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Archive for January, 2014

righteous judgment | John 7.24

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 90 of 240

24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7.24 | ESV

“Will you stop rendering judgments on such a superficial level and start really getting to the heart of the matter, just for once?” MAV

This is like a one sentence prescription for closing the legalism gap in our lives.

Once again, legalism = a philosophy of focusing on the text of written law to the exclusion of the intent of law, elevating strict adherence to law over justice, mercy, grace and common sense.

The challenge in navigating the closing of such a gap is respecting the text while embracing intent without falling into the abyss of a nit-picking legalism or a malignant liberalism. Obviously, easier said than done. Just how many of us really dig the prospect of walking a tightrope? Over Niagara Falls?

I read something years ago from Josh McDowell – if I remember right it was in his book Right From Wrong. The illustration has always stuck with me. McDowell painted a three-tiered picture to help in processing laws and rules.

We start with the precept – what the rule actually says, the literal letters and words. Let’s use, as an example, the Old Testament law “Don’t muzzle the ox that’s treading out the grain.” There’s our precept.

Now move through the precept to the principle. In this case, the principle is “it’s just an ox, but it’s doing the work, so let it benefit from it!” It’s a principle of fairness at play (or at work!) here. In fact, Paul takes this precept totally out of its agricultural context, going so far as to say “God’s not talking about oxen at all!” and applies it to those who “labor in the Gospel” to benefit from said labor, yoking Moses’ precept with Jesus’ statement “the worker deserves his wages” (a right, having established it, Paul then refuses to utilize for himself).

And beyond precept and principle lay the person – the heart of the Lawgiver. God is just. Yes, he does too care about a big dumb ox and bristles at the unfairness of not seeing him able to eat the grain as he pulls the sledge that winnows it. And if he cares about the big dumb ox, what does that say about a human being made in his image?

Now imagine not taking this journey, and getting stuck at the precept level. Enacting massive fair ox legislation, cracking down on muzzling farmers who deprive their big dumb oxen of eating as they work – while you aren’t paying your own workers in your legislative machine pushing your fair ox agenda?

That’s kinda what we do.
All the time.

And Jesus tells us to look beyond precept’s face to the deeper principle residing in the living heart of the person of God.
And he calls that “righteous judgment.”

We need a bit more of that.

Where have you found yourself challenged most recently to “judge a righteous judgment” – to look beyond the face of facts and rules to the real heart of a matter? How did you do it? What happened?

Abba, help me to press beyond the mere face of things through to the heart of what lies before me today, to your Heart in it all. Show me how to “judge with righteous judgment” rather than parroting others’ or my own prejudices. And let all such judgment bring light and life. Through Christ.

know truth_2


wide gap of legalism | John 7.21-22

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 89 of 240

21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? John 7.21-22 | ESV

Unfazed by their protest of innocence, Jesus plowed right on ahead into some recent history. “The lame man I healed on the Sabbath really got under your skin, didn’t he? I gave you one sign. A miraculous deed. Everyone was stunned with amazement! Moses also gave you something: the covenanting rite of circumcision (okay, circumcision goes back further than Moses, but he’s the one responsible for making it a sticking point) and you faithfully practice this rite, even on Stop Day (the Sabbath). If a man can have a part of his body lopped off on the Sabbath so that Moses’ law can remain unbroken, then why all the fuss and bilious fury over me restoring all of a man’s parts in fully functioning order on the Sabbath – what more appropriate day is there to do that?”  MAV

We absolutely adore Jesus when he lays into legalists.
We do.
It’s one of our guilty pleasures.

And, of course, everyone who disagrees with us and is more restrictive than we are is a legalist – just as everyone who disagrees with us and is more permissive is a liberal. Because Jesus lambastes liberals less in readily available word-bites, we have less Jesus-ammunition to launch in their direction – but we still find some, of course.

The much harder challenge for us is dealing with the legalist (and the liberal) within ourselves. And we each have one. We all do it (just raise your hand now and get it over with). In fact, we can all be quite legalistic in our battle against legalism, can’t we?

Definition: legalism = a philosophy of focusing on the text of written law to the exclusion of the intent of law, elevating strict adherence to law over justice, mercy, grace and common sense.

The gap of legalism is the gap between intent and letter; the heart of the Lawgiver and our handling of the letters that Lawgiver used in expressing that intent. It’s the classic scenario of missing the forest for the trees. Instead of being inspired by the wondrous forest stretching out before us and empowered for living with vigor and passion, we’re stuck in the muck at the base of a tree. Like Bilbo, we desperately need to climb to the top of the canopy of Mirkwood to take in the larger view, to see the way forward beyond the confusing legalistic word webs and darkened dead ends below.

That is essentially what Jesus is doing as he reasons not merely with a group of legalists, but an inherently legalistic culture (yes, they look just like us).

The intent of Sabbath was rest-oration and wholeness that could only be achieved by ceasing from our frenzied pace, and stopping, breathing, relaxing. And what do we do? We become so uptight and frenzied in our efforts to make sure everyone is making a proper stop, that we miss the whole point. We become so obsessed with the letters S T O P and R E S T that we end up unable to see that giving a lame man his legs on the Sabbath so he can for the first time in years actually go home and rest is what the Sabbath is all about, regardless of what rules we might have in place to protect the Stop Day.

Jesus is simply trying to get our heads above the canopy of trees to see the expansive landscape of God’s heart, empowering us, not to rebel against rules, but to alternately run or rest with the heart of the Lawgiver, wherever he may lead us.

How alive and well is the legalist in your own heart – how wide is the gap of legalism in your life? What do you find is most effective in dealing with him/her?

Abba, I long to have my head lifted above the canopy of life to see the sweeping vistas of grace you would show me. Free my feet from the webs of my own legalistic tendencies. Free me from kicking at all rules or being obsessed with them – dissolve each of those webs so that I can run free with you where you would lead. Through Jesus.

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closing the gap | John 7.19-20

Gospel of John headerWEDNESDAY
Reflection 88 of 240

19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” John 7.19-20 | ESV

But can I ask you a question – you love Moses, and Moses gave you the law, and yet you regularly trash the law by not doing what it says. What’s up with all these ‘wanted: dead or alive’ posters with my name on them?” The crowd shot back, feigning ignorance, “What posters? Who wants you dead? What are you talking about? Are you crazy or just demonic? Who wants to kill you?” MAV

It’s a classic scenario – and we like to imagine it applies to everyone but to ourselves: reverently holding the Bible in one hand while totally defying it with the other.

This scenario is especially effective if we can, when so trashing it, actually see such trashing as fidelity to it or to the greater good envisioned by it. We hold to the law of love, painting it with broad strokes on our walls, but then graffiti over it with black streaks of ugliness we insist is not only a legitimate expression of love but it’s ultimate outcome. And so we end up killing people in love for Christ’s sake in an ever widening gap between what we say and the reality that continues to flow from our lives. Jesus here points to this wide gap, while they deny the problem, topping off that denial with insult.


Paul chimes in, pointing to the chasm of our hypocrisy in his classic diagnosis in Romans (Message style):

If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away. Romans 2:14-24 | Message

Yes, this surely is an “old problem that isn’t going to go away.” But, as we often say, to see the old problem and how the gap between word and walk may be widening in my own life is perhaps to be ready for the solution that’s been standing right in front of us the whole time.

How is wide is the “gap” in your own life between your walk and talk? Where have you been seeing that gap widening? Where is it shrinking?

Abba, wake me up to the existing gaps in my life between what I say and what I do. I know those gaps are there. Give me the courage to see them – and the confidence that each gap can, in fact, become a bridge of grace in your hands. Through Jesus.

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knowing truth | John 7.14-18

Gospel of John headerTUESDAY
Reflection 87 of 240

14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”  16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. John 7.14-18 | ESV

Then, in the midst of that fog of fear, right in the middle of that weeklong Tentmaker festival, Jesus shows up out of nowhere and begins teaching right there in the temple. The trolling, pious Judeans were gobsmacked – they didn’t lift a finger against him because they were to busying picking their jaws up off the floor. “How can he be such an expert in all the old books when he’s never spent a day in school his whole life!?” they stammered out loud. No stammering for Jesus—he was ready with an answer on the spot: “This isn’t my lesson plan – I’m only working off the Great Sender’s syllabus. Anyone who really wants to know what he wants, what he’s up to, will recognize in a heartbeat whether this is merely my concocted syllabus or one divinely delivered from him. Anyone who goes on and on about his own theory and ideas is obviously looking to establish his own reputation and following; the one who selflessly promotes the reputation of the Someone Else who sent him is clearly the real deal – nothing false or phony about him! MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)

In my religious upbringing, knowing truth was a relatively simple equation:

Bible + correctly applied rules of logic = truth.

Such things as motivation and intention really didn’t count for much – except to say that if you didn’t reach the same conclusions you obviously weren’t thinking clearly and your sincerity is irrelevant.

Looping system.
Closed heart.

Thankfully, Jesus loves showing up in looping, closed systems, right in the middle of them.

No recognized credentials or invitation.
No proffered equations with logically and externally verifiable data that the system will recognize and process.

And the system sputters and chokes.

“How can this man teach, never having learned?”

And while he does offer tangible signs of healing and cogent reasoning, both seem familiar and foreign at the same time, near and far, life-giving and explosive. Our systems can handle easily verified, collated and controlled external data, but Jesus seems to root so much of his message and authority in inner more tricky and seemingly subjective realms.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
Those who want what he wants will know the truth of what I’m saying. Otherwise, not so much.

Oh, tricky business, this.

Give me those verbal equations on the page with truth residing in them right there, ready for anyone to calculate at will. But how much more elusive reality is – at least the one taught by Christ. Less like a tangible key for any hand with a simple grasp/insert/turn truth to it (read/pray/obey) and much more like the frustrating doors before the Mines of Moria. No forcing this. Only a patient willingness to wait for just the right light to strike the subject, then to speak “friend” and enter.

And that, quite simply, does not compute.

How do you navigate the tension between careful study of data on a page and more intuitive, internal knowing of truth? What are the dangers of an excessive, monopolizing swing in either direction?

Abba, open my eyes and heart to see more in your Word, more in You, than religious equations on a page with words to parse and sentences to analyze. May all such exercises only lead me to a much deeper experience of your heart. Draw my heart into a deeper, resonating desire for yours. Through Jesus.

know truth

tabernacles | John 7.14

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 86 of 240

14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. John 7.14 | ESV

Let’s let Alfred Edersheim set the stage for this week’s devotional journey by putting us right in the middle of this feast (the book is Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; just a bit of a classic)…we need to be transported just a bit…

This was pre-eminently the Feast for foreign pilgrims, coming from the farthest distance, whose Temple contributions were then received and counted…

my copy...36 yrs old and counting...

They could come at this season of the year – not during the winter for the Passover, nor yet quite so readily in summer’s heat for Pentecost. But now, in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all harvest-operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and the vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, and countrymen from Judea, Perea, and Galilee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem, under the ever-present shadow of that glorious Sanctuary of marble, cedarwood, and gold, up there on high Moriah, symbol of the infinitely more glorious overshadowing Presence of Him, Who was the Holy One in the midst of Israel.

How all day long, even till the stars lit up the deep blue canopy overhead, the smoke of the burning, smouldering sacrifices rose in slowly-widening column, and hung between the Mount of Olives and Zion; how the chant of Levites, and the solemn responses of the Hallel were borne on the breeze, or the clear blast of the Priests’ silver trumpets seemed to waken the echoes far away! And then, at night, how all these vast Temple-buildings stood out, illuminated by the great Candelabras that burned in the Court of the Women, and by the glare of torches, when strange sound of mystic hymns and dances came floating over the intervening darkness! Truly, well might Israel designate the Feast of Tabernacles as “the Feast,” and the Jewish historian describe it as “the holiest and greatest.”

Early on the 14th Tishri (corresponding to our September or early October), all the festive pilgrims had arrived. Then it was, indeed a scene of bustle and activity. Hospitality had to be sought and found; guests to be welcomed and entertained; all things required for the feast to be readied. Above all, booths must be erected everywhere – in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgment and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere, to remind of the wilderness-journey, and now of the goodly land. Only the fierce castle, Antonia, which frowned above the Temple, was undecked by the festive spring into which the land had burst…yet for all this, Israel could not read on the lowering sky the signs of the times, nor yet knew the day of their merciful visitation. And this, although of all festivals, that of Tabernacles should have most clearly pointed them to the future…

And into the midst of this massive celebration stood Jesus, the Name on everyone’s mind, if not their lips…and he began teaching.

Edersheim laments that in the midst of all this activity, Israel of old missed the entire “reason for the season” of Tabernacles. How can we keep from missing the reason for this season we’re in right here and now? How tuned in are you?

Abba, such busy days, such brisk months and seasons and years. In the midst of all that is going down around me, help me to stayed tuned into your presence in the here and now; to truly understand the times and to be ready to hear you when you suddenly stand up to speak. Through Jesus.


who is this man? | John 7.11-13

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 85 of 240

The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. John 7.11-13 | ESV

Meanwhile, back at the feast, the piously zealous Judeans were on the prowl for Jesus in the midst of the festivities. “Where is that man??” they kept asking each other. And everywhere they went, people were abuzz with low, murmuring voices, all about him. “He’s a good man,” some would say, while others yammered, “No, he’s a heretic, a radical, misleading the people.” But no one would dare say his name out loud – fear of the prowling religious Judeans hung heavy in the air everywhere. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)

Let me end this week with a quote within a quote – John Ortberg in his book Who Is This Man? quoting N.T. Wright:who is this man

Jesus is deeply mysterious, not only because he lived long ago in a world strange to us. Jesus is mysterious not just because of what we don’t know about him. He is mysterious because of what we do know about him. As N.T. Wright observed, what we do know about him “is so unlike what we know about anybody else that we are forced to ask, as people evidently did at the time: who, then is this? Who does he think he is, and who is he in fact?” From the time on the cusp of manhood when he began discussing God, we are told that people were amazed and his own parents were astonished (Luke 2:47-48). When he began to teach, people were sometimes delighted and sometimes infuriated, but always astounded. Pilate couldn’t understand him, Herod plied him with questions, and his own disciples were often as confused as anybody. As Wright said: “People who listened to him at the time said things like, ‘We’ve never heard anyone talking like this’ and they didn’t just mean his tone of voice or his skillful public speaking. Jesus puzzled people then, and he puzzles us still’…Jesus is as hard to nail down as Jell-O.”

So at least we’re in good company.

Perhaps it’s good to recognize ourselves more or less in this questioning, stammering crowd.
Perhaps we should be most concerned about ourselves if we think we totally get Jesus and can comprehend and explain the mystery of Christ (and, look, we have charts and diagrams!).

I suspect that no matter how long we keep company with him he will always retain the capacity to blow our minds and explode all of our neat explanations about him – unless that’s a cardboard cut-out Jesus we’re carrying around with us instead of the Living Lord who carries us – and who has this annoying tendency to show up unexpectedly within the room of our explanations that are firmly locked and secured with our bolted arguments, and then vanish.


How often do you find yourself still puzzled by Jesus? How does he puzzle you? Is this a good thing or a bad thing for you?

Lord, remind me today that I am not saved, healed, empowered by understanding and explaining you, but by trusting you in all of your mysterious being and moving. Deepen my trust in you, and let me always retain the ability to be surprised by you – and by all of life! Teach me how to embrace mystery rather than trying to contain and embalm it in a theological specimen jar. Amen.

walking on water by melanie ewing

the God who hides himself | John 7.10

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 84 of 240

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.
John 7.10 | ESV

Off his brothers went, taking their shaking heads and clucking tongues with them. And no sooner had they headed off on the pilgrimage trail along with the rest of the happy campers, than Jesus turned right around and headed off after them. But all on the sly. No fanfare. No company. MAV

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” (Isaiah 45:15)

This is one of the harder aspects about God, but one of the more undeniable ones.

The mysterious, disappearing God that can leave us wondering if he was ever even there to begin with. There seems to be far too much hide and seek, far too much now you see me now you don’t going on in this whole God business.

And Jesus turns it into an art in the pages of John.

The fine art of disappearing into crowds, becoming part of the wood work. Heals a lame man, and he’s gone…and then there he is; heals a man born blind, and then, poof, gone…and then…back again. And now with his brothers it’s “You go, I’m not going,” and then after the traffic clears, off he quietly goes after them. Opposition in the temple scours the horizon looking for him, people are wondering where he is…

Yes, you are a God who hides yourself.

But then what do we expect from a God who “dwells in the thick clouds, who makes the darkness his pavilion.” But still it tends to catch us off guard, to unravel us, to undo our faith – particularly with the prolonged absences. For someone named “Immanuel,” “God with us,” he can sure be pretty not with us at times. Which isn’t to merely complain, any more than to remark on cold temperatures is to complain that there’s such a thing as winter.

It is simply to acknowledge the absence of warmth and of the sun, whetting our anticipation for their consistent presence in the spring. The sun returns – and so does the Son, who suddenly shows up right in the middle of musing and murmuring crowds who ask “Where is that man?”

A scene that replays itself over and over again in the lives of us all.

How do you handle those times when God seems hidden and absent? What can sustain us in such seasons?

Abba, you tell us we are to walk by faith and not by sight; energize such faith in me during those times when I don’t see you or the way forward; give me sustaining grace to hold on through the lonely stretches of life when your presence seems a distant memory. Let me embrace these movements of presence and absence and thrive in the midst of them. Through Christ.