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Jesus in the Wilderness

February 27, 2012 2 comments

Here is a little talk I gave yesterday introducing Lent in way that keeps the focus on the work of Christ.

Categories: Jesus

The Posture of Love

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The disciples gather around Jesus in the upper room. Before the meal begins, Jesus surprises and disturbs his followers by laying aside his garments, kneeling down, and washing their feet. Peter is shocked. In spite of his objections, Peter still submits to Jesus. All the disciples yield to the washing, blessing, cleansing act of Jesus.

Then he gets up, restores his clothes, looks at them and says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life” (John 13: 12-17, The Message).

Let’s pause this story for a moment while I tell another story. A love story. Not a typical love story. At least, not the typical love story we’ve grown up hearing. It’s a story about a people living outside of love, outside the community of the faithful, outside the city. A people living by the dump, Gehenna. A people used to breathing the toxic fumes of society’s waste. It’s a people who have completely forgotten that they are beloved.

God comes to these tax collectors, prostitutes, demoniacs, and he eats with them. He drinks with them. He loves them. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God comes to His people to love and heal and embrace them. But they are so far in the dark that their initial response is not to turn toward Him but away from Him. He comes into the lives of the dark people, the forsaken people, the abandoned people, the lost people, and loves them fully, completely.

His love is unpredictable and everyone misunderstands. Jesus keeps loving, confronting, and immersing them in the surprising shape of His love. He is loving this mixed community into family. He pursues His people like a groom running toward His bride. Eventually, they behold the complete form of His love, and much to their surprise it looks like suffering and death.
People tell stories about the pain of lost love, forsaken love, unrequited love, but the most painful love story is the complete unveiling of true love. It is the deepest sorrow and the deepest joy. In the mystery of the Love of Jesus, death and life are intertwined and reversed. Sorrow becomes singing. And by the Spirit of Resurrection, death gives way to Life Unconquerable. This is the love story that gives birth to all true love stories.

We return to the twelve, sitting around Jesus, yielding to His service. Before His death, before His crucifixion, He gathers the twelve together. And he kneels before them. If not for the revelation of this action in John’s Gospel, the horror of this act seems almost unspeakable. Consider for a moment the implications of such an act.

An immoral woman kneels before Jesus and washes His feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them with her lips, and anoints them with her perform. Jesus acknowledges her act of adoration and blesses her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” He speaks as the true king. He speaks as the Son of God. He speaks as the Creator and Redeemer of the World. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The posture of kneeling is the posture of submission before a ruler, and adoration before a god. Kneeling, bowing is a significant act of humility and worship. The second command warns against bowing down before false images of any kind.

Jesus kneels before the disciples.

What could this mean? How could the Creator of the World kneel before His created? How can we even begin conceive of the humiliation? We may miss the deep humiliation of the cross if we cannot see the unspeakable humiliation of Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples feet. He assumes the posture of the supplicant.

At first, the disciples are distraught and confused with Peter speaking as usual on behalf of the rest, “No Lord!” But Jesus says, “Yes and Amen.” There is no choice. Peter must submit. The Lord of Creation kneels before Peter and washes His feet.

Jesus does not violate the second commandment because these are not false images, they are true images. Created in His image, they’ve been disfigured by sin, but they are still imaging the Lord. He gathers, cleans, restores, heals the images of God. He begins in love, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” And now He ends in love, “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.”

He loves them completely. This kneeling is but a foretaste of the deeper humiliation to come that will also express His love, His Father’s love. Jesus reveals the love of the Father in His every word, His every action. He also reveals the pattern, the shape, the form of love in His complete person. Love is Word, Body, Act. His whole person patterns, images love.

As He restores these broken images, He tells them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

He also says, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Jesus enfleshes the shape of love, in Word, in Deed. In serving, in humbling Himself, in honoring His people. In life, in death, and in life eternal. Just as he gathered those twelve unto Himself, He is still gathering, still comforting, still healing, still cleansing, still loving. He invites us into His action.

From the vantage of kneeling, we see the other person in a whole new light. The light of Jesus cleansing, glorifying, beautifying love.  In Him, the world is made new. In Him, the broken is made whole. In Him the abandoned is welcomed. In Him, the mournful finds joy. In Him, the image is restored.

So we serve and wash and even kneel in Him by the power of His Spirit. We are becoming lovers His love. And His love is sending out into all the world to love, and embrace and reconcile all things to Him.

* – All Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright (c) 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Categories: Christianity, Jesus, love

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (and the end of all things)

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment
Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

In order to begin thinking about John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ and the end of all things, it might be helpful to think about the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the whole Bible. Here are a few highlights just to get the mind (and heart) ruminating upon the revelation.

After Adam forfeits his rule by obeying the serpent, God promises his seed will arise to crush the serpent’s head. Paul teaches us that Jesus in the second Adam (who does in fact crush the serpent’s head).

Moses gives the Law to Israel, but realizes they will falter and disobey. He proclaims another Lawgiver will come. The people will hear and obey Him. Jesus comes as that Lawgiver and Law fulfiller. He gives His Spirit to the people and now the Law is written on the hearts of God’s people, so they will obey the law of love.

Joshua goes to battle on behalf of Israel. As he leads the armies of Israel, he meets the “Captain of the Lord’s Army” who will truly battle the enemies of God by harrowing hell and rescuing the captives. Jesus is the supreme warrior and commander of angel armies who defeats evil, so that the weak and oppressed may rest in the goodness of God’s love.

Israel lives through 400 years of judges. These judges can only offer a provisional peace and victory to Israel. But one day the true judge of Israel will come. When Jesus comes, the day of the Lord arrives. He is the judge who will separate the sheep and the goats. He is the judge who will exalt the humble and humiliate the exalted.

Israel lives through an age of kings. Some rule with wisdom and many rule foolishly. David is a king after God’s own heart and is promised that one day a king will come from the house of David who will defeat all Israel’s enemies, bring peace the the land and restore worship in the land. Jesus, the Messiah, is that king. He is born to the house of David and defeats the enemies of God, restores the land (the whole earth) and makes a way for the people of God to worship in spirit and in truth. He is the king before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: Jesus is Lord.

The prophets call Israel back to the Law and the Covenant. They appears as voices in the wilderness (often literally), proclaiming judgment on the enemies of God, calling for repentance, and offering a vision of the kingdom of God that extends to all nations. The greatest prophet of all, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but another prophet is coming after him who will baptize with fire. Jesus is the prophet of God who baptizes His people in the fire of the Holy Spirit and sets these blazing bushes loose to bring the good news of the kingdom to every tribe and nation.

These are highlights and there are many more rhythms that final consummation in Jesus Christ. Before we can tackle the John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, we must come to realize the whole Bible has been a revelation of Jesus Christ, and John’s writings are written within this movement that is always finding fulfillment in the gracious, gentle and every loving ruler of time and space. All persons and all things find their consummation in Jesus. Thus, the end of all things is not the non-existence but the fulfillment of all things in Jesus.

Categories: Bible, faith, Jesus, meditation

Orientation

May 25, 2008 1 comment

I fear that our generation is like a ship of sailors lost at sea who stare at the water day after day to try and get their bearings. Looking out from their boat in all four directions, they see water. They don’t lack water. But the endless fields of water cannot show them where they are or where they are headed. Without some orientation, they cannot navigate through this ocean of chaos.

Our generation enjoys news twenty-four hours a day both on television and on the web. We can know virtually anything about anything with a click on the computer. We can download sermons in every style and flavor. We can hear music, watch movies, see college courses and learn almost anything through our computers and TVs, and yet we grow more foolish, more blind, and more deaf.

We are stumbling in the dark and we cannot see what makes us stumble. We are a dis-oriented and we live among dis-oriented people. So how do we regain proper orientation? I thought I’d look up that word to try and understand what it really means.

The root of the word orientation is orient (meaning east, rising sun), which comes from the Latin oriri (meaning to rise, rising sun, to be born, to appear). The root of the word makes me think about my beginning, my birth. I had a starting point. I haven’t always been here. As Bruce Cockburn says, I’ve “never seen everything.”

The Scripture reveals that I’ve been created in the image of God; that he formed me in my inmost parts; that he knows me inside and out; that he created for His good pleasure and glory; that in Him I live and move and have my being. So this root of orientation makes me consider properly my beginning.

Orientation comes from orient and it is an architectural term that originally indicated the way churches were built facing East (Jerusalem, Rising Son). The medieval world looked to Jerusalem as the center of the world and the east provided proper orientation. Their maps reflect this believe as east not north is the top of the map (and Jerusalem is in the center of the map).

Medieval churches were built so that the altars faced the east. Thus every time the people of God gathered to hear the Word of God and break the bread and drink the wine, they faced east toward Jerusalem.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine was remembering the covenant of God with His people made in the body of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s table was a way of looking back to His death on the cross and looking forward to a meal that was to come: the marriage supper of the lamb when all God’s people from across the ages would be gathered together in a city of love. Their worship physically pointed them toward the end of all things: New Jerusalem.

As I consider the rich history of this word orientation, I come to realize that proper orientation requires us to understand our beginning from our end. John the Apostle reveals this orientation point only in Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

In his gospel, John also writes, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” So we look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.  Only then can we discover an orienting point.

So when we try to make sense of our lives and make decisions about the future or even try to understand the past, we cannot ignore Jesus as the center point. To ignore Him is to misunderstand. To ignore Him is to stumble in the dark.

I realize that this must sound insane to those who reject Him. Paul suggested that it is foolishness to the world. So I will be a fool in this world by orienting my life according to the fixed point, the person of Jesus Christ.

It is not the newspaper or the web or even the latest Christian book that will give me bearings in this ocean of chaos but the slow, intentional turning of my mind and heart to Jesus. By His Spirit, the Bible becomes an ever fuller unveiling of Jesus. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I am gradually learning to see and hear my Savior.

And just as the sailor who uses longitude and latitude to move through the sea, I turn my eyes to Him in His Word, His commands, His people. Most of my steps forward still appear unclear like walking across choppy waves as far as the eye can see. But I rest that He is leading the way, and I will arrive at the New Jerusalem in time for the feast.

Categories: Jesus Tags: , , ,

Meditation on the Law

March 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I preparing for a retreat on the Law (and the Ten Commandments in particular). I am looking at law through a variety of lenses. While many of these overlap, there are nuances worth exploring that makes it helpful to create distinctions. Here are the lenses I am thinking of right now. If anyone has other lenses that might helpful to consider, I’d love to hear them:

  • Law Expression of Love
  • Law as Creative Power (Creation of Adam/creation song)
  • Law as Restorative Power (redemption song)
  • Law as Covenantal Gift
  • Law as Glory of the Lord (intimate)
  • Law as Charge to Enter into Promised Land (Deuteronomy parallel with Hebrews)
  • Law as the Root of the Fear of God
  • Law as the Seed (Growing up into Psalms, Wisdom, Kingdom Rule)
  • Law written in Stone/Law written in Flesh
  • Law fulfilled in Jesus (entirety of Word enfleshed in Jesus)

Advent and the Justice of God

December 12, 2007 Leave a comment

“Truly God is good to Israel,
To such that are pure in heart.
But as for me,
My step had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
(Psalm 73:1-2)

In his confusion, the psalmist cries out to God. The great high God of Israel seems to turn a blind eye to those who mock his name. The people of God falter while the wicked appear to be exalted.

The psalmist’s anguished question still rings in the hearts of God’s people. From businesses to families to nations, we watch evil people prosper. We see the people who take shortcuts move ahead. And it seems like those who try to walk right often fail.

Then the psalmist beholds the coming judgment, and he realizes that a day of accounting is coming. He rests in the fact that God will make things right.

The Christian Celts anticipated judgment day. In St. Patrick’s Breastplate they pray that they might be clothed “with the power of His descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.” In their manuscripts and crosses, Jesus is sometimes depicted at the “dread judge” coming to hold all men accountable for their evil deeds.

During Advent, we actually look to the coming Judgment Day. We expect a righting of wrongs, a day of rectitude. We may look toward this day, like ancient Israel, as a day when we will be proved right and those who opposed us will be exposed as in the wrong. We may expect this as a time when we will finally be vindicated.

As we look toward the coming day of days, we behold a day that came. The great day of woe was realized when the baby born in a manger grew up to be the man who bore the weight of sin and death. Jesus entered into the final judgment. He bore the crushing weight of woe upon himself.

This act of absolute justice strikes to the heart of evil. The cross heals my blinded eyes to see that I am not on the side of the righteous but on the side of the oppressors. While I cried out for justice, my own evil betrayed me as the offender. While I longed for my enemies to be exposed and humiliated and conquered, I was exposed as the one clothed in filthy rags.

Only then can I realize that what appears to be God’s blindness to evil is actually his longsuffering mercy. While some people think the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance, they are mistaken. The story actually reveals a God who is longsuffering, who continues to show mercy to evildoers, who withholds judgment again and again and again. Finally when he does bring judgment, He also brings a hope of restoration and redemption.

In the midst of revealing God’s judgment upon the evil in Israel, Zephaniah pictures a God who restores in gentle, lovingkindess.

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save:
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

As I look to the final unveiling of God’s justice, I no longer look with a fist of anger at those who cheated me, betrayed me, hurt me. Rather, I anticipate the complete unveiling of God’s glory with humility, realizing my own failures, my own tendency to hurt and cheat and betray. During this season of Advent, I look toward the end of all things and cry out with the publican, “Lord have mercy.”

Advent and the Dawn of a New Day

December 5, 2007 Leave a comment

In the dark of night, the sky gives no hints that the sun will rise again. And yet we look with expectancy for another day to come. We remember the reliable regularity of a sun that rises in the sky every day of our lives.

In the earliest moments of dawn, the darkness must give way to the unstoppable light that fills the heavens. Advent comes to the weary pilgrims, crossing the crushing expanse of night. Like the promise of a coming dawn, it reminds those with crushed dreams and broken hearts that the Son has come, is coming and will come again.

I have known darkness that clouds and fills the lungs with smothering despair. And by God’s unspeakable grace, I have seen the light of a day that I thought might never come again. This advent I remember, and I rest in the utter faithfulness of my Creator.

Categories: Advent, hope, Jesus Tags: , ,

Can Christians and Atheists Make Love and Not War?

May 14, 2007 2 comments

After several years of quiet, the atheists have found their voice again. Every other day I see another article where atheists are mad and their not gonna take it anymore. Then again, every other day I see articles where Christians are mad and their not gonna take it anymore.

This vitriolic exchange seems more pronounced on the web as bloggers and commenters discuss Dawkins, Harris, Falwell or Robertson. At Newsvine, Washington Post’s On Faith discussions, and a host of other places, I observe two angry groups lobbing verbal grenades back and forth. On occasion, there is a bit of kindness, but most of what I’ve read is lacking any true dialogue.

I long for the intellectually rigorous, yet highly entertaining debates between Chesterton and Shaw. While I’m waiting, it’s nice to know that some Christians and atheists have decided to put down their swords. A friend pointed me to this interesting article about Christians and atheists declaring a truce by listening and learning from one another. At least two books have resulted thus far from the discussion: Jim and Casper Go to Church and I Sold My Soul on Ebay: Faith through an Atheists Eyes.

I haven’t read either book so I can’t comment on them. As a Jesus fanatic myself, I am not much for fighting. I am simply trying to learn what it means to follow Him and proclaim Him. I think that has something to do with love…and a cross.

Update: Check out Jim Henderson’s Off the Map site and  Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist site.

Categories: dialogue, faith, Jesus Tags: , , ,

The Woman at the Well

May 12, 2007 Leave a comment

I posted a little mini story about the woman at the well over at scribd.

Jesus at the Margins

May 10, 2007 Leave a comment

People like to make Jesus the spokesman for their cause. From politics to health care to environmental concerns, I’ve seen his visage commondeered for unending causes. Many of these causes may be just and good and we should do them. But if you’re looing for Jesus, he often shows up in disrespectable settings.

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