Salt & Light: Everyday Discipleship

My wife and I have had a life-long and ministry-long interest in evangelism and discipleship. Recently we published a study guide and workbook called, Salt & Light: Everyday Discipleship. [1] The study is an attempt to provide interested Christians with some of the reasons why America desperately needs ordinary Christians to join a Disciple Making Movement (DMM) and share the Good News as well as one training method to accomplish this goal.. The Great Commission was not given to just twelve first century men, or just to professional clergy, or just to exceptionally gifted laypersons. All  Christians are commanded by Scripture to share the Good News of Christ with others and make disciples of those who respond.

Salt & Light is but one of many ways to share the Good News. The book I am now writing shares the theory behind any Disciple Making Movement, and Salt & Light in particular. It is hoped that interested people can more effectively lead disciple making small groups, including Salt & Light Groups.

Early in the book, the reason for its title becomes obvious: In the 1930’s the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote his classic, “The Cost of Discipleship” in which he spoke about the dangers of Cheap Grace. [2] Today, we face a Crisis of Discipleship. As a friend put it to me recently, “We have already lost an entire generation in the Church, and we are in danger or losing another.” One of my mentors in ministry, co-pastor  and friend, Dave Schieber, used to say, “the Church is always only one generation from extinction.” The church in America and in the West generally is in bad shape. This problem can only be addressed as individual fellowships of Christians become committed to following Christ and sharing his love with a broken world.

For the next twenty weeks or so, chapter by chapter, I intend to share Crisis of Discipleship on this blog. Please read and respond. I intend to be more conversational in responding to comments—and I intend to incorporate comments and corrections into the final draft.

Join with me in a conversation as we seek to think about ways to communicate God’s love to others in our culture.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] G. Christopher Scruggs with Kathy T. Scruggs, Salt and Light: Everyday Discipleship (Collierville, TN: Innovo Publishing, 2017). The book can now be advanced ordered. It will be released in May.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship Rev. Ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963).

Entering the New Heaven and New Earth

In Numbers, there is a strange story from the life of Moses. As the people of God were suffering without water in the wilderness, the Lord told Moses to gather Israel together and speak to a rock so that it would pour out water (20:8). In response, Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, gathered Israel together, spoke, struck the rock twice with his staff, and water gushed out (20:9-11) Unfortunately, Moses did not do exactly what God commanded and failed to give proper credit to God, so the LORD would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land (20:12).

This is a story that ought to have meaning to all Christians—and it should also hold some hope for all of us as well. All human beings make errors and do not fully follow God’s will. It is only fitting, then, that we should not enter the Promised Land, so to speak, in this life. Nevertheless, before Moses died, God took him up to a high place and showed him the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1; Num. 27:12-13). I am sure that Moses thought it was enough to just see the Promised Land before he died. There is a Promised Land for every church and every group of Christians. No one Christian or pastor enters the fullness of that  Promised Land. We only experience some of it and glimpse the remainder from afar.  It is enough, however, for each of us to see a bit of it and enter a bit of it with a congregation.

Kathy and I are happy to have had almost eighteen great years with Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tennessee. Advent has been our Promised Land in ministry. We have seen a good bit of the Promised Land of our congregation, but now another Promised Land beckons for us and for our congregation. We are leaving to begin a new life and ministry, but the Promised Land for Advent lies ahead. We cannot enter it. We can only glimpse it from afar. Yet, I believe that Advent’s best years are yet to come. This is not just true of Advent, but of every congregation and every group of Christians: None of us are worthy of seeing the Promised Land in full, but God by his mercy and grace gives us glimpses of a reality that awaits the final consummation of all things.

The Vision of St. John.

In this blog, we are looking at the final chapters of Revelation. We began this year with a new theme, “A New Creation.” [1] In Isaiah, God promises that he will create a New Heaven and a New Earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). At the end of Revelation, John has a vision of the New Heaven and New Earth Isaiah foretold coming down from Heaven (21:1). Paul tells us that Christians are new Creations in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). We are not alone. God intends for the universe, Heaven and Earth, to be recreated. In part, this New Heaven and New Earth is created by God as the Bride of Christ, the Church, descends from Heaven to make all things new. let’s read a bit of this promise:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5).

Finally, let us read a bit from Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (22:1-2).

Eternal, All-Wise and All-Loving God: We come to you asking that you come today to confirm our past and open to us our future as we anticipate the coming of your Kingdom into our lives, our church, our community and our nation. Amen.

The Vision of a New Creation.

As John ends Revelation, he communicates to his readers a final series of visions in which we receive a glimpse of the final consummation of the victory of Christ over sin, Satan, evil, and death. In the first vision, John sees the Holy City of Jerusalem descending from heaven like a bride dressed for her husband. In the second vision, John sees a vision of a River of Life flowing from the Temple of God into the world in which grows a restored Tree of Life. This River energizes the Tree of Life,  creating new life,  bearing fruit, and healing the brokenness of the world. [2]

To understand these visions and their implications, we need to remember the condition of the church in the time Revelation was written and why John wrote the book in the first place. The church of Revelation was a church under siege. The secular leaders of the day were persecuting the Church. The government of Rome wanted to be supreme, the lord over every aspect of people’s lives. To do this, Rome desired to eliminate all voices that would not recognize the supremacy of its power and the divinity of its emperor. Christians worshiped Christ as Lord of the Church, which was the earthly presence Kingdom of God, superior to all earthly kings and kingdoms. Christians would not worship Caesar because it would have caused them to worship a creature and not the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

When times are tough, there is always a temptation to compromise. If hard times go on long enough, there is always a temptation to desert the true faith. By the time of Revelation, there was only one of the original Twelve left—John. In this book, John wanted to encourage the disciples of Asia Minor and assure them that God was in control and that God would be victorious in the end. As Billy Graham memorably puts it, “I have read the end of the story and God wins!”

The book of Revelation ends with the assurance that God will be victorious over all the powers and principalities that seek to destroy the testimony of Christ and the Church. John wants the churches of Asia Minor, and us, to know that God intends to defeat the powers of evil and build his Kingdom in the world. Surprisingly, it turns out, God intends to so this by the power of the Holy Spirit through us—the members of the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church!

In the first vision, John sees a Heavenly City descending from heaven. This city is described in two ways: First, it is described as a beautiful, completely symmetrical, jewel encrusted city with streets of gold (21:10-21). Second, in the first vision John describes the Heavenly City as a lovely bride (21:2, 9).

We often think of the Heavenly City as a symbol for Heaven or a restored city at the end of time. The metaphor of a bride should bcorrect our thinking. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and this means that the Heavenly City is best understood as the Church coming down from heaven. [3] This has practical implications for us. Each of us is a citizen of the Heavenly City and a part of the Bride of Christ. This is not just for pastors or religious professionals. We are all a part of the Bride of Christ. The New Heaven and New Earth is coming down in and through us!

Not so long ago, I had a chance to do my last little bit of premarital counseling. Let me tell you that the bride was excited about the wedding to come! She was excited about the details and excited about her groom. Her life was about to change in unknown and unknowable ways, but that did not limit her excitement. She was looking forward to the future, and so should we who are the Bride of Christ. We don’t know what is next for Advent, for our family, or for the Body of Christ in the world, but we do know it will be good in the end!!

The Means of the New Creation: The Holy Spirit of God.

In the second vision, John gives us another glimpse of the Heavenly City. When Revelation 22 opens, John has already disclosed to us that there is no Sun, Moon, or Temple in the Heavenly City. God is present in the Heavenly City, and His Divine Light renders all other lights unnecessary.In other words, the Heavenly City is where God dwells in the midst of the hearts of his people, another indication that the Church is the Heavenly City.

Down the center of the Great Street of the Heavenly City, there flows a great River of Life, and beside that river stands the Tree of Life bearing twelve crops of fruit every month, twelve times a year. [4] In the ancient world, it was common to have a “Great Street” in the center of major cities. [5] This great street was often the center of life and commerce. [6] There was such a street in Jerusalem. Today it has been restored as a shopping area.

In Revelation, the Heavenly City has a Great Street. The Great Street of the Heavenly City is however, unique. The Great Street of the Heavenly City has a Great River flowing from the Throne of God into the city. [7] The Great River is the Holy Spirit flowing from the throne of God.

This River irrigates the land along its banks so that the Tree of Life grows along both sides of its banks. This tree of life bears twelve crops twelve times each year.

This image can be confusing. We think of trees growing on both sides of the banks of a river. This Tree of Life is one tree growing on both sides of the city. How can this be? Our Presbytery sponsors what is known as the “Aspen Church Planting Network.” When Eugene Scott, its leader, explained to our Session the image of the Aspen tree, he reminded us that Aspen trees grow by the extension of roots systems from one part of the tree to another sprouting of new life. An entire Aspen Grove is one living organism.  [8]

As we have mentioned before in our study of Revelation, the number twelve is extremely important. It normally refers to the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. It is often used as a symbol for the people of God. The symbol even appears as a doubling of the number, for the continuity of Old Testament Israel with the Church of the New Testament

The Heavenly City in John’s vision has twelve gates and twelve foundations (21:12, 14). The Twelve Foundations are explicitly identified as the Twelve Apostles. This is another indication that the Church is the Heavenly City, for it is built upon the testimony of the Twelve Apostles. [9] The Twelve Crops each of Twelve Months is the fruit of the Testimony of the Apostles, i.e. the church through the ages is one Church that must be faithful the testimony of the Apostles to the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, who is the Groom of the Bride of Christ.

Like an Aspen Grove, the Church of Christ is one living organism nurtured and fed by the Holy Spirit which flows through the life of the People of God. This tells us how important prayer is to our Christian life, to our church, and to the Church of Christ throughout the world. Prayer is the means through which the Word of God in Christ and in Scripture becomes real to us and energizes us to live the Christian life. We cannot live—the Church of Christ cannot live—without the River of Life that the Spirit is for us.

Our Role in the New Creation.

Finally, in John’s vision the Tree of Life produces fruit, twelve crops each month, and the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations (222-3). You may remember that, in Genesis, humankind was cast out of the Garden of Eden and a flaming sword barred their way back into the Garden for fear that, having misused the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, humanity would misuse the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:23-24). Sin as one of its consequences doomed humanity to physical and spiritual death, cut off from God and from its intended fellowship with God. Now, in the restored City of God, the Tree of Life is back. Humanity is restored to its intended eternal fellowship with God. Because of what Christ did on the cross, we have a way back into fellowship with God, with others, and with creation.

In Revelation, the Tree of Life is bearing fruit and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. If the Heavenly City is the Church built upon the foundations of the testimony of the Apostles, if the River is the Holy Spirit, what is the fruit? The fruit is the fruit of the Gospel—people converted lives changed, sins forgiven, and characters healed. We are the fruit of the Tree of Life and those we bring to Christ are also fruit of the Tree of Life.

We Christians are often not grateful enough for what God has done for us in Christ and through the intercession of other Christians. We receive the love of God through Jesus Christ, but we often do not share that love and allow that love to heal us, our relationships, and our society.

This is where I would like to leave us today: It has been a privilege to be a Presbyterian minister for the past almost quarter of a century. It has been a privilege to serve the Bride of Christ, to counsel, teach, and share the Gospel with people. This past two years, Kathy and I have deliberately tried to create a way to disciple others so that there will be more fruit of the Tree of Life at Advent, in Cordova, in Arlington, and in our city and area, even to the ends of the earth as our lives and the lives of other people touch other lives for Christ.

The future we are all walking into will not be like the past. There will be new leadership, new ideas, new programs, new ministries and missions. This is as it should be. Nevertheless, some things will not change. Christians still be fruit of the Tree of Life, a restored part of God’s creation. We will still be leaves on God’s tree, part of the City of God, which he has placed here to heal a broken world. We will still be subject to the Great Commission Christ gave his Church before he ascended to Heaven, from which he will come again—indeed I believe he is coming in the person of his Church when it loves a fallen and needy world.


Next week, I intend to begin a new series in this blog. I am writing a book on discipleship that is a companion to Salt & Light, the discipling curriculum that Kathy and I have written and which is soon to be published by Innovo Press.  I hope to share a draft, chapter by chapter, for the next twenty weeks or so. Please comment upon these new posts, as they involve the next project we hope to complete as Kathy and I enter a new phase of life!!!

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Becoming a Radical New Me! (preached January 8, 2017 at Advent Presbyterian Church, Cordova, TN).

[2] As is often the case, I cannot possibly cite in this brief blog all the sources to which I owe a debt of gratitude. I am especially grateful to have read from Eugene Peterson, Reverse Thunder (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1988), Robert Mounce, “The Book of Revelation” in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), Leon Morris, “Revelation” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983, and William Barclay, “The Revelation of John: Part 2” in the Daily Bible Study Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1976).

[3] The Old and New Testaments are filled with allusions to the people of God as a bride. See, Hosea 2:19; Isaiah 54:3; Jereemiah31, 14, 32. In the New Testament the same simile is used for the people of God (Matthew9:15, 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:21-33; Rev. 19:7, 21:2; 22:17). The symbol of the Heavenly City/Bride should be a symbol of the people of God in an intimate relationship with their Groom/God.

[4] This is another image pregnant with references to the Biblical witness to God and to Christ. Jesus told the woman at the well that there would come a time when people would not need to go to Jerusalem to worship for people would worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:21-24). There is no need for a Temple in the Heavenly City because God is now being worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. The Water of the River of Life flowing through the Heavenly City is the Holy Spirit of God, God’s own presence with and in the people of God.

[5] Roman planning fully integrated urban defenses with the city plan and the street system. The walls and the streets were laid out concurrently as part of the coordinated planning of the city. The main streets led directly from the center of town to the gates, and the ‘pomerial’ road ran around the city immediately inside the walls. (downloaded March 15, 2017).

[6] The last time I was in Israel, we visited a now underground shopping area that once was a Great Street, the center of Jerusalem during a portion of the Roman occupation. After the Jewish quarter was destroyed in the war, archaeologists excavated a huge area and found the Roman cardo – or colonnaded Main Street. They have left some as an excavation with shops up above, some had been reconstructed and some is a plaza open to the sky. Interestingly, today this street is still a center of the tourist trade and very active. Even today, we speak of “Main Street USA,” a metaphor for the businesses that line the main streets of towns and cities all over our nation.

[7] This river is like a river visualized by the Prophet Ezekiel, a river flowing from the Temple of God into the Israel (Ezekiel 47:1-12). Like the heavenly city, this river through the restored Jerusalem into the world and crops grow beside the river for the healing of the nations.

[8] [8] See, Meghan Bartels, “This Looks Like a Forest, But It’s Actually Just One Tree—and It’s One of the oldest and Largest Organisms on Earth” Business Insider (July 8, 2016, downloaded March 16, 2017), at

[9] This is one reason that Orthodox, Roman, and other Episcopal church groups choose leadership by apostolic succession through ordination by Bishops. Apostolic succession from the twelve original apostles to the church today is guaranteed by the laying on of hands in succession from the original Twelve. Prayer is the means through which the Word of the Gospel in Christ and Scripture becomes real to us and energizes us to live the Christian life. This is a major point Calvin makes in his Institutes: The word of God becomes real to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. See, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 ed. John T. McNeil, tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press), 1.7.4.

Nicodemus: Entering the Lamb Light

I decided to take a break this week. I am getting ready to retire, and so I  invited a guest blogger. It took some doing, but I was able to get Nicodemus to give his testimony!

My name is Nicodemus. I have been asked to come and visit with you today so that you can hear firsthand my personal experience of Jesus. By your standards, I am not an old man. But,  by the standards of my day, when life spans were shorter, I was an “elder,” a respected leader of my people, a man in my prime when I met Jesus.

In Scripture, I am described as a “Pharisee and a Ruler of the Jews” (v. 1). In my day, there were two major parties in my country: the “Sadducees,” who tended to be from wealthy families allied with the priestly class, and the “Pharisees,” of which I am a member. We Pharisees were very scrupulous in matters of faith and morals. I studied the holy books of my faith and the writings of the Rabbi’s until I became a skilled interpreter of the law of Moses. Furthermore, I did not just study the laws of my people, I was diligent in applying them to my life.

Your Webster’s Dictionary defines the term Pharisee as “someone who is extremely self-righteous.” There is some truth to that charge, but it is basically unfair. We Pharisees, like you Presbyterians, were a people who understood that God is holy and just, and we tried to live as the Holy God of Israel commands in the Laws and in the Prophets.

As to what we believed, we were a lot like you Presbyterians. We believed in one God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth and the deliverer of his people. We believed that God is all powerful and in control of the destiny of men and nations. We believed in angels and in demons. We believed that human beings have immortal souls and will be resurrected from the dead at the last day.

Like you Presbyterians, we were known to be hard-working, successful, and generally honest people. Unfortunately, that also meant that we often put too much faith in ourselves and in our own righteousness and not enough faith in God.

I am also described in your Bible as a “Ruler of the Jews,” meaning that I was a member of the ruling council, the “Sanhedrin”. The Sanhedrin was made up of seventy-one of the most important leaders of our people. It was as a member of this elite group of people that I first became aware of my great need for God.

Good News for the World Weary.

  1. The Dead End of Self Sufficiency. To tell you the truth, my success was my undoing. I managed to work my way to the top. becoming a leader of my profession as well as of my country. Along the way, I made a lot of compromises. Being a lawyer, I have an ability to parse the law carefully, and in my personal life I was able to do the same. My friends used to speak of me as a “righteous man;” but, after a time, I found it difficult to think of myself in that way. If others saw how good I was in comparison to them, I saw how bad I was in comparison to God. Worse, I knew how little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control I enjoyed when no one was looking.

By the time I heard about Jesus Bar Joseph, a reputed worker of miracles and teacher, my life was no more than going through the motions. When I heard of his mighty deeds of power and about his teachings that the kingdom of God was near at hand, I determined to meet him to see if he was a fraud or a true religious leader. But, being a careful man, I determined to go at night when I would not be seen. I did not want to undermine my position in the council, and I did not want my presence to give this Jesus any more popularity with the people than necessary for fear that he would create an uprising.

Some of you may be in the same situation that I was in when I met Jesus. You aren’t a particularly bad person. You try to do your best to act in a moral way. But, two things disturb you: (i) you aren’t as good as you pretend to be and (ii) your religion has become dry legalism, and you know it. If so, you are like me. So far as my spiritual life was concerned, I had reached a dead end.

  1. The Necessity of New Birth. I tried to be as diplomatic as possible with Jesus when we met. I acknowledged that he was a good man and that he had proven his status as an anointed teacher by his wise teachings. I felt that a compliment would set his mind at ease that I was not an enemy or hostile as so many of the religious leaders of our people tended to be

I expected him to return the compliment, or at least be flattered by my attention. Instead, he did the most extraordinary thing. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I tell you the truth: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 4). Well, I was completely taken aback. Here I was, a Jew among Jews, and this country preacher was telling me something that I could not understand.

Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to deflect his point, but I responded in what I can see was a foolish way by saying, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb a second time?”  Of course, I did not mean this literally. What I meant to say was that I could not understand how a person of my age and accomplishments could possibly begin all over again. I did not think I needed to “start over.” I thought I just needed to do better.  I was after new ideas about how to become more righteous. The idea of needing to be born again never crossed my mind.

Jesus looked me straight in the eye and replied, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v. 5-6). Jesus was telling me that my works and the self-righteousness that came from my works was not saving me. It was keeping me from God. What I needed was for God to give me a new life by the Holy Spirit.

At the time, I could hardly understand what Jesus was saying. Now, I realize that Jesus was telling me that human beings are more than blood and sinew, physical beings. We are physical beings, but we have the capacity to be more than merely physical beings. We have the capacity to have a spiritual life as we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives.

In my case, I knew the law, and I had the natural ability to obey a great deal of it, but I lacked the spiritual life that God and God alone can give. I knew about God, but I did not know God personally. Jesus was offering me a tremendous gift – the gift of the Spirit and the New Life the Spirit of God brings.

Let me give you an example from the life of my colleague in the Sanhedrin, Saul of Tarsus. I knew Saul, or St. Paul as you call him, before he became a follower of the Way. He was a brilliant scholar and Pharisee. Yet, even then I could see that he was a deeply unhappy person. He tried hard to obey the law. In fact, he was a fanatic. He hated the Christians, followers of Jesus and the Way of Grace. One day, he came to the Sanhedrin and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that he might go and persecute the church there. You could see that there was a deep struggle going on in the soul of Saul. That is why he was so opposed to Christianity: He sensed that the followers of the Way knew God in a way he knew was impossible by merely following the law.

As Paul later described it, God came to him on the road and revealed  that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the living God and that, by Grace through faith, he could have a new life. The inner conflict he felt, and his sense that he could not know God by the means he was using, was resolved when God took the initiative and revealed himself to Saul. [1]

That is the idea of the experience of being born again. The New Life we receive in Christ is not something we do, just as our human birth is not something that we do. It is something that God bestows upon us, it is a new birth given to us as we open ourselves to God. The Holy Spirit is like the wind: it cannot be controlled by human power, although it has a powerful impact on human life (John 3:5-6). At the end of this service we always give people an opportunity to receive the New Life Christ can bring.

  1. The Grace of God in Christ. Jesus went on a little later in our conversation to explain what this grace of God was all about. He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16). You are Christians, and many of you grew up in Christian homes. This verse is very familiar to you, and perhaps that is not all together a good thing. To me, this verse represents the most inconceivable thing about Jesus.

First, I am a Jew, and I can tell you that what Jesus said was revolutionary! As a Pharisee, my primary idea of who God is had to do with the law. To me, God was primarily the God of justice who judges sin and who gave his Torah, his divine commands, with the expectation that his instructions would be followed or there would be consequences. Perhaps some of you feel this way. God is primarily the Great Rule Maker and the idea that God is primarily a lover who loves the world with a disinterested love is totally revolutionary.

My God was a god of judgment. Deep in the way my people thought of God was the idea of God as a judge. Later in in our conversation, Jesus described his idea of judgment. He said that the judgment is that God sent his Son, the Messiah, to save the world, and that the way that people are judged was by whether they accept or reject God’s loving gift of the forgiveness of sins by faith (v. 18). Instead of righteous works being the way a person comes into fellowship with God, good works are the result of what God does in the life of a believer. What a mystery!!

Second, the idea that God was the giver of a sacrifice for my sins was revolutionary. I lived in Jerusalem, and daily I went by the temple where the people brought their sacrifices for sin. In my religion, God did not do the sacrificing. We did. If I sinned, I gave a sacrifice. The idea that God, motivated by love, determined to undo the effects of my sin was beyond anything I had ever dreamed.

My idea of the Messiah was that he would be a political leader who would retain the law and the sacrificial code of Israel. Jesus had a completely different idea. Jesus’ idea was that as the Messiah he would love Israel and give himself for Israel. Jesus was the Lamb of God by which God demonstrates his unfailing love for his people by rescuing them from their sins.

I was weary because I had taken on my back the responsibility for my own salvation and for the works of righteousness that I knew that God wanted of me. Jesus’ idea was that God did the work. I could see that, if this was true, the solution to my spiritual weariness was at hand. I did not have to do anything more! God would do it for me! I could relax and let God do the work of giving me his Divine Life.


I am sure that you are asking, “What happened to Nicodemus?” When Jesus was condemned, John records that I protested the unfair treatment of the Galilean early in his ministry (John 7:50-52). When Jesus was killed, I took spices for his anointing (John 19:40). Unfortunately, I never publicly declared my faith in such a way that the writers of your Gospel recorded my faith. As I said, I am a careful man, perhaps too careful.

The Gospel of John does not say whether I became a follower of the Way of Jesus, and I am not going to tell you today. [2] It is better the way that John leaves the story. For, during my life, I had to struggle with faith and with whether Jesus was the messiah, and so will you. I had to make my decision concerning whether to accept Christ and become his disciple, and you must make yours.

Each of you must ask yourselves the very same thing I had to ask myself: Am I willing to become like a child again and in humility and repentance ask God to do for me what I cannot do for myself? What you call, “Good News” is good news precisely because God has done something for us we could never do for ourselves. God has given each of us a way to have a new life and a new kind of life. The only question is, “Will we accept it?”


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The ideas behind this interpretation of what happened to Paul come from James Loder, The Transforming Moment (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 21ff. This is one of my favorite books and well worth reading. It has shaped my ministry since I first read it during seminary.

[2] “Nicodemus” in New Bible Dictionary Second Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1962, 1993), 834, There are many legends regarding what happened to Nicodemus. Personally, I think he did become a follower of Jesus. His participation in the anointing of Jesus is strong evidence. Nevertheless, the historical record is unclear.

Living in Lamb Light

Last week, I mentioned that I grew up at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Missouri.  I mentioned how much Westminster meant to my spiritual growth. What happened after I left Westminster was not the fault of Westminster. When I left home for college I drifted away from the Christian faith. I majored in philosophy in college, and in the process drifted intellectually, morally, and spiritually away from my parent’s Christian faith.

During college, a girlfriend gave me a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. [1] It sat unread on my bookshelf for a few years. One day, during a time of personal suffering, the book fell off my bookshelf at my feet. (This is one of two times that God has acted in my life by having a book fall at my feet!) I picked up the book and began to read. Over the course of the next few days, because of Lewis’ logic, I came to see that Christianity makes sense. A bit more than two yeara later, on a Sunday morning, while reflecting on the sermon and a worship service, Christ came into my life.

Our theme in this blog is the surprising revelation of the love of God that the wisdom of God  became manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is a personal God of Wisdom and Love.

The Lamb Light Has Come.

John is much different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke began with the birth of Jesus. Mark begins with the ministry of Jesus. In all three of what are called the “Synoptic Gospels,” the writer gradually reveals who Jesus is—the Son of God. Especially in Mark, the disciples never figure out what’s going on until after the resurrection. John begins his gospel by telling us exactly who Jesus is: Jesus is the Word of God, God, in human form.

Matthew is a Jewish gospel. Mark is a fisherman’s gospel. Luke is a gospel for the Gentiles. John is a philosophical gospel designed to show Greek thinking people that Jesus is the word (or reason) of God made flesh. John, as he does in Revelation, often speaks in metaphors and images, he reveals details other Gospels leave out, and he structures his gospel in a unique way.

Our text comes from the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (vv. 9-13).

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (v. 29).

Prayer: Light of the World: Come to us with your uncreated wisdom and love to transform our hearts and minds into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

The Creative Light of the World.

Scholars love to remind us that people in the ancient world did not think in the same way we do. This is true. However, there are some aspects of human nature that never seem to change. For example, as far back in history as we know, people have gazed at the sky and wondered. When I was young little boys and girls like to lie in the backyard and stare at the sky and look at the stars. When our children were young they liked to look at the stars. When I was a little boy one of my favorite gifts was a telescope with which I could look at the moon and the stars. When my son was a little boy one of his favorite gifts was a telescope with which he could look at the stars and the man. (In fact, Kathy and I still have that telescope.)

I am not mathematical. However, from the beginning of human history, men and women have looked at the sky and noticed that there are regularities in God’s creation. Most of us know the term, “Pythagoras’s Theorem:” “The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the other two sides.” [2] Pythagoras even developed a theory of the universe based upon his theorem. His theories evolved into a philosophical school and a religious community. Deep, deep in the Greek mindset is the idea that the universe is rational.

When the Jews describe the creation of the universe, they also intuited that the universe was deeply rational. Listen to the beginning of Genesis:

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).

The Jews believed that a Personal God, who is wise and rational and knows all things, created the world by through His Word. The world was “Spoken into Being,” so to speak.  Of course, only people speak and so the Jewish Creator God is in some way personal.

The Greek word for “Word” is “Logos.” When the Greek followers of Plato described how it was that the world was created they used the word “Logos” to describe the rationality of God. John hit upon this word, Logos, to describe the Word of God through whom the world was made and which became manifest in Jesus. The difference is that for John, this Logos of God is personal, characterized by love, and became personally present in Jesus Christ. We serve a personal God who personally loves us.

The Embodied Light of the World.

At this point, we come face-to-face with another interesting fact about religious history: Throughout history, human beings have been fascinated by light. The ancient people were fascinated by light and often thought of light as a gift of the gods. The Greeks often used light as a symbol for rationality because light illuminates and reveals, just as our human reason illuminates and reveals the world. During the Renaissance, painters were fascinated highlight. It was during the Renaissance that painters first began to experiment with painting light and shadows and variants of color based upon light.

At the end of the Renaissance, there was a period called “the Enlightenment” as the modern world and modern science developed. Interestingly, it is light, and the characteristics of light, that helped bring about our postmodern world. Einstein was fascinated by light. His Relativity Theory assumes that light is the only invariant part of our universe, the only constant. It was when we discovered that light has the characteristics of both particles and waves that post-modern quantum physics developed. [3] It is the nature of light that caused physicists to enter what we call the postmodern world.

Light fascinated the ancients and it fascinates us as well.
As John and the other apostles pondered the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, they concluded that, in Jesus, the Word of God that created the world, the Rationality of God that characterizes the world, the Light of the world that makes life possible, all this was revealed  in one human life. Jesus was a Personal Word of a Personal  God. This Personal Word created the world, created humanity and gives us true life by the light of his presence.  [4]

You may ask, “How does all this changed my life?” The simple answer is this: if Jesus is the Logos of God, the reason of God, the light of God, the rationality of God, then we will be acting in the most rational way if we only behave like Jesus. Let me say this again because it’s so important: if we behave like Jesus we will be acting in the most rational way possible. This means that it is worth our time to learn about Jesus, to follow Jesus, and to begin to think and act like Jesus.

Living Centered in the Light/Love of God.

How are we to live centered in the Light and Love of God? How are we to embody the wisdom and love of Jesus? It is not enough just to read the Bible. For a lot of years now, His Handmaids, our dance group have periodically danced to an Amy Grant song called, “Fat Baby.” In part, it goes like this:

I know a man, maybe you know him, too.
You never can tell; he might even be you.
He knelt at the altar, and that was the end.
He’s saved, and that’s all that matters to him.

His spiritual tummy, it can’t take too much.
One day a week, he gets a spiritual lunch.
On Sunday, he puts on his spiritual best,
And gives his language a spiritual rest.

He’s just a faaa…
He’s just a fat little baby!
Wa, wa, waaaaa….
He wants his bottle, and he don’t mean maybe.
He sampled solid foods once or twice,
But he says doctrine leaves him cold as ice.
Ba, ba, ba, ba…ba, ba…ba, ba!

He’s been baptized, sanctified, redeemed by the blood,
But his daily devotions are stuck in the mud.
He knows the books of the Bible and John 3:16.
He’s got the biggest King James you’ve ever seen! [5]

This song beautifully illustrates an important fact about the Christian life: We don’t become more Christ-like just because we have a big Bible and go to church all the time! It’s not enough to read the Bible once in a while. We must truly meditate on the word of God. I find this very hard. It’s hard to take time before work to meditate. It’s hard to take time during the day to meditate. It’s hard to take time at night before bed time to meditate. It’s just hard to find time to allow God’s word to sink into your life. But we need to try. A Personal God wants us to have a Personal Relationship with His Word.

Second, it’s not enough just to read the word of God. We need to pray. By now, almost everyone at Advent knows that one of my favorite parts of Greek is what is known as the “Spherical Dative.” When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ is they are a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), the phrase “in Christ” is a spherical dative. It is as if Paul were saying to us that we need to be surrounded by the word of God. We need to be so surrounded by the Word of God that we spiritually live inside of Christ and the power of God revealed by Christ. This means, among other things, that we need to be surrounded by other Christians were trying to live the Christian life. I need to live my life day by day as part of a Christian community. But most importantly I need to pray and meditate and allow God to surround my life. A Personal God wants to personally communicate with His people. Jesus Christ is the symbol and source revealing God’s personal communication to us in the most intimate way: by becoming one of us.

Finally, “Fat Baby” reminds us that it is not enough to read the Bible and pray. We need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Jesus is not interested in creating biblical scholars. He is not interested in creating people who pray but have nothing to do with the salvation of the world. God loved the world so much that he sent his son to save the world and he wants Christians to be a part of that salvation. Our Personal God personally present in Jesus wants us to join Him in personally sharing the Gospel with others.

The Sacrificial Light of God.

This is where we come to the greatest mystery of all. Early on John alerts us to the fact that the word of God, the light of God, the very life of God, was also absolute, unconditional, steadfast, self-giving love.
The Personal Love of our Personal God doesn’t just love the world enough to give us a few good ideas. He loves the world enough to come and be one of us and give himself for our sins. The light of the world is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. [6] The love of God is not just any old kind of love. It is the greatest most wonderful love we could possibly imagine. It is a love that will not let us go, that loves us despite all our sin, our brokenness, and our betrayals. It is the Steadfast love of the LORD. It is the self-giving love of the great artist who created the universe.  It is the Sacrificial Love of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1952). There are many versions available.

[2] The Pythagorean Theorem bears the name of the Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras. It is a statement about triangles containing a right angle. The Pythagorean Theorem technically states that: “The area of the square built upon the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares upon the remaining sides”. Stephanie J. Morris, “The Pythagorean Theorem (downloaded March 2, 2017).

[3] It is my view that Newtonian physics is inherently modern, since it posits a disinterested observer, while quantum physics is inherently postmodern because it denies that aspect of modern physics.

[4] The Presbyterian theologian Francis Schaeffer refers to the Christian God as the “Infinite Personal God,” which lets us know that the person of God is not like a human person, but an infinite personal being. See, Francis Schaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972).

[5] Amy Grant, “Fat Baby” written by Keith Tomas and Amy Grant (released, January 18, 1991).

[6] I want to note that the research and conclusions I reached in researching and writing, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed (Cordova, TN: Booksurge, 2016) form the basis of the last two sections of this essay.