The  Power of a Cross-Reference

Has anything ever opened up your understanding in a flash by showing you a comparison of something new with something familiar?

By a cross-reference (in this post’s title), I don’t mean “a reference to The Cross,” at least not as its definition—although here it well may be that in another sense. When I say “cross-reference,” I mean a little notation at the bottom of a page, and the place elsewhere in scripture to which it leads, for further information.

When I began my journey of investigating Christ, just such a little set of letters, numbers, and punctuation became a great agent of change in my sense of Who and What He was—and is.

The scripture I was reading: John 1. The verse: last one in the chapter. The situation: Nathanael is also coming to investigate Jesus. His friend Philip has told him he and some others have found the long-awaited Messiah. Nathanael, like I, was skeptical.

Philip has said their found Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael’s incredulous (and perhaps snarky) response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Yet he goes with Philip to see for himself.

As he approaches this ordinary-looking person, the man turns toward him and says, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile/deceit.” (Does a little snarkiness tinge this statement, too? Representatives of the Pharisees had just been to visit Jesus…)

To this bold assessment, Nathanael, perhaps still skeptical but with curiosity rising, can’t help asking, “How do you know me?”

To which the man answers, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

There’s a lot of knowledge packed into Jesus’ two sentences, and evidently they’re enough to knock Nathanael right off his disbelief. I think I hear him gasping as he blurts out, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (A lot packed into his two statements, too!)

It really didn’t take a lot for Nathanael to believe after all, did it? But this man before Him makes the bits of evidence He’s already given Nathanael seem small change. He says, “Do you believe because I said I saw you under the fig tree?”

Then comes the statement that got me seeking my first scripture cross-reference, because to me it was a most cryptic gathering of words:

“Most assuredly I say to you, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

What? What on earth (or in heaven) could He have meant?

Did you wonder that when you first read John 1? (or maybe you knew because somebody told you ahead of time?) Did Nathanael wonder?

He would likely have known, at least, that Jesus was referring to a pivotal event in early Israelite history. He, as about every Israelite of his time, was probably clinging fiercely to their history, for this was a time of great political tribulation, of suffering under and longing to break free from an oppressive foreign power. At such a time, your own nation’s history becomes more than dull textbook facts. I’m quite sure Jesus’ words would have brought to Nathanael’s mind their ancient history, and he’d know what He was referencing.

But it wasn’t my history, and I didn’t know. So, to the cross-reference: Genesis 28:12.

What questions and thoughts go through your mind as you look up that reference and read? What claim do you think Jesus was making here?

Intriguing, compelling, it was for me. And though I couldn’t be sure exactly what He meant, I felt the force of its importance. And I thought I got His drift.

That’s when I got hooked on cross-references. What important and  sometimes fascinating background information that led me to!  After while I found my mind automatically cross-referencing from what I was reading to things they reminded me of reading elsewhere. They’re really a lively understanding aid. If you don’t use them, I invite you to start.

And The Gospel of John is a great place to do it.

—-

{Note: Different Bibles and versions of Bibles often have different cross-references. If you become (or are already) quite familiar with much of the Bible, some will come to your own mind that aren’t noted down in your footnotes. I’ve added some of my own to my Bible’s footnotes. You could, too.}

Who Was This Person? (Read this like an agnostic)

He went by many aliases. He made incredible claims. His identity was wrapped in mystery. Who was this strange man?

[Before proceeding further, I highly reccomend reading the previous post, especially for an explanation of the title’s paranthesis.]

Photo by Robert Nyman, courtesy Unsplash

He was called Logos, The Word.

He was called Phos, The Light.

He was called Hodos and Alethia and Zoe: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. According to historical records, he even called himself by these titles!

In one short chapter opening a book called The Gospel According to John, the fantastical claims burst forth that this strange person called Logos also was God Himself, that He existed at the very beginning of time and was actively involved in the creation of everything anywhere that ever was made.

Here other aliases also emerge: “Jesus,” and “the Christ,” who the book says was “full of grace and truth.” In him, it also says, was “Life” which it calls “the light of men.”

Claiming that he “was in the beginning,” it assumes there was a beginning, a starting point for all we recognize as physical reality, and that even at its start, this person was present. Yet, later on it claims that he also walked the earth as a flesh-and-blood mortal, born of woman, one of those creations He created. Fantastic! Unbelievable! Impossible! Or is it?

How did all this that we know as our world come to be anyway? Did it just happen, all these inanimate things like rocks and water and oxygen? Did they somehow make themselves? Was it all just an accident? Now we’re getting even more fantastical!

And why is the world such a mess? All around us we see destruction and destructiveness. In a world that is supposed by some to be self-creating and evolving, isn’t such destructiveness the utter opposite? Can destruction create? Doesn’t destruction instead destroy?

How the names of this enigmatic person contrast with destruction! Jesus means Savior, one who rescues, delivers, saves. Christ means Messiah, the Anointed one: anointed by God, by the Holy Spirit, for specific holy purpose—whose prophets of old had foretold repeatedly and believers in the Creator God had awaited through long millennia. The Light, the Truth, the Way, and the Way to Eternal Life: energetic words filled with vitality, with creative and redemptive power!

Think about some of the names:

Word is the basic unit for all communication we know: even signs and signals stand for words, which stand for ideas. (And ideas, abstractions: where did they come from?)

Light is what enables us to see. Without it our sight can discern nothing: no color, no form, no images at all.

And Life: what is life but that which enables us to move and emote and sense, to grow and learn and accomplish endeavors and even think them up?

Finally, what is a Way but a path, a direction, a plan to follow? (“This is the way. Walk ye in it.” said the Bible’s Old Testament, and this New Testament person named Jesus claimed to be not just a way, but The Way.)

This mysterious man, god, godman Jesus, Christ, the Light, the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Word, claims to be it all! Do we do well to brush aside such claims? What if the claims are valid?

If so, we are part of His creation. And John 1 says this about His creation’s recognition of Him: “He was in the world, and the world knew Him not. He came to His own, but His own received Him not…” “And this is the verdict: the Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness better than light…”

Is there any possibility that we love darkness better than light? Is there any truth about ourselves, our lives, that we don’t want spread out in full light of day on display before anyone and everyone? Is there any painful truth we don’t even want to see in ourselves? Is it good and wise to love darkness better than light, to grope through darkness all one’s life and then end that life in “outer darkness,” where the Bible says are continual “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?

These are all questions worth pondering. And this little book written by a man named John—who claimed to be an eye witness who saw the living proof of all the fantastical names of Jesus, and who declared elsewhere that he was truly reporting “that which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have touched …and which we have heard”—this little book is worth reading and considering.

May it open your eyes to a burst of light and life and understanding like you’ve never before experienced!

*****

What the Gospel of John Did for Me

 

(This post is an explanation for the next post, especially its title, and a guide on how best to read it.)

I came to Christ as an agnostic.
An agnostic is not an atheist:

ag nos tic 1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown, and prob. unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god 2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something.

a the ist one who believes there is no deity

a the ism a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity*

I had been taught not to be gullible. This translated into my life as rather pervasive skepticism.

Yet I loved the possibility of truth, and longed for it. I think I might even have prayed for it, to the God who might be there…?

My pivotal “salvation prayer” was hardly the usual one. Instead it cried out, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!”

Long story, but God did answer. Yet not in the way you (or I) might have expected, or wanted. Not by performing some miracle for me, like a stage magician—but by letting my life’s rug get pulled out from under me, and then, when I lay sprawled, utterly helpless to get myself to my feet again, by answering my desperate prayers in phenomenal ways that I think many people would label miraculous.

John’s Gospel in itself didn’t save me. But it made new truth resonate in my soul, a “new song,” and ignited the fire of scripture love in my heart. And I think, strange as this might sound, my agnosticism helped feed and intensify this fire. For my agnosticism wasn’t a surly, unbending one but a hungering, seeking one, born in part from my awe at the mystery of things—things like the very existence of life.

In that spirit I read “John”—the Bible segment someone recommended as a good place for a “new believer” to start—in the spirit of a little child who doesn’t know, and doesn’t know if she can know, but really hungers to find out.

That’s the spirit we should all try to have, and keep, as we read “The Word.” And John is an excellent book on which to practice this attitude. It’s simple, yet deep. It’s vocabulary is limited, which is part of its strength. If you pay attention to the words that repeat often it can open your eyes and heart wide. And, even for seasoned Christians, it is the kind of book that can reduce you to the inquisitiveness of the little child, because it holds so much mystery.

Much is simple, but much is not all that clear. Like Jesus’ cryptic parables, it leaves room for lots of questions, for wondering. And if you “accepted Christ” as a little child, you may have been taken on a short-cut away from all those impossible-to-answer questions children can come up with in astonishing, overwhelming number. But those kinds of questions are born of realizing how little we know, and that humility makes us available to the awe that God evokes when He opens up meanings in ways we never saw all those years.

That’s what the essay in the next post aims to stir up in whoever reads it. And that’s why I say in the next post, “Read it like a little child,” and in the parenthesis after its title, “Read it like an agnostic,” like one who doesn’t know, and knows they don’t know, and needs Someone to show them…

As for how otherwise to read the next post, and the scripture it addresses, I recommend 1) in stillness, 2) alone with God, 3) slowly and meditatively, 4) after asking God to “open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth you have for me…” and everything else this hymn asks for!

***

*Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.

*****

Pilgrimage, in Circles?

I couldn’t resist digging up this old blog from several years ago to repost, because it meshes so much with the way our meandering has moved…

***

We think of our spiritual progress as a straight line.

Not so.

Circles.

For me anyway.

Yes, I know, our moral walk should turn neither left nor right off God’s way, but I’m thinking of another facet of Christian life: our growth…

I was in an emotional pit, trying—still, even at my age—to get my bearings, God’s direction. It seemed all I ever did was go around in circles, like some poor ignoramus lost in the woods.

I took the issue to God, wrestled with it, with my thinking, so stuck in its negative groove.

“Stuck in a groove” pictures a record with a crack or scratch making it repeat the same sequence, over and over, as it goes ‘round and ’round. However, a phonograph needle ordinarily makes continual forward progress through a song by going around and around. I failed to consider that, stuck as I was.

I drew a ragged spiral, representing my walk—and sighed.

But then, a word, an image came into my mind,

Helix.

A helix goes continually around—but simultaneously progresses upwards.

With that insight, I cut on the lines I’d drawn, lifted their center point upward…

and suddenly I saw my path toward God! Like a vine wrapping a pole or tree—or cross—around and around, reaching, growing, ever upward, toward the light.

And I wondered, was Jacob’s ladder a helix, a spiral staircase? Could be. I was now assured my ladder was, anyhow.

I recalled a former pastor’s frequent urging us “Higher up and further in” to God’s Kingdom. I was now seeing the helix of his principle.

Yes! Constantly moving higher up the spiral ladder, ever further into Kingdom life,

That is my Christian pilgrimage!

After all, which does God care about more: My choice of straight line paths between earthly points (as, job or geographical move A to B, A to C, A to D…) or whether I move steadily upward, nearer Him and His kingdom?

The mountain of the Lord is very steep. A cliff? The only way to its summit (for a shaky climber like me) is a path that clings to the mountainside as it continually rises, around and around, ever aimed toward the apex in God.

Paul pursued this ever-onward and upward path with a passion. “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phl 3:14)—the aim toward which he told the Colossians to focus: above, where our lives “are now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).

I don’t feel so bad now about going around in circles in morally neutral decision making, as long as I’m aiming right up toward God Himself, spiraling ever higher “to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me,” and not spiraling into self by the ever-moving introspection that swirls down and down into darkness—or lies flat dead, without dimension, life, aspiration.

So… onward and upward, around and around, heavenward, toward God, clinging to the Christ and His cross.

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in the “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated as new posts appear in the blog content.

 

Meandering Full-Circle, Beautifully

I haven’t forgotten our “28 Days of Meandering Forward” still lacks eight of its “days.” This post represents one of them.

A beautiful thing has happened for me. The meandering we did through the twenty posts so far, along with a few little sideline things that have happened in my life, have brought me round to a special reunion with my early Christian self.

I’ll let my “Journaling Through John” Journal’s first entry explain:

I have come full circle.

My first Bible pursuit as a new Christian was the gospel of John. My first Bible journaling was on the gospel of John. My first sit-up-alert, flashing biblical insight, because of just a cross-reference, was in the first chapter of John.

I fell head over heels with scripture reading the gospel of John. And here, just as I come to the end of a month dedicated to “meandering forward,” hoping to find myself on God’s path, I am invited to begin (again) a deep reading and journaling of the gospel of John.

I can, and will, write the first several verses here from memory. I know much else in this book by heart and have plumbed the depth of some of its quizzical quotes and come up with shining pearls. So why do I want to read and study and ponder and meditate and journal yet again, on the same gospel of John?

Because of its depth. In its seeming simplicity is such profundity that I believe anyone who knows and loves the Lord of this gospel could study it a hundred times and still come up with new pearls, and experience new epiphanies and spiritual chill bumps on the hundred-and-first time through.

And so I begin simply by writing out what I know at its beginning by heart—because there’s something strongly heart-connecting in just pouring the familiar words out onto the page through the ink outlet of my pen, held in my hand, connected to my arm and leading to my heart. As I feel the gliding of my pen across the paper, my soul resonates as I write,

In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

Can you wrap your head around that? How about your heart, your soul?

Sit with it totally unencumbered by the media and the to-do list for just a few quiet minutes and let it ring, and see what it does in the core of your being.

Then read on for more mystery, and dive deep for another pearl:

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through Him,

and without Him nothing was made that was made.

In Him was life,

and the life was the light of men…”

 

Letting all this sink (again) into my soul…

 

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in the “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.