30 July 2012

Walking on water

Part 5 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

Strange events take place at night on a dark and stormy Sea of Galilee. The disciples and the crowd lose track of Jesus but he later reappears on the lake. We can learn more about him and about ourselves by reading John's account of these events.

2000-year-old Galilean fishing boat
For the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

Jesus and his close followers were very familiar with the Sea of Galilee. It was on the shores of this large lake that he called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As fishermen's kids they had known boats and fishing and the conditions of the lake since they were children.

Travelling by boat would have provided a good short-cut to walking around the circumference of this nearly circular expanse of water. This is something they must have done many times before. And it would have been a good way of escaping from the crowds.

Here's the passage from John, then we'll ask ourselves the usual four questions.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It's me - don’t be afraid!’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (John 6:16-25)

Here are the four questions suggested by Neil Cole with some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there are the disciples. Why did they leave without Jesus? (Hint: check back in verses 14 and 15.) There was a strong wind, so why were they rowing? How do you think they felt, in the dark, with a storm brewing and the waves getting bigger?

Next is the crowd. What do they do when they realise Jesus and the disciples are missing? Why?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why do you think Jesus had stayed away until late evening? (Check verse 15.) What was he doing? He was walking on the water, that's a little - unusual! What does it tell us about him. Was he trying to impress or was he just being practical? What was the result of him speaking to the scared disciples? What was the result of having him in the boat?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like the disciples or are you like the crowd? Maybe, in some ways, you are like both. Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently? How do you explain what Jesus did?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - Galilean fishing boats were quite small and storms on the lake can be sudden and fierce. A boat could easily be swamped and it might have been safer to row than to sail. If the wind was in the wrong direction rowing would have been the only solution.

Wikipedia has further images of the 2000-year-old boat and information about its discovery and preservation.

< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

28 July 2012

Jesus in Zechariah

We look at chapter six of Zechariah, investigate the meanings of some names, discover Jesus hidden in this Old Testament passage, and see that following in his footsteps we are truly a royal priesthood.

A crown for the KingSean and I have been working our way through Zechariah for a few weeks, and we've been finding a whole lot to ponder on.

Last time we read chapter six, and the section from verse nine to the end seemed rich with meaning (Zechariah 6:9-15). It's all about Jesus!

Zechariah is called to accept gold and silver from three returning exiles. Their name are Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah. These names are not accidental.

The meanings of the names - Curiously, Heldai can be translated 'mole' or 'worldly' or 'rustiness'. Moles dig underground, and rust reverses the hard work of smelting iron, converting it back to dust. So the name seems to suggest the world and its influence.

Tobijah on the other hand means 'Yahweh is good', and Jedaiah means 'Yahweh's friend'.

The silver and gold is to be made into a crown and set on the head of the high priest whose name is Joshua (ie Jeshua or Yahshua or 'Yahweh saves'). New Testament English translations render this name 'Jesus'. And Jesus of course is, indeed, our Great High Priest.

Let's ponder this a little before we move on. The corruptible world, the goodness of the Most High, and his friend bring silver and gold. And they bring it from the place of captivity, the place of exile.

Heldai represents you and me. We are worldliness. Every believer in Jesus, every one of us, has been rescued from a place of exile. But now we have come out from captivity and from death. We have come to the throne of glory, we are covered by grace, we have come to new life in Christ.

Tobijah represents the Almighty who is pure and good in every way. He is Emmanuel, the Most High with us, he came (as Jesus) into the place of captivity to find us and he travels out from exile with us.

Jedaiah represents the friendship between Heldai and Tobijah. Through Christ we have now become Yahweh's friends, not by our own merit but solely through his. Yahshua said, 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.' (John 15;15)

The crown - The gifts of silver and gold are things that will last, things that are worthy of being forged into a crown fit for the King. They're the gold and silver and costly stones that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, things that will remain after the fire. The crown is the church, the bride, the thing that complements and completes the King upon his throne. We, his people, are the lasting gifts brought out from captivity and exile and wrought into a holy crown. To us he gave his glory, the glory that the Father has given him. We are his crowning glory, the work of his own hands (I will build my church). This is a mystery revealed to those who have eyes to see. It is an eternal work. It will never fade or fail.

And all of this is laid out by Zechariah, hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth called the fishermen from Galilee and brought the vision to ultimate fulfilment in his own life and death and resurrection.

The Father speaks to the Son - In verses 12-15 we read a message from Yahweh Elohim to Joshua the High Priest - or if you like, a message from the Father to the Son. We read about the man whose name is 'The Branch', he is also mentioned in Isaiah and Jeremiah, he is clearly Jesus. He is the one who builds the Temple, he is the one who is clothed in majesty and rules on his throne. He will be a priest on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two. In other words there will be harmony between kingship and priesthood.

This was unheard of in Israel, but in Christ kingship and priesthood are combined. We inherit this harmony through him, hence we are a 'royal priesthood'. (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - 1 Peter 2:9)

I'd like to leave you with a question. If Jesus is the High Priest and we are priests, what does Jesus being the King make us? Does this affect the way we see ourselves and live our lives?

27 July 2012

Not rules, but relationship

How we need to get the basis of our faith right. But so often we have it utterly wrong! It's not about rules, it's about relationship. Jesus was quite clear about this - 'I and the Father are one', 'Love one another as I have loved you'.

Interview with William P Young
I've been listening to a two-year-old recording of an interview with the author of 'The Shack', William P Young. Kathleen Slattery Moschkau questions him and he explains the background to the book as well as some of his own, personal history.

The entire interview is moving, informative and gripping, but it also gives us glimpses of the real Paul Young as well as glimpses of the love of the One who just is. The One who was and is and will always be. The One who longs to find me in my lostness.

There are two snippets from the interview that I need to share with you here. Not because they are better than any other part but simply because I won't be able to rest until I have shared them. I have stopped working on another post so I can get this one out there first.

First, here's the link to the interview so that you can hear it for yourself.

The two segments I feel compelled to share are around 10:43 and 19:30 minutes into the interview.

Rejection - At 10:43 Paul mentions that churches sometimes reject people who are beginning to be open.  He explains that he was once involved in a fellowship where this happened. The way he puts it is 'when their cracks showed up we just kicked them out'. If that sounds harsh it's because it is! But it happens because we are lost. Instead of loving the person we are afraid of the cracks we see. We can't handle it. We preserve our rules and structures by rejecting the 'misfits' who would cause the entire facade to collapse.

Acceptance - And at 19:30 Paul explains that 'Jesus came to destroy religion by introducing a relationship'. It's not about rules. It's about love. It's about relationship.

Those two segments are saying exactly the same thing in two different ways. We often handle those around us by rejecting whatever threatens the things that seem important. We don't want our world to crumble.

But Father (Daddy, Papa, Abba) simply pours out his love over us (and his grace, and his peace, and the fragrance of his presence, and even his glory - John 17:20-22).

He wants me to do the same. He wants me to love and pour out grace, peace, and the fragrance of his Spirit and glory. He wants me to do it freely and abundantly and with gay abandon. It's never too late to start.

Do you have stories of  times when rules took precedence over love? Can you identify good and less good experiences in you own life? How would you describe Papa's yearning for relationship with us as his children? How can we learn to better accept one another in life-giving relationship?

21 July 2012

Security in a button?

I received a message about a button from my friend Ash. The Spirit gave him a picture of the button and then showed him how it represents security. I like what he shared and I think it deserves to be more widely circulated.

A button on denim jeans
Ashley sent me a message about a button and wondered if I might use it on the blog.

The answer was 'Yes, definitely!' So here it is.

Read it first, then I'll comment on it, and finally you can comment too if you wish.

I hope we do have a conversation in the comments. It could be rather useful.

Put on your thinking-cap and start stroking that keyboard or tablet.

Secure in Jesus...

I belong to a small home group which meets on a weekly basis. This week we met as usual and we were encouraged to discuss, and then try sitting quietly and listening to God. As the group compromises of Christians young and mature, we shared how to go about getting to listening and hearing.

It is something I have learnt to do and had some good experiences from over the years. God talks to me via pictures a lot and also through other people. Today when I was preparing my spirit for my quiet time God quickly gave me a picture of a button. I sat in his presence for not very long when I had back that the significance of this picture was about being secure.

A pair of trousers, like life is no good unless they are secure. Trousers with no button could have you holding them up manually, maybe with one hand so you are not as effective as you could be in what you do on a daily basis with two hands. If you stopped trying to hold them up, they would fall down around your ankles and could cause you to fall over them. Life holds no security for us as anything is temporary. We are all at anytime able to lose a job or a loved one for example. Total security is only available in a relationship with Jesus.

Everybody at some stage in life will wear trousers and want them to be secure, just like at some stage in life we will want Jesus to help us to be secure. Jesus does not want this at some stage approach. He wants us to be in a lifelong relationship with him, trusting in him and getting to know him.

Thanks for sharing, Ash.

I love the idea of a button providing security. A button is a small thing, almost an insignificant thing, yet for lack of one we might be seriously embarrassed and inconvenienced.

In what ways might we be embarrassed and inconvenienced without a relationship with Jesus? How might our security be affected?

There is the obvious answer of eternal life, but there are also several less obvious ways in which he gives us security. Anyone care to comment?

Does the Holy Spirit speak to you? If so, how? Do you have any particular advice to help others learn to listen or listen more attentively?

20 July 2012

So - who is my neighbour?

Henri Nouwen looks at the parable of the good Samaritan in a slightly different way. So who is my neighbour? Have I always misunderstood the main thrust of this story, or does Nouwen have it wrong. Or am I missing the point?

Henri Nouwen and the good SamaritanHenri Nouwen wrote some great books, full of depth and character resulting from a lifetime of learning and growing in Christ. He was a gentle, careful, caring person. He was an encourager and a calming influence. He had substance - not in himself but in Christ.

I've been reading the daily meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society (highly recommended, by the way). This is today's extract.
'Love your neighbour as yourself' the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38). But who is my neighbour?

We often respond to that question by saying: 'My neighbours are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.' But this is not what Jesus says.

When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question 'Who is my neighbour?' he ends the by asking: 'Which, ... do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?'

The neighbour, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man laying on the side of the street, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, 'bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, ... lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.' My neighbour is the one who crosses the road for me!

What do you think of this idea? Is Nouwen right? Has he seen 'beneath the surface' as it were, and recognised a deeper spiritual truth?

To me it seems more fitting that we should love those that need our love rather than those that help us. So is this one of those rare occasions when Nouwen got it wrong? Although the text supports his conclusion if we take it literally, is this what it really means? Is this what Yahshua intended as he spoke to the lawyer? (See the entire passage - Luke 10:25-37)

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

18 July 2012

The crowds are fed

Part 4 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

People are hungry - and there are a lot of people. Jesus asks the disciples about feeding them and then shows that neither money nor large supplies of food are necessary. We finish with the usual four questions.

Traditional Jordanian breadFor the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

At Tabgha on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee is a church at the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand.

About 300 years after the crowd ate the bread and fish, a woman called Egeria visited and wrote of this site.

'In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.'

So let's read the passage from John and then ask the usual four questions.


Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’ (John 6:1-15)

As for the earlier signs in John, I'll now ask the four questions suggested by Neil Cole and provide some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there is the crowd. Why were they following Jesus? Travelling around on foot would have been quite an effort, they would have been both tired and hungry. Any who were not young, fit and well might have been really struggling. Right at the end the people are mentioned again. How did they respond to what had happened?

Next is Philip. His solution to feeding the people is to buy food, but he knew this was unaffordable for so many.

Andrew knew they had some food, but only a token amount among so many.

The disciples (including Philip and Andrew) are mentioned later. Jesus tells them to pick up the pieces. This might have seemed an unnecessary chore (the were no littering laws in those days). How did they respond? What were they thinking as the baskets filled up?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Jesus crossed to the far shore. He was always travelling about the land. Why?

His initial response to the crowd was to go up into the hills. But they followed him. What is his attitude to this crowd?

Notice how he uses questions to teach the disciples, getting people to think and verbalise is more effective than just giving the answer.

Jesus tells the disciples what to do - make them sit down - gather up the pieces. Who is in control here?

Right at the end, is he taken by surprise by the intentions of the crowd? Does he approve of their desire to make him a king? What is going on here?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in the story? Are you like all of them in some way? Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - John mentions 5000 men in this crowd. The total size of the crowd would have been more, perhaps substantially more if they had counted women and children too.

< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

17 July 2012

An invalid is healed

Part 3 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

Jesus heals a lame man and tells him to pick up his mat and walk. As it's the Sabbath, this leads to trouble with the Jewish leaders. Once again we will ask four questions after reading the passage.

Remains in the vicinity of the Pool of Bethesda
Here is the third sign in John, for the background please read the index page.

Parts of the Pool of Bethesda are still visible in Jerusalem. The archaeology is not straightforward to understand because of the presence of later structures. But remains of the pool are definitely present.

The covered colonnades have long since gone, but they would have provided cool shade where the sick would have waited, hoping that the water would be stirred so that one person might be healed each day.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’

But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’

So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’

As for the earlier signs in John, I'll now ask the four questions suggested by Neil Cole and provide some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - Let's work through them systematically.


There was a crowd at the Pool of Bethesda - a 'great number' of disabled people lying there. Why were they there? And why so many of them? What were their expectations of success?


Among them is this one particular man. We don't know his name, but Jesus spoke to him. How did he respond to Jesus' question? Why didn't he simply answer 'Yes'? Was he healed as Jesus spoke or as he obeyed? How does he reply to the Jewish leaders who quiz him after he is healed? And later, after he meets Jesus again in the Temple, why might he have gone back to the Jewish leaders?


Next we must consider the Jewish leaders themselves. Are they glad to hear about the healing? Whose interests do they have at heart? What motives underlie their question to the healed man? What was their attitude to Jesus?


What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why was Jesus in Jerusalem, what does this tell us about his attitude to Jewish traditions?


He also went to a place where there were many sick people. Is he willing or unwilling to deal with the pain and misery that people sometimes face? Did he heal everyone, if not how many?


What is his view on rules like working on the Sabbath? Are there things that he sees as more important? If so, what? How did he explain his attitude to the Sabbath regulations?


What does it tell me about myself? - Are there any ways in which you are a bit like the characters portrayed here?


Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know anyone who might be encouraged by this story? Do you know anyone who needs healing? Do you know anyone with strong religious attitudes about following rules and regulations? If you know people who need to hear this story, who will tell them? Might you need to tell them?


Additional points - Jewish law was quite strict. Picking something up and carrying it counted as work and was not allowed on the Sabbath.

< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

15 July 2012

Throwing stones

The law brings judgement and death. Grace brings forgiveness and life. And what I receive I should also freely give to others. There is no advantage in receiving grace if I do not also share it around liberally. As I judge, so will I be judged.

Writing in the dust
While I was walking back from town two days ago I was thinking about the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. And I was struck powerfully by a sudden thought. I realised what Jesus had meant when he said that the one without sin should throw the first stone. he was talking about himself!

Looking the passage up later I discovered, of course, that others had come to this conclusion ahead of me. But the sudden revelation while walking left its mark nonetheless. It had been a revelation to me. It was an example of how abruptly and quite without warning we can grasp a new aspect of something. We suddenly 'get' it, and usually for no particular reason.

These flashes of inspiration or revelation are valuable, but they don't seem to come from careful and exhaustive study. Rather, they are like small movements caught in the corner of the eye. Our attention is caught, our gaze shifts, and we become suddenly aware of what we had not known and were not looking for.

Here is the passage I was pondering...

Early next morning he returned to the Temple and the entire crowd came to him. So he sat down and began to teach them. But the scribes and Pharisees brought in to him a woman who had been caught in adultery. They made her stand in front, and then said to him, “Now, master, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. Now, what do you say about her?”

They said this to test him, so that they might have some good grounds for an accusation. But Jesus stooped down and began to write with his finger in the dust on the ground. But as they persisted in their questioning, he straightened himself up and said to them, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing with his finger on the ground. And when they heard what he said, they were convicted by their own consciences and went out, one by one, beginning with the eldest until they had all gone.

Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing where they had put her. So he stood up and said to her, “Where are they all—did no one condemn you?”

And she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus to her. “Go home and do not sin again.” (John 8:2-11, JB Phillips New Testament)

Jesus said the one without sin should throw the first stone. But there was one person in the room who had no sin and who therefore had the right to throw that first stone. And that was Jesus. All the others had left, aware of their own sin and, perhaps, not wanting to have it pointed out!

So instead of condemning her, Jesus simply told her 'Neither do I condemn you, go and don't sin any more'.

This is grace at work. The law demanded the death penalty. Jesus alone had the right to pronounce and carry out that penalty. But he forgave her and let her leave in peace. If we are not forgiven by the one who has the right to exact the penalty, we are not forgiven at all!

Thank you, Lord, for your grace - freely given but never deserved. Thank you for your love towards us. Thank you for your peace resting upon us. Thank you for your presence amongst us and your fellowship with us. Where two or three are gathered... Thank you, Lord.

13 July 2012

Pink blackberry - IMAGE

(Click the photo for a larger view)

Pink flowered wild blackberry - Photo taken 13th July 2012
Plants vary considerably within a species. Seedlings are all slightly different from one another and this wild, hedgerow blackberry near my home is no exception. Its flowers are easily the most deeply coloured I've seen. The normal colour is from white to a very pale pink.

What does this image say to you? There are no wrong answers. Add a comment.

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

12 July 2012

David Black's convictions

David Black's list of convictions expresses the essence of a spiritual priesthood. The convictions are listed here for you to consider and comment on. Perhaps it's time for a list of this kind, similar to the theses nailed to the church door by Martin Luther.

The Wittenberg door where Luther nailed his theses
I came across the following list of convictions on Alan Knox's blog, 'The assembling of the church'. He in turn had found them on the blog of David Black (9th July 2012).

David suggests that the list expresses the essence of a spiritual priesthood. I agree. (See 1 Peter 2:4-10)

For me this list is quite delightful and very insightful. It deserves to be widely seen and discussed so please add a comment.

Are you convinced of each of these points? If not, which ones do you disagree with and why? Would you add any further convictions of your own? If so, what?

  1. I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.
  2. I am convinced of the normalcy of tent making leadership.
  3. I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.
  4. I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.
  5. I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient -- efficient in doing almost everything than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.
  6. I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.
  7. I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.
  8. I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.
  9. I am convinced that the church is a multigenerational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.
  10. I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.
  11. I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.
  12. I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.
  13. I am convinced that Paul's letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.
  14. I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.
  15. I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.
  16. I am convinced that since all believers are "joints" in the body, ministry is every believer's task.
  17. I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God's people for works of service both in the church and in the world.
  18. I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.
  19. I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.
  20. I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry. The fundamental premise upon which I operate is that each believer in the church needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.

11 July 2012

Healing at a distance

Part 2 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< Water becomes wine | Index | An invalid is healed >

In the second of John's signs, Jesus speaks with a royal official in Cana and heals his son. The interaction between Jesus and the official is illuminating. It reveals much about them both.

The royal official pleading for his son
Here is the second sign in John's book about Jesus.

John explained the reason for including this sign as well as six others.

He wrote, 'Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.'

'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

Here, then, is his account of the second sign in which Jesus heals a boy without even having him physically present.

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay ill at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’

The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’

‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’

Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and his whole household believed.

This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

Here are the four questions once more, again I'm not going to provide answers but will try to point you to where those answers might be found.

What does this story tell us about people? - Consider each of them in turn.

The journey from Capernaum to Cana was 27 km (17 miles) and it was uphill most of the way, a tough and exhausting journey. The royal official may have been Jewish or he may have been Greek or Roman. He would have commanded some status, but Jesus also had a certain status as a Jewish Rabbi. Did the royal official treat Jesus as an equal? If not, did he treat Jesus as high or low status? The passage tells us several more things about the official and his actions. Consider everything he did and said.

The next person mentioned is the child who was ill. John doesn't tell us how old he was, but we know he was back home in Capernaum.

Next, Jesus mentions the unspecified 'you people'. Is he talking about important officials, the listening crowd, the population of Cana or Capernaum, or people in general?

Then we read about the official's servants. They know that he will want to hear the good news about his son. The servants may have left Capernaum about the same time the official left Cana. They would have met about halfway between the two places.

And finally, John mentions the official's 'whole household'. This would typically have included his family (young and old alike) as well as his servants.

What does it tell us about Jesus? - There is information here about his mobility in Judea and Galilee, his attitude to requests for help, his knowledge about people's motives, his authority in speaking to people, his authority over the natural world, and his effect on the people who met him.

The Greek word 'zao' (your son will live) refers to eternal life when it's used elsewhere in John. It therefore implies more than just surviving in a worldly sense. When the 'whole household believed', that would have included the boy who had been ill.

What else can we learn about Jesus from these verses? Did you notice that in doing the one thing he was asked to do there was a greater fruit that came from the answered prayer?

Finally, what does this sign convey about the healing process? Does Jesus need to be physically present? What does the answer imply for us when we pray?

What does it tell me about myself? - Is there anyone in this passage that reminds you of yourself? Have you ever had sickness in the family?

Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know anyone who would benefit from hearing the story of this healing? Will you help them? If not, why not?

Additional points - This sign takes things well beyond the first one. Physical things (bread and wine) have been replaced by a dying child. The stakes are higher this time!

As before you might consider using this blog post as a discussion outline or Bible study. There are many possibilities. One to one with a friend would be good too.

There is much more about the royal official in Cornelis Bennema's book 'Encountering Jesus'. You can read a relevant extract on line.

< Water becomes wine | Index | An invalid is healed >

10 July 2012

Water becomes wine

Part 1 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

Jesus was invited to a wedding in the village of Cana. While the wedding reception was still under way the wine ran out. How embarrassing for the bridegroom! There is so much to learn from the people and events in Cana that day.

A modern British wedding reception
This is the first sign in John's gospel. Just to recap, here is John's explanation about the inclusion of this sign in his book about Jesus.

'Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.'

'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

Now read John's account of this first sign.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

We'll go through the four questions in turn, and although I'm not going to provide answers I will try to point you to where those answers might be found.

What does this story tell us about people? - There are several people in this short passage, consider them carefully one by one. Bear in mind that the people in the story are just like us; although they lived two thousand years ago they have the same characteristics and motivations and do the same sorts of things.

The disciples are mentioned twice, near the beginning and again at the end.

Jesus' mother knew her son just as any mother would. What does she do and how does she respond to what he tells her?

Don't forget the servants, they are easily overlooked. Remember that servants would not be expected to chat with the guests, but they would be expected to be attentive and do whatever they were told. What do you think they might have been thinking as they took the water to the MC?

Then there's the Master of Ceremonies, he's supposed to be in charge but he doesn't seem to have noticed where the new supply of wine came from. In what ways are we like him? He was familiar with the little tricks people often use, do you sense his surprise? What does this tell you about people?

And how do you suppose the bridegroom felt when the wine ran out? Why might this have happened? (I can think of several plausible reasons.) Have you ever been in a situation where you were responsible for something important and didn't get it quite right?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Was Jesus stuffy and religious? Notice that he was invited to a party and was happy to be there. Is he aloof or approachable?

Why do you think he says one thing to his mother and then seems to do the opposite? Who told him it wasn't time yet, and who told him, 'Now is the time'? Remember that he said, 'I only do what I see the Father doing'. Is he being difficult, or just being obedient? Compare this with John 7:8-10.

What do we learn about his power and authority in the world?

Does he do everything himself or does he send others?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in this story? In what ways?

Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know people who need to hear this story, this 'sign'? If so, who is going to tell them? Could you share this with others individually? Could you share it with a group of friends?

Additional points - The wine had run out so there must have been plenty of empty wine jars and/or wineskins around. So why did Jesus used the hand-washing water jars? Would you want to drink washing water?

Consider using this blog post as a discussion outline for a CU meeting or for a home group or cell group. Use it as part of a Bible study or for informal sharing. There are all sorts of possibilities.

< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

09 July 2012

Seven signs in John - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

The seven signs in John are a useful way of engaging people's attention on who Jesus is. He is more than an historical figure, more than a wise teacher, more than many people realise. These particular seven events were written down to help us see his true nature and significance.

Seven signs in John
Near the end of John's spiritual biography of Jesus, he writes these words.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

What 'signs' is John referring to here? - There are seven of them, and over the next week or two I plan to write short notes on each one. John wrote about these particular signs '[so] that you might believe'. He regarded them as especially useful in drawing people to believe that Jesus was the Son of the Most High. We should surely take note of them and use them in reaching others.

Click the links in the list to read the articles.
  1. Water becomes wine (John 2:1-11)
  2. Healing at a distance (John 4:46-54)
  3. An invalid is healed (John 5:1-17)
  4. The crowds are fed (John 6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (John 6:16-24)
  6. The blind man sees (John 9:1-41)
  7. Raising the dead (John 11:1-54)

Neil Cole - Neil has written about the seven signs and suggests a useful way of approaching them in simple conversations. I'll examine them in a little more detail here, though still aim to leave readers to reach their own conclusions. Being told something is not as powerful as drawing meaning out for yourself. Sometimes an open question is more valuable than a closed answer.

Neil suggests asking four questions about each sign.

  1. What does it tell us about people?
  2. What does it tell us about Jesus?
  3. What does it tell me about myself?
  4. Who else needs to hear this?
You might enjoy listening to Neil Cole speaking about the usefulness of these signs.

See also: RESPONSE - Seven signs in John

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