“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them ! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. Bible.com/app
As I re-read the story of the wedding at Cana, I closed my eyes and visualized the encounter. I tried to hear the festive wedding sounds, see the celebratory atmosphere (difficult, admittedly, for my 21st century eyes). I meditated on the words found in John 2 and tried to open up my spirit to receive the story, to let it shape me. Rather than analyzing it, I tried to let it rule my heart and mind. This is the difference in Christian meditation: we let God's words - his voice, his Scripture - fill us and form us into the likeness of Messiah Jesus. Yes, we empty our flesh, but we seek to simultaneously receive the life of the Spirit, lest we be like the man who wound up with a new host of evil spirits in the chambers of his heart.
John recounts the story like this (with my reactions written in line):
The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.
3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.
10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.
Tucked here in the cornfields of east-central Illinois is a crowded campus where young travelers roam, each whom is deeply loved by our Father, each who needs the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ.
Recently, I had the privilege of sharing a message at our Saturday worship meeting about an "everyday radical" perspective on the subject of mission (We did a five-part Everyday Radical series on sex, money, Sabbath, emotions and mission - you can find the messages online at illinilife.org/#/media ).
Are you just waiting for your ideal "GPS coordinates" for where you'll live on mission someday, I asked? Are you focusing too much on the destination and not enough on a missional orientation each day?
Pulling out a somewhat dated piece of technology, I encouraged students to take out their "compass" and let that be an image of what it means to have a missional orientation everyday as a follower of Christ in college. Begin with abiding in Christ everyday, listening to his voice, meditating on his words from Scripture, and opening your eyes to the needs and desires of those right around you here in the hem and haw of collegiate life.
Here amid the countless subcultures of the University of Illinois we pray that we, as the body of Jesus Christ, might make manifest the gospel of Christ among the thousands of "people groups" right here on our campus.
This night, we’re discussing: "What are the significant words, images, relationships and experiences which have shaped your beliefs about who God is? What are the words of Scripture which dominate your thinking about who God is?" Whether seasoned disciples, baby Christians or spiritual investigators, these questions compel each of us to evaluate our thinking, beliefs and actions about the fundamental question: "Who is God?"
One student talks about his history with his dad and how he is tempted to think of God as a demanding judge who is never satisfied. Another talks about the way media has unhelpfully shaped her thinking about God. We open Scripture and reflect on passages which students suggest. Feeling prompted to share from one of my favorite sections of Scripture - chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel - I begin reading in John 14:1 and we let the words of Jesus instruct us. Significantly, this night, two international students are visiting. Both are far from Jesus and are curious about this Jesus they encounter in the words of Scripture.
At the end of the evening, as I stand at the door and thank everyone for coming, I am freshly struck by the peculiar nature of what get to do so regularly: to create a crowded house where college students from near and far can encounter the hospitality, grace and truth of Christ and his Spirit-filled community. Some nights, as students arrive, I feel exhausted and don’t really want to do it again. But after the last person exits the front door, I consistently turn to Amber and give thanks that we get to do this.
Who is with me?
The LORD who made the cosmos ex nihilo..
The LORD who walked with Adam in the garden.
The LORD who made a covenant with Noah to never again bring chaos to the earth with a flood.
The LORD who made a covenant with Abraham to give him a son, a good land and to make him a blessing to all peoples on earth.
The LORD who spoke with Moses.
The LORD who spared his people at Passover, liberated them from slavery and carried them through the Red Sea on dry land.
The LORD who revealed his glory to Moses on Sinai.
The LORD who graciously gave his covenant people a good body of law.
The LORD who provided manna, quail and water for 40 years in the barren Sinai wilderness.
The LORD who fulfilled his covenant and led Joshua in a conquest of rebellious inhabitants of Canaan.
The LORD who spoke to Samuel.
The LORD who chose the weakest and least son of Jesse to be a king over his people.
The LORD who revealed his glory to Isaiah in the temple.
The LORD who inspired Isaiah to prophesy of a Messiah who would be named Immanuel, "God with us."
The LORD who chose Jeremiah and didn't reject him amid his conflicted calling.
The LORD who inspired Jeremiah to prophesy of a new covenant by which God would write his glory upon hearts and minds.
The LORD who remained faithful to his covenant people throughout exile in Assyria and Babylon.
The LORD who raised up Ezra and Nehemiah to call the people of God back to the city of God and the law of God.
The LORD who showed his furious, radical love for a prostituting people by calling Hosea to marry an adulterous woman.
The LORD who revealed himself to a young girl named Mary and a young man named Joseph.
The LORD who made his dwelling among us in the radiant presence of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.
The LORD who showed the unimaginable extent of his mercy and justice on the cross where the Lamb of God gave his life as a sacrifice.
The LORD who raised Messiah Jesus from the grave.
The LORD who brought his presence even closer to his new covenant people by giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The LORD who continues to pursue men and women from every people group on earth to faith and obedience to the supreme Prophet, Priest & King Jesus Christ.
The LORD who fills his new covenant people - his called out ones, the church - and causes the Body of Christ on earth to prevail against the forces of hell.
...and surely I am with you until the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20
While it is true that history is a story of God's self-revelation and we have most graciously and clearly seen the radiance of God's glory in Christ Jesus, God is consistent and was compassionate and gracious before the incarnation.
I like what Hill & Walton say in their Survey of the Old Testament on their discussion of Deuteronomy:
"We are used to drawing a sharp contast between law and grace. This would have puzzled the ancient Israelite for whom there was hardly any greater display of God's grace than that demonstrated in his giving of the law. In the ancient Near East, gods were not known for their consistency. Worshipers were left to guess what might please their god or displease him, and this could change rom day to day. That doubt nd uncertainty led to constant confusion, and one could only guess whether he or she was in favor or out of favor by evaluating one's daily fortunte. The law changed all that for the Israelites. Their God had chosen to reveal himself and to tell them plainly what he expected of them...there are striking constrasts between [the laws in the Bible and the ancient Near East]...One result of this perspective is that in the Old Testament the Israelites are not heard complaing about the burdensomness of the law. It was a great example of God's love for them...the law was viewed as a delight rather than drudgery, as freedom of revelation rather than fetters of restriction."
When Moses asked to see God's glory, Yahweh agreed, albeit he couldn't do so face to face or else Moses would have melted in the radiance of God's majesty. But he did reveal his glory - with words: "The LORD, the LORD, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands of generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Awash in the refreshing warmth of a beautiful autumn day, two girls with Starbucks in hand were wrapped up in each other's words about their latest college experiences. Separated only by a window pane and anonymity, I watched as a wheelchair slowed to a stop adjacent the girls' cozy table and the two girls' afternoon bliss plummeted from its lofty perch. A woman whose face and posture bore the marks of a somber numbness made acquaintance with these two young women and presumably requested some form of charity. Rarely does such a scene play out directly in front of me in such slow motion, but this day was different. I studied as each girl's body language shifted in her seat. Cups were clenched tightly. Fingernails were picked. Postures stiffened. Unease colored each face. The scene was thick with discomfort. Even through the glass, I could hear the girls' thoughts: "I don't know what to say or do right now. Can't this just go away?" No money changed hands. No food was shared. The woman flicked her fingers forward on the wheelchair lever and her chair propelled forward. The two girls exchanged uneasy glances with one another as they grasped for the elusive feeling of happiness they shared before their world was interrupted.
As I watched this scene unfold, everything in me wanted to wave a magic wand over these women. I wanted those two girls to feel free, to feel uninhibited, to give lavishly to this woman without fear of loss or exploitation. I wanted the woman of need to be free from her wheelchair, to be free from the pain and lack which wheeled her to that table. I wanted it all to be made right.
All creation moans
The song to sing
Of redemption, redemption
To Father, Spirit, Son
How long, how long
'Til right erases wrong?
-Inspired by Romans 8
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the adamah,
because from it you were taken;
for you are dirt,
and to dirt you shall return.
Genesis 3:19, God speaking to Adam
"By the sweat of your face." This phrase has always painted an image of a farmer sweating profusely on a sweltering day while hovering over a lonely shovel struggling to break up the dry adamah. I learned today that this phrase is actually an ancient Near Eastern idiom which speaks of perspiration-inducing fear or anxiety. What the Genesis narrative is telling us is that "humanity will now live their lives in an adversarial world with a constant, gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will not be enough, that their labor will not meet the need." (Epic of Eden, p. 111)
Unlike Adam, I don't physically sweat much in my line of work, but I have been increasingly aware of the "gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will not be enough, that [my] labor will not meet the need." And, so the Scriptures once again illuminate the reality of my human experience, and the words point me to Author who alone has written the next chapter for humanity in which the leading role is the Second Adam. I thank God that the story doesn't have to end at adamah, but instead we are beckoned into a restored relationship with our Good Creator Father and his creation through the perfect obedience of our elder brother, God's Son - Jesus the Messiah!
We cannot prove the causality of prayers to God and what we see happen anymore than we can prove the cause and effect of our "prayers" to man, Lewis says. For example, just yesterday my wife and I thought it would be nice to end our Sunday evening with a trip to the ice cream shop. We considered inviting our neighbors, as we were sensing we needed the company of friends, but thought they had a long weekend and we ended up traveling alone. We arrived, got our ice cream and sat down, and then looking over, we saw our neighbors drive up! They came anyway and we enjoyed ice cream together, even though we failed to ask.
So, why pray if we can't really prove the causality of our prayers? Does prayer really work? This question "puts in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. 'Work': as if it were magic, or a machine - something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary - not necessarily the most important one - from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is."
Lewis reflects on supposed "Christian" literature and art. He doesn't pontificate on the "literary value" that "written by Christians for Christians" but rather a "Christian approach to literature."
"The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general: success in sacred literature depends on the same qualitys of structure, suspense, variety, diction, and the like which secure success in secular literature.
...I question whether the badness of a really bad hymn can ordinarily be so irrelevant to devotion as the badness of a bad devotional picture. Because the hymn uses words, its badness will, to some degree, consist in confused or erroneous thought or unworthy sentiment."
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” Abolition of Man, p.37
Denying God and bowing to the material,
Words once sown in soils of Meaning
Are uprooted from fertile ground
Discarded into a heap void of fecundity-
Left to bake under an unprotected sun,
'Til the words shrivel
And life ceases.
1. While sitting in a time out, we hear Anna begin to whimper and then she stops and these words fall from her lips: "Daddy back soon. Patient."
2. Walking back into the kitchen to get herself some seconds from the stovetop, Amber asked me, "You want more, babe?" A few minutes later, while the three of us sat at the table, Anna decided to chime in, "Want more babe?" I interpreted first and when I let Amber know what she was saying, we erupted in laughter. This, of course, was a cue for Anna to basically put those three words on repeat for the next five minutes.
3. As we loaded into the Buick Sunday morning, from her car seat, Anna with her finger in her nose says, "Booger out." It didn't take long for mommy to confess as the culprit who accidentally taught our precious daughter these adorably gross words :)
Have you considered sitting under a tree
To listen to the wind rustling the leaves?
In a world hungry for visual stimulation,
Have you considered lying under a canopy of stars
Strung out like diamonds across an endless canvas?
In a world hungry to being entertained,
Have you considered being led by a little child
Into the joys of simple and wondrous new discoveries?
In a world hungry for stories both fantastical and feigned,
Have you considered entering into the Grand Narrative,
Penned with vibrant characters and crescendos of tragedy and victory?
In a world hungry to dine on delicacies,
Have you considered savoring the words of Christ:
"I have food to eat that you know nothing about."
Presently, I am in a survey course of C.S. Lewis, and I remarked to a friend, "Who will be the "Lewis" of our generation when we look back fifty years from now?" I am beginning to wonder if Eric Metaxas might be among that company.
"You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own'. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours....The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels."
"And all the time the joke is that the word 'Mine' in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say 'mine' of each thing that exists, and especially of each man...At present time the Enemy says 'mine' of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say 'mine' of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest."
Where does this question stem from?
In Luke 12, we find a provocative series of remarks from Jesus. First, addressing the crowd, he tells a story of a rich man who built bigger barns for himself, collecting more possessions that he might enjoy his life. Jesus calls the man a fool and the story ends with the rich man's life being suddenly taken from him in judgment of his greed.
Jesus follows up this story with a personal address to his disciples, instructing them not to be anxious about material things, such as clothes and food, but rather to trust in the daily provision of their Father. He then instructs them, " “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
A second place we find this radical call to "sell your possessions and give to the poor" is found in Mark 10, where a young, rich man approaches Jesus and inquires as to what he must do to receive eternal life. He vouches for his own moral integrity, saying he has kept all of the commandments of Scripture (really??). Jesus, looks deeper inside the man, he "felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
There are two common extremes of response to Jesus' instructions found here for his disciples and this young, rich man. The first is to universalize the teaching and say that to be a true disciple of Christ, one must be completely obedient to sell everything. The second extreme is to entirely minimize and depersonalize these words of Scripture and say that it was a specific instruction for specific people at a specific time and we are not bound to Jesus words. The truth is, both of these extremes are incorrect applications of God's Word.
Now, as David Platt says in Radical, if you breathe a sigh of relief at this acknowledgement, thinking "Phew, good, I can keep my stuff," then perhaps Jesus' words here are for you personally. Ultimately, we each have a discipleship call from Christ. He knows the idols of our hearts, our motivations, our fleshly weaknesses. As his followers, it is not just righteousness by faith that is our gift from him, but we also "share in his sufferings" as Paul so clearly states.
We must each look at Christ and his Word and ask: Am I willing to go as far as he asks me to? What is he saying to me?
Thankfully, our Father looks compassionately upon his children and is patient with us. But he is also so jealous for our undivided allegiance, that he is willing to ask us - require of us? - difficult endeavors. Greed and worldliness will kill us and he cares too much about us to let us get numbed and killed by them. For some, that will mean selling everything and giving to the poor. For some it will mean moving to the inner city. For some it will mean befriending very difficult people. For some it will mean risking getting fired at work or losing the affection of your co-workers because you had to stand on the side of integrity rather than greed.
But, remember, we must each look at the cross and empty tomb, the only place we find the hope, grace and joy to willingly lay down our lives for the glory of God and the service of our neighbors.
Is Jesus asking you to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Maybe. Just maybe. He cares more about our devotion than he does about us having lots of stuff and comfort. He says to each of us the same thing he said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid."
This past Saturday, I was called out of the bullpen to teach at our church's large group meeting on the University of Illinois campus - Saturday Night Grace. My assignment: take week two in a three part series taken from Prophet Isaiah's words in 49:6, where he shares a word from the LORD:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Israel's vision of God was and is doing in the world was too small and the people of God today are prone to similar small-mindedness. Specifically, we chose to highlight three ways in which God is sending Illini Life students: to campus (it is where we are, after all), to the urban poor and to all nations on earth.
For me, I spoke on the ever-light subject of the poor. Specifically, we talked about
Why are we concerned about the "urban" poor?
Who are the poor?
Who cares about them?
What are our emotions and motivations?
What can we do in response and how do we choose?
You can find the audio of my message at illinilife.org/#/media
So, what's the Luther connection?
As we discussed on Saturday, faith in Christ alone is the necessary foundation and only enduring motivation for caring for those under the weight of poverty and injustice.
Luther says: "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works. Bad works do not make a bad man, but a bad man does bad works. Thus it is always necessary that the substance or person should be good before any good works can be done, and that good works should follow and proceed from a good person."
Who is this "good man"? Only the person who has realized there is nothing from within of his own substance or merit that would make him whole, holy and at peace before our perfect, beautiful, supreme, Creator God, who has then accepted the free gift of adoption, forgiveness and wholeness that comes through faith alone in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus.
Then, and only then, is a man or woman established as a new tree which can bear good fruit. The good tree must come before good and enduring fruit can be born!
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.