Joy

I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but Jesus is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where the joy of Jesus resided.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:9-13 (NIV)

I have been thinking about joy lately, maybe because I have been fighting depression. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of joy. It is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. In other words, it is supposed to be showing up in my life if I say I have the Spirit of God in me, If I say I am a follower of Jesus.

So, I started looking at the verses in the Bible about joy, and I was stopped in my tracks by Jesus’ words in John 15:11 above. I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but he is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where, in the context of those verses, the joy of Jesus resided.

It was in the middle of relationship.

The verses before John 15:11 speak of Jesus’ relationship with the Father – how the Father loves Jesus and how Jesus remains in that love. How that love pours out of Jesus and into us, how Jesus loves us and how we can remain, reside, dwell in that love. Jesus’ passion on the Cross was to make it possible for us to share in that relationship of love with the Father.

The verses after John 15:11 speak of our relationship with others. Jesus’ passion now is for us to pour out the love given us to those around us who don’t know him, to bring them into that loving relationship too.

It’s in the sharing of love that Jesus’ joy happens. That’s where his joy springs up in us and fills us with joy that is “complete.” That word means replete, crammed, jammed, stuffed, imbued, filled to the brim. Jesus commands us to do that, to love each other, so that we – and the ones we love – can have that kind of joy.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Notice in the list of fruits where joy is positioned. Love comes first. Relationship comes first. If I love him as he loved me – which was with everything, with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind and with all his strength – and if I love others that way too (actually it is his love flowing down through me), all the other things on the list will pour down on me. Just as Jesus loved us first looking forward to the joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1: 3-4 (NIV)

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7 (NASB)

 

Photo copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved

God is Not Silent

God is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away.

God is not silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second person of the Holy Trinity is called “The Word.” The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind.– A.W. Tozer

God is always speaking to us. It’s just that most of the time we don’t like what he is saying. “Wait” (ugh!), “Hope” (yet!), “Forgive” (I can’t – or won’t), “Love” (but what if they don’t love back? What if I am hurt, mocked, ignored?). What God has said and says is in his Word – the Word written, and the Word made flesh. But even if you have never read the Bible, he is speaking to you. He is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away. Frederick Buechner put it this way:

But he also speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to do and what he wants us to become; and this is the area where I believe that we know so much more about him than we admit even to ourselves, where people hear God speak even if they do not believe in him. A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh too, or do we speak the truth? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge?  Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees—some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some little foolish way, yet brave still.  Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some little pint-sized honesty, but honest still. Will we be a friend or cold as ice today? … And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.[i]

In every little choice we make all day long God is speaking. Do we join in the gossip? Do we turn our eyes away and walk by the pain and the need? Do we hide our brokenness and put on a happy mask? Or do we comfort others with the comfort we have been given. Do we surrender to the cleansing fire of his passionate love for us, or cling stubbornly to self-justification?

God is love. And love continually speaks. It cannot be silent for it has been sent out into the world to accomplish something and it cannot, and will not, and has not failed. His love spoke from the cross and speaks on through eternity. And what is Love saying? “I love you!” “My love is always with you” “Give my love away.”

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:12 (NASB)

“… be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.”

 

 

Image of sound waves from clipart-library.com

[i] Frederick Buechner. The Magnificent Defeat. 1985.

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

Nothing Wasted

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian?

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12 (NIV)

I have been studying the accounts recently about the miracle of the loaves and fishes (see I Am the Good News ). In the above verse in John, after everyone had eaten, Jesus admonished the disciples to “Let nothing be wasted.” This made me pause. I wondered why Jesus would care about food getting wasted when he could just make some more. He just took a couple of loaves and few fish and fed thousands, didn’t he? But then I saw that he wasn’t talking about the physical bread and fish fragments being wasted.

Let nothing be wasted.

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian? Wasting your musical talent on worshiping God, wasting your money or yourself on missions, wasting your time serving and befriending certain people?

The word translated “wasted” in John 12 is apollumi and means to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. Jesus had a lot to say using this word:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose (apollumi) none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:39 (NIV)

All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish (apollumi). Luke 21:17-18 (NIV)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (apollumi); no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28 (NIV)

Let nothing be wasted.

It is also the same word as Mark 8:35:

If you insist on saving your life, you will lose (apollumi) it. Only those who throw away (apollumi) their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live. (Living Bible)

Throwing your life away sure sounds like wasting it. At least that is the way the world sees it. Even Jesus’ own family thought he was wasting his life. They thought he should be pursuing fame, reputation, power. Instead, he was wandering around with a bunch of losers, touching lepers and sticking up for prostitutes (John 7:4, Mark 3:21).

But Jesus saw it all in the eternal light of the Father’s perfect plan. Whether small or big, everything that was done for him was noted and appreciated – from the widow giving her pitiful coins (Luke 12:41-44), to the nameless children praising him in the temple courts (Matthew 21:15). God even saves our tears in his bottle; records them in his scroll (Psalm 56:8).

From his prison cell Paul described this “throwing away” of his life as being like a drink offering.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. Philippians 2:17 (NASB)

A drink offering was poured out at the altar or on the ground (1 Chronicles 11:18), completely “wasted.” You couldn’t even pick up the scraps. To the world Paul’s descent to the prison cell was a waste – from a highly respected Pharisee and disciple of the great rabbi Gamaliel, to a criminal waiting for execution in a Roman jail cell. Even Paul seemed tempted to fear it had been a waste as he exhorted the Philippians to hold fast “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

He needn’t have worried. Here we are two thousand years later still being encouraged and fed by his words and sacrifice. The seed that dies produces much fruit. God multiplies every effort. As my smart sister says, “His kingdom is about multiplication and addition, not division and subtraction.” God sees, he knows, he doesn’t forget. Nothing is insignificant. Let nothing be wasted.

As the hands and the body of Christ on the earth let us not be afraid to pour out our lives and substance. Let us not be afraid to “waste” ourselves as broken bread and fish. For nothing we do or give or spend for Him will be wasted.

She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste?” … “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14: 3-4, 9 (NIV)

“We are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. Once we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured-out wine with which to feed and nourish others.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“Life is not fame. It’s love. Life is not power. It’s generosity. Life is not selfish. It’s giving myself away … Life is having a gift inside of you that you give to the world and use it well for the glory of God.” Gary Wilkerson

I Am the Good News

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish?

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)

This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.

As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.

I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).

So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)

Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).  Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)

 

Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/

“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”

 

[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.

 

Being Centrifugal

God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

Black holes have been in the news a lot lately with the new images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). I have thought a lot about black holes the past few years, and how they are a picture of what we can end up like if we are not careful. Black holes are a kind of centripetal force. Sucking everything within, completely focused inward. According to NASA, “Centripetal means ‘center seeking.’”

Center seeking. Isn’t that what we are encouraged to be in our culture?

People can be black holes, completely focused on themselves; completely center seeking. Self-pity, pride, ungratefulness, crabbiness, resentment, self-righteousness, jealousy, selfishness, greed, lust, even fear is centripetal. NASA defines a black hole as “an area of such immense gravity that nothing—not even light—can escape from it.” [i]

The new images from the EHT are spectacular (see https://www.space.com/black-hole-event-horizon-images-einstein.html). These new images confirm Einstein’s theory about an “event horizon,” a point of no return before being sucked in. “The event horizon is the ultimate prison wall — one can get in but never get out.” [ii]

The images shown recently of black holes do show a very dark place surrounded by a ring of dying light –  the event horizon, the place of the death of light.

“The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap.” [iii]

Too much me, me, me and I lose my way on a darker and darker path. Not only am I no longer a light, but I suck others into my darkness. I can’t find my way to turn around. I am stuck in the eternal trap, behind the ultimate prison wall. I think we have all known people who seem to have gone past that point of no return. You can sense they don’t want to be the way they are, that they hate the words they say even as they come out of their mouths. But they are trapped. I think we are all, by nature, centripetal.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 (NIV)

Love, however, is centrifugal – the opposite of centripetal – flinging outward, scattering seed, sowing life. Shining light. Encouragement, love, faith, hope, mercy, grace, praise, worship, forgiveness, thanksgiving, repentance, humility, service – these are all outward-looking, life-giving, centrifugal. God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

The gospel is centrifugal, or it was meant to be – a light on a lamp stand, bread and fish multiplied and given away. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). Centrifugal has always been God’s intent for his people, his Temple, his Church.

“Interestingly, the Temple should have been a place where the poor and the oppressed found refuge. Instead, [in Jesus’ time and now too?] they found themselves pushed to the very margins of the society … God intended the Temple to be a place of centrifugal blessing—spinning outward the grace and mercy of God. The religious establishment had turned it into a place of centripetal privilege—pulling inward worldly status, wealth, and privilege. The exact opposite of what God intended had happened. Jesus, the one greater than the Temple, turns it inside-out and upside-down in his mission to turn everything around.” J.D. Walt, Invite Jesus to Church and Prepare Yourself

Jesus, the ultimate centrifugal force, turns everything around. He is the only one who can set us free from the eternal trap, the prison of self. Even if you feel you have gone past the point of no return, Jesus can give you the grace and strength to break free. Fling yourself out at his feet.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 (NIV)

“To the extent that egocentrism is proclaimed as both the route and the destination of life’s journey, the biblical message of service is extraordinarily countercultural. Christ relinquished divinity to become a slave. The last will be first; get down on your knees and wash someone’s feet.”  -Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary

 

[i] NASA. Space Place in a Snap: What Is a Black Hole?  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/video/space-place-in-a-snap-what-is-a-black-hole/

[ii] Avi Loeb, chair of astronomy at Harvard University. Quoted in What Exactly Is a Black Hole Event Horizon (and What Happens There)? by Charles Q. Choi https://www.space.com/black-holes-event-horizon-explained.html

[iii] Dennis Overbye. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html?module=inline

 

Image By Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1907a/; JPG saved from full size TIFF and converted with maximum quality level 12 in Photoshop 2019., CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77916527