Christianity 201

May 5, 2022

What Does Greater Devotion to Jesus Get You?

Thinking Through John 21:15-19

by Clarke Dixon

If we are more devoted to Jesus than others, we should get more privileges, right? Or perhaps we don’t want to compare ourselves to others. If we are more devoted to Jesus than we were five or ten years ago, there should be advantages, right? The following conversation between Jesus and Peter will help us discover what a greater devotion to Jesus does, and does not, get us. So here we go:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 (NLT)

We might wonder what “these” refer to when Jesus asked Peter “do you love me more than these.” One possibility, since Peter had just been fishing, is “do you love me more than these things?” that is, this fishing gear. It could be “do you love me more than you love these disciples?”. Or it could be “do you love me more than these other disciples love me?”. This last possibility is seen by many Bible scholars as the best given that Peter always seemed to be first among the disciples. He was the one who asked to walk on water with Jesus, he was the one who at first refused to have his feet washed by Jesus, he was the first to say he was willing to die for Jesus.

Let us consider what Jesus did, and did not, say to Peter:

Jesus did not say to Peter “if you love me more than these then why did you deny you knew me when I was arrested and put on trial?”

Jesus did not lecture Peter about he should have done, or what he could do better moving forward. There was no interrogation. Jesus did not even mention Peter’s sin against him. But the fact that Jesus asked three times by a fire “do you love me?” would have reminded Peter of the three times he denied Jesus by a fire.

The message was clear; Jesus had not forgotten, but he had forgiven.

Jesus did say “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus forgave and was ready to move forward in their relationship.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not get us greater forgiveness. Greater devotion to Jesus does open up the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness already granted.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more than these, then I will love you more than these.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus called Peter to this task, not out of greater love for Peter, but out of great love love for all the sheep.

Jesus also said, “follow me.” Follow where? In the path of the shepherd, in the path of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. If you love me more than these, then love them just as I do!

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean we will be loved more by Jesus. It does mean we will love more like Jesus.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get special treatment.”

It is natural to think that if we love Jesus more than others, or more than we used to, then we should be rewarded with greater privileges. If we pray more, read the Bible more, do more religious things, and become better followers, we should receive a more privileged place, right?

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Greater devotion to Jesus does not lead to greater privilege, it leads to the privilege of greater service.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get more power and authority.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Jesus used a verb meaning “shepherd” which some may jump on as a reason to claim power and authority. After all, sheep need the shepherd to guide them to better pastures. The shepherd knows best, right? But it is translated here as “take care of” and in some other translations as “tend” since it should be taken more as caring for the sheep and being responsible for them, rather than ruling over them.

In fact Jesus pointed out the kind of power and authority Peter would enjoy in the future:

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 (NLT)

You might think that Jesus, in establishing the Kingdom of God, would have called together powerful people and instructed them to grab after more power for the sake of the Kingdom. That’s how empires work. That’s not how Jesus works.

Jesus told Peter to “follow me.” Yes, Peter was called to be a shepherd, but he was called to remain a sheep, following the path of the Good Shepherd in the way of the cross, in the way of putting the needs of others first.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean greater power and control over others, it means greater opportunity to care for others.

Jesus did not say, “since you love me more, everyone should be just like you.”

Jesus did not say “create a community of Jesus-loving-Jewish-fishermen,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Peter would go on to discover that the sheep were all quite different from each other, especially so once it became clear that non-Jews were invited into the Kingdom! The sheep were people from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations. Some were rich, some poor, some Jewish, some not, some were male, others female, some were Pharisees and some were Romans.

Peter’s role was not to make everyone just like him, but to help everyone live out the Kingdom pivot in their lives, in their context, just as he was doing in his own.

In my years of being a pastor, a shepherd, and we are all shepherds to someone, I’ve discovered that the sheep are all quite different. Some of the sheep vote conservative, some liberal, some are introverted, others are extroverted, some have easily trusted the medical professionals, some have not, some think the government should provide more care for people, others thing the government should play a lessor role in our lives, some think abortion is the taking of life, some think abortion can be a means of health care, some drink only tea, some enjoy Guinness, some like long sermons, some don’t like sermons at all, some love the Bible, some have great difficulty making any sense of it, some are straight, some are gay, some are well off, some are not far from poverty. Jesus did not say “make everyone be like you,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” That means all of them. Even if we are not called to vocational ministry, we have the opportunity to take care of people who are different, and think different, from us.

In my years of being a shepherd, I have been grateful for sheep that have been different, and who have helped me to see things from different perspectives. Sheep can shepherd shepherds! In fact the sheep depend on the shepherds being sheep and following Jesus.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not give us the right to strong-arm people into becoming just like us, it means serving people, all people, helping them become more like Jesus even if they are nothing like us.

Do we love Jesus more than ever?

I hope we do, but it does not give us greater forgiveness, love, privilege, power, or make us the shining example of what following Jesus looks like.

Greater devotion to Jesus does give us the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness, and a greater opportunity to love.

Jesus asks us as he did Peter, “do you love me.” If so, let us commit to loving and serving others.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can read more at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

April 17, 2022

The Tomb is Empty!

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.  – John 20:1-10

Our Easter Sunday devotional today highlights the writing of Keith Lyndaker Schlabach appearing here for the first time. This is a portion of a sermon transcript for a message shared at Millersburg Mennonite Church in Ohio. The blog is called iX-Rays which he explains consists of “‘Iota’ for Iesous (Ιησους, Jesus in Greek) and ‘X’ or Chi for Christos (Χριστος, Christ in Greek)” terms that “have been used since the early days of Christianity.”

To enjoy the full message on audio click here, or click the header below to read the transcript in full, which is recommended.

Empty – An Easter Sunday Sermon

…It is easy for me to get overwhelmed sometimes with the problems of the world, the challenges of relational ministry, the anxieties of what may or may not be coming down the pike for the conference and our denomination. I look around and I wonder; What happened to the joy of my salvation?

I get so filled up that there is no room for the empty tomb.

Maybe you like me feel overwhelmed by death. Perhaps it is fitting for Holy Week, but the beginning of this week was pretty hard for me. Some days my body just seems to ache a little more and my mortality weighs heavy on me. For me, it’s not just my mortality and the struggle with how best to spend the remainder of my days, how ever many there may be, but it is the seemingly endless tales of suffering and death on the 24/7 news cycle.

So let’s join Mary of Magdala for a little walk in the garden. We see the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Let’s let our obsession with, our avoidance of, our downright fear of, death go. One thing you can say about life – None of us are getting out of it alive. But that’s okay. Death isn’t the end.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life that this abundant living thing feels like a mirage. Some days it is all I can do just to put one foot in front of the other.

Let’s join that other disciple as he runs to the crypt. We look in the tomb and we see the strips of cloth. The tomb is empty. Why look for the living among the dead?

So let’s leave behind the dead weight of life lived in a hurry, a life that robs us of the abundant life Jesus gives us. Let’s strip away the trappings of our frantic pace that keep us from being more deeply connected to God and to each other. Stop filling up your life with more doing. Abundant life awaits.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by doubt and disbelief that you don’t even know if this resurrection thing is even possible, though as NT Wright says, at a time when women were not considered credible witnesses, why would the Gospel writers have women be the first witnesses to the Resurrection if what they witnessed did not occur?

So let’s join Peter as he runs to catch up to that other disciple. Let’s not hesitate at the gaping wound of the grave but let’s go right on in. Let’s ponder the discarded wrappings of death. Let’s say, Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me have been holding on to an image of Jesus that you grew up with or have witnessed, a Jesus of intolerance and confusion, a Lord of rules and should and should nots, a Christ who doesn’t really feel alive anymore, Jesus says to us like He did to Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” Wait, soon you will receive a fresh revelation of the Spirit, a new indwelling of the Risen Lord…

…We gain and grow so much when we learn about God together. It is spaces such as these where we may get emptied of preconceived notions and misconceptions and then can get filled up with the Word of God, the love of Christ, and the wisdom that comes from deeply listening to those on the journey with us.

It is one place among many the Spirit provides where we can learn what occupies our hearts. Because our hearts are occupied.

So the question is, what have we allowed to take up residence within us?

Are there things in your life that are crowding God out? Is there room in your heart for Jesus? Has the resurrected Jesus taken up residence there?

If you have not opened your heart to Jesus, then I urge you to do so. Life is hard, but grace abounds, and life is so much better with Jesus by your side and the family of God to love on you.

Do you feel empty inside? There is plenty of stuff in life that we can fill our lives up with, but not all of it satisfies, no matter how much we accumulate. I suspect most of us could be a little more empty. If we’re honest we probably ought to say no to some things.

When I taught at an alternative school in Washington DC, I told the students that I wish I had a speaker box on my shoulder that would automatically be blaring the word “No!”, because invariably as I walked the halls I would be inundated with requests, most of which were frivolous. Hey Mr. Keith Can I…? No! Mr. Keith can we …? No! Yo, Mr Keith I was wondering …? No!

So what things in your life do you need to be saying “no” to in order to be able to say “yes” to God?

The tomb is empty. So why do we try to keep filling it back up with things that do not give life?

The tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning it was frigid and cold, but inside our hearts were warm, because the tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning, it felt like winter, but I’m here to tell you that spring is on the way.

The tomb is empty!

And walking through that cemetery this morning you would find all sorts of names on the gravestones, but there is one name you wouldn’t find and that is the name of Jesus because the tomb is empty!

And that matters ….

Because you see if we like Mary Magdalene have been emptied of that which has possessed us, and we have allowed the God of the Universe to fill us with the Love of Christ and the power of the Resurrection, then we have been gloriously released by Jesus out into the world and in our daily lives, to share with everyone we meet the things Jesus has told us, where we can’t help but shout with bright joy like Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

Let us pray:

The tomb is empty, Lord. Thank you! You are alive! Thank you! Death, suffering, pain, the principalities and powers; all have been defeated because your tomb is empty. Thank you! Empty us of anything that blocks your Spirit’s work in us. Fill us up with your Resurrection Power. For you are the King of Glory, Jesus, the Bright Morning Star. Hallelujah! Amen


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

March 30, 2022

Do We Really Want to Change?

NLT.John.5.1. Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”   [click here to read the full account]

Today’s featured writer was recommended to us by a writer who has already appeared here a few times. The blog is called It’s a God Thing. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced it. There are also a number of other recent articles you might want to explore.

Will you take up your mat and walk?

I love this re-telling of Jesus healing the paralytic in John 5. It is by author John Eldredge, and appears in his book Desire:

“The shriveled figure lay in the sun like a pile of rags dumped there by accident. It hardly appeared to be human. But those who used the gate to go in and out of Jerusalem recognized him. He was disabled, dropped off there every morning by someone in his family, and picked up again at the end of the day.

A rumor was going around that sometimes (no one really knew when) an angel would stir the waters, and the first one in would be healed. Sort of a lottery, if you will. And as with every lottery, the desperate gathered round, hoping for a miracle. It had been so long since anyone had actually spoken to him, he thought the question was meant for someone else.

Squinting upward into the sun, he didn’t recognize the figure standing above him. The misshapen man asked the fellow to repeat himself; perhaps he had misheard. Although the voice was kind, the question felt harsh, even cruel. “Do you want to get well?”

He sat speechless, blinking into the sun. Slowly, the words seeped into his consciousness, like a voice calling him out of a dream. Do I want to get well? Slowly, like a wheel long rusted, his mind began to turn over. What kind of question is that? Why else would I be lying here? Why else would I have spent every day for the past thirty-eight seasons lying here? He is mocking me.

But now that his vision had adjusted to the glare, he could see the inquisitor’s face, his eyes. The face was as kind as the voice he heard. Apparently, the man meant what he said, and he was waiting for an answer. “Do you want to get well? What is it that you want?”

It was Jesus who posed the question, so there must be something we’re missing here. He is love incarnate. Why did he ask the paraplegic such an embarrassing question?”


And it does seem an obvious, strange question. But I think what Jesus is doing here, as John Eldredge draws out in the book – is asking the man to take ownership. Does he want to get well… or does he want to stay as he is?

You might say, ‘Of course he wants to get well!’ But sometimes we are so accustomed to living a certain way that we become set in our ways. We take on the identity of a self-sacrificial mum or a wounded soldier or a perpetual procrastinator… We become comfortable in our jail cell, so to speak. We talk so much about our struggles that they almost become who we are. Instead of seeking change or growth, or following our dreams… we maintain the status quo.

Do I want to get ‘well’? What areas in my life do I really want Jesus to help me with? May I never stop asking him for his leading in my life, his shaping of my plans. He is more than able to heal (while he may not choose to in the way we might think). He is also able to change, to guide, and transform, no matter how old or whatever life situation we are in… We are always part of his plan. But he does want us to ask. To be participators in the process.

After Jesus asks the paralyzed man if he wants to get well, he offers excuses and complaints about his life. But Jesus simply says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” He was cured straight away, and he did – he picked up his mat and walked. And later, he told other people about what Jesus had done.

Perhaps all God asks of me right now is willingness. Willingness to trust him with what I have, and follow. To be open to his calling, even if it’s different to what I had in mind. His plans. His promises. His joy and peace! To simply pick up my mat and walk.


There’s another article by the same writer that I think some of you might appreciate. It’s not a Bible study per se, but if the title intrigues you, check out The Morning I Became a World Changer, an essay on human trafficking.


Here at Christianity 201, Friday marks our 12th Birthday! That’s 12 years of providing a daily devotional, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year. I don’t get a lot of feedback, and can only trust that these are beneficial for those of you who continue to subscribe and those who drop by periodically to see what we’ve been up to!


If you need some lighter reading, feel free to check out page one of Ruth’s advanced essay in theological graduate studies, Cats in the Bible.

January 20, 2022

Water Into Wine?

Thinking Through John 2:1-11 (and also thinking about “Conversion Therapy”)

by Clarke Dixon

  • The sermon on which this is based can be seen here

If you were allowed just one of Jesus’ miracles today, would you ask for water to be turned into wine?

You have likely heard of WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” As we read through the Scripture Focus for today let us ask WWBD, “what would Baptists Do?” (You can substitute your expression of Christianity if you are not a Baptist.)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Had we been there when Jesus turned water into wine, we might have questioned what Jesus did. We may have asked:

  1. Why encourage the drinking of alcohol? It seems irresponsible.
  2. Why waste a miracle on a party? It seems inefficient. Wouldn’t healing someone from a terrible disease be more productive than providing wine for partygoers?
  3. Why use stone jars that were set aside for religious purposes? It seems sacrilegious. It would be like using a baptistry as a hot tub in our day.

Let us consider each of these questions.

Why encourage the drinking of alcohol?

Some Bible scholars point to the place of wine in the future Kingdom of God such as in this prophecy:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Amos 9:13-14 (NRSV)

Amos prophesied that God’s people would experience judgement, primarily through an invasion of enemy forces. Though such an invasion would lead to the devastation of the land and therefore the ability to produce wine, the prophecy also looks beyond that devastation to a time of plenty, a time of blessing. When Jesus turned water into wine he gave a sign that such a future time of great blessing was near, and was coming through him.

Further, on the the day before his crucifixion, Jesus did this:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:23-25 (NRSV)

Again wine is linked with future blessing in God’s Kingdom. It is also linked here with the shedding of Jesus’ blood, through which that blessing would be made available.

According to John, the turning of water into wine was not just the first miracle of Jesus, but more importantly, the first sign. It was a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God would come through Jesus.

Why waste a miracle on a party?

Our scripture focus begins with, “On the third day.” Perhaps John is hinting at something else that happened “on the third day.“ The resurrection of Jesus is worthy of joy and celebration! The “third day” was a great day for a party. This brings us to the next point, namely that Jesus did not waste a miracle at a party, but again, gave a sign that God’s presence, specifically God’s presence in and through Jesus, should be joyfully celebrated:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?

Matthew 9:14-15 (NRSV)

There is much to celebrate with Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God including resurrection, re-creation, and renewal. This first sign of turning water into wine, pointed to a greater sign, the resurrection of Jesus.

Why use jars specifically set apart for religious purposes?

That Jesus would use jars set aside for religious purposes suggests that the religious life of the people had become rather staid and stuck in formal ritual. The worship of the Giver of life, had become lifeless. People were trying to do the right things, but often failed to do the right thing.

We see this, for example, in the parable about the Good Samaritan. The priests and the Levites were known for doing all the right things, keeping all the rules about ritual purity. Yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan they didn’t do the right thing. In fact some Bible scholars point out that it was their attempt to do the right thing in keeping ceremonially clean, that caused them to fail to do the right thing, which would have been to help the man left for dead. It was the Good Samaritan, and Samaritans were known for believing and doing the wrong things, who did the right thing. Likewise, while the religious leaders often condemned Jesus for not doing the right thing when he broke Sabbath laws, Jesus pointed out how he was doing the right thing in healing people.

Jesus came to bring something that lifeless religion could not, namely life. So here he is at a party, doing something unexpected, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that inspired faith in the disciples. Using stone jars set apart for religious purposes was not sacrilegious. Empty formal religion is sacrilegious.

So what would we Baptists have done had we been in Jesus position?

I’m guessing that at least some of us, instead of turning water into wine, would have gathered up all the wine at the party and turned it into water. We would have missed out on the sign, the signpost to the Kingdom of God, of the life-giving, lively, exciting, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew what he was doing. Perhaps we might have done something different, thinking we knew better, but not really knowing what we were doing. Perhaps we still do this. Perhaps there are some things we do as Christians, as Baptists, where we turn wine into water so to speak, where we could instead provide signs of God’s Kingdom.

One example where I think we have been turning wine into water.

During this past week, it became law that conversion therapy is now illegal here in Canada. That is, to put it as simply as possible, it is now illegal to try and help a gay person become straight. Therefore there has been a call for pastors across Canada, and the United States, to preach on sexual morality today.

What I find strange is this: a conversation about sexual morality, that is, how one honors God, others, and one’s self with one’s body, is a completely separate and different conversation than one about so-called “conversion therapy.” Since the law is about “conversion therapy” I’d rather focus on that today.

Perhaps an illustration might help us start this conversation.

I have been described as being excruciating shy as a boy. Report card after report card said “Clarke is too quiet.” In Grade 6 the teacher called me out to the hallway for a private chat. “What do you want to do for a living?” he asked. I told him I wanted to be an airline pilot to which he responded; “Airline pilot? How are you going to be able to do that, for airline pilots have to pick up the microphone and speak to people on the plane.” Thankfully, I didn’t become an airline pilot, so I didn’t have to worry about that. God obviously has a sense of humor. My quietness continued on into adulthood and on a personality test I scored 9 out 10 for introversion vs extroversion.

So, what would happen if we created a world where there is no room for introverts, where one’s introversion is seen as something that needs fixed? Perhaps someone might come up with a therapy that promised to help introverts become extroverts. Those who score 6 of 10 on the introversion scale may find themselves seemingly more extroverted and the therapy may be hailed as a success. But people like me, scoring 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 wouldn’t experience change. Now not only is there something fundamentally wrong with us that needs fixed, but now there is something doubly wrong with us, for we are not fixable. We would become very frustrated in not experiencing change, frustrated to the point of despair. Some of us would take our own lives.

This kind of thing has been happening with “conversion therapy” for gay people all along. Actually it has been worse than my illustration of introversion, for not only have gay people had the label “broken,” but also “evil.” Making matters still worse, where we might have no difficulty having conversions about introversion, conversations about being gay can very quickly cease to be conversations. Bottom line: conversion therapy has caused more harm than good. People have been hurt, badly.

Back to the story of the Good Samaritan. What if, the beat up person left for dead in the ditch is the gay person who has been beat up by efforts to change him or her? What if we Baptists have been the priest and Levite passing on the other side, or worse, the perpetrator of the crime? What if the Canadian government is trying to be a Good Samaritan here?

There may well be nuances on the wording of the law that needs attention, but much of what I’ve seen in the call to preach on sexual morality in response to the new law has not been honest discussion on how awful conversion therapy is, but rhetoric about how awful the “gay agenda” is, and how persecuted we Christians are. We are not the ones left for dead in the ditch.

Perhaps we need to do some thinking about where we identify in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it is time to think about what it looks like to turn water into wine, what it looks like for there to be signs of God’s Kingdom within the LGBTQ+ community.

As a ban on conversion therapy comes into effect, instead of rushing to pulpits to speak about sexual immorality, perhaps we should begin by walking with someone who is gay, taking time to listen. That means making time to listen. That also means making room in our minds and hearts to hear what is said. Maybe listening could be one sign of the Kingdom coming?

I will never tell my gay son that he should not identify as gay. He will never tell me that I should not identify as introverted. I have never stopped being an introvert, but I have learned, with stumbling steps sometimes, how to survive and thrive as a quiet person in a noisy world. Maybe that speaks to what should be our focus, not how we get gay people to become straight as conversion therapy aims to do, but how do we help all people, gay or straight, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. What does water into wine look like in each person’s life?

Conclusion

Had we been at the wedding at Cana, we might have done things differently, but Jesus, being predictably unpredictable, did what he did, and and it stirred faith in the disciples.

We ask “what would Jesus do?” He just might do something surprising, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that leads to joy and celebration, something that points to the beautiful Kingdom of God.

While we began with What would a Baptist do, the question here is, what will we do, to show signs of God’s Kingdom?

January 17, 2022

The Time Jesus Turned Water into a Symbol of Himself

Yesterday, one of the readings in the Common Lectionary was Jesus turning water to wine — his first recorded miracle — at a wedding in Cana. I watched two online sermons based on this passage, and one of them (from Clarke Dixon) will surface here at C201 on Thursday. [If you’re unfamiliar with the account of this, click here.]

It was only six months ago that we shared another devotional with you from Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina. We join this one about ¼ of the way through, so to read it all — including a funny anecdote from ministry life at the beginning — click the link which follows.

Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11)

…Wine is a powerful symbol in our time and in Jesus’ time as well. In our time, wine is symbolic of joy and celebration. It’s something we share with family and friends. It gladdens the heart and entices the senses. Even if we don’t drink wine regularly we probably do on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas Eve, our wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, or when we have company over for dinner.

In Jesus’ time, wine was also symbolic of joy and celebration. It’s something people shared on a daily basis with family and friends. It gladdened the heart and enticed the senses.

Even the Bible, has many positive things to say about wine. In the Old Testament wine is an important symbol when talking about the great messianic feast at the end of the age. The prophet Isaiah once said “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples; a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; God will swallow up death forever.”  [Is 25:6-7]

1 Chronicles also makes the connection between wine and joy: “Their neighbors, from as far away as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on donkeys, camels, mules, and oxen abundant provisions of meal, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, wine, oil, oxen, and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.”  [1 Chr 12:40]

Furthermore, a lack of wine was used figuratively to describe hard times in Israel. Isaiah proclaims “There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished.” [Is 24:11]

In the New Testament the connection between wine and joy is further established, especially in our gospel lesson where Jesus was attending a wedding feast. In creating a mental picture of what these feasts look like we need to banish from our minds the polite cake cuttings of the South with mints and pickles and the beer bash polka parties of the North. We need to put aside the DJ playing the Chicken Dance as well as the chocolate fountain and the tiered wedding cake.

In Jesus’ day, wedding banquets were lavish affairs that lasted as long as seven days. There would be feasting and music each day with time for sleeping and doing daily chores as well. Finally there would also be wine, and lots of it, as a symbol of joy and celebration.

However, in this particular wedding feast it is only day three and there is no wine! This would have been a tragedy of epic proportions. The hosts would have been embarrassed. It would have been seen as a bad omen for the couple, a sign that joy would run dry in their married life as well. Jesus and his mama were attending this particular feast, along with the disciples.

Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me, My hour has not yet come.” Which doesn’t mean that Jesus was sassing his mama. In fact, many scholars say it is a term of endearment and is better understood as “dear woman.” Jesus was simply telling Mary that it wasn’t quite time for him to reveal his true identity and purpose.

Mary appears to trust his judgment and instructs the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” Which could mean that she still wasn’t quite sure what Jesus was gong to do but she would leave the situation in his hands. Jesus then instructed the servants to fill the empty jars with water. We know the rest of the story. The water was turned into wine. Joy was flowing freely again. The celebration could continue. And the steward was baffled as to why Jesus saved the best wine for last.

John says that Jesus’ turning the water into wine was the “first of his signs” that “revealed his glory.” What John means by this is very specific. A “sign” is something that points beyond itself. In other words, we should not focus on the miracle but rather, our attention should be directed toward Jesus. The question we need to ask is “What does this sign tell us about who Jesus is?”

Well, before I give you my answer to this question, we need to unpack a few details in John’s gospel to bring out the full meaning of the story. The first detail is that the wine ran dry “on the third day.” We don’t need to be Biblical scholars to figure out what John is saying here. The third day is symbolic of the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion and before his resurrection. In this instance, joy had run completely dry, but God had a surprise in store for everyone.

The second detail is that the “six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification” are symbolic of the established religion of Jesus’ time. It, too, had run dry, but Jesus was about to do a new thing.

Finally, this last point is underscored by the story that follows the Wedding of Cana in John’s gospel which is the cleansing of the Temple. All the other gospel writers place this event during the last week of Jesus’ life. John places it here which underscores the notion that Jesus is about to do a new thing. He’s putting new wine in old wine skins. Follow me so far?

If we take these details into consideration the story of the Wedding of Cana is a parable of sorts. It tells us that when Jesus “hour” finally arrived we would know that Jesus came to bring us abundant life. When the joy of life reaches its end and we are surrounded by death, Jesus has a big surprise for us. He is saving the best for last. Death will be vanquished forever, We will be invited to join him in the great and final feast where the wine will never run dry.

My dear friends, the Wedding at Cana is a beautiful and powerful story. It tells us something quite profound about who Jesus is and why he came to this earth. Earlier in John’s gospel, he stated it this way: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” [Jn 1:4-5, 12, 14,16]

John is telling us that Jesus is the new wine that will never run dry. Even when we feel like empty vessels Jesus promises that he will fill us once again. This is the power of John’s story of the wedding in Cana. But we have one loose end to tie up. It has something to do with the story I told at the beginning of my sermon. [Ed. note: Link to the original article in the header above.]

Each time we gather for communion the way we celebrate this feast is also a sign. It points to something beyond itself and says something about who Jesus is. It’s a dress rehearsal for the great and final feast. In some churches the celebration of Holy Communion is quite austere and serious. In others, it is joyful and a bit chaotic. Moravians serve water instead of wine. Others use grape juice exclusively. Some serve those horrible little wafers that have a tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth. your only hope is that the wine or grape juice will dislodge it! Some have closed tables where those in attendance have to jump through hoops of fire in order to be considered worthy to attend. Others have open tables where all are welcome to come and dine.

And as we reflect on the way Abiding Savior does communion, it says something about our belief in Jesus. Our table is open and welcoming to all. We may not serve the finest wine but we do serve wine that is present on the tables of average working class Americans. We also serve bread that can be found in every grocery store. Therefore, it’s a community meal, familiar to everyone who gathers for the feast. There is music, and there are smiles, and this host believes that everyone is equal around the table and should be treated like cherished loved ones.

This is our vision of the great and final feast that is hosted by none other than Jesus who welcomes all around his table and yet there is still room for more. As we gather for communion for today, let us remember the story of the wedding in Cana and give thanks to our Savior who promises us a joy that will never run dry and whose feast has no end. AMEN

Copyright ©2022 by David Eck – Devotion used by permission.

March 4, 2021

Should Have Seen It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I should have seen it. It was a Friday the 13th a few years back when I did what many motorcyclists in Ontario do on Friday the 13th, we head to Port Dover. I was on my way home after a long day of riding and I didn’t see the sand on the corner. Going around the corner I hit the gas and the motorcycle hit the ground. Thanks to some people nearby who had duct tape I managed to get home okay. But I should have seen it.

Is that something that we may someday say at the end of the ride called life? “I should have seen it.”

There is a “should have seen it” moment in John’s Gospel:

Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:37 (NRSV)

By this time Jesus had a reputation for profound wisdom and miraculous healings. Yet many of the religious leaders had written him off. They explained away the miracles as works done by the power of the evil one. They tried to trip him up in his teaching, to prove that he was a fraud. But the life-giving miracles continued to give life and the profound teaching continued to be profound. You would think the religious leaders, rather than condemning Jesus, would at least be curious. Who is this Jesus, really?

Curiosity

Even now, there are good reasons to at least be curious about Jesus. Consider the impact of Jesus on people’s lives throughout history. Consider the impact of Jesus on society. Consider the evidence for the story about Jesus as recorded in the writings of the New Testament as being reasonable and true. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a leap of faith contrary to the evidence. It is a reasonable step of faith because of the evidence. There are good reasons to at least be curious about the evidence, to at least be curious as to who Jesus was/is. There are many great resources that explain the evidence. One can start by Googling names like J. Warner Wallace and William Lane Craig, but there are many other resources. The signs are there for those whose eyes and ears are open, for those who are curious. It is far better to be curious now, than someday say “I should have seen it.”

Curiosity, along with open eyes and ears, is not just important for those who currently do not follow Jesus. Curiosity is important if we, who are Christians, never want to say “should have seen it.” We as Christians can fail to stay curious in our search for truth. When we do we mislead people, we can cause damage.

In my early years as a pastor I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study for people with mental health challenges. A local church was very good about picking many of these souls up every Sunday for church. However, as I got to know them, I discovered that many of them thought that if they could have more faith, and be more holy, that God would heal their minds. I believe that God will indeed heal our minds someday, but I also believe these poor souls were being fed very simplistic answers to complex issues. We face many complex issues in our day. Curiosity may keep us from someday saying “should have seen it.”

Some did see the where the signs were leading, but kept quiet:

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it . . .

John 12:42 (NLT)

Why were these, who did believe in Jesus, not willing to openly confess that belief? We want to be careful here to note that their “belief in” Jesus is probably not a full blown belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Let us remember that the events of Easter had not happened yet, nor had anyone fully realised the implications of those events. At this point “belief in” may simply be belief that Jesus is from God, and not a fraud as many of the religious leaders were claiming.

We need not conjecture as to why these believers remained quiet about their openness to Jesus, for John goes on to tell us why:

But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

John 12:42-43 (NLT)

This helps explain why some are not open to Jesus today.

Fear of being put out of the synagogue

Fear can keep people from expressing faith in Jesus. What will my circle of friends say if I am curious about what they claim is a fable? Christianity may be dismissed vocally among friends and family. Christianity may be dismissed broadly within society. People are afraid to swim against the tide. Fear can kill curiosity, so no ones dares ask out loud “just who is this Jesus, really?” Eyes remain shut. No one sees it.

Fear can also keep we who are Christians from being honest about our questions. What if my church, or pastor, does not appreciate my curiosity? Yes, Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, but what is the truth with regard to all these complex issues? People have questions but keep quiet. No one sees it.

On keeping quiet out of fear of being put out of the synagogue; isn’t the synagogue the very place where there should have been a healthy curiosity about Jesus? When someone claims to be from God, teaches with profound wisdom and goes around doing miraculous and helpful works, shouldn’t that be “chatted up” in the synagogue? Isn’t the synagogue the very place where people should have been free to talk about Jesus, weigh the evidence, have conversations, ask questions, seek a better understanding, and keeping eyes wide open, be curious? Evidently the religious leaders who were quick to condemn Jesus, were also quick to stifle curiosity. People were afraid of them.

We could say in our day, isn’t the family, isn’t a circle of friends, a place where we should be able to talk about spiritually and truth, including curiosity regarding the claim that Jesus is more than a mere footnote in history?

Likewise, isn’t a church the very place people should feel they can be honest in their exploration for truth, ask questions, be curious and in conversation? Shouldn’t a church be the very place we should expect to find a curiosity and a search for truth about mental health, racism, LGBTQ+, sexuality, finances, relationships, and anything and everything? Fear of being shunned can keep the curious quiet. Am I as a religious leader stifling curiosity? Am I, the pastor, the one causing fear in my day?

The love of human praise more than the praise of God

Those who believed that Jesus was from God were more interested in being seen as smart among their peers than in encouraging the search for truth. Appearing to be smart is often not the smartest thing to do! Pride can keep us quiet about the truth. Pride can keep us vocal about falsehoods.

Pride was at the root of why the religious leaders stood in condemnation over Jesus in the first place. Pride kept them from having a posture of curiosity in learning more about Jesus. Jesus, a man of great works and profound teaching, was exposing their works as less than righteous and their teaching as less than sound. Pride ensured a violent reaction against Jesus, instead of a thoughtful and soul-searching response to him.

If Jesus really was from God in some way, then many of the religious leaders needed to be able to say “I have been wrong.” That is hard to admit when you are a religious leader, when you are supposed to be an expert. Further, they would need to admit that “I have been misleading others.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a leader. Further “In being wrong, in misleading others, I have done damage.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a religious leader, a godly leader.

Pride kills curiosity and the search for truth. No one likes to admit that they have been wrong. Does pride keep people from trusting in Jesus? Does pride keep some of us from growing as those who trust in Jesus? Admitting when we have been wrong is part and parcel of repentance, learning, growth, and discipleship.

Pride can keep people from searching for the truth about God in Jesus. Pride can also keep those of us that have discovered truth about God in Jesus from searching for the truth in so many other things. Pride will lead us to someday say “should have seen it.”

Concluding Thoughts

We should see it now:

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

John 12:46 (NLT)

There are many who would rather remain in the dark about Jesus. Fear and pride can kill the curiosity that can lead people to God. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We, who are Christians, may sometimes be the ones who would rather remain in the dark about many things. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and say “should have seen it.”


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

February 11, 2021

Where is Our Allegiance? The Law of God or the Law of the Land?

by Clarke Dixon

Should we defy the law of the land and gather for worship even though it is illegal for us to do so right now? Some churches [here] have tried that, and are facing charges. Is our allegiance to the law of God, or the law and customs of the land? Of course this could apply to far more than just worship attendance.

Jesus was tested on this very question of allegiance:

As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

John 8:3-5 (NLT)

Normally the law of Moses was to be the law of the land for God’s people, but the Romans were in charge, and they expected their laws to be the law of the land. The law of Moses called for stoning in certain circumstances, evidently this was one of them. However, the Romans did not allow the Jews to put people to death. We see the religious leaders appeal to this fact when they call for the Romans to execute Jesus. Of course sometimes they got away with it as we see with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

So with the woman caught in adultery, will Jesus follow the law of Moses, or the law of the land? Where is your allegiance, Jesus?

In his typical wise way Jesus turned the question right back onto the religious leaders:

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

John 8:6-9 (NLT)

The one without sin, the one with true allegiance to the law of Moses can cast the first stone. No one dared cast that stone. The religious leaders knew that they were caught in their own hypocrisy. Of course their allegiance should be to the law of Moses and not the law of the Romans. They knew that. But of course they were often operating according to the law of Romans. So one by one, they left.

The religious leaders left, but Jesus and the woman caught in adultery still remained. So too, does the question of whether the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses or the law of Caesar.

Bear in mind that Jesus, being without sin, can cast first stone. In fact if the true allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses, perhaps he should cast all the stones?

Let us also keep in mind that Jesus also has the right to cast the first stone at us. After all, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and there “is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 KJV). Because of our sin, Jesus can cast the first stone, he can cast all the stones.

Back to the woman caught in adultery. Where was the allegiance of Jesus?

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:10-11 (NIV)

So the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Caesar? No, the allegiance of Jesus was to neither the law of Caesar, nor the law of Moses, but to the law of love. Jesus was living out the new covenant which he was about to establish. The new covenant is not about following the law of Moses, or the law of the land, but following Jesus and the law of love. Our allegiance, as Christ followers, is not to Moses or Caesar, but to Jesus.

Jesus followed the law of love with the Samaritan woman and he follows the law of love with us. Remember, Jesus can cast the first stone at us, there is no hiding our sins from God. But rather than cast stones at us, he took the nails for us on the cross.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus chose the nails over the stones. In Christ God does not treat us as our sins deserve. We therefore now live, not by the law of Moses, but by the Spirit. We are to follow Jesus in the law of love.

The law of love is the gentle way, “then neither do I condemn you.” The law of love is the challenging way, “Go and leave your life of sin.” This means being gentle with people, as Jesus was gentle with the woman caught in adultery. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. This also means we challenge people, just as Jesus challenged the woman caught in adultery. Faithfulness is also fruit of the Spirit.

When we feel like we face a decision between following the law of God and the law of the government, we follow Jesus and the law of love. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Right now we love our neighbour by doing our part to reduce the possibility of the COVID plague spreading. Of course, there are so many other ethical questions we face in life which would seem to put us at odds with the law or customs of the land. What does it look like when our allegiance is to Jesus and the way of love in each of those?

Where is our allegiance? The law of Moses or the law of the land? May our allegiance be to Jesus!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His church has not met in-person since March. The full sermon video can be seen as part of this “online worship expression

February 4, 2021

Not The Right Kind of Person for Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many of us cannot wait to get back to in-person worship. That being said, methinks the majority of people in Cobourg, not to mention the rest of Canada, could care less if we never get back to being in church again! There are many reasons for this, but some people don’t want to be in a church because they feel that they are not good enough, or rather they think they will be made to feel like they are not good enough. Maybe they are just the wrong kind of person, with the wrong kind of story to belong?

Maybe you feel like the wrong kind of person, or maybe there is someone in your life might seem like the wrong kind of person. There is good news in John, chapter 4, for those who feel like the wrong kind of person.

In John chapter 4 Jesus engages a Samaritan women in conversation. You can read the whole story here. People often read this story and miss the fact that this would have been a shocking incident when it happened. Keep in mind that Jesus was Jewish, and thanks to his miracles and teaching, a Jew held in high regard among many. However, when Jesus engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well he was doing something no respectable Jewish man would do in that time and place.

The Samaritan woman was not the right kind of person for a respected Jewish man to talk with. Why? Three reasons:

  1. She was a woman. A respectable Jewish man was not be alone with a woman in that day, and if he was, he should not speak to her.
  2. She was a Samaritan woman. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. The Samaritans were those who were left in Israel when the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom and took the “important people” away to exile. The “unimportant people” were left and they were not careful to keep racial purity. They also only recognized the first five books of what we now call the Bible as Scriptures whereas the Jews recognized the writings, like Psalms and Proverbs, and the prophecies, like Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Samaritans also did not focus their worship on Jerusalem. The “respectable” Jews in Jesus day, especially the religious Jews, really looked down on the Samaritans and wouldn’t give them the time of day.
  3. She was a loose Samaritan woman. You’ve heard of the story of the Good Samaritan, well this is the story of the not-so-good Samaritan. We are not told what the circumstances are of having five men, but Bible scholars point out that the timing of her being at the well was unusual unless you wanted to be there on your own, which you might do if you have a bad reputation.

These are three reasons why, if Jesus was trying to be a respectable Jew, he should not speak with the Samaritan. But he did. Why? If the Samaritan woman was not the right kind of person, Jesus was.

Jesus was the right kind of person, a different kind of person, in three ways:

  1. Jesus was focused on what he could give, not get. The history of humankind tells us that far too many men would have tried to taken advantage of the situation. But not Jesus. He turns the conversation to the very good thing she could receive from him; eternal life. Jesus was intent on giving life, not diminishing it.
  2. Jesus was focused on building a bridge, rather than focus on a wall. When the woman tried to change the topic by bringing up religion, rather than taking the bait and talking about the walls of division between them, Jesus continued to build a bridge in conversation. Jesus saw the possibilities in the future of this woman. Looking at the overall ministry of Jesus, he built bridges where everyone else was building walls.
  3. Jesus was not focused on religion, but true relationship with God. When the woman brought up about the differing locations of worship between Samaritans and Jews, a good respectable Jew would have pointed out why the Jews had it right, and the Samaritans had it wrong. Jesus makes mention of it, but that’s not the focus of his conversation. He is focused on her relationship with God:

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus calls us to follow him, which means of course that we pay great attention to his teaching. But it also means that we pay attention to what he did. The kinds of things he did, we do. So to be the right kind of people when we are with the wrong kind of people, we . . .

  1. Focus on what we can give others, rather than take from them. We do not want to diminish people’s lives by taking, but add to their lives by giving. This can be true in any relationship including friendships, family, and marriage. It is also a way of loving our enemies as Jesus taught us to do.
  2. We build bridges where there are walls. People look at churches across North America and they see a lot of squabbles over where walls should be, and how tall they should be. Who is in? Who is out? What does a good Christian look like? Who is good enough? This is not helping us connect people with Jesus. I have a confession: in 23 years or so of being a pastor I have never really cared much for church membership, who is “in” and who is “out.”. Can we not just help people connect with and walk with Jesus, even if they might seem like Samaritans to us?
  3. We help people, not to practice religion, but to connect with God. This is done through Jesus. When we focus on connecting people with religion, we focus on the rules of the church. When we focus on connecting people with God, we help them see what it looks like to honor God with their lives. The focus is not helping people become good members of our church, but helping them become people who walk with Jesus. Those who walk with Jesus and are growing in Him make great members of a church family, wherever they may be on that journey, and whether their name is on an official role or not.

While we want to follow Jesus and model our lives on him, we also want to ask; have we received the water Jesus told the Samaritan woman about? Do we have a relationship with God through Jesus? It is not about being perfect by our own efforts so that we can become the right kind of person to be accepted by God and so begin walking with Jesus. It is about experiencing God’s acceptance, then walking Jesus, as He changes us from the inside out. It is not about repenting from sin, and then when you have a good track record and you think you are good enough, turning to Jesus. It is not like being addicted to pop and saying, “when I stop drinking pop for thirty days, then I will start drinking water.” It is about seeing the water Jesus offers you now and realizing it is so much better than what the world offers. It is about saying “I’d rather be with you, God, than with all that separates me from you.” It is about repenting from sin and turning to God in the same moment, experiencing forgiveness for all that separates us from Him.

We might feel like we are the wrong kind of person with the wrong kind of story. God is the right kind of God.

Have you trusted in Jesus? As the Psalmist says “O taste and see, that the Lord is good.”

But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

John 4:14 (NLT)

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who shares material from his blog with us most Thursdays. You can watch a video for this message or it can be seen as part of this online worship service.

November 3, 2020

Seeking Knowledge When We Want Power

John 9.1(TPT) Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle.

John 9.3(NKJV) Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, check out all 41 verses of John’s gospel, chapter 9.

A year ago this month we introduced Wes Barry who is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted seven years ago. Today’s article is actually older than a second piece by him we shared six months ago, but one I wanted to share with readers here. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source.

The Wrong Questions

Perhaps you have heard the acronym that the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” to imply that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. Or, if you were like me and involved in FCA, you heard the analogy that the Bible is God’s Playbook. When I received Davidson’s football playbook, I received detailed descriptions of what was expected of me and how I was supposed to run a play. Though I rarely actually read instruction manuals when putting together a project, an instruction manual gives us specific step-by-step how-tos. As I have read scripture I have come to see how both of those are wrong. And they cause us to ask the wrong questions.

The ultimate problem we face is that through Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have knowledge but lack power. For example: We know the impact of this virus, but we lack the power to control it. Knowledge without power is an extremely painful position to be in. Therefore, we try to minimize that pain through scientific questions of “How” and “What,” that give us a false sense of power. Yet, this causes us to fail to ask the spiritual questions of “Who” and “Why.”

Our industrial and mechanical minds ask “How” and “What” questions. Scripture, however, is answering “Who” and “Why” questions. If we approach scripture with a What/How mindset then we are asking the wrong questions and will entirely miss the purpose of scripture.

While the question in John 9 is translated into a “who sinned”—the heart of what they are asking is “what caused this man to be born blind?” They are seeking to capture the cause of this man’s difficulty in life—probably in an effort to avoid their own peril, or the peril of their children. They are seeking a rational explanation.

Jesus, however, re-frames the question. He tells them they are asking the wrong question—the question we should be asking is not “what caused this” but “why.” Why would God allow this to happen?”

Who and Why questions ask relational and purpose questions. They draw us closer to God, and once we discover who God is, we become aware of who we are and are not.

As John Calvin states in the opening part of his Institutes: “The whole sum of our wisdom is…the knowledge of God and of ourselves…the first ought to show us not only one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that the same One is the fountain of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness…The second part, by showing us our weakness, wretchedness, futility, and greed, leads us to feel cast down about and to distrust and hate ourselves; and then kindles in us a desire to seek for God, since in Him lies all the good of which we are empty and naked.”

Once we realize who God is and who we are, then the only logical question becomes, “why.” If God is good, and I am not, then why is God allowing this to happen?

For this man born blind, Jesus is saying that the purpose of this man’s blindness was so that one day the glory of Christ might be revealed. His blindness revealed the futility of his efforts and his parents’. The man’s entire life—all the limitations that he felt due to his blindness, his parents’ worry that they may have caused this malady—was necessary so that on that particular day during that particular encounter Jesus could demonstrate his power to give sight to the blind. Due to this man’s life and testimony, one of the greatest hymns was written: “I once was blind but now I see.”

Now, finally, notice that this man’s healing required active engagement on his part. He was not a passive recipient but an actor in the healing story. While other healings occurred immediately, this man was commanded to go and wash. So once we understand who and why, it does not mean we become mere observers of God’s plan, but we must become participants in His mission.

 

 

August 31, 2018

John Knew the Incarnate Christ Better Than Anyone

This is our second time looking at the blog of Laura J. Davis. Click the title below to read at source.

How Well do You Know Jesus?

Have you ever noticed how the Apostle John started his first book? I’m sure you have as it’s not hard to miss. He is clearly making a statement about new beginnings and he does it by using Genesis as his foundation. He is making two points very strongly by using Genesis. The first is a not-so-subtle message to the Jewish people – God has started something new – pay attention. He then follows that up with who he meant by God.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

​He begins when God brought everything into existence, but he makes it very clear that there was someone else at play – The Word. The Word was with God in the beginning. In fact, John says, “The Word was God.” Now that would have had many Jewish people sitting up and paying attention. Who was this Word?

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2

He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:2

Genesis 1:2 lets us know for the first time a unique aspect of God – He is Spirit and John continues to emphasize that The Word was with God in the beginning. The Word and the Spirit are one with God.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.– Genesis 1:3-5

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.– John 1:3

God divided the light from the darkness and John uses that example to explain how The Word was similar to the light God separated from the darkness. He explains that The Word was life and that life was the light of men. In other words, His life provided light and hope to all mankind. As God divided the day from night (light from darkness) so the Word acted in much the same way – providing light to those living in darkness. But sadly, not all those living in the darkness comprehended the Light and refused to come near it.

​So, who was this Word that was also the Light and was with God in the beginning?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying,

This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:14

He was Jesus! God incarnate who came to earth in a human vessel to lead us in the way everlasting. To show us how great the Light really is and to prepare a way for us to live eternally in that Light. Sadly, the darkness of this world STILL does not comprehend the love the Father has for them. Many are still trapped in the darkness and fog of not grasping the enormity of what God actually did for them. He came down to earth in human form. He lowered Himself to our level in order to raise us up to eternal life in Him.

Everyone can come into that light and partake of the joy of knowing Jesus. He died for sinners, not saints. In other words, He doesn’t ask you to change before you come to Him, He simply says, “Come to Me.”

I wrote a book many years ago, with that title, Come to Me. It is a novelization of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of His mother. It’s available in my bookstore. I wrote it because some people won’t bother to pick up a Bible, but they will read a novel.

If you think Christianity is what you see out in the world today, if you think that is Jesus – you would be wrong. Jesus didn’t involve himself in politics. He didn’t call out specific sins or individual sinners over others. He didn’t protest certain causes either. In fact, if he had any complaints at all, it was not directed towards government officials or causes. It was directed towards religious leaders and their hypocrisy.

So don’t judge Jesus based on the way the media portrays Christians today. Read about him in the Bible or pick up my book and read about him. But find out about him. Get to know him as he is meant to be known. You’ll be glad you did.

 

November 21, 2016

Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV II Tim 2.14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

The Voice John 21.24 That very same disciple is the one offering this truthful account written just for you. 25 There are so many other things that Jesus said and did; and if these accounts were also written down, the books could not be contained in the entire cosmos.

Something a little different today…

I hate to reduce it to this word, but it seems like it’s trendy now to suggest that Biblical books weren’t written by the people they’re named after. I know some respected scholars believe this, and I am prepared to admit that in some cases it may be the case. I also want to be clear that while modern academia revels in such pursuits, the authorship question is not entirely new to this generation.

Still, it was refreshing to see cold case detective (and author of Cold Case Christianity) J. Warner Wallace summarize an article he read concerning the gospel normally attributed to John.  Click the title below to read this at source.

The Circumstantial Case For John’s Authorship

I am a big fan of Sententias, the ministry of Max Andrews, although I’ll admit there are times when I have to stop and read (and re-read) his blog posts to get my hands around his impressive reasoning skills. Max recently wrote a post that even I could quickly understand and appreciate, and he did an excellent of illustrating the process and power that results from assembling a circumstantial case.

Max focused on the case for the authorship of John’s gospel. He correctly noted that Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215) attributed the authorship of the fourth gospel to someone named John: “John, last of all … composed a spiritual Gospel” (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.7). But who is this “John” described by Clement? As Max writes, “Those who doubt apostolic authorship take their point of departure from a quote of Papias (c. 60–130) by Eusebius (c. 260–340). Papias appeared to refer to a John other than the apostle: ‘And if anyone chanced to come who had actually been a follower of the elders, I would enquire as to the discourses of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples; and the things which Aristion and John the Elder, disciples of the Lord, say’ (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.4–5, emphasis added).”

Max then takes the time to assemble the evidence related to the authorship of this gospel, making the case in a fashion very similar to how I might make a case for a particular point in a criminal trial. Check out his reasoning:

1. The author identified himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20, 24), a prominent figure in the Johannine narrative (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).

2. The author used the first person in 1:14, “we have seen his glory,” revealing that he was an eyewitness to the accounts contained in his Gospel.

3. The “we” of 1:14 refers to the same people as does 2:11, Jesus’ disciples. Thus the writer was an apostle, an eyewitness, and a disciple of Jesus.

4. Since the author never referred to himself by name, he cannot be any of the named disciples at the Last Supper: Judas Iscariot (13:2, 26–27), Peter (13:6–9), Thomas (14:5), Philip (14:8–9), or Judas the son of James (14:22).

5. The  disciple that Jesus loved is also one of the seven mentioned in the last chapter: “Simon Peter, Thomas (called ‘Twin’), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other of his disciples” (21:2; see 21:7).

6. Peter and Thomas have already been eliminated. Nathanael is also ruled out as a possible author since the author remains unnamed in John’s Gospel.

7. The author must be either one of “Zebedee’s [two] sons” or one of the “two other of [Jesus’] disciples.”

8. Of the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, James can safely be ruled out since he was martyred in the year 42 (see Acts 12:2).

9. This leaves John the son of Zebedee as the probably author of the Gospel. Irenaeus (c. 130–200): “John the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was a resident at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies 3.1.2).

Well done. Circumstantial cases are not built on a singular piece of direct evidence. Instead, they are assembled from a collection of reasonable inferences. In our state of California, jurors are instructed, “If a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining.” In essence, this testimony (if it is trustworthy) is enough, in and of itself, to prove that it is raining. But you can also conclude it’s raining on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Jurors are also instructed, “For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside.”

Max has done a good job of assembling facts that reasonably demonstrate the Apostle John is the author of the fourth gospel. Is the available evidence complete? No, but I’ve never worked a case where every piece of possible piece of evidence was available for consideration. While potentially incomplete, the case for John’s authorship is none-the-less sufficient. It’s reasonable. It’s reliable. It meets the standard I’m most concerned about: beyond a reasonable doubt. Good job Max, you’re a fine circumstantial case maker.


Check out my reviews of two of J. Warner Wallace’s books, God’s Crime Scene and Cold Case Christianity.

June 5, 2015

A Gospel Narrative Unlike the Other Three

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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If readers find a blog or devotional site and end up making it their primary source for daily Bible study, I’m fine with that. Although our motto here is “Digging a Little Deeper;” I recognize some of you want to move from Christianity 201 to Christianity 301. Here’s a jumping off point a few of you might appreciate as they plan on spending a long time in one book. However, it just might be that someone you know who is new to the faith might benefit from this as well. We recently discovered the blog Brothers of the Book, and they have just launched into a detailed study of John’s Gospel. To visit the site, click this link. To simply read today’s article at source, click the title below as usual.

Who Is Jesus?

We begin a slow wander through the Gospel of John today. I have always loved this book and as time has gone by I have come to feel that, contrary to the opinion of many, this is not really a book for the Lost but rather a book for the Saved. I find this book to be all about maturing in Christ. Now don’t get me wrong, people have been suggesting the book of John as a good place for the Lost to begin their investigation of Jesus, and there is much to commend this book for that purpose. John himself says, later in this book, that his reason for sharing a number of Jesus’ miracles is so we may believe the Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing in Him have life in Him (John 20:30-31). Of course the other three Gospels do this as well. And yet, John is very different from the other three Gospels, also known as the Synoptic Gospels because they are so similar.

A careful reading of John causes us to wrestle with some pretty deep theological concepts; concepts I think may be a little bit much for an unbeliever to successfully tackle. John skips the birth of Jesus; he assumes that his readers know much of this information. If we look at the chronology of the publication of the Gospels we find that the book of John was probably the last Gospel written and that John was aware of these earlier books. While he does repeat a bit of what the other Gospels share, his book skips some episodes and adds new information. More importantly, in my estimation, his book goes deeper.

John’s book also echoes the book of Genesis in that it gives us a peak at the very beginning.

John 1:1 ESV
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Who is Jesus? This is the most important question a person will ever have to wrestle with. It is an inescapable question that everyone will have to eventually answer, either in this life or in the life to come. Your answer will dictate the quality of your life now and the quality of your life in eternity. If Jesus was just a man who said some nice things and died 2,000 years ago, you can safely ignore and forget Him, for such a man has no power to affect your life. If, however, He is God as He claimed to be, if He is the only way to be forgiven of sin and the only way to enter eternity in Heaven, then you should submit your life to His authority, worshipping and serving Him faithfully to the end of your days.

This is John’s theme; his thesis: Jesus is God. Like any good college paper, the book of John states its thesis at the beginning, goes on to support that thesis with many examples and proofs, and then it wraps things up by repeating the thesis. Here is that thesis.

John 1:1-5 ESV
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Jesus pre-exists Creation. It was through Jesus everything was made. And life, real life, is found only in Him. Have you ever wondered about whether or not Jesus was just a man, just a prophet, or really God Himself? John leaves no doubt. He makes a categorical statement that Jesus is God. He then goes on to prove it. Jesus as a great teacher is easy to accept. Jesus as a miraculous healer is a little more challenging to accept but we like the idea so it is not really that hard to get our hands around. Jesus as the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away our sin, Jesus as our Savior, likewise can be a challenge but in the end it is so much to our benefit that we can eagerly accept this at some point. Jesus as Lord, Jesus as God, that is the really hard thing for so many people to accept.

You see we like the idea of someone who loves us and sacrifices for us. We like it when someone gives to us. What we don’t like is someone having authority over us. This is why so many struggle with, the idea of Jesus as God. We all like to be loved. We all like to be forgiven. None of us, however, like to admit that we are not the boss. But brother, you cannot accept Jesus’ love, Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ blessing, without accepting His Lordship. We say Jesus is our Lord and Savior and yet we embrace His role as Savior while, by our actions, rejecting His role as Lord.

If we accept that Jesus died on the cross for us, and that through His blood we are saved, then we have to accept that we are not our own, that we were bought at a high price, that we belong to Him. We have to accept that He is God if we are to truly accept Him as Savior. As God, He has every right to give us commands and we have every responsibility to obey.

Who is Jesus? How you answer that question will determine how you live today and where you spend eternity tomorrow. Don’t you think it is important to look at the evidence so you can make an informed decision? That, among other things, is what we will do as we stroll through this incredible book together over the months to come.

March 11, 2015

When You Need to Know He’s Preparing a Place

Today Clarke Dixon returns to the key passage he introduced last week…

A Messy Story with a Good Ending (or Rather a Great New Beginning)

Watching the news we quickly get the sense that the world is in a mess. Pick up the phone and you can quickly find out that a loved one’s life is in a mess. Get out of bed and you can quickly realize that your own life is in a mess. And people can point and ask how you can believe in God from within such a mess? First, we want to recognize His presence through the Holy Spirit. God is in the mess with us. But we also want to remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

Here is a promise the disciples would need at the crucifixion of Jesus as they pondered their own failings, and wondered if perhaps Jesus had failed too. And here is a promise they would need to remember once Jesus has risen and ascended to the Father. Troubles plagued the early believers, just as they do believers today. And yes, the early believers and every Christian since has had their share of failures. In the midst of our mess of trouble and failure we remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

In other words, this is not the end to this story, there is much to come yet! As the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is killed some could have mockingly asked “where is your God to save you?” But Stephen’s story is not finished yet. The thief crucified along with Jesus was in a real mess, and was a real mess-maker himself. Mighty Rome thought it was putting an end to him and his mess. His story is not finished yet though the mess is now behind him. And your story is not finished, no matter how much of a mess you are in, or how much of a mess you are responsible for, your story does not end here. Even when your loved ones place your remains in their final resting place, there is nothing final about it. For the repentant follower the best is yet to come:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

While the story is not over, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to fast forward through. Yes, the best is yet to come, but we want to savor, value, and be good stewards of each moment between now and then.

I have met Christians who seem to be solely and wholly devoted to the end-times and escape from the mess of current times. Their studies are devoted to the end, as are their prayers. In fact their very lives seem devoted to the next life. They have a finger on the fast-forward button with an attitude summed up by my one of my brother’s favorite sayings: “beam me up Scotty. This planet sucks!” That cannot be our prayer, for Jesus teaches us to pray:

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” – our lives are to lead to the honor of his name, right here, right now.
  • “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – while God has an amazing kingdom future for us, we are to start living those realities right here, right now.
  • “Give us this day our daily bread” – this speaks to desire and contentment for today.
  • “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – this is something we are to do in the here and now
  • “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” – a prayer appropriate for today and every day.

In addition to paying attention to our Lord’s teaching on prayer, living out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Golden Rule also requires a focus on living in, rather than escaping from, today. This planet may well be in a mess, but that is part of why we are called. We are to be peace makers rather than mess makers. It is not wrong to long for Christ’s Kingdom coming, but we are also to long for God’s Kingdom to be expressed in the here and now.

Then there are others who only value Christianity for how it impacts their future. It is only useful as an assurance of heaven, and is of no earthly relevance to their lives or the messes they live in or create. While Jesus’ promise of eternal life is assuring, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to put on hold. You will also want to pay attention to what God can and will do in and through you in the here and now.

It would be interesting to know how many Christians would call themselves Christians if Jesus’ promise, and all other references to heaven and eternal life were not in the Bible. Would people still be Jesus followers? What if the cross was just an example of a Godly life and not a means to an eternal life with God? What if the cross merely pointed us to how to forgive and express grace and love, yet we could expect to die never to live again? Would you still follow Jesus? I hope so, for we do not follow Jesus for reward, but because He is Lord. And when our Lord teaches us how to live in the here and now, full of grace and truth, we should listen. Thankfully, while being an example to follow, Jesus’ death is also an expression and working out of God’s covenant promises to save. Jesus makes the promise, and does what is needed to make it possible:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

The promise is made because this is a love story. The language Jesus uses is reminiscent of a wedding. The groom goes away to prepare the home for the couple to enjoy once they are married. Then he comes back to take his bride to be with him in their home together. This is the kind of love God has for His Church. It goes far beyond that of one person rescuing another from a mess. Heroes are typically strangers. This is love that is focused on relationship. It is a commitment to love in a covenant of love. It is the love of the One who is love. It is love from the One who will keep His promise:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NRSV)

May 22, 2011

The Filthy Part of Incarnation

Came across this illustration today.  The set-up is lengthy but drives home the main point with clarity, so don’t rush through, okay?  This is from the blog, The Heretic Mug Collection, where it appeared in January under the title, Christ in the Sewer.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach. Being close to Christmas time, the subject of the incarnation seemed appropriate, so I chose the prologue to John’s gospel, chapter 1 verses 1-18. I spent a considerable amount of time on verse 14 “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” While pondering this verse I was reminded of something I heard about once while visiting in Siberia.


Forgive me, but to get the full effect of this story requires me to be a bit descriptive. Needless to say, if you have a weak stomach you might not want to read this while eating.

In many Siberian villages homes do not have running water. The toilet then, as you can imagine, is included in this little deficiency. Somewhere in the backyard will be a little building that serves this purpose. A hole is dug and an outhouse is placed on top of it. Usually when one walks in he sees nothing more than a floor with a hole cut in it about 18 inches wide. If it’s done right, the hole goes down about 5 or 6 feet to the bottom. Now here’s where I have to get descriptive. As you can imagine, the bottom of that outhouse is probably the last place on earth anyone would want to fall. It’s horrid, utterly nasty filth that smells worse than it looks. It is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Now you may have noted the width of this hole, 18 inches. While that’s not big enough for an adult to fall through, it’s plenty big for a small child to slip into. Most of the time this isn’t a problem as the littlest kids will use buckets or little makeshift training potties inside of the house, but from time to time a child’s curiosity gets the best of him and he wanders into the outhouse, slips and falls through that hole. Generally speaking, drowning isn’t common as the ground absorbs the water well enough to keep the “water” level low. But falling to bottom of this outhouse the child still will find himself covered in the most foul filth imaginable, most likely spared serious injury from the fall by the sheer fact that he landed on 6 or 7 inches of soft sewer mud.

So what does one do in this situation? I asked this question hypothetically to a Russian friend once. There are no ladders built for the child to crawl out. In many cases the child it too young to understand the concept of grabbing on to a rope, not that he would even be physically able to hold on long enough to be pulled out. To this question my friend answered “You go down there, get him out and clean him off.” Did you catch that? You crawl into a sewer to save your child. You don’t think about the awfulness of it, the nastiness of it all, you go down there and you save the one you love.

This illustration struck me as I pondered verse 14. Up to that point, Christ’s divinity, glory, power and majesty are all laid out by John. The bottom of an outhouse is no place for the King of Glory, the God of the universe. Then we read that Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s easy to miss the weight of this statement because we have so “sanitized” the manger. The hay is clean, the animals, are clean, there is a warm glow of cozy light as the shepherds gather around. But it goes beyond the physical filth that Christ endured in his birth. Christ who was perfect and sinless came to this sinful, broken world full of murder, hatred, envy, wars, jealousy, lying, and every sin imaginable. He descended to us as we wallowed in the sewer of our sin so that he might lift us out and cleanse us of all of it. The “fall” was just that; it was a collapse into utter filth that we are powerless to escape from. Christ crawled into this sewer to save those he loved.

“Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners. If Christ is so great, then sin must indeed be sinful!” – J.C. Ryle

July 17, 2010

Saving the Best Wine

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 pm
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I’ve blogrolled and linked several times to Dana at the blog Upwrite many times at Thinking out Loud, but this July 6th post is her first visit to Christianity201.   I really like what she begins to draw out of this familiar passage; you can really take this idea and run with it:

Choice Wine First

I am about to “misinterpret” this passage. But I am doing it on purpose (which makes it okay, ha).

Actually, maybe now would be a good time to explain my approach to the Bible. I believe in the rigorous study of the Scriptures. I think Scripture should be contextualized and understood with attention to the culture and customs of that day, the original audience and purpose of the text, and with attention to the original languages whenever possible. Good lexicons, commentaries, and dictionaries are indispensable for a diligent student of the Word. This type of approach is intellectual in focus and profitable in numerous ways.

However…I think there are other ways of interacting with the Word too.  It is alive. So it moves. And it speaks. In this case, the Word functions to create a space for God to speak to our hearts.  And so it was this morning.

John Chapter 2. I love this story for many reasons. Jesus trying to keep low-key. Jesus keeping the party goin!  Jesus “saving face” for people. There is so much to love about this whole thing. But it was the master of the banquet who caught my attention this morning. He pulls the bridegroom aside and says (and I parapahrase), “Hey man, normally people serve up the good stuff first, and then when everyone’s drunk, they bring out the cheap stuff. But you…you saved your best stuff for last.”  Perplexing and impressive.

You will run out of whatever it is that has kept you going. And when you do, Jesus will supply. And what he supplies will be better than everything you had up until then. The world will offer you its choice wine first, but it will not be enough. Jesus will save the best for last.