Saturday, October 31, 2009

Motive behind the Miracle

Jesus does three miracles in rapid succession in this passage.

My question is, WHY?

Miracle One
John 6
Bread and Fish for All
1 -4 "After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.
5 -6When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
7Philip answered, "Two hundred silver pieces wouldn't be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece."
8 -9One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this."
10 -11Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
12 -13When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
14 -15The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, "This is the Prophet for sure, God's Prophet right here in Galilee!" Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself."

Miracle Two
Jesus walks on water
16 -21 "In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board."

Miracle Three
They instantly get to land.
"In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to."

22 -24The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn't coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.
25When they found him back across the sea, they said, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"


If God would only do lots of miracles for everyone in the world every day, the whole world would turn to God within the week.

In this passage he miraculously
provides for daily needs effortlessly,
makes danger and adversity go away instantly,
and helps people get to where they want to go easily and quickly.

And the people came by the thousands.

America and the world would turn instantly to Jesus if he would only do that today. For everybody... So why doesn't he?

26 "Jesus answered, "You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free."27"Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last."
28To that they said, "Well, what do we do then to get in on God's works?"
29Jesus said, "Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God's works."
30 -31They waffled: "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
32 -33Jesus responded, "The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world."
34They jumped at that: "Master, give us this bread, now and forever!"
35 -38Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don't really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don't let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
39 -40"This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time."

Did you get that? Here is the why. This is what Jesus said...

"This is what my Father wants:
that anyone who sees the Son
and trusts who he is and what he does
and then aligns with him
will enter real life, eternal life.
My part is to put them on their feet
alive and whole at the completion of time."


Last night Patti and I watched a movie called "The Invention of Lying". It was presented as a romantic comedy where everyone tells the truth no matter how blunt or unflattering. But in fact, it was a frontal assault on Christianity and was full of very purposeful blasphemy. The ultimate lie to be corrected, it postulates, is that "There IS no man upstairs." It attacks Jesus, the church, the Ten Commandments and God himself. Fortunately it is a boring movie with an aimless plot, so is not getting much draw at the box office.

This doesn't surprise God at all. Jesus tells his 12 disciples,
"Don't be naive.
Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me.
Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities."

Here is the full story...

5 -8Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
9 -10"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
11"When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.
12 -15"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry—but it's no concern of yours now.
16"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
17 -20"Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
21 -23"When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.
24 -25"A student doesn't get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn't make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, 'Dungface,' what can the workers expect?
26 -27"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.
28"Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands."

But not surprising...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Master, save us! We're going down!


I am going to set this experience up in three parts.


It starts with a wonderful story.

Matthew 8
14 -15 "By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him."

Presto! Peter's wife's mom is sick. Jesus is called in. He heals her effortlessly right on the spot. She jumps up and makes supper.

That is as it should be. We have a problem. We pray. Deliverance is miraculous, complete and instantaneous.

16 -17 "That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon:
He took our illnesses,
He carried our diseases. "

This also fits neatly with our expectations. Hurting people are brought to Jesus. He immediately heals them. Heals them all. Heals them instantly. Heals them completely.

No ambiguity. No delay. No doubt.

18 -19 "When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. "I'll go with you, wherever," he said.
20Jesus was curt: "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know."
21Another follower said, "Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father's funeral to take care of."
22Jesus refused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life."


23 -25 "Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm."

Hold it! This is Jesus. These are his followers. With Jesus they are impervious to danger, to fright, to hanging on for dear life wondering if they are going to die!

This does not make sense!!

"Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep!"

This is even worse! Have you ever been in the storm? And you pray? And it seems like God is asleep?

Or even worse - Like he doesn't even care?

"They roused him, pleading, "Master, save us! We're going down!"

There have been many times in history where believers plead with God. I think of the Hebrews in Egypt for 450 years, asking for deliverance. Later they are captive in Babylon for 70 years, pleading for deliverance. Then in world war 2, for four years, they are pleading for deliverance.

There are Christians all around the world right now, pleading for deliverance. Chinese Christians being tortured in jail, former Muslim believers, being abused for following Christ, Indian Christians persecuted by muslims and hindus alike.

Not to mention Christians everywhere pleading for the life of someone who has cancer, or some other disease.

And Jesus is asleep in the boat!


The future is always unknown. And sometimes seems bleak.

The disciples were terrified for their lives. And SO confused! Didn't Jesus just heal Peter's mother-in-law? Didn't he just heal a whole bunch of people? Strangers, most of them?

But they were all going to die? And Jesus was right in the boat with them?

26Jesus reprimanded them. "Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?" Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: "Silence!" The sea became smooth as glass."

Deliverance! Yet one more time!

27The men rubbed their eyes, astonished.
"What's going on here?
Wind and sea come to heel at his command!"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jesus, Why do you tell stories?

Once you have come into relationship with God it is perplexing why everyone does not do the same.

But there is a process. A journey, if you would.

Jesus explains...

10The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?"
11 -15He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them.
Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.
In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it.
I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won't have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
16 -17"But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see!
And God-blessed ears—ears that hear!
A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.

Ask for what you need...

Jesus seemed to pray all the time.
Because for him, it was communion, conversation with God.
No formula. Nothing memorized. No particular position. Didn't have to gasp and shout. Or fold his hands. Or bow his head. Or raise his hands. Maybe he did any or all of these at different times, but there was no prescription of how it had to be done.
The people around him noticed. They said - we want to be able to do what you do. Go into God's presence. Talk to him. Hear from him...
Here is the conversation that ensued:

1 One day he was praying in a certain place.
When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."
2 -4So he said, "When you pray, say,
Father, Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil."

5 -6Then he said, "Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don't have a thing on hand.'
7"The friend answers from his bed, 'Don't bother me. The door's locked; my children are all down for the night; I can't get up to give you anything.'
8"But let me tell you, even if he won't get up because he's a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he'll finally get up and get you whatever you need.

9"Here's what I'm saying:
Ask and you'll get;
Seek and you'll find;
Knock and the door will open.

10 -13"Don't bargain with God.
Be direct. Ask for what you need.
This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in.
If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?
If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider?
As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing—you're at least decent to your own children.
And don't you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Simple message - 100s of millions have responded

Jesus astonished people.
The miracles.
The healings.
The authority of his teaching.
His claims to be God. To be One with the Father.

But his words had the most impact.


And now...

28 -30"Are you tired?
Worn out?
Burned out on religion?
Come to me.
Get away with me and you'll recover your life.
I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

You might be more familiar with a differet version. Here it is in the King James:

28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light.

Hundreds of millions have responded over the years.
Well over a billion are responding today.

Words that change the world...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The words...

Jesus spoke - and brought a kingdom to its knees.
Within 400 years the Roman Empire was no more, and Christianity was spreading around the globe.

Jesus' words - will bring your personal kindom to its knees...


1 -2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
6"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
7"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
8"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
10"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
11 -12"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Salt and Light

13"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14 -16"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How cruel can religion be?

How cruel can religion be?
Pretty cruel, it turns out...

We know Hindus banished widows for centuries - reduced them to begging and prostitution, or death, because their husband had the audacity to die on them. Muslims routinely kill girls, forcing fathers and brothers to kill their own family, because of "dishonor."

In todays reading the Jewish religion showed a cruel side.

8 -9Jesus said, "Get up, take your bedroll, start walking." The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off."

Jesus healed a man who had been a cripple for 38 years. The response should have been incredible joy...

9 -10 "That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, "It's the Sabbath. You can't carry your bedroll around. It's against the rules."
11But he told them, "The man who made me well told me to. He said, 'Take your bedroll and start walking.'"
12 -13They asked, "Who gave you the order to take it up and start walking?" But the healed man didn't know, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd."

The concentration of the religious ones was on the fact that this former cripple was carrying something on the Sabbath, the day designated for rest and the glorification of God!

14A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, "You look wonderful! You're well! Don't return to a sinning life or something worse might happen."
15 -16The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. That is why the Jews were out to get Jesus—because he did this kind of thing on the Sabbath.
17But Jesus defended himself. "My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I."

Jesus is FOR you...

But religion can be cruel...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We've never seen anything like this!

Jesus was creating a sensation!
Come to think of it, he still does!!

Everywhere he went, people were getting healed. That was drawing the crowds big time, but it was what he said, and what he claimed, that was astonishing...

Mark 2
A Paraplegic
1 -5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."

Excuse me, did we hear right? Did that mere mortal man just say to that poor sick guy that he was, right on the spot, forgiving his sins?

6 -7Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins."

They might be part of a dead religion - all rules and no relationship. But they did have their theology down. They were right on, in that regard. No one can forgive sins but God Almighty, creator of the universe...

8 -12Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"

Did Jesus just claim to be God Almighty? Did he just do a miracle to back it up?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The most famous secret conversation in the world

Jesus is creating a sensation!

He is healing people and doing miracles.

He has the gaul to overturn tables and drive the sacrifice merchants out of the temple!

But it is his words that are making the most impact!! A leader of the religion seeks out Jesus late at night.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christus: A Mystery (I.2.4 Nicodemus at Night)

NICODEMUS.The streets are silent. The dark houses seem
Like sepulchres, in which the sleepers lie
Wrapped in their shrouds, and for the moment dead.
The lamps are all extinguished; only one
Burns steadily, and from the door its light
Lies like a shining gate across the street.
He waits for me.
Ah, should this be at last
The long-expected Christ!
I see him thereSitting alone, deep-buried in his thought,
As if the weight of all the world were
Upon him, and thus bowed him down.
O Rabbi,We know thou art a Teacher come from God,
For no man can perform the miracles
Thou dost perform, except the Lord be with him.
Thou art a Prophet, sent here to proclaim
The Kingdom of the Lord. Behold in me
A Ruler of the Jews, who long have waited
The coming of that kingdom. Tell me of it.
CHRISTUS.Verily, verily I say unto thee,
Except a man be born again, he cannot
Behold the Kingdom of God!
NICODEMUS.Be born again?
How can a man be born when he is old?
Say, can he enter for a second time
Into his mother's womb, and so be born?
CHRISTUS.Verily I say unto thee, except
A man be born of water and the spirit,
He cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.
For that which of the flesh is born, is flesh;
And that which of the spirit is born, is spirit.
NICODEMUS.We Israelites from the Primeval Man
Adam Ahelion derive our bodies;
Our souls are breathings of the Holy Ghost.
No more than this we know, or need to know.
CHRISTUS.Then marvel not, that I said unto thee
Ye must be born again.
NICODEMUS.The mystery
Of birth and death we cannot comprehend.
CHRISTUS.The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear
The sound thereof, but know not whence it cometh,
Nor whither it goeth.
So is every oneBorn of the spirit!
How can these things be?
He seems to speak of some vague realm of shadows,
Some unsubstantial kingdom of the air!
It is not this the Jews are waiting for,
Nor can this be the Christ, the Son of David,
Who shall deliver us!
CHRISTUS.Art thou a master
Of Israel, and knowest not these things?
We speak that we do know, and testify
That we have seen, and ye will not receive
Our witness. If I tell you earthly things,
And ye believe not, how shall ye believe,
If I should tell you of things heavenly?
And no man hath ascended up to heaven,
But he alone that first came down from heaven,
Even the Son of Man which is in heaven!
This is a dreamer of dreams; a visionary,
Whose brain is overtasked, until he deems
The unseen world to be a thing substantial,
And this we live in, an unreal vision!
And yet his presence fascinates and fills me
With wonder, and I feel myself exalted
Into a higher region, and become
Myself in part a dreamer of his dreams,
A seer of his visions!
CHRISTUS.And as Moses
Uplifted the serpent in the wilderness,
So must the Son of Man be lifted up;
That whosoever shall believe in Him
Shall perish not, but have eternal life.
He that believes in Him is not condemned;
He that believes not, is condemned already.
He speaketh like a
Prophet of the Lord!
CHRISTUS.This is the condemnation; that the light
Is come into the world, and men loved darkness
Rather than light, because their deeds are evil!
Of me he speaketh!
He reproveth me,
Because I come by night to question him!
CHRISTUS.For every one that doeth evil deeds
Hateth the light, nor cometh to the light
Lest he should be reproved.
Alas, how truly
He readeth what is passing in my heart!
CHRISTUS.But he that doeth truth comes to the light,
So that his deeds may be made manifest,
That they are wrought in God.
NICODEMUS.Alas! alas!

Fine Wine

Wine is mentioned througout the Old and New Testaments.

In today's reading Jesus is invited to a party. He is from a poor family. Raised in a simple village. This is simply a local wedding, happening in a small village called Cana.

John chapter 2: 1 -3 Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. "

Apparently the guest list was pretty open, because Jesus, his mother and all his disciples made the list. I'm guessing it was a cool spring day, not so hot as usual, and everyone showed up. Sounds like the food held up. The wine did not.

Mary comes to Jesus with the news. (Rather strange, because he was not at all a central player in this wedding)

When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus' mother told him, "They're just about out of wine."

There was an interesting undertone to the statement, because Jesus says,

4"Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn't my time. Don't push me."

She was hinting that he should do a miracle!
He grouses about it, then does it anyway!

5She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, "Whatever he tells you, do it."
6 -7Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, "Fill the pots with water." And they filled them to the brim.
8"Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host," Jesus said, and they did.
9 -10When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn't know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, "Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you've saved the best till now!"

Jesus makes wine for the party. LOTS of wine. (180 gallons, apparently) And, as wines go, it was GOOD wine!

11This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

So, I was raised in an evangelical tradition where all alcohol was prohibited. I was a teetotaler until I was 50. My wife still is.

Yet drinking, or not drinking, or prudent drinking - has nothing to do with this passage.

It is all about Jesus and His glory. God in flesh. Come to earth to live among us, show us what a sinless life looks like, and then to die for our sins...

ps. The bride and groom are not mentioned in the story. This goes on to be the most famous wedding in the history of the world. And the bride and groom are not mentioned!

(Somehow that strikes me as funny)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Test

For college there is the Scholastic Apptitude Test
To become a lawyer there is the Lsat.
For the military there is Boot Camp.
For comedians there are the 1000 local clubs.
For major league baseball there are the minors.
For the presidential race there is the campaign.

It seems like every great endeavor has a test. Jesus was tested too.

9 -11At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God's Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life."

12 -13At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.

Matthew 4
The Test
1 -3 Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test.
The Devil was ready to give it.
Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights.
That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: "Since you are God's Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread."
4Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: "It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God's mouth."
5 -6For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, "Since you are God's Son, jump." The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: "He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won't so much as stub your toe on a stone."
7Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: "Don't you dare test the Lord your God."
8 -9For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth's kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, "They're yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they're yours."
10Jesus' refusal was curt: "Beat it, Satan!" He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: "Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness."
11The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus' needs.

Jesus passed the test.
How am I doing with the test I am given?

The Cousin Creates a Ruckuss!

We know nothing about the cousin for 30 years. Is he a strange kid? We don't know!

But by the time he is 30, he is strange indeed. No wife. No job. No house - not even an apartment. He is a nomad. Homeless. Dressing himself - rather badly, I might add. He eats whatever he can get - as long as its free! Bugs and wild honey are mentioned...

But when he explodes on the scene, he creates a ruckuss. A ruckuss indeed!

Matthew 3
Thunder in the Desert!
1 -2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called "the Baptizer," was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings:
"Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
3John and his message were authorized by Isaiah's prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

After 400 years of silence, God was speaking! He used a man who was totally sold out. No one could threaten his job - he didn't have any. No one could threaten to kick him out of his house - he didn't have any.

4 -6John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey.

HE was a spectacle! But it was his message, and the purity of his challenge that captured people's attention.

People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7 -10When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It's your life that must change, not your skin! And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11 -12"I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.

His main purpose was to prepare the people spiritually, and announce the coming of the Messiah.

The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

Why did the boy create such a ruckuss?

My wife and I watched a program called Jesus - The Lost Years. It follows the potential path that Joseph and his family followed in Egypt when they fled there to save Jesus from getting killed by Herod. The Egyptian Christian church has traditions, and tales, and churches around each place they apparently travelled to. It was interesting.

What we know about Jesus boyhood years from the Scriptures is very little. Did he do miracles? - No record. But there is one record from when he was 12 years old. And he created quite the ruckuss. Twice!

41 -45Every year Jesus' parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn't know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn't find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.

So mom and dad are in a large group of friends. Completely safe. No worries. Except for at the end of the day. Where is Jesus? Can you imagine the alarm? Mom and dad finally retrace their steps - all the way back to Jerusalem.

46 -48The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers.

In the Temple he is creating another ruckuss. This time with the priests and teachers. They can't believe his questions. Who IS this kid?

But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.
His mother said, "Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you."
49 -50He said, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But they had no idea what he was talking about.

And that's all we know, in the Bible, about Jesus' boyhood years.

51 -52So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why did the scholars create such a ruckuss?

We are in the time period right now when President Obama is at war.

No - no in Afghanistan... Against Fox News! Apparently they are not towing the white house line, like all the other news stations. People in power do not like competition!!

This is not new.

After Jesus is born a group of travellers come to Jerusalem. They looked different. They spoke different. They were identified as scholars. (Did they wear birkenstocks?) They needed interpreters to speak to the people.

But this is not what caused all the ruckuss. It was the questions they were asking...

And they created a firestorm!

1 -2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod's kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, "Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We're on pilgrimage to worship him."
3 -4When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?"

Messiah? THE messiah? The long awaited deliverer of Israel? Herod was king. An illegitimate king by any measure. A puppet king, a vassal under the allmighty Roman Empire. But, a king, nonetheless.

And someone was going to depose him?

5 -6They told him, "Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It's you, Bethlehem, in Judah's land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel."
7 -8Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, "Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship."
9 -10Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

Herod now knew the place. And he also knew the time. Only one thing left to do. o

16 -18Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he'd gotten from the scholars.) That's when Jeremiah's sermon was fulfilled:
A sound was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone,
dead and buried.

So the scholars from the East verified that Jesus was the Messiah before he even spoke a word. They created a ruckuss!

And Herod - poor, pathetic paranod Herod, passed into history as a baby killer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why did Jesus create such a ruckuss?

There is a lot of stuff going on around Jesus' birth.

Mary gets a visit from an angel.
Her cousin Elizabeth is an old lady and is pregnant after she and old man Zack tried all their lives. Zack got a visit from an angel. It scared him speechless!

Joseph, Mary's fiancee gets a visit by an angel.

The shepherd's get a visit from an angel. Actually, an entire host of angels...

All this and Jesus had not done anything yet. He is born into a poor family who apparently don't own a house.

So why all the ruckuss?

Obviously, something supernatural is going on. Israel hadn't heard from God in 400 years. No prophets. The priests had gotten the religion going great, with lots of rules and regulations, but no one was hearing from God. Interesting!

You can have religion without God.

But when God shows up, you know it!!!
2:8 Now 268 there were shepherds 269 nearby 270 living out in the field, keeping guard 271 over their flock at night. 2:9 An 272 angel of the Lord 273 appeared to 274 them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. 275 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, 276 for I proclaim to you good news 277 that brings great joy to all the people: 2:11 Today 278 your Savior is born in the city 279 of David. 280 He is Christ 281 the Lord. 2:12 This 282 will be a sign 283 for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 284 2:13 Suddenly 285 a vast, heavenly army 286 appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
2:14 “Glory 287 to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among people 288 with whom he is pleased!” 289
2:15 When 290 the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem 291 and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord 292 has made known to us.” 2:16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 293 2:17 When 294 they saw him, 295 they related what they had been told 296 about this child, 2:18 and all who heard it were astonished 297 at what the shepherds said. 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. 298 2:20 So 299 the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising 300 God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told. 301

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The good news of the Gospel is that God came down as a man to save us from our sins and enter into a relationship that will continue throughout all time.

Today I am in Matthew chapter 1, the lineage of Jesus Christ. I am struck by the brokenness throughout that list.

"Jacob had Judah and his brothers,
Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar)"

Hold on - wasn't this one of the seediest stories in Genesis? Judah was travelling, and thought his daughter-in-law was a prostitute, so he had sex with her, and later she was found to be pregnant - by her own father-in-law?

"Nahshon had Salmon,
Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab)"
OK. So was this Rahab, the prostitute? The woman who hid the spies in her home in Jericho? The same one??
"Boaz had Obed (Ruth was the mother),
Obed had Jesse,
Jesse had David,
and David became king."
We know about Ruth. There is a whole book with her name on it. Yet she was a Moabitess, a foreigner. She was pure hearted and sincere and kind. God has a non Jew, a foreigner in the lineage of Christ. God's love is for EVERYBODY!
6 -11 "David had Solomon (Uriah's wife was the mother)"
No attempt to cover up here! The biggest mistake of David's life was to take a beautiful woman, and coerce her into having sex. She gets pregnant and he uses his power to murder the husband. This man, David, is in the lineage of Christ. And of all his 7 wives, the one who becomes the mother in the lineage of Jesus is the woman plucked from her husband and forced to marry the king. Wow!
God uses real people to accomplish his purposes. No pasty saints here! He redeems and regenerates any who would come to Him.
That is what jumped out at me in today's reading...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Could the worst thing that happens to you actually be the best?

Life is hard.
Sure, it has wonderful seasons, but no one gets through life without periods of difficulty.
Picture this...
A beautiful young girl. Devout. Chaste. Living quietly at home.
She has a boyfriend, who she is crazy about.
But they are playing by the rules.

One night she has a terrifying experience. It scared her thoroughly.

She went away to visit family who lived away from home.

By the time she came back, she was visibly pregnant and her boyfriend was not at all impressed.

Neither were her family or friends.

Would that not be the worst nightmare of a 13 year old girl?

Yet her name is Mary, and she went on to be the mother of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The story is in Luke chapter 1.

Sometimes the worst thing that happens to you can actually be the best!

Blessed Among Women

39 -45Mary didn't waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah's house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,
You're so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!
46 -55And Mary said,
I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Good people, with a tear in their eye and a tear in their soul...

They were good.
He was in ministry. She a good person and a good wife.
They loved each other, and happily settled into the roles and responsibilities of married life.
God. Family. Church. Work. Community.
Life rolled on - except no kids.
They went to the doctor.
Took tests.
Tried things, conventional and unconventional.
Mostly they prayed. "God, you made us. Couples all around us are having babies. Could you please give us the desire of our hearts?"
No answer.
They went forward to be prayed for.
They took fertility pills.
Still no answer.

Their prayer never was answered.

Certain events were harder than others. Fathers Day. Mothers Day. Invitations to showers. First their friends. As the years rolled by, then it was the children of their friends.

They arrived at old age, trying to be polite when all their friends pulled out the grandchild pictures, and raved about how great it was to be a grand parent. It was a joy they would never know.

Why, God? Why?

No answer.
They were good people.
With a tear in their eye...
And a tear in their soul...
Here is the story, as told by doctor Luke.
5 -7During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
8 -12It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
13 -15But the angel reassured him, "Don't fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You're going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He'll achieve great stature with God.
15 -17"He'll drink neither wine nor beer. He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God's arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he'll get the people ready for God."
18Zachariah said to the angel, "Do you expect me to believe this? I'm an old man and my wife is an old woman."
19 -20But the angel said, "I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won't believe me, you'll be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I've spoken to you will come true on time—God's time."
21 -22Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn't speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
23 -25When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn't long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. "So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!" she said.

Doctor, Doctor can you tell?

When I was a child there was a skip rope song that went like this:

Doctor, doctor can you tell,
What's the matter with _____ (Junell)
She is sick and about to die,
That would make poor _____ (Billy) cry,
Billy, Billy don't you cry,
She'll get better bye and bye
That would make poor Billy glad
Because he is now so sad.

Today a doctor speaks...

Luke 1
1 -4
So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story's beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Return to Me so I can Return to You

Malachi 3
The Master You've Been Looking For
1 "Look! I'm sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you've been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you've been waiting for. Look! He's on his way!" A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
2 -4But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance?
He'll be like white-hot fire from the smelter's furnace. He'll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He'll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He'll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they're fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.
5"Yes, I'm on my way to visit you with Judgment. I'll present compelling evidence against sorcerers, adulterers, liars, those who exploit workers, those who take advantage of widows and orphans, those who are inhospitable to the homeless—anyone and everyone who doesn't honor me." A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
6 -7"I am God—yes, I Am. I haven't changed. And because I haven't changed, you, the descendants of Jacob, haven't been destroyed. You have a long history of ignoring my commands. You haven't done a thing I've told you. Return to me so I can return to you," says God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Dedication of the Wall
27 -29 When it came time for the dedication of the wall, they tracked down and brought in the Levites from all their homes in Jerusalem to carry out the dedication exuberantly: thanksgiving hymns, songs, cymbals, harps, and lutes. The singers assembled from all around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth Gilgal, from the farms at Geba and Azmaveth—the singers had built villages for themselves all around Jerusalem.
30 The priests and Levites ceremonially purified themselves; then they did the same for the people, the gates, and the wall.
31 -36 I had the leaders of Judah come up on the wall, and I appointed two large choirs. One proceeded on the wall to the right toward the Dung Gate. Hashaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, including Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah. Some of the young priests had trumpets. Next, playing the musical instruments of David the man of God, came Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his brothers Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani. Ezra the scholar led them.
37 At the Fountain Gate they went straight ahead, up the steps of the City of David using the wall stairway above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.
38 -39 The other choir proceeded to the left. I and half of the people followed them on the wall from the Tower of Furnaces to the Broad Wall, over the Ephraim Gate, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, and the Tower of the Hundred as far as the Sheep Gate, stopping at the Prison Gate.
40 -42 The two choirs then took their places in The Temple of God. I was there with half of the officials, along with the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah with their trumpets. Also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers, directed by Jezrahiah, made the rafters ring.
43 That day they offered great sacrifices, an exuberant celebration because God had filled them with great joy. The women and children raised their happy voices with all the rest. Jerusalem's jubilation was heard far and wide."
An exuberant celebration because God had filled them with great joy!


It starts with Nehemiah's prayer, mourning, fasting and repenting for his sins and the sins of his people.

Then he gets commissioned to go rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem.

Amidst enormous opposition, that task is accomplished. Now it is time to seek the Lord as a nation...

Nehemiah 8
Ezra and The Revelation
1 By the time the seventh month arrived, the People of Israel were settled in their towns. Then all the people gathered as one person in the town square in front of the Water Gate and asked the scholar Ezra to bring the Book of The Revelation of Moses that God had commanded for Israel.
2 -3 So Ezra the priest brought The Revelation to the congregation, which was made up of both men and women—everyone capable of understanding. It was the first day of the seventh month. He read it facing the town square at the Water Gate from early dawn until noon in the hearing of the men and women, all who could understand it. And all the people listened—they were all ears—to the Book of The Revelation.
4 The scholar Ezra stood on a wooden platform constructed for the occasion. He was flanked on the right by Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, and on the left by Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
5 -6 Ezra opened the book. Every eye was on him (he was standing on the raised platform) and as he opened the book everyone stood. Then Ezra praised God, the great God, and all the people responded, "Oh Yes! Yes!" with hands raised high. And then they fell to their knees in worship of God, their faces to the ground.
7 -8 Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, all Levites, explained The Revelation while people stood, listening respectfully. They translated the Book of The Revelation of God so the people could understand it and then explained the reading.
9 Nehemiah the governor, along with Ezra the priest and scholar and the Levites who were teaching the people, said to all the people, "This day is holy to God, your God. Don't weep and carry on." They said this because all the people were weeping as they heard the words of The Revelation.
10 He continued, "Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don't have anything: This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!"
11 The Levites calmed the people, "Quiet now. This is a holy day. Don't be upset."
12 So the people went off to feast, eating and drinking and including the poor in a great celebration. Now they got it; they understood the reading that had been given to them.
13 -15 On the second day of the month the family heads of all the people, the priests, and the Levites gathered around Ezra the scholar to get a deeper understanding of the words of The Revelation. They found written in The Revelation that God commanded through Moses that the People of Israel are to live in booths during the festival of the seventh month. So they published this decree and had it posted in all their cities and in Jerusalem: "Go into the hills and collect olive branches, pine branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and any other leafy branches to make booths, as it is written."
16 -17 So the people went out, brought in branches, and made themselves booths on their roofs, courtyards, the courtyards of The Temple of God, the Water Gate plaza, and the Ephraim Gate plaza. The entire congregation that had come back from exile made booths and lived in them. The People of Israel hadn't done this from the time of Joshua son of Nun until that very day—a terrific day! Great joy!
18 Ezra read from the Book of The Revelation of God each day, from the first to the last day—they celebrated the feast for seven days. On the eighth day they held a solemn assembly in accordance with the decree.
Nehemiah 91 -3 Then on the twenty-fourth day of this month, the People of Israel gathered for a fast, wearing burlap and faces smudged with dirt as signs of repentance. The Israelites broke off all relations with foreigners, stood up, and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their parents. While they stood there in their places, they read from the Book of The Revelation of God, their God, for a quarter of the day. For another quarter of the day they confessed and worshiped their God.
4 -5 A group of Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani—stood on the platform and cried out to God, their God, in a loud voice. The Levites Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah said, "On your feet! Bless God, your God, for ever and ever!"
5 -6 Blessed be your glorious name, exalted above all blessing and praise! You're the one, God, you alone; You made the heavens, the heavens of heavens, and all angels; The earth and everything on it, the seas and everything in them; You keep them all alive; heaven's angels worship you!"

It ends with weeping, repenting and worshipping God!

Not dissuaded, not intimidated, not tricked

Sometimes, to accomplish God's will, you have to be a hard head.

Nehemiah 6
"I'm Doing a Great Work; I Can't Come Down"

1 -2 When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn't yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: "Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono."
2 -3 I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: "I'm doing a great work; I can't come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?"
4 Four times they sent this message and four times I gave them my answer.
5 -6 The fifth time—same messenger, same message—Sanballat sent an unsealed letter with this message:
6 -7 "The word is out among the nations—and Geshem says it's true— that you and the Jews are planning to rebel. That's why you are rebuilding the wall. The word is that you want to be king and that you have appointed prophets to announce in Jerusalem, 'There's a king in Judah!' The king is going to be told all this—don't you think we should sit down and have a talk?"
8 I sent him back this: "There's nothing to what you're saying. You've made it all up."
9 They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, "They'll give up; they'll never finish it."
I prayed, "Give me strength."
10 Then I met secretly with Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, at his house. He said: Let's meet at the house of God, inside The Temple; Let's find safety behind locked doors because they're coming to kill you, Yes, coming by night to kill you.
11 I said, "Why would a man like me run for cover? And why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won't do it."
12 -13 I sensed that God hadn't sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him. He had been hired to scare me off—trick me—a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.
14 "O my God, don't let Tobiah and Sanballat get by with all the mischief they've done. And the same goes for the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who have been trying to undermine my confidence."
15 -16 The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. It had taken fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard the news and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies totally lost their nerve. They knew that God was behind this work.

Sometimes, to accomplish God's will, you have to be a hard head.

If you follow God, things will be easy...

Nehemiah comes to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the gates. Everyone pitches in. Things are going good. This is God's will. It will go ahead with no drawbacks... Or will it?

Nehemiah 4
"I Stationed Armed Guards"
1 -2When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he exploded in anger, vilifying the Jews. In the company of his Samaritan cronies and military he let loose: "What are these miserable Jews doing? Do they think they can get everything back to normal overnight? Make building stones out of make-believe?"
3 At his side, Tobiah the Ammonite jumped in and said, "That's right! What do they think they're building? Why, if a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight."
4 -5 Nehemiah prayed, "Oh listen to us, dear God. We're so despised: Boomerang their ridicule on their heads; have their enemies cart them off as war trophies to a land of no return; don't forgive their iniquity, don't wipe away their sin—they've insulted the builders!"
6 We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the work.
7 -9 When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.
10 But soon word was going around in Judah,
The builders are pooped,
the rubbish piles up;
We're in over our heads,
we can't build this wall.
11 -12 And all this time our enemies were saying, "They won't know what hit them. Before they know it we'll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!" The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, "They have us surrounded; they're going to attack!" If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.
13 -14 So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: "Don't be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."
15 -18 Our enemies learned that we knew all about their plan and that God had frustrated it. And we went back to the wall and went to work. From then on half of my young men worked while the other half stood guard with lances, shields, bows, and mail armor. Military officers served as backup for everyone in Judah who was at work rebuilding the wall. The common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other. Each of the builders had a sword strapped to his side as he worked. I kept the trumpeter at my side to sound the alert.
19 -20 Then I spoke to the nobles and officials and everyone else: "There's a lot of work going on and we are spread out all along the wall, separated from each other. When you hear the trumpet call, join us there; our God will fight for us."
21 And so we kept working, from first light until the stars came out, half of us holding lances.
22 I also instructed the people, "Each person and his helper is to stay inside Jerusalem—guards by night and workmen by day."
23 We all slept in our clothes—I, my brothers, my workmen, and the guards backing me up. And each one kept his spear in his hand, even when getting water."

One thing I have never understood - why is life so hard? Why is life hard when you are following God and trying to do His will?

One day I will understand.

Meanwhile, work day and night, with the spear in one hand and the trowel in the other...

Face it: we're in a bad way here

Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the gates were burned with fire.
He wept. He mourned for days. He fasted and prayed. He repented for the sins of his people.

He asked for God's intervention, and God granted him grace before the king.

7 -8 Then I said, "If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah; and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I'll be living."
8 -9 The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me. When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king's letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort."

Wow! Nehemiah is on a roll! Money, permission, materials and an escort. What could go wrong?

10 "When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very upset, angry that anyone would come to look after the interests of the People of Israel."

We will hear more from them later...

"Come—Let's Build the Wall of Jerusalem"
11 -12 And so I arrived in Jerusalem. After I had been there three days, I got up in the middle of the night, I and a few men who were with me. I hadn't told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. The only animal with us was the one I was riding.
13 -16 Under cover of night I went past the Valley Gate toward the Dragon's Fountain to the Dung Gate looking over the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken through and whose gates had been burned up. I then crossed to the Fountain Gate and headed for the King's Pool but there wasn't enough room for the donkey I was riding to get through. So I went up the valley in the dark continuing my inspection of the wall. I came back in through the Valley Gate. The local officials had no idea where I'd gone or what I was doing—I hadn't breathed a word to the Jews, priests, nobles, local officials, or anyone else who would be working on the job.
17 -18 Then I gave them my report: "Face it: we're in a bad way here. Jerusalem is a wreck; its gates are burned up. Come—let's build the wall of Jerusalem and not live with this disgrace any longer." I told them how God was supporting me and how the king was backing me up. "

So Nehemiah used to have an easy job. Dangerous, but easy. Go to the palace and taste anything the king drinks before he drinks it.l

Now his job has more meaning, but is going to be much more complicated...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Job No One Wanted

Reality TV is full of them...

Most Dangerous!
Deadliest catch!
Dirtiest Jobs!

Shows about jobs that no one wants...

In a free society, how come guys would choose to have a job capping oil wells on fire? Or trying to catch fish in the surging Alaskan North Sea? Or capturing aligators? Somehow, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just end up doing something distasteful, or difficult, or dangerous.

Nehemiah was a captive. He landed one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Taste everything the king drinks before he drinks it. If someone has tried to poison the king, the wine taster falls dead, and the king chooses not to drink that particular wine.
That was Nehemiah's job. So every single day could be his last. "Bye, honey. I'm off to work. If I don't make it home tonight..."
There was an upside to this job. First, he had daily, personal access to the king. He was around at every meal, every day. Over time, there comes to be an easy sense of comfort in someone who is always around. The king had to have at least a small sense of gratitude for the guy who was daily risking his life.
"I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah 2
1 -2 It was the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king. At the hour for serving wine I brought it in and gave it to the king. I had never been hangdog in his presence before, so he asked me, "Why the long face? You're not sick are you? Or are you depressed?"
2 -3 That made me all the more agitated. I said, "Long live the king! And why shouldn't I be depressed when the city, the city where all my family is buried, is in ruins and the city gates have been reduced to cinders?"
4 -5 The king then asked me, "So what do you want?"
Praying under my breath to the God-of-Heaven, I said, "If it please the king, and if the king thinks well of me, send me to Judah, to the city where my family is buried, so that I can rebuild it."
6 The king, with the queen sitting alongside him, said, "How long will your work take and when would you expect to return?"
I gave him a time, and the king gave his approval to send me.
7 -8 Then I said, "If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah; and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I'll be living."
8 -9 The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me. When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king's letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort."
So God gave Nehemiah favor with the king, and 13 years after Ezra set out for Jerusalem, Nehemiah also set out, to rebuild the walls and gates of the city.
He went from one job no one wanted, to the toughest assignment of his life...


Now Xerxes son is ruling the kingdom of Persia.

God causes him to facilitate the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, with money and manpower, protected by the law.

Ezra is a leader of the people.

6 -7 That's Ezra. He arrived from Babylon, a scholar well-practiced in the Revelation of Moses that the God of Israel had given. Because God's hand was on Ezra, the king gave him everything he asked for. Some of the Israelites—priests, Levites, singers, temple security guards, and temple slaves—went with him to Jerusalem. It was in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.

He had dedicated himself to God, even while in a foreign and pagan land.

"Ezra had committed himself to studying the Revelation of God, to living it, and to teaching Israel to live its truths and ways."

Ezra was a scholar and a priest, and he believed God and trusted God to protect and defend them.

21 -22 I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions. I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, "Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him."
23 So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Even though the little band had 25 tons of silver and a lot of gold, they arrived safely and began to lead the people in worshipping and seeking God and living according to His word.

Oh may we be like Ezra!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tipping the balance of power

Esther's story has been made into a movie many times. Talk of passion and power, intrigue and double crossing, danger and deliverance!

What struck me this time through was the balance of power.

Esther was an orphan, so Mordecai, who raised her, had the power over her.
Then she becomes queen, and she has all the power compared to him.
Then there is a plot to kill the king, and Esther makes sure he knows that Mordecai was the one who uncovered it and save the king.
Then Haman is promoted, and he has all the power.
Mordecai refuses to bow to him, so Haman has all the Jews put on a death list.
Esther goes before the king, with NO power, and pleads for her people.
Haman is killed, and Mordecai is promoted, so now he has real power.

The apex of the story is Esther going before the king. Here is the text:

12 -14 When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message: "Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you're the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this."
15 -16 Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: "Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don't eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I'll go to the king, even though it's forbidden. If I die, I die."
17 Mordecai left and carried out Esther's instructions.
Esther 51 -3 Three days later Esther dressed in her royal robes and took up a position in the inner court of the palace in front of the king's throne room. The king was on his throne facing the entrance. When he noticed Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased to see her; the king extended the gold scepter in his hand. Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. The king asked, "And what's your desire, Queen Esther? What do you want? Ask and it's yours—even if it's half my kingdom!"
4 "If it please the king," said Esther, "let the king come with Haman to a dinner I've prepared for him."

Esther risks her life and saves her entire nation from extinction! What a great story!!