In the Beginning

This is the opening phrase of The Gospel of John – the Beloved Apostle’s claim that Jesus has always been and will always be. He refers to Jesus as “the Word.” In Jewish thought the Word was seen as the power of God creatively at work in the world, first exemplified in the opening line of the Torah:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen 1:1-3)

John says that the Word was not only with God from the very beginning, but that the Word was God. English translations here clearly reflect John’s claim that Jesus and God were (past tense) one in the same, but the original Koine Greek carries an even deeper meaning. The original form of the word translated in English as “was” is the Greek verb eimi, which claims not only the past, but the present and ongoing future. Jesus and God have always been – and will always be – one in the same.

So, John says, when you read in this gospel about the work of Jesus, you are reading about the work of God.  He emphasizes this further in verse 14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory… (John 1:14)

Once again, it’s important to return to the original Koine Greek to capture the full meaning of the verb skenoo, translated as “dwelt.” This same verb is used in the Greek Old Testament versions of Exodus and Zechariah when talking about God dwelling in the desert tabernacle. The Israelites believed the tabernacle was the locus of God’s presence – a presence so full of glory that only the High Priests were allowed to enter into it.

Now, John says, the Word (God’s creative power) became flesh (Jesus) and dwelt among us. The once restricted glory of God’s presence in the tabernacle has been made visible to everyone through Jesus.

Jesus is God incarnate. Watch Jesus work, and you will see God at work… just as you did in the beginning.

To Explore

Here to share an amazing link that just could not wait for the next Reading Stack installment:  You must check out Plough.

From the website: Plough is an award-winning international magazine of faith, culture, and society that appears weekly online and quarterly in print. We also publish a line of books, including literary nonfiction and fiction, children’s books, Christian books, and graphic novels. Founded in 1920, Plough asks the big questions: How can we live well together, and what gives life purpose? Join us in breaking fresh ground for a renewed world.

Plough is the publishing house of the Bruderhof, an international movement of Christian communities whose members are called to follow Jesus together in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the first church in Jerusalem, sharing all our talents, income, and possessions (Acts 2 and 4). Bruderhof communities, which include both families and single people from a wide range of backgrounds, are located in the United States, England, Germany, Australia, and Paraguay. Visitors are welcome.

qcoversPlease visit the site and read a few of their online articles. Content is organized in a few different ways depending on interests (faith, life, justice, community, culture) or medium (magazine, books, events). You can even sign up for free daily prayers sent straight to your inbox. Enjoy exploring the rich resources offered!

Why Bother?

why botherToday’s recommended read is Why Bother? by Jennifer Louden.

From Amazon: In Why Bother? personal-growth expert Jennifer Louden challenges you to open your mind, your heart, and your life by following where the question leads. Through reflection and stories from others, Louden demonstrates how to bother when it feels impossible or like too much work, whether after professional defeats, heartbreak, illness, or life-changing loss. She shows why you must prioritize what’s calling you at any time of your life, especially when you’ve sidelined your dreams to raise kids, pay the rent, or take care of aging parents. And crucially, she shows you how tapping into your deepest desires can give you the energy to move forward―even when the world seems in such dire straits. It’s time to reclaim the dignity and beauty of your desires. It’s time to get your bother on.

Reading Stack

I feel like my reading material has been all over the map lately. I’m digging deeeeeeep into the Gospel of John right now and hope to write some thoughts on that soon.  Until then, here are a few links that have caught my eye.

  • BioLogos has released “A Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times.” The statement is signed by dozens of Christian leaders, calling on Christians to follow the advice of public health experts and support scientists doing crucial biomedical research on COVID-19. CLICK HERE to read and sign the statement.

  • We continue to learn more and more about the coronavirus that oftentimes leaves young survivors with lingering health issues. Read the story of the first COVID-19, double lung transplant patient in the U.S.:  A 28-year-old paralegal and member of the Latino community, one of the groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

  • “The 19th Amendment, ratified a century ago on Aug. 18, 1920, is often hailed for granting American women the right to vote. And yet most Black women would wait nearly five decades more to actually exercise that right.” Read “‘It’s a Struggle They Will Wage Alone.’ How Black Women Won the Right to Vote,” published in Time Magazine, to better understand how laws don’t always immediately guarantee rights – especially for those who have been socially disenfranchised.

  • Greenville University (Illinois) theology professor Benjamin Wayman sat down with Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, to discuss the nature of theological education. For Williams, Christian education and formation are like “learning to camp in a new land, a new creation.”

  • Looking for a little humor after all those heavy reading topics? Check out “Church is Gross,” a guest post on Experimental Theology from Kevin Makins author of the new book Why Would Anyone Go to Church?  Makins readily admits “there is a certain irony in releasing a book about going to church during the only time in human history when literally no one is allowed to go to church.” But trust me, he makes it work and will have you laughing as he tells you how!

Let’s end in a word of prayer…

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

On Being Thankful

Recently I was thinking about how much life has changed over the last several months, and how — thanks to COVID — we’re each discovering in our own ways how little we actually have control over.

It made me think of all the things I miss from “before”:  worshiping together in one location, sitting in a crowded stadium watching the Packers play football, laughing with family at one dinner table (and not over Zoom). At the same time, I realized how little gratitude I had for all those things when I had them.  How I rarely, or never, felt and expressed true thankfulness.

I think there may be a direct connection between how much control we think we have over parts of our lives, and the measure of our gratitude. Think about it. It’s simply impossible to be thankful or grateful to someone else when you think you’ve accomplished or experienced something all on your own merit.

If I think I have total control over the things in my life, then I’m it. There is no one else to thank. But friends, let me tell you: Every human being is a debtor. And until I admit how little I have sole control of, and how much difference others have made in my life, I’ll never truly be able to express appropriate gratitude.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens too often in my relationship with God. Saying thank you, showing gratitude, acknowledging God working in my life and the lives of others… How many opportunities have I allowed – continue to allow – to slip by?

Think about it. What gratitude and thankfulness is going unspoken in your life right now? How can we heighten our awareness of just how blessed we are, and then live out our gratitude? Pray with me…

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My Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings in my life. Thank you for providing me with wisdom and discernment in unsettling times. Thank you for providing me with strength and courage in frightening situations. Thank you for wrapping me in the reassurance of your love through scripture, and the working of the Holy Spirit through others during times when I think I’m completely alone. God, thank you. Jesus, thank you. Holy Spirit, thank you. Amen.

Kingdom Building

“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.” – N.T. Wright

Holy God, you have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son, and to care for those who are our companions, not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love. Seeking to be true friends of all, we offer our prayers on behalf of the church and the world. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others, bringing the promise of the kingdom near by our words and deeds. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)

The Need to Apologize

Apologizing isn’t easy. Usually because we’ve done something we shouldn’t have–either intentionally or unintentionally–and caused someone else inconvenience or even pain, and now we need to face the person we wronged and try to say “sorry” for what we did. The guilt and the shame can feel paralyzing.

We can only hope they will forgive us – that’s up to them. But no matter how hard to do, we know that we need to apologize for our actions.

Psalm 51 is an apology written by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. It describes in sad detail the guilt and shame David felt as he approached God to apologize and repent. He begins by admitting to God and himself that what he did was wrong

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

And he begs God to forgive him and strengthen him…

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

David speaks his sin and sorrow aloud to God, knowing there is nothing he can do by himself to make up for his sin. He can only offer his brokenness to God, and repent…

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

As theologian Ellsworth Kalas points out in Longing to Pray, “Ultimately, the need to repent is even greater than the need to be forgiven. Something in the soul says, ‘I want desperately for our relationship to be restored; but above all, I want you to know how sorry I am that I have violated our friendship. To forgive is yours; to repent is mine.’”

God forgives our sins. We must remember our responsibility to tell him how sorry we are for those sins, and how thankful we are to receive his forgiveness.