Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Wedding Feast

As I'm processing life, and reading through the Gospel of John, I find my self seeing Jesus' ministry in yet another light. Due to some recent developments in my own life, I'm really searching and turning my focus on how best to love people like Jesus loved people.

As I begin to read the story of the wedding feast at Cana, I'm keying into how he carried himself. Because I'm wrestling with the question of how to love people well, I find myself sensitized to the way and manner in which Jesus loved. As I make my way through the story, something amazing jumps out at me that I've never seen before. It revolves around his interaction with his mother, and his lack of interaction with the master of the feast and the bridegroom. Let me lay out the scenario for you.

Jesus and his friends are at this wedding feast that they've been invited to. In 1st century Jewish culture – in the Jewish culture in general, but especially at this point in history – weddings are a very important part of life. They're a celebration involving the entire community. It's kind of a big deal. In a culture in which lineage and family are the mainlines for both cultural relevance and religious significance, marriage is huge.

So, as you might assume, a great importance is placed on making the marriage celebration as awesome as possible. And it's at one of these celebrations that we find Jesus and his band of merry fishermen. John doesn't really give us the details, but it's probably safe to assume that the only agenda they had – that Jesus had – was to help this new couple celebrate the joining of two families together. To enjoy the party with his friends. There's already a clear focus for what's going on. Jesus probably wasn't interested in drawing any attention to himself, and for sure didn't want to take away from or upstage this joyous spectacle.

In fact, we can see this intention in Jesus' reluctance to reveal his real identity. At some point during the party, the wine ran dry. No more wine. I would imagine this is like going to a 4th of July celebration and finding out that they've run out of fireworks. Wine is important, not only because it was the preferred beverage of the day, but also because it holds some pretty specific religious and cultural symbolism. This is a serious problem for the folks getting married. It's not just a matter of people talking about how lame the party was that ran out of wine. Running out of wine at a wedding feast could possibly affect the marriage itself. It's not good.

So here's where Mary, showing her heart of compassion, approaches Jesus and tells him, “Hey, the wedding is out of wine”. But this is more than just her informing him of the situation. I'm sure there was some body language and some facial expression involved, because Jesus' response makes it pretty clear that she was asking him to do something about it. Jesus says, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Jesus knows that Mary is asking him to help, and he also knows that the only way he can help is by bringing to bare his propensity for the miraculous. 'It's not time for that yet' he says, 'I don't want to deal with all that will follow when people figure out who I am.'

Here's where the amazing part happens. The part that I've just seen for the first time. Without saying anything to Jesus, she turns to the servants at the feast and simply says “Do whatever he tells you.” Even though Jesus was not directly addressed, Mary's instructions to the servants was pointed at him. At this very point, we can see Mary, Jesus' mother, still teaching her son. Jesus doesn't want to intervene here because he's not ready – his 'hour has not yet come'. But with her command to the servants, Mary is saying, “Jesus, these people need a love right now that only you can give them. It doesn't matter if you're ready or not. Lay down your agenda. They need you now.”

So Jesus proceeds to turn six very large jars of water into wine. Good wine. And here's the kicker. He doesn't tell anyone where it came from or what he's just done. He doesn't make a spectacle of it. There's no speech or teaching that he delivers in conjunction with this miracle, he just does it, and lets it be. In fact, in John's account, the bridegroom at the wedding feast gets the credit! The servants and the disciples know what just happened, but nobody else.

Jesus turning water into wine was pure, unconditional and selfless love. There was no ulterior motive, no expectation of anything, not even a need to be seen or heard. It was simply love with no agenda other than to love. It's incredible!

It is my desire to learn how to love like that. I want to love without expectation. I want to love without condition. I want to love without an agenda. Agenda's make things messy. I want to love people like Jesus loved the people at the wedding feast at Cana. Selflessly. Unconditionally.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's an interesting story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus exemplifies the healing power of God as he heals a crippled man at the pools of Bethesda. In addition to showing Jesus' power and his grace, it also provides us with a mirror, that when looked upon, will reveal to us those things that we are leaning on to fill the place of Jesus in our lives. It's a subtle image, but once it's seen, it's clearly evident.
This story appears in chapter 5 of John's gospel account. John writes:
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” - John 5:2-9
The first thing that we're shown in this story is the pools of Bethesda. Now, if you look up the passage, you may see something odd. When you look at how the verses are marked, unless you have an older translation, you will notice that verse 4 is missing or bracketed. This is a critical piece to the mirror. Verse 4 talks about the significance of the pools. According to later manuscripts, an angel of the Lord would come and stir the waters of the pools from time to time, and the first to enter the water was healed of whatever infirmity he had. Around these pools is where the sick and crippled would congregate with the hope of getting healed. This is important, I'll come back to this in a bit.

The next piece of this narrative that we're given is a man sitting by the pool who had been crippled for a long time. John tells us Jesus sees this man and knows that he has been in this place for a while. Having this insight into Jesus' knowledge of this man's situation, what Jesus does next should cause us to look a little closer at what's going on here, or at the least raise an eyebrow. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed?”. Jesus knew the answer to this question before he asked it. We knew the answer to the question before Jesus asked it. So, why did he ask it?

Before we answer that question, let's look at what the man said in response to Jesus' question. If you notice, he doesn't actually answer Jesus' question. The question Jesus asked has a yes or no answer. The man says neither. What the man tells Jesus is why he hasn't been healed. He says “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Upon hearing the man's answer, Jesus simply says pick up your bed and go. And that's where the scene ends. The story continues, but let's chew on this for bit.

I said earlier that the significance of the pools, as highlighted in verse 4, is an important piece to this narrative. Why? These pools offer those looking for relief the promise of miraculous healing. Step first into the turbulent waters and you will be healed. And it delivered … sometimes. Not everyone who came to the pools was healed by them, because only one can be healed at a time – there can be only one “first”. If you weren't that one, you weren't healed. This source of miraculous healing, although it was from God, delivered by an angel, it wasn't God. It was a pool. Churned by an angel. The reason this is important comes to light when Jesus meets him.

God himself, having the power to heal whomever he wishes, comes and asks the crippled man sitting by the pools of healing, “do you want to be healed”. But instead of simply saying yes and letting Jesus heal him, the man explains to Jesus why he's not been healed by the pools. What would cause someone to make such a tragic oversight? Later in the story, John tells us that the man didn't know that it was Jesus who had healed him. He doesn't really say why this is so, but I would venture a guess that it may have been because the man was so focused on the pools, that he paid no attention to who was speaking to him. He was so focused on the tool that God used to heal, that when God himself came to him offering healing, he couldn't see it. Fortunately Jesus heals him anyway. But this interaction between the man and Jesus provides us, as I said earlier, with a mirror in which we can see ourselves.

How many times do we look for God's blessings in things that are not God? How many times do we seek to fill our needs by our own means, becoming so focused on how we think we can get what we need, that we miss God when he shows up and offers it to us freely without condition.

Here's an example from my own life. There was a time in my life when I was looking to fill an empty space that existed in my heart. I thought that I would find the fulfillment to this need in my relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Every moment I was with her I filled the space in my heart with the love that she gave me, but when we were apart, the emptiness came back. All the while, she and I were attending church on the weekends and listening to the preacher talk about God, the giver of all things, freely and bountifully offering all we needed. The message was crystal clear, right there in front of me, but I was so focused on getting my needs met by her how I thought they would be best met, that I completely missed it. Eventually, that relationship ended and I was left with a bigger hole than I what had begun with. Upon offering me His love, I told him all about why this girl had not satisfied my longing for love. Fortunately, he filled me with himself anyway, opened my eyes and began pouring himself into my heart.

What is it that you're looking to to fill your needs. Is it a relationship with someone other than God? Is it a community? A video game? A hobby? … An addiction? Here's a tricky one. I've heard many stories of people looking for meaning, for spiritual sustenance, for fulfillment from a church. The popular thought process seems to be: My life isn't where it needs to be, therefore, I will go to church and the church will make it better. But the church is just like the pools of Bethesda. It may fill your need, but because the church isn't God, it will ultimately not deliver in the way that you need it to. Someone else might get in the way. Your need may not be filled completely, leaving you needing still more from a source that's given all it has to offer. Or it might simply not have what you need at all. But God is right there behind you, asking you if He Himself can fill your needs. Will you tell him why the things that you've replaced Him with aren't filling your needs, or will you turn to Him and accept his offer? It's a decision that all of us face multiple times throughout our lives.

When we really look at this story of the pools of Bethesda, we see in the water our own reflection.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. - Jude 1:3

I'm writing this in response to something I heard come out the mouth of a brother in the faith as he was praying. While the passage above speaks to those who would deny the Lord Jesus completely and lead the saints with them away from from the Lord, I'm quoting this passage in response to those who still believe they are seeking the Lord, but are skirting on the very edge of the narrow way Jesus talks about in Matthew 7, ever so slightly out of alignment, that the deviation from the faith is subtle, but grows slowly.

Let me begin by defining some terms. In the above passage, Jude uses the term “the faith”. In his letter, he's addressing the saints: “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for [or by] Jesus Christ”. He uses this term “the faith” in relation to salvation. This builds off of what James says in his letter, basically the thought that faith without works is not genuine faith, without which there is no salvation if in fact salvation stems from genuine faith as asserted by Paul in his letter to the Romans. Jude takes it a step further, past salvation and into guarding that salvation, making the statement that there is a faith – one – which we are to hold to.

What does that mean? What is meant by the term the faith. It would seem that it goes past the overarching term of faith, which Paul describes Abraham having, a trust in God, and steps into something more refined.

In 1 Corinthians 16:13, paul puts it like this: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” The Faith is something that we can stand firm in, hold fast to, adhere to. He goes on to say in 2 Corinthians “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” So The Faith is something in which we are either in or out of. And more than that, there is a measure by which to test whether we are in or we are out. There is an observable difference between those who are in the faith, and those who are not.

What is this quantifiable evidence of The Faith? The term implies that there is a specific set of beliefs to be adhered to. If these beliefs are held, we have The Faith, or are in The Faith. If these beliefs are not held, we are not. There's another word describing specific beliefs that are held. That word is Doctrine. When Jude and Paul use the term The Faith, they are referring to specific beliefs or the doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 6:3-4a says “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” Doctrines are the test to which Paul refers in 2 Corinthians. If the Doctrines of Jesus Christ are held, we are in The Faith. If we hold doctrines contrary to those spoken by Jesus (or believe doctrines don't matter at all – which, by the way, is still a doctrine), we are not. Doctrines are important, and they are to be held, highly regarded, observed and protected.

In Paul's instruction to the leaders of the Church, he takes this a step further still. In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul tells him what kind of person should be appointed to a leadership position. Among the criteria is a firm grasp of sound doctrine: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” He goes on to tell Titus how to instruct those not in leadership to live godly lives. Among this admonition is the instruction that they are to “[show] all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

There's a popular belief right now that faith trumps doctrine. That a relationship with Jesus is more important than the doctrines of Jesus. Beloved, that is a lie straight from the pit of Hell. Without the doctrines of Jesus Christ, there is no knowledge of Jesus Christ. And without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, there is no relationship with Jesus Christ (you cannot relate to that which you do not know). To know Christ, to be in relationship with Jesus Christ is to hold fast the Doctrines of Jesus Christ as spoken by Christ himself, and by the apostles through the inspired written word of the Scriptures.

To reject the Doctrines of God is to reject God. Some might say that they have a relationship with Christ apart from the Doctrines of Christ (The Faith), apart from the teachings and beliefs of the Church (or with teachings and beliefs different from the Church). To those I would say, you have a relationship to someone, but it's not Jesus.

When the doctrines are left behind or altered, The Faith is left behind and all that is left is an unbridled or heretical spirituality masquerading as Christianity. Jesus comes with His doctrines. To embrace one is to embrace the other. Period.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I've been meditating on the Goodness of God lately, and it's led me to many places, but specifically to two very important conclusions. These two destinations are, one, from the Goodness of God comes a delight in God that is beyond all comparison with anything else in all of creation and two, the Goodness of God leads naturally to the embracing of the lordship of Christ. I'd like to spend some time unpacking these two conclusions, both for my sake, and for the edification of you, whomever you might be.

First of all, what do I mean by the “Goodness of God”? When I say the Goodness of God, what I am referring to is the divine goodness that is found in the very character and nature of God. It is this Goodness that led Him to create a people with which to share Himself, to share his Love and the relationship that exists perfectly within himself. When I say His Goodness, I refer to that which causes His love and justice, His mercy and righteousness to coexist and intermingle perfectly, constantly, eternally. It's His goodness that led him to step down into time and space as a man and crawl up on that old rugged cross to execute his righteous judgement while lovingly sparing us the penalty of His wrath which we so faithfully store up for ourselves. When I say His Goodness, I refer to the fact that, even though we as humanity continually snub our noses at Him, He gives the right to enter into His everlasting family, putting in us His very spirit, joining Himself to us, His heart to ours, for all of eternity. There is so much more to be said about His goodness, but I believe I've made my point.

So how have I come to the conclusions I have stated above, simply by thinking on His goodness? I would hope that the first conclusion is fairly straight forward. There is a relationship to be had with God, that in His Goodness He has provided us access to even in our filthy and sinful state. Because it was out of the Goodness of God we were created, it naturally follows that to return to the Goodness of God is the best place for us. While we can see glimpses of God's Goodness in His creation and in relationships we might have with other people, there is an unmatched splendor and joy to be had in looking directly into the Source, with the eyes of our heart staring straight into the Goodness of God himself. The relationship of the created with the creator is unmatched by any other relationship we can have with any other created being. In His Goodness, He created us with deep longings, longings that stretch down to the very bedrock of our souls, and because He is the creator of these longings, He can fulfill them perfectly and completely. Thus it follows that from the Goodness of God comes a delight in God that is beyond all comparison with anything else in all of creation.

That one was pretty obvious. But what about the second conclusion, that the Goodness of God leads naturally to the embracing of the lordship of Christ? For this one I'm going to enlist the help of Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Romans he writes

And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to image of his son in order that he might be first born among many brother. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things, if God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things. Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. As it is written 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered'. No, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us. I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor depth nor height nor anything in all of creation will able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:28-39

What does this mean? This means that out of His Goodness, God has secured our place in His Goodness, in His family and His Kingdom. For those who love Him and are called by Him, there is nothing that can keep us from Him. Because of this assurance, I know that no matter what comes my way, no matter how bad things get, no matter how hopeless things look, I will always have a place in God. From this confidence, I can, without hesitation, say that I will follow Him anywhere!

In the reality of the first conclusion above, that His goodness is incomparable with anything else in all of creation, wherever He is, that's where I wanna be. Because of His Goodness, I know that wherever he tells me to go is the best place for me. Whatever he tells me to do is the best thing for me. Jesus said “If you love me, you will follow my commands.” I don't follow Jesus as my Lord because that's how I love him... I follow Jesus as my Lord because I love Him! It is my pure joy to follow Christ's commands, and it is a bitter pain that in my fallen state, the sin nature I find myself in, I tend toward resisting the very lordship of Christ I take so much joy in. O the day when I can follow him without stumbling and obey Him without blemish; when I can fall at his feet and worship Him, unhindered for all of eternity and be joined to Him in the perfect and holy union for which I was created! Lord hasten the day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


In part 1, we looked at what Grace is and where it comes from. Now, in part 2, we'll take a deeper look into Grace and what our response to it should be. In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about two different kinds, or works of Grace, both coming from the same source, but having two different functions. These two kinds of Grace are what I'll call Saving Grace and Enabling Grace. We've already seen the basis for Saving Grace in part 1. It's found in Romans 3:23-25. Paraphrased, is says no one is good enough to meet God's standard, and in that condition He has provided for us a way, through Him, to rise to the standard required by Him, that He would be glorified. This is Saving Grace, the Grace by which we obtain the righteousness of God and the right to be adopted into the family of God as sons and daughters.

To see the second work of Grace, Enabling Grace, two passages, one near the beginning of the letter and one near the end, need to be linked together. In Romans 12:3 & 12:6a Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” and “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them...”. Paul's use of the word Grace here refers not to a Grace simply by which we are saved, but rather a Grace that enables us to act. In verse 3, he's referencing the Grace he has been given to act, and in verse 6 he's referencing the grace that we've been given to act.

So what does this mean? How does Grace allow us to act? To answer this, Romans 1:1-5, specifically verse 5, needs to be linked with with 12:3&6. Romans 1:1-5 says:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

In verse 5, Paul first talks about his own enabling Grace, and then speaks of our enabling Grace, in the phrase “obedience of faith”.

To unpack this, the reality that Grace has to be claimed must be understood. Grace is a free gift to us from God “to be received” (Romans 3:25). That means that it's ours only if we receive it. How do we receive it? Simple: Believe. “...God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Or, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). With both Saving Grace and Enabling Grace, in order to claim it, to walk in it, we simply must believe it's ours. In the case of Saving Grace, to believe means to trust in Christ's work on the cross. In the case of Enabling Grace, to believe is to trust that God has given us the ability, authority and power to do what he calls us to do. When God calls, he gives the Grace to follow the call. To believe in enabling Grace is to obey what God calls us to do. This is what paul is meaning in Romans 1:5 when he uses the term “obedience of faith”.

Finally, there is a peace to be found in the Grace of God. In both instances of Grace, when we receive it, there comes with it a confidence that God will accomplish what he sets out to do. When we trust in Christ's work on the cross, in his Saving Grace, we can have full confidence that all our sins are forgiven and that we have a place in God's family forever. When we respond to God's calling with the obedience of faith, in his Enabling Grace, we can have full confidence that God will bring about His desired outcome. In both instances, the confidence in God's grace should leave us with the peace that God is firmly in control. All we need to do is believe, show up, and do what he tells us. He'll take care of everything else. Grace. It's that simple.


Grace is, by far, the simplest doctrinal truth in the life of a Christian. Grace rests at the core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and the ability to live out of our inheritance as children of God rests squarely on the reality of Grace. Unfortunately, since it is so breathtakingly simple, Grace is also one of the most over-thought and over-complicated doctrines. In the 16 chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans, the word Grace appears 18 times. A good understanding of Grace can be gained by looking through the words of Paul in this magnum opus of doctrinal revelation centered around Grace

In Romans chapter 3, Paul gives us the essence of Grace, namely the free gift of God from God to us. He starts by making this statement in verse 23: “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,”. Look closely at this verse. Grace is beautifully evident here, but it's very easy to miss. Notice that this verse doesn't end with a period, but rather a comma. Paul says no one is good enough to meet the requirements put forward by God, but he doesn't stop there. What follows in verses 24 and 25 gives us the foundation on which our understanding of Grace is based. All together these three verses read.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

If read carefully, a theme emerges from this passage: Grace is from God. All of it. Here, read it again. See if you can pick it up.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Grace is not a result of anything that we did, or even can do. Grace has it's source 100% in God.

Because Grace is a gift, owing it's origins totally and completely to God, we have no claim on it other than it was given to us. This means Grace cannot be earned. Paul makes this point beautifully in Romans 11:6 which says, speaking of being chosen by Grace, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Grace is a gift. A gift cannot be earned. Romans 4:4-5 says “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”. There is a beautiful and breathtaking truth to be found here. Grace is a gift which was freely given, regardless of our worthiness or unworthiness to receive it. Here's the beauty of it. If there is nothing that qualifies us to receive grace, there is also nothing that disqualifies us from receiving grace. Grace is ours, whether we like it or not. What then becomes important is how we respond to it. We have a choice. We can either embrace what God has given to us, or we can leave it behind, choosing instead to rely on our own merit.

In part 2 I'll look at some finer distinctions made about grace, as well as a clearer understanding of what it looks like to receive the gift. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


I was meditating on an issue I'm currently facing, a dilemma if you will, in which I'm presented with several possible outcomes. Some very, very good, some rather bad, and some carrying more neutral consequence. As I was thinking on these different possibilities, in my mind I was bringing out the spiritual director that I often bring out with helping others with similar dilemmas. As I was guiding myself through the facts of my own situation, I became suddenly aware of startling state of mind. I was comfortable. Even though there's pain in this uncertainty, there's a heart ache that's sitting with me in this dilemma, I was content to sit in it. I knew it. I am acquainted with it. If I sit here in my pain and my heart ache, I know what to expect. I know what's coming, because I control it. Even though it hurts... It's safe. There is a reluctance to move out of it one way or another.

As I recognized this in myself, I immediately saw that there was a deeper condition beneath this one. This desire to stay put and hang out in my heart ache was coming from a place of fear.

There's a very real fear that we all carry. Some of us carry it out in front of us, allowing it to affect our life and faith in very detrimental ways. Others of us have faced it and beaten it with the grace and love of God, but it still follows us, like a lingering echo from the past occasionally making it's way into our ears, whispering the destructive “what if”. What if God doesn't come through? What if God doesn't have our best interest in mind? What if God doesn't want me to have what I so desperately want? What if God's mad at me for what I've done. What if...

This place of fear stems from a issue that's deeper still. These anxieties all come from a common root of mistrust of God or a lack of trust in God. In God's Love. In God's Grace. In God's Character. I discovered that in this particular situation, I am having a very hard time trusting God's words in Jeremiah 29:11. I know He's good. I know He's got my best interest in mind. I know that He loves me and wants to give me only the best. I know his desires for me and his will for my life are better than anything I could conjure up on my own. But yet experiences, wounds from my past are affecting my perception. The pain of my past is casting doubt on my future. It's at this point that I must simply let go of my control and let God do his thing. It's at this point that another set of “what ifs” come into play.

What if... What if God actually gives me what I desire? What if I actually get what I want? I'm used to operating from a place of pain. A place of disappointment. A place of damage control and recovery. What if God begins to give me the desires of my heart? This is uncharted territory. The prospect of facing the unknown is strangely uncomfortable. It's unfamiliar. It's not “safe”. I don't know what to expect, like I know what to expect in the pain. I have no idea what's coming. All that I have to stand on is God's declaration that He loves me and the reality that He died so that he could be with me.

As I see all this, it's on this final revelation that I stand. God loves me with such an intensity that he died the horrible death of the cross just to be with me. If at the end of all this I come away with nothing but Him, how can I possibly say that I got the short end of the deal. So I stare into the unknown, standing on the precipice of His love with this simple prayer: “Lord I love you! Help me to love you more!”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani

This evening I was tracking an idea (at least I thought I was) through the letter to the Hebrews. Now before I begin, let me tell you a little bit about how I read the bible when I'm after something. My translation of choice is the English Standard Version (ESV), for a couple reasons, but one of them is the simple fact that it's heavily footnoted. The translators were very careful to note where a translation might be in question or uncertain. They also were very good about citing passages throughout the new testament where the writer is referencing or alluding to an old testament writing. When I come across a foot note, I make sure to pay attention. In the instances where the footnote points to an old testament writing, I finish reading the thought the writer of the New Testament text is making, and then I go track down the passage they're referencing so I can get a proper perspective on what the writer might be saying. Many people in Israel at the time of Christ had memorized a substantial portion of the Scriptures, so when someone would drop a phrase or portion of Scripture, even if it was incomplete, the listener would be able to fill in the rest to understand the point the speaker was making. This is called an allusion. For instance, in Matthew's Gospel account, in chapter 3 when John the Baptist drops the passage from Isaiah “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'”, the lister in that day, would have heard that, and filled in the rest of that passage in Isaiah. Take a look at Isaiah 40:1-5, and see if that sheds a new light on what John is saying here.

So back to my “pursuit” in Hebrews, I was tracking a thought that I had had a few days previous. So I began in chapter 2, and after a time of unfruitful searching and following foot notes, I came back to verse 12 which contains a passage from the Psalms that I had not followed because I didn't think it spoke to the idea that I was after. So, having exhausted all other avenues, I thought I would follow the note I'd skipped. The allusion the writer uses here is from Psalm 22, so I turned to Psalm 22 to read it in its entirety to gain perspective on what the writer was saying. Let me say here that I don't spend much time in the Psalms, so I was unaware of what Psalm 22 said, though after reading it, I'm sure it's one of the most widely known Psalms simply because of it's prophetic nature. So I begin reading Psalm 22, and the very first words of the Psalm say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. At this moment, I stop dead in my tracks. I've heard this before. In Matthew 27:6, Jesus is on the cross, and it says “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a load voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If we can take one thing from all the accounts of Jesus speaking, its that he does not use words idly. When He speaks, he puts every word exactly where He wants it, exactly when he wants it. So what does this mean? Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22 here?

Psalm 22 is the prophetic Psalm that contains the prophesy that His hands and feet will be pierced, his bones will not be broken, he would be mocked, the soldiers would divide up his clothing. At this moment in time in the life of Jesus, this prophesy is being fulfilled. We can see that, the people around him can see that, and that's precisely why Jesus says this. If you're not familiar with Psalm 22, take some time right now and read through it once or twice. I'll wait.

Jesus quotes this Psalm, not to point people to what is going on. They can see with their own eyes that he's suffering, that he is being pierced and that his garments are being divided up. But what they don't see is the rest of Psalm 22.

For those witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus, and then hearing him quote Psalm 22 while it's being fulfilled, would have filled in all the rest of the Psalm. I'm looking specifically at verses 27-31. If one is witnessing the first half of a scripture being fulfilled, exactly, right in front of you, I would assume one would naturally assume that second half will come to pass as well. For the Jews at this point, this extraordinarily exciting! If they got it, “they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. GOD HAD DONE IT! The afflicted will now eat and be satisfied; their hearts will live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD. Kingship now belongs to the LORD and he rules over all nations. This is very, very good news.

So when Jesus utters these words on the Cross, it's not just a cry out to God, it's a call to all who have ears to hear. He's pointing people toward the reality of what's actually going on. Jesus is buying their freedom. With this simple phrase, he says “Listen up folks, look at what's happening. There's something here that you have to see.” And for those there in that moment who heard this and connected the dots, their world exploded and their paradigm was turned upside down. In just one instant, with only four words, for those people that got it, Jesus changed everything!

God I pray that as we search your Word, you will lead us to connect the dots. Give us eyes to see so that we can see what you're up to. God help us to see, so that with only a few words, spoken at the right time in the right place, you will change everything!