Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” JOHN 10:31-33
To the Jews Jesus' statement that he and the Father were one was blasphemy. The Jewish law laid down the penalty of stoning for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16). So they made their preparations to stone Jesus. The Greek here literally means that they went and fetched stones to fling at him. Jesus met their hostility by refreshing their memory of reality:
He told them that he had spent all of his days doing heavenly things—healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving—deeds so full of help and beauty and grace that they obviously came from God. For which of these did they wish to stone him? Their answer was that it was not for anything he had done, that they wished to stone him, but for the claim he was making.
Jesus claimed primarily two things for himself: He was 'consecrated' by God and 'sent' by God into the world with a message of good news and the task of reconciliation; "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them" (see II Corinthians 5:18-20).
I am not asking you to accept all of my words, Jesus said in effect, but I do ask you to accept my good deeds. A 'word' is something which people can argue about; but a 'deed' is something beyond argument. Jesus is the perfect teacher in that he does not base his claims only on what he says, but on what he is and does. His invitation to the Jews was to base their verdict on him, not on what he said, but on what he did; and that, my friends, is something which all of Jesus' followers should be willing to do—build God's kingdom with good deeds, not just with words. Amen.
"If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace." - Thomas Merton.
Once upon a time a person who was tired of the frantic pace of city life gave up his job, sold his apartment, and moved into a small cabin in the woods. They wanted to find the peace of mind that eluded them in the city. For a few weeks, he thought he had found contentment, but soon he began to miss his friends and the conveniences of the city. When his restlessness got the best of him, he felt the urge to move again.
This time he decided to try a small town. There would be people with whom to talk, and he could enjoy the convenience of the city without the pressure of the noise and the constant "hurry, hurry' city atmosphere. Surely, in this best of both worlds small town, he would find peace. Life in the small town, however, brought unanticipated problems. People were slow to accept an outsider, yet they seemed quick and aggressive when it came to prying into his personal affairs. Again the man grew restless and discontented and concluded that it was not possible to find peace anywhere. So he moved back to the city, convinced he must live a life of inner turmoil.
This unfortunate man could have benefited from an important truth realized by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." Emerson understood that inner peace does not depend on where you live - true peace is a quality you carry within yourself regardless of external circumstances.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - Jesus Christ.
We all have fears of different sizes and shapes, and it is important to learn what they are and face them directly. Courage overcomes the feeling of helplessness and encourages us to think clearly and take action in any given situation. When we increase our understanding of ourself and others, fear and hatred are much less likely to take root.
We tend to fear the unknown. If we choose to remain in fear, then one fear can lead to another fear, which will only lead to additional fears. If we constantly live in a fearful state, there will always be something to be afraid of. "He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear." - French proverb.
Most fears are educated into us. The good news - they can also be educated out of us! “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when people are afraid of the light.” - Plato.
Perhaps one fear you may be dealing with is a lack of the awareness of the presence of God in your life? The good news - as we read and learn more and more about the promises of God found in scripture we begin to realize God 'is' actively present in our lives, and many aspects of our fears (hopefully) will disappear into the mists of the unreal. Like a snowball dropped into a pail of hot water, fear dissolves, and is replaced with reinforced faith.
Twenty-nine Bible verses about fear: (click here)
"The way of a superior person is threefold. Virtuous, they are free from anxieties; wise, they are free from perplexities; bold, they are free from fear." - Confucius
Aristotle sees ethical theory as a field distinct from the rest. Its methodology must match its subject matter—good action—and must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being.
Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato's idea that to be completely virtuous one must acquire, through education in the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy, an understanding of what goodness is.
What we need, according to Aristotle, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such things as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and possessions fit together as a whole.
In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through our upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.
~ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In a culture where fast food restaurants dominate the landscape, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times. The marketing menu fed to us today has convinced us that if we do not have three square meals each and every day (with snacks in between) we are on the verge of starvation.
Scripture has so much to say about fasting that we would do well to look seriously at this ancient practice. The list of biblical ‘biggies’ who fasted: Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, Jesus… many of the great Christians throughout church history fasted: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards…
Fasting is not an exclusively Christian Discipline. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle all fasted. Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed in fasting. More than any other single Christian Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other comforts, but, while fasting, what is beneath will surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10).
Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. “All things are allowed for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). Outwardly you will be performing the regular duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer.
Fasting can bring breakthroughs in your spiritual journey that could never be had in any other way. Values of fasting include: increased effectiveness in prayer, guidance in decisions, improved focus, answers, greater sense of well-being, and the list goes on.
~ Food for Thought: Lent
Hebrews 11:1-2 "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for."
The two key words here are sure and certain. Faith is about being sure and certain of something. This raises the question at the heart of the confusion often surrounding the topic of faith: Sure and certain about what?
Fortunately, the author of Hebrews (whose identity is a mystery) answers that question in no uncertain terms. Interestingly enough, he introduces his explanation in this way: "This is what the ancients were commended for." This refers to faith. The people whose stories the author is about to recount were all men and women who had faith; they were sure and certain about something. They were sure and certain about the right things. As the author recites the experiences of some of our favorite Bible characters, along with some of the most spectacular events recorded in Scripture, it becomes evident why the ancient men and women were so sure and certain. Furthermore, the author gives us some unmistakable clues about the things we can be sure and certain about.
The author begins with the creation story and moves right on through the story of Abraham. The author takes us on a historical journey through the life of Moses including the parting of the Red Sea. The author speaks about Joshua, Gideon, David, and Samuel. Each person's life is associated with "by faith." But something else is associated with each of these characters in Hebrews chapter 11. In some cases it is stated outright. In others it is merely implied. That something else is a promise. The men and women were so certain and sure because each had received a promise from God. They were confident that God would do exactly what God promised. And that is the essence of faith. Faith and the promises of God go hand in hand. Where there is no promise, there can be no faith—only hope. The basis of Abraham and Sarah's faith, for example, was the promise of God. They believed they would have a child in their old age because God promised they would (Heb. 11:11). Their faith followed a promise. Every person mentioned in this chapter was given a promise of some kind.
Faith, then, is confidence in the promises of God; or to say it another way, faith is being confident God will do what God has promised. "Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading." - Oswald Chambers.
‘O DREARY life,’ we cry, ‘O dreary life!’
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven's true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle! ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards
Unweary sweep,—hills watch, unworn; and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees,
To show above the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory. O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these!--
But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
1 Peter 2:16 "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves."
Paul tells the Galatians that they "were called to be free," but they must not use that freedom as an excuse for the flesh to do as it wills (see Galatians 5:13). In 2 Peter we read of those who promise others freedom but are themselves servants of corruption (2 Peter 2:19). Here, in First Peter, again we are reminded of the doctrine of Christian freedom (also translated 'liberty'); that of all the theological twisting and turning we Christians like to do, this one, the doctrine concerning freedom, is the one that must never be distorted, perverted, or misused.
Biblical scholar, David W. J. Gill, put it like this: "Christian freedom is always stipulated by Christian responsibility. Christian responsibility is always stipulated by Christian love. Christian love is always to be a reflection of God's love."
The Christian is free because he is the slave of God. Christian freedom means being free to do, not as we like, but as we ought. Christians are strangers in the world insofar as it is sinful. Yet citizens of the world recognize a basic goodness, and Christians should live by the 'good' standards of the world. In this way they may hope to lead others to recognize and submit to God's grace-saving, life-giving goodness.
"God's slaves" are slaves to doing good. The underlying Greek here (as well as in vs. 17) appears to be a unique command in the New Testament because it is not confined to honoring only fellow-Christians. Indeed the context makes it clear that Peter means people outside the church. They are not to be despised because they are not believers, nor hated because they are different, nor treated with contempt because they are of lower rank or status, but, as "God's slaves" we are commanded to honor and respect everyone (see 1 Peter 2:17).
Deuteronomy 30:16-20 "For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him."
The name of the book, Deuteronomy, literally means “second law”, but it is not a new law. Nor is it simply a rehash of the first law. It is a re-giving of the first law from Sinai, but something different is at play. Deuteronomy does not simply repeat the Ten Commandments or the holiness codes; it seems to have an entirely different agenda. It’s not new, but it’s not a repeat. Deuteronomy is interpretive. It is “preached law”. It’s the old law for a new context.
Time and again Moses found himself in a new context, in unchartered territory trying to lead God's people. In our text Moses finds himself standing on the far side of the Jordan River, waiting to cross over, preparing to give his last sermon to his people. In fact, Moses is about to deliver some of the last words spoken just before his death.
Think about the importance of that moment. The Israelites had just emerged from the rule of a brutal dictator, wandered in the desert for forty days and nights, and were now standing on the shores of the Promised Land. It was a second chance, a new day for their people. On this historic occasion, Moses preaches a fiery message to his people, ending with one of the best big bring-it-home sermon lines of all time: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
Let's look at that sentence a little closer, because I believe it contains one of the core principles of Christianity. Choose life, Moses said. While doing some research I came across a short story. It's about a friend of the commentator, who was about to commit suicide, and decided instead to open her Bible, at random, and found this passage. When she read, “Choose life”, she decided to do so, and claims she is only alive because of this passage of scripture. The commentator of course says that this isn’t the primary model of how to approach scripture, but it does go a long way to show us what is at stake in our text today.
Our passage here is about choosing God—for the sake of our future, for the sake of our children's future, for the sake of the world’s future. The decision Moses is demanding of Israel is the decision Scripture elsewhere calls faith. Part of what Moses is saying here is: The people can choose to obey God's law or not obey it - there is no middle ground offered. You're either for God, or against him. You're either in-Christ, or you're not.
The New Testament confirms this concept in 1 John 2:6, where the writer says, "By this we know we are in Him: whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked." So, in his last sermon, first and foremost, Moses reminds the people that they can worship the Lord or they can worship something else - and there are plenty of other idols out there in the world to worship. What they must not do, however, is worship the Lord and something else. For to worship anything other than God is to "turn away" from the Lord. (vs. 17)
Either God is the one and only God, or you are worshipping one of the other little gods and goddesses. Choose the God who has lead you to the promised land, Moses is saying, not the crazy idols the Canaanites worship in the land where the children of Israel were headed. As Moses warned earlier in Deuteronomy 29:17, "You have seen their filthy idols of wood and stone, of silver and of gold. And it may be that there is among you...someone whose heart is already turning away." In other words, stay away from all the other idols and everything will be just fine.
That is good advice for us too. We may not have a giant golden calf in our home but we do have things that we idolize or covet or prioritize over God's teachings; it happens to the best of us, we are human, but sadly it happens more often in our world today than it should. We all have our golden calf (things we think give us life and joy and sustenance). But Moses tells us that these things do not lead to life. That in fact they can lead to destruction. Idols can be powerful, controlling, influential things.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5).
The salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time?
In this text Peter mentions two concepts, two ideas that existed in the environmental fabric of New Testament thinking. The New Testament frequently speaks of the last days, or the last time. The background of this thinking comes primarily from the Jewish idea of time. According to the biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, the Jewish mindset divided all time into two ages. There was this present age, which is altogether bad and altogether under the dominion of evil; and there was the age to come, which will be the golden age of God. In between there was the day of the Lord during which the world would be destroyed and remade, and when judgment would come.
It is this "in-between-time" which is the last days, or the last time. When the New Testament speaks of the last days and the last time, it is speaking of that time when time and the world as we know them will come to an end. Simply put: Christ will return, time will end, the judgment has come (John 5:28-29). We must always remember that no one, no matter how religious or intelligent they seem, knows when that time will be, nor what will actually happen. But we can gather together what the New Testament does say about the last times.
The early Christians believed that they were already living in the last days. "It is the last time," said John to his people (I John 2:18). The writer of Hebrews speaks of the fullness of the revelation which has come, in the last days, through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). As the first Christians saw it, God had already invaded time, and the end was quickening. The last times were to be times of the pouring out of God's Spirit upon men (Acts 2:17). Yet another prophecy the early Christians found true on the day of Pentecost.
We have been living, you see, in the last days for over two thousand years now; faithfully waiting for the return of the Lord that "will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). And it is that, and nothing less than that, to which Christians should focus attention when discussing and considering the end times. Salvation (in Christ) has been revealed to the world and has given us, in this last time, a living hope—an inheritance kept in heaven for you (and me). Amen!
Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deut. 15:11)
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Phil. 2:4)
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back. (Proverbs 19:17)
Be generous and share your food with the poor. You will be blessed for it. (Proverbs 22:9)
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. (1 John 4:20)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:34)
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)
Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. (Luke 3:11)
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)
Parable of the Good Samaritan... and Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
Do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend orphans and widows. (Isaiah 1:17)
If anyone is poor among you...do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deut. 15:7)
Show mercy and compassion to one another... Do not oppress the foreigner or the poor. (Zech. 7:9-10)
The Lord upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12)
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
I would not be surprised if you've never thought of it like this before, but from the beginning of time it has been man's first instinct to blame others for his own wrong doing. The story of the first sin in the Garden of Eden was, from a certain perspective, a first class dive into the psychology of the human heart.
When God challenged Adam with his sin, Adam's reply was, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12-13). In other words, Adam was saying, "Don't blame me; blame Eve." And Eve was saying, "Don't blame me; blame the serpent." Since the beginning, we have been experts in evasion of responsibility.
Every trial, every external difficulty, carries with it a temptation, an inner enticement to sin. God may bring, or allow, trials; but he is not, James insists, the author of temptation. Enticement to sin comes from our own sinful natures, not from God. 'Sin,' declared G. K. Chesterton, 'is the most demonstrable of all Christian doctrines.' What he meant by that was, we do not need to prove the doctrine of original sin—the evidence is all around us!
James' concern here is to help the followers of Christ resist the temptation that comes along with the trial. For every trial brings temptation. Financial difficulty can tempt us to question God's providence in our lives. The death of a loved one can tempt us to question God's love for us. The suffering of the righteous poor and the lavish lifestyles of the wicked rich can tempt us to question God's justice, or even his existence.
It was not God who wished to do evil to Job, but the devil. “All right,” the Lord said to Satan, “everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself” (Job 1:12). Therefore rather than blame God (who gives only good gifts, James 1:17), Christians should look within at their own desires, which make them vulnerable to testing and temptation. God never orchestrates the events of our lives with an intent to lure us away from Himself. He always roots for us to move closer. That's who God is. The purpose of trials is not to drive us away from God, but to draw us closer to Him. In Jesus' name. Amen.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance; and let perseverance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
What were the "trials" that James's readers were enduring? Poverty must certainly have been among them. James's letter is filled with references to poverty and wealth, and he makes clear that at least the majority of his readers are poor. James 2:6-7 makes pretty clear that unfair persecution was one of the causes of the poverty that the early Christians were experiencing. Rich people, who were "slandering" the name of Christ, were "exploiting" the Christians and "dragging them into court." See also 5:1-6, where James accuses rich people of "hoarding wealth in the last days" and "killing" the "innocent" by withholding wages from them.
By stressing that the trials were of "many kinds," James deliberately casts his net widely, including the many kinds of suffering that Christians undergo in this fallen world: sickness, loneliness, disappointment, mourning, uncertainty. Why can believers react to trials with so strange and unexpected a response as joy? Because we know that trials perfect our faith and make us stronger.
I like what Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, points out about the trials we face: "The difficulties of life are intended by God to refine our faith—heating it in the crucible of suffering so that impurities might be refined away and so that it might become pure and valuable before the Lord." The "testing of faith" here, then, is not intended to determine whether a person has faith or not—it is intended to purify faith that already exists.
Testing produces, first of all, perseverance (also interpreted "patient endurance"). The picture of the Greek word here is of a person successfully carrying a heavy load for a long time; eventually steering
them in the right direction. Like a muscle that becomes strong when it faces resistance, so Christians learn to remain faithful to God over the long haul when they face trials of many kinds.
James believes we should rejoice because trials give us an opportunity to develop the virtue of "patient endurance," which will in turn lead to a mature and complete Christian character. This is how Christians are to live. This is not to say that we cannot call pain, pain; difficulty, difficulty. Paul makes it very clear that he could recognize pain, call it what it is, and experience it with the full depth of human anguish (1 Cor. 4:9-13). He also left us the example of fleeing from persecution when it was appropriate (Acts 17:10-14). Yet even in such situations he, with James, could look beyond them to "an eternal glory that far outweighs them all—reminding us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
The surest way to suppress our ability to recognize the revelation of God is to take things for granted. Indifference to the divine mystery of life is perhaps our greatest shortfall. As civilization continues to advance our sense of wonder continues to decline. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our shortsighted, mortal condition.
Modern society will not perish from a lack of information, but from a lack of compassion.
The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without God is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to dig deeper - to go the extra mile - to seek until we find - to sincerely search for whatever it is we lack. Awareness of God's divine presence begins with faith and wonder. It is the result of what a person does on the inside. "The kingdom of God is within." (Luke 17:21)
The greatest hindrance to such awareness, to discovering the kingdom within, is our lack of motivation to learn more, our failed attempts to understand more, and our inability to pray more.
J. E. Royle
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:1-9).
Paul has just been talking about the difference between the person who is spiritual, and who can therefore understand spiritual truths, and the person whose interests and aims and ideas do not go beyond earthly and physical life; one who is unable to grasp spiritual truth.
He now accuses the Corinthians of being still at the earthly and physical stage. The fault that Paul find with the Corinthians is not that they are made of flesh—all people are—but that they have allowed this lower side of their nature to dominate all their outlook and all their actions.
What is the proof of that? What is it about their life and conduct that makes Paul hurl such a rebuke at them? The proof is their spiritual strife, their factions, their divisions. This is extremely significant because it means that you can tell what a person's relationship with God is by looking at a person's relationship they have with others.
If a person is distant from others it is a good possibility that that person is distant from God. If a person persistently sows seeds of division it is a good possibility that that person is divided from God. If a person loves God wholeheartedly they will love others unconditionally.
We have always to remember that God may use human vessels to bring to others the message of Christ's truth and love; but it is God alone who lifts the hearts of people to new life. As God alone created the heart, so God alone can re-create it.
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:7-8)
John speaks here about a commandment which is at one and the same time an old commandment and a new commandment. What is the old commandment of which John speaks? It was old in the sense that it is already there in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18 the Law says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The commandment already existed in ancient Law. It was old in the sense that this was not the first time that John's hearers had heard it.
But this commandment was new in that it had been raised to a completely new standard in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It could be argued that people did not really know what unconditional love was until they saw it in Jesus. A hamburger can become a new thing to a person when they taste it after it has been prepared by a master chef. A piece of music can become a new thing when orchestrated by a master conductor. An old thing can become a new experience in the hands of a master. And love became new in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus love became new in the extent to which it reached. In Jesus love reached out to the sinner and the outcast. Love became new in Jesus because He widened its boundaries until there were none outside its embrace. In Jesus love became new in the lengths to which it would go. Nothing anyone could ever do to Him could turn Jesus' love to hate. He could even pray for the mercy of God on those who were nailing him to the Cross.
In Jesus love reached a standard which it had never reached before, and it is by that standard that Christians far and wide are commanded to follow.
The theme of theology is the content of believing; the theme of depth theology is the act of believing, its purpose being to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out of which belief arises. It deals with acts which precede articulation and defy definition.
Theology speaks for the people; depth theology speaks for the individual. Theology strives for communication, for universality; depth theology strives for insight, for uniqueness. Theology is like a sculpture, depth theology is like music. Theology is found in books; depth theology is found in hearts. The former is doctrine, the latter an event. Theologies divide us; depth theology unites us.
Depth theology seeks to meet the person in moments in which the whole person is involved, in moments which are affected by all a person thinks, feels and acts. It draws upon that which happens to man in moments of confrontation with ultimate reality. It is in such moments that decisive insights are born.
The insights of depth theology are vague; they often defy formulation and expression. It is the task of theology to establish the doctrines, to bring about coherence, and to find words compatible with the insights. On the other hand, theological doctrines tend to move on their own momentum, to become a substitute for insight, informative rather than evocative. We must see to it that each has an independent status, a power and efficacy of its own which enables it to contribute something in the cooperation.
And yet man has often made a god out of a dogma, a graven image which he worshiped, to which he prayed. He would rather believe in dogmas than in God, serving them not for the sake of heaven but for the sake of a creed, the diminutive of faith. The vitality of religion depends upon keeping alive the polarity of doctrine and insight, of dogma and faith, of ritual and response, of institution and the individual.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel
"The words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
It may well be that from a Jewish perspective this was the most startling thing Jesus ever said. For in this saying he does not only condemn Scribal and Pharisaic ritual and ceremonial religion: Jesus actually wipes out large sections of the book of Leviticus. This saying of Jesus cancels all the food laws of the Old Testament.
Once and for all Jesus lays it down that what matters is not the state of a person's ritual observance, but the state of a person's heart.
No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet. This statement was not simply alarming; it was revolutionary! If Jesus was right, their whole concept of religion was wrong.
They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations which had to do with cleanness and with uncleanness, with what a person ate and with how they washed their hands before eating; Jesus identified religion with the state of a person's heart, and said bluntly that these Pharisaic and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we ritually do, but what is in our heart of hearts. It is Jesus' teaching (and it is a teaching which confronts every one of us) that no person can call themselves good because they observe external rituals; only when a person's heart is pure can they entertain such a thought. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God... (Luke 6:20)
To feel good about yourself in Jesus' time, you needed to be wise, rich, and pure in your detailed observance of the law. These were the paramount values of his society. To be such meant to enjoy the proper status deserved by a full Israelite. It demonstrated that you had been blessed by God and were pleasing to him.
Jesus, however, turned all these values upside down. Jesus took a little child and had him stand beside him to show that the greatest was the least (Luke 9:47-48). He rejoiced that God had hidden his truths from the wise and revealed them to little children (10:21). The first will be last and the last first (13:30). He who exalts himself will be humbled and the humble will be exalted (14:11). Purity of heart which was in the reach of everyone's wallet replaced ritual purity which only the rich could afford.
These are the values of the kingdom. They are not the values of the world. They are shown in Jesus—who welcomed children—who ate with sinners—who entered Jerusalem on a colt—who renounced class, power, and domination. And among these great reversals Jesus included the reversal 'Blessed are you who are poor'.
The New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie points out that this is the first statement in all literature that calls the poor blessed. Jesus contradicts the view that riches were a sign that one was blessed by God. He sees rather that riches were a very likely sign that one had ignored the needs of the poor (Luke 12:20-21; 16:19-26).
The poor are blessed not because poverty is a charmed state, but because the kingdom of God is for them too (of course the kingdom is for everyone). But Jesus means that the changes that the kingdom of God brings will be of such special relevance and blessing to the poor that what it means for them will define its meaning for everyone. To truly feel good about yourself, we must die a death to the false teachings of the world, and instead devote ourselves to the teachings of the Lord.
Hope is an inside job. In order to keep hope alive, it's extremely important that we monitor what we allow ourselves to see, hear and feel, especially in regards to the media. Because our subconscious minds accept as real not only our personal experiences but also those we watch or imagine vividly, it's up to us to choose mindfully and wisely what we watch and read.
Because images imprint deeply, the alarming pictures and commentary favored by the media can act as an emotional acid, etching the pain and suffering we witness into our own psyches. Such images can pull the plug on our reserves of hope. Limiting your exposure to sensationalism of all kinds is wise. Allow yourself to be as informed as you feel the need but do not allow yourself to become deformed by overexposure.
Hope is so important because it's the proverbial light at the end of any dark tunnel encountered. Hope is the ballast that keeps you moving forward and helps you to continue to believe in beauty, love, and survival, even when your personal waters are incredibly rough. With hope, it is easier to keep your head above water while navigating stormy seas. Hope has the power to make everyday life much brighter and more joyful.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).
~ Sue Patton Thoele
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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