Where Reason Leaves Us Off

drops-of-water-578897_1920It is easy to feel lost at the hint of mystery when someone is broadening themselves or religious or spiritual concepts.  We have mental faculties that seem more natural to us in arts, math, physical sciences and even to a great extent the social sciences.  But in ones conversion, faith is critical and distinctly difference because we launch it at a point where reason leaves off. 

In the semantics of early Christianity there was the recurring theme of Christ being the Way.  “Followers of the Way” or other semantics of it are mentioned several times in the book of Acts.  That is because salvation in Christ was with him being “The Way” (John 14:6) and Jesus is the way, hodos, tied to exhodos where we get exodus like Israel brought into a new covenantal relationship in going through the Red Sea miraculously.  Moses took Israel through the water in the exodus, the way out, and Joshua took Israel on the “way in” through the Jordan where later Yeshua was baptized.  It was a default part of the Christian conversion experience for someone to concert in a context that is kinship in the Son of God but unto covenant and of that covenant it would be reinforce as a holistic experience since man is made as spiritual and physical.  Thus I do not say as a Christian that I have a physical thing called my body in a detached way but that I am physical and spiritual completely.  It is a lack of faith and openness to God being faithful through the timeline of salvation history that put the religious, privileged leader os Jesus day a faith that was set in “neutral” and prone to seeing the spirit and body of a man as split. 

However, in conversion as a Christian, a classical argument is that the convert and ongoing intentional disciples is more free than ever because the person is able to be connected by faith to both realms as an individual and in the experience of Christian community that Christ establishes. 

Spirit and water, heaven and earth, Christ and the Church, belong together. And that is how “rebirth” happens.  In the sacrament, water stands for the maternal earth, the holy Church, which welcomes creation and stands in place of it (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth: From Baptism to Transfiguration).  Jesus would introduce early in his ministry the fusion of the spiritual with the work of the Holy Spirit and the matter of water by which one is born again.    

This can be comprehended in the mortal mind but only in part.  Jesus spoke to an educated man of religious reason and calls him to faith also.  This call is to complete that reason on what it is to enter into this kingdom of God.   

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode′mus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicode′mus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

Now there was a man – –  – There is irony here.  Just a few verses before (and books of the Bible were not written with chapter and verse separations) it shows a godly skepticism Jesus had in his human experience among humanity.  It says, “he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25).  What you are about to see is a man of privilege approaching a fellow Jew who could still have calluses on his hands from carpentry.  Jesus will address him by his experience but give him no true dignity than any other human being.  Though Jesus could be skeptical of motives, he regarded all of equal value whether supposedly higher or lower in manmade social class.  Likewise the Christian who shares the faith can be like an ethical doctor that sticks to the same “standard of care”. 

Nicodeumus- – His name means “victory of the people”.   His name is ironically Greek while he is a respected teacher of the religious class.  As this encounter unfolds, we can surmise this conversation was originally held in Greek and not Aramaic Jesus had just turned over the tables in the temple because they were polluting the court from being a decent place of worship for the ethnic Greeks and other Gentiles for even a second-class worship.  This was likely a man who had one foot in Jewish theology and one foot into the nations. 

This man came to Jesus by night- – – Though timid, he really had a lot to lose as do many on the first side of conversion.

no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him- – Here he implies an openness and humility combined so that Christ would reveal himself and his agenda.  Frequently it says in the Old Testament that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.  He is struck by the beauty and goodness of those miracles as being God’s expression of special presence.  So it is only natural he goes to the next step of seeing Jesus as a Rabbi (teacher) and holding the third theological transcendental of truth. 

Truly, truly– – Jesus is saying “Amen” with some Aramaic mixed into this Greek conversation.  By saying this frequently he is continuing a solemn teaching position like that of Moess but signifying how a pivotal point of salvation history is happening here.  Jesus is introducing the new covenant and thus uses this very frequently in this discourse. 

so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled. It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own (Strong’s Concordance g281). 

unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God– – – Here Jesus points to how there is a result of this new birth but expressed in being a part of more persons that God and the convert.  This goes back to the heart of why Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom.  One may want to point to this a stressing the chance to make it to heaven. However, salvation does not work towards that as the only end.  Baptism is a divine beginning and there is a lot between that and the final end. 

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew– – – The indication here is that unlike many conversations in the gospels this is not originally in Aramaic translated into Greek but held in Greek.  This is due to the double meaning in what can be translated “again”.  Even many English translations write “above” instead because it can mean either depending on the context.  Nicodemus stirs the conversations as an interlocutor of Jesus like the rabbinical tradition to pars down to what is eliminated. 

The wind blows where it wills…but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit- – – Jesus is showing that the entry into this kingdom is unlike what is typically quantified through medical, legal or political forums or records.  All those prime examples start and end on human terms.  The birth that is anchored in heaven is also permanent. 

Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?– – In the Greek, the definite article is used so he is really the teacher of Israel. 

we speak of what we know…… but you do not receive our testimony– – – Here Jesus introduces a shadow of things to come after the fulfillment of the cross and resurrection: baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Also in this statement is the third time in the same conversation where he says “truly, truly” which is the Aramaic sneaking into the Greek conversation with the word “Amen, amen”. One could almost imagine Jesus counting with his finger up to three. 

how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?- – -Jesus sometimes wets our appetites by speaking to us first in the natural realm and consequences.  But if we grind against those obvious signs of God, he suggests we are not ready for the faith to what is unseen. 

No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man– – – Jesus points now how not only baptism in the Spirit and water is mysterious but he himself is mysterious.  Or in other words, he offers heavenly salvation because he is from heaven.   

Jesus first used the title Son of Man when he promised believers that they would see him as the place where God dwells among humanity, reveals himself, and opens up heaven to them (1:51).  …only the Word made flesh can reveal the Father and speak of heavenly realities because only he has come down from heaven and will return there (The Gospel of John, Francis Martin and William Wright IV, 2015). 

as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up– – – There is a double meaning here.  The lifting can be translated as a physical lifting but also as being exalted in an elevated sense.  Here he is dropping a hint ironically of how the message of the cross is the effective weakness and strength, a loss but a gain. 

that whoever believes in him may have eternal life- – – And here he shows that God’s healing power is present but to be sustained from the poisons of this life would take an ongoing beholding and relationship with Jesus and his saving work.  It would be to behold him not only as that snake but “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.  He is the eternal lamb to be consumed but in the households of our hearts and bodies.  This is the grace of the gospel that is emphasized to bloom one person at a time but towards a greater whole.  But for some specifics of salvation to a greater whole beyond the individual, Jesus revealed some of that and his identity not to the lofty and educated but the marginalized grasping for even the fundamentals of truth: a divorcee at a well. 


Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man


Changing perspective at a basic level can be hard.  Even more when a person has a privilege in perspective that is above their peers.  In someone at the pinnacle of the physical sciences the bias is called scientism in only confining what can believed by the quantifiable.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on meaning per what a person or group defines as true or good today.  Good can come from inquiry when one asks the right questions.  A high expression of truth is in the words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order. 

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed as divine “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and the lease for Jesus in his day was theology.  Such a man that had such qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodemus.  He could influence what was defined as truth among the leaders.  One night he encountered a man who was both a rabbi and a simple ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and last challenged him.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of spiritual hunger when one sees the introductory basics of Jesus. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom but anchored in heaven.  To accept that good news one transitions from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  This is the theological normative of baptism.  Amniotic fluid was never referred to as the context here by the early church.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says,”baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity. 

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit— This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to keep yielding to the Holy Spirit.  This is childlike trust unto God.

One may rationalize this call saying wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case. The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  When we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the word pneuma  (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel, 2002).  This spirit is that of adoption and fundamental transformation of the person in light of God’s voice crying out from us in the fulness of a divine adoption, suffering and always hope. 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).   

How can this happen?— Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit his theological paradigm.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus challenges him to get over it through the message of being born again unto God the Father in heaven. 

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to get the jist. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breathing, living and talking he offers something that is incomparable. 

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ. 

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Though not the words of Jesus, rich in meaning.  Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, contemplative and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ in the fulness of such belief.   

But we are to be also informed in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, if you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid,  great! But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are not walking by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Having spiritual credentials is not the same as knowing Jesus.  An actively challenging gospel to us is on our “spiritual privilege” assumption.  He does not change but we do.  The choice to stay only as inquirer is on us if we will turn to Jesus as more than just favored of God but as Lord. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity). 

Conversion to The Fundamental Good


Flash in the pan experience can take us only so far if we want to change the fundamental things in us.  We have to go deeper for it to matter.  Transitions that matter for the person have to go from the inside out.

For two disciples of John the Baptist there were two days of transition that were ending one time of discipleship and getting ready for another.  They saw the baptism of Jesus but for whatever reason following Jesus was not meant to happen that very day though much was illuminated about him.  But for them a conversion of heart began.

But the next day, like many who hear the gospel and understand it, is a time of action to make conversion real or inaction that makes it all like a goose-bump that fades.

 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:35-38).

Look, the Lamb of God!– -Just like the passover lamb was the game changer in the time of Moses, so from this point forward everything changes.  And just like the time of Moses where the lamb had to be consumed in all, so Jesus must be received fully. Jesus is being pointed to as one who would in fact give of himself fully.  Such giving seems foolish to the world.

What do you want?– – Jesus asks them something that could be considered a test.  Their response can say a lot of what they are looking for in light of the teaching they already had. When God draws us to himself in the context of initial or ongoing conversion, it is fitting to reflect of what we want and if it really matters.

Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?– – They come to Jesus on the right terms in obedience and are teachable to the Teacher.  This is what matters.  What is more, by asking the “Rabbi” where he is staying they want more than a quick answer but to abide, metaphorically, in the schoolhouse.

But coming to God with the requests that matter and are thus consistent with his nature is also a partnership initiated by God the Father.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. (John 6:44-45)

Come, and you will see– – – Unlike many other times, Jesus does not answer the questions with a question.  This could be seen as a matter of the simplest questions being the best ones generally.

To fully understand what is being covered here, consider the beautiful things in life that are appreciated in themselves.  If I take out my keys, and one asks why, I answer that I am going to my car.  Asked more, I could say which freeway.  If I finally say that I am going to have coffee with my daughter, the question why would not make sense.  This is because certain things, the fundamental goods, are without need of being put in a definable box.  If Jesus was just somebody to do business with, then the meaning is dry. But this beautiful movement forward is both greatness in the person and a dynamic of the Holy Trinity at work. Jesus is The Fundamental Good and fellowship is an end in itself.

they went and saw-  Taking these verses, one could think this is a small real estate story.  But, considering they were sent off to “behold the Lamb of God” we can see these disciples took in that day something deeper about him.  Ideally, the ongoing process of the believer is to keep your eyes open to God.  This is where the believer stays in a state of purity.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  It is not seeing God’s plan but seeing God.  Again, God is the Fundamental Good.

they stayed with him that day— To experience the passover lamb in the Old Testament is not a fast food experience but is communal.  What we see here are the apostles John and Andrew coming to the man they call Teacher and connecting with him in a meeting of dwelling.  The natural follow up for the convert is to join Jesus where he is and stay there.

There is something to be said about joining Jesus such as in the context of prayer: It is normal.  That is to say, much of the lifestyle of being a Christian that has a relationship is not sensational.  The day before this narrative was sensational.  Some heard a voice and some perceived the Holy Spirit to come down on Jesus as a dove.  But to an uninformed eye, these were just three men that were under the same roof, likely sharing a meal and talking.  No flash and no snappy one liners.

On the hour of their decision to follow Jesus they believed with obedience in coming to to him, inquired, saw and stayed.  Coming to Jesus is nice, staying is everything.  Getting a quick question answered gives knowledge.  But dialogue with Jesus grants wisdom.  Such dialogue we can have today if we just ask and immerse ourselves in the presence of the Lord.  The reader may ask if it is an audible voice to which I would say that is not necessary.  This is because today and every day we can approach Jesus while Jesus approaches us and that is an end in itself.  Jesus can be our Fundamental Good- – if we let Him.

Mercy In The Time of Ferguson


I have been pondering how to express something about forgiveness for a while.  I hardly think I am a wellspring in myself of ideas on this.  I have heard that forgiveness is the most powerful force in the world.   It is considered a nice virtue by people that may or may not consider themselves spiritual.  I kept thinking I should be able to put something together.

But it didn’t feel right.  Maybe it was because I would be putting something out there that is a beautiful thing with too much intellectual take. Truth expressed without a context is just dust in the wind.

As of this week, Ferguson gives us a context.  The context is outrage.  It is hurt in the heart that is added on to generations of wrongdoing in the sad story of race relations.  For the readers who perceive the lack of indictment as justified, please forget that for a moment and think about how we are all on a journey to walk in grace as we were created to.   The healing begins as one walks in that grace by withholding wrath that we feel entitled  to dispense.

So this brings us to a hill 2,000 years ago when an itinerant rabbi says his piece about extending mercy in place of wrath.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Keep in mind, that he was speaking as a Jew among Jews in their land oppressed for a long time by the Romans.  There was room for a big grudge but Jesus never spoke that way.  He called for something better.

For those who are sympathetic to the protesters, think again.  What kind of mercy do you want?  When have you blown it in a small way or big one?  We want to have a clean slate but the sayings of Jesus challenge us to want that for others and especially those who have hurt us the most and the most times.  How often are we supposed to forgive someone that hurts us personally?  Seventy times seven which is really infinity.  As a social worker I am trained to see groups by the system they form themselves into, the story of their lives and the identities they make from it all.  But as one who considers himself a Christ follower, I have to ask both sides, can we do better beginning with the power of forgiveness?

We may not like to forgive others.  But we dislike even more to be unforgiven by others when we seek it in tears.  What have you got to lose besides shame and regret? The ultimate source of mercy is a God who is far above the fray of this life, knows are faults and is there for the mercy to us if we will participate warts and all.  What is stopping us?