Category Archives: Gospel of John

The Trick with Puzzles

The most obvious solution for a puzzle is wrong and leads you astray.  The one that works is counter-intuitive.  You think you should slide the ring over the post, but in reality, doing so actually makes the puzzle harder to solve.  Life here on earth is like that.  The most obvious solutions to our problems often make the problems worse.  Just ask the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Their feud could have been avoided if they had responded to each other in ways that, at first, would have seemed crazy to them.

That’s the principle behind this well known teaching of Jesus: “… the truth will set you free.”  That phrase is often quoted, but what came before it is less well known or understood.  Here is the whole thing:

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus’ “word” is not simply a collection of Scrabble letters, it is the Greek word, “logos,” from which we get our word, logic.  It means the whole way in which one understands reality and interacts with it.  For example,  You see a gathering of people and don’t think much about them.  But if you understand their logos, realize they all served in the same outfit in WWII, then your understanding and interaction with them is changed by that logos.  Jesus invites us to do more than simply know His logos, He invites us to “abide” in it, to make our permanent residence within His way of understanding and interacting with reality.  It is only when we abide in His logos, that we then know the truth that will set us free.

The Sermon on the Mount is full of counter-intuitive teaching that lines up with Jesus’ logos. Such as, forgiveness solves interpersonal problems when the most obvious solution seems to be revenge.  It is only when we makes our home within Jesus’ way of seeing reality that His teaching,  “… if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well”  (Matthew 5:40), makes sense.  But, as happens with frustrating puzzles, once you try the counter-intuitive solution, it seems easy.  It sets you free.

To the Full

Black Friday just isn’t what it used to be.  They ruined all the fun by starting it, in some cases, back at the beginning of November. Not the way the pilgrims observed it. No more standing all night in line and then smashing and pushing to get in the door.  Maybe I’ll take up roller derby.  But speaking of getting in the door, consider this, somewhat more peaceful, analogy from Jesus:

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  (John 10:9-10)

The frenzy on Black Friday, I suspect, is largely driven by people who are desperate for life “to the full.”  If I can score that toaster oven at a ridiculously low price, then I’ll be really living.  Nothing wrong with a new toaster oven, but it is not the “gate” to a full life.

Life “to the full” comes only by having the life of the Holy Spirit in our souls.  The Spirit is given to all who, as Jesus says, “enter through Me,” by faith.  Those who find this full life, “come in and go out and find pasture.”  Their lives are not locked up in church but are lived out in the world, led by Jesus, to “pastures” for sustenance and rest.  Compare the peace of that image with the mindset of those who smash and push their way into Black Friday sales.  You can see how the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” the full life he falsely promises.

What do You Know?

Nick was a wimp, and yet more courageous than the others.  Consider what these verses tell us about Nicodemus:

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  (John 3:1-2)

He was a ruler, a man of extraordinary power and authority.  Moreover, he was not alone in that position but was one of a group of rulers (he said “we…”).  This group of “rulers” knew that Jesus came from God, they saw the evidence of it.  Pharisees were highly educated experts on the Scriptures.  Presumably, what they saw and “knew,” corresponded to what they had studied in Scripture.  And this group of powerful “rulers” had come to a consensus.  They knew Jesus had come from God.  And yet, when they wanted to know more, they sent Nick, under the cover of darkness, so no one would see, no one would know.  Nick at night.  Why such a wimpy approach?

Perhaps they thought experts should already know all the answers and didn’t want to show their confusion and curiosity.  Maybe they were afraid to lend credibility to Jesus thereby weakening their positions of authority.  We can’t be sure why he went at night.  But, of this we can be sure: This powerful group of experts, who knew Jesus was from God, eventually conspired to eliminate Him.  Despite what they knew.

As we find ourselves drawn to Jesus, perhaps curious, confused or genuinely interested, we may also feel pressure to hide our interest from our peers.  We may fear ridicule or rejection.  We may creep to Jesus under the cloak of darkness.  But eventually, what we know must direct what we do.  There are many reasons people suppress what they know at this point.  But don’t wimp out; to do so is eternally dangerous.

 

P.S.  Because Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial, it is likely he had a change of heart.

In Spirit and Truth

Tucked in among all the junk mail in the box is an actual letter.  It’s rare enough these days that it warrants special treatment: another cup of tea, some jazz on the stereo and a yank on the recliner lever.  My old friend writes, “Here’s something that made me think of you…”  His words reawaken memories of our friendship. Some people stimulate the best of who you are and he was one of those.  I reread…

Jesus said God isn’t interested in regligious ritual.  He doesn’t care for mumbo jumbo.  What He wants is people who worship Him in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23).  Think of His Spirit, given to you personally, as a living letter.  When you read it, so to speak, when you pause to pay close attention to what He says to you, it reawakens your appreciation of His amazing character and personality.  And makes you really wish you could be closer. It nudges the best of who you are.

I think that’s sort of what Jesus had in mind.

The Good Stuff

Can you imagine the laughter back in the kitchen?  When Jesus turned water into wine the only people who were in on the secret were the servants.  They knew because they had taken the foot-washing pots and filled them up with water, as instructed.

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  (John 2:9-10)
How they must have laughed.  But it is worth noting that the only people who got to experience the power of Jesus were the ones who humbly worked with Him, doing what He said to do.  The others got to taste the wine, but they missed the good stuff.

Not so Immediately

What causes people to suddenly change and follow Jesus?  Peter told Mark he did it “immediately.”

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

Just like that?  Drop your nets and walk off to follow Jesus?  No doubt there was a lot leading up to that sudden decision.  Perhaps he and Andy had had long discussions out in the boat.  Maybe something had happened at home to make him ready.  We don’t know.  But, Jesus said, before anyone can make that jump, God “draws him” (John 6:44).  And how He draws you is personal.  He uses the things that we specifically need.  God gradually loosens our desperate grip on the illusory things we think keep us safe or satisfied.  As He does, He attracts us to Himself through Jesus.

Sometimes, as in my case, kicking and screaming.  Little by little, God got my attention and blew on the kindled flames of my restlessness.  I “just so happened” to hear an old lady speaking about the Lord’s Prayer.  My brother had “found Jesus” and began to annoy me by talking about Him all the time.  People picked me up hitchhiking and told me about their experiences with Him.  I spent a long day on a beach with “The Road Less Traveled” and a bunch of beer.  Little by little, God was loosening me up.  But then He brought out the big guns, the things I needed personally.

When you run the sound for a large event you have to listen.  This gig was a 10 day conference for a few thousand people who worked for Campus Crusade.  The guy who kicked things off every morning spoke about trusting Jesus – something everyone already understood, except me.  He was very logical in his approach – something I really needed.  Every day I came armed with new reasons to doubt what he was saying.  And, as though he was reading my mind, he addressed those objections and convincingly dismissed them.  My soul began singing that old funk tune, “Standin’ on Shaky Ground…”

Alone in the arena, I was struggling to fix a sound cable – struggling because I did not have large, channel lock pliers, needed to take the connector apart.  I looked all over for something that would work without success.  But inside, an argument was raging over what I would decide about what I had been hearing.  In frustration, on my knees, I began to weep.  I called out, “God, I don’t even know if you exist but, if You do, then I’m scared.  I don’t know if You will take care of me…”  I know, I know, that was a dumb prayer.  Embarrassing to write it down.  But, when I dried my eyes, the first thing I saw, about 2 feet in front of me, lying on a road case, was a large pair of channel lock pliers with bright orange grips.  You couldn’t miss them.  I can’t explain how they got there or why I hadn’t seen them.  But I was careful to put them back!

But later that night, on my drive back home, I “immediately” decided to follow Jesus.  Immediately, after 38 years of being drawn by God and pushing Him away.  Maybe you are not as stubborn and slow as I was.  You probably won’t need pliers.  But do pay attention when God tugs on your sleeve.  Pay attention, take time to ponder and then, follow Jesus – immediately.

Them Hypocrites

What does Halloween have in common with hypocrisy?  Masks.  The word, hypocrite, comes from a Greek word for mask.  Halloween is better: you get candy and the masks are not as scary.

Sometimes hypocrites wear a mask with deliberate intent to deceive.  But much of the time, what looks like hypocrisy is simply someone trying to act more like a Christian.  Sadly, many churches have taught people to do that. Trouble is, people respond to hypocrisy about like they do to other dead things.  

Jesus had a better idea. Instead of trying to act like a Christian, come to Him in faith and come alive in your soul with His life.  Then, He takes care of the changes.  They flow from inside without masks.  

He said,

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)
Pay attention to that last part and put away your masks.  Make your home in Jesus and He will live in you.  But, hey, before you go, help yourself to some candy….

What Moses Also Saw

When you promise yourself you won’t repeat (whatever wrong thing you struggle with) and then blow it – yet again – how many times will God forgive you and give you another chance?  If you are sincere, it will seem unlimited.  But is there any hope for you?  Will you ever break free of that cycle of despair?  

There is.  God showed Moses how He would ultimately fix us.  He showed Moses that He would bless the His Chosen People abundantly in the Promised Land, so long as they remained faithful to Him.  He showed Moses how they would mess that up and be banished.  This would happen again and again.  But the cool thing is how God also showed Moses what He would do to fix that cycle of hope followed by failure.  For them.  And for you.

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” ( Deuteronomy 30:6)

Circumcision is a perfect metaphor, if you think about the tough exterior that forms around our sinful hearts.  The first time we deliberately sin it bothers us.  The next time?  Not so much.  And God’s plan is to remove that callous and make us responsive to His ways. He will do it so we can live!  How will He do it?  God gave another glimpse to Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezkiel 36:26-27)

When God causes His Spirit to be born into a calloused heart, He lives there softening and removing that tough, unresponsive exterior. This “reborn” heart becomes responsive to God. 

Jesus promised to give new life to anyone who trusts Him, through the birth of God’s Spirit in their hearts.  Their sins are forgiven, their souls are cleansed and they receive God’s Spirit.  Ultimately, the cycle of failure is broken.  They are set free.  

Mo and Zeke saw it coming.

Check His ID

They were short-handed that night, so my boss ask me to check IDs at the club where I was running the sound. It was in that capacity that I refused to let a man in without an ID who later turned out to be the owner of the club. He got over it, but at first he was pretty upset.Two of the saddest verses in the New Testament say this:

He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to

 that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

 (John 1:10-11)

Imagine Frank Lloyd Wright being turned away from a house that he had designed and built. I’m trying to imagine how much patience it took for Jesus to put up with being turned away by people who had no idea He had designed and built all of reality.  But it was those people who missed out.  Big time.  

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12)

The only thing that matters about this now is whether  you can identify Jesus and let Him in.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.  (Revelation 3:20)

Thirsty 

Beer makes you thirsty.  Maybe that’s why they sell so much of it.  Same thing with pop.  If you are really thirsty, drink pure water.  When it comes to spiritual thirst, a lot of things people try act a lot like beer.  They taste good, feel good, but don’t really fix the thirst.  I’m speaking from personal experience.  Because spiritual thirst is common to all humans, there is no shortage of various “spiritual beverages” being peddled.  But if you really want to fix the thirst, fill your cup from the the Son of God.  He will give you the Spirit of God. 

As Jesus told the woman at the well, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:13b-14)