Autumnal Splendor on this Misty October Morn

Thankful I snagged my camera this morning as I biked into campus. Couldn't resist snapping a few shots of this idyllic end-of-October morning.

7 Words that changed a Party and History

As students of Jesus, unfortunately we can easily drift from regularly and consistently looking closely at the actual stories of the days when Jesus feet strode the streets of Palestine, found in the four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). At least I can. By God's grace, the Spirit has drawn me back to John's biographical telling of Jesus' life (the narrative which I most personally connect with.).

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, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 

(The humanity of Jesus confronts our sensibilities about the transcendent YHWH God mixing himself in with this party. It is so important that John tells us this story.)

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

(Mary's faith is matter of fact. This party is going to go downhill and the bridegroom/host is going to look bad if the wine runs out!)

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

(Jesus thinks about kairos time, not chronos time. He is testing her, too, probably)

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

(Mary's faith and stubbornness persist. What I hear from her: "Look at Jesus and listen to him." Those seven words will change the face of this wedding, the bridegroom, the bride, the party, history and your and my life.)

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

(In case you missed it, that's a LOT of wine.)

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!”

(Jesus is a lavish host. We can put faith in the one who brings better wine. The advent of Christ was the better wine. How much more will be the second advent and consummation to come!)

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

(The glory of God has come to us!)

12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

7 Words to change us...''Look at Jesus and listen to him.''

Everyday on Our Campus

The advent of each Fall semester never ceases to shoot an arrow of wonder into my perspective as I watch the campus fill to the brim with 44,000 students from around the world. Hundreds of student organizations litter the campus, representing a mosaic of sub-cultures which make erase any notions of homogeneous UIUC persona. Point in case: this year, 9,400 international students from 115 different nations call UIUC home, pushing the campus to the top of the list of international student enrollments.

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 ).

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.


Tuesdays at Our House

Sitting on couches, chairs, stools and on the floor, we gather around one another. Having just finished up another homemade meal, our home fellowship continues a semester-long conversation on the subject of "getting to know the God whom Jesus reveals."

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?

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

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

Are grace and law oxymorons?

 It is common for new testament believers in Jesus Christ to hold a muddled view of the "old testament God." Was God full of grace before the incarnation? Was God less loving and more harsh before the advent of the Messiah? Was God all "law" in the OT and only warm fuzzy grace in the NT?

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."

Students of Jesus

I want to learn to live well. In response to that thought, I know of no other response than to echo the words of Peter who said to Messiah Jesus: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

You alone, Jesus. We turn to you for life. We sit at your feet to learn to live this earthly sojourn. 

With this in mind, I was freshly bitten with wonder at the words of my Lord, spoken during his trial, as recorded by the apostle John:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?
 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

Jesus responds with questions. He provokes thought. He doesn't shy away. He gets to the heart of the matter. Pilate finds himself at the question which echoes familiar in 2013: What is truth?

Rightifying the Wrong in this World

It was a bustling Friday afternoon at the local Starbucks. I sat in my static perch upon a street side bar stool from which I watched the dynamism of the streetscape move to and fro before me. Given that I was already in a state of contemplation in order to gather my thoughts for an upcoming teaching at Illini Life's large group campus meeting, I was well-positioned to carefully observe the scene which was about to play out before my eyes.

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.

Groans, groans
All creation moans
Waiting, waiting
The song to sing
Of redemption, redemption
To Father, Spirit, Son
How long, how long
'Til right erases wrong?
-Inspired by Romans 8