Thursday, March 24, 2011

Abide, remain, dwell, stick to and other synonyms...

I was asked a question this week by a member of my congregation about John 8, a passage I preached from a couple weeks ago. Her question was specifically about v31 and what it means to abide. John 8:31-32 reads "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in 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.” (ESV)  She had looked it up in the dictionary and found "to wait, to stay, to remain stable"

It is a reminder of two things 1) the Bible is not originally written in English and 2) Though some of the brightest and most godly men in the world pour themselves into translation work, language (and especially English) is a moving target. As such, some translations use words that are in the process of falling out of use. (side note: modern translations such as the NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NLT are all good translations, none are perfect but all have been done diligently by men and women who have devoted much of their lives to such work and all of these translations can be trusted! That said, each translation is governed by a particular translation philosophy which influences decisions that must be made. That is why it is often good to check more than one translation if you're stuck on passage.)

The word that is in the Greek is "meno" and it has a broad range of meanings including abide, remain, stay, continue, belong, hold, keep on, dwell, and other ideas in that stream. "Abide" is one of those words that we just don't use much any more. The NIV translates it in this verse as "hold to" the NASB as "continue in" all of which are reasonable choices. What I find interesting is that just a couple verse later the same word pops up twice, translated as 'remain' "35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever." John 8:35 (ESV) There is clearly a sense of permanence in this passage.

As I thought about it more, I'm not surprised that a perfectly good word like 'abide' would be falling out of use. How many people 'abide' in the same home for their whole life? How many people are 'abiding' in their marriages with a sense of permanence, of sticking to it and holding on? How many of us have 'abiding' employment? We live in an increasingly temporary society and yet Jesus tells us to abide in His word. To hold firm to our faith in Him. To recognize e are not slaves who have no permanent place in the family, rather, we have been given the PERMANENT status of sons and daughters of GOD! 

May we all learn to hold on, to stay firm, to stick to it, to abide.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The rumble of the rain

Do you ever find that it rains hardest as you are walking from your office to home? I was sitting in my study one evening last week working on my message for Sunday when, just as I was about to pack up to walk home I heard a rumble. It started off as a quiet, low rumble but grew, and grew. I looked out my window and it looked like the whole parking lot was dancing. The rumble I was hearing was the rain hitting the roof so hard and in such quantity that the whole building seemed to shake. The thing is, I didn't have the car. Dana was working an evening shift, part of the reason I was working late. It had been quite pleasant, and dry, only a short time earlier but now it was quite UN-pleasant and VERY wet.

Now the reality is, God made us amazingly waterproof and a 10 minute walk in the rain isn't going to kill me, just make me uncomfortable. I don't like being uncomfortable. Its funny, I wrote only first line of this post that night, little did I know that only a day later, tragedy would strike the other side of the ocean. That for days, the media would be obsessed with showing us every piece of footage they can find of whole towns in ruin, of a whole country in crisis.

When you see images of whole towns swept away, getting a little wet on the walk home doesn't seem to matter much. It is yet another reminder that we live in a world that is fallen, broken and shrouded in darkness.

I preached on Sunday from John 8 where Jesus says "I am the light of the world." This past week reminded us all of how badly we need Him.

"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now"
Romans 8:22

I'm just about to head out and what you know, it started raining again...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A few good flakes

Today's weather forecast is pretty typical for Metro Vancouver in March. Rain, with a chance of snow at higher elevations. Well I live above the lower but below the higher, right smack in the middle so as I looked outside this morning I saw rain and lots of it. As I was dealing with the garbage & recycling I noticed that there was a few snow flakes fluttering down. It got me thinking about how those few hearty flakes made it to the ground when so many of their compatriots had melted into simply large rain drops.

It got me thinking about these chapters of John I've been working through over the past number of week. In John 6 - 9 there are several points where many of those who have been following Him either turn away from Him and/or begin to have difficultly with His teaching. One of these times is in chapter 8 where in verse 31 He addresses those who believed in Him and as He challenges them, by the end of the chapter they are picking up stones to stone Him.

We see this throughout the Gospels, people follow Jesus, it gets hard, they flee. Few places is it more evident than at His arrest when his disciples scatter. This is true throughout church history and the history of many churches. When things get hard, when the heat is turned up, too many just melt into the masses.

Of course there has always been those who have stood firm and not turned away. Those are the disciples God is looking to use. It amazes me how God continues to use a few good flakes.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is religion getting in the way of Jesus?

As I have been preparing messages over the past few weeks as I am moving through John chapters 5 - 9 I have been struck by the opposition Jesus faced from the religious. As I study the text and the background to it I am constantly challenged by the reactions of the Pharisees in particular. If one spends any amount of time reading through the Gospels you will see being labelled as"Pharisee" as bad. The thing is the Pharisees were very zealous for holding to the Law. It is likely that their movement is at least partly rooted in the reforms of Nehemiah who was disgusted with how far those who had returned from the Babylonian exile had back-slid. Judaism was in an interesting place by the time we come to Christ's ministry on earth. Israel was under foreign rule, pagan Greek & Roman religion was clearly present and the Jewish people had had to figure out how to live in the midst of all this.

Another group we encounter in the Gospels is the Sadducees. This group's way of dealing with the prevailing culture was to figure out how much of their faith could be boiled down to the basics so they could fit in. They held that only the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, were actually scripture. They also were quite accommodating to the ruling powers. When the Romans invaded to put down rebellion in AD 70 this group disappeared through being viewed as sell-outs by their own people or simply walking away from what part of the faith they kept.

The Pharisees on the other hand held to the whole of the First Testament. They were so concerned with keeping the law that they created their own set of laws to build a fence around the Law. They viewed the Law as a kind of cliff that you didn't want to dance on the edge of so they built fences to keep you away from the edge. They used these rules to clearly determine who was in and who was out. Transgressing their law meant you weren't holy enough or faithful enough, you didn't care enough about God's law to keep a safe distance from breaking it. You had to do the right things at the right times and in the right way. You also had to not do certain things, or go certain places or interact with people that weren't part of the religious "in" group.

It breaks my heart to be able to recognize booth of these groups in the church modern church. There are those who will boil our faith down to bare essentials, systematically taking away piece after piece until there is nothing left. There are those who set up rules, to help determine whose in and who is not.

I'm preaching from John 7 tomorrow and I was challenged by Gary Burge's comment on the chapter in his commentary on John. He says that there are two ways to approach this passage. The first, and most common is as encouragement to those who are also facing persecution. The second he says "Can Christians become religious debaters? Can they ever oppose a new thing God may be doing? Are they genuinely affected by the sinful impulses that permeate the audiences of John 7? John understands that even those who claim to  believe in Jesus sometimes choose to reject his word and deny his way (6:66). As an interpretor bringing this passage to my generation, I have to wrestle with the sobering truth of this possibility and its implications" (p.233)

Jesus challenged the religious norms of the day. He challenges us today. What will we do with that challenge?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let in the light

I've been preaching through the Gospel of John for the past couple months and pondering some of the key images found in it. One is of course the Light/Darkness and the dichotomy between them. Christ came into the world as light into the darkness and if we have placed our faith in Christ we are to be walking in the light. The trouble is we like the darkness. We like the world and all it has to offer.

The trouble with darkness however is that our eyes adjust to it and we get used to it. Living on the West Coast we get pretty used to darkness during the winter. Living up against the mountains we don't see a lot of sun between September and May (OK I exaggerate a bit) and we kind of get used to being in the dark. This morning when I got up however, it was sunny so I opened wide the blinds. When my wife sat down with me for breakfast the sun was shining right in her face so she got up and closed the blind. It got me thinking about how often I close the blinds. In what areas of my life have I adjusted to grey skies with a 70% chance of greyer skies so that I can't handle direct Son-light.

"In Him was life and the life was the light of me. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" John 1:4-5