Fresh Hope From the Miracles of Jesus: Water into Wine

It was a wedding celebration five short miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, nestled in a small village named Cana. Mary, the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus was invited as were the small but growing group of His disciples. Family members, friends, and several if not many of the village residents gathered to celebrate. The sun was hot and the warm winds blowing from the sea coast made for the perfect outdoor party. A wedding feast. Everything was ideal for the big event. And then – life happened. They ran out of wine. Not tragedy; not death; not war or famine or violence. Life happened. And on this regular Wednesday afternoon, in a small town, at a no-name wedding, for no particularly epic reason, Jesus performed His first miracle. And hope burst onto the scene like the first rays of a sunrise.

Look at John 2:1-11 with me, and let’s find fresh hope in the miracles of Jesus

John tells us where the wedding was held, and that Jesus’ mother was there. Some early, non-canonical documents suggest that Mary was there as an auntie – that it was her sister’s son getting married. If that is the case, it certainly helps us understand why she was hands-on solving problems and giving orders to servants. It also explains why Jesus was invited – who hasn’t got roped into a family wedding?

Some sources say that by tradition, if not requirement, Jewish weddings were held on a Wednesday. The actual ceremony was held in the evening, after a great feast. Following the feast, the couple were married. Then they would be escorted to their new home – under a glowing canopy of flaming torches and lanterns. They would take the longest route possible to their home, so that all in the village may bless them and wish them well. And the next week or more they would have “open house” – dressed in their finest clothes and richest adornments, being treated like royalty by on in their village. This was a high-point in their lives and the lives of their families. And though a celebration, it was serious… the family’s honor was at stake in the festival going well.

But there was problem. They ran out of wine. We aren’t told why. But we do know that wine was very important. “Without wine,” the Rabbis said, “there is no joy.” This would have cut short the feat and cast a shadow of gloom on the entire celebration. In short, running out of wine would have shamed the family and ruined the occasion for everyone. Life happened.

Has it ever felt like you, too, have “run out of wine?”

Mary comes to Jesus and matter-of-factly informs him, “they have no wine.” I just have to wonder what Mary knew, what she assumed – why did she come to Jesus about this?  People sick, people dying, corrupt tax collectors, oppressive government… and not to mention she’d been informed of the humanity-saving destiny of Jesus by angels when he was born… and she brings him this? Why?

I don’t know. To me it doesn’t make sense why she would bring this kind of problem to Jesus – but I’m glad she did. I bet in hindsight the guests were glad. I am glad for the testimony Mary has provided. Have you ever hesitated to involve Christ? Have you ever wondered if he’d care about what matters to you? May we be as bold and ready to anticipate Christ’s involvement in our lives.

Jesus’ answer may prove troubling to some as we read in the English translation.  It sounds a little rude in the ESV. It sorta sounds like Jesus is saying, “Woman, why you buggin? Ain’t nobody got time for dat.”

Well first, the phrase, “woman,” when compared with other times Jesus uses it and how it used in other Greek literature, is far more affectionate than it sounds. A better reading would sound something more like, “My lady…” Further, the “what does this have to do with me” is a transliteration of a phrase that originally could have expressed two different sentiments: one harsh, one warm, depending on the tone that was used. For example if I said, “I’ll handle it,” that could sound harsh or it could come across comforting – depending on the tone. So, a better way of understanding what Jesus said to His mother was, “I will handle this in my own way; have no more concern over it. My hour – the big reason and purpose for mission – has not yet arrived.” Jesus essentially tells her, “I’ve got this.” Some of us may need to hear those words – “I’ve got this…”

Mary then turns – as if merely mentioning the need to Jesus is sufficient- and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

And nearby stood six stone water pots – used for ceremonial washing. They used the water from these pots to wash off dusty or muddy feet. They used this water to ceremonially wash their hands before a meal, and also to ceremonially wash their hands between courses. If, in fact, they did not wash between courses in the prescribed manner, they were considered unclean. I imagine this got wearisome. Doesn’t religion wear you out? And this was all religion – it was more about ceremony and ritual and fear of being unclean than any real change.

Jesus tells the servants to fill these pots with water, and they did – to the brim. Then Jesus told them to draw the water out and take it to what would have been the “head waiter” – the friend or family member responsible for coordinating the guests and food. His response was this: “you’ve saved the best for last.”  Most people dish out the generic brand after no one notices anymore. But Jesus made available 120-180 gallons of fine wine – more than enough, more than could likely have been consumed by the wedding party. He made more than enough of the best.

So remarkable: many things that man does fades. But Christ’s work never fades or grows dull. He never simply settles for left-overs. We do not have to live off of the stories of the past or the memories of yester-year. Jesus saves the best for last.

In this story of an everyday event in a small town in the middle of nowhere, where “life” happened to everyday people, Jesus works His first miracle. And in this act, unknown at the time by almost all of at the party, his disciples caught a dazzling glimpse of who Jesus was.  And they placed their faith in Him.

What Hope do we find here?

What is revealed to us about God?

Jesus reveals the goodness and kindness of God to help us in our time of need. Christ is vulnerable to our concerns. He is not distant. He is as close as the mention of His Name. Mary didn’t even need to yell. Life happens.  God cares.

Jesus reveals the power and will of God to bring real transformation. The ceremonial washing was powerless. It was ritualistic, and had temporary benefit at best. But in the cup that now holds water made wine by Messiah’s hand, we see that the change that Jesus brings is not ceremonial, but actual. Jesus didn’t turn the stone water pots into wine bottles. He changed the ceremonial washing water into rich and pure wine. Jesus doesn’t give us the Cinderella treatment. He doesn’t change our exterior to make us acceptable to others. He changes us on the inside. And then then he says, “draw out what I’ve given you and give it away” – so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good. So that others may partake of the hope we have.

Jesus reveals how overwhelming and complete His grace is. By turning so very many gallons of water into the best wine. He demonstrates that there is a super abundance of His grace. There is more than enough. Regardless of your need. Regardless of your mess. Regardless of your past or present – His grace is here and it’s more than enough to meet you, to help you, to heal you to refresh you, and give you new life.

Jesus reveals a gospel of joy. The rabbis said that without wine there is no joy, so then what does it mean if there is a super abundant supply of the best wine? It means there is glad tidings of great joy: The Kingdom of heaven is here. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is Lord. Repent and believe the good news.
How is Our Faith Informed?

We can have confidence to involve Christ in all of stuff of life –  when “life happens.” Mary came to Jesus with a concern that to some, to many even, may make no sense as to how it might concern Jesus. Again, I am glad she did!

What if she hadn’t? Consider what we would have missed? Consider what happens when we don’t…“Oh what peace we often forfeit; oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to the Lord in prayer.”

We can have confidence that obedience leads to our joy. Doing “whatever he” told them – the servants obeyed Jesus. And the result of obedience was everyone’s increased joy. Apparently, we really should obey God for our own good. Nothing good happened here until someone obeyed. Agreeing isn’t sufficient. Obeying is what brings change. I am inspired by the fact the servant filled the pots “to the brim.” Whole hearted obedience, total devotion, nothing held back. No half-way obedience. Come one friends, let’s be bold in our obedience and see just how much of Christ’s transforming power can be produced and released in our lives.

We can have confidence that God’s best is God’s will. Of the wine that Jesus made abundant, it was said it was the best. God does as God is – Profoundly good.
What is the immediate Hope from this Passage?

For those for whom “life” has happened… there is hope. God cares. He can make a way. He’s got this. Involve Him today. Draw near with confidence to the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16). Believe that, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Cast all your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

For those who are out of joy, the next step of obedience can be your gateway to new joy. There really is no better way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey. Bold, whole hearted obedience is the only way to abundant joy.

For those trying to be clean – going through the motions – Jesus Christ will make you new. Put your trust in Him.

Thanks for reading,

‘Dav

How Does the Holy Spirit Feel About Human Sexuality?

In the fifteenth chapter of Acts, leaders in the church gathered to address the conflict that arose between Jewish Christians and Gentile believers.  Some teachers had gone out among the new gentile converts / churches and told them, essentially, that if they really wanted to be “saved” – if they wanted to be righteous, they’d need to follow all of the Torah. This caused no small frustration.

There was called a conference in Jerusalem for the elders and apostles to resolve this issue. They deliberated the matter until affirming that since the gentiles had received the Holy Spirit in the same way the Jews had, and that to place a burden on the gentiles that the Jews were unable to bear for generations, that they would require gentiles to observe only a handful of the elements of the Torah. Specifically, gentile believers should abstain from idolatry (from things offered to idols), from strangled meat and blood, and that they should abstain from sexual immorality.

What is important, absolutely, to grasp is that these were the things that were to be carried over that were unique to the Torah. Murder and theft were not on the “list,” but that doesn’t mean that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit that now those things were fine, and that any reference to them in the Torah were antiquated, obsolete. Rather, what is presented is an affirmation of things unique to the Torah that the Holy Spirit pressed as necessary for righteous living.

Prohibitions against murder were not unique to the Torah, nor laws against theft. By the time of the Jerusalem council, these types of regulations were not uncommon in any organized society. But what was NOT unlawful was various forms of sexual congress. Nor was idolatry illegal (just the opposite, in fact it was prescribed in many places). So, what the leaders in Jerusalem affirmed, under the affirmation of the Holy Spirit, were the unique elements of OT law that were germane to righteous living.

Among the requirements set forth by the leaders in Jerusalem was that believers should abstain from sexual immorality. Remember, these are regulations being imported from the Torah. Therefore, one must keep in mind that these Jewish leaders, prohibiting sexual immorality in all Christ-followers, had in mind the context of sexual immorality as delineated by Moses. For the Jew, sexual immorality meant any sexual relationship with any person in any way outside the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. Anything else was fornication. This is what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” to prohibit.

It is hip to redefine sexual immorality in the context of contemporary culture. Today sexuality is “moral” if it is consenting. Violent sexuality is still considered wrong.  So, what is sexually moral is no longer a matter of the actual behavior, but the intent. If the intent is mutual stimulation, or even one-sided stimulation met with acquiescence, then it’s all fine. More than fine, in fact, it is celebrated. It is insisted upon. Practitioners of experimental sexual congress build for themselves small mole-hills and plant in them a flag of moral high-ground. And they demand agreement that their behavior is normal, normative, and in some cases, they require it to be recognized as holy – ordained by God Himself.

But no matter how loud their cry, no matter how many times they repeat their claim, it is still absurd. It is fornication.

Many claim that their aberrant sexual expression must be right – because it feels so right. It feels good; it’s fulfilling; it’s pleasant and even helps them feel close to their sexual partner. None of this is evidence for righteousness. There is nothing meritorious about an orgasm.

The ability to climax is not sacred. It’s nothing to be proud of, march in a parade over, or celebrate. In fact, the chemicals in the brain generate feelings of desire and commitment to someone after – because of – sexual release with that person. Literally the brain can be trained via sexual expression to bond to almost anything or anyone. So powerful is this bond, that victims of abuse who unwillingly experience sexual arousal might retain feelings of desire toward the experience.  It is precisely because of the fragile nature of human sexuality that it is so important to regard it as sacred, to protect it and use it as designed.

Human sexuality, as designed by God, to be shared in love, in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, is sacred. Anything else is fornication. And it is pleasing (seems good to) to the Holy Spirit for believers to abstain from it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Loses Its Taste

There are seasons, it seems, when life loses its taste. By that I mean that the things that once tasted savory or sweet no longer taste like anything, like sand.

I don’t believe, I don’t want or choose to believe, that these seasons are healthy, normal, nor helpful. I don’t believe they are indicative of reality – meaning a loss of taste does not mean a loss of an ability to taste. When life loses its taste, it is more likely a symptom of a deeper problem.

It could very well be that the issue is that one has had an appetite for the worthless. Like cheap chewing gum, worthless things lose their taste quickly and just become a chore to chew. The often-attempted solution is to get more gum, only to repeat the above cycle of disappointment.

Or, perhaps the things that should be joyful and rewarding don’t feel that way. I say, “don’t feel that way” because it is a feeling, not a reality. Relationships, family, hard work, achievement and improvement – those are all time-tested, God-ordained tasty morsels. They are gifts that meet the nutritional needs of our soul. So, what makes them taste bland?

If life loses its taste, it is because a lie has numbed our tongue. We tasted a lie. Some deceitful, discouraging accusation about God, ourselves, or the circumstances around us has been offered to us like the proverbial apple-in-the-garden and “chomp!” we’ve lost our taste. Things feel sad. The music of hope isn’t heard. The anticipation of good (joy) is flat. “What’s the use?” “I don’t care.” Passion disappears. Then comes cynicism, accompanied by criticism. If I can’t taste it, I don’t believe others can either; “who are they kidding?” Of course, this is quietly accompanied by deep jealousy over the apparent taste others are enjoying, but to acknowledge that someone else is experiencing a genuinely joyful moment is to acknowledge it is possible, and that the problem may not be “out there” as much as it is “in here.” Life hasn’t lost its taste, I have.

So, how do we recover? If a lie has displaced our taste, then the lie must be replaced. It isn’t easy to go lie-hunting; that too often leads to tail-chasing, introspective, too-much-like-Freud behavior. Instead of trying to look for the lie (which has already hidden itself into the landscape of your life), turn to truth. Just turn your eyes, your heart, your will, toward what is true. This seems to be what the Psalmist so often did, “I will…”

Consider Psalm 9:

  • I will give thanks to you Lord, with all my heart
    • Deliberate gratitude, fervently and deeply expressed gratitude is one of the most powerful and proven means of increasing our joy. It re-calibrates our thinking and speaking away from “woe is me” and forces a focus on the good we have received, and the good-will behind it.
  • I will tell of your wonderful deeds,
    • Rehearsing testimony and repeating good news strengthens our faith and repaints the canvass of our imagination with the truth of what the Lord has done.
  • I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your Name, O most high.
    • It is possible, it is prescribed, and it is powerful – to rejoice on purpose. Yes, literally just get-your-joy-on. It is like deciding to get out of bed. You just get up. And it isn’t a joy that is superficial or based on a mood or whim; it is a joy that is rooted in the person, nature – the Name of the Lord. Rejoicing in Him and because of Him is like slipping a long straw into the refreshing waters of eternal joy. We taste and see that the Lord is good. We rejoice in Him: His word, His ways, His will, His works, and then hope rises. Our perspective changes. Our countenance and conversation changes. Our taste-buds return.

When truth regains its rightful place, the power of the lie atrophies and dies. In fact, only when we first and most satisfy ourselves with gratitude, trust, and praise toward the Lord will we be able to enjoy the taste of all the things He graciously provides for our pleasure.

May you enjoy the feast available to you today – with thanksgiving.

‘Dav

Peace and Righteousness: Preference and Prescription

PeaceLikeaRiver0777

Isaiah 48:17-18, This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”

This passage, and scores akin to it, affirm (at least) these two great ideas: peace is heaven’s preference, and righteousness is heaven’s prescription.

First, note that The Lord claims that He is the One who teaches us what is best for us (best for us, best for us – as in “this is the most preferred state for us, the ideal). If “we” (they, in the text – but “we” as the reader) would pay attention to His commands (listen, honor, put into practice what He teaches) then we would have peace like a river and well-being like waves of the sea. Let’s not overlook the significance of peace and well-being. These words likely carried the ideas of “peace and prosperity” in their lives and “deliverance and safety” from their enemies. There’s no way not to see this as “best,” as “preferred” – highly coveted even. And the good news is that it is God’s idea. It comes from His heart and mind. Peace and righteousness are His design and desire for you. This is His preference.

Therefore, (among many other considerations) it would be illogical to embrace the idea that, for our own formation and edification, God will send trauma or pain or suffering into our lives. This is not to say that these things don’t come into our lives. Neither do we agree that if something is going wrong, the causal link is direct disobedience and God is punishing you. Rather, it is knowing what is heaven’s preferred state for us that gives us hope in hard times, confidence in adversity, and resolve to overcome trial and hardship. We need not ever resign ourselves to accept as “the new normal” what is less than that which God has prepared for those who love Him. Your heart doesn’t have to remain broken. Your soul doesn’t have to stay in turmoil. Grief and anxiety don’t have to be your roommates. Hope should be your companion, and joy your strength. Heaven has not assigned you to a desert of malaise; it has prepared for you a river of peace.

The OT never, not ever, presents the narrative from heaven as “when you’re obeying and walking in relationship with Me, from time to time I’ll surprise you with catastrophe and disaster just to keep you on your feet.” No. His preferred state is blessing; peace and righteousness are His plan. Think of it, when God dreams about you, He dreams (envisions, desires, designs) your best, your peace, your righteousness. He wants what is best for us.

Secondly, (again, among other significant truths) this passage affirms that the commands of God are the best prescription for relief from pain and suffering, and the best means to prevent those things in our lives. This is not a recruitment for more of Job’s counselors. But it makes no sense to grieve and mourn and be vexed over the pain and discord and LACK of peace and righteousness around us – and then wonder what (if anything) can really be done about it. The preaching and practice of truth are not just words and wasted breath. They are the only real hope of healing, change, and restoration. Think of it: what good is it if we treat the symptoms of decay (hunger, crime, violence, sickness, divorce, abuse, sexually transmitted disease, “unwanted” pregnancy, etc. – and make no mistake we can, should, must do our best and most to alleviate suffering in any form) but do not prescribe the path to peace? I am saying that the preaching, teaching, practice and priority of sound doctrine, ethics, and obedience are the only real, lasting hope for our society – no less so than it was for Isaiah’s audience.

Our redeemer STILL knows and desires what is best for us. He is still teaching us the way we should go. More than ever, I am resolved to “study, practice, and teach” (Ezra 7:10) His ways. I want what He wants – what is best.

Why Emphasize Healing?

Christ healing peters mother in law

Healing isn’t the gospel, but the gospel isn’t the gospel without healing. The Apostolic message has been, since the beginning, that Christ is risen and that the Presence of the Holy Spirit is proof. Of the messages recorded for us, of the teachings included in the narratives, of the epistolary literature we have, there is scant few didactic statements regarding healing. Healing is almost always contained within the construct of a narrative: included in an imperative from Christ, requested from someone in need, or simply recorded as part of the normal exercise of kingdom commission. It’s consistently part of the story, but rarely the content of the message. And yet we do, we should, we must emphasize healing as part of the ministry of the gospel. Why? A reasonable, quickly-read apologetic follows:

We emphasize healing:

  • Because healing is an essential expression of Christ. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing all who were under the devil’s tyranny” (Acts 10:38). This was Peter’s one-sentence summary of the life and ministry of Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately, accurately, express Christ without a profound emphasis on healing – for Jesus was (and is) a profound healer. If we are to be any sort of authentic expression of Christ in our community, we must emphasize Christ the healer.
  • Because compassion is our commission: Each of the four gospels record one or more instances of Jesus sending out his followers to continue His work. For example, Matthew 4 and 9 both record, in the same words, the ministry of Jesus as going about “healing every sickness and every disease” (see 4:23 and 9:35). And when Jesus sends out his followers, he commissions them to continue His work, exactly (compare 10:1 – they were to do the same thing Jesus had been doing). When you consider this passage with Luke 9, Luke 10, Mark 16, and John 20 (as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you) – it is clear that the compassion that Jesus exercised is the commission that Jesus expects.
  • Because if we don’t emphasize healing, sickness will emphasize itself. Sickness is a bully. It barges in. It takes over. It talks over. It interrupts. It’s stubborn. It’s rude. It shows up un announced, unwanted, and unwelcomed. It just keeps showing up. It shows up in the homes of the wealthy and the needy. It torments the kind and the cruel. It emphasizes itself in families, communities, epidemics, the elderly, the young, and everywhere. It is relentless. It doesn’t matter if you always wash your hands and only eat carrots. Sickness will seek a way into your life (it doesn’t have a right to, and it doesn’t have to, but it will try). Therefore, we emphasize healing like we’d emphasize a dam when facing a flood. We emphasize healing like we emphasize light when surrounded by darkness. We emphasize healing because sickness is a co-dependent drama-queen who never stops calling attention to itself. We emphasize healing because sickness doesn’t deserve the attention it demands. People aren’t diseases. People aren’t disabilities. People aren’t defined by their pain, their challenge, or their need. Healing reminds us that people are defined by their hope, their calling, their identity, and their destiny.
  • Because the gravity of decay is constant. To overcome or resist gravity, it requires quite a bit of thrust. The g-force felt by lift-off is gravity’s protest of your defiance. And the decay of sin: darkness, disease, despair… is a gravitational constant. Without resistance it would pull us in and down. Therefore, we rejoice by faith; we hope; we love; we persevere; and we keep emphasizing healing.
  • Because our ability to adapt may be one of our greatest assets, but it’s also an Achilles Heel. Adaptation is key to survival. We adapt to changes in climate, in circumstance, and routines. We adapt. It keeps us from going crazy or dropping dead. It also enables us to adjust, little by little, to the encroachment of sickness. It enables us to choose a path of lesser resistance, to cope, to accommodate, to adapt. Adaptation enables us to make room for the bully of disease in our lives, homes, churches and communities. We’re so good at adaptation that we are able to often and quickly redefine a new normal. But healing isn’t an adaptation to disease. Healing is a refutation. Healing is an insistence that we will draw a line, “this far, and no further.”
  • Because we have real hope. Healing is a claim laid on the hope we have in Christ for today and for the future. We emphasize healing even in, and perhaps especially in, the face of delay or defeat. Disease does not have the final word, because not even death does. If death has lost its victory, then disease has certainly lost its bragging rights. Healing, as an in-breaking of the power of the world to come, is a reminder of the hope we yet have for eternity.
  • Because Jesus paid for it. There was real purpose in the stripes on His back. There was real payment in the broken body of Jesus. Jesus deserves to get what He paid for.
  • Because healing remains one of humanity’s greatest needs, one of Scripture’s greatest promises, and one of the greatest expressions of the Gospel. We emphasize healing because we need to. We will emphasize healing as long as hope allows. We will emphasize healing until we no longer have any need of it, until there is no more crying and no more tears. Until we are all healed, forever.

Amen.

Thanks for reading. If you need healing, I welcome the opportunity to pray with you. Use the comment section below, and let me know.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

‘Dav

 

Worldly Blessings?

health and wealth

 

Worldly Blessings? Is that a thing?

I am enjoying reading an author. He’s sailing along, stirring me up while informing me. What a great little book (on the importance of church history). Then he uses a tired, worn-out phrase: “worldly blessings like health and wealth…” In one way, seeing a phrase like that in a contemporary text is like seeing an old, faded bumper sticker with a formerly-trendy-slogan clinging in a wrinkled shrivel to the back of an otherwise handsome automobile. It’s just sad. In another way, reading it stimulates my irritance to where I must close the text and murmur exasperated complaints to no one listening.

Worldly blessings? Like health and wealth? I don’t know where to begin complaining. Health and wealth are blessings, but they do not originate from this world.

There are wealthy people in the world. The devil promised “wealth” (sort of) to Jesus, in the desert, in exchange for Jesus bowing down to him. But that wasn’t a blessing, it was a bribe. And the desire for wealth – the love of money – is carnal, worldly. It is so because it is the natural expression of an orphan mind-set that fears not having enough, that has no internal mechanism or well-spring for joy, and has no center of gravity in order to be content. Greed is worldly. Wealth is not. Greed is a curse, not a blessing. Greed is no respecter of person or status. In fact, most of the world struggles under the weight and pain of poverty. The world doesn’t give wealth; it steals it. It hordes it. It hides it. Wealth is not a worldly blessing: the world is not predisposed to bless anyone.

And health? Health is a worldly blessing? As if, somehow, in a way that is so upside down that it can only come from someone whose blood has rushed into their brain and can no longer think, being sick is something to be desired above being healthy? Is it worldly to be well? Is it worldly to want to be healthy? Let us be clear;  the world is sick. It cannot bless anyone with health. People around the world are sick and find new ways of being sick, along with rediscovering old ways. Disease swaggers about like an embittered bully picking on anyone who gets in its way. Health is not a worldly blessing any more than wealth, because the world cannot bless us with either.

On the other hand, there is One who blesses. The Blessed One who delights to bless, who invites us to seek His blessing. Heaven, not the world, is the source and supply of blessing. The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it (Prov. 10:22).  Jesus blessed people with more, not lack:  more wine at the wedding, more fish in the nets, more fish and loaves for lunch. There is much bible that celebrates the blessing of the Lord, the abundance that He provides (and is delighted to do so). There is no bible for lack or poverty (except for how to rise up from beneath it without being overcome by greed).

And health? Is there any reasonable, sane question that Jesus preferred anyone within in his reach to be well? Jesus left no one, not one person, who came to him sick or tormented unaided. The word on the street was that, “God anointed Jesus Christ of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing everyone under the tyranny of the devil” (Acts. 10:28). He never once “blessed” anyone by leaving them sick (let alone making them so). In fact, in more than one place, it seems He paid a significant price to bring aid and comfort to those who have suffered under sickness and torment (Isaiah 53, Matt. 8:16-17, I Peter 2:24).

The world does not bless. Health and wealth are not derived from the world, but from the Savior of the World. Heaven blesses. Blessing is Heaven’s idea and good pleasure. At least one feller even got singled out from all his siblings for having the hutzpah to ask God to bless him (1 Chron. 4:10). Health and wealth are not worldly blessings. Please, go to the store and get some Formula 409 (my dad swears by it) and a scrub brush, and clean that old, worn-out and worthless mindset from the back bumper of your mind.

God bless you,

‘Dav

 

 

Mending Your Nets

nets

Have you ever been frustrated? Have you ever exerted yourself, did your best, and still came out with results that weren’t just disappointing, but outright embarrassing? Have you ever fished all night and caught nothing? What should we do in those times? I’d like to suggest a principle that may keep you focused and faithful in the less-than thrilling moments and less than extraordinary seasons. Let’s talk about mending our nets.

Start with me in Mark 1:16-20, “As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.”

It’s easy to extract the first and last parts: Jesus shows up and calls them. They leave everything and follow Jesus. They launch out on a new life, and this new life will be instrumental in changing the world – quite literally. But sandwiched between these glowing parts is a more mundane mention of what they were doing before Jesus called them…before their big moment… before their breakthrough…They were mending their nets.

Mending nets was tedious work. It was routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. Repairing holes. Retying knots. Cleaning out debris. Tedious. Monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). You can imagine them saying, “hey –we love the feeling of hauling in a great catch of fish. We really the love the rich profits from the market place. And we don’t mind the esteem of owning and running our own little fishing enterprise.” (James and John were partners with Peter, and apparently they all worked with James/John’s dad Zebedee.) We love the fishing – but the mending we can do without. Ever felt that way? Ever resent the mending of nets that is necessary for the fishing? Ever resent the mundane or routine that is always part of the rewarding and meaningful?

The thing is, if they didn’t do this mundane thing, they’d miss out on the marvelous thing. Nets with holes in them can’t catch fish. So, the first thing we can be reminded of from this passage is that we can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things.

But there is more: These young fishermen had no idea what was about to happen. They had no warning that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was about to step into their lives and change them forever. They had no idea that their names would forever be synonymous with the inauguration of the Church of Jesus Christ. They had no idea that their names would be on the lips of every tribe and nation for millennia to come. Today, the size of their lives measured the boundaries of this seashore and these blasted broken nets. Perhaps they had desire for something more. Perhaps they sensed something inside that said, “there has to be more than this.” Perhaps a praying grandparent had looked them in the eyes and told them Yahweh had great thing for them. Or – perhaps they’d been told that fishing was all they’d ever do, but yearned to make a bigger difference than this.

What were they doing while waiting for something more? What did they do in quiet uncertainty of the not yet? They mended their nets. They stayed prepared. They stayed faithful. They looked after the responsibilities directly in front of them. They did not stare off into the horizon and sigh. They did not say, “Hey – I’ve got bigger plans than this – why mend nets?” They did not neglect the mundane while waiting for the marvelous. So, as the Master of the Cosmos was about to summon them, they faithfully tied knots and repaired holes in fishing nets.

But there is even more to this story:  Luke tells us a larger version in chapter 5, verses 1-11. “As the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret and saw two boats beside the lake. But the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their netsHe entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to thrust it out a little from the land. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered Him, “Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing. But at Your word I will let down the net.When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was tearing. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”

The partnership had been fishing all night. They labored long and gained nothing. And yet there they were – washing (mending) their nets. Many would be tempted to give up and go get drunk. When we face delay, disappointment, set back – one of things that often happens is that the “little” things start to slide. We don’t wash the car or mow the lawn. Vacuuming and dusting slips…. Shaving becomes optional. Why not eat a whole bag of chips…Why even get out of bed? Why mend the nets? Is it worth the trouble?

Because in the very next moment – Jesus said, get back out there, deeper this time, and let out your nets for a catch. Go right back out where you were – and maybe even deeper. Saddle up and get back on the horse. Time to go another round.

But, Lord – we tried. We tried for a long time. We tried over and over …. And over. We got nothing.  We hoped for much but had to settle for naught. But. They were willing to go back out.  AND – they were ready. The nets were ready. And it’s a good thing they were. Because the next catch was so big that the nets began to burst and they had to call for backup – and so great in fact that the boats began to sink.

Before anyone sells you some idea that this passage – or one like it in John 21 – is about making small changes for big results – which is a great, stand-alone principle, but not at all what these passages teach – just listen to what happened. The disciples had been working hard without result (both passages). Jesus sends them back out into the same waters they were before, with the same nets, and the same boats and the same personnel. In John’s account, Jesus says, “try the other side of the boat.” That is just ridiculous. That isn’t strategy. The boats aren’t even large enough to separate more than a handful of fish. This was, actually, pointing out that there was NO difference in where the net was placed; there is no suggestion that the lesson is that we need to carefully discern what minor (secret) change we need for breakthrough. Sheesh – that just makes us superstitious and afraid of fishing on the wrong side of a boat (or praying at the wrong time, or putting on the wrong pants, or choosing the wrong sentence, or turning down the wrong road, or any other fear-fueled query about the massive consequence of a single decision. Even though yes, sometimes small changes can bring big results – that is not the point of this passage). By saying, “try the other side” – Jesus made it clear that it was NOT a change in location or strategy that would lead to breakthrough. “Go back out into the waters of failure.” “Let your nets out again – just a few insignificant feet away.” But this time, do so with no reliance upon your own ability.  This time, do so with a complete confidence in the promise of God, and in the providence of God. Believe that His word and His good will (grace) are more than sufficient for breakthrough. Trust His promise and providence. Don’t waste time in regret. Don’t hover around the memory of failure. Believe. Imagine. Hope. Obey.

And remember, the best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. mend the nets.

I remember when we were trying to rent our house some years ago. We tried everything we could. It was getting really frustrating. After weeks and weeks – nothing. No success. So, I decided I’d better just start mending the nets. I went to Home Depot and bought some paint and repainted my fence. I remember saying to myself, “here I am Lord, mending my nets.” And I don’t even think I can trace the series of events – but within weeks we were in a new house.

When you’ve fished all night and caught nothing – keep mending your nets. When you’ve experienced set back or disappointment – don’t give up and go away.  When the night was long and you’re worn out, don’t leave holes and debris in your nets.  Bear down. Be faithful with the little things.

I think of the single parent who doesn’t know how rent is going to get covered – but still stays up after the kids go to bed making lunch for their backpacks the next day. I think of the out of work former executive who spends time ironing a shirt or shining his shoes. I think of the athlete who missed the big shot or a team that lost the big game – back in the gym, on the court, or on the field the next day.  I think of the saint that seeks the salvation of their household but faces rejection over and over – and returns to the place of prayer and practice of love. I think of the pastor who longs for landscape-shifting revival and isn’t yet seeing all he longs for – yet he prays without ceasing. That’s the thing about net-mending. It is the quiet refusal to give up.

For me: people have disappointed – even betrayed me. Opportunities have escaped my reach.  I’ve had grand plans and great ideas that just seemed to come to nothing. And the only thing I can do is go back to mending nets. Keep reading stories of those who’ve overcome, who have broken through. Keep studying scripture. Parse the Greek and Hebrew. Exegete the passage.  Get back on my knees and pray in tongues for another hour. Read another biography. Read another testimony. I see a miraculous healing from cancer or long-term pain, and then turn around and lay may hand on Ben – again. That’s the thing about mending nets – faithfully attending the routine and mundane tasks of life.

Because: We can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things. The best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. Mend the nets. And when disappointment, delay or set-back hits us, the best way to hit back is to keep mending the nets. And stay ready for deep water.

Hope you’ve been encouraged; thanks for reading!

‘Dav

Keep a Wet Edge

 

blue-paint-bucket-brush1

 

We decided the old church building needed a paint job. For whatever reason, I can’t remember, I found myself up on a ladder “helping” the veteran painters tackle the street-facing portion of the church. It was, of course, where the cross hung pristinely in view for passers-by. It was my duty-by-default to repaint the cross.

Up on the ladder I climbed, bucket and brush in hand(s), and began to give a fresh look to an old cross (fascinating, ironic, meditative… but not the point of this article).  Not an experienced painter, not even a painter, I dipped the brush in the bucket and sought to impress my more-experienced-observers with my focus, skill and stewardship of the paint. I brushed further and further, spreading the paint as well and as far as I could (clearly it was more economical to spread it out, really get all the paint out of the brush, good stewardship, maximize potential… look how much territory I was covering!) When I noticed there was nearly no paint left on the brush, I (begrudgingly) went back for more paint. And then started painting… somewhere where I’d left off… not exactly sure where… but started covering more territory.

The patient painter behind me could bear no more. He quietly said to me, “you have to keep a wet edge. Don’t dry your brush out or you’ll just have to repaint it.” He went on to explain how and why what I was doing was wrong. But I gently said, “Stop. You just said something that probably I should never forget. Keep a wet edge.” I am not sure how long I continued painting, I’d like to think I finished re-presenting the cross… I’d like to think that one day I will truly finish re-presenting the cross. But for today, what I need to remember is this: Keep a wet edge.

Leaders need to keep a wet edge. Parents do. Pastors do. Anyone whose hope or duty it is to spread the influence of good, of grace, of wisdom, of counsel, of kindness upon the canvas of this world – needs to keep a wet edge.

Never let your brush run dry. Don’t deceive yourself into believing that you are just working harder or maximizing your potential. You’re just painting like a novice. You may be covering more ground, but your impact will be thin and influence short.

Never let your brush run dry. Stay close to the Source. Immerse yourself often. Stay conscious of “why” you are doing and “Who” are you doing it for. Don’t get too far away from the bucket. Read the bible for pleasure and reflection. Often. Take a moment of private devotion and worship and gratitude – without it being part of a formality or corporate responsibility. Pray in the Spirit. Spend a little extra time with people who make you laugh and who encourage you. Spend a little more time alone.  It may look a little different for you than for me, but neither of us can afford too much time away from the bucket. Keep a wet edge.

The alternative is, without exception, that you will find yourself leaning over a ladder, arms stretched as far as possible, with maximum exertion, but spreading the least amount of paint. Then you, or someone else, will just have to paint again. Dry brushes make for wasted energy. Stay close to the bucket. Never let your brush run dry. Keep a wet edge.

When Lightning Strikes

lightning

 

Lightening is powerful. It cannot be predicted, but can be anticipated. Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon that essentially (really over simplified summary coming) is a result of the conditions above meeting appropriate, coordinating conditions below (equal electric charges of opposite polarity). When that happens, the result is a powerful flash of lightning. Other than the heat, light and energy released – lighting also oxidizes nitrogen in the air into nitrates which are deposited by rain and can fertilize plant growth. So lightning, a result of coordinating conditions above and below, is powerful AND contributes to conditions for growth. Interesting.

Revival is similar to lightning. Revival is a result of coordinating, conducive conditions above and beneath. But there is a significant, encouraging, and I believe challenging difference. To an almost total extent, the conditions “above” are always right. By that I mean that God is never not in the mood for powerful expressions, manifestations of His Spirit’s person and work that lead to greater conditions for growth. The contingency is with the conditions below.

Heaven is poised and longs to influence earth. From the beginning of the Gospel the message has been that the Kingdom is here – and to respond correctly by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). And the concurrent imperative has been to pray for and proclaim the interests and influence of heaven on earth (Matt. 6:10, 16:19, 18:18). God has already declared and demonstrated His intent and activity: “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17ff). Heaven is open and committed. The Spirit has been paid for and poured out (John 14:16-18).

The conditions below must change. Jesus implied as much with the statement, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The implication being that the variable is not on the side of heaven, but earth. Jesus is looking for faith on earth. The conditions above are looking for coordinating, conducive conditions below.

The Holy Spirit can initiate activity without asking anyone’s permission – He is God. But it must be acknowledged that God has always operated through the faith and obedience of someone. He has rarely “shown up” or “moved in” without partnering with a person. In the most influential revivals of history – and their contemporary counterparts – even when it has seemed or been said that “this is a sovereign move of God” – the truth is closer to a divine partnership between heaven and earth.: somewhere, someone prayed and obeyed. Every time. The reformation. The great awakenings. Azusa. Brownsville. Topeka. Lakeland. Toronto. Redding. Every strike of lightning has resulted from coordinating, conducive conditions.

The excitement, enthusiasm and hunger that result from initial “strikes” usually foster even greater conditions for more. Testimony increased faith and hunger and expectation. Expectation creates enthusiasm. Enthusiasm generates more interest and more crowds with more of all the above. Since the days of Jesus, people have moved in mass to where the lighting of heaven is striking.

Often the question is asked as to why certain “moves of God” lift or cease. I do not believe that Heaven lost interest. I sincerely believe that earth loses hunger, anticipation, expectation… that real, humble, yielded faith wanes… and the conditions below are no longer conducive the conditions above. Lightning cannot be faked or forced. The conditions below must change.

I recognize that heaven responds to the prayers and petitions of the church. In some measure, though God’s preference never eases or ebbs, His apparent willingness to act is directly affected by the actions of His church. The idea of “waiting on the Lord” is not so much waiting for God to stir Himself from slumber, or to pay attention. Waiting on the Lord has much greater impact on me – it readies me for what God is already ready for.  I also recognize there appears to matters of timing and design from heaven. He does know the plans He has for us (they are good). But sovereignty is His arena, not mine. I am responsible for what I know, and I know that for the most part, I am not waiting on God as much He is waiting on me. If He’s looking for faith, I want Him to find it in me.

This brings me to why I am both encouraged and challenged.

I am encouraged because I know that Heaven is more ready than I am for revival. I don’t put very much stock into predictions about “what God is about to do” as if He’s been holding back and waiting for the right calendar year to line up metaphorically with an ancient timeline.  Nor do I believe He overly concerned with current events or politicians. Not in a way that would make more or less persuaded to be manifestly present in power and life. No one thing, not a person or event or the passing of time or the appearance of the moon can leverage Heaven’s interests on earth more than the shed blood of Jesus and His glorious ascension. Jesus has been exalted and has poured out the Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). Nothing greater than this can ever occur. No greater reason could ever exist for the manifest presence of the Outpoured Spirit. I do posit that the Spirit perceives when someone has started affecting the conditions below, and will let folks know that He’s “found a spot.” As such, I think the Holy Spirit forecasts manifestations of His work – not based on His own whim, but because the Son of Man has found faith on the earth.

Therefore, revival is always a possibility. If Heaven is ready now – then any delay or diminishing is not on Heaven’s side but ours. If the Son of Man is looking for faith, I want to be found with it. I want to be the conducive, coordinating “spot” below where lightning of God may strike again and again. And, by faith, I can hear the peals of thunder in the distance even now.