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Archive for November, 2013

second sign | John 4.51-54

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 50 of 240

As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. John 4:51-54 | ESV

As the man was making the descent back down the road to Capernaum, when his servants intercepted him, ecstatic with good news, telling him his son lives! He grabbed the servants and asked when his son’s health began to improve. Then they say, still incredulous at this turn of events, “Yesterday at about one o’clock the fever broke, just like that!” And that clinched it. This father knew that was precisely when Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” Any doubts remaining dissolved. He believed – and when they heard the full story, so did all of his family and friends.

Teaching sign two. The second major clue provided by Jesus, without fanfare, once again in the backwaters of Galilee after leaving the Bible Belt of Judea. MAV

“Truly you are a God who hides himself,
     O God of Israel, the Savior.”

So said Isaiah centuries before Christ – and hiding is going to be a recurring theme in many of these signs John puts on display for us.doctor shh

First it was water turned into wine in Cana in a sign that was evidently not in the original playbook. A sign unfolding in a huddle of whispers. The servants knew; the disciples knew. That was about it.

Now back in the neighborhood in Cana, Jesus is sought out for what is the first detailed act of healing in this Gospel. From all appearances it was a private conversation. No mention of the disciples or a crowd. Just a private exchange and a word, and the wealthy man is gone almost as soon as he arrived. I can imagine the disciples asking Jesus what the rich guy wanted, and Jesus shrugging, “Oh nothing.” Jesus could have gone with him, an entourage in tow to witness the deed. In fact, he could have conducted a full-blown healing service in Capernaum and healed with quite the flourish of attention – all for God’s glory, of course.

But it was just a private word.

And even the healing left room for doubt, the sign potentially ambiguous. Was it Jesus? Was it coincidence? It’s as if intentional wiggle room is left for either faith or doubt, leaving the ball in our court as to what we will do with it. And then, to top it all off, both private demonstrations thus far occur not in the “Bible Belt” of Judea, the center of religious, cultural and political power. They both occur in Cana of Galilee (oh yeah, where was that town again?).

If God can be an off-putting God, he also appears to be left-handed. I think it was Martin Luther who observed God’s inclination towards “left-handed” demonstrations of power. “Right-handed” demonstrations of power are direct, open, undeniable power plays leaving no room for doubt. Biblically this would be like the Flood in Genesis or the plagues and Red Sea crossing in Exodus – but notice even these dramatic demonstrations in biblical history remain debated when it comes to proving their historical veracity. Still he hides himself. “Left-handed” demonstrations of power are a rhapsody of indirectness. Signs of God’s intervention that to many would seem to show just the opposite – the cross being the ultimate example. Failure is success; shame, glory; crucifixion, life. The aristocrat’s journey in search of healing for his son did not exactly look as he had expected it to.

No doubt this off-putting homeless rabbi left him scratching his head. But on the other side of the mountain, back home with a son who was alive and well, he read this sign clearly.

And he believed.

Would you describe God’s work in your life more in terms of obvious “right-handed” displays of his power and presence, or more indirect “left-handed” displays? Why? What impact has this had upon your faith?

Lord, deliver me from this generation’s penchant for proof and undeniable demonstrations; give me the eyes to see the deepest truths in the most obscure places, and with this Galilean noble, let me be untethered from cynicism and doubt and let me believe. Through Christ.

ah, but we always want just one more...

ah, but we always want just one more…


just one word | John 4.49-50

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 49 of 240

The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him,“Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. John 4:49-50 | ESV

The aristocrat wouldn’t budge. “Sir, come down. Now. Before my boy dies.” Jesus paused. “Go,” he said. “Your son lives.”

And the man believed. He needed nothing more. Jesus had said it, and he banked on it. And off he went. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)

I happened to be reading Luke 7 this morning.

Roman Centurion.

Very ill servant.

Jewish elders come and ask Jesus to come and heal the centurion’s servant, that he is “worthy” of the kindness, the occupied pleading for the occupier. Jesus is only a block away, and he is intercepted by other members of the centurion’s household, asking him to come no further, because though the religious Jews regard him worthy of the kindness, the centurion doesn’t regard himself as worthy of Jesus so much as stepping foot on his property.

“Just say the word.”

No up close and personal performance or stunts required. It’s a simple matter. Just give the order and it will be done.

What struck me as I finished Luke’s telling of the story is that he doesn’t even mention Jesus giving the order. He shows us Jesus amazed at an outsider Roman’s faith (lesson for the insider religious types) and then shows us the servants running back home and finding all is well.

Just one word.

With the Canaanite woman and her demonized daughter it is likewise just one word.

And so with this Galilean aristocrat. Jesus refuses to go down with him.

He could have taken the journey – who knows what conversation such time spent together might have occasioned, but that’s not what’s on tap for today. “No, I’m not going anywhere with you. Just go. Your son lives.”

Just one word. For millennia, we have trotted after healers for that one prayer service, that one touch, that one personal interaction. Plenty of sick people were certainly brought to Jesus and he healed many of them with such a personal touch and hands-on interaction (not to mention, frequently, spit). But perhaps one of the “sign” aspects of this healing of the aristocrat’s son is the simple reminder that the Word transcends time and space and connects with what the Father is doing even though a mountain range away – or a continent. Or a dimension.

Powerful things they can be, these words we speak in such a context…

How readily would you have accepted Jesus’ word if this were your child? How readily do you accept it now?

Lord, give me the faith of the Roman centurion and of the Jewish aristocrat, first of all to seek you out and ask, and then to take you at your word. Continue leading me deeper into a lifestyle of walking by faith and not by sight. Through Christ.

ah, but we always want just one more...

ah, but we always want just one more…

off-putting God | John 4.48

Gospel of John headerWEDNESDAY
Reflection 48 of 240

So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  John 4:48 | ESV

Jesus was dismissive. “Everyone wants a show! And if you don’t get it, complete with a full array of signs and wonders, you’ll just go home sulking in unbelief.” MAV

Go away.

not the sign we're hoping for...

not the sign we’re hoping for…

That’s not exactly what we would expect to hear. “He loves us, oh how he loves us” we sing, and then we turn to him with this gaping hole of need, expecting him softly, tenderly to embrace us, to meet us, to fill in the gap, shore up the deficit – but instead we get “talk to the hand”?

How can a God who loves us so constantly seem to tell us “Go away”? And yet he does. Despite all the books we write and sermons we preach about how we can have whatever we ask for in prayer with detailed notes on the formula, we still hear him saying, “Go away.”

A distressed mother cries out after Jesus on behalf of her demonically-tormented daughter. But she’s a foreigner – worse than that, she’s one of those Canaanites that brought so much misery to Israel of old. But “God so loved the world,” right? “Lord help me!” And she doesn’t even get the courtesy of a verbalized “Go away.” She gets silence. She gets ignored. Undeterred she keeps after Jesus, yelling and causing quite the roadside scene. The disciples are beginning to look around nervously. No doubt Peter is closing the gap with Jesus, urging him under his breath to make her go away. But she won’t. She’s on her knees now, begging. Okay, this was just a test, right, and I pressed in, so I passed, right? At least he now turns to look at her – or does he? I can see his back still turned to her as he says, coolly, “It simply won’t do to take the children’s dinner and toss it to the dog.”

Ouch. Just saying, “Go away” would have been kinder. I don’t think I’ve seen this as a recommended response in most prayer ministry training for church altar calls.

But she persists. “Even the puppies under the table get the children’s crumbs.” Now he turns. Now he heals.

Good for her.

Not so good for the multitudes of those who go through life feeling ignored by the Divine. Too many of us are Trophimus, left sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). As we will soon see, there was a multitude of sick people filling that Temple courtyard waiting for the angelic hand to stir up healing waters that they might scrabble in first. Jesus healed one that day. One. Where were the nine?

This is a reality we need to allow to hang in the air for a bit, before we try to resolve it with verbal explanations and remedies. There are many names of God we celebrate: El Shaddai, Lord of Hosts, the Lord who Heals, the Lord our Banner. Off-putting God doesn’t make it onto most of our posters and devotional calendars. But that’s the face the aristocrat in Cana first sees.

“All you want is another performance. Go away.”

But the wealthy man lingers. And he bids us to join him.

When have you most recently felt ignored and told to “Go away” by God? How did you respond to the silence?

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust him,” prayed Job. I want to pray for such deep layers of trust but I fear to tread the path that leads there. Give me the grace to seek it still, to seek you still, to trust you still, and despite the pain and the put-offs I sense in life, to pray with Job, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.”

ah, but we always want just one more...

ah, but we always want just one more…

set-up for a sign | John 4.46-47

Gospel of John headerTUESDAY
Reflection 47 of 240

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water, wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
John 4:46-47 | ESV

Jesus made his way back to Reedtown (Cana) in Galilee – where he made the water, wine. And he tracked him down there – an aristocrat desperately seeking Jesus. He had left his gravely ill son in Capernaum to find Jesus after he heard that Jesus had come back home to Galilee from Judea. And now he found him. He begged him to come down to Capernaum and heal his son who was at the point of death. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)

This is the set up for the second of seven signs narrated by John in this Gospel.

Another Cana encounter.

In an akairos time and place where Jesus is not anticipating much in the way of genuine results, a fresh opportunity finds him, and that opportunity becomes the occasion for the second sign. No poor couple at a wedding this time, no wine bottles running dry. Now it’s a young man’s life running out. Desperate royalty pays a visit to Reedtown. At least, that’s not a bad equivalent for the Greek word used here: basilikos – of or belonging to a king, regal, royal. We could translate it prince or courtier, but then our minds want to go all medieval. Aristocrat at least brings us forward a bit. One of the upper, ruling class. Someone who moves in circles of wealth, power, and influence. In Jesus’ world, there tended to be two classes – those who had wealth and those who didn’t.

And generally they didn’t mix.

This basilikos has wealth, Jesus doesn’t, and the likelihood of him striking up a conversation with someone like Jesus would probably be nil. But now the well-to-do aristocrat is hunting down the homeless rabbi. It’s amazing how desperate need can drive us from the ruts all of society travels so religiously. What astonishing power the severe illness of a child – or our own illness – has to shatter delusions of security and self-sufficiency. We live with such a presumption of self-confidence, self-assurance. James echoes our heart in his letter:smoking_match0524

“Come now you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we’ll go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, make a profit…’ whereas you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills we will both live and then do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance, and all such boasting is evil.”

How much more ready to live would we be if we embraced our mortality, our frailty, our complete and utter dependence on forces and factors beyond ourselves.

How blessed we are when our self-reliant arrogance is rudely interrupted by illness, misfortune, or tragedy.

How sad that at such a time our primary interest in Jesus, in Life, in Truth is to find a remedy for our present distress so we can get back to our self-reliant business as usual. Perhaps that’s why Jesus comes across as so off-putting here. You get the feeling he wants to be treated as more than the emergency brake on life’s hardships by showing up in yet another spectacular divine rescue (or unspectacular, we don’t care, just get us out of this!).

What’s remarkable is that Jesus still meets the man – and that he still meets us.

What desperate need have you most recently faced? Where did it lead you?

Lord, give me the grace to embrace the frailty and unpredictable of life, and find you in the midst of uncontrollable waves, rather than merely using you as an escape hatch. And thank you for showing up even when that’s all I do. Through Jesus.

ah, but we always want just one more...

ah, but we always want just one more…

kairos time | John 4.43-45

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 46 of 240

After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.  John 4:43-45 | ESV

After those two wondrous, unexpected harvest days, it was time to move on, and move on he did, back to his Galilean stomping grounds. Jesus had warned his followers not to expect such an exuberant harvest experience in Galilee. “Prophets get respect everywhere but at home,” he solemnly warned them. But then stepping onto Galilean soil, people went all gaga over him, giving him a hero’s welcome. They’d been to Jerusalem. They had seen everything he had done at the Feast. Word had spread.
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)

“The perfect, delicate, crucial moment; the fleeting rightness of time and place that create the opportune atmosphere for action, words, or movement.”kairos

Kairos time.

It’s what Jesus and his followers had just unexpectantly been experiencing in a Samaritan village after an unlikely conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus might have had a less than an enthusiastic reception by the religious establishment, but an entire Samaritan village proclaims him as “Savior of the world.” And he doesn’t have to overturn one table or perform one miraculous sign. Just one conversation, and then two days during which the whole village hears him.

Heading back north into Galilean territory, Jesus knows the wind has shifted again, and time with it: back to a people craving demonstrations and obsessed with signs.

In season. Out of season.

It’s what a young preacher named Timothy is told to brace himself for – literally eukairos (good time – that moment “in the grove” when we “rock it”) and akairos (no time – off beat, out of sync, no rhythm). The proverbial picture: a word spoken “in season” (kairos) is like “golden apples in silver baskets.” It just fits. The key to successfully navigating life is being able to encounter both phenomena – eukairos and akairos – without throwing fits; to embrace such alternating motion of rhythm and the rhythm less lack of motion, without becoming discouraged and walking off the dance floor.

We love being in sync, feeling the beat, and then moving to it like a surfer catching a wave. Not so much the lack of rhythm as we drift on a wave less sea or repeatedly just keep missing the waves. But we sense that as Jesus moves into out-of-sync Galilee, he still hears and moves to the kingdom beat in his head and heart, looking for another eukairos moment in an akairos time and place.

That’s the secret to such successful living: learning to wait for it.

Does your life right now feel in-sync or out of sync? What is the balance between waiting for life to click into place and making that rhythm happen? How well do you handle that balance?

Lord, lead me in your unforced rhythms of grace; show me how to wait, how not to force things – and show me when and how you need me to move toward the next wave of your kingdom in my life. Through Christ.


ah, but we always want at least one more…

Go and Do the Same

Reflection 5 of 5

 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

Luke 10.36-37 | MSG

Andy Andrews in his book How Do You Kill 11 Million People tells this haunting story about a church in Nazi Germany in the midst of an unfolding holocaust:

We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because we felt, what could anyone do to stop it?how-do-you-kill-11-million-people

Each Sunday morning, we would hear the train whistle blowing in the distance, then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!

Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.

We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.

Years have passed and no one talks about it now, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep.

Could it be that our societal inclination towards earphones, ear-buds, and noise cancelling headphones and our frequently loud worship performances is our own equivalent of singing more loudly so we don’t hear the whistles of our own unfolding holocausts? The Samaritan’s senses were fully engaged. If the victim on the road was half-dead, the Samaritan was clearly a man fully alive.

The question is, are we?

For us to “go and do the same” requires nothing less.

How do you hear God challenging you personally to “go and do likewise”? What is your first step?

Lord, let me be fully alive with my senses fully engaged. Give me the grace to risk the potential pain and sacrifice, the courage to act, the wisdom to know how and when and where, and the faith to trust that you will use even my stumblings and fumblings as I move towards the mess. Through Christ.


Do for the one

Reflection 4 of 5

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’”  Luke 10.33-35 | MSG

“Do for the one what you wish you could do for all.”

It’s the rule of thumb in our faith community. The temptation is to do little or nothing for one person because we can’t do that for everyone. Back to paralysis.

What strikes me here with the Good Samaritan is the fulness – more than that – the extravagance of the care he quite literally poured into this one wounded man. Like the priest and Levite before him he came. Like them he saw. And while we can only speculate as to what emotional response (if any) the sight of the half-dead man produced in the priest and Levite, with the Good Samaritan there is no guesswork: it was visceral. Literally. His own internal wailing cry.

The word is splagchnizomai – a verb form of the basic Greek word for bowels or guts (splagchna, essentially pronounced splank-nah). He was “moved in his bowels” certainly doesn’t work for us in English, but gutted does. It’s the same word used for Jesus’ response to the man full of leprosy who ran up to him and fell at his feet, defying all social convention and risking revulsion as he begged for healing. Jesus was gutted at the sight of him resulting in an immediate hand extended towards him, then the touch, then the spoken words, “I am willing be cleansed,” then the healing. It’s the word used for Jesus’ response upon seeing the crowds of people clamoring to him who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” He didn’t turn away and leave to check out recreational sailing possibilities on the Sea of Galilee. He told his followers to pray for many harvest hands to work those fields – and then he sent them out to get busy in it themselves. Genuine compassion disturbs you to the core and leaves you no choice but to act.

There is no turning away or changing the channel or angling to the other side of the road. There is only walking towards and into the mess. There is only embracing the wounds, getting smeared with the blood and tears, and risking radical care.

Pursuing a kingdom lifestyle of genuine compassion is pursuing of lifestyle of interruptions. Whatever that Samaritan’s plans and agenda had been, they were shelved, delayed, or cancelled outright. Being gutted does that to you. Perhaps this is why we avoid really seeing. To risk seeing is to risk feeling; to risk feeling is to risk being interrupted and acting; to risk acting is to risk, well, everything.

I believe it was John Wimber that said faith is spelled R-I-S-K. Funny how we tend on a practical level to identify faith with a conservative motion of playing it safe with the known and quantified (aka angling to the other side) rather than such risky, liberal, extravagant care given to the one, as we could only wish we could do for the many.

What is the most recent example of how your faith has led you to risk? What happened?

Lord give me the grace to risk seeing, to risk feeling, to risk acting, to risk everything. Draw me out of what can be the safe bubble of my own existence into that portion of the field where you would have my head, heart, and hands engaged in being and bringing your healing touch. Through Christ.