The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide for the Perplexed By Gordon P. Hugenberger

Hugenberger, Gordon P. 1994.  The Lord’s Prayer:  A Guide for the Perplexed.  Boston:  Park Street Church.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The book speaks to the hollowing out of large parts of the church in recent years. The consensus view focuses on the form rather than the content of our faith. Liberals have abandoned the basic doctrines of the church while evangelicals have eschewed depth to appeal to seekers. Scholarly devotionals helps mitigate this problem by offering believers something more thoughtful to chew on.

Against this backdrop, the Lord’s Prayer: A Guide for the Perplexed, written by Rev. Dr. Gordon P. Hugenberger reflects biblically on the content of the Lord’s Prayer. For example, the introduction points out that the Gospel of Luke gives special emphasis to Jesus’ prayer life (5). Hugenberger is the senior pastor at Park Street Church, Boston MA and a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. Park Street Church is famous as the site for in early Billy Graham revival in the 1940s.

A topic likely to generate discussion is Hugenberger’s discussion of why newer translations omit the doxology to the Lord’s Prayer. The doxology is–For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen–found, for example, in Matthew 6:13 in the King James Version of the bible at the end of the prayer. The basic reason is that the doxology was added in later Greek manuscripts because Jesus meant the Lord’s Prayer to be a template for prayer, not an officially sanctioned prayer. The church took this advice seriously adding petitions, like the doxology at the end of the prayer (7). When scholars examined earlier manuscripts, those manuscripts did not have the oxology.  Because newer translations give preference to older Greek manuscripts, the doxology was left out or became a footnote.

Hugenberger’s book is useful as a devotional study for mature Christians and their study groups wanting to deepen their understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. The book is short enough to read in one sitting, but devotions are best enjoyed at a more leisurely pace.

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JOHN 6: Bread from Heaven

CommunionBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35 ESV).

It is ironic that someone born in Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for house (beth) of bread (lehem), should be famous for performing the miracle of breaking bread!  Adding to irony is that the miracle of feeding the five thousand should occur during Passover (v 4) and the bread was barley loaf (v 9).  Because barley is a poor person’s bread, this miracle takes the appearance of a peasant revolt.  Jesus will have nothing to do with it and leaves (v 15).

Jesus’ teaching and the miracle of the bread have both messianic and covenantal implications which are linked.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3).  Moses is linked to God’s provision of manna in the desert (v 32) and to the crossing of the Red Sea.  In an obvious parallel, Jesus likewise feeds the five thousand (v 11) and walks on water (v 19)1.

John’s references to communion here are unmistakable.  Jesus says: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (v 53).  The link to Passover makes this passage look like a Galilee Passover rehearsal for the Last Supper in Jerusalem.  Later in chapter 17, however, John focuses on Jesus’ intercessory prayer, not a covenantal meal, like in Luke 22:20.  What is interesting about all this is that John’s covenantal meal involves Jesus feeding hungry people (outsiders) rather than his disciples (insiders).

The reference in verse 35 where Jesus says, I am the bread of life, is the first of seven famous “I AM” references in John’s Gospel.  The others are I am:  the light of the world (John 8:12), the gate for the sheep (John 10:7), the good shepherd (John 10:11), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), and the true vine (John 15:1)[1].  Each sentence is significant because it begins with “I AM”, the covenant name of God given to Moses (Exodus 3:15).  The implication is that these are the character traits of God himself.

Which of these character traits are most meaningful to you?


[1] Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 194,199.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

THE “I AM” THEME IN JOHN
Quote References
I am the bread of life… John 6:35, 41, 48, 51
I am the light of the world… John 8:12,18, 23
I am the gate for the sheep… John 10:7, 9
I am the good shepherd… John 10:11, 14
I am the resurrection and the life… John 11:25
I am the way and the truth and the life… John 14:6
I am the true vine… John 15:1, 5
Source:  Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 199.
  1. Where and when does this chapter take place? (vv 1-4)
  2. Why does Jesus ask about bread for the people (vv 4-5; Exodus 12:17)
  3. Why does Andrew bring a boy with his lunch? (vv 8-9) (John 1:36-40)
  4. What is the significance of the bread being made of barley? (v 9)
  5. How did the people interpret the many fragments of bread? What parallel comes to mind with the bread miracle?  (vv 12-14; vv 31-32Exodus 16:35;)
  6. Why do the people want to make Jesus king? What does Jesus do? (v 15)
  7. What is the parallel that comes to mind in the walking on water incident? (vv 16-21; Exodus 14:21)
  8. What is Jesus’ teaching about bread? (v 35)  What was the reaction? (vv 41-42)
  9. What is significant about John’s reference to communion in verse 53? Who takes part here?  Who takes part in Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-28?
  10. 10.What is the response to Jesus’ conversation about communion?  (v 66)
  11. 11.In particular, how do you interpret verse 65?
  12. 12.What is Peter’s response? (v 68)

JOHN 6: Bread from Heaven

Also see:

JOHN 7: Living Water 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 5: Walking in Faith

By Stephen W. HiemstraFountain

The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this,

cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life (Genesis 3:14 ESV).

It is hard to fathom the desperation of the man Jesus heals at the pool of Bethesda who had been lame for 38 years.  A friend of mind undertook a statistical study of elderly patients who had broken their hip.  Most of those unable to hip replacements gave up on life and died.  The picture of a man paralyzed for 38 years is a picture of a man in tremendous suffering.

Jesus asks this man a strange question:  Do you want to be healed? (v 6)  The man ignores the question and begins recounting his desperate story.  He obviously does not recognize Jesus or know who he is. Jesus responds:  Get up, take up your bed, and walk (v 8).  The man was healed.  He obeys Jesus’ instruction—take up your bed—and starts walking around with his mat.

This is Jesus’ third miracle after turning water into wine and healing the official’s son (John 2:1-11; 4:46-54).  Both of the previous miracles were in Galilee.  This miracle is in Jerusalem at the site where the walls of Jerusalem were first rebuilt (Nehemiah 3:1), where the city’s cornerstone was laid.  Elsewhere when Jesus talks about the cornerstone that was rejected, he may be referring to this place and this healing (e.g. Matthew 21:42; Psalm 118:22).

The lame man, of course, becomes like a human billboard walking around Jerusalem on the Sabbath with his mat.  Do you think zealous Jews would notice? (Numbers 15:32-38)  Jesus shows that he has a sense of human when he meets the man:  See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you (v 14). The man was sinning (that is, carrying his mat on the Sabbath) only because Jesus told him to do!  Do you think the man knew or cared what day of the week it was?

One of the most meaningful visits that I had with a patient in Providence Hospital last fall was unplanned.  Exhausted, I left the Alzheimer’s unit for a break and sat in the hall.  A woman saw me sitting there feeling sorry for myself, wheeled herself up, and began showing me her new prosthetic leg.  It was beautiful; it was computer programmed; it was her ticket to freedom after so many years in a wheel chair.  She spoke like an excited parrot flying around the room.  It was hard not to get excited with her talk about this new leg.

Once they discovered who had healed the lame man, the Jew leaders accused Jesus of two capital offenses:  healing on the Sabbath and referring to God as his father—equating himself with God (v 18).  The remainder of chapter 5 recites a lengthy defense that Jesus offers in his own words.  It begins with an enigmatic statement:  My Father is working until now, and I am working (v 17).

Are we surprised that the carpenter’s son is learning carpentry?  A first century carpenter was more of what we would call a home builder or developer, not just a worker with wood.  This makes Jesus’ trade as a young man a metaphor for being a creator, as God is pictured in Genesis 1.  Healing the lame is an act of creation.

Jesus identified five witnesses in his defense:  God, John the Baptist, his healings, scripture, and the words of Moses[1].  In his final comments, he accuses his accusers of not believing the words of Moses which instructed them to keep an eye out for another prophet, like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15).

Has Jesus offered you healing?  If so, where’s your rug?


[1] Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 179.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share?  Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. When did this event occur? Where? Why do we care? (vv 1-2)
  2. What did Jesus ask the paralyzed man? Why does it seem odd?  How does the man answer?  Why is his answer odd? (vv 6-7).
  3. What is peculiar about Jesus’ request? What happened?  (vv 8-9)
  4. Why did Jesus tell the man not to sin anymore? ;=) (v 14)
  5. Jesus repeats an important doctrine twice? What is it?  Why is it important?  Why does it get him into trouble? (vv  16-19)
  6. Jesus applies this doctrine twice? What two applications does he make? (vv 20-29)
  7. What does Jesus say about testimony and witness? (vv 30-40)
  8. What five witnesses does Jesus claim? (vv 30-47)

JOHN 5: Walking in Faith

Also see:

JOHN 6: Bread from Heaven 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria

By Stephen W. HiemstraBillyGraham

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

What is your image of an evangelist?

An early influence on my life was evangelist, Billy Graham.  My parents worked for the Billy Graham Society (BGS) early in his California ministry campaigns.  When I committed my life to Christ as a young person after viewing the film, The Cross and the Switchblade, in the early 1960s, I was encouraged to complete a mail-order bible study provided by the BGS.  Later, after I had started seminary, I learned that the Graham family was a major inspiration and financial supporter of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC where I studied.

While my image of an evangelist is Billy Graham, the Gospel of John records that the first, truly independent evangelist was an unnamed woman with a nasty background from Samaria.

Do you think you have sinned and that God cannot forgive you?

Then you need to read the story of the woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus not only forgave her; he gave her a new life and a new career as an evangelist.  Her testimony was so compelling that her whole village had to see Jesus.  John writes:  Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, He told me all that I ever did (v. 39).  Do you think she stopped her evangelism there?

The location of Jacob’s well near Sychar (Shechem) links the woman at the well to the story of Dinah (Genesis 34).  The sin of Simeon and Levi following Dinah’s rape leads to Judah inheriting Jacob’s blessing.  The messiah, Jesus, is later prophesied to come from tribe of Judah by way of King David (Psalm 110).  The stories of Rebekah, Rachel, and Ziporah all involve interesting male-female encounters at wells but do not directly inform Jesus’ heritage or ministry (Genesis 24 and 29; Exodus 2).

John 4 actually includes two other important stories.  The story is in verses 1 and 2, where we learn that Jesus left Judea and traveled through Samaria to avoid competing with the baptismal ministry of John.  This is an important object lesson to ministers to focus on God’s kingdom, not their own.  It also mirrored John’s own humility (John 3:30).

The second story takes place once Jesus returns to Galilee to Cana—the site of his first miracle turning water into wine.  Jesus is asked to heal the child of a local official who he heals remotely (v 50).  In effect, Jesus became the first medical missionary on his return to Galilee.

Often the Gospel of John is compared with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the synoptic Gospels—and people ask:  Why doesn’t Jesus speak in parables in John’s Gospel?  An interesting answer is that the synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ public ministry while John focuses on Jesus’ private ministry.

Today we would describe encounters, like those with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, as pastoral care. Jesus cared both for the rich and famous, like Nicodemus, and for the poor and neglected, like the woman at the well.  Both encounters were deeply theological.  Both encounters yielded fruit.  It is perhaps surprising that the encounter with the woman at the well was the more fruitful.

Do you think that God seeks such people today?  Do you think that he seeks you?

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share?  Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. How does Jesus react to the Pharisee’s comment about John and baptism? What does he do? (vv 1-3)
  2. Why then does Jesus visit Samaria? (v 4)
  3. Where in Samaria does this chapter focus? What is significant about the location? (v 5)  Hint:  Genesis 34.
  4. What names does the Samaritan woman use for Jesus? (vv 6,9, 11, 15, 19, 25, 26, 29,31, 42).
  5. What other biblical male-female encounters take place at a well? (Genesis 24 and 29; Exodus 2)
  6. What does Jesus ask of the Samaritan woman? Why?  How does she respond?  Why? (vv 7-9)
  7. How does Jesus introduce himself? Why? (v 10)
  8. Does the Samarian woman understand Jesus’ comment about living water? (vv 10-14)
  9. Why does Jesus change the subject when the woman asks for living water? Why does he ask for her husband?  (vv 10-11).
  10. Is the woman being sarcastic when she says that Jesus is a prophet? (v 19)
  11. What was the effect of Jesus’ conversation with the woman? (v 39)
  12. What does Jesus say to the disciples when they return? (vv 31-39)
  13. Where does Jesus go when he reaches Galilee?  What happens there? (vv 43-54).
  14. Why does John refer to Jesus’ miracle as a sign? (v 54).

JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria

Also see:

JOHN 5: Walking in Faith

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 3: Humility and Love

By Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,

you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3-4 ESV).

Have you been born again?

The Apostle John actually uses the enigmatic expression, born from above, to talk about spiritual rebirth (vv 5-6).  Commentators often wonder why Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ teaching because the prophet Ezekiel wrote something similar:  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).  Nicodemus was perhaps surprised, not because he does not know his scripture; he is surprised because the usual Jewish teaching focused on complying with the Law of Moses.  Pharisees taught that the law could be obeyed if the proper rules were known and followed—God’s intervention was not required to comply with the law.

Being born again implies that God comes to us—we do not come to him.  Following the law; being good; attending the right church will not bring you closer to God.  God is not far from us in terms of physical distance; He is far from us in terms of holiness—moral distance.  He is infinite; we are finite.  God must choose us; because we cannot choose him.  And when God chooses us, we are radically changed.

The discourse with Nicodemus is the first of three sections in chapter three.  The other two are Jesus’ teaching on love and further comments by John the Baptist.

The dialog with Nicodemus ends with a series of statements by Jesus which ends in verse 21.  Among these statements is the familiar passage:  John 3:16—For God so loved the world…

God’s love of an unholy world is unexpected.  The rebellion of the created order from God sets the world in opposition to God.  This was, for example, the reason for God sending the flood but saving Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-7).  Jesus, as God’s son, is the champion promised in Genesis 3:15 who would defeat Satan.  God’s love in Christ not only allows God to keep his promise, but Christ’s example also sets God’s people apart from the world—when they pay attention.   By looking to that example, we are saved (Numbers 21:9).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).

In our own lifetime, Bishop Desmond Tutu applied this principle of love for enemies when he formed South Africa’s Truth and Justice commission.  The abolishment of Apartheid accordingly became an opportunity for healing rather than an excuse for genocide.  John the Baptist, who recognized the power of God in Christ, voluntarily gave up his own ministry to make room for Jesus saying:  He must increase, but I must decrease (v 30).  In like manner, the people of South Africa gave up their legitimate claim for revenge to make room for Christ’s love and became an example to the entire world.

Do you want to love the world?  Give up your rights and practice Christ’s love.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. Who was Nicodemus? (v 1)
  2. Why might he have come at night to see Jesus? (v 2)
  3. How does Nicodemus describe Jesus? (v 2)
  4. What is a sign? (v 2) How does it differ from a wonder, a miracle, or healing?  For example:  And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people(Acts 6:8 ESV).
  5. What does Jesus say? Why is it surprising? (v 3)
  6. Why does Nicodemus respond the way he does? (v 4)What does he say?
  7. How many times does Jesus repeat the phrase born again (v 3, 5, 7)? Why?
  8. What does “born again” mean? What does it imply?
  9. What is said in verse 6? Why is it important?
  10. 10.Does Nicodemus understand? (v 9)
  11. What do verses 10 through 21 have in common? Is Jesus speaking throughout this section?  For example, who is speaking in John 3:16?  Why?
  12. 12.Where does Jesus go in verses 22-23 and what does he do?
  13. Why is verse 24 interesting?
  14. 14.Who is carrying on the discussion that starts in verse 25?
  15. 15.What is discussed in verses 26 through 36?

JOHN 3: Humility and Love

Also see:

JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

By Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do (Genesis 41:55 ESV).

How does God reveal himself to you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not enough wine).  More generally, God reveals himself through super-abundance of wine (2:1-11), bread (6:5-14), and fish (21:3-13).

Chapter one ends with Jesus encountering Nathanael and offering a prophecy paraphrasing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12):  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).  Nathanael came from Cana (John 21:2).  In chapter 2, this prophecy is fulfilled in a wedding at Cana.

The miracle of water being turned into wine is rich in messianic imagery.  The prophet Isaiah, for example, writes of the messianic banquet:  the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:6-8).  When Moses sends spies into the promised land, they come back with a huge cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23).  Building on the vineyard theme, many of Jesus’ parables tie vineyards to God’s judgment (e.g. Matthew 21:33-40).

In case we missed the significance of Jesus’ first miracle, John writes:  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).  John’s use of the word, glory, to refer to Jesus associates him with God’s Shekinah cloud revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17) and associated with the tabernacle (Numbers 14:10) and, later, with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).  John makes this temple association explicit in verses 19-21.

When Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip, he prophetically acts out divine judgment as a prelude to temple abandonment (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 56:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11).  When Jesus died on the cross, the temple sacrificial system became redundant because the atonement for sin had been made for all time (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus’ resurrection completed the symbolism (John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31). God abandoned the temple and it was destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.

Which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember best?

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. When did the events in chapter 2 take place? (v 1) Where?  (Who comes from there?  Hint John 21:2) Why are these details important?  Why is Jesus’ mother mentioned?
  2. Who was also invited? (v 2)
  3. What is the significance of the wine running out?(v 3)  Who gets called?
  4. What is Jesus’ response? (v 4)
  5. How does Jesus’ mother react? Why?  (v 5) What does this remind you of?  (Hint: Genesis 41:55)
  6. What does Jesus do? (vv 6-8)
  7. What is the role of the master of the feast? (vv 8-9)
  8. How does the master of the feast react to the wine given him? (vv 9-10).
  9. How do we know that he is not being sarcastic?(vv 10-11)
  10. 10.Where did Jesus and the disciples go after that?  Who else was there?  Why? (v 12)
  11. 11.When did all this happen?  Where did Jesus go next? (v 13)

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Also see:

JOHN 3: Humility and Love 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.


[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. What is “in the beginning” alluding to? (Hint Genesis 1:1)
  2. Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the vision?  What is special about the process of hearing? (v 1) (Hint:  how many people are involved in hearing versus seeing?)
  3. How many descriptions of Christ can you count in this chapter? Which is most meaningful to you?  Why?
  4. What is meant by the references to light and darkness? (vv 4,5 8,9) What is meant in Genesis 1:3-5)?
  5. Who are God’s children? (vv 12-13)
  6. Who is John and why did he come? What was his mission? (vv 6-7, 15-36)
  7. Which of John’s disciples went to follow Jesus?Why do we care?  (vv 35-37, 40)
  8. What was special about Andrew and why do we remember him? (vv 40-42)
  9. What is strange about how Nathaniel came to Christ? (vv 46-48)

JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

Also see:

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

Continue Reading

A Few Good Stories

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In May I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  Commencement was held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church—a large African American church in Charlotte, NC.  The experience seemed a bit otherworldly, in part, because I still have classes to finish this summer and, in part, because this was my first commencement in spite of multiple degrees.

 I commenced for the first time because when I graduated high school, the senior class protested graduation–a very 70s kind of thing to do; when I graduated in college, I was sick with mononucleosis; when I received my master’s degree, I was an exchange fellow in Germany; and when I received my doctorate, I was frankly too poor to travel back to Michigan.  So commencement gave me a new story to tell.

Seminary has taught me the value of a good story.

From epistemology we know that the existence of God cannot be proven (or disproven).  What logic would you use?  Logic starts with assumptions—which ones are irrefutable and who says so?  Consequently, our experience of God starts with a story.  A story is a model of reality.  In financial modeling, the adage goes that it takes a model to kill a model.  Because all models are imperfect, only a better model provides a suitable critique.  Questioning the use of a model is, frankly, not to understand the challenge of risk management in complex modern financial corporations. Likewise, as Christians we need to ask:  which story best fits what God has revealed about himself and what we know about our world?   Arguing for no story is not to understand the human dilemma. The Christian witness is that:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

An important postmodern challenge to the Biblical witness comes from literary critics who argue that the meaning of words is arbitrary.  Words have no inherent meaning and, in effect, pose a kind of Rorschach test exploited by power-seeking individuals and groups who impose their meaning on the texts—especially ancient texts taken out of social context.  They employ this critique to discount the historical testimony of the church and the biblical record.  The Bible’s use of stories, however, deconstructs this critique itself!  Stories provide context.  Hebrew doublets restate particular sentences in different words.  The meaning of particular words is then obvious from context and the use of doublets. Stories transcend the arbitrary meaning of word-symbols by drawing on experiences common to all human beings.  As Mark Twain used to say:  It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

In clinical pastoral education, I learned to listen actively and, in particular, to listen for the stories that people tell.  The hospital visit, for example, is a transition story—a patient comes with a problem, seeks a cure, and is released.  Economist studies to be a pastor is a reinvestment story.  Anniversaries can made both tragedies and victories on a particular date each year.  The pastor that tells a story about a new acquaintance—is probably being autobiographical.  Biblical stories are often rehearsal stories—stories from the past with current meaning.  Identifying the story that a person tells helps establish emotional connection—an important vehicle for sharing the gospel.

The Gospel is the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  The apostle Paul invites us to join in Jesus’ story with these words: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11 ESV).  Life has meaning because we know where we fit in Christ’s story.

Seminary has taught me the value of a good story

A Few Good Stories

 

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Resting in God, Psalm 23:2

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA

Invocation

Lord God, heavenly King, loving Father – Rest with us this morning. In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspires the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

Monday, February 12, 2007 was a long day for me.

Driving on Route 66 halfway to Washington at about 6:40 a.m., I received a phone call from my mother. She told me that my sister, Diane, had suffered a heart attack and stroke. She is asking for her brothers. After the call from mom, I turned around and headed back to Centreville. A few minutes later, I picked up my brother and we drove to an unfamiliar hospital in Philadelphia. Upon arriving at the hospital at the end of the morning I found my parents. My sister was in a bed on life support. Unfortunately, it was too late. Diane had left us.

We read together Psalm 23, we said goodbye to Diane, and prayed.

Psalm 23 is familiar and powerful. Why do we find comfort resting with God?

Passage

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that green pastures are hard to find and wars fought over scarce water resources. The desserts are best known for nasty weeds and drought. So when our verse speaks of green pastures and still waters, the psalmist makes an allusion to the Garden of Eden, one of the biblical visions of heaven. Listen to the words in Genesis:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen 2:8-10 ESV).

Eden pictures restoration. Here the world’s corruption is not present. Nor there is no sin. We are in full communion with God. There is no death, there is no fear. Here we find peace in the biblical sense of Shalom, which means not only the absence of conflict, but also a fullness of spirit caused by communion with God himself.

Consequently, resting with God gives comfort deeper than just green grass and clear water, because all conflicts and struggles have been eliminated.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Interpretation

The theme of rest appears in the New Testament. Jesus said: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ἀναπαύσω (BNT), Matthew 11:28 ESV). The author of Hebrews expands on this idea and uses the word, rest, four times with four different meanings. Listen for the four uses of rest in Hebrews 4.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (Heb 4:1-4 ESV)

These four lines are dense. We could have a Sunday school class on nothing but these four verses. By the end, we see the word, rest, interpreted four different ways: physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest. Please stay with me when I explained why. Vaya conmigo!

The story begins in the Greek text with the word for the rest: κατάπαυσις.  Here is the only place in the New Testament where it is used. However, the text refers to two passages from the Old Testament: Genesis 2 and Psalm 95. Allow me a few minutes to look at these passages.

Genesis 2. This passage is familiar because God rests on the seventh day. Here rest means to stop working. If you think about it, however, this idea seems strange. Ask yourself: was God physically tired when He rested on the seventh day? OBVIOUSLY NOT:  exhaustion is a problem for us, not for God. God was never physically tired from creating. Maybe God stopped creating for spending time with us (2X) (Murray 1996, 159-60).

Psalm 95. This Psalm is less familiar. We read in verses 10-11: forty years I was angry with that generation, and said: For forty years I loathed that generation and said, They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways. Therefore I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest. (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV)

The rest here is a metaphor for the Promised Land. The generation of Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, they could not enter into the rest of God, because they did not believe that God would keep his word (2X) (Murray 1996, 156).

In Hebrews 4 includes a mystery. Why does the author say that the promise of rest still stands? When this book was written, the people of Israel had lived in Palestine for a long time. How could the author say that the promise of the Promised Land is still standing? The image here is of Jesus as our new Joshua who leads us from this earth to heaven (Murray 1996, 160-61). Here we find heavenly rest.

So we see the word, the rest played four ways in Hebrews 4:  physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest – a return to Eden. Each of these inferences applies also to Psalm 23.

Application

Christian psychologist Henry Cloud, asks the question: which values ​​are not optional in your life? (2X) Our deepest values ​​are not the most urgent, but they determine the quality of your life and are easily overlooked (Cloud 2008, 133-142).

How can we rest as God intended? Three are obvious: practice physical rest, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

First:  Practice Physical Rest. The obvious place to start is the physical rest. If you want to feel more holy, take a nap (2X). People hurried have decreased ability to love God and neighbor. Hurry is not just a messy schedule, but a messy heart (Ortberg 2002, 72, 79, 81). Practice physical rest.

Second: Observe Sabbath Rest. Spend quality time with your family in front of God.  As the psalmist writes:  Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10 ESV).  Abraham Heschel (2005, 15) describes the Sabbath as:  a palace in time that we build (2X). Observe Sabbath rest.

Third: Mediate on Heaven. Heaven is two important things: a place where God lives and our eternal destiny. Because we know that the future lies with Christ, we can afford to take greater risks in life to bring heaven to earth. C.S. Lewis (2001, 134) writes: If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. Mediate on heaven.

In short, the rest practiced three classes: physical rest practice, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

Prayer

Almighty Father. Thank you for the spiritual gift of rest. Help us to rest with you now and always. In the power of your Holy Spirit, guide our thoughts and keep us close to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

REFERENCES

Brueggemann, Walter.  1984.  The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary.  Minneapolis:  Augsburg.

Cloud, Henry.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  Harper Business.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua.  2005.  The Sabbath (Orig. Pub. 1951).  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Ciroux.

Lane, William.  1985.  Hebrews:  A Call to Commitment.  Vancouver:  Regent College Publishing.

Lewis, C.S.  2001.  Mere Christianity (Orig. Pub.1952).  New York:  HarperCollins.

Murray, Andrew. 1996.  The Holiest of All (Orig. Pub. 1894).  New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Ortberg, John.  2002.  The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes we experience God in unexpected places.

How do we minister to those who no longer speak?

God tells Moses in the burning bush:  I AM WHO I AM (Exod 3:14). In the Hebrew, the words are actually:  אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (Exodus 3:14 WTT).  Literally, this means:  I will be that I will be.  God chooses who He will be.  We like to choose, but often don’t get to.

Notice that God does not tell us that being requires speaking.

If you think about it, we actually spend very little time during our lives speaking much of anything.  Most of us sleep about eight hours every day.  When we are young, we scream, we smile, we laugh, we cry, and we sleep a lot but we do not really say much of anything.  When we are old, we revert to the sleeping mode again.  But like God, we are present, but we are mostly silent.

The silence of God is both a blessing and a curse.

When God is silent, we are able to speak and find our voice.  How would we ever grow as individuals, if God did all the talking?  Our identities would be muted because God is all knowing and all powerful.  But we know that God is not a big talker because heaven is full of singing.  As we read in Revelations, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him saying:   Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelations 4:10-11 ESV)[1].

Yet, when God remains silent, we perish.  The Psalmist writes:  You have seen, O LORD; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me! (Psalm 35:22 ESV).  The silence of God comes to us as judgment, in part, because He alone can act to save us from our own folly.

The Apostle Paul writes: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:22-25 ESV).

It seems foolish to us that God would speak to us mostly without words on the cross.  Yet, in not speaking, He said everything.


[1]For Alzheimer’s patients, singing and dancing are startlingly therapeutic.  If you have a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, try singing the Doxology (or any other familiar tune) to them and see for yourself.

Also see:

Brackey: Look for Moments of Joy (https://wp.me/p8RkfV-VY)

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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