Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)

And:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

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.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

Looking Up

You know how, when you are watching a good movie or play, you get so absorbed into it, it almost seems as though you forget it’s not real?  For awhile it’s as though you are there, participating.  It’s kind of a shock when the lights go up and you snap back to reality.  I got thinking about that when I read this line from Luke’s gospel:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.  (Luke 9:16)

Here’s my question: Why did Jesus look up?  Perhaps the most obvious answer is because He was a human.  We humans intuitively know God resides on a higher plane, so looking up to Him or raising our hands to Him as we pray seems natural.  On the other hand, Jesus was (and is) God – mysteriously, simultaneously, fully human and fully God – which makes His posture more puzzling.

I suspect He did looked up for a mixture of reasons.  Partly, for the reason above – it seems natural for humans to do so.  But I believe He also looked up to non-verbally show those around Him earthly life is not all there is to reality.  Reality goes far beyond and includes everything on a heavenly plane.  I think Jesus was breaking the illusion that life here on earth is all there is.

If you were watching a play, completely caught up in it, absorbed and transfixed, when one of the actors suddenly forgot his line and looked down for the prompter’s help, it would break the spell.  You would suddenly snap back to a fuller perception of reality, knowing you were watching a performance.  Jesus came, He said, to “bear witness to the truth.”  In truth, what happens here on earth in not all there is.  Not even close.  Perhaps He looked up to help us snap out of the illusion it is.

The Psalm about Jesus

Have you wandered too far from God to be rescued?  Are your troubles too difficult for Him?  Psalm 107 reflects on the many different times and ways Israel turned away from God, got themselves in deep trouble and how, by His enduring love, He brought them back.  In a curious way, it also foreshadows how the rescue of Jesus meets us in our particular circumstances, no matter how we have wandered away.  The psalm is too long to be quoted here, but read it for yourself to see all the similarities.

For example, Psalm 107 says:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:4-6)

If you have wandered and found yourself hungry and thirsty for God, craving inner peace and nourishment, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

Psalm 107 says:

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

See what I mean?  You’ll see many parallels.  Jesus told a parable about the shepherd who searches far and wide for the lost sheep.  If we are willing, He’ll find us and rescue us, no matter what.  God’s enduring love comes to us through Jesus.  Take some time to ponder how each of the scenarios in Psalm 107 may have been (or may currently be) symbolic of your life circumstances.  Then, note how, in each one, there is repeated something like this:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:6)

God is not unaware of our troubles.  He does not force help upon us but waits for us to ask.  Jesus refers to those who “come to Me” and those who “follow Me” for the same reason.  If you need His help, cry out for it, turn to Him.

The Psalm also repeats this important reminder:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  (Psalm 107:8)

 

 

Maybe Closer?

My brother is named Dave, so we call him Pete.  Don’t ask.  He has a  great sense of humor and a deep passion for the Lord.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  Last time, in a post called Not Even Close, I reflected on how, as I get to know Jesus better, I sense I hardly know Him.  He’s so much more than I can wrap my mind around.  Here is Pete’s response, somewhat tongue in cheek:

I appreciated your blog, Not Even Close, about the impossibility of figuring out Jesus.   Well, I did some research and, thanks to Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I think Jesus can be understood easily.   You see, Paul uses words like “love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  And in Romans 11:33 he says the depth of His wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and His ways unfathomable.  So, if you want to truly know Jesus, all you have to do is get out a stronger telescope or a longer ruler.

I like dwelling on the words of Eph. 3:20 –  that He is able to do not just what we may ask or think, and not just more than we ask or think, and not just beyond that, but “exceeding abundantly beyond”.  Or, immeasurably , or, another translation, super excessively.

And, now, if your brain doesn’t hurt from thinking about that, look at Eph. 1:19  “and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength”, and the rest of the chapter boils over with his power and might.

And if you get that figured out you’ll know Jesus.

You know what?  I’m going to stop trying to explain it.  It’s too great, too overpowering, too wonderful, it’s immeasurable and unfathomable.  And I can’t see the keyboard when I’m on my face.

Thanks, Pete…

Not Even Close

Now what?  Within a few days, most retirees ask themselves that question.  I also asked God and was startled by His specific answer.  No, I don’t hear Him audibly but am occasionally sure Who is speaking.  His answer?  “Spend time getting to know Jesus.”  What???  I had spent the last 25 years doing just that, I thought, in seminary and serving as a pastor.  I felt a bit offended, felt like saying, “Hey, God, I’m a professional…”  He didn’t budge.

I can’t say I embarked on an orderly, intense process of study; it’s not in my wiring.  But, over the last several years, His assignment has been on my front burner.  Here’s what I have learned: I don’t have even the slightest sliver of a clue of Who Jesus really is.  Not even close.  The magnitude of Jesus is beyond my capacity to understand.  Like, as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Speaking about worship, Annie Dillard asked, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we blithely invoke?” and suggested, if we did, we’d wear crash helmets and life preservers in church.  I’m beginning to see how right she is.  John spent the better part of three years in daily contact with Jesus.  And yet, when he encountered a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, he could hardly comprehend what he was seeing and cowered in fear.

Here’s how Paul tried to express the magnitude of Jesus.  Take time to ponder the full impact of each phrase:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

Future Perfect

Did you invest in Bitcoin last year?  If so, perhaps you made a killing.  Or, perhaps you lost your shirt.  Nobody but nobody saw the wild bitcoin ride coming.  But then again, who knows the future about anything?  As Yogi Berra quipped, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Can you think of any system of faith that has accurately predicted the future?  The God of the Bible sets His predictions up as a test of His credibility.  He said, “If these things don’t happen, don’t waste your time with me.”  And why should we?  Who wants to worship and depend upon a god that is constantly slapping his forehead and saying, “Well, I didn’t see that coming”?  I am amazed by how much of the Bible was written to foretell events that would eventually happen hundreds of years into the future.  If you are trying to decide if God exists, or, if He does, which one He is, here is how He says you can be sure:

3 I foretold the former things long ago,
my mouth announced them and I made them known;
then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
4 For I knew how stubborn you were;
your neck muscles were iron,
your forehead was bronze.
5 Therefore I told you these things long ago;
before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
‘My images brought them about;
my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’
6 You have heard these things; look at them all.
Will you not admit them?
“From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.
7 They are created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
‘Yes, I knew of them.’ (Isaiah 48:3-7)

He went on to predict, through His prophet, Isaiah, the rise and fall of nations, the exile and return of Israel, and then the birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and triumph of His Son, Jesus.  It all happened between 100 and 700 years later.  Except the last part, which is still coming.  Given His track record, skip Bitcoin and invest in God.

No Last Drop

Picture a pitcher, a vessel so full the water quivers at the lip, ready to spill at the slightest bump.  Think of a plate of pancakes so awash in syrup it’s dripping off the side onto the table.  Got the picture?  That’s the meaning of the word translated, “fullness,” in the Bible.  You cannot plumb the depths of fullness.  Fullness bespeaks an inexhaustable supply.

Which is why you want to pause over that word in this line from John about Jesus. 

John 1:16

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

People who get to know Jesus soon discover there is no end or limit to His grace.  He’s never too busy, too tired, too disappointed, too mad or just plain distracted.  His grace is poured out from fullness.  It’s not that He always gives us what we want.  Jesus doesn’t spoil His kids.  But in His wisdom and from His fullness, He generously provides what we need.

This past year His grace upon grace to me has provided in ways I didn’t realize I needed.  I am deeply thankful.  Here’s a prayer for a joyous Thanksgiving for each of you.