Monday, May 25, 2015

"Light" in the Gospel of John

The following is a short study of all the uses of the word "light" in the Gospel of John. Since the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John are interconnected, understanding "light" in the Gospel will shed important light upon the meaning of "light" in the epistles; upon such critical verses as "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7), and "whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." (1 John 2:9-10) Meditate upon these verses, and may God grant us all wisdom to understand His rich words.

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John 1:4-9
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
>the light is connected with life
>the light enlightens

John 3:19-21
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
>the light is hated
>the light is something you come to
>the light exposes
>the light is connected with truth

John 5:35
“He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”
>John the Baptist was a voice of truth in the wilderness

John 8:12
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
>the light is connected with life
>following Jesus is possessing the life-light

John 9:5
“‘While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.’”
>What was Jesus doing when He was ministering in the world? He was teaching us about God.

John 11:9-10
“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”
>a general principle: having light = not stumbling. Stumbling = not having light.

John 12:35-36
“So Jesus said to them, ‘For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.’”
>walking in the light means knowing where you are going (i.e. not stumbling)
>the light is something to believe
>we are sons of light by believing in the light

John 12:44-46
“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.’”
>the light is connected with the true knowledge of God
>if you believe in the light you are not in darkness

Summary

Stumbling around in darkness without light is a scenario we can all relate to. We know what that is like physically, and we must realize that is what things are like spiritually. The Christ-less world is in darkness, not knowing the truth about God. Men stumble around, not knowing what they are doing and will eventually end up destroying themselves.

Jesus Christ came into the world as the light, to give to this world the true knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God is the life (health, well-being, joy) of this world. With this knowledge we are saved and possess true joy. It is the knowledge of God as He is: the God of true righteousness (other than man’s idea of righteousness) and true love (other than man’s ideas of love). Believing in Jesus and what He taught us makes us the sons of light who know God and who possess eternal life.

But men hate the light because the light exposes them to be sinners. Men prefer self-righteousness and their false gods rather than true righteousness and the true God. Men reject the light and seek to extinguish it forcibly (i.e. killing the light-bearers) because they cannot overcome the truth.

The light, then, is the truth—the truth about God (His righteousness and love) which brings life.

These four things are inseparably connected, linked one after another as a chain: Light—Truth—Righteousness—Life. If you have one of them you have them all.

Mysteriously, God Himself is all of these things by nature. He doesn't merely possess them, but they are qualities of His eternal Being. “God is light” means God is truth, God is righteousness, God is life. In Him is no lies, no unrighteousness, no death. “God is light” captures all these things.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Joel Belz on Starting Our Day with Scripture

Writing in WORLD magazine, Joel Belz offers three good reasons why, if possible, we should start our days by reading the Word of God:

1) It's a daily symbolic statement of what is most important.
2) In practical terms, what you do first tends to get done; what you put off competes with other obligations and is often bumped from the schedule.
3) What you do first tends to define the rest of the day.

Sound advice, which I think good to pass on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Should Christians View Alcohol?

Hello J---,

As I told you yesterday, for a while I was anti-alcohol. Although I grew up in a home where my parents modeled how to enjoy wine without abusing it, when I was a teenager I started listening to certain teetotaler preachers which made me, for a time, hostile to drinking. Ultimately all I could say to my dad was: "Why do you need to drink anyway? What's the point? Can't you enjoy yourself without it? And since it can lead to drunkenness--and many lives have been destroyed by alcoholism--why should we partake in it? The world is really into drinking, so it just feels worldly", etc. I came to see that these were bad arguments, spawned more from naivety and superstition than from God's Word. What I was saying could not ultimately be supported by the Bible, nor by common sense.

When I was 20 I was at a friend's wedding and champagne was being served, and everything finally came into focus for me. No one was getting drunk, and I saw that the special-ness of the champagne was a way of celebrating the special-ness of the momentous marriage. It then made sense to me why Jesus made wine at the wedding in Cana and not grape juice. There is something rich, refined and rare about alcoholic drinks that puts them in a class above water, fruit punch and sparking apple cider. The process to make them is longer and more costly, and therefore they are more celebratory and meaningful.

On top of that, the Bible shows how God designed alcohol to be a blessing and an encouragement to man. It helps us relax and enjoy ourselves and one another in our uptight and sorrowful world. Seen rightly, it is a gift. For those who drink alcohol, they know what a blessing it is. It's a revelation of God's goodness to mankind. Benjamin Franklin didn't actually say this famous saying, but he did say something like it, and it has become a classic: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

For these reasons, alcohol has always been a major part of both Judaism and Christianity, which recognize and give thanks to God for His blessings of creation. Judaism and Christianity are not aesthetic religions that despise the human body and the physical world, but that rejoice in God's works and seek to enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed. The Jews have many prayers of blessings for alcohol and use wine in many of their rituals, and Christians likewise have celebrated the Lord's Supper with wine for two millennia.

I'm quite convinced that modeling the moderate use of alcohol is one of the major keys to combating alcoholism, since abuse often happens because we tend to have extreme reactions to that which is forbidden, and because people often don't know how to drink moderately, or even realize that moderate drinking is an option. Just because something can be abused doesn't mean we should avoid it altogether. I encourage drinking for the simple fact that it is a blessing from God. It also helps us be less stuffy in the eyes of non-Christians. Just because the world enjoys something doesn't automatically mean that it is wrong and worldly. The world enjoys sex--and food, too!

Here are some verses on alcohol:

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"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart." (Ps. 104:14-15)

"But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?'" (Judges 9:13)

"And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household." (Deut. 14:24-26)

"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)" (Gen. 14:18)

"May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine." (Gen. 27:28)

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy... And after that the Nazirite may drink wine." (Num. 6:2-5, 20)

"All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it." (Num. 18:12-13)

"He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you." (Deut. 7:13)

"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil." (Deut. 11:13-14)

"So Israel lived in safety, Jacob lived alone, in a land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew." (Deut. 33:28)

"Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh. 8:10)

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." (Prov. 3:9-10)

"Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl. 9:7)

"Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything." (Eccl. 10:19)

"I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!" (Song of Solomon 5:1)

"And your mouth like the best wine." (Song of Sol. 7:9)

"Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water." (Is. 1:22)

"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." (Is. 25:6)

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Is. 55:1)

"The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." (Is. 62:8)

"Thus says the LORD: "As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, 'Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,' so I will do for my servants' sake, and not destroy them all." (Is. 65:8)

"They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD." (Jer. 31:12-14)

"More than for Jazer I weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! Your branches passed over the sea, reached to the Sea of Jazer; on your summer fruits and your grapes the destroyer has fallen. Gladness and joy have been taken away from the fruitful land of Moab; I have made the wine cease from the winepresses; no one treads them with shouts of joy; the shouting is not the shout of joy." (Jer. 48:32-33)

"For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.' Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.' And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness." (Hosea 2:5-9)

"The LORD answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations." (Joel 2:19)

"For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women." (Zech. 9:17)

"I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt. 26:29)

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:22)

"And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)

"For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:33-35)

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There are many more verses, but this is a big enough sampling to get the idea. Here are some quotes on alcohol from outside the Bible:

"Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk. Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart. Sober drinking is health to soul and body." - Sirach 31:35-37

"G-d creates the grapes from which wine is pressed and when drunk in sensible proportions, wine gladdens the heart and drives away melancholy. It heightens the intellect and even prepares the mind for prophecy." - Rabbi Kimchi

"He [Augustine] always had wine because he knew and taught, as the Apostle says, that 'every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer.'" - Possidius

"It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who can’t drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he can’t give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That isn’t the Christian way." - C.S. Lewis

"This means that a bishop should be sober. He may drink wine, but he should not be given over to wine." - Martin Luther

"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long." - Martin Luther

"Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." - Francis Bacon

"Wine...is one of the noblest cordials in nature." - John Wesley

I don't expect you to be convinced overnight, but give this some thought. Of course, no one should drink if it can't be done with a good conscience.

Love to you, J---,
-Eli

Friday, May 15, 2015

Acts 15:19 - Troubling Those Who are Turning

I recently watched mega church pastor Andy Stanley state that Acts 15:19 was his core ministry slogan and his all-consuming passion. It is mounted up in his office so he can see it every day. He cited it from the NIV:

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

From this verse Andy has justified his seeker-sensitive church. According to Stanley, everything we do in ministry must make it easy, and not difficult, for people who are coming to God. This means not being offensive, not preaching difficult and unpalatable things, making church savvy and fun for everybody, having good coffee, dim lights, fog machines and catchy praise bands--basically, a church that anyone and everyone would have a good time and feel at ease in. This is the first rule of ministry: Ease at all costs.

Stanley has grossly mistaken this Scripture. When James said this, he wasn't thinking about making coming to God easy for people in every imaginable way. In the context, he was making a statement regarding justification through faith alone apart from the law. The council at Jerusalem was called to decide whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. The apostles unanimously declared that justification through law-keeping was an unbearable impossibility and that Gentiles should not be burdened with that which even the Jews could never bear. When James said what he said, he meant this and this only. He didn't mean that churches should serve high-end coffee, and should have catchy music, and shouldn't preach offensive things. The NASB provides a better translation of this verse: "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles." The idea that they had to keep the law to be saved was scary and unsettling for the believers. Let them not be troubled: it is through faith alone that we are justified.

We must not forget that this very message of justification through faith alone is the most offensive and hateful doctrine imaginable to the non-Christian world. It is not easy for people to believe that they are hell-deserving sinners, that their good works are filthy rags, and that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ. If we continue to preach this we shall drive away most people just as Jesus did by His preaching of these things. Those whom God is drawing and who are broken over their sins will hear these things as good news and life-giving water, but for the majority of the world, this message is a savor of death, and it makes them angry.

Broad and easy is the road to destruction. Narrow and uneasy is the road to life. This is solely because of the truth, the content of the gospel. I beg Andy Stanley and my fellow pastors to stop mistaking this saying of James to justify their unChristian ministry practices, and instead to focus their energies on preaching the Word of God, "for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth." (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughts on Atheism and on Being Raised Religious

I spoke with a freshman yesterday on campus who grew up Roman Catholic and who was questioning his faith. Actually, as I talked with him it was clear that he had moved more to the atheist side of things than that he was simply questioning his faith.

As I talked with him and asked him what his doubts and troubles were regarding his Catholic faith, it became clear to me that he really didn't have a true understanding of what Christianity is, and more than that, what the basis of religion actually is and why people believe in God. For a barely twenty-year-old this isn't surprising. What was being shaken in his mind wasn't true faith in God and Christianity, but rather his uninformed view of God and Christianity; a worldview inherited from his parents without personal discovery and genuine understanding. Of course in his mind he thought he understood religion and had found it flawed. I shared with him that I thought it was good, healthy and normal that he was questioning his upbringing, but that he needed to see that his understanding of religion was inadequate and that for him, religion needed to be reexamined, not simply repudiated.

I believe that this is true for so many. Being raised religious doesn't mean that a person really understands religion, and in all likelihood it can be one of the greatest factors of not understanding religion. Parents do not always equip their children for facing the questions of life. Sometimes children are just taught wrongly, or sometimes they are taught true conclusions without being taught why those conclusions are true. When people think they know what religion is when they don't, once their faith is shaken they may fail to see that the faith-crisis in not due to the inadequacy of their religion, but rather due to the inadequacy of their own understanding of religion. And I say this about many religions, not just Christianity. I believe that Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, etc. are all stronger and more reasonable worldviews than atheism. But many people are drawn into atheism, usually early in their lives, because they failed to really grasp what religion is.

"A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." (Francis Bacon)

It has been recognized for a very long time that many people become atheists, not for intellectual reasons, but for emotional/psychological ones: i.e. bad experiences in religion (where there is no shortage!), or to escape from guilt, or because of anger and confusion at God for allowing some thing to happen. Not only is this is an irrational move (although an understandable one), it too, I think, is based on failing to rightly understand religion. In the first place, the basis of religion is not emotional nor pragmatic--that it makes you feel good and gives you deliverance from bad experiences (which we, of course, all want, and not wrongly)--but its basis is really intellectual. God is believed in because believing in God is reasonable (more reasonable than to not believe in God). Come what may, people believe in the existence of God because there are things that now exist that declare God's existence. Of course, this conviction comes with emotional and practical implications, but it is the conviction that is the basis and not the results of the conviction. This persistent little fact indeed opens the floodgate of a whole host of difficult questions and theological problems, but it is precisely this fact of the intellectual basis of religion that explains the permanence of these questions, and explains why humans--even atheists--have a terrible time simply walking away.

But going further than this, as Christians we say that faith in who God is gives us the strength to face all bad experiences--including our own guilt--and that the solution to the pain of these things is not to escape away into irrationality and atheism (which really does provide some temporary comfort), but to take our comfort from the truth of who God is. The God of the Bible is comforting. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." (Is. 40:1) While some comfort may be gained by running from God, greater and lasting comfort is to be gained in knowing God. This isn't a sugar-coated view of life, for bad experiences really do happen and guilt is acknowledged as real, not ignored, but through God we really become "more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Rom. 8:37)

Like this young man, the 21st century world needs to realize that religion needs reexamination, not repudiation. I believe it will realize this, and actually is already showing signs of realizing it.