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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