The Discipline of Friendship

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

I would have made an excellent monk. What I mean is that a day of reading, alone in a quiet house, makes for a great (if not perfect) day for me. In fact, I can live my Christian life almost perfectly so long as I don't have to be around other people. 😉 God, however, designed us for relationships of all sorts, one of which is friendship.

Looking back…

  • I am an only child, so I learned to entertain myself at an early age. While I don't remember having any imaginary friends, at one time I had an entire basketball league in my head. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Shaq (am I showing my age?) were usually on my team, but I was the star player. Nearly every “game” we would be down by 30, maybe even 40, points, but I would always carry this all-star team on my back and make the buzzer shot to win the game. I didn't always have friends around, so I improvised.
  • Then I went through a phase when I played a lot of video games. Sure, sometimes friends would come over and play, but I was usually zoning out on these games alone…for hours.
  • Later, I became obsessed with music. I had friends that played and with some I started bands, but it wasn't unusual for me to jam out by myself.
  • When I worked on the farm, I could (and often would) spend about 10-14 hours a day driving a piece of equipment, rarely seeing other people (because my co-workers were doing the same thing!).
  • I spent about seven years immersed in the drug culture. Often, I was literally alone but sometimes “alone in a crowd.” I did have some real friends during this time, but many relationships were superficial. I met many people during this period of my life. I have no idea where most of them are now.
  • During part of that period, with some (but not total) overlap, I was involved in the local music scene. Again, people came and went. I have even been in bands where the members become like brothers, but now I hardly ever see or talk to them.
  • After I sobered up, I became immersed in church culture and met a lot of people there, as well.
  • I have been in and out of bands, jobs, and churches. I have gone broad with many, but deep with few. I have seen people come and go; I, myself, have come and gone… I have used people and I have been used. I have known people who were friends to me, but I wasn't to them, and vice versa…

I can faintly remember (because I was probably stoned) our high school counselor talking to my senior class, telling us that once we graduated, we wouldn't see each other very often, and could eventually lose touch altogether. I didn't believe her at the time, but she was right…

I didn't write this post to be sappy (because I'm not) or to make you think I don't have any friends (because I do). I have just realized, as of late, that, in my life, I have taken friendship for granted. This may be old news to many of you, but I'm a slow learner. 🙂 The word discipline in the title may sound cold, but friendship takes work. Nurture your relationships and be a friend.

Enjoy this tune from Josh Garrels:

 

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

For the past year or so, I have been trying to understand the “big picture” of the Bible. Thankfully, a dear brother in Christ, Don Pucik, told me about a book called God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.
This has been one of the most helpful books I have read on understanding the Bible. Roberts (rightly) sees the overarching theme of the Bible as being the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God's people, living in God's place, under God's rule, and enjoying God's blessing” (paraphrase), and then unpacks this idea throughout the whole sweep of Scripture. Visual learners will enjoy the charts, and there is also a Bible study at the end of each chapter.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book!!! If you aren't a reader, check out these four videos:

 

 

 

Gospel as Fulfillment

If you are just now joining us, we have been talking about the gospel. We started this series by asking the (disturbing) question: Is something wrong with our gospel? Then, we looked at how the NT authors use the word and how we have reduced their understanding to a simple formula. In this post, we will look at some examples of how the gospel is the fulfillment to which the Old Testament (OT) points.

A Story with No Resolution

If you have ever read through the OT, you have probably realized that it is not a stand alone book. (Conversely, neither is the NT.) It is a story that is going somewhere. If we had nothing after Malachi, the OT would be the ultimate cliffhanger disappointment. So many hopes…so many expectations…so many unfulfilled promises. We are left with a problem longing for resolution, a story awaiting its climax, promises needing to be fulfilled… The resolution/climax/fulfillment is the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ. Throughout the life of this blog, I would like to unpack how the gospel is the fulfillment of the OT, but in this post, I just want to give a few examples showing that Jesus and the apostles saw that the gospel message was the fulfillment of their Scriptures (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, our OT).

According to the Scriptures

  • In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus says, “Do not assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets [i.e., the OT]. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” (Mt 5:17)
  • John's gospel account records Jesus' saying to the Jews who persecuted him for healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5), “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about me…” (Jn 5:39)
  • A few sentences later Jesus says, “…if you believed Moses [i.e., the Law/Torah], you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (Jn 5:46-47)
  • My favorite example is the resurrection story in Luke when Jesus is walking with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (Lk 24:13-35) The disciples are puzzled because they thought Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, but how could he be their Messiah if he is dead? Jesus begins with “Moses and all the Prophets” (Lk 24:27) and interprets the Scripture in light of himself. Apparently, their hearts were on fire as Jesus did this (Lk 24:32).
  • Later, Jesus tells the Eleven and those with them that not only the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in him, but also the Psalms. (Lk 24:36-49)
  • Upon entering a town, Paul would typically go to the synagogue to reason from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (e.g., Acts 17:2-3, 11)
  • In Paul's most overt gospel statement (1 Cor 15:1-8, 20-28), he reminds the Corinthian church that Jesus' death and resurrection are both “according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3-4) Paul would not have had access to the NT biblical artillery used in our “Gospel as Formula.” Paul did, however, spend a year-and-a-half in Corinth teaching the word of God (cf., Acts 18:11). I am going to step out on a limb and speculate that Paul, being the Jewish scholar that he was (cf., Acts 22:3), had time to teach the church the OT story which begged for resolution and how the gospel of Jesus was that resolution, the fulfillment of the promises of God. Maybe when Paul said “according to the Scriptures,” he was confident that the church would recall that story.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1-2)

This list is not exhaustive. I just want to show that the gospel fulfills the OT. We can't fully understand one without the other…

Part 1 – Is Something Wrong with Our Gospel?

Part 2 – Gospel: Definition and NT Occurances

Part 3 – Gospel (Noun): Initial Observations of NT Usage

Part 4 – Gospel (Verb): Initial Observations of NT Usage

Part 5 – Gospeling the Gospel: Noun and Verb in Close Proximity

Part 6 – Gospel as Formula (a.k.a., “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”)

When the Pages are Blank

Let's be honest: no matter how much you love the Lord, no matter how high your view of Scripture may be, sometimes Bible reading becomes dry. The next time that happens, get Frank Viola's new eBook, When the Pages are Blank: How to Bring the Bible Back to Life. In it you will find twenty exercises to help revitalize your Scripture reading. The book is only $3.99 and is short enough to read on your lunch break. If your Bible reading has become drudgery, try one of these exercises from Frank's book. If you find this eBook to be helpful, check out his blog and free podcast.

What God Thinks About Death

Whether it is a mass murder of children several states away, a friend of a friend, or a close relative, death is all around us. Death is often unexpected and tragic. We could have a natural tendency to ask: “Where is God in all of this?” “If he is so good, why doesn't he intervene?” “Does he even care?”

Origins of Life and Death

The Adam and Eve story has God breathing the “breath of life” into Adam (Gen 2:7). He was also free to eat, as much as he wanted, from all the trees in the garden, including the tree of life. He was told, however, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else he would die. (Gen 2:15-17)

One day, Adam's wife, Eve, was having a conversation with the serpent about God's withholding this privilege of knowledge from his people. She and Adam both ate, and…well you know the rest… (Genesis 3) God then banished them from the garden so that they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever in their broken condition. (Gen 3:22-24) The very next story is about their oldest son murdering the younger (Gen 4:1-16) and Genesis 5 repeats the refrain then he died… With Enoch and Elijah as exceptions, this pattern of life being swallowed up by death is repeated throughout the Old Testament, indeed throughout human history… (Rom 5:12-21)

It would be easy to wonder why God is so callous, so cold, so disinterested in our pain, suffering, grieving. To see what God thinks about death, we need to look to Jesus, the one who reveals God most fully. (cf., Jn 1:18; Col 1:15-20) With his being God in flesh (cf., Jn 1:1-2, 14), Jesus is the source, the author of life. (Acts 3:15-16; cf., Jn 1:4-5) Indeed, he is divine, eternal, uncreated life. (cf., Jn 14:6; 1 Jn 1:1-3)

Jesus and Lazarus

Jesus has a friend named Lazarus who becomes sick and dies. (Jn 11:1-16) Jesus goes to see him and when he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus' hometown, he learns that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Lazarus' sister Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died…” Jesus explains that Lazarus will rise again, but she thinks he is talking about the resurrection in the distant future, on the “last day.” Jesus says: “I AM (ego eimi; Gk. Ἐγώ εἰμι) the resurrection and the life…” Martha is in the presence of the resurrection and the source of life. (Jn 11:17-27)

Martha tells her sister Mary that Jesus has arrived, and she gets up, runs to him, falls at his feet and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Jesus is “angry in his spirit” and goes to the tomb where he weeps or (the Greek is stronger) bursts into tears. Some standing there note that Jesus must have really loved Lazarus to be so deeply moved; others wonder why Jesus could not have prevented the death in the first place. (Jn 11:28-37)

Jesus, foreshadowing his own resurrection from the dead, requests that those standing there remove the stone that covers the tomb. Martha tries to dissuade him, saying that Lazarus was starting to stink. Jesus is not deterred and calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus comes out as a live man wrapped in burial cloths. (Jn 11:38-44)

What God Thinks About Death

So what does God think about death? Jesus was angry in his spirit and burst into tears in the presence of death. (Jn 11:33-35) Death is God's enemy. (1 Cor 15:26) Death will be ultimately destroyed. (Rev 20:13-15) There will be a resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), a new creation (Is 65:17; Rev 21:1-8), and the reappearance of the tree of life. (Rev 22:1-3) That's what God thinks about death.

For those who are hurting right now, let me leave you with a Philip Yancey quote from Finding God in Unexpected Places:

We need a renewed awareness of death, yes. But we need far more. We need a faith, in the midst of our groaning, that death is not the last word, but the next to last. What is mortal will be swallowed up by life. One day all whispers of death will fall silent. (18)