Welcome to the Gospel of John

Welcome to the Gospel of John

If you ask someone where to start reading the Bible, they might just tell you the Gospel of John. This book is one of the most popular places to begin considering who Jesus was and how the Bible is a whole story that all points to Him. It was written by Jesus’ best friend – a guy named John – and it is the most unique and the richest picture of what Jesus was really like. If you’re going to read it, there’s three little things that will help you get ready for what you’ll encounter there.

1- Expect to meet a complex guy. 

John knew Jesus like a best friend always does. Your best friend knows the full you; all the quirks and crevices; why you use certain words; what it means when you get quiet. And on and on. You are not one dimensional, and neither is God. My friends know I’m an introvert and I’m friendly. I’m warm and then sometimes I need one of them to come stand in the corner with me and not let anyone talk to me. I love to learn but I hate trivia games. I am confident in a room full of people but I hate ‘working the room.’ I am a mom of four who despises “mom” stereotypes because – like you – I’m so many things at once. None of us can be boiled down to just one dimension, and it’s because we were made in the image of a God who can’t be either. 

Jesus came to make a complex God known to you, and John was the best qualified to write about that. He knew his best friend could be kind and beautiful as well as harsh and gritty. He knew Jesus as both gentle and severe; challenging and patient. He saw Jesus give many second-chances and also paid attention to the things he condemned. He was there when Jesus handed out both justice and mercy. John summarized the complexity found in Jesus with the words “grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” (1:17-18) Jesus’ best friend wrote about the fullness of a God who, like you, is sweet and salty; hard and soft; peanut butter and jelly. He is all grace. He is all truth. He is all God. And all human. The God who created interesting, complicated, full-of-conundrums you is probably at least as nuanced. Expect it. 

2- Know John’s agenda

John has an agenda for you as you read. It’s not hidden, but he doesn’t say it right out loud until the end of the book. I think it helps to know going in, so you know how to engage with what you’re reading. John’s explicit purpose for writing is “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31). John has an agenda with you, and it’s that you’d finish the book and believe.

The Gospel of John is not information to learn. It’s meant to poke at your heart, challenge your assumptions and draw you into a relationship with a living God. So don’t read it like a textbook. This is a writing that is meant to engage your heart. In ancient Jewish culture the “heart” isn’t the emotional part of you like we tend to think about it… the heart is the center of your entire being. The heart contains the whys behind your behavior, all your motives and the direction of your entire life. John is after your heart. The book is meant to pull you to a God who wants ALL of you. John wants you to get to know Him in such a compelling way that you’re drawn into a permanent relationship with Him. He wants you to find Jesus so compelling that you don’t want to let go. As you go, one helpful question you can continually process in every chapter is:

What does this tell me about what Jesus is really like?

3- Watch for how the book is organized. 

I have a background in advertising so we were always talking about “reasons to believe.” In marketing products, that meant basically this: What is the most condensed, helpful, truthful way I could convince you of how good this thing is for you, so you’ll take what I’m offering?! John wants you to believe Him and to take what Jesus offers. And that’s LIFE! So he wrote carefully presenting all his best reasons-to-believe. 

John’s reasons you should believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, were seven signs, seven teachings and seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus. The word for ‘seven’ in Hebrew shares letters with the same word for “completeness” or “wholeness” and sevens often symbolizes fullness/completion in the Bible. So, all rolled up together, John’s sevens are meant to represent the fullness of who Jesus was in all his complexity. All the truth and all the grace that came in the God-Man named Jesus was written about by John like this:

7 “Signs”/Miracles 7 Teachings 7 “I AM statements”
Turning water to wine Son is the Savior I am the bread of life
Healing a nobleman’s son Son is the living water I am the light of the world
Healing a man at Bethesda Son is one with the Father I am the door of the sheep
Feeding 5000 men plus women and children Son is the bread of life I am the good shepherd
Walking on water Son is the light of the world I am the resurrection and the life
Healing a man born blind Son is the good shepherd I am the way, the truth, the life
Raising Lazarus to life Son is the way, truth, life I am the true vine

Read the gospel of John from the perspective of a best friend who desperately wants you to know how amazing their person is and to join them in a relationship that might just lead you to a better life. 

    • Forgive him for having an agenda…it’s only to love you. If you know it up front, you can better process what he’s saying. 
    • Look for the guideposts of all the sevens that will keep you tracking with his argument as you read. Maybe even keep your own list as you find them while you read. 
    • And if you embrace the obvious complexity of a man who is also God, then it’ll help you wrap your whole mind and heart around moments Jesus says things like “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7,9), and then says “I am the good shepherd.” (10:11,14). Wait – is Jesus the door for the sheep or the shepherd for the sheep?! He’s both. Remember: peanut butter and jelly. 

But Jesus left you the words of his very best friend so that you could really get to know him… and believe. 

If you want additional resources as you engage the Gospel of John, here’s a few of my favorites:

    • Blue Letter Bible website: https://www.blueletterbible.org/. This is a great site for looking up words and phrases in the original language that are interesting to you as you read. It also has commentary, dictionaries and other types of resources linked to every passage. 
    • From Gospels to Glory: Exploring the New Testament: A resource by Kenneth G. Hanna. This is a resource book with fantastic introductions to every new testament book. My favorite thing in this book is a one-page chart of every book. Each book at a glance!

Recovering the Way: A book by Bob Ronglien, an archaeologist who has studied the ancient world in which Jesus lived and ministered. His insights will put you inside the towns and cultures Jesus walked through the book of John.

Intimacy is More than Sex

Intimacy is More than Sex

I’ve learned in 23 years of marriage that there are all kinds of ways to be close as a couple. Some couples have strengths in certain areas, but a lot of us were taught to think of intimacy in a narrow and only sexual way. Yes, sex is part of staying close with your spouse, but I want you to see and be encouraged about your relationship by celebrating other ways your relationship is thriving. Having a fuller picture of intimacy will also help you grow into the future!

I’ve come to believe there are actually six different kinds of intimacy, and not many of us are great at them all. Here are the different types!

❤️ Physical – Connect in snuggles, small touches, affection, holding hands, and sex.⠀
❤️ Recreational – Connect in being active, like-minded in activities, hobbies, and interests that give you both life.⠀
❤️ Partnership/Work – Connect in teamwork; tackling tasks, work, kids, calendars, chores, both all-in at 100%. ⠀
❤️ Spiritual – Connect in prayer, reading scripture, church community, and caring for others. ⠀
❤️ Intellectual – Connect in discussing and investigating the thoughts, concepts, and curiosities of their partner’s brain. ⠀
❤️ Emotional – Connect in sharing feelings well, giving and receiving care, compassion, understanding, and affirmation.

Every relationship is unique and puts on display a different aspect of the types of connection that we get to enjoy with God Himself. Marriage is a picture of our connection with God. Any kind of intimacy can be grown and developed. In the book of Ephesians Paul writes that we should “Follow God’s example…and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Eph 5:1). We all want to love our spouses. Intimate relationship is what we were made for – with one another and God. God created marriage to be a living example of the kind of intimacies that we can have with him, through Jesus.

Here’s my best advice as you consider what you’re great at and where you’d love to grow:

1- Play to your strengths. Do what you’re great at with intention and regularity. Celebrate it. Recognize it in your relationship and be proud of yourselves for it. It’s probably what makes your marriage/partnership so good. Lean on this hard.

2- Don’t beat yourself up in weak areas. We all have them! Marriage is a journey with so many opportunities to build intimacy. If you don’t have one area, no need to panic. It actually could be a fun way to continue building your connection during the next phase of your relationship. Sometimes we all hit upon an area where we have barriers to some sort of intimacy, so don’t be afraid to reach out for the help of another couple or a counselor to help. We aren’t in perfect relationships because we aren’t perfect people. Journey on, friends.

3- Decide on one simple way to keep growing intimacy.
For us, it usually comes back to emotional intimacy. You probably have a pattern, too. We tend not to take the time and energy it requires to share deeper feelings on a regular basis. There are lots of reasons for that: some practical, some personality, some are that stem from past hurts. We don’t have time to get into all those here (and I’m not lying down on a therapist’s couch), but it continually trips us up.

God is a fan of your marriage. And more than that, He’s the X-Factor in your success as a couple. Your marriage is designed to be an example in the flesh of his love and commitment to his people, so it’s personal to Him. Pray! And expect his help. We’ve experienced over and over just how willing He is to help when we seek Him. Here’s my prayer for my marriage and yours:

Father – You are the only one who can help us make marriage work for a lifetime. You have everything we need. Show us how to come to you for help. You’re invited in to help us keep getting closer to one another and to you. Amen.

Why There’s no Elf on My Shelf

Why There’s no Elf on My Shelf

I walked into my friend’s house, and her elf was lying beneath a tiny “blanket” (a paper towel) in the corner of her kitchen. I looked up at her with an eyebrow raised, and she said, “The elf is sick. He’s in bed for a few days.” I laughed and swallowed the urge to say ‘I told you so.’ It was 17 days into December, and she was sick of moving the freaking elf or waking up to disappointed kids when she forgot. This little sickness-scam bought her a couple of days while the elf recovered from the flu. 

I have lots of friends who love Elf on the Shelf as a sweet game with their kids. If you love it then knock yourself out! Enjoy! But I never got on board. I just saw Elf on the Shelf a little differently. If you’re an elf-lover, don’t hate me for telling you why. 

1. Integrity vs. good behavior  

The story of Elf on the Shelf is that he’s always watching and reporting back to Santa about who’s naughty and who’s nice. The rest of the year, I try to teach my kids that integrity is what you do when no one is watching. I know it is subtle, but part of me thinks this elf teaches my kids the idea that we should perform well when something we want is at stake. Of course, I want my kids to behave. NOW. However, I ultimately decided that even if the Elf might get me some Decembers of good behavior, it actually worked against my long term goal of integrity. Some of my friends give me a hard time for being over-the-top with my thoughts on this, but I believe we send our kids subtle messages about whats important all the time, and it forms them more than we know. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” I want everything I do as a parent to reinforce integrity and accountability before God, whether or not I (or the elf) are watching. 

  1. The December crush

I feel for all of us. Every parent has some sort of desire for their kids to have “magical” Christmas memories. So we decorate everything, bake everything, try to keep up at work, be holiday-party-ready, attend all the special events and get the gifts under the tree while making hot chocolate for the fun family holiday outings. At the end of the marathon days in December, I just decided I didn’t want or need the added everyday pressure of increasingly creative executions for arranging an elf. Yes, my kids did the “everyone at school has an elf, why don’t we?” And I just told them honestly the same reasons I’m writing here. For my sanity, I keep to a few holiday traditions that I can actually do with good cheer. It’s OK to let yourself off the hook on the unending holiday “musts.” I say no to the Elf’s demands, and it feels good! 

You might think I’m wrong about everything above and love the elf. You may be concluding I’m too serious, (a few people have accused me of that!) but there’s one more and it’s the most important to me. 

  1. It’s not the story I want to tell.  

There is an actual, real Christmas story and it’s about God coming to earth as a human being with the goal to save me from my sin and offer me the gift of eternal life. There’s so much great fodder in the real Christmas story—the heavenly choir, the terrified shepherds, the star in the sky, an angry king, a miraculous conceptions (make sure you’ve had a sex talk first if you get into that one: kids miss nothing!). You name it, its in there. We wanted our home and our memories wrapped around that story. This conviction has actually been incredibly freeing and helpful. It helps me make choices about how to decorate and what activities and traditions we do or don’t do. For instance, I’m not a Santa-hater but I never decorate with Santas. Instead, I do angels, lights, stars, etc. I like trees too because they’re neutral. These things just help me focus our minds and my home on this story: 

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12

I love Christmas. I want all the memories and magic, too. I’m just not doing the elf. I’m not very crafty, but I sure would love it if someone put creative energy into something as fun and engaging as the Elf — but wrapped it around the birth of Jesus. I’m thinking something with donkeys??? Just a thought. Now THAT would make me stay up late drinking wine and trying to get creative. And I’ll be the first one in line to pay you $29.99. 

Until then, I’m still a ‘no’ on the elf.