Category Archives: Gospel of John

Musings on John’s gospel…

we can enjoy the sun or spend the day arguing about where it came from…

This week’s installment of my finderpainting in the MAV…John 8:12-30…entitled, well, you just read the title, didn’t you…

And so once again, amid the endless speculation and controversy, bathed in the light of the huge lamp stand turn on the lightmenorahs in the temple courtyard as the Tentmaker celebration finished winding down, Jesus spoke up:

“I am the light of the world! The one who tracks with me through thick and thin will never, ever find himself stumbling around in the dark – no, they’ll be beaming with the light of life on their faces! (Move over, veiled Moses from the mount!)”

The Pharisees were quick with their comeback: “A lot of loud talk from your own big mouth proves nothing! Your self-testimonial is all hot air and no substance!”

Jesus was ready with his own comeback:

“Even if it is just my big mouth giving my own testimonial, it’s still bona-fide, solid truth – because I know full well where I’ve come from and I know exactly where I’m going.

But you, you don’t have a clue about either.

got a light?

got a light?

You are constantly trafficking in superficial judgments on everyone and everything; and I’m happy to leave it to you – I’m staying out of the judging business altogether. But, you know, if I do pass judgment on anything, it’s right on the mark because it’s not just me lowering the gavel – the gavel is in my Abba’s hand, and he’s the one who sent me here in the first place.

And doesn’t it say somewhere in that law of yours, you experts, that when it’s two people standing up to testify, now you have a solid, credible case? Well let’s count. I’m saying what’s what about myself, and my Abba who sent me adds his voice to mine. Sounds like two witnesses to me!”

Leaning in, the experts goaded him, “Where is this ‘Abba’ of yours?”

Jesus leaned in as well, “You have no clue who I am, and so it’s no wonder you’re in the dark about my Abba.
If you had the capacity to really get me, you’d wouldn’t be lost as to who my Abba is – you’d see him in my face.”

And he said this right there, on their turf, in the courtyard by the treasury of all places! making himself right at home teaching in the temple. And not one of them laid a finger on him – because that would be worked out on his own timetable.

Fast forward.
But just a little.
Still in the temple, now over towards Solomon’s Portico.
Still teaching.
Jesus picks up the dangling thread and finishes this verbal testimony tapestry:

“I’m leaving and you’ll look for me, but your search will lead you nowhere but to the dead end cul de sac of your

sitting down is progress

sitting down is progress

own stubborn rebellion, and there you’ll die. The end. Fin. You simply can’t go where I’m heading.”

The local religious trolls snarked to each other, “What? Is he going to kill himself and wake up in hell? Is that what he means by ‘You can’t go where I’m heading’?”

Jesus then spoke clearly through their snickering guffaws, “If anyone here is from the nether regions, it’s you. I’m from above. You’re right at home here in this world of yours, but not me. This world of yours is not my home. Which is why I told you, ‘you’re headed to the dead end cul de sac of your own stubborn rebellion and there you will die.’ Yes, if you can’t see and trust who I AM, you will shrivel and die, right there in the sins of your stubborn defiance.”

They shot back, “Why don’t you just tell us right now in plain Aramaic WHO ARE YOU???”

He shot right back, “What from the start I have been saying! Oy! So much I could say about you, so many judgments I could pass on you if that were my game! But what does it matter? The One who sent me is true through and through, and what passes from his mouth to my ear is what I will speak to you and to this world of yours.”

And yes, they were clueless. No idea what or who he was talking about – his Abba.

So Jesus, again, picking up the thread, wove a new picture for them:

that'll work

that’ll work

“Whenever you lift up the Son of Man – the ultimate Human Being – then you’ll finally get who I AM, and realize that I’m not the one calling the shots, carrying out my own game plan, but that I’m only carrying out and speaking out what my Abba gives me to say and do. And the One who sent me is with me, and he’s with me to stay, because what I do always meets with his big ‘thumbs up.’ Way up. Always.”

And while many were snarkily shaking their heads as he said all this, many began to experience a turn in themselves.


A turn towards faith.
A turn towards trust.
In him.

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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Gospel of John, MAV


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religious ruckus

This week’s installment of the MAV…John 7:53-8:11…a religious ruckus involving a disreputable woman in a disputed passage...

Meanwhile, Jesus made his way to the Mount of Olives outside the city.

But not for long.

Early the next morning he was right back at it in the temple. All the crowd flocked to him looking for more, and he obliged them. Having taken his seat, he began teaching them – until a major religious ruckus broke out, Scripture pundits and strict sect types showing up, a woman in tow, a woman caught red-handed in the act of adultery.

They sought no private audience with Jesus, they pushed her right into the center where Jesus was teaching, challenging him,

“Rabbi, this woman was caught red-handed in the very act of adultery! We know what Moses in the law says must be done to such a woman – death by stoning. But what do you say?”

And in case you hadn’t figured it out, this whole thing was a set up; they were just looking for ammunition to nail writingindirtJesus to the wall.

But Jesus didn’t bite or budge.

He just stooped down and started doodling in the dirt with his finger.

The religious lynch mob didn’t budge either.
They stood there and kept prodding him with their own pointed fingers of accusation.

Jesus finally looked up at them and said,

“The only one with a rock in his hand is the one with no sin in his heart.”

And then he was back to finger doodling in the dirt.

Stunned by what they heard, they began to clear out, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest of them, until she was left
alone –
just the woman,
right there in the center.

Looking up again, Jesus spoke to her.

“Woman, where did they all go?
What, no judge and jury to condemn you?”

She said, sheepishly, “Lord, none at all.”

“Well then, you won’t hear any condemnation from me either.
On your way – only, from now on,
how about avoiding the ruts of sin
and aiming higher.”

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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Gospel of John, MAV, Mercy, Religion


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everybody’s talkin’ at me and I just want to buy them a drink

Mike’s Authorized Version…or Amplified Version. Translation finger-painting. I do it every week in whatever text translation_4the church is studying, just a way of processing text I’ve been living with for over three decades in English and Greek or Hebrew. It’s scattered through each daily reflection on my devotional blog

Funny, I often come to the end of the week, look at this wordhavering blog and think, “Gosh, I need to write something for this” when in reality I’m pouring my writer’s soul into the MAV and the reflections springing from it week after week. And sometimes I really like the result.

So perhaps I’ll start a weekly post here, bringing those scattered weekly readings together in one place.

Just because I can…

This is what ran this past week. John 7:25-53. I would call this one “Everybody’s talkin’ at me and I just want to buy them a drink”

Drink up me hearties…

Some of the local crowd now sat up and took notice.

“Hold on a minute! Isn’t this the guy they’re after, the one with the death warrant? And here he is openly speaking his mind in public with no one saying or doing anything about it. The authorities haven’t pegged him as the Messiah after all, have they? But how can that be? We know where this guy is from – no mystery there; but the Messiah – no one will see him coming…”

Hearing all this speculation, in the midst of his teaching session in the temple Jesus hollered,

“THAT’S RIGHT, YOU KNOW ME! And you know my humble point of origin! But none of this was my idea carried out on my own initiative. I’ve been sent! And the One who sent me is true through and through, and of His identity you have not a clue! Oh, but I know him. My very being is intimately connected with His, and He’s the one who commissioned me.”

Some of those in the crowd – from the authorities, no doubt – were chomping at the bit to confine, contain and control him on the spot, but no one laid a finger on him; it wasn’t time for that.


Meanwhile many others in the crowd were totally sold on him. “Whenever the Messiah shows,” they would say over and over to each other, “will he have a more impressive resume of signs and wonders than this fellow does?”

When members of the strict sect heard the crowd muttering such things about him, they mustered their courage, priestly authority and strict sect types alike (they didn’t usually get along too well, but now they made an exception), and together sent underlings to set upon him and put a stop to this.

Seeing their maneuverings, Jesus said it plain:

“The clock is ticking, my time with you is just about up, and then I’m off to the one who Sent me to start with. Oh how you’ll look for me then – and you won’t be able to find a trace of me – you’ll never be able to track me to this destination!”

The local crowd of Judeans were puzzled. They asked each other (having no idea how much they were saying), “Just where does he think he’s going that we can’t find him? What? He’s not off to the scattered remnants of our people among the Greeks, is he? – and outsider Greeks won’t be his pupils, will they? What’s he talking about? ‘You’ll look for me, but you won’t be able to find a trace of me,’ and ‘you’ll never be able to track me to this destination’???”

Then it came.

The last day of the Tentmaker feast.

The grand finale closing ceremonies everyone was waiting for. During a pause in the water pouring ceremony, Jesus stood up and cried out at the top of his lungs, “If anyone is thirsty, come to me, and let every one who puts their trust in me drink up! Just as the old books have said all along: ‘Rivers! Rivers from deep internal reservoirs within him will gush and cascade – refreshing, living water!’”


A heads up for those of you who are wondering. All this living water talk? It was all about the Spirit which those who put their trust in him were going to receive. Down the road, of course. All of this was yet future.

No Spirit.
No water.
Not yet.
It all awaited the glorious consummation of his mission.

Some of the crowd – obviously not the locals! – when they heard him cry this out with such passion, kept saying, “No doubt about it! This is the one, the Prophet!”

Others among them kept saying, the excitement building, “Prophet? This is the MESSIAH!”

But others chimed in, “Not so fast! The Messiah doesn’t spring from backwater Galilee, does he? No way! The old books clearly call it, don’t they? The Messiah isn’t some Galilean, but a Bethlehemite, in the family tree of David, from David’s home town.”

So the listening crowd was pretty well split all over the place about him. Some were still chomping at the bit to seize him, but no one laid a finger on him.

The underlings from the priestly and strict sect types returned – empty handed and speechless.

“Well, why didn’t you bring him?”

They stammered blankly, “None.Ever.Talked.Like.This. Ever.”

The strict sect party howled, “You haven’t been duped too, have you? Nobody who’s anybody believes a word of this – and certainly none of our highly educated members. Damned, ignorant, clueless, crowds! They’ll believe anything – and anyone!”

Nicodemus, one of their own, shoots back at them – knowing a thing or two more about this Jesus than they did, having just had his private interview with Jesus –

“Hold on here, this isn’t biblical, is it? This isn’t what the Law would have us do – judge and condemn someone without hearing firsthand from him what he has to say for himself and seeing just exactly what it is he’s doing – is it?

Nicodemus wasn’t scoring any points.

They shot right back at him, “What? Are you some ignorant Galilean too!? Check it out! You should know this! A prophet? Arising from the muck of Galilee? Preposterous! Never!”

And that was that.
Meeting adjourned.

Everyone went home.


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Posted by on February 8, 2014 in Gospel of John, MAV


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project 89

The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold pastrixup to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

His name is Carl. At least that’s what I’ll call him.

We sat in what I call the “Nook” in the Vineyard bookstore (BookCellar) which essentially functions as my “office” for at least half of each work week. It’s a place of words, either written, read, or spoken. In this case spoken as Carl tells me his story.

Raised LDS. Married in the Temple. Missionary. Divorced. Disillusioned. Searching.
And now perhaps on to something, but what?

Carl found himself being dunked in the Boise River at our annual river baptism in August. Now he seems to be asking “What the hell happened in that river?” What does he do now? What does this mean? He’s done the religion thing, and that has no appeal. He’s done the irreligion thing. Just as flat. Is there a third option? And if so, what does it look like?

I listen and then I share my experience. Fifteen-year-old youth devouring the 1189 chapters that make up what we know as the Bible. Said boy counting up the number of chapters in the New Testament (since there was no Google to Google in 1975 – and the answer is 265 chapters) and then calculating how many chapters a day he would have to read to get through the New Testament in a week, two weeks, a month, and then doing that at about that pace (take your pick) for at least the next decade, with the Old Testament thrown in for good measure with a read through every six months.

Ferocious appetite, and one that ultimately landed me in the New Testament Epistles. And there I camped. In fact, I memorized them all over the next twenty years.

stained-glass image... because I was afraid to search for "St. Francis stripping naked"

stained-glass image… because I was afraid to search for “St. Francis stripping naked”

And then I told Carl the story of St. Francis – at least as best I could remember it at the moment.

Stripping himself naked.

Taking hold of the Gospels.

A simple devotion: read the Gospels; do what you find there.

I tell Carl I wish I had been told that story when I was fifteen, as I was telling him right now. I tell him I wish I had put all that reading and memorizing energy into the four Gospels.


“How many chapters are in the four Gospels?” I blurt out.

A quick verbal tally.

Matthew – 28
Mark – 16
Luke – 24
John – 21

That’s 89. Jesus. In 89 chapters. I laugh. And I was pouring so much effort into mastering 265 or actually all 1189…


Carl, I can’t tell you what to do, nor would I presume to provide you with a formula to spiritual growth and maturity. There are plenty of books in here that will do that for you. Just pick one. “But if you would be perfect,” go, strip naked, and take the four Gospels. Three chapters a day. Day after day, week after week, month after month, for the next year. Then I would like to see you this time next year so you can tell me just how badly Jesus has screwed up your life – because he will. This journey will ruin you, undo you, redo you, reshape you. And you will hate much of it.

Just the Gospels. One year. Every month. Leave the other 1100 chapters alone. They will come later. And when they do they will screw you over again, big time. By your own admission, in your former religious life you had at least one too many books. Welcome to the club.


Strip naked.
Take the Gospels.
Do what you find there.

And I did such a good sales job that I sold myself.

The hardest part? Easily it’s the stripping naked part. I’ll be working on that one for a while.

But in the meantime, as I strip, I’m just taking the four gospels.

Three chapters a day.
Even in Greek that’s a piece of cake.

Ahh, but now the doing what I find there. Yes, now that will take some doing.

if I'm stripping, I guess I'll have to skip the shirt

if I’m stripping, I guess I’ll have to skip the shirt



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For Bible Geeks Only: New Testament Word Counts

While teaching yesterday I mentioned the total New Testament word count – a place I hadn’t planned on going – and I knew I had the numbers wrong, ending up with “there’s a lot of words.” That answer never worked on a math test – which is probably why math is the one class I consistently failed (when I finally pulled a “C” in Algebra 1 it was a cause for major rejoicing).

So here is the official total – or at least one official total (I believe the word count is from the KJV):


There are 169,751 words in the English New Testament (depending on the translation – the Amplified Bible no doubt at least doubles this – and I’d be interested to see a word count for the Message). Interestingly enough, the word count for the Greek New Testament is 138,020 (depending on which edition one is using). Amazing how much more one can say with fewer words in Koine Greek .

Sticking with the English, the total word count of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) is 83,898; adding in the book of Acts the total goes up to 108,148. Which means that we are left with 61,603 words for the New Testament Epistles and Revelation.

This means that nearly half of the New Testament is literally the story of Jesus told four times. Well over half is narrative. The remainder is the applied theology of the letters – and the wild visions of Revelation.

Of that 61,603 words for the letters and Revelation, 6,950 of them are found in Paul’s most systematic development of a theology of the cross in Romans 1-11 (for the West) – which we can place alongside Hebrew’s  rather systematically developed theology (for the East) coming in at a word count of 6,928.

The point that was striking me yesterday during the teaching was, to put it another way, Paul’s 6,950 words in Romans 1-11 I don’t believe were ever meant to drive the major download of the four Gospels that together comprise nearly half of what we know as the New Testament. All things considered, I think Paul would shudder at the thought of his 7,000 word theological treatise aimed at western culture garnering more attention and receiving top billing over the fourfold Gospel. In fact, isn’t the simplest answer to the question, “What is the Gospel?” found in asking which books of the New Testament bear that name? The plain fact is that the Gospel is the Story of Jesus. The four Gospels provide us with the Message that was preached then and that remains the only message to preach now or at any time: the perfect doing and perfect dying of Jesus – and his resurrection Life bursting out of the tomb and effectively beginning the re-writing of all creation’s (and our) DNA with the kingdom of God.

How ironic that evangelicals tend to memorize Paul (at least I definitely did) and minimize the Gospels, ultimately understanding Jesus through reading Paul’s explanation (inspired though it be), and leaving the Jesus Story of the Gospels in the background. In my old fellowship, we even emphasized that Jesus lived under a different covenant and thus half of the New Testament (that scandalous part in the Gospels) doesn’t even directly apply to us today. Bowing to one of the great gods of our age here in the West – Reason – we much prefer the reasoned explanations of Paul over the scandalous acts of a most unreasonable Savior (by the standards of accepted Reason and Religion). I believe that would have been news to the four Evangelists and their audiences in the streets, in the synagogues, in the marketplaces, and in all those upper rooms, because this Story told in all of those little story bytes that scholars call pericopes were aimed directly at them. And they are still pointing right at us – thankfully. This is the Jesus that comes to us still. And Paul, through all of his inspired commentary, still ultimately points to that Story. “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

And it’s that Story that still wins the ears and hearts of people desperate for the Light among all ages and cultures and peoples and languages and religions — Light ultimately visible in the face of Jesus in the Gospel of the four gospels.



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Oh the incessant need to classify, to quantify, to sort

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28 ESV)

Starting into the Gospel of John yesterday, I read this paragraph – more familiar turf, but a sudden point of recognition.

Not exactly a spectacular epiphany. Really just a reminder.

So here are these priests and Levites from Jerusalem sent by Pharisees – which is an interesting collaboration there to begin with since Pharisees and priestly types weren’t exactly hand-holders with one another. It’s always a good indication of just how riled up people are when you see people who normally wouldn’t be seen together in the same huddle. John being from a priestly family, perhaps the Pharisees thought some priests and Levites might just loosen his tongue a bit and give them something useful as they evaluated his theological threat level to the current system.

Not likely.

I never really noticed before just how frustratingly evasive and “circular” and nebulous John the Baptist must have sounded to them. It’s a simple question. “Who are you?” John directly eliminates the first category he knew was lurking in their mind (highest threat level). “I am not the Christ.” Okay, so far so good. Now let’s work through the other categories in descending order. “Elijah”? I am not. “The prophet?” No. John really isn’t giving them a thing. I can see them, looking at each other, waiting for him to say something. Please give us something! Which is finally what they literally say to him, blowing any cover they might have had. And John says…

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'”

You know, it reminds me of that interview with Rob Bell on MSNBC (wasn’t it?) when reporter functioned more like religious inquisitor. I’m not sure who was frustrated – the reporter asking his questions, Rob Bell trying to answer, or me trying to watch. But watching that exchange and reading this one in John it suddenly dawned on me that Bell’s greatest crime may simply be that he’s spent too much time in John. Reading on through John 5 yesterday only confirmed this feeling from John’s interview with priests – Jesus seldom in the Gospel of John gives what we would consider a straight answer!

“Who are you?” they ask. “I am a voice,” John answers.

They don’t even try to follow John through that answer back into the messianic guts of Isaiah 40 and beyond. They just go right back over their categories again.

Not the Christ. Not Elijah. Not the prophet. Right…then what are you doing here in the river?

“I baptize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, whose strap I am not worthy to untie.”

Well that clears everything up. End of interview.

I found myself admiring John’s pluck – and reading on through the early pages of the Gospel Jesus’ similar refusal to allow himself to be categorized by religious sorters. And I am struck by that innate, deep driving need we seem to have to categorize and sort and file each other – a need that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be transformed by religion but fed by it. So natural for us to categorize, are you this or you are that. So hard, so truly divine, to actually take the time to see and hear each other as we are, and to receive the unique and often unexpected thing God might have for us to receive from that person we were just about to file away.

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Posted by on April 2, 2011 in Gospel of John, New Testament