Different ways of seeing

In the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 He suddenly says this about Himself:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16).

His disciples are confused so they repeat the statement:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’;and ‘because I go to the Father” (John 16:17)

Finally, Jesus repeats the statement again before not answering their questions about it (see Proverbs 25:2):

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:19)

When something is repeated 3 times in the space of 3 verses you would expect that the Holy Spirit is trying to draw our attention to something. However this is one of those places where the English translations generally miss something important: The first word translated “see” in each verse above is not the same in the original Greek as the second word translated “see”.

The first word translated “see” is the Greek word θεωρεῖτέ (thee -or- rei-te) and is often used in the sense of beholding something with your physical eyes.

The second word translated “see” is the Greek word ὄψεσθέ (ops -es-te) which is often used in the sense of perceiving something.

I am no Greek scholar and, anyway, it is not good to make a doctrine out of a single Greek word difference. But let’s look at a possible distinction in some other ways.

It is of course well known that seeing something can have different depths to it. For example, I might see my wife sitting at the table and perceive that she is very happy about something. Someone else seeing her might not perceive that about her. That person might just see her sitting at the table.

The context of the verses is also very important of course. For all the earlier part of Chapter 16 Jesus had been explaining the role of the Holy Spirit. He explained how (in verse 7) it was to the advantage of the disciples that Jesus went away. By going back to the Father He could send the Holy Spirit. He also explained (in verses 13-15) that the Holy Spirit would speak whatever He hears from Jesus.

So this is what these thrice repeated verses mean: In a little while Jesus was going back to heaven and the disciples would not see Him in the same way again. A little while later (after Pentecost) they would see Him again but this time it would not be physically but in the form of the Holy Spirit. This would require them to see differently since now they needed to perceive and hear some One spiritual. They would no longer have in front of them Jesus in the flesh.

Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 5:16b:

“Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

Again, the context is important.

A Relevant Application

In the first half of the same verse Paul has this very relevant and important application for our lives, particularly in the context of the current upheavals since the murder of George Floyd:

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:16a)

The crucial thing is that we perceive the underlying Spirit (or spirit) and character of the people we meet. We ought not to regard people according to their outward appearance including the colour of their skin (see also 1 Samuel 16:7 and Gal. 3:28).

Martin Luther King Jr. made it clear that this was his aspiration also for all people (in his “I have a dream” speech from 1963) :

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin but by the content of their character”

I used to think that that was the whole answer to the race problem – ignore the outside and act according to the inside of someone – but I don’t think that is enough. Now I think we ought to be more aware of the fact that the outside of some people determines how they get treated and think all their lives. Now I think we need to be more proactive as a church and those who call themselves by God’s name in addressing why this is. May God give us all wisdom and much love while we work through this together.

In the end though if we are to consistently see the Bride of Christ as she really is, and all humans as they really are, we have to see them according to their spirit or character and not according to their external appearance.

Time and the Trinity

My daughter (19) had this insight to give us recently during our daily breaking of bread times. We have been doing these together as a family since the lockdown started and it has been a great blessing. There are 6 of us in the house – our family + 1. E. arrived to stay with us a couple of days before the lockdown started supposedly on her way to Greece to work as a missionary among refugees there. However, she found herself stuck with us for two months instead.

But back to the insight.

1. Future, God the Father. Our Father has planned good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10) and completely guarantees all our future once we obey.

2. Present, God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and guides us daily as we abide in Him (John 14:16-18).

3. Past, Jesus, God the Son. Jesus has paid the price for all our sins. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me at the beginning of the lockdown to break bread daily with everyone in the house. We each take turns at bringing a word and the results have been very encouraging.

Thor

We are watching a lot of films during this pandemic.

Typically, I will sit down with my two daughters and watch a film most nights. We are going through the Marvel movies on Disney+. Last night we watched the first Thor movie.

Thor is a character from Norse mythology. This particular mythology has been very influential in the writings of C.S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet, The Narnia Chronicles, etc.) and J.R.R. Tolkien (Hobbit, Lord of the Rings).

Norse mythology has a God the Father figure (Odin), a son figure (Thor) and a devil figure (Loki).

C.S. Lewis and others like J.R.R. Tolkien often explore in their writings the connections between ancient legends and myths and a universal knowledge of God. They draw upon an understanding that His ways permeates all pagan and ancient societies as well as our current times. Their argument goes that there is something good to be found in all these legends.

Likewise with the Thor film. The major theme of the film is this: Training and redemption of a son of God. We are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26) and because we are sons, God disciplines us (Heb. 12:5-11). In the movie, Thor is a son and heir of the Kingdom (of Asgard) and his father (Odin) wants to give him the authority and power to rule.

However, Thor disqualifies himself through arrogance, pride and being a hot head and is banished by his father to the wilderness of earth and stripped of his power. During his subsequent trials the father seems to be in a coma and apparently unconscious of his needs. To make matters worse his evil brother, Loki, who represents the devil, seems able to take the throne and run amok. Some of his friends try to help but are powerless. In the end a mechanical monster sent by Loki kills Thor and all seems over.

Through all this Thor is humbled and his character improves. His last act is to lay down his life for his love interest and the world.

But, of course, that is not the end. Thor is brought back to life by the power of the father which is invested in the hammer (which even has a triquetra inscribed on it). By the will of the father, the hammer would only give its power to one who was found worthy of it. Thor initially thinks that by using his own physical strength he could wield it but discovers that the hammer does not yield its power to that kind of persuasion.

If we consider the hammer as a simile for the Cross we can see the message more clearly. The Cross only has power because the One who loved the world enough to lay down His life for it, hung on it. Likewise the hammer in the film does not release its power until the one who wields it is found worthy.

Of course there are problems with the film’s depictions. It is not hard to find faults. But as Marvel movie’s go, this one seems to me to be one of the more profitable for a Christian to think about.

Thoughts on Communion: Healing

Many of us have, at some distinct point in the past, known a time when we realised that Jesus died on the Cross for us personally. For me it was a life changing experience.

We usually associate that experience, if we have had it, with a sense of relief that comes from forgiveness of sins. We are also created in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s conviction of God’s love for us in our hearts causes us, in turn, to fall in love with Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Every time we break bread and share the cup we remember these things.

The realisation that it is of grace is very important. We didn’t do anything to deserve Jesus dying for us. In fact we were His enemies before He met with us (Romans 5:8). For it is by grace -undeserved favour – that we have been saved through faith and that faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

In these days of the corona virus it is good to remember another thing about the work of Jesus on the Cross: He can also freely heal our bodies by the same principles that He can forgive our sins. We don’t deserve it, of course, but healing is also freely available through the same grace which He lavishes on us (Ephesians 1:6-8). In the same way as Jesus offers forgiveness of sins to all who believe, He also offers physical healing. They go hand in hand. Here are some verses which back this up:

Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Psalm 103:3

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,

Romans 8:11

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

One of the first miracles recorded in detail in Mark’s gospel is that of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave first:

Mark 2:1-12

2 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The trouble with saying someone’s sins are forgiven is that there is not usually any immediate obvious sign to any observer that anything has changed. In that sense, it is easy to say to anyone – who can prove that the sins are not forgiven?

However when you say to someone “Arise and walk” and they are paralysed and couldn’t normally do that, then you immediately run the risk of being put to shame. Normally, there are few things more of a deterrence to a man doing something that being put to shame in front of everyone. It is made even worse if you are also seen to be disproving the power of Jesus.

Of course Jesus has no such problem. So if we stay close to Him and hear His promptings about when to pray and when to claim someone’s healing we can be on surer ground. Jesus didn’t actually heal everyone that was sick all the time (see John 5:1-9 esp. v.3), sometimes He has better plans for them, though we struggle to believe that.

In the Letter of James we can also see the connection between believing prayer and healing:

James 5:13-18

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

In this passage we are encouraged to pray for one another in the context of confessing our sins to each other (v.16). Elders are expected to have the “prayer of faith” which will save the sick and the Lord will raise the sick person up (v. 15). Elijah was like us, James says, and he prayed effective prayers that we can too.

I hope that the above will encourage you to believe that Jesus wants you to be well during this time. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we stay close to the Word of God and hear those living words as from the Holy Spirit we can see ourselves and those we love healed more often.

But always remember God may have a better plan for that person. None of us know another person the way God does. We need to trust Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like as well as when He does.

If we ask anything according to His will then He hears us and grants what we ask (1 John 5:14-15). So if our prayers are not answered the way we want it then the problem is with our will not His. We haven’t heard Him correctly or, perhaps, we don’t want to hear the answer He is giving about what He wants. Prayer should always be about hearing first and praying accordingly afterwards. Once you have heard God’s answer then you will believe since faith comes from hearing the (living – ῥήματος) word of God (Romans 10:17).

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

God is very creative. When He puts together a group of people in a church and does things through them, the result can look very different from the constituent parts.

faithfulwon

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that…

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Grace

God has done wonderful things for us as a family over the last many years. One of them was to give us the names of our children from the time of conception. Our youngest was given the names Bethany Grace Joy and Grace is the one that she uses everyday.

It is Grace’s birthday today.

Grace lives in the consciousness of the fact that she doesn’t deserve all the good things she gets. Her face lit up this morning when Ruth, her sister, showered presents on her. Thankfulness was written all over her as it often is.

When we were travelling to her school together we explored what Grace means. Grace is God’s master plan for His children. Here is how it works:

  1. Give people a whole pile of things (health, wealth, comfort, good companions and friends, a loving family, spiritual comfort and hope for the future, purpose, peace with God, an understanding that the God who created the Universe loves them enough to die for them, etc.)
  2. Make the giving of these things unconditional
  3. Use the created attributes of human beings to produce a response of joy, prayer for others and thankfulness in the recipients of all these blessings (see 1 Thess. 5:16-18).

It turns out that the mechanism that mediates this wondrous virtuous cycle to us is trust or faith. And that also is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

If you want that gift just ask. You must be born from above to receive it (John 3:8) but that also is given to us by Grace.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!

Loving the Greek…..

I wrote this back in 2012. I thought it good enough to reblog.

faithfulwon

The New Testament was originally written in Greek since that was the “English” or “lingua Franca” of the the first century.  So I thought it would be a good idea to learn the NT or Koine Greek some years ago.  I must admit though that the vast range of English translations we have seem to capture most of the nuances of the Greek word meanings as far as I can tell.  But I am no expert.

There are a few things that the NT Greek does bring out:

1.  The simplicity of the language John uses compared with Paul.  It is really very easy to read John’s gospel and letters in the Greek especially in comparison to Paul’s.  It is a real and compelling miracle to see the depth of meaning and the deep subjects that John is able to explore with so few words.   I really don’t know…

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All things you ask believing

There are several statements that Jesus makes about asking in faith:

“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer believing you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22 see also Matthew 7:7-11, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9-13, John 14:13, 15:7,16b)

The emphasis in these statements of Jesus is asking the Father in faith knowing who He is. Nothing is impossible for God. We want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – he will always answer our prayers if it is His will.

Jesus illustrates how this works by His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39, 42). There was absolutely no question that Jesus could receive all the faith required to ask and receive. However, even He didn’t receive what He asked for from His Father – that this cup be taken away from Him. Jesus gives the answer to why this was the case: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39) and “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).

God works all things according to the counsel or purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11). It becomes important then to find out what that is when we are asking God for something. One of the surest ways we know we are praying according to His will is that we will receive the faith to see it happen when we do. We will “know” as John puts it in 1 John 5:14,15 (cf. Heb. 11:1). If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

I have come across many situations both in my own life and in the life of others where prayers are not answered with a yes. Too often our prayers are us telling God what we want rather than listening first to hear what He wants (Eccl. 5:1).

You can rest assured that only His will will be done. Our aim is to find that out and fulfill Jesus wonderful prayer “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matt. 6:10).

If we come to God with our will only in prayer without listening to what He wants we will only see random, sporadic answers to prayer – sometimes we will be in line with what God wants, often we won’t.

We may know the Scriptures concerning healing for instance (Psalm 103: 3b, Isaiah 53:5) and so know the general desire of God to heal but, as Jesus showed when He was at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9) not every sick person is healed. Similarly, it is God’s desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), however we know from Jesus statement about Judas (the son of perdition John 17:12) that not everyone is saved.

I believe we should be seeing more healing and at least some resurrections from the dead. Likewise God wants to save this country and every person in it. It is up to us all to start that conversation with God about individuals we know and find His answers.

Transnistria

Vanya sat on the end of the bed looking subdued. A crowd of mainly strangers were piling into the bedroom he shared with his mother and 3 siblings, one of whom was only a few months old.

Despite the understandable fear of such an intrusion none of them were going to turn away these strangers for they had been welcomed in with some members of the local church. Team Hope have been working with Yuri and the Church of Christ Saviour for nearly 15 years. This year they shipped 17,000 shoe boxes to Transnistria, each one a welcome passport into the heart of a child.

Vanya opened his box and began to loosen up a little. He gave a wow when he saw a picture from the child in Ireland that had put the box together. The best present though was the sunglasses. He put them on and was slow to take them off. He looked cool. And he smiled.

I had heard something of his story before we entered the hovel he called home. His father was an abusive alcoholic who had caused his mother to miscarry. My heart went out to any son of such a man even before I went in.

After handing him the shoe-box I dropped to the floor beside him. I so wanted him to know that the picture his dad had given him of what God was like was so false. But what could I do in such a short time? I prayed and played with him a bit, looked into his eyes and encouraged him with unintelligible words.

There was a nod as we were about to leave as if he had understood something.

I hope he will continue to understand that God his Father loves Him into eternity. There is much hope that he will: Team Hope’s partners in Transnistria are exceptional people. They have a fervent love that carries them throughout the country bringing hope and love wherever they go. Despite their own poverty they are overflowing with joy and abundant giving.

I went out into the car and took a while to process my emotions. And yes I wept.