John’s gospel signs

I finished a sermon on John 4:43-54 with a ‘take-home exercise in believing': Find the signs of John’s gospel.

John’s gospel includes a number of signs, but he only numbers the first and the second. It is as if John says to us, “I made the first two easy for you, now you find the rest – pay attention!”

These signs (as I said in the talk) are not dead signs. They are living signs. Dead signs are like street pointers. Once you can find the street you forget the sign. Dead signs do their job once or twice, then disappear. They point 100% away from themselves.

Living signs, in contrast, never outlive their use. We meet Jesus precisely in the signs of John’s gospel. As we see and reflect on the sign we trust Christ – if we do it right.

So to help you in this take-home exercise, here are the places where John mentions a sign or signs. There can be signs where he does not use the word, so view this as a starting point.

2:11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”

2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

3:2 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.”

4:48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

4:54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

6:2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.

6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

6:30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?”

7:31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

10:41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.”

11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.”

12:18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.

12:33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

12:37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him

18:32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

20:30-31Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

(All verses quoted in English Standard Version.)

So what do you notice? How does this help you to know John’s gospel, and to trust Jesus?

 


 

 

Ministry and the art of motorcycle maintenance

ute

It was the alternator

Apologies twice. There’s no motorcycle involved in this post, just a picture of my busted ute. Neither is there any reference to the famous Robert Pirsig novel – I simply could not resist.

Here is the honest headline: Christian ministry is more like fixing a car than driving one.

In Christian ministry, we want to go somewhere with people. The journey is from unbelief to trust in Christ and growing likeness to Christ. Ministry is all about helping others on this path, by announcing Christ.

As Paul said about Jesus:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Colossians 1:28-29

So often we treat this trip as a straightforward drive. We think that all who enter the vehicle will end up and the right destination. The vehicle might be church services, or small groups, or some other programme.

Motor maintenance is messy. When the car breaks down, you have to get safely home. Perhaps there’s a tow truck involved. Or roadside patch-up repairs.

When back in the garage the process is still irregular. Thirty minutes while the other guy finds the special tool he just knows he bought. Two hours testing out one part of the engine – that turns out to have no problem anyway. More time scratching heads for further options. Wondering if there’s an expert around. And always getting your hands dirty under the hood.

And this is just like Christian ministry. The word of God is sharp enough to open us up (Hebrews 4:12-13). The scriptures equip us by teaching, rebuke, correction and training (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These things are messy.

Ministry uncovers guilt and broken lives. It teaches that on our own we’re all stuck in sin. It makes confession and repentance a normal part of belief. It shows that reconciliation is God’s way, though running away is more appealing.

Often also ministry has long periods of apparently nothing happening. There’s no conversion or no change to see. We look at one area of life as a big problem – but it was not so important after all. So we keep on, even if unsure about what is the real story in that life.

We feel inefficient and not able to make the difference and unsure of ourselves. But that’s perfectly fine – because the ability never lies in the person ministering. The ‘ability’ to minister always lies in God and his grace. And he will bring his children home. So press on!

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Acts 20:32

 


 

 

Violence, Christianity, & a local paper

For my own interest, here’s a small interaction of letters in my local paper, The Border Mail. Make of the exchange what you will. Yet we see that there’s easy opportunity to speak up and contribute. I was tempted to just dismiss the initial letter, but decided to spend a few minutes putting together a short response. I am glad for the openness to be printed, and I am glad that I said something.

And remember, someone will certainly get to speak – even if their arguments are laughably wrong.

May 18, 2015

Religion sows seeds of violence
DESPITE all the political facades and double talk, there is no legislation dealing with domestic violence.

In reality, the perpetrators of violent acts within the home are protected through a lack of law.

Let the point be clear, our politicians, our legal system has failed to take domestic violence seriously enough to legislate against it!

Why? Our Christian belief system says God is a male and white, man was made in the image of God, woman was extracted from the rib of man and must be subservient to him.

The apostles were all male and women have until recently been banned from higher order positions in the church; the Pope is male and always will be.

A man had the right to control his wife and even beat her up.

Surely this is where the seeds of domestic violence are sown.

For our politicians to legislate against domestic violence is virtually a breach of God’s words and orders of things as laid down through the Bible.

All contemporary religious institutions in effect support domestic violence through practised ideals that man is superior and in charge of woman.

In reality women are often treated badly in law when they speak out against domestic violence.

— ALAN J. LAPPIN,
Boorhaman North

May 21, 2015

Some in church still in denial
ALAN Lappin (The Border Mail, May 18) is right. Religion, including Christianity, contributes to the scourge of domestic violence.

The teaching of female submission to males, the promotion of male headship in church, home and society, has contributed to violence against women.

The church, finally, is starting to acknowledge this issue.

Many men who uphold this traditional teaching are as appalled as any that it is misused to justify violence, but it is indisputable that views which disempower women and elevate male authority contribute to this problem.

Yet, Mr Lappin demonstrates a simplistic understanding of the Bible’s teaching on male-female relationships.

The Genesis creation story affirms that humanity was created in God’s image, stating “male and female he (God) created them”.

This establishes the unity and equality of men and women as image-bearers of God. Jesus’ remarkable acceptance of women and even St Paul’s writings, where he exhorts husbands to love their wives self-sacrificially, and his missionary partnership with various women, sowed the seeds for women’s full participation and equal status in both church and home.

Sadly, the seeds have taken too long to sprout and many church traditionalists continual in denial and discrimination. Male headship and female subordination make no sense in contemporary society.

They are outmoded, oppressive and harmful.

— REV PETER McKEAGUE,
Anglican parish, Northern Albury

May 21, 2015

Alan, you are so far off track
ALAN Lappin’s letter (The Border Mail, May 18) on domestic violence is disturbingly wrong.

He first claims that there is no legislation for domestic violence. Please don’t believe him. Though we should improve laws, there is legal protection.

Then Alan goes on a bizarre tirade against Christianity.

In all the fine social groups I have been part of — education, sport, service, and church — churches are where I have heard greatest efforts to address domestic violence.

Christians follow Jesus, who gave his life to serve the lost and powerless. So protection of those in danger is natural topic to raise.

— CHRIS LITTLE,
East Albury

May 23, 2015

Christ preached love for women
I AM writing in response to the letter of Alan J Lappin (The Border Mail, May 18) who laid the blame for domestic violence on the Christian belief system.

Christ was compassionate and respectful to the women he met and changed their lives for the better like no one else could.

Jesus accepted women when his society had cast them out.

Christianity does not teach that a man has the “right to control his wife and even beat her up” but, instead, a man is commanded to “love his wife as he loves himself” (Ephesians 5:33).

Christianity aims to uphold the rights of a woman and family relationships.

Domestic violence is a corruption of this and is condemned by Christians and Christianity.

— NANCY MASSEY,
West Wodonga


 

The ape and the lamb

I wonder which false theologians C.S. Lewis had in mind in this section of The Last Battle.

“Please,” said the Lamb, “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”

All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed toward the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.

“Baby!” he hissed. “Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But the others, listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”


 

Quick review: Roads were not built for cars

Roads Were Not Built For CarsRoads Were Not Built For Cars by Carlton Reid

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so easily tricked into thinking that the way things are now is the way things always have been. It’s self-centred thinking, of course: My way is the way.

Roads Were Not Built For Cars gave plenty of blows against that approach, for which I am thankful.

This fascinating book gives much insight into roads, transport, and modes of transport – as well as the conflicts that arose as change occurred.

Reid writes about the United Kingdom more than any other place, the United States being a close second. Yet this focus is fine, because the UK and US patterns seem to exemplify what has been seen elsewhere.

That pattern is, in a word, domination. Motor vehicles have come to dominate transport (and transport history) in a way that unhelpfully marginalises all others.

The greatest surprise to me in this history is that roads stopped being public places. Sure, they’re (mostly) not private. Yet roads used to be social places: a mixture of pedestrians, neighbours, business, conversation, play, and some transport.

Cars, though, pushed all else away – onto narrow footpaths, into the new crime of ‘jaywalking’, etc. A common space has been usurped for one group. And it happens again each time I’m on a bike and a driver yells at me, ‘Get off the road.’

Even this famous video (https://youtu.be/IJfTa5SjDCY) of San Francisco in 1900 includes car trickery: one vehicle drives past the tramcar-mounted camera again and again, giving an inflated impression of cars on the roads.

Being freed from my own self-focus is helpful in two ways.

Firstly, it makes me watch out for the bullying inherent in power. Speed, motors, and human power tend to push others out. This can happen to me, and I can also be a perpetrator.

Secondly, it frees our minds to consider other ways of doing things. If it was not always so, then it need not always be so. I guess this idea is one of Reid’s aims, since he is a promoter of cycling – a promotion I heartily endorse.

On a different level, it’s clear how some grasp of history is a mighty tool. My Christian trust is in an historical faith. It matters if Jesus died and rose again, and it matters if he didn’t. These are the things we need to find out. And if convinced, as I am, constant attention to the real Jesus of history is a must. If the history of roads and cycling is important – and I think it is – how much more the history of Jesus and his followers.

View all my reviews

 


 

Death and the state

The execution of eight people in Indonesia today, including Australians Chan and Sukumaran, makes us all ask about capital punishment.

The question is straightforward : Is it right for a nation to kill people?

The answer is less easy. Here are some of my thoughts.

We agree with state death
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that we all agree with state-authorised death. Even in Australia, with no judicial death penalty, we train police and defence forces in use of lethal weapons. Therefore we say that these guns can have legitimate use.

This reflect what Paul wrote about the authorities having good reason to bear ‘a sword’ (Romans 13:4). Romans 13 shows that state authority is real, even to the point of death.

Capital punishment for sin
Romans 13 also indicates the reason that would justify capital punishment: doing evil. God’s appointment of rulers (even when they do not acknowledge him) is to punish wrongdoers (see also 1 Peter 2:13-14). Thus, even if a ruler abhors the term ‘sin’, that ruler’s task is to punish sin.

This is a significant matter: there’s no room for killing in the name of political expedience, or execution for minor offence. If capital punishment is in place, it can only be justified by being a punishment for significant evil. Genesis 9:5-6 indicate that murder, for instance, is such an offence because of its double attack: on a person, and on God because that person is God’s image.

Capital punishment as sin
But a danger with state authority is that it also is stained with sin. The apparatus of justice and death are affected. The people involved in writing and practising law are sinful. So there is the great danger of injustice or of incompetence.

We recognise the injustice of Naboth’s execution because it’s too familiar from our world. In 1 Kings 21 Ahab ‘legally’ stole Naboth’s vineyard when two witnesses (the right amount) accused Naboth of treason (a serious crime) – but it was an atrocious injustice which provoked strong words of judgement from God.

Capital punishment can so easily be sin, rather than be against sin.

Sin and mercy
For the Christian, also, there is constant awareness of experiencing mercy. We who rebelled against the giver of life deserve to have life removed from us – we’ve earned death (Romans 6:23). But we were given life!

Although the state is not church, or a Christian institution, I think that Christians have every reason to make mercy appear in the way our states run. Especially in rich nations like Australia we have opportunity, I believe, to endure some extra financial burden as we mercifully refrain from executions.

My conclusion
I dislike the one-word summary people often use for their position on the death penalty: FOR/AGAINST. One word, either way, seems to over-simplify. So I have these concluding points for what I (currently) think, I hope you will engage to help me think even better!

  • States have authority, even to cause death
  • We need to understand capital punishment in relation to sin: the sin of criminal activity, and sin in the process of punishment
  • I believe every state should aspire to be a place of increasing mercy. We should long to have no capital punishment, while never downplaying the seriousness of crime

 


 

One minute’s silence

At this morning’s ANZAC dawn service in Albury, and undoubtedly in many other places, we peacefully observed a minute’s silence. It’s a sign of respect, and so simple that’s its power remains.
Albury Military Cemetery
The death of a soldier seems, so often, needless. Perhaps the battle was a failure (as for the ANZAC side of Gallipoli). Perhaps the death in service was far from any battle (as for a number buried in Albury’s military cemetery who died in a level-crossing accident). And even if the battle was decisive, loved ones still ask, ‘Why him?’

The minute of silence, at first blush, looks the same – near useless. What, just a minute? And all we do is, well, nothing? How can that honour the dead?

But the deeper we go into that brief minute, the more profound it becomes. We realise we are doing nothing because there is nothing that we can do to adequately mourn a death – the lives and deaths we remember were indeed great, after all.

And we discover that one minute is not a desultory gift. We find this minute to be but one example of time, and all time is now marked by the death of those service personnel. It is not a minute different from the rest of time, but a minute to show how all time is now different.

Finally, a minute to think also allows us to ask: Would we put ourselves in such a position of danger? We wonder what reasons could move us to risk all in the same way (if we are not already in such a position). For me, at least, I realise how significant was the life of all who freely took on such risk.

I tend not to make comparative links between defence deaths and Jesus’ death for our sins, and will not make that comparison here. Instead, I think the minute of observed silence makes a different comparison: it compares human to human, uniting us as those who face our common enemy, the grave.

At its most potent, the minute’s silence is a minute’s humanity.

 


 

 

Hope for the sake of Jesus

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

That is what I have argued in three posts on hope. In summary, Christians look ahead in hope, with joyful hope, and our hope is trust-filled confidence. This final part of the series reminds us that hope is not selfish. Instead, the good outcome of all our hopes is praise to Jesus.

It’s significant that the fulfilment of all Christian hope is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of Christians. The focus is him. And the success of our hope results in praise and glory and honour (1 Peter 1:7) – praise to God, I take it.

In my view, the whole of 1 Peter is chock full of the idea of a final reversal: those who presently hope in Jesus, and are slandered for this hope, will be vindicated by the final glory of God. Jesus’ greatness trumps everything – ‘To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 5:11)

This reversal means Christians persevere in honourable conduct knowing mockers will glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12). Slaves are to endure, modelling themselves on Jesus who entrusted himself to God for final vindication (1 Peter 2:23). Reversal happens for wives of unbelieving husbands (3:1), Christians treated with evil and reviling (3:9), all who suffer the temptations of flesh (4:1-5), and believers in ‘fiery trial’ (4:12-13).

It’s as if the universe will say, ‘We judged their hope as folly. But their hope in Jesus was perfect because Jesus is perfect. Praise be to Jesus!’

Jesus is the only source of hope (my previous post). So too Jesus is the final outcome of our hope.

Therefore, putting this into practice, we live every present moment of life for Jesus.

We hope in great devotion for the day Jesus’ name is confessed by every tongue, when every knee bows to him (Philippians 2:9-11). To truly hope for this coming day, we live it today.

Today we confess Jesus, our hope. Today we bend the knee to Jesus, our Lord. Today we show the reality of hope by willingly obeying Jesus’ gospel. Present obedience to the Lord Jesus is an act of subversive hope. Despite not yet seeing his universal rule, we know it and hope for its revelation and therefore live by it.

Present obedience to the Lord Jesus is an act of subversive hope.

So, in 1 Peter, the command to ‘set our hope fully’ on the grace to come leads directly to the call for holiness (1 Peter 1:12-16). This hope also overflows in evangelism, as people quiz us about Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). In Hebrews, holding fast to hope sets us up towards love, good works, and mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:23-25).

I hope you have gospel hope! Show it to the world in obedience to Jesus.

 


 

Hope by Jesus’ work

In my first two posts on hope, I introduced this description:

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

It does not go without saying that Jesus is the one whose work produces real hope. We need to say – again and again – that hope comes from Jesus. That’s what this post is about.

The wonderful hope of every Christian is ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). This hope becomes public ‘at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:7). Hope is of Jesus from start to end. Believers do not create our own hope, but we set our hope completely on Jesus’ return and unveiling (1 Peter 1:13).

This hope is absolutely unlike all other hopes in our world.

The football team hopes to win: their hope looks like training, strategy and years of effort. The movie director hopes for an Academy Award: her hope looks like obsessive attention to detail and passionate communication of vision. The student hopes to graduate: his hope looks like study, assignments and exams.

Any hope in this world depends upon human achievement. And therefore is exceptionally flimsy. Only one team wins the grand final. Most movies bomb. No student ever achieved 100% in every assignment of every course. Human hopes are often seen, justifiably, as close to dreams.

But Christian hope is different because gospel hope comes from Jesus.

Jesus has done it: death is defeated, sin’s sting is gone, the believer’s future is guaranteed. (See my first post.)

Therefore Christian hope has confidence and assurance. Our hope is already safe, so our hope is justified. Jesus is alive, so to trust his hope is right. Jesus guards our hope in heaven, so Christian hope is realism not escapism.

They say that receiving a terminal diagnosis concentrates the mind. That makes sense! “I will die soon – what should I make of my remaining time?”

Hope is just like that, but 100% good. Because of Jesus, every Christian has an ‘eternal life’ diagnosis. It should remove all fear and doubt. “I will live forever by the work of Christ – how assured I am!”

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Hope for the sake of Jesus