Tag Archives: knowledge

Schooled

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NLT)

38218634Perhaps the most memorized verse in all of the Bible, certainly within Christian circles, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Yet, I would wager that out of the people who have memorized that particular verse, very few know the context those particular words arose out of. As such, I think it would particularly helpful to shed light on that.

It seems clear that Jesus is in or around the city of Jerusalem. He had just entered the Temple and, in the court of the Gentiles, cleared out any and all who were trying to buy and sell animals, as well as anyone who was trying to exhange their own currency for the Temple Shekel. This angry and violent act had, no doubt, left many of the Temple leadership, the Pharisees, and the Romans on edge about this “teacher” from Galilee.

It is no wonder then that Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had probably witnessed the whole Temple scene take place, came to “discuss things” with Jesus. The question we must ask is this, why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? Had be been sent there by the the Sanhedrin to gather some information on Jesus? Did he come on his own accord, seeking to have a more private and intimate conversation with this teacher? Perhaps Nicodemus saw Jesus as a threat, or perhaps Jesus’ actions had convicted him in a way that caused him to seek answers to satisfy his soul.

What we do know is that Nicodemus, either on his own or instructed by his peers, came in the dark of night, hidden in the shadows and no doubt cloaked in order to make his visit to Jesus a secret. Whether or not he was their on “business” or for his own self-gratification, Nicodemus was not wanting anyone else to know that he was their in the presence of this teacher who had just questioned the authority of the Jewish political and religious leadership.

First and foremost, regardless of the reasoning behind his visit, it can be said that Nicodemus was a proud man. He was one who was exalted by the very position he held as a teacher. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling religious body of the Jews made up of the Saducees (Priests) and Scribes (many of whom were Pharisees). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a teacher of the Torah, of the Law of God handed down by Moses, as well as a scholar who studied the whole of the Jewish bible (Tanakh). It was the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees, who taught in a resurrection of the dead, and a life after death.

So, no doubt, Nicodemus wanted to know just exactly who this Jesus thought he was. What’s more, I am sure Nicodemus was truly intrigued and concerned by Jesus actions in the Temple and he, no doubt, wanted to test Jesus’ theological understanding, as it were.  So, in the dark of night, this Pharisee came to Jesus and began to question him. He tried to match wits with Jesus and probed him in away that ultimately exposed his lack of understanding in terms of the Spirit. Sure, Nicodemus had great theological knowledge, but he was lacking in his heart-knowledge of the movement of the Spirit. Jesus schooled him.

What’s important to pull from this is that in his pride,  Nicodemus was humbled. He was shown to not be as knowledgeable as he thought he was. He discovered that his exalted position as a Pharisee meant absolutely nothing to God. What matters to God is that one is in tune with the Spirit, that one is open to what God is doing in the here and now. All of the learning CANNOT and WILL NOT replace and openness to the Holy Spirit. And, as the Jesus warned in Mathew 23:12, the proud shall be humbled. The exalted shall be brought low. Today’s challenge for you is to humble yourself before God and open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” – Thomas Merton

PRAYER
Lord, humble me that I may be caught up in the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Modern Prometheus

Read Psalm 14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions, so their conclusions will be wicked madness; they chatter on and on. No one really knows what is going to happen; no one can predict the future.” (Ecclesiastes 10:13-14 NLT)

FrankensteinOne of my more favorite books, as a fan of Gothic Horror, is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus”. Inspired by a group of friends who were all competing to see who could write the scariest horror story, Shelley penned Frankenstein about a doctor who would use science to create human life. Shelley’s world was one that had gone through the age of enlightenment and scientific knowledge was growing in leaps and bounds. There was seemingly no limit to human potential and it seemed as if humans could achieve anything if they so willed it. All it took was scientific discovery. As has happened ever since the Age of Enlightenment, scientific discovery got more and more narrowed down to physical and/or natural sciences, such as medicine, biology, anatomy, physiology, ecology, etc.

But Shelley also lived in a world that still held on to the other sciences as well. The word science comes from the Latin word scientiae, which means “knowledge.” Therefore, the sciences were avenues to attaining knowledge. Whether it be the knowledge of the physical/natural world, of wisdom (philosophy), of the mind (psychology), or even of God (theology), people have been in pursuit of such knowledge. Thus, the physical and/or natural sciences are no more or less science than philosophy, sociology, psychology, archaeology, and theology. All of these are avenues to knowledge…all of these are sciences.

In Shelley’s novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein abandons himself to the physical sciences in order to attain something that the other sciences such as theology and philosophy might warn against. He attempts to leave the realm of humanity and starts to play God. The results are catastrophic, as one can imagine. Instead of creating another human being, Dr. Frankenstein creates what he ends up considering to be a monster and an abomination. In reality, the creation (who refers to himself as “Adam” in order to draw a parallel between himself and the first man created in Eden) is not the real monster…rather, Victor Frankenstein is the one who becomes monstrous in creating and abandoning “the Adam of [his] labours”, as well as for the hell he brings upon his household and his people.

Shelley’s novel is one that intentionally warns the reader about the danger of abandoning the sum of knowledge for just one of its parts. While we have learned a great deal about the world through the physical and natural sciences, that is not the whole of the knowledge we have to learn. Just as one who ignores the knowledge we have gained of ourselves and of the world through the physical sciences is considered to be foolish, so too is it foolish for one to ignore the knowledge we have gained of God, of the cosmos, of creation and of our relationship to all of the above through theology.

Today’s challenge is for us to move away from being like Frankenstein and toward a more holistic understanding of reality. We are not just physical beings, but we are also emotional, intellectual, psychological and SPIRITUAL beings as well. We cannot be one without the others. We cannot be one part without the whole. When attempt to be apart from the whole, we end up becoming hollow, shadowy caricatures of our former selves; when we abandon the whole of knowledge we often, in our willful ignorance, end up becoming monstrous and dangerous to the larger community around us. Christ is calling us from that to humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness…values that any true scientist would eagerly embody.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be open to all of the possibilities so that I may grow in knowledge, as well as in wisdom. Amen.

The Slippery Slope

Read Isaiah 55:8-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” (1 Corinthians 8:2)

downloadWe live in a world that often only sees in black and white. Things are either right or wrong, good or evil, bad or good, up or down, this way or that and there is no possibility for anything else in between. People who think this way often fear that if you start giving leeway in allowing for more possibilities, or allowing for people to interpret things differently, you start to head down a “slippery slope” toward the pit of destruction.

For example, since the publication of his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell has been branded a heretic by people who disagree with his propensity to question Christian dogma in order to shed light a deeper and more profound truth. The book “Love Wins” happened to question the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell, or at least the doctrine as it has been understood in the last 2-3 centuries. Much of the criticism against him was launched before the book was even published. All that his critics had to go on (as they obviously hadn’t read it yet) was the title of his book and a short video trailer that featured Rob asking questions such as, “Will only a select few make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And, if that’s the case how do you become one of the few?”

In the video, he points to the fact that many have been taught that the central point of the Gospel message is that God will send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus, who came to save you from God’s wrath. “But what does that say about God,” Rob Bell asks? “What that ends up implying is that Jesus has come to rescue us from God.” The video goes on to ask even more questions, with the hope of sparking a desire in the viewer to refelct on these questions, on heaven, on hell, and on “the fate of every human being to have ever lived.” As his book title suggests, and if you haven’t read it…I highly recommend it, in the end, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), and love wins!

People really got in a frenzy over this book. Christian book stores started to ban Rob Bell’s books from their shelves, some Christians started to refute the claims that they hadn’t actually read, but assumed were in his book. Franklin Graham went on cable news and called Rob Bell a heretic for not believing in hell, despite the fact that Rob’s book never denied hell as much as re-framed it. Rob’s critics stated that his questions would open up the proverbial can of worms and lead many people away from Christ. The problem is that slippery slope arguments are not logical. It does not follow that by asking questions one will necessarily LEAD people away from Christ. In fact, the fervor over the book actually drew more attention to the book, to the doctrines of heaven and hell, and to the teachings of Christ, as well as to Christianity; it seems that the book helped draw more people to at least stop, pause and theologically reflect on some pretty big theological questions. What’s the harm in that? What’s the harm in trying to point people to the LOVE, as opposed to the WRATH, of God?

Today’s challenge is two-fold. First, do not allow yourself to get caught up in fear. Unchecked fear is paralytic and keeps us from moving forward from where we are to where God wants us to be. Second, don’t get caught up in the slippery slope. There are more than one way to look at things, and not everything is black and white. There is a lot of gray in the world, and whole spectrum of colors beyond that. Open your eyes to the beauty of God’s world and allow all of the possibilities to be presented before you jump to conclusions. Remember that God’s grace is wide and far-reaching, it calls to all people, and no fear in the world will ever change that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.” – Socrates (found in Plato’s Apology)

PRAYER
Lord, humble to realize that I do not know it all, and allow me to avoid the slippery slope of thinking I do. In you all things are possible. Amen.

Two Simple Questions

Read Matthew 16:13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“[Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:29)

4741068-3x2-700x467Over the years I have been in ministry, I have developed a curriculum for teaching youth who are looking to be confirmed into the Christian faith. I feel that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, has become rather lax in its education of confirmands and people in general. So, I took on the task of developing a curriculum that would educate those seeking confirmation so that in the end they knew why they were being confirmed and that they, indeed, wished to be confirmed into the Christian faith.

The curriculum started off with the history of Christianity, starting with Jesus of Nazareth and ending at our present age. And I didn’t just present the sugar-coated, Sunday School “history”, but a ten week study of the real history behind Christianity. Then I taught them the doctrinal and theological positions of our particular denomination, as well as its polity (or structure).

At the very outset of the class I assigned a paper to be written. I actually assigned two papers, but for the sake of this devotion, I will cover one of them. The paper I assigned was one that I actually had to write in seminary and I found it to be such a rewarding exercise that I included it in my confirmation curriculum. The questions I asked each of the students to answer are the following: “Who do people say that Jesus is?” and “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

These are the very questions that Jesus asked his disciples. They are very pointed and very important questions for anyone who places their faith in Christ to answer. None of us have grown up in a bubble. We have all learned who Jesus is from various sources. From reading the Bible, to Sunday School, to Church, to what we’ve gathered about him from our family and friends. All of those sources have helped shape our understanding of who Jesus is. And so the first question should be a fairly easy one for us to answer.

The second question, however, is one that forces us to go beyond what we’ve heard and learned about Jesus. I forces us to search our soul and our own personal experiences. It forces us to reflect on how we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives. How has he been revealed to us personally? How has he influenced our lives? How has he communicated with us? The apostles didn’t just hear things and learn things about Jesus. They knew him personally. They walked with him, asked him questions, and followed him. They witnessed him after the resurrection.

If we claim Christianity as our faith, if we believe in Christ, there has to be a reason why. Is the reason merely based off of second or third or fourth hand information passed down to you? Is it because you feel you have to believe it? If that is the case, then perhaps it isn’t belief at all. Surely, somewhere along the line you have experienced the presence of Christ in your life. Somewhere along the line you have been transformed by the presence the love of Christ.

Today’s challenge is for you to seriously reflect on the above two questions. Who do people say Christ is and who do you say Christ is? Take the time to sit, meditate and seriously reflect on who Christ is to you and why you believe the way you do. It is not an easy process, but it is certainly a rewarding one. As you grow your beliefs will adapt and grow as well. So make this exercise a part of your faith journey this Lent and beyond. Every so often revisit these questions and really see how God is working in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER

Lord, as I continue to walk in your light, illumine me. As I continue to seek your way, strengthen me. As I continue to grow in my faith, reveal yourself to me. Amen.