"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Our little red tool box sits on a chest of drawers in the garage. Smaller than the average toolbox, it contains the most basic tools needed to function in a home and for those "some assembly required" purchases: hammer, screwdrivers, tape measure, pliers, etc. Without these basics we would be really helpless. Of all the tools in the box, the Phillips-head screw driver is easily the most used and so it has a place of special honor on top of the heap.

Words are the fundamental tools of language. Of all the words in the English vocabulary, "word" itself has taken on many uses and meanings. For example, we may ask someone to give us his word, we believe a man is as good as his word, up to date information on a subject is considered the latest word, in an argument we want the last word and, when someone says something truthful or insightful we might simply respond: "Word." You might call word one of our most used tools.

Language evolves over time. When reading ancient literature, including the Bible, we miss something when we gloss over some phrases, including this one about the Word:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

First, the Gospel of John, unlike that of Luke, is not considered a biography so much as a thematic presentation of Jesus' life. John wanted people to understand that Jesus' actions and teachings are inseparable from who he is. He shows Jesus as fully God and fully human--he took on full humanity but never ceased being eternal God (Creator, Sustainer of all things, source of eternal life). As one of Jesus' disciples and eye witness to the things he recorded, John wanted to convey this foundational truth so that people could believe that Jesus really was the Son of God.

John wrote to people of different cultures and backgrounds. Many in his reading audience were Greeks. To them, John wanted to show that Jesus is not only different from but superior to the mythological gods of their traditions. John wanted to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Old Testament literature, also referred to as the written Word.

So, what does John mean when he calls Jesus the Word? Theologians and philosophers of both cultures used the term in many different ways. In Hebrew Scripture, the Word was an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source and message to his people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2) and God's law and standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11). To Greek philosophers the Word was the principle of reason that governed the world, while to Hebrews the Word was another way of saying God. John's introduction to his Gospel clearly explains that he his talking about Jesus (vs. 14) as a human being he knew and loved and, simultaneously God--Creator of all things, the ultimate revelation of God and, the living manifestation of his holiness.To the Jewish readers, "the Word was God" (in reference to Jesus or any man) was blasphemous; to the Greek reader, "the Word became flesh" was unthinkable. John introduced a completely new use of the Word as gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

As we read the first chapter of the Gospel of John with this deeper understanding, layers of meaning and truth open up to us. What John is saying was--and is--revolutionary. To John, to think that Jesus was just a good man or a great teacher was to miss the point entirely. Here he emphatically insists that with the advent, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has had the last Word.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Author and Finisher

The recent political scene in the United States has involved a lot of controversy about the Constitution. In conversations about it, eventually someone says something about what the authors intended (or did not intend). This is not a blog post about those debates, rather about an author of something greater--our faith!

The Hebrew recipients of the letter of Hebrews knew the characters of chapter 11 very well. Abraham, Noah, Rahab, Moses, Joseph, Jacob and Esau, the faithful who passed through the Red Sea--these people inhabited the pages of Old Testament literature as examples of people led by faith to places they did not know and could not handle (apart from God). The Jews claimed such a heritage with great pride--and rightly so. The writer of Hebrews wanted them to get the big picture--that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament faith. In his coming, the Word became flesh (John 1) and the goodness of God walked among us in grace and truth.Having just given what we affectionately call "faith's hall of fame" in Hebrews chapter 11, the writer of the book concludes this:

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Hebrews 12:2)

All biblical faith is authored by and made complete by this God-man, Jesus. Far from a passive victim of circumstance who floated along contemplating fields of lilies until he landed in court, Jesus was there when  the world was made, holds all things together by his faithful character, lays down his life for his followers, goes to prepare a place for them, and promised to come back to make things right in the world. He is worthy of our trust (faith), and he actively and deliberately carried out the plan of salvation for all who trust in him.

As we go about our daily activities, is he the author and finisher of our lives? As with the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11, circumstances sometimes appear to be random and impossible as we walk through them. The question is whether the anchor of our trust is lodged deep within his true and faithful heart. He walked through some dark and seemingly random places for us, so he is compassionate and understanding of our tests and trials.Let's patiently run the race set before us, our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and fulfiller of our faith. He won't let us down.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wonderful Counselor

When I meet with people in my office for the first time, I ask them about any previous counseling experiences. Frequently they cannot remember the name of the person who counseled them a year ago. This is humbling of course, because we like to think we are unforgettable.

There are exceptions though. Once in  a while, someone will report that so and so was wonderful as a counselor. When I ask what was good or helpful, they say things like "good listener," "offered perspectives," or "gave us skills."

One of the famous names of Jesus (given to him in the prophecies of the Old Testament and repeated by the angels at his birth) is Wonderful Counselor. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines "counselor" as one who counsels or advises. Certainly we see plenty of these in Jesus' teachings. He was always listening, reading the heart of the speaker and hitting them between the eyes with his replies. The rich young ruler was asked to give all he had to the poor and follow him; Peter was called Satan for asking him to take the easy route; Martha was told to stop her busy work and sit down and listen. His Kingdom perspective lifted us above the daily grind to see the world from an eternal perspective. Amassing wealth and high positions are meaningless, or even hindrances, in this new Kingdom. He challenged us to find the blessing in being poor in spirit, meekness and mourning.  He taught us how to live in ways that were often new and usually unexpected--count the cost, give more than people request, keep looking forward, live one day at a time, give up your life and you will save it--the teachings of his Kingdom turned everything upside down. He never once invited people into a marginal relationship with God but, taught them that there is nothing more valuable by comparison.

Interestingly, when he knew his time to leave this planet was just around the corner, he told his followers that a Counselor (the Holy Spirit) was about to come. His Spirit would lead them into all wisdom and give them power. While on earth, Jesus was in one place at a time, dealing with, healing or teaching those with him, then and there. Since the advent of his Spirit of holiness, we have his presence with us, simultaneously, wherever we go. As such, he empowers us, listens, changes our perspectives, and teaches us new ways of being and living.

Human counsel is inherently flawed. As a counselor I know that on my best day the words that come from me are a mixed bag. I pray true wisdom sticks to people and the rest is forgotten. It does not matter that people will not remember my name a few years from now. What matters is that they enter into a deeper relationship with the Wonderful Counselor who will never leave them or steer them wrong.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6   New International Version (NIV)