Jesus

The Choicest of Wines

John 2: 7-10

“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine
after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Don’t you just love how you can read a Bible story over and over, and still get something new out of it every time? I think we’ve all read John’s account of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. But recently, I read it again, and it meant something new to me. You see, the master of the banquet was right. The guests would have been perfectly content with a cheap wine. Jesus could have brought out the Franzia or the Boon’s Farm and it would have been fine.

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He doesn’t give cheap gifts—ever. He doesn’t perform half-hearted miracles—ever. He gives only the best, because that’s what God does. Every. Single. Time. He outdoes himself, and never ceases to amaze his beloved children.

And even when things aren’t going the way we planned, even when we’ve run out of wine at the wedding, we can be confident that Jesus will step in and meet our needs in a way that only he can—in a way that will amaze us and everyone around us. Our job is to ask, and to ask believing that he will respond, and trusting that he will always respond with the very choicest of wines. Selah.

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Chosen

Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

“Even before he made the world,
God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

I hope you all will forgive me for digressing from my “Who I am” series for this week. But God spoke to me this week in an illustration that I want to share with you. You see, as I was walking home from dropping the kids off at school on Wednesday, I came across a random Chihuahua. He was in a yard that I didn’t recall him belonging to, and he started barking at me, and then he followed me briefly (and forgive me, the picture is a bit blurry–he wouldn’t stand still). He finally decided to stay where he was, but as often happens when I encounter a stray dog, I began to daydream. What if he followed me home? What if he refused to leave? What if he chose us to adopt him?

Now, you have to understand—and I mean no disrespect—but we are NOT Chihuahua people. We like BIG dogs: Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, those sorts of dogs. But there’s something about the idea of a pet choosing you, isn’t there? About them adopting you, if you will. At least there is for me. So, I thought to myself that, if this dog indeed were to choose us, we might find ourselves inviting him into our lives and our home and becoming his forever family. We might.

There’s just something about being chosen. It’s like destiny, do you know what I mean? That’s one thing (among many) that I love SO much about God. He has chosen ME. He has chosen YOU. Psalm 11:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” There is such comfort in knowing this. The old hymn states, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” But I dare say, “Blessed assurance, I am HIS!” Know this assurance today, and rest in the peace that comes from being His chosen.

Compassion for Humanity

Psalm 103: 13-14

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

I may have mentioned before how I feel like our testimonies should be living, changing, and growing. God should be moving in us each day—what He’s doing in and through us should never be stagnant, it should never be only in the past. I’m thankful that God challenges and convicts me each week, and that I have the privilege of sharing that journey with all 12 of you. Does my testimony include falls and failures? Absolutely. But just as surely, His continued work in my heart is evidence to me that I am not living surrendered to my sins. It gives me faith that God is not through with me yet. And I praise Him for it.

It is against this backdrop that I confess that this week, I lost hope in humanity. I felt disappointed, and to some extent betrayed, by the words and thoughts expressed by some within my circle of friends and family. I felt like we couldn’t find a common ground—and of course, I was in the right. My first instinct was to—well—judge. I quickly convinced myself that these people lacked compassion. To some degree, they were heartless. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)? So there I was, peering into hearts that looked to me a lot like tar pits. But then I felt the disquiet that often accompanies the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I heard a still, small, slow voice speaking to my heart, No.

No. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t my place to judge. I can’t see people’s hearts. But I could see their actions, and I could tell that these people (and frankly most others) were not to be counted upon. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that GOD will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19)? God, not people. So the best course of action was clearly just to rely solely on God for every need and to ask for nothing from others, expect nothing from others. But again, there was that still small voice, No.

How about bearing with one another (Colossians 3:13), and accepting those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1)? No. I don’t know about you, but in my flesh, I end up applying these verses from a place of pious self-righteousness, which was never the author’s intent. It wasn’t Paul’s intent, and it wasn’t God’s.

My heart finally started coming around to a right place once I started thinking about what Jesus would do, what Jesus in fact did. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so right. Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and another in the street, and He forgave both. He chose Peter, knowing full well that this guy’s fear of man and his temper would lead him to sin. Then later, He asked if Peter loved Him with a sacrificial love. Peter’s answer was essentially, “No. I mean, come on Jesus. You know I love you like a brother and you’re one of my closest friends. Isn’t that enough?” The answer was basically, “No. But that’s okay, you’ll get there.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

But this seems to always be Christ’s sentiment. So even though I may occasionally struggle with my fellow humans, even though I may not be able to reconcile their perspectives with my own, I know what Jesus would do. Or rather, I know what He wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t give up on them. So if I want to be like Him, then I can’t give up either.

All Authority

Lenten Blossoms

John 19:10b-11a

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power
either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

I have trust issues. If you know me well at all, you know this is an understatement. Here’s another: I have problems with authority. These two problems—let’s be honest, sins—have caused me no end of trouble ALL. MY. LIFE.

Imagine the emotional turmoil that comes when I am asked to TRUST AUTHORITY. At this moment, that looks like trusting some very godly (not perfect, not faultless, not infallible, but godly) church leadership. It has me in a heart place that I think some of you will relate to, even if your circumstances are a bit different from mine.

Ultimately, I’ve been faced with the question of God’s sovereignty. I’m asked to believe what God says through Jesus in John 19:11, when He assures Pilate, “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above.” That authority is also espoused in Romans 13:1, where Paul instructs believers to “be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

The Bible doesn’t say that those authorities and leaders will do everything correctly, or justly. He doesn’t even guarantee that their hearts will be in the right place, or that their intentions will be pure. In fact, Scripture seems to suggest that our earthly leaders WILL fall short; they WILL fail. Some will even inflict harm intentionally. I’m reminded of (among others) Jeremiah’s account of Nebuchadnezzar, wherein this evil foreign king was used of God to deliver judgment against Judah for idolatry, unfaithfulness, and disobedience. In fact, in Jeremiah 25:9, God even refers to this ruler as “my servant.”

My point is this: If God can and does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28)…If He has used (and continues to use) evil kings and rulers to accomplish His good, perfect, and pleasing will…If He knows everything and sees everything—from the beginning to the end of time…

Well then surely He can and will take our failures and the failures of those earthly authorities, and redeem them for the Kingdom good. So the bottom line is that we are called to submit to authority, but all the while TRUSTING a perfect, holy, righteous, good, just, and sovereign God. May we trust in HIS authority today and every day.

Peter

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John 21:15-17

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” 

John 21 tells the story of the miraculous catch of fish. Let me set the scene. Jesus has died and been resurrected. He has appeared to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas. Then Peter and the others decide to do a little night fishing, at which time they catch nothing. In the morning, they see a stranger on the shore who instructs them to cast their nets out one more time. They do as they’re told and come up with a net full. At this point, they realize that this stranger is the Lord. Peter immediately jumps into the water and swims the 100 yards to Jesus. The others follow in the boat and the friends enjoy a nice breakfast together.

After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him three times to reaffirm his love. When many read this passage, they presume that Jesus is making Peter profess his love three times to make amends for the three times he had earlier denied him. But what many don’t realize is that, in this passage, Peter is not answering in the affirmative. Not really. You see, Jesus uses the word agape throughout the exchange. But in each of Peter’s replies, he uses the word phileo. Both mean love, but they are not synonymous. The latter describes a brotherly love shared among friends, whereas the former refers to an unconditional, sacrificial kind of love. So, in essence, Peter’s response to Jesus is more like a, “No. I really want to love you like that, but I don’t. I can’t.”

Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he will in fact be crucified for his faith. I used to think that Peter’s love for the Lord must have grown during the ensuing years, and that he was somehow transformed into one with a sacrificial love for his Savior. And maybe that is the case—it does happen. But I’ve recently become convinced that Peter already had an agape kind of love for Jesus. After all, when he recognized Jesus on the beach, he couldn’t even wait another minute or two to see Him face to face. He threw off all dignity and hurled himself headlong into the sea and toward his Lord. I think he loved Jesus with every fiber of his being.

He was just scared to say it out loud. He had espoused this love before when he had pledged his loyalty to Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. And when he failed, he became riddled with self-doubt. For many people, to hear straight from Jesus that their destiny was to be martyred for their faith would be the most frightening revelation imaginable. But I believe that, for Peter, this prophecy brought an uncanny sense of comfort and relief. Jesus restored Peter’s confidence by basically saying, “Peter, I know that you’re doubting yourself, and the conviction of your faith. But trust me. As surely as I foretold that you would thrice deny me, I am telling you now that your love and commitment to me are true. You can boldly proclaim your love for me—as agape—because you WILL remain faithful. You have my word.”

Oh the weight that must have been lifted off of his shoulders in that moment—freed from the burden of his past and commissioned for his future service. What a sweet, sweet time that must have been for him. And may you and I also embrace that same forgiveness, allowing God to use us in His service, confident that He has made and is still making us new in Christ Jesus.  

The Danger of “Every”

Always. Never. Every. These are dangerous words. First of all, they’re almost never correct. Our world and this life are full of exceptions, for better or worse. Just this week, I read an article about abortion, wherein the author argued that “every” abortion is a failure of community. I have to disagree. Sometimes, the decision may be one of compassion and even selflessness. I’ve always been one to say that I would never have an abortion, but then I heard a story that gave me pause.

You see, there’s this condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (A.K.A. brittle bone disease). This disease can cause babies to suffer multiple and repeated broken bones in utero and after birth. In many of these severe cases, the babies don’t live through the gestation period. Of those that do, many die shortly after being born. I read an article about one little girl who had 30 broken bones at birth. I’ve personally never broken a bone, but I have no doubt that it is quite painful and traumatic—to break even ONE, I mean. I cannot fathom 30 broken bones at once or the pain that this poor girl must have been experiencing constantly. In her case, the parents decided not to terminate the pregnancy, and she has survived thus far. They report that she has a huge personality and a strong will to live. Still, she uses a wheelchair because her feet would break under the weight of her legs. She once broke a bone by sitting down on a waterbed. The slightest touch can cause fractures, so even holding or hugging her presents that danger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, by any means, saying that those parents made the wrong decision. But what I am saying is that I would have understood their motives, had they made the other choice. I believe that life begins at conception, but my understanding is also that babies can feel pain in the womb, somewhere around 20 weeks’ gestation. That leaves 20 weeks of severe pain in this case. If you or I were to suffer that kind of pain for 20 weeks, we would call it torture. The very thought of it brings to mind advanced interrogation techniques, which represent the antithesis of compassion.

So, even though I would like to say that I would never choose abortion, and though I will say that I would always seek out EVERY other possible option before pursuing that one, I can also say that I don’t envy the position of being forced to make that choice. I can also say that I would choose to grieve with someone who had made that choice, rather than judging them. After all, Romans 12:15 instructs us to “weep with hose who weep.” That is community. That is the Body of Christ. That is the Gospel.

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How Then Shall We Pray…When God Says, “No”?

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Job 1:20-21(NASB)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head,
and he fell to the ground and worshipped….
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

One year ago today, Amanda went home to heaven. I never met her, but from pictures and stories, it’s clear that this spunky little redhead was full of life and faith, and a maturity beyond her almost eleven years. Certainly, prayers for healing abounded during the 18 months prior to her passing. And while we know that she is happy, healthy, and cancer-free now, there remains a sense in which the answer to those prayers was, “No.” We know, of course, that God’s sovereignty is over all, and that His will and purpose are at times accomplished through loss. But that doesn’t negate the pain we feel. So, in times like these, we have to ask, How then shall we pray…when God says no? Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for direction in this pursuit.

We’re told in Job 1: 20-21 that “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped….The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Another translation quotes Job as saying, “may the name of the Lord be praised.” Now, this was just after Job had lost everything—his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons, and daughters. I find it interesting that Job’s first response in the face of loss was to worship and to praise God. And he wasn’t the only one.

2 Samuel 12:13-23 recounts the death of David’s son after his affair with Bathsheba. David was warned in advance that this would happen, but for seven days, David fasted and prayed that his son would not die. But upon hearing of the child’s death, he “got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” Here, not only do we see David worshipping in the face of loss and tragedy, but we see an acceptance of God’s sovereignty and His decision. It feels almost as if his prayer changed. For a week, he prayed nonstop that God would allow his son to live. But then, when he didn’t, David got up, got dressed, worshipped, and ate. I can imagine him praying that God would use this loss for His glory, and that he would bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Finally, Luke 22:42 tells us that Jesus himself received disaffirming answers to his prayers. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” And yet, he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God the Father, saying, “not my will, but yours be done.” As we know, God did not take the cup from him. Instead, he was tortured and killed. But before he breathed his last, his prayers changed as well. In the face of his own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We, too, are faced with losses and disappointments. And we would do well to follow these godly examples. When God says, “No,” may we have the courage and humility to praise and worship and bless His name anyway. And may we be ready and willing to change our prayers in response to God’s movements.

My Lord’s Ten

“I lost her and all my friends
Broke all but one of my Lord’s ten
But Jesus died for all my sins
That’s how I know I’m gettin’ in”

 –Love & Theft

Have you heard Love & Theft’s new song, “Whiskey on My Breath”? If not, you ought to check it out. It’s a soulful and poignant tale of a guy who wakes up realizing his need for grace—after all, he’s broken “all but one of my Lord’s ten.” Hmm. And here I was, thinking I’d coined that confession. And frankly, given the band’s inception date and the year of this song’s release, it’s entirely possible that I did. I just never had the foresight to copyright it. But really, if we want to get technical, the guys from the band and I are all equally guilty of plagiarism…call it the Lord’s eleventh, if you will.

Because, as I recall, there once was this jerk who wound up blinded on the road to Damascus—circa 33 A.D. or so—when Christ himself confronted the accused of his many sins. And while the Apostle Paul’s resume may have included a different set of nine sins than yours or mine, he’d been there and done that before any of us. And why? Why did he—or you, or I, or any of us—have to screw up so royally? Well, if Paul ever asked that question, he must have found his answer, because he shares it with us in 1 Timothy 1:14-16:

“and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus….Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life…”

So basically, the point was for us to ‘get’ grace. We were meant to understand it and to receive it, in large part so that we could also give it to others. When I come to grips and to terms with my own depravity, the depth of my own sins (plural), I find myself a lot better equipped to extend grace to those around me…that is, until I forget.

Then I start strapping on my phylacteries and allowing myself to feel superior to (or at least less inferior than) others. I reason that my sins hurt fewer innocent bystanders, or that they’re justified by my circumstances. I start filling my satchel with rocks I can use to stone the harlot. But then Jesus kneels down and writes something in the sand. I don’t know what He wrote to the Pharisees that day in John 8, but to me, He recites the Lord’s Prayer—“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

God,
Grant us the strength and mercy to show grace and compassion toward our fellow transgressors. Help us to forgive those who trespass against us, just as you have forgiven us. Amen.

Wicked Cool Scars

Romans 5:8

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

I always tell people that our son Tijge is curious, adventurous, and fearless—and therefore dangerous. So we were sure that he would be the first one to visit the urgent care office for an injury. But alas, it was his little firecracker of a sister who first graced them with her presence. And thus, the hashtag #WickedCoolScars was born. Because, let’s face it—scars are cool. The only thing that would make her scar cooler is if she had an awesome story to go with it. That is, some story other than the “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” plot line that actually transpired on the evening in question. After all, who wants a permanent reminder of that time when you didn’t listen to your mom, or your dad, or your brother, or the fictional doctor who kept telling Momma, “NO MORE monkeys jumping on the bed!”?

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Tomorrow, we’ll remember the infliction of several scars that Christ endured on our behalf. Unlike one Laredo Jade, His scars came through no fault of his own. Instead, he bore my sin, shame, and punishment—and yours. But you know what I believe? If someone were to ask Jesus about those scars on His wrists and His side, He would reflect not on the pain or ridicule He experienced, not on the sense of abandonment that He felt, but instead on the reward He obtained for His sacrifice.

I believe that He thinks about you and me, and everyone else whose eternity was altered through His suffering, and I think He breathes a sigh of peace and relief. Every cut, bruise, and hateful remark—all of it—was worth it. You were worth it. I was worth it. And I have no doubt that He would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Praise the Lord, though, He will never have to, for it is finished. And that gives us cause for joy, gratitude, relief, comfort, peace, and purpose.

Now, if you ask me, those are some wicked cool scars.