Posts Tagged With: belief

John 20: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Back in college, I studied the Gospel of John with Jim Woodroof, an fantastic speaker and an even better man.  In that course, we read a book he had written about the Fourth Gospel called Between the Rock and A Hard Place.  The basic premise of the book, as I recall, was that Jesus is consistently portrayed in John as one who places people “between a rock and a hard place” so as produce a decision of faith in their life.  Jesus desired to bring people to rock solid faith in him but first they had to have reason to believe.

As was discussed in the introduction to John, one of John’s greatest goals with his book was to help people come to believe in Jesus.  This is the “gospel of belief,” as our other textbook called John.  We see a statement of this goal at the end of our chapter today, in what for many is the purpose statement of this gospel:

Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which aren’t written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe that the Messiah, the son of God is none other than Jesus; and that, with this faith, you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

Belief, though, is easily squashed by doubt and alternate explanation.  As long as one can explain the deeds of Jesus in some other way, faith can be deferred.

My professor’s point was that over and over again we see Jesus doing things that could only be explained by him being divine.  He can tell the Samaritan woman details about her love-life.  He can heal a man born blind.  Jesus walks up and paralysis is gone.  Thousands of people eat a full meal from five loaves and two fish.  This was the “hard place.”  There people stood between the hard place of trying to explain away the inexplicable or the rock solid faith that can come through a belief in Jesus.  Either Jesus is divine as he says or there is some naturalistic explanation for what has just happened, but what that could be?  Could it be that Jesus is God is the easiest explanation?

I see this dynamic happening three times in John 20.

  1. It all comes to a head for the “other disciple” — who most people think is John — when he runs into the empty tomb and sees the grave cloths all neatly folded up.  This can’t be explained away, and it made everything else make sense for him (20:8-9)
  2. Mary sees a man she thinks is the gardener, a stranger to her. But when he can call her by name, she realizes Jesus was more than just a man. (20:16)
  3. Thomas can’t believe that Jesus could be back from the dead.  That is until he puts his fingers in Jesus’ wounds and can’t deny the facts. (20:25-28)

The best ending to this post would be these words of Jesus from today’s reading:

Is it because you’ve seen me that you believe?  God’s blessing on people who don’t see, and yet believe. (20:29)

What did you see today?

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John 4: Moving into The Deep End

“If only you’d known God’s gift,” replied Jesus, “and who it is that’s saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you’d have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“But sir,” replied the woman, “you haven’t got a bucket!  And the well’s deep!  So how were you thinking of getting living water?” (4:10-11)

Jesus meets a Samaritan woman of questionable character in this chapter and by the end of the chapter he has moved her from the surface of life to a place of much deeper understanding.  She is only thinking of literal water.  Not to fault her.  I would imagine we would have been thinking that too.  But Jesus seizing the opportunity to show her that her greatest need was for something much more fulfilling than the water of this well.  Or the love of a man.  She needs an eternal source of life and enduring love.  What she needs Jesus has.

I am seeing that this is a common technique for John’s Jesus.  He did the same with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  They start talking about birth and all Nicodemus can think of is physical birth.  So when Jesus talks about being “born again” or “born anew” this sounds ridiculous to the Pharisee.  How is that even possible?  But Jesus moves Nicodemus deeper into spiritual truth: babies are born but then they live and die; people who are reborn spiritually will never die.

Jesus will do the same with the crowd in chapter 6.  Early in that chapter Jesus feeds the enormous crowd with only a few fish and a handful of rolls.  Of course this crowd begins to follow Jesus closely.  There is free food wherever Jesus is.  Who wouldn’t follow?  Knowing that the crowd is using him for the food, Jesus pushes them deeper into spiritual truth.  It is not literal bread they need; they need to feast on the “bread” of his own life.  They need to “feast” on him.  They don’t just need that which sustains physical life; they need that which keeps the spirit alive.

John’s Jesus is intensely interested in taking us out into deeper waters.  There is that thing we think we need from Jesus, that thing we think we can give Jesus, that thing we think we understand already.  Jesus is interested in taking us further.

When was a time you realized you needed something much deeper than the surface object you were seeking?

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John 3: Rejection Not Ignorance

When a person wants to give the world the message that God is for people not against them, they often go to John 3:16-17 to make the point.  That is why this passage is so popular.

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age.  After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved by him. (3:16-17)

Nevertheless, twice this passage is also very clear that what one chooses to do with Jesus is a life or death decision.

Anyone who believes in him is not condemned.  But anyone who doesn’t believe is condemned already, because they didn’t believe in the name of God’s only, special son. (3:18)

Anyone who believes in the son shares in the life of God’s new age.  Anyone who doesn’t believe in the son won’t see life, but God’s wrath rests on him. (3:36)

I was struck, though, by the emphasis that was placed on the fact that condemnation comes to those who actively reject Jesus.

And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because what they were doing was evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light; people like that don’t come to the light, in case their deeds get shown up and reproved. (3:19-20)

Jesus is presented to these people in a clear fashion, they are presented with a choice to follow him or not, and they choose not to, often because an undesirable lifestyle will be necessary.  However, rejection is simply not the same as ignorance.  We are not talking about people who do not know who Jesus truly is.  That is a different matter entirely.

What caught your eye today?

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John 2: Seeing Is Believing

I see a main point developing in John’s gospel.

This event, in Cana of Galilee, was the first of Jesus’s signs.  He displayed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. (2:11)

While he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, several people came to trust in his name, because they had seen the signs he did. (2:23)

Add this verse from chapter 1:

Wait a minute,” said Jesus.  “Are you [Nathanael] telling me that you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?  You’ll see a lot more than that!” (1:50)

For John, at least at this point and in some way, seeing is believing.  When faith is involved, we all know that is not always the case, but John seems to be asserting this truth.  As previously noted, there are not as many miracles or “signs” in John as are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels.  But John sure gets a lot of mileage out of the signs he does include.  Remember the Gospel of John has a strong evangelistic purpose; he is trying to produce faith in people, seemingly from the reading of this gospel.  He will play up the signs as evidence that Jesus is not just another wise teacher or good man.  I am sure we will see much more on this idea as we read along this month.

What did you notice in this chapter? 

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1 Corinthians 15: YOLO?

“YOLO!”

Have you heard this slogan?

“You only live once!”  YOLO, in short form.

I am hearing it more and more.  The younger the person I talk to the more likely I am to hear it.  I hear it used to encourage doing something great with one’s life, and also to justify immense stupidity.  What troubles me is that I am also hearing the same thinking coming from some of the Christians I know.  It is not always said outright, but the implications are often there.

You only live once — so we better live it up now.

You only live once — so you better be happy now.

You only live once — so you only get one chance to do it right.

You only live once — so do all you have to do to stay alive.

You only live once — so death is worst of all fates.

The problem, of course, is that it is not true.  It is not biblical.  It is not congruent with the gospel of Jesus.  We live twice.  And the second life goes on forever.  That’s a pretty big difference!  (So would that be YOLT?)

Oddly, in this very religious (though not very loving) Corinthian church, there existed some Christians who also believed you only lived once.

How can some of you say that there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead? (15:12b)

Paul is beside himself.  How can a Christian believe that?  The entire worldview of Christianity hinges on resurrection.  It doesn’t make sense and is a colossal waste of time if there is no resurrection of the dead.

For if the dead aren’t raised, the Messiah wasn’t raised either; and if the Messiah wasn’t raised, your faith is pointless, and you are still in your sins.  What’s more, people who have fallen asleep in the Messiah have perished for good.  If it’s only for this present life that we have put our hope in the Messiah, we are the most pitiable members of the human race. (15:16-19)

If dead people stay dead, then Jesus was not resurrected.  If Jesus was not resurrected, sin was not fully conquered and death was not dealt with at all.  There is a force greater than God — death.  If these are true, the entire gospel is a farce.  The system of beliefs is nonsense.  We are living on false hope, and deserve the labels of “ignorant” we sometimes receive.  We are missing out and ought to say instead, “Let’s eat and drink, because tomorrow we’re going to die!” (15:32)

A study for “The Resurrection” by Michelangelo

But death is not the end.  Read that again, if you need to.  That is a core belief.  We are headed to death.  We cannot live this life forever.  Cancer and heart attacks and horrible accidents are a reality of the “decaying” life, as Paul calls it in this chapter. But whatever happens that ends this life is not the end.  Do we really believe it?  It is fundamental.

Death is swallowed up in victory!  Death, where’s your victory gone?  Death, where’s your sting gone? (15:54b-55)

Thank God!  He gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus the Messiah. (15:57)

What caught your eye in this long chapter?

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Luke 24: But God Wins in The End!

Some times, yes, evil wins the day. . . . But let there be no question, God will win the war.  When all is said and done, God will vanquish all forces of evil and disorder and disease that stand against him.

Why do I believe that?  Where is the proof?  Is that only wishful thinking?

The women went to the tomb in the very early morning of the first day of the week, carrying the spices they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.  As they were at a loss what to make of it all, suddenly two men in shining clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified, and bowed their faces toward the ground.  But then men said to them, “Why look for the living with the dead?  He isn’t here — he been raised!” (24:1-6a)

The God who conquered sin, death, Satan, and evil that Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb is the same God we worship today.  No gangbanger, meth head, anti-government bomber, terrorist, deranged loner with a handgun, social injustice, prejudice, disease, depression, addiction, lack of love, selfishness or anything else will win the last day.  God wins.  Love wins.  New Creation wins.

That’s the Story, and I believe it.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of Luke?  

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Romans 11: The Powerful, Fair Promise-Keeper

Romans 9-11 is certainly on my list of the top five most difficult passages.  Maybe top three.  So I don’t feel like I have much to offer today.  But I guess that is another benefit to a comprehensive reading plan: you can’t avoid hard passages!

Here are the two main points I gather from the chapter:

1. God can do what He wants:

Paul describes God as having at that time a “remnant” of faithful Jews that He has chosen by grace (11:5-6).  At the same time God hardens the hearts of other Jews so as to open a door for Gentiles (11:7-9, 25).  Then God uses this influx of Gentiles to drawn back Jews through jealousy (11:12).  But the Gentile Christians in Rome should bear in mind that the same God who cut off Jews because of unbelief can do the same to Gentiles who get a big head and stumble (11:20).  This is a very active, sovereign view of God.

Vincent van Gogh, “Olive Trees”

2. But God is more than fair:

This second point ameliorates any anxiety about such a high degree of divine control that the first point may bring.  The central question of the chapter is stated in the first sentence: “Has God abandoned his people [the Jews]?”  The resounding answer throughout the chapter is “no” (11:2).  Even those Jews who had “tripped up” presumably by unbelief will not have “fall[en] completely” (11:11).  God wants to use Jewish jealousy to save Gentiles (11:14), and if those Jews return to belief they can be grafted back into God’s olive tree (11:23).  In what might be the biggest statement of God’s extravagant kindness, 11:28-29 seems to suggest that God will even honor his promises to the Jewish patriarchs to Jews who were still choosing not to believe.  God will keep his promises, even if they don’t.  We can rest assured that God will assert his power in a manner that is exborinantly fair.  

What struck you in this chapter?

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James 2: Doing Faith & Love

“Talk is cheap” is what they say, and today James enthusiastically agrees.

“Love” is a lot of things, but let there be no mistake, love is active.  Love is a verb.  Love is something you do.

So too is “faith.”  We may “believe” certain things to be true.  We might give “mental ascent” to a concept.  We can even intellectualize fine sounding arguments for why something is true (like a lot of things on this very blog, right?).  But until action is added into the mix, what we have isn’t “faith.”  Faith is something you do.

You keep the royal law, as it is written, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”; if you do this, you will do well. (2:8)

Supposing a brother or sister is without clothing, and is short even of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; be warm, be full!” — but doesn’t give them what their bodies need — what use is that?  In the same way, faith, all by itself and without works, is dead. (2:15-17)

Since the beginning of humanity’s relationship with God there have been people who have focused only on what one does.  This compartmentalization can be convenient.  We get to lay out the right way to live and once we have accomplished that we can pat ourselves on our self-assured backs.  There have also been people who have focused on what one believes.  One, therefore, does not have to worry about how those beliefs should shape one’s actions.  We get to go about life our way not getting too involved in other people’s problems nor letting our religious views interfere with the rest of our life.

Both of those extremes are problematic.  Focus on “doing” and it becomes easy to think you have done it all.  This becomes a religion of self-reliance and that which only God can do is forgotten.  Focus on “believing” and it becomes easy to think God has done it all.  That can easily become a religion of complacent “cheap grace” and our role is forgotten.

People have noted that the views of Paul and James seem to be at odds, especially when you talk about the role of faith and works in salvation.  But could the solution to this perception be this simple?  Paul was talking to people who overemphasized actions to the point where grace and the need for Jesus had been eliminated (like what we saw in Galatians).  James was addressing people on the other end of the spectrum who were quick to tell you about their great faith (2:18-19) but didn’t do much to show it (2:15-16).  When dealing with people holding extreme views, you play up the part they are neglecting in order that they may come back to the middle where all parts are present and appreciated.  Had we an opportunity to talk to Paul and James together and ask them about their own personal views on faith and works maybe we would find they actually held very similar views.  And both would likely remind us that over and above this whole conversation about faith and works we have to remember that the Spirit works through us, so without the Spirit our works don’t amount to much.

In today’s passage James describes “faith” as something that has to have belief (2:19) and works (2:18) in order to be alive (2:17, 20, 26), full (2:22), and justifying (2:24).  Belief by itself is not enough; works by themselves are not enough.  Maybe for too long our definition of faith has been too small.  Faith and works aren’t two separate things.  “Faith” only exists when works are present.  In other words faith is this larger idea that contains the smaller component we call works.  Belief would be another component as well.  Bottomline, James reminds us that faith is something we do.

Likewise, love is more than just a feeling that creates actions, as if love and actions are separate things.  “Love” has within it feelings, but also actions.  It is not enough to feel some sort of fellowship with people who calls themselves Christians.  One has to allow those feelings to shape our actions, for instance, in such a way that favoritism is banished from the way we deal with others (2:1-10).  We are loving when we do love to others.  Until we treat our neighbors like we would want to be treat we have no business claiming to be loving (2:8).  Love is something we do.

What do you think?  

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