Toss that dirty diaper

In my father’s house…” (John 14:2).

Radio personality and financial advice-giver Dave Ramsey has a saying about debt that goes something like this: “Some people feel the same about debt as a baby does about a dirty diaper: sure, it stinks – but its warm, and its mine.”

That is not a pleasant picture. But it is accurate. A baby doesn’t know there is a better way to live; that is all she knows. Continue reading “Toss that dirty diaper”

The other “I am” statements

Through seven great “I am” metaphors, John powerfully communicated Jesus’ purpose. Jesus’ claims are readily recognizable: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door of the sheep, I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth and the life; and I am the true vine.

Yet, these are not his only “I am” assertions in John’s Gospel. On several other occasions Jesus simply said, “I am” without completing the predicate. Perhaps the most well-known example of these is “Before Abaham was, I am” (John 8:58). Continue reading “The other “I am” statements”

Drink indeed: What it means to drink Christ’s blood

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’” (John 6:53-56 NKJV).

In all of the paradoxes that constitute Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation which he delivered to mankind there may be nothing so startling and difficult to comprehend than his statements about drinking his blood. Those of us who were never under the Law of Moses and were not raised to avoid even the taste of blood under any circumstances may not have the innate aversion to the very idea that devout Jews have long considered an essential aspect of their identity. Continue reading “Drink indeed: What it means to drink Christ’s blood”

Eat his flesh and drink his blood

my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:55)

Jesus’ discourse in John 6 about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is surely one of the strangest of his sayings. The content was so offensive to some that they turned away from him, never to return (John 6:66). All these years later we can probably appreciate Jesus’ metaphor better than the original hearers did.

Of course, the meaning of the saying is important: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). It is indeed a metaphor and it involves something like, “Take me for what/who I am.” It is also parallel to statements like, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Mt. 11:29). Continue reading “Eat his flesh and drink his blood”

Life is a Death-y Thing

“…the night comes…” (John 9:4)

Recently, three-time breast cancer warrior, and Atlantic columnist Caitlyn Flanagan, was interviewed by the notable skeptic, Sam Harris, on his podcast, “Making Sense” (this is not an endorsement). During the interview, she mentioned a plane crash that happened in January, 2000, in which all 88 passengers and crew lost their lives.

Afterward, she recalled, faith leaders from the community were interviewed by a local news station. They offered familiar cogitations. Some spoke of predestination. Some spoke of God’s mysterious hand.

Whether or not these things are theologically accurate or relevant is beside the point. Flanagan remembered what, to her, was the most simple and meaningful answer, which came from a Buddhist, who said:

The reason for every death, is a birth.

Irrespective of your belief system, this is true. It may well be one of the wisest statements you will ever hear on the subject.

Why?

Jesus said many things about the spirit of man, and the realm to which he goes when his body ceases to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide, but perhaps none of them is more simple and profound than what the Buddhist said, just in slightly different language:

the night comes

Death looms over us like a cloud, surrounds us like a fog. We are reminded of this when we pass the funeral home, the cemetery, or, as the COVID-19 death count flashes before our eyes.

Some people say that, in light of our inevitable mortality, every day should be lived to the full. Cliches like, “We should live each day as if its our last” abound. Famously, country musician, Tim McGraw sung about “living like one was dying” in the wake of his own father’s brief and fatal battle with brain cancer. 

There is perhaps some value in this statement, but in reality, can we ever live up to that mantra? Who wants to try? Has anyone ever been successful at living every day as if they were dying? 

Moreover, who can afford do that? The sheer effort it would take to absorb everything as deeply as that statement implies is, to my mind, impossible. We will things for granted. We will have grumpy moments on the day that something bad will happen. You will probably get the wrong order at the drive-thru and throw a miniature tantrum and ask to see the manager.

We hear it at funerals all the time: “I wish I’d had another moment, another phone call,” etc. The refrain of regret is the poem of humanity. But the expectation is flawed. You simply could not do this if you tried. Because while you were busy not taking every other thing for granted, you would forget to call your grandma.

The fact is…

You will miss that phone call.

That project will go unfinished.

You will be too late congratulating someone.

The card will go undelivered.

You will hug someone one less time than you wanted.

You will run out of time to finish the landscaping.

So what is the answer to really living? The answer is to actually take the time to consider my own mortality. Not all the time. Not obsessively – this would be counterproductive. 

But, it should be considered at least once, and that, before it plops on our doorstep like that Amazon package.

Just once, but with gravity

We do not stress the whole morning and afternoon in fear of the sun going down. We are just aware that it will. The reason for every sunset, after all, is the previous sunrise.

The reason you are here is because you were born – which, as the Buddhist reminds us, is the same basic reason why you will die.

Irrespective of your religious inclinations, you will die. So you should think about it, seriously, at least once, for as long as it takes for you to accept its reality and make peace with its implications.

The sun is going down.

The night is coming.

You are dying.

In Flanagan’s interview, she said several times that a cancer diagnosis was a “death-y” thing.

Indeed, all of living is a death-y thing.

Which brings us back to the Buddhist, and Jesus. We wonder: what happens when the sun has set and the night has come? The Buddhist believes you are absorbed into the energy of the universe. In one sense, the Buddhist is correct. All of your atoms will randomize and form something new

But according to the Bible, there is another part of you: your soul (or, as C.S. Lewis reasoned, your soul actually is you). Your body is but your temporary shell. Peter and Paul both called it a “tent,” as if we were on a brief excursion in the mountains, and would pack up in the morning:

Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me (2 Pet. 1:13-14, NKJV).

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.(2 Cor. 5:1-8).

The soul transcends the body and endures (Mt. 10:28).

In other words, you will still be.

The sun will set. 

The night will come. 

And you will die. 

But, you will still exist. 

Jesus offers hope for the soul there and then, as well as peace for both soul and body here and now. Jesus described this as “living, and that, more abundantly” (John 10:10). 

Yes…

The sun will set – because it rose.

And you will die – because you were born. 

But Jesus tasted the bitter cup of death for you (Heb. 2:9) so you can live abundantly, now, and eternally, then

In Christ, even death itself, is less death-y. 

Get and follow good advice

Where do you go for advice? Who do you listen to? When do you feel the greatest need for guidance?

You can find advice everywhere. Just ask your neighbor. Turn on any television channel. Walk into any bookstore or library. Websites abound with people telling you what to think or do or urging you how to feel.

But not all advice is good. Much of what people recommend you to do will actually get you into trouble. Continue reading “Get and follow good advice”

Seeing responding to the gospel with fresh eyes

Could a parable about a colony of blind people teach us something about the gospel? And if so, what would we do with it?

Nestled just beyond the edge of a city, a colony of blind people had long ago abandoned any hope of ever seeing a bird soar through the air or ever watching the colors of the sunset shift toward violet red before descending into darkness.

One day a man entered their colony distributing a pamphlet in braille. Its message was simple. A wealthy benefactor possessed the technology to grant everyone sight. Furthermore, the pamphlet announced that this philanthropist wished to provide this technological solution as a gift. Near the bottom of the paper was a date, time and address.

Some of the colonists immediately dismissed the pamphlet as a cruel joke or too-good-to-be true. Others were unsure. Perhaps the benefactor had anticipated such responses. Why might we think this? Typed in braille across the center of the sheet were the words, “If you believe you will see. But if do not believe, you will remain blind.”

A strange thing happened as the date drew near. The colony divided into three groups. Some did not believe. They had no intention of being disappointed nor allowing anyone to make a fool of them. Others made plans to travel to the designated location.

While neither of these responses were surprising, an unanticipated third group also existed. They also believed. However, they claimed that since the flyer stated, “If you believe you will see,” this meant as long as they believed, this was sufficient. They thought that if they remained in their homes they would receive the generous gift.

Furthermore, they defended their viewpoint by pointing out that nowhere did the pamphlet state that a person had to believe and travel in order to receive sight. And so they repeated over and over, “It just says, ‘If you believe you will see.’”

Of course we realize the pamphlet was not telling the people to sit in their homes believing the benefactor would give them sight. Rather, knowing that the colonists would face a very important decision the pamphlet called them to trust in the philanthropist that he could indeed give them sight. Its message was clear. On the designated date and time be at the specified location.

John’s Gospel has sometimes been called the Gospel of Belief, and rightly so. In a world where skepticism and discipleship collide, this Gospel called and continues to invite people to believe in Jesus in order that they might have life. This central theme is highlighted in such statements as, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” John 3:36. And of course how could we not include, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” John 3:16-17.

Is John telling us that we only need to believe in Jesus, just as some of the colonists thought that they only needed to believe in the philanthropist’s capability and generosity? Or is this Gospel calling us to receive Jesus instead of rejecting him? Can we know which it is?

In the latter part of the first century as opinions clashed about Jesus and as the early church baptized those converting to Christ, John told Jesus’ story. He began by declaring that Jesus brings life and allows people to become God’s children, born of God (John 1:4,12,13). Accordingly, becoming a disciple of Jesus is everything.

And so John wrote that it is to those who receive Jesus, that is believe in him, whom Jesus enables to become God’s children, born of God. Furthermore, this birth from above requires water and Spirit (John 3:3,5). To make this salvation possible God gave his Son so that those who believe in him might live.

The early church understood, as should we, that to believe in Jesus involves receiving Jesus with baptism. This portrayal of conversion to Christ agrees with what other New Testament’s writers wrote (Galatians 3:26-27; Acts 8:12; 2:38-39,41; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 3:21).