do).  Over the course of this year we have been talking about the many different aspects of our corporate worship on Sunday mornings.  Everything from Gathering to sermon, and now to the sending time has been covered.  Today, in our reading, we encounter the text of Jesus sending out the disciples… and tomorrow when we read the narrative of Jesus sending out the 72… and it spurs in me the thoughts about the Church’s identity as a “sent community.”  There is much more in today’s reading besides this, I understand, and we have and will talk about some of these different things, but today I feel as though we need to remember “sent” identity.

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We have spent the past 10 months discussing some of the reasons behind how we “do” worship on a given Sunday morning.  Conversations like this are very good in helping us to better understand what we do and how we worship.  One page each month hardly does this subject justice in my opinion, but if this writing has even prompted one conversation or a deeper inspection of worship in one’s own, I would say that it is worth it.  This is the last month of this series of writings, and we have come to what I think is the most important part of the worship service (with the exception of the Table, which we talked about last week), the time of being sent out.  Indeed this is the time in which the community that has gathered from to worship God accepts once again its identity as disciples in Christ and is sent out to be the Body of Christ in the world today.  It is the point at which we accept and assume our identity as Christians and take it beyond the walls of the Church where we are called to serve and to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Lately, it seems, that Christian church in North America has kind of gotten its identity a little mixed up.  As we have done over this past year, we put a lot of effort into talking about our Sunday morning worship services.  In fact, we have put more than our fair share of effort into talking about our corporate worship services.  We have had church spits about them, tried to blend them and style them, add things to them, and even use different cultural features to make them more attractive.  Churches across North America have placed an inordinate amount of effort into making themselves and their Corporate worship more attractive to the “un-churched.”  And what has been the result of this?  We have turned the focus of church and worship away from God and towards people creating a consumer mindset in which people have become more concerned with what they are getting out of it and whether it appeals to them.  More than this, as a church we have made it ok for people to jump from church to church based not on the message of that they are hearing or the way that they are being equipped, but based solely on their preference of music or style.  In short, we have made corporate worship about us, not God.

So in light of that, what is the identity that we are called to as the people of God?  It is that of the “sent community.”  I know that there are many that would push back about this being the church’s primary identity when we make it a point so often to say that we identity is in Christ.  This is true.  But to say that our primary identity as the Church is to be “sent out” is not in contrast with our identity in Christ, it is actually a response to it.  Jesus didn’t come into the world, immediately set up a Church, and then try to make it cool so people would come through the door.  No, Jesus was out on the streets of the cities, on the roads of the countryside, and meeting people in their homes and meeting places.  It was in those places that He was teaching and it was in those places that he did all his miracles.  From wedding celebrations to graveside mourning, Jesus was there demonstrating the love of God in all that he did and said.

Jesus modeled this with His disciples as well.  In each of the Gospels there are multiple references to Jesus sending them out, instructing them about being in the world, and even praying to God the Father for their protection as they are out in the world.  The great commission which we, like many other churches, have modeled our mission statement after actually tells us what we need to do:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This is the Biblical model for the church.  It doesn’t say “go if you feel called” or “put money in the plate for the missionaries” (though that does have its place too).  Jesus says to His followers, “GO!”  We don’t need theological training… we don’t need eloquent speeches… we don’t even need to do all the talking… Jesus’ command to so many of the people that He healed was “go and tell people what you have seen and heard.”

Friends we are a sent community.  When the blessing is given, we are sent out empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel wherever we go.  Sunday mornings should not be the majority of our Christian life.  We gather together to worship, to hear the Word of God, and to be empowered and equipped to be sent forth into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.



Day 298: Luke 6-7; Jesus' Teachings in Luke

Jesus’ teachings in today’s readings are kind of like a mini Sermon on the Mount.  Unlike the book of Matthew, Luke does not combine the majority of Jesus’ teachings into one single place.  This is one of the reasons why Biblical scholars question whether or not the sermon on the mount was an actual event, or if it was just Matthew’s compilation of Jesus’ teaching.  In either case, the fact is that it is Jesus teachings and the truth that is contained therein is indeed Truth and important for our lives.

You probably noticed some familiar passages in today’s reading, especially in chapter 6.  This is Luke’s version of the beatitudes.  They are fairly similar to the beatitudes found in Matthew with a few minor differences here are there.  Sometimes I think that we get these things a bit misconstrued.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are poor,” and we think that we need to make ourselves poor so that we can be blessed.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are hungry,” and we think that maybe we should eat less food so that we can be blessed.  The same goes for weeping and even being insulted by others because of our faith.  Jesus is saying that the people the truly experience these things due to the nature of their lives will be blessed, even though they endure hardships now.  He is not instructing people to go out and look for ways to be sad, to make people upset, or to be poor for the sake of receiving blessing.  Indeed, it is the people that, through the living of their lives and the true “shema style” loving of God, find themselves in these situations that are promised blessings, perhaps not in this life but in eternity.

Immediately after speaking of blessings, Jesus turns to woes for those in the opposite situations.  Again, I think we have a tendency to get these things mixed up.  Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich,” and we then think that monetary wealth is something that is inherently bad and those who have it are doomed.  Jesus says, “who to you who are well fed now,” and we start to wonder if we ate too much at our last meal.  He talks about those who laugh and those who are well spoken and we wonder how we are to integrate this teaching into our daily lives.  Should we not be happy?  Should we not be spoken well of?  How are these things, which seem to be really good, actually terribly awful for us in our lives?

It is a matter of the heart.  Jesus is making reference to the way that people live, to the circumstances that they find themselves in naturally and what they decide to do with them.  When Jesus talks about prayer, He says that those who pray aloud so that other people could see them are wrong for doing so, yet He doesn’t say that prayer is bad.  I think this same idea applies here as well and He is speaking against the corruption that He noticed around them, as He mentioned when He was preaching in Nazareth.  Some people will find themselves wealthy in life and others poor.  The wealthy are blessed in a way that they are able to give away a great deal to those in need.  Yet many of them were not doing this.  In fact, they were using their wealth to oppress the poor and Jesus says that the wealth they seek on earth will be their only reward while those that are oppressed will raised up in eternity.  The same goes for those who laugh or for those who are spoken well of.  While these things in and of themselves are not  bad things, those who seek only their own pleasure or their own fame will receive just that… and only that.  While those who are brought low on earth will be raised up for God is a God of justice.  He has a special place for those who are lowly, those who are forgotten by the world.

Jesus is describing here, as I said before, the application of the Shema in its truest form, the greatest commandment that He affirms to the religious leaders (likely the only thing they agreed upon actually).  But the Shema, and its subsequent commend to “love your neighbor as yourself” are not simply outward actions, they are to be heart transformations.  I would encourage you to read the post on the Shema again.  It helps to bring things a bit more into perspective.  This is the highest and truest calling of the people of God out of which flows everything that Jesus is talking about here and throughout His ministry.  We are not to be those who love God with just our lips, but that we would turn our hearts toward Him, and show others this great grace that is offered that they too may be healed.



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.