The Importance of “the”

John 14-15

the

Wednesday, May 31

We live in a world where diversity, multiculturalism and relativism rule the day. In some respects this is not bad. Having a variety of opinions in the “market place of ideas” means that the best are used, recycled, reused, adapted, interpreted, and used again. In short, the best ideas, the best inventions, the best of the best succeed. Diversity should be a part of our society we embrace; indeed the Kingdom is made up of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) God delights in the diversity of tribes, where people look and think and act differently from one another. He glories in the diverse languages we use to bless Him and our fellow humans. He loves all peoples, all nations. We praise God for the diversity of humanity we see in creation. But is this true in every situation? Is diversity always acceptable? Because of some of the claims of Jesus, I am inclined to say that no, not all types of diversity are acceptable. What could I possibly be talking about? If you haven’t read John 14:1-6 yet, please do. As you read it, what strikes you about this teaching of Jesus?
Notice that there are a few words Jesus repeats a couple times. Jesus has said a few times that he is going away and his disciples know the way he is going. But Thomas, the doubter a few chapters later, asks a REALLY good question “How can we know the way if you’ve been speaking in riddles?!”(14:5) Jesus up until this point, it seems has been withholding what would happen to him other than expressing it as being “glorified” or literally, “lifted up” (John 3:14, 7:39, 11:4, 12:23-34, and on). But Jesus is talking about his death. He is going away to the Father, to glory, by way of death. Jesus is say “You know the way to the Father, to eternal life.” Thomas, expressing his wonder, exclaims how can we get to the Father, how can we have eternal life?
And then Jesus says that “Well, all paths lead to life. As long as you sincerely believe whatever you believe and you don’t harm or judge anyone else, you’ll get eternal life.” Right?! That’s what we would expect if all the diversity and relativism in our society was correct. But Jesus says some stuff that really ruffles some feathers if we understand it. If you actually read the verses, or if you have memorized this verse (good on you if you have!) John 14:6 reads “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus used something grammarians (people who study grammar and language, like dorks like me) like to call “the definite article.” Normal people call it the word “the”. Each word in this list of three gets a definite article: the way, the truth, the life. I want you to get the importance of what this means. Jesus is not saying that his life is just “a life.” The life he has been promising, this eternal life, is the only life. There is only one life, and he is THE life. No others, no others compare. Jesus and his teachings are not “a truth” in a market place of truths, where you can pick which ones work for you and which ones don’t. Jesus claims he is THE truth. Buddha, the Gurus, Muhammad and other religious leaders or movements are not competing with Jesus in the matters of truth. Jesus is TRUTH, and the source of all truth. As far as they align with Jesus they are correct and when they differ with Jesus, they are in error. Jesus is the standard for truth, no one and nothing else. Jesus is not claiming to be “a way” to God. The analogy that Jesus is “one path up the mountain to God” could not be farther from the words of Jesus himself. Jesus said that he is the ONLY way to his Father, who is the only true God. (John 17:3) When you walk on the path of Islam, the path of secular humanism, the path of Buddhism, your path does not lead to the Father, according to Jesus.
And that is the shocking thing about this. I am not making these claims on behalf of Jesus. I don’t have to try and defend these claims on my own authority or reason or anything. Jesus himself made these claims, and the most shocking claim that anyone who comes to the Father comes only through him. Anyone who will be saved in the final days do not do it because they are really great Muslims, devoted Buddhists or EVEN great Christians. The only reason anyone will ever be given eternal life, the only reason anyone will live in the Kingdom, the only reason is Jesus Christ himself. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Belief in Christ, trust in him, love in him is the only way to life.
If this offends your modern sensibilities, trust me, it offended me, too! Jesus is claiming that he is better than all other religions and leaders and rulers and law-givers! How? But remember, we are not talking about one more leader or ruler or religious man or law giver. John testifies that Jesus is the Word, the Logos of God, made flesh among us. All the wisdom, power, planning, and thoughts of God take on flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect representation of the very nature of God, he is the image of God in skin and bones walking around. Instead of taking offense at Jesus and his hard teachings, as so many do, this teaching should cause us to fall down and worship and be grateful that God showed us any way to eternal life, and that Jesus is not restrictive in who can come to him. All who are weary and heavy laden, he will give rest. He will give life to as many as call on him, as many as trust that he is exactly who he claimed to be. Let us praise God that he has revealed to us Jesus as a gracious and merciful Lord, the one who is “the way and the truth and the life.” Let each and every one of us come to God through the name of Jesus Christ!
-Jake Ballard
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Defined by Love

John 12-13

john13_34-votdTuesday, May 30

How do you know who somebody is? Not just what his or her name is but who they are, on the inside? Well, they may tell you. When introducing myself at Pine Grove to visitors or guests, I always say “I’m Jake, I’m one of the pastors here.” That way people know a little something about me; namely, they know I am employed as a clergyman (whatever they may think I do.) If we talk about my hobbies, quickly board games, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and video games come up. Each one of these shape a person’s perspective of who I am. BUT, if someone could watch over my shoulder for a day, imagine what they would know about me? They would see how I treat my family in our home, they would know what I read and what I write, they would know all sorts of things. And in the end, if they were to make a decision on who is Jake, really, it would be wise of them to define me NOT by my words but by my actions. If I describe myself as a quiet-spoken, shy introvert, my actions would CRUSH that description.
Jesus also knows that we show who we are by our actions. That is why he leaves us with a powerful and difficult commandment in John 13:34-35. A new commandment I give to you: love one another. Is there really anything new about this commandment? Yes and no. Is it new that we are supposed to love others and care for them? No, because that is what the Old Testament Law (remember that?) is all about. Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a new thing that he made up, it comes out of the second half of Leviticus 19:18. But then how is this command new? It is new because Jesus points to a new example of this kind of love. We have to love each other as Christ loved us.
Why does he make us do this? Because it answers the question of who we are. When we tell someone who we are, that we are a follower of Christ, what do those outside the church normally think? Do they think close-minded, dogmatic “truth”-deniers? Do they think racist, sexist, homophobic bigots? Do they think arrogant, hypocritical jerks? There are some who may! There are many who would say something similar to Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This does not mean that Gandhi had the true picture of Christ, nor does it mean that everyone who critiques Christianity is right! There are many who would make the claims that “Christians are X” who don’t know why Christians believe what the believe. However, there is something wrong if many people know us for something more akin to hate, than to love? After all, Jesus tells us “By this ALL PEOPLE  will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christianity is a way of life that should be drenched, dripping, overflowing with love.
But what does this mean for us?
First, love the Christians you are around. If you are not part of a church, you should be. There are many who critique Christianity from INSIDE as well as out. But the fact of the matter is that we were never made to live this faith alone. We were always to have a community of committed disciples around us. Also, this may be very difficult. The church is a place where broken people gather. Of course we are hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are just like every other humans. The fact of the matter is that Christians admit to it, which makes us the only ones who aren’t hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are blind and because we know we are, we can see. (See Sunday’s devotion.)
Secondly, love the world. While the starting point for our love is of course the “one another” of other disciples, if we want to be like God and Christ (and we do want that) it means that our love has to be for “the world”. Just quote John 3:16. God loved the world, not just his Church, not just his sons and daughters, but the whole big messy of humanity. Love for this world is the defining characteristic of God, because “God is love.” (1 John 4, you’ll get there!) However, love can be tough to pin down. Surely love doesn’t mean accepting someone’s sin, because God doesn’t do that, but it does love the person. Love doesn’t mean allowing someone to remain in sin and call themselves a believer, but that we help them come to a better understanding of the harms of sin. It also means that we allow ourselves to be connected to and friends with those outside the church who need to hear the gospel message of Christ. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 for an interesting comment by Paul.)
This isn’t easy, but you can love others. However, it will only happen if you have experienced the love God has for you. God loves ugly, horrid, wretched sinners and CONGRATULATIONS! YOU QUALIFY! But seriously, it means that he does love you. The love of God, if you have truly experienced it, can’t help but flow out of you and into the people and the world around you. May people know the God you serve and the Messiah you follow by the love that you show. May those who don’t know Christ give praise and glory to God through your loving deeds. (1 Peter 2:12)
In Christ,
Jake Ballard

Life Everlasting

John 10-11

john 11

Monday, May 29

Yesterday we saw Jesus give a man sight; if you thought that was cool, get ready to have your mind blown!
Jesus had some good friends. We know about Peter, James and John, who were his closest disciples. They went with him when he was “transfigured.” (Remember this story from Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9.) These guys saw Jesus do things that no one else saw, which is pretty amazing. But Jesus’ friendships didn’t only include his disciples. In the city of Bethany, south-east of Jerusalem lived two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. These three people seem to be good friends of Jesus. These people trust in Jesus (11:21-22) and know that God will raise the dead (11:24). But when Lazarus gets sick, Jesus doesn’t go to visit him and Lazarus dies.
Now, Jesus is the man who has saved people from the brink of death. This is the man who walked on water. This is the man who has constant communion with the God of the universe. This is the man who is the Resurrection and the life. But what does this man do? He weeps. Jesus does not bottle his emotions, he does not try to put on a happy face and “celebrate the life” of Lazarus. He weeps. Jesus knows the sting of death.
But then Jesus changes everything. There are miracles of children being raised to life from death in scripture. But, the Jewish belief at the time of Jesus was that after three days they were gone. There was “no hope” after three days, and even these trusters-in-Jesus seem to think so. Martha says, literally “Lord, he stinks. It’s been four days.” This is the man beyond all hope, but Jesus is bigger than even our hope. He simply speaks the words, “Lazarus come out” and out he comes, alive and struggling out of his grave cloths. Jesus proves who he is, Jesus is not simply a good man, but he is the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE!
Again there are some take away thoughts that I’d like to have rattle around in your brain:
First, death is awful. Seriously, it sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether it is your pet cat, your grandmother, your mom and dad, or your child, death is terrible, horrific, evil. Death is an enemy. If you have lost someone, allow yourself to feel the loss. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life Himself did not try and cheer everyone up. When you have lost someone, you need to grieve as God has made you to grieve. Do you weep in a corner? Do you play sports until you can’t stand? Do you write music on a guitar and play until you fingers bleed? This grief is acceptable. Allow God to speak into your grief, but don’t feel ashamed.
But, secondly, that’s not the last story. There is life again. Death doesn’t win! Spoilers, God kills death. What a beautiful irony! God takes the thing that destroys the people he loves and destroys it. “Death” is not the final word; the final word is “Life” with God in Christ!
You can experience this. It is not hidden and unaccessible to you. This life is available for anyone and everyone. Do you want to have Resurrection and Life? Can you say what Martha said?  “Yes, Lord. I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.” (John 11:27) Does this sound familiar? John 20:30-31 reads, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” Do you believe?
Do you want this life? It’s not JUST for the future. This week we also read “10:10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Do you want life? Do you want an abundant life? Christianity is not just good life for later, but abundant, God-bathed life now and eternal, blissful life later. That is not just good news. That is GREAT NEWS. May you believe in Christ and begin to experience the abundant life that overflows into eternal life by believing in his name!
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: http://presenttruth.info/the-resurrection-and-the-life-january-2016/)

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

John 8-9

Sunday, May 28

Jesus is an awesome teacher. I have read Dallas Willard’s amazing work, The Divine Conspiracy, where he discusses the Sermon on the Mount. One of the points that Willard makes is that Jesus is not just a smart guy, but the smartest guy. He is not just a wise person, but the wisest person. Jesus confirms this when he says that one “greater than Solomon is here”. (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31) So if anyone asks you who the wisest person in the Bible was the answer isn’t Solomon; it’s JESUS!
Jesus shows his masterful hand at teaching here in John. In these first 12 chapters of the Gospel, Jesus is performing miracles, which the author calls signs. We have already read about the sign where Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-12). There have been a couple healings, one of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) and one of a paralytic on the Sabbath (5:1-15). Then he did two where he overcame the normal laws of nature by feeding the five thousand with only a little food (6:1-15) and by walking on water (6:16-21). All these signs are connected in John, because all these signs point to an important truth: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing in him, we can have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
In John 8 and 9, Jesus connects both his teaching and a sign to point to his Messiahship. In chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples see a blind man. Instead of tying the blindness to anyone’s sin, Jesus says that God’s glory, and the glory of the One and Only Son, would be displayed in the man’s life. Jesus taught previously, in chapter 8, that he is the light of the world. He declared that if we follow him we will not live in darkness but walk in the bright light of life. He then makes his point vivid by giving this blind man sight!
The once-blind man is taken in, questioned, harassed and abused by the religious leaders of his community. Instead of listening to this man tell his testimony about the truth of Jesus, they were intent on shutting down Jesus and claiming that he was a fraud. The man’s testimony is only the truth: “I was blind, but now I see.” Jesus comes to the once-blind man and basically tells him, “You can see that I am the Messiah.” Even Jesus loves puns! Jesus teaches that the blind will see and those who think that they can see are truly blind.
This story is a wonderful picture and full of rich imagery on its own. But I also come away with three thoughts for how we live today.
First, the once-blind man was “giving a testimony” about Jesus. He wasn’t even close to a “believer” as we might define it. He trusted enough to go and wash and he came back with sight; nothing more than trust that the washing would work was asked of him. That is pretty amazing. He says nothing of faith before the miracle takes place. And when people ask him about his life, all he does is tell his story. That’s all God and Christ call you to do when they say to share the good news of the gospel. It does not mean you have to have a suave and sophisticated philosophical demonstration of the proofs of God. You simply tell people how Jesus found you, and why you are better now. Were you blind and now you see? Were you addicted to something and no longer? Are you more loving to your family and friends? THAT is your evangelism, that is the good news God calls you to share.
Second, do you feel like the once-blind man? There are times when we experience God doing something in our lives that doesn’t make sense. We CAN’T explain why something is happening. This guy just says “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see!” Sometimes, we feel God moving in ways that may make our families, our churches or ourselves uncomfortable. The people who should have celebrated this man’s miracle the most, his family and his religious leaders, turned their backs on him and cast him out. When God is moving, trust in what He is doing, keep looking for Him, and no matter who let’s go of you, God will find you. 
Third, take care that you are walking in the light of Christ so that you can see and live. Just like the people of Jesus’ day, this sign is pointing us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name. Take care that you don’t lose sight of that purpose. The purpose is not for us to say “I wish I could see a miracle.” The miracle has been done. Will you believe because of it? Will you trust that Jesus is who he claimed to be? Remember, if you don’t want to believe, that is still an option. But there is a cost: rejection leads to a life of darkness, and the ultimate darkness of death. Christ offers us so much more with life in this life that leads to eternal life. He is the light of the world and he offers us himself. Praise be to God through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World!
-Jake Ballard
Jake Ballard is Pastor at Pine Grove Bible Church in Brooklyn Park, MN. He is a husband to Amber, father to Melody Grace, and proud “daddy” to a black kitty named River (for my Dr. Who and Firefly fans). Jake is a graduate student at Bethel Seminary, where he is kept busy. When he does have free time, he likes to read (Tolkien and Riordan at the moment), watch Netflix (Star Wars: Deep Space Nine), and play video and board games. (Always open for suggestions, as I am less busy in the summer). He hopes that his devotions will help you, dear reader, fall in love with the Gospel of John, because if he had to pick a favorite book, it would be this one! God bless! 
(Photo Credit: http://www.boldcupofcoffee.com/blog/i-am-the-light-of-the-world)

Seek Not to Please Myself

John 6-7

john-6-35

Saturday, May 27

As I started reading John 6 & 7 a few key quotes from Jesus recorded in the end of John 5 were still ringing in my ears:

“For I seek NOT to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

“I do not accept praise from men…How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God.” (John 5:41, 44)

Here Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, was saying quite clearly and repetitively – it’s not about me.  He did not seek to please himself or earn the praises of men – his goal was only and always to please God and hear the praises of his Heavenly Father.

Chapter 6 begins with this same Jesus feeding the famished five thousand with five small barley loaves and two small fish – and ending up with twelve baskets of left-overs.  As the one primarily responsible for feeding my family of 5 three times a day, I have always been greatly impressed with this miracle!  And, he follows it up with walking on the water!  There is no doubt that this Jesus has just earned some serious bragging rights.

Instead, he turns it into a teachable moment and offers himself as the bread of life – the bread and body that must be broken for others to live.  This is what he offers to the world not because he is the one who dreamed it up, and not because he was looking forward to it, and not because he desired it – but because he knew he came, “Not to do MY (Jesus’) will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38).

In Chapter 7 he continues, “My teaching is not my own.  It comes from him who sent me.” (7:16) and “I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true.” (7:28).   While some wanted to kill him, others wanted to make him king.  And yet – none of that really mattered to Jesus.  He was teaching God’s Word and living – and later dying – God’s Will.  His one-track mind and life was centered on what his Daddy desired and had planned from the beginning of the world.

Two things seem clear.

First, Jesus was definitely NOT claiming to be God, nor did he desire to be considered as God in any way.  His repeated use of, “not me/mine…but He/His” were pointing out the differences – two beings, even though their purposes would be the same – at Jesus’ choosing.  Today, would I hold any credibility if I stated, “I do not seek to please myself, but only what I want?”  Or, if I said, “My teaching is not my own but it comes from me”, would people listen to me for long?  Over and over again, Jesus is drawing some pretty clear lines between His Father God and himself.  Two beings, united in purpose – because that is what Jesus chose – to follow His Father and not himself.

Second, how must I change my focus, my goals and my everyday life so that I, along with Jesus, can confidently say, “Not my will, but His be done,” “My teaching is not my own, but God’s.”  “I seek not to please myself, but my Heavenly Father.”  No doubt the Son of God set an example for us to follow.  It is a path that requires laying aside all selfishness and pride, as well as false teaching.    It is not an easy road.  But when we live our life to please God our Father, just as Jesus did, we won’t be disappointed in the end!

-Marcia Railton

 

(Photo Credit: https://dailyverses.net/john/6/35)

Aspiring to Be a Servant

Luke 22

luke 22

In Luke, Chapter 22, Jesus sits down to have a Passover meal with his disciples.  Starting at the top of verse 24, Jesus immediately begins to interject into an argument between the disciples over who is the most faithful.  Jesus, rather, intercedes to say:

            “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who have authority over others like to be called, ‘friends of the people’.  But you must not be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the leader should be like the servant.” (Luke 22:26)

This is an important moment for Jesus’ disciples on a personal level, because at this point in time, they all would have lived through one of the most difficult times in Israel’s recent history.  They would have seen various rebellions waged against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, none of which were successful and all of which provoked Rome unnecessarily.  Jesus had seen the Roman occupation for what it was, an inconvenient change of circumstance that only affected the political structure of Jerusalem.

 

Jesus believed that matters on one’s own internal spirit were where the importance was, and so his statement to the disciples is more than just a generalization regarding their attitude as his followers.  It’s a personal rebuke of the mindset most Jews would have lived in, especially from the poor, hard-working classes of people from whence many of his disciples came from.  For the people at the bottom of the totem pole, Jesus knew, it mattered not who was at the top.  His disciples, and most of us at large, are yet to truly understand that as well as Jesus did.

 

-Dillon Driskill

An Impossible Question

Luke 20-21

luke 20

Tuesday, May 23

Throughout chapter 20, the Pharisees attempt to undermine Jesus with trick questions, and starting at verse 20, they decide that they’re going to try to pose him another unanswerable question. They comment on his lack of favoritism in his teaching, although it seems to imply that they are cynically calling him out on a lack of respect for authority. Following up on this, they ask him another question meant to undermine his teachings.

They ask Jesus whether or not they have an obligation to pay taxes to Caesar. This has an important historical context behind it, because there had been several Jewish revolutions against Roman occupation that had turned out terribly for the Jews. The Pharisees, who were cooperating with the Roman governors much to the expense of their own people, were essentially asking Jesus an impossible question.

Consider this, if Jesus had answered that they were obligated to pay taxes, then he would be implying the relevancy of both Roman authority and the authority of Pharisees and would be undermining the tenacity of his own teachings. However, if he had spoken against the need to pay taxes to Caesar, he would be openly defying Roman authority and so would be putting himself on grounds of treason, and would have been executed as quickly as it could be reported to the Romans. As it was, Jesus’ answer was simple and avoidant, while also proving a much larger point to them. His response is to take a look at whose face is on the coin, which was Caesar’s face. He then tells the Pharisees to give to Cesar what is “his” and give to God what is “God’s”.

Not only did Jesus successfully navigate around their impossible question, but he also gives a stronger context for understanding his teachings as well. This seems to tie into what Jesus meant when he said that his purpose was not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. According to Jesus, the call that we have is a moral one beyond the law or social convention. Neither is he advocating that law is unnecessary. Rather, he invites us to be pragmatic about the circumstances, but understand that the truth he teaches is a way of finding meaning in our lives, rather than how to simply conduct it.

-Dillon Driskill

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=and-he-said-unto-them-render-therefore-unto-caesar-the-things-which-be-caesars-and-unto-god-the-things-which-be-gods)