Monday, December 23, 2019

Standing in the truth: John 8:44

One day, Jesus was rebuking those who claimed to be the dependents of Abraham while, at the same time, seeking to kill him, one who spoke truth to them, something which “Abraham did not do.” (John 8:40) Instead of having Abraham as their father, Jesus said that they were of their “father the devil.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to describe the devil as being one who “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44) Here, what Jesus did not say is just as important as what he did say. Jesus did not say that the devil did not know the truth, nor that he did not believe the truth, but that he did not stand in the truth. In fact, Jesus uses the imperfect tense of the verb that refers to a past continuous action. Literally, Jesus said that the devil “was not standing in the truth.”

We sometimes hear people saying that they are “standing on the truth,” referring to some promise that they are trusting in. However, to stand in the truth is more than merely hoping for some promise to be fulfilled. It involves ordering our lives according to the truth, making the truth the foundation of our lives, and the wellspring of our every thought and action. We are not to stand upon the truth, rather, we are to stand in the truth. This represents a continuous and consistent standing in, and acting upon, the truth of God. To those who are willing to do so, to stand in the truth, Jesus promises, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Collateral Damage: John 8:7

There is a story in the book of John, where the Scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. In asking Jesus what was to be done with her, they were hoping to trap Jesus into saying something contrary to the Law of Moses. Jesus, at first, refused to answer and, instead, stooped down and began to write on the ground. However, as they persisted in their demand for some response, Jesus stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone...” (John 8:7) This is how this verse is typically remembered and quoted. However, in Greek it reads a bit different. Translating the Greek sentence structure more literally, this passage reads, “He who is without sin among you, the first at her to throw a stone.” (NASB Greek Interlinear). Jesus command to the one without sin was not that they should be the first to cast a stone, but that they should be the first to cast a stone “at her.”

Oftentimes, in the midst of our anger, judgment, and sin, we lose sight of the people who bear the weight of our sins and who are harmed by our unrighteousness. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, refers to this as “our shadow.” Our shadow represents the effect our lives have on others. Our attitude, judgments, and behaviors affect others in ways we often don’t see or understand, either for good or for evil. In this story, the scribes and Pharisees, in their rush to condemn Jesus, failed to see the collateral damage their judgmental spirit was causing on the people around them. Their hatred of Jesus blinded their eyes to “her.” The same is often true of us. In our self-righteousness, we fail to see those we are hurting; we fail to see “her.” Jesus wants us to open our eyes, to see our shadow, and to consider the influence and impact our lives, emotions, and behaviors are having on the people around us. If we can do this, then maybe we will become more careful in our own lives; maybe we will learn how to use our shadow for good rather than evil.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Seed for sowing: 2 Cor. 9:10

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is instructing them on how to prepare their offering for the brethren in Jerusalem who are experiencing a famine. Paul then encourages them, saying, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10 NASB). There are two things in this verse that are interesting in the original Greek language. First is the word Paul uses for “seed.” The most common word for seed is the Greek word from which we get our word for sperm. However, here, Paul uses another Greek word from which we get our word for spore. In the Greek, there are two kinds of seed; one for planting and one for sowing. In our Christin life, we must be diligent in planting the seed, which is the word of God, into our lives that it might bear fruit. However, we must also sow that same seed into the lives of others. James writes that “the  seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 NASB). This is done not only by sharing the word of God but also through our behavior and good deeds. As believers, we are called to plant and cultivate the garden, which is our soul, as we simultaneously sow the seeds of the Kingdom in the lives of others as well.

The second think of interest in this verse in the Greek is the word that is translated here as “harvest.” This word refers to the offspring of reproduction. This should remind us that we can only reproduce in others what we first have conceived within us. We cannot reproduce love in others if we do not have love in us. We cannot reproduce righteousness in others if we do not have righteousness in us. And we cannot sow the seed of the Kingdom in others if we have not first sowed it into our own hearts. The Kingdom life is meant to reproduce, which means that we must first have that life in us before we can share it with others.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Five loaves and two fish: John 6:1-22

In John 6, we read the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. In the story, Jesus multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the multitude of people who had come out to hear him. Later that day, Jesus sent his disciples on ahead of him to the other side of Sea of Galilee while he went up into the mountains to pray. Later that night, Jesus would walk across the water to join the disciples in their boat. The next morning, the people returned to the same place, hoping to find Jesus again, but they were all gone. John records, “There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23). In the Greek, the phrase "after given thanks" is a participle. Therefore, this version can  also be translated, “they came near the place where, the Lord having given thanks, they eat the bread.”

If it were me that day, I would have said, “the Lord having multiplied the loaves” or “the Lord having performed a great miracle." However, what was foremost in the minds of the people who returned was not the great miracle Jesus did, but how he had first given thanks for the five loaves and two fish. What was so surprising or memorable about someone standing up to offer God thanks for what he had provided? Could it be that they had long since ceased to offer God for the little they had? Had their estimation of God’s provision, or lack thereof, caused them to become ungrateful for what little they did have? What about us? Do we thank God for what we have or complain about what we do not have? Perhaps if we would give thanks for God’s provision, he might break it and bless it and cause it to multiply. Jesus’ thankfulness opened the door to God’s miracle provision for the multitude that day. I believe that our thankfulness can also open to us God’s miracle provision in ways we cannot even expect.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The heavens have been opened: John 1:50-51

When Phillip called Nathaniel to come and meet Jesus, Jesus surprised him by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48) Nathaniel was impressed and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) However, Jesus responded to Nathaniel by saying, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51) What is interesting in this verse is that the Greek word translated here as “opened” is a perfect participle. In the Greek, the perfect tense represents a past action whose effect continues to today. In other words, this verse could be translated, “The heavens having been opened, you will see…” Jesus was not saying that Nathaniel would occasionally see the heaves open and close and the angels ascending and descending. Rather, he was saying that the heavens had already been opened, and as such, Nathaniel would see the ongoing interaction between heaven and Earth. Jesus inaugurated a new era of an open heaven. The heavens have been, and remain, open, and heaven is invading Earth. What hope this gives us in our daily lives.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Encouraging one another: Col 4:17

At the end of his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul writes, “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’” (Col. 4:17) It is unclear as to who Archippus was, but he may have been the same Archippus that Paul mentions in his letter to Philemon: “To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” (Philemon 1:1-2) In this verse, Archippus may have been the son of Philemon and Apphia. Either way, Paul issues a gentle rebuke to Archippus for neglecting the ministry (service) he received from the Lord. What is interesting in this passage is that the Greek word translated “Say” is a second-person plural imperative (command). Paul was not speaking this command to a single person or a select group of leaders in the church; he was speaking to the entire church. Paul was saying, “You all say to Archippus…” The point is that we all have a responsibility to encourage and exhort one another. It can be tempting to want to relegate all ministry to the professional ministers, but God is calling each one of us to minister to each other and to encourage each other with the word and love of God.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Seasoned with salt: Col 4:6

Paul tells us to “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col. 4:6) The Greek word translated here as “seasoned” can also be translated as “prepared,” as one might “prepare” a meal by properly seasoning it. Paul is saying that we need to use intentionality in our speech. No one haphazardly seasons a dish; rather, they do it intentionally, and with care and precision, lest the dish is ruined. So too, with our speech. Before we speak, we ought to consider what we are about to say, the words we are going to use, and how we hope them to be received by the hearer. Furthermore, in being intentional in our speech, it should always be our intention to speak in a way that our words carry grace. The seasoning of our words with grace does not happen automatically; it is something that we must consider, intend, and practice. Jesus warns us of the danger of unguarded speech and of speaking unprepared when he said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” (Mat. 12:36) In light of this truth, let us consider what we are to say before we actually speak; let us consider how our speech might convey grace to our hearer; let us consider how our speech may be used to communicate God’s love to others.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Asked for the body of Jesus: Luke 23:52

After Jesus had died, and while he still remained upon the cross, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate “and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Luke 23:52) The word translated here as “asked” is an interesting word. In the Greek, verbs are spoken in one of three voices: active, passive, and middle. In the active voice, the subject is doing the action. In the passive voice, the action is being done to the subject. In the middle voice, the subject is doing the action for themselves. In this verse, “asked” is spoken in the middle voice. Joseph was asking for himself the body of Jesus. This verb in this form is only used six times in the New Testament: three times in reference to Joseph of Arimathea, once by the daughter of Herodias as she asked for the head of John the Baptist (Mark 6:25), once of David as he asked permission to build God a temple (Acts 7:46), and once when Paul asked for letters to arrest any believers he might find in his travels (Acts 9:2).

In this passage, Joseph is not asking for someone else, or for some other purpose, but was asking for himself the body of Jesus. This was a bold move. It exposed him as a follower of Jesus and put his life in danger. But Joseph was all in and was willing to be associated with Christ, even in his death. While previously, he believed in secret, now his alliances were in the open for all to see. Sometimes it can be difficult to be associated with Christ or with his church, especially around people who do not believe and are even hostile to Christianity. But we must be willing to learn from the example of Joseph and be willing for others to see that, we too, have asked for ourselves to have Jesus.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Continually hated: Luke 21:16-19

Jesus warns his disciples of how they will be treated for his namesake, saying, “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:16-19) What is interesting in this verse is that, in the Greek, the word translated here as “hated” is a present passive participle, which implies a continuous action being done to the subject. Jesus’ disciples would not just be hated, but they will be continually and habitually hated. Their condition in the world would become as those whom the world continually hates.

As disciples, we should not expect the world, and its corrupt system, to love us. Christianity should never become so domesticated that there no longer remains any difference between the church and the world. Rather, our goal should be to live counter-cultural lives that display a true alternative to this present world system. Such living may engender the disdain of the world, but it will win for us the approval of God as it offers hope to those trapped in this world and this “present evil age.” (Gal. 1:4)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

I, I will give: Luke 21:12-15

Jesus warns his disciples that there will come times when those who oppose them “will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.” (Luke 21:12) However, he tells them that they need not worry beforehand how they should respond in such situations. Jesus promised them, “I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” (Luke 21:15) What is interesting in the Greek is that a verb’s ending tells you who is speaking. So, for example, a single word could be translated, “I will give.” However, in this case, Jesus includes the personal pronoun “I.” This verse could rightfully be translated, “I, I will give…” The personal pronoun “I,” though not needed, is used for emphasis. Jesus was telling the disciples not to trust in their own wisdom or understanding but rather to trust in their relationship with him. When we face difficult situations, our hope is not in what we know, but whom we know. If we have a relationship with Jesus, then he himself will come to us and give us what we should speak or lead us to what we should do. Most religions are based upon laws and precepts, but Christianity is based upon a relationship; a relationship with Christ.