Biblical Studies

The Light and You

The Light and You

I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. During the dead of winter, there are several weeks where the sun skims the horizon for a mere four hours a day.[i] If you move north to the Arctic Circle, there are days with no sunlight at all.

Can you imagine a world without light? A world where you can’t see your hand in front of your face?

A world without light is a world of terror and fear. It is a world where nothing is revealed and everything is hidden.

Jesus tells us that the world was dark before he came into it. In John 8:12 he tells us that he is the light of the world. Without Jesus the world is utter blackness.

And we are made to be the light. But before we can become the light, we need to have the light illuminate any darkness in us.

In Luke 8, Jesus talks about the lamp that comes into our lives: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”[ii] 

This passage is usually misunderstood.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What A Ten Year Study on Self-Centeredness Revealed: John Cacioppo concluded, "that focusing on yourself causes you to feel more isolated which causes you to focus even more on yourself. A vicious cycle of self-centeredness and loneliness ensues. To put it plainly — a focus on ourselves grows when we are continually by ourselves." 

2.      Half of Millennial Christians Say It's Wrong to Evangelize: Kate Shellnutt reports on new research from Barna, "Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

3.      What God Does for Us in Suffering: Randy Alcorn offers important wisdom, " There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out."

4.      How to Read the Book of Revelation Well: Great advice by Ian Paul. Every point packs a great punch and is well worth the read. He shares, " This is not an exercise in being ‘academic’ in our reading. It is just the normal discipline of recognising that the Bible was speaking in the language of its context and culture, and this decisively shapes its meaning."

5.      Confronting Defensive People: Jim Van Yperen with seven pieces of advice that we can all use, "A simple rule is this: never confront power with power, confront power with loving truth."

6. Making Faith Your Own or Making Up Your Own Faith? Benjamin Vrbicek reflects on stunning statements from a seminary President.

Holy Week Recommendations

Holy Week Recommendations

A blessed Maundy Thursday to you, friends. I have three Passion Week videos for you this week. May this Holy Week be a powerful re-centering week of reflection for you as you consider Christ’s atoning death for you.

1.      Sacrifice and Atonement: The Bible Project explains the reason why God has people

2.      The Last Week of Jesus’ Life: The Bible Project walks through the final week of Jesus’ life.

3.      All Hail King Jesus: Jeremy Riddle: “There on a cross they made for sinners; For every curse; His blood atoned One final breath and it was finished; But not the end we could have known.”

8 Ways Holy Week Shapes Our Lives

8 Ways Holy Week Shapes Our Lives

How is your life shaped by Easter week? I mean other than the obligatory 3 pounds that is about to be added to your waistline courtesy of honey baked ham, deviled eggs, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (if you’re going to put on the weight, it might as well be good… not Peeps or generic jelly beans!)?

It has often been noted that the final week of Jesus’ life takes up a disproportionate amount of the gospel narratives. Approximately a third of the gospel accounts are devoted to the final week of Jesus’ life:

·        8 of 28 chapters in Matthew

·        6 of 16 chapters in Mark

·        5 of 24 chapters in Luke

·        9 of 21 chapters in John

Of the 52 weeks of our year, Holy Week is highlighted and underlined. On this week the other 51 weeks of our year hang, on this week, the other 51 are shaped.

How does the Holy Week shape our lives?

The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness

The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness

She sits in my office, tears running down her face. Two years ago her mother died in hospice while she lay asleep at home. She was trying to get a decent night’s rest after days spent at her mother’s side. “I just can’t forgive myself. I let her die alone. I knew I should have been there, but I was selfish. I can never forgive myself for that.”

I’ve heard dozens share similar confessions with me. Does this resonate with you? What guilt do you bear? What burdens are you carrying because you can’t forgive yourself?

Many are trapped because they can’t forgive themselves. My friend isn’t alone. And she feels trapped. Because she will never hear her mother offer her forgiveness, she feels like she can’t release herself from her guilt.

Why can’t you release yourself from your sin? Is it because the weight is too much? Because you know you haven’t changed? Because the ripple effects of your sin can’t be reversed?

I have good news—such good news. You don’t need to forgive yourself, because you can’t forgive yourself.

What?

Good News, Ladies! You’re Sons!

Good News, Ladies! You’re Sons!

Want to know something weird? Women are never referred to as “daughters of God” in the Bible. Kind of odd, especially given how often that phrase is used in evangelical circles. “Daughter of God” nets over 1,000 books on Amazon. In the Bible, however, the seemingly clumsy phrase “sons of God” is used for men and women alike.

What gives? Is this a linguistic fluke? No, unlike the Greek word for brothers, adelphoi, which often means “brothers and sisters,” the Greek word for sons, huioi, rarely means “sons and daughters” with the full phrase “huious kai thugateras” used instead.[i]  So, while we might be tempted to add “daughters” when we see “sons of God” in the Bible, it’s unlikely that is what the authors intended.[ii]

Is the lack of inclusion of daughters a patriarchal blind spot in the Bible that we ought to rectify? On the contrary: the use of only “sons of God” is a radical move by the authors of scripture that raises the status of women.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Almost Half of US Births Happen Outside of Marriage: Riley Griffin reports, " Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970." In addition, " The average age an American woman has her first child is now 27, up from 22 in 1970."

2.      The Solution of Our Political Problems is Believing in Satan: Michael Bird has a surprising suggestion regarding our devolving political climate: believe in Satan. He says, " [U]nless you believe in demons, you will begin to demonize whatever political apparatus you find yourself opposing. You will treat your political and cultural opponents not as compatriots with wrong opinions, but as the ultimate enemy of the human race, and imagine that you are involved in a life or death struggle against them. And that, in turn, justifies whatever you think you need to say about them or do to them in order to stop them."

3.      5 Troubling Shifts that Mark Modern Culture: JP Moreland's list is insightful. He says, " The second shift is in the realm of guidance for living one’s life, and it goes from truth to the immediate satisfaction of desire."

4.      Don't Reap the Edge of Your Field Michael Kelley on Old Testament harvest laws and the application to our lives: "God did not want His people reaping to the edge. He wanted them to have some margin at the end of their rows. Now, before we disregard this verse as something inapplicable to us, consider why the Lord would make this command. It wasn’t just about preserving His own people. He didn’t tell them to create this kind of margin because doing so is personally healthy and psychologically balanced. He gave the command for the sake of other people who might wander into those fields."

5.      Baffling Illusionist: This is a really impressive act... a lot of fun to watch and slow down to try to figure out.

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

Merry Christmas!

One of the most cringe-worthy prayers ever prayed on the big screen is prayed by Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in Talladega Nights. In his prayer, the immature Ricky Bobby keeps referring to Jesus as “baby Jesus.” At one point his wife interrupts him, “You know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.” Ricky Bobby responds, “Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best.”

The final villain this Christmas, baby Jesus, might be as alarming to you as Ricky Bobby’s prayer. Before the mob forms, allow me to explain what I mean by saying that the baby Jesus can be a villain of Christmas.

How many of us also “like the Christmas Jesus best”? We might not say it out loud, we might not pray to “baby Jesus,” but in reality, we keep the Jesus of our faith small and contained. How many of us happily maintain a childish, trivial faith? How many of us effectively keep Jesus in the manger?

Christmas Eve Recommendations

Christmas Eve Recommendations

Merry Christmas,

As you celebrate your Christmas, here are some bonus recommendations for you.

May the joy and hope of Immanuel reign in your home and in your hearts,

John

1.       Did the Gospels Borrow From Pagan Myths? Timothy Paul Jones examines this claim: “In the simplest possible terms, here’s what these critics contend: The most marvelous claims in the Gospels—a miraculous birth, for example, as well as the idea of a deity who dies and rises again—are paralleled in pagan religions that predate Christianity; therefore, early Christians must have fabricated these miracles based on their knowledge of pre-Christian religions.

2.       The Lord Gave Us A Casket for Christmas: Erik Naykalyk shares his heartbreaking story, “Exactly three weeks to Christmas Day, God decreed to take my home ad flip it upside-down. Twelve days before Christmas, we lowered my son’s casket into the cold, hard, December ground. And I’ve never been looking forward to Christmas more in my entire life. No, seriously. Never.”

3.       A Letter to the Depressed Christian at Christmas: David Murray reflects, “Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when it’s especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?”

4.       200 Years of Silent Night: Keith and Kristyn Getty consider the power and beauty of one of the best and longest sung Christmas carols: “God’s heavenly peace is still so evident in these enduring lyrics and chords, its soothing effect one of the marvels of our modern holiday traditions—like a distant whisper somehow soft enough, yet also loud enough, to reach us in the deafening noise.”

The Villains of Christmas: the Gifts of the Magi

The Villains of Christmas: the Gifts of the Magi

The Magi are an iconic part of the Christmas story. Unbelievably, a group of philosopher-astronomers from the East (probably Persia) had knowledge that only a handful in all of Israel had: a Savior-King has been born in Bethlehem. Following the prophecies, they made their trek to Bethlehem to meet this Savior-King. When they arrived, “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”[ii]

And they do not come empty handed. They come bearing three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of these gifts has meaningful symbolism befitting the child-King. Items of great value, they proclaimed that Jesus was the King who would restore Israel.[iii]

Those gifts, according to many, were the impetus for the tradition of gift giving at Christmas time.[iv] The tradition began with humble origins and remained that way for a long time. Two popular books show just how much gift giving has changed in just this past century. If you pick up O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1905) you find a husband buying his wife one present, a set of combs, and the woman buying her husband one present, a chain for his pocket watch. Or turn over to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie (1935) and you find that the kids’ haul on Christmas consisted of tin cups, peppermint candy, small cakes, and a penny.

Fast forward a hundred years to today and I chuckle to think of how my children would respond if the zenith of their Christmas presents was a shiny new cup.