The Vibrant Run of the Strong Man Sun

SaskiaPotter-319

“In [the heavens] He has placed a tent for the sun,
W
hich is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of the them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

Psalm 19:4b-6

What is it about joy that makes us want to run? There are some days when I can breathe so deep the sigh of peace that it sweeps through the whole of me like a spring breeze. I can’t exactly account for all of the reasons why the strength of that oxygen fills the cells and the muscles and the lungs more than another day, but one common denominator is found – the Lord is just so good. When I came across this verse this morning, I could relate so well to the sun, I just couldn’t hold it in or resist inviting others into this experience.

David is watching the morning sun break forth over the earth in its jubilant proclamation of the day. Instead of worshiping it, He reflects on its demonstration of praise to the Lord, and describes it with two metaphors.

  1. The Bridegroom Coming Out of His Chamber:  The “Chamber” in this case is what’s called a “chuppa,” which is a small tent that a couple is married under. A tallit, or (simplistically) a prayer shawl, is hung over the top of the small structure as a “tabernacle” or “tent”, and symbolized the shekinah glory (or manifest presence) of the Lord coming down and uniting the couple as one flesh. I believe this was not just about the creative miracle of the Lord’s presence uniting the couple, but also about the unity between the Lord and the couple, to empower them, to heal them, to participate in the creation of children, and to fulfill His will together as one new unit.I often thought this verse described the bridegroom emerging in the morning from his wedding night, but the use of this word makes me think it is the moment after the couple is announced in the marriage ceremony, emerging from under the chuppa. Bryan and I were married this way, and I remember a moment in the midst of the ceremony when I looked up and discovered that a kind friend had replaced the sheet I had planned to use with a tallit! I noticed this after I felt the weighty presence of the Lord between us as our pastor prayed over us. It was truly awe-inspiring. I saw Bryan emerge from that tent with such a vibrant overflow of joy and love that he couldn’t help but display–the confidence, the victory, the finality that his love was completely his forever.

In the same way, we have the opportunity, within the daily activities of our lives, to display the joy of union with the Lord in ardent worship as if it were the first moment when we said yes to His call.

  1. The Strong Man Running His Course: Several years ago, I was listening to Imogen Heap’s song, “Can’t Take It In.” It is about Lucy Pevensie in the Chronicles of Narnia, as she is awakening to the breathtaking reality of new possibilities and adventure–and her full, uninhibited participation in them. In the song, Heap sings,

“Oh empty my heart
I’ve got to make room for this feeling
It’s so much bigger than me.”

An image flashed through my mind while I listened. The setting was a warm day in Cambridge along a meadow path in the countryside I had visited a few years earlier. A sweet breeze gathered the pleasant fragrance of the grass and spring buds in the heat of the day. I saw a woman in a white dress with her hair blowing backwards, running broadly with all the breath in her lungs–strong, enduring, joyful. I’m not sure where it came from, or why it was there, but I longed with all my heart to be healthy enough to express worship with this kind of sustained energy–the physical need to express love emerging from my heart by emptying everything out, breathing it in, and releasing it again and again. I have since been growing in physical health to the point where this reality is not far away, and I can better understand the metaphor of the sun as a strong man, running his course across the earth, unrestrained, able to fully exhibit the joy of worship to the creator by shedding it abroad on every man.

The metaphor of the sun’s radiant course is a tangible example of how the love of the Lord empowers us to dream, to live, to accomplish, to conquer, and to endure with joy. Oh how I long to live in this vibrant love, that all may see and rejoice in the Lord.

*(Photo by Saskia Laura Potter)

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The Greatness of Serving

The human heart has a natural drive for greatness. This is not something that is taught, but is inherent. One person may long for recognition, while another does not; however both care that their life is both meaningful and impactful, and ideally, that that impact is felt beyond their small sphere of influence. It is not just the encouragement of society that leads us to dream for meaning beyond ourselves–it is how we are created. However, the division of fulfillment is not necessarily in knowing what to do vs. not, but rather in knowing what true greatness looks like.

In high school, I had a peculiar moment while praying. I don’t remember the circumstances altogether, whether I was praying about my future, or just reading my Bible, but a phrase ran through my mind that felt like the Lord speaking to me: “You will live your life to help raise up another man’s vision.” I was a little dumbfounded and frustrated. “Lord, you mean yours, right? Because I’m submitted to you? Because I’m going to be a leader, right?” At this time, I was leading the Bible study in our high school, serving as a student leader in our youth group, and confident at speaking in public. The way things were going, I just assumed that I would be in some prominent position as I grew up. This wasn’t necessarily a bad desire. In fact, as I mentioned above, it was perfectly natural and healthy. However, I had a very particular assumption of what it would look like, and quite frankly, I was pretty prideful.

I tried to wave away the idea, as though I’d thought it up myself, but there was a familiar sense of peace, joy, and invitation that accompanied it. I’ve felt this many times before when I sensed the Lord was asking me to do something difficult; however when it is truly Him, I can feel that His grace is available to accomplish the task, and any trepidation I’m experiencing is undergirded by a desire to see what He has on the other side — almost like an adventure. Also, as is obvious by my initial reaction, this is probably not something I would have thought of by myself, even in my most self-deprecating moments.

Over the past seven years, I have been the administrative assistant at a church for two different leaders, a secondary leader in the youth group, and the youth pastor for a short period of time. In all but the last role, I worked very closely with the primary leaders. Though I have mostly been a worker carrying out their requests, I have also had the honor of hearing their thoughts, having my opinion asked, and influencing decisions with my input. I must admit, I have also wrestled with the temptation of thinking, “If I were in their position, I would do things differently.”

Well, a couple of years ago, I got my chance. Through a series of transitions, I ended up as the primary youth pastor over our small youth program. I only led for about a year because our group began to dwindle for various reasons, and I felt the need to focus on my new marriage and administrative position. I believe part of this closure was due to the change of seasons in our church, the lives of our students, and the lives of their families, but I cannot deny that I was floundering. I saw in this instance that my most influential position was not actually the place of leadership, but of support to those who had been before me.

I have also discovered this in my primary job as administrator. More than in developing and casting a vision, I am gifted in seeing the whole picture, filling in the details, and making it happen. Occasionally, I brainstorm an idea, and honestly, this is usually brought about by conversation and collaboration. My best ideas generally have not come while thinking on my own, but when I’ve been connecting with others. Also, I might have strong opinions on where I believe our church should go, but I have found that when I submit them to honor those in authority and serve their vision, that I have greater impact than if I had been leading myself. This is because I am functioning fully in the strengths that are unique to me.

I’m beginning to understand that this call to serve someone else’s vision is very true for me. The Lord was clueing me in at an early stage of my life to the skills I had and would develop. My example is a specific illustration of a principle that, by extension, is true for all of us. Many people are called to be visionaries that take the lead, and they will apply this in a different way. However, in either case (and I would imagine my example is more common to most of us), when our gifts and talents are used to maximize another’s potential or serve a greater purpose than our own, we are fulfilled by default. This is the miracle of servanthood. I want to put a wrench in our modern drive for achievement, not because it is bad, but because the presentation of its fulfillment can be illusory. I recently heard a phrase that made this clearer to me: “What I am part of is bigger than the part that I play.” To me, it meant that my role in a mission is invaluable, and as I contribute to it, what matters is not the size of the role or the notoriety I gain from what I do, but my faithfulness to fully play my part. If I truly believe in something, what matters is that it is accomplished.

As I grow older, I can confidently say that I heard the Lord correctly that day, only now, I am not disappointed, but energized. Ultimately, I was right; whether I get to execute my own plans in an organization or administrate another’s, all of it is unto the Lord’s grand plans, and it doesn’t matter to me whether my part is small or big; I am honored that I’ve been invited to participate. In the process, I fully experience what He created me to be. What is more fulfilling – being known and exalted, or becoming fully alive because I am exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I was created to do?

I came across an interesting phrase in Isaiah a few years ago. In Isaiah 49:7, God is speaking to His Servant, whom we believe to be Jesus. His message is that the Servant will be a restorer, a ruler, and a light to the nations. In the process of describing Him, God calls him “the servant of rulers.” I was fascinated. Isn’t Jesus the king of kings, the name above every other name, the ultimate ruler? I was following along in an online Bible course, and the teacher, David Sliker, commented on this:

“In the world, we serve and are promoted to no longer serve. In the kingdom, we serve and receive more authority so that the reality of servanthood and humility would permeate the kingdom of God.”

In the kingdom of God, increasing levels of authority lead to increasing levels of service. Jesus demonstrated this when He gave His life for us. He didn’t cling to His divine entitlements, though worthy of them. His service to humanity qualified Him as a leader and demonstrated His perfect mixture of wisdom, mercy, and justice.

Also, serving is part of His nature. To receive His leadership over our lives is to receive His service to us. Peter recoiled at the thought of Jesus washing his feet, but Jesus replied that Peter could have no relationship with Him otherwise. Jesus is our king and judge, and part of how He judges is to serve. Jesus’ judgements restore us, and are administered in love. We must receive His leadership in this way because it is who He is. As we receive Him in this way, our hearts are tenderized, our character is transformed, we submit to His commands, and we become like Him. We learn to serve others in love, as well, and the pattern continues.

As we take the example of Jesus and apply it in our own lives, we find that our lives are filled with meaning and impact. The goals of running a board meeting or calling the shots become irrelevant. It might be that our current sphere of influence is where our gifts are most keenly needed. And moreover, it may be that as we give ourselves to serving one another, that the very place of greatness we desired to achieve is found in laying down our lives and helping to fulfill a vision that is greater than ourselves.

Peace is a Weapon

This is a call to live the scandalous command given to us, “Do not be anxious for anything!” (Phil. 4:4). It’s shockingly offensive to think we could be called to live without anxiety about the events of the world because in our social media-driven society, anxiety has been correlated with caring. However, what it does instead is steal our energy, creativity, and hope for change.

These days, it seems that hope is like fresh moisture, quickly evaporated by the choking fumes of confusion and doubt. But really, it is nothing less than what it has always been—an everlasting sun, the one true fixture, simply hidden. We can easily perceive hope as something frail and transient because trials and tribulations eclipse our experience of life; our activity is primarily focused on defeating negative things. However, I wonder how different our battles would be if we were sure of the outcome, confident that what we are fighting for is already established and simply needs to be acknowledged. If we did this, our battles would be waged with peace, which sounds very strange initially. However, I believe that peace is the only truly effective weapon.

I’m not talking about peace in the political sense. I’m thinking about the crowded room of voices in my head all vying for my emotional investment, and how I just long for quiet. At face value, that statement seems selfish, a luxury reserved for the wealthy and the apathetic.

But before I expound on what I mean, let us consider the flipside. No one truly would advocate that we walk around in anxious turmoil, but subconsciously, it is how we insist we should live if we want a better world. We know that anxiety causes our life expectancy to drop, and yet, 75% of what I see on social media exists to incite rage against an injustice that has been overlooked. It is called an appeal to the emotions, and as a form of argumentation, it is very effective. Awareness is a blessing, and so is the speed of media, but it can also be a trap. Once again, no one would argue that we should give ourselves to every need that is put in front of us, but the pressure to respond is growing proportionately to the great outcry rising against the injustices of our world.

If we do not believe there is an ultimate judge and advocate for these issues, the only solution is self-reliant activism. Anxiety sets in as the weight of the immeasurable need is set against our limited resources, and we realize we cannot produce what is required to respond. Even if we rallied everyone to our cause, it would still be insufficient. What results instead of informed is fatigued; instead of energized and impassioned, we are exhausted. But we cannot just give up. How do we respond effectively when there are such astonishing needs, and now we are aware of seemingly all of them at once?

I believe it goes back to the place of peace, and by that I mean something very specific. In the same way I believe hope is a concrete and ever-present reality, I believe this about peace, because I believe both of these states find their source in Jesus. What we have to ask is whether Jesus is fully in control, whether He is capable of addressing the needs of our world—environmentally, socially, and politically—and finally, whether He is willing to address these needs. And when we discover that the Bible answers a resounding “Yes” to each one of these questions, a couple of things take place: one, when I know that God is a righteous judge, the responsibility of producing justice of my own accord is lifted off my shoulders; two, when I know that Jesus is a righteous king who has promised to deal ultimately and completely with the evil in our world, the possibility of the service of justice to every need, great and small, is assured to me. This kind of confidence produces a great sense of peace in my heart that stills all fears about the travail of the world. If Jesus IS our peace–the embodiment of complete well-being and wholeness–and if He is alive and has promised to return and establish this peace in every sphere of society, I can dispel every fear that stirs me to rise up and take care of business on my own.

One would think that living in confidence of His sovereignty would produce a sort of apathy, except it does not. In fact we are now freed to take part in the small role that he has given to us, one, without fear that it is not enough, and two, with the assurance that the work we do makes not only a temporal, but also eternal difference. We are freed to prayerfully consider what it is that we are being called to do in any given situation, and like Jesus, only do what we see the Father doing. Is intercession the most effective use of our time, emotions, and resources (because if we truly are asking for His kingdom to come, and His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, prayer IS an effective activity in and of itself)? Or are we being asked to respond in a particular way? I believe we will be asked to pray more often over matters we would rather act on, and act on matters we would rather sit back and let someone else take care of.

If we respond to the troublesome activity around us by first setting our confidence on His gracious orchestration of history, and then intentionally asking what HIS plans are for our participation, more effective work will take place, and the sense of calling that comes will fuel greater acts of generosity, righteousness, and healing than if we spend all of our emotional energy on every need we see.

Jesu, Our Hope in Division

IMG_2195“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” – Abraham Lincoln

I stood reading these words, etched broadly and boldly into the massive walls of marble beside the stately figure of Lincoln in his memorial in Washington D.C. His figure is imposing; sober, yet tender, confident and unrelenting, at peace with his decisions. Whatever the spectrum of motives he had during the course of the Civil War, it is clear that He was a man chosen to lead our nation during an hour when division was imminent and bitter. As I read his second inaugural address, I was struck by the familiarity of the moment we find ourselves in now as a nation, tensions rising, division growing, offense looking for an opportunity to express itself. I began to pray, “Lord, have mercy. What do we do? Lord help us.”

Even as I prayed, I turned to hear a faint, but beautiful sound rising. Two young men had stepped into the memorial, violin bows brandished, and sweetly, their song rose throughout the whole temple declaring the beauty of Jesus as they played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I began to weep as the sweet presence of the Lord filled the air, pervasive as a pleasant perfume. In the midst of my sober moment, it was as though the Lord stepped in and said, “I am the answer. I am turning the hearts of men to rejoice in Me as their desire.” This joyful, peaceful song soothed my heart, and hope arose.

Sure enough, these young men were part of the event I was attending, Awaken the Dawn. This weekend, the Washington Mall played host to 50+ tents representing every state in the Union, as followers of Jesus came to worship Him day and night for three days. I was moved to tears as I began to hope for the day when Jesus’ name would be boldly lifted up in every exalted place of government as the only worthy one of worship.

I believe that when we are united by a common devotion to Jesus and His just and righteous Lordship, that our hearts will turn towards one another and seek each other’s good; as we release our lives to His Lordship, and desire His will instead of our own, true justice will manifest as we see with His perspective, and walk without offense as one family, one body with many races, cultures, and tongues. Though much can be attained by an appeal to society, the transformation of the heart is the realm of the Lord, and the ministry of reconciliation is His alone. Let us draw near to Him, as the joy of our desire, that He may transform our nation and bring His peace.

Dear Voter: Do Not Be Afraid

I’m sure we’re all feeling it – the choke of helplessness as we approach the fateful decision that awaits our country in less than three weeks. I’ve never been so eager to see a ballot in the mail just so I can send it in and get it over with. This election, we’ve seen unprecedented unrest, division, and disrespect spattered across our society at almost every level. We may be tempted to say, “Lord, we need you more than ever before.” However, I believe that all this time, we have not felt our need for Him, and in His great mercy, He has given us an opportunity to answer the question, “Who do you trust?”

Succeeding the next President of the United States is a weighty and important decision. Voting is a privilege that we have been given for which I believe we will be held accountable. Our prayers are mighty, but we are both spirit and body, and must not neglect the practical aspects of making our voices heard by only favoring the spiritual.

At the same time, while we research, while we weigh the issues, mark the boxes, and pray, will we consign ourselves to despair if the decision is made that we fear most? Let us not be distracted by the possibilities that await us and fail to recognize the moment we’ve been given to entrust ourselves to the Lord’s very capable orchestration of history.

I’m reminded of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Chapter 6. He had experienced the righteous reign of Uzziah after the many generations of wicked kings that smeared Israel’s royal lineage. However, after making reforms to draw Israel back to the Lord, Uzziah became prideful, assuming his authority as a kind of Messiah, offered unlawful sacrifices, was struck with leprosy, and died. Isaiah’s grief is evident; His encounter with the Lord is specifically marked as the year of King Uzziah’s death. But it all fades away when He sees Jesus high and lifted up. Jesus’ majesty levels Isaiah to a stupor, as Isaiah realizes that no human solution, even the most righteous we have to offer, can compare with the One who is coming to reign and will make all things right.

I’m not going to encourage anyone to take a specific side in this post, but I will encourage us not to crumple in fear or steel ourselves with offense. Rather, let this opportunity work in us exactly what it’s meant to – an urgency to cry out to The Lord, to draw near to Him. What do we do next?

1. Worship: When John the Apostle was shown the events of the days before Jesus’ return, He was first shown the worship room of Heaven in chapter 4. He saw the eternal worship of God and His firm, deft hand orchestrating the events that would prepare the world to make the most important decision – whether they would submit King Jesus or not. We see two important things happening:
a. Heaven’s inhabitants’ worthy fascination and focus upon the Almighty God.
b. The fact that the events of the end times are released at the hand of Jesus himself as He opens the scroll.

When we focus on The Lord, our hearts are settled in confidence that He is in control and that regardless of what takes place, He is worthy of all honor, adoration, and praise.

2. Pray: We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). He was given all authority on heaven and earth, and then told us to “go”, a license to draw from that authority as His representatives (Matt. 28:18). The first place we exercise this authority is in relationship with Him, agreeing with His plans, and then asking Him to release them on the earth (Matt 6:9-11). We can pray for our candidates, our elected representatives, and officials. We can move earth as we move the heart of Heaven.

3. Love: This election’s decision has the potential to be more divisive than any I’ve ever seen. Under normal circumstances, we are desperately in need of the resource of love that can only come from God to bestow upon one another. How much more in this instance. Too much division has already been caused as a result of this election process. Let us seek The Lord for His perspective of one another, choosing to see what He sees and love how He loves.

Additionally, it may be that in coming days, we will see a greater persecution of our rights as believers, and a removal of our entitlements. We have been given a privilege in America that few in our world have – fair representation and opportunity for all. Unfortunately, independence and isolation have become the fruit of our freedoms. In other places in the world, the pressure of persecution has driven people to depend upon one another and to draw closer. Whether we continue to enjoy our privileges – or not – we must allow the pressure to strengthen, not weaken, our need to love one another in practical, consistent ways.

4. Repent: The priesthood of various generations were hailed scourging condemnation that they were accountable for the dissolute state of the people. We must take a look at our own lives and ask for the Lord to cleanse us where we have chosen our own way instead of loving the joy of a holy life. And we must ask for wisdom to bring the Kingdom of God, moment-by-moment, relationship-by-relationship. We must refuse to depend solely upon legislation to establish morality, and allow the leading of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives to transform our surroundings..

5. Trust: In Psalm 2, as the nations “throw off the fetters” of God’s law, and decide to go their own way, God laughs. He has already established Jesus as the rightful ruler. His laughter is not a callous flippancy towards humanity, but rather reminds us that He is unimpressed with the efforts of the world to oppose Him. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of The Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We can trust Him for the resolution of the world as much as we can trust Him with our individual lives.

So as we await the coming day, let’s walk responsibly in partnership with the Lord by voting and praying, and doing all of those practical things that He’s given us to do. But let us remember that we are ambassadors of another Kingdom, that, though unseen, is nevertheless more real and more imminent than we realize. I do not with to diminish the urgency of the hour; rather to heighten it from a different vantage point. We must pray. We must reach out in love to our neighbor. We must seek love, justice, and mercy. We must fight for reconciliation, healing, and biblical equity.

But we must not be afraid.

The Incomprehensible Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

John 1:1-5

John the Apostle could not have known the full physical linkage between sound and light — that they are both particles and waves, and therefore inherently linked. However, it could not be mere chance that provoked him to connect these two realities. Perhaps it was the striking idea that when God spoke, light came forth and it overwhelmed the void. John uses a particular word to describe the supremacy of the Word – who is the Light – “katalambano,” which is sometimes translated “overpower” ; however, it carries with it the connotations of “comprehend” or “perceive.” This word makes the connection complete. In the same way that light cannot be overpowered by the darkness, neither can the Word be fully comprehended.

This incomprehensibility of the Word is an affront to our modern mind, and yet it is a gift to us as a statement of His Lordship. In the Western mindset, to comprehend — to know with certainty through experimentation and observation — amounts to a kind of mastery. Knowledge is not simply prized. As the old adage says, “Knowledge is power.” Paul knew this when he wrote to the Corinthians,

“Knowledge makes arrogant [puffs up],
But love edifies [builds up].”

In obtaining knowledge, we create a ladder of understanding and then take the highest position as administrators. We begin a crusade of mastery of that knowledge — the discovery of useful applications. When properly stewarded, knowledge can help us fulfill our first assignment to subdue the earth. However, it can also assist men in exploiting their brother. In either case, the nature of knowledge is to assist in ruling.

When we come to the Word, however, we are confounded. In Him, we are limited in our domination by He who is limitless. The extent of His boundaries are too vast to be observed, categorized, and conquered, each attribute unfathomable in its depth, unsearchable in its height. His wealth of personhood gives rise to an interminable frustration that philosophies have been battling for all of human history: the search for a universal reality that brings a wholeness to the restless mind in pursuit of an explanation. The philosophies of our day have cried out at the unfairness of incomprehension, and are leading a revolt — the rejection of an ultimate authority that they cannot fully grasp, traded in for a system of subjective boundaries based on personal preferences.

Is this not the uprising of Psalm 2, not fundamentally military, but philosophic? The former will result out of the latter,

“The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
‘Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!'”

But the response of Heaven is the same here as it is in John 1,

 “But as for Me, I have installed My king [the Word]
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

The Word answers these cries with who He is.

He is the incomprehensible God. Uncontainable and unconquerable, He stands as Lord. In our confusion, we declare we will yield when we understand. But as we have seen above, this kind of understanding does not know submission, only rulership.

Most importantly, the Word is not simply unsearchable because He contains inconceivable ideas — but He is a person.

Philosophies and religions are overthrown by ideas and words, but a person is overthrown by love.

And is this not clearly shown in the cross? The Word, final and full, becomes a man — fully in love with humanity, He freely gives Himself to us. Where knowledge would seek to gain access by force, we are given access through the posture of submission and surrender.

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God… Who among men can know the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in Him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he should instruct him? But we have been given the mind of Christ.”
1 Cor. 2:11-12, 16

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
1 Cor. 13:12

For though we cannot know the Word fully, we can know Him truly.

Unlikely Wineskins

Luke 5:27-39

“After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi siting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he left everything behind and got u and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’…

“And He was also telling htem a parable: ‘No one tear sa piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'”

In this passage, Jesus doesn’t see broken, irreparable people, he sees sick people that need to be strengthened with Truth. He sees Levi and, without any other qualification, simply says, “Follow me.” I think we tend to see a delineation between those who are “significant” in the Kingdom, and those who are “just followers”. But The Lord does not. He just puts them on a track with Him and lets them discover who they are; their significance comes not from their position, but from their faithfulness to where they’ve been placed.

I feel like I got a new perception of what this passage is about, looking at the juxtaposition of the previous story and the proceeding parable. Granted, in between, the Pharisees ask about why the disciples don’t fast, and that is all part of it, but I think it also has to do with the coming of the kingdom, not simply into the world, but into individuals.

In this passage, Jesus uses the practical example of mending, commenting that common sense wouldn’t ruin what is new to repair what is old and wearing out. However, we can sometimes do this to people, take their desirable parts and fit them into our old system, instead of inviting them to take their place and strengthening them with what is foundational and beautiful about the old.

The same is with the wineskins – those new disciples who come to to Jesus are filled with the fresh word of The Lord and allow it to expand in their hearts and shape them and form them.

Lord, let us not be afraid of what we see, but truly, may we see with His eyes.

January the Prophet

I know few people who would favor January for anything but the celebration of the new year, and the necessity of being the month to start the rest of the more desirable twelve; at least February has Valentine’s Day to recommend itself. We only consider the drab gray and the cold, and miss the wonderment of anticipation. True, the frigid death of winter is its most prominent feature; however, it is just a cloak, like a parable, hiding the mystery of hope, like the very mist that so often shrouds the valleys in these days.

Anticipation is a mystery itself, the mist upon the future, the uncertainty that borders on discouragement and despair. But we must have eyes to see the hope of what shall yet be – not just a vague desire, but certainty. January urges us to look prophetically at what truly will be, and reminds us that hope is not unfounded wishful thinking, but a prior realization of what is to come, which is manifested in the heart, like a germinating seed, determined for the bearing of fruit, though at first unseen.

This is the work of a prophet – to endure the season of death, cultivating life in the deep dark of doubt until it is evident; it is seeing what already is, and assisting its growth until the breaking through of life into light.

Courage to Be Whole-Hearted

A thought: We talk frequently about being “whole-hearted” lovers of Jesus. This phrase, quite frankly, terrifies me. It means that I must surrender every piece of my heart to Him, and my greatest fear is that my foolish pride or some hidden lie will keep me in the habit I most greatly desire to break, and disable me from entrusting “my whole heart” to Him. And yet again, I will have failed.

However, I recently learned the definition of courage from the original latin, which is: “To tell your story with your whole heart.” What if being “whole-hearted” is less (initially) about being fully able to immediately surrender every part, and instead, starts in this place of vulnerability and raw honesty with God about where your heart really is?

Of course trust is the fundamental issue that keeps people from being vulnerable, much less fully giving oneself over. However, I find that trust is established in phases. And when I find that I can trust the gentility and mercy of God to receive my honesty, grace is released to trust Him with the issues themselves.

So what if being a “whole-hearted” lover of Jesus has more to do than we thought with our vulnerability and willingness before the Lord? Perhaps it’s less of a frightful, untimely tearing of the heart, and more like what we see in David, who hid nothing, exposed everything, and allowed the grace of God to work its way into His heart like a balm, healing the wounds and lies that were the true sources of his sin.

Just a thought.

Beloved Sons of Righteousness

Matthew 3:14-17

“But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’… After being baptized… behold the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'”

Two events dovetail (literally!) the baptism of Jesus – the descending of the Spirit, and the proclamation of the Lord from the Heavens. He tells John to baptize Him as a fulfillment of righteousness, either as a model for humanity or a fulfillment in His own life. But I think the whole experience is a model for humanity–not the physical baptism only.

We know baptism as the tangible symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our own participation with His death. We know of baptism as our cleansing, our restoration. In this sense, this is the fulfillment of righteousness in our lives – we are new creations in Christ. We are clothed with His righteousness. And we’re done, right?

However, Jesus models here the whole package for the new believer. When we are made new, our renewed spirit becomes a home for the Holy Spirit. We are restored to what The Lord intended – complete connection with His presence. Righteousness is both given and enacted through the empowering presence through the Holy Spirit.

Finally, The Lord makes a declaration over His son. This is an integral part of fulfilling righteousness, which is not merely working out the details of behaving rightly, but of being right. I am only “right” before the Lord when I am conformed to the truth of what He says about me. And that is that I am His. I am beloved. I am someone whom He is well pleased in. When rooted in my identity as the Lord’s, my activities are not the primary confirmation or denial of my righteousness before Him–they are affirmations of the growth of my heart in the process of sanctification, but my status before The Lord does not rise and fall with my faithfulness (or lack therof).

Paul expresses this to the Corinthians:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is anew creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (2nd Cor. 5:7).

This is a simple message that we know — grace vs. works — but this encounter with Jesus reveals that to us the precious source of this grace — God the Father’s loving pronouncement upon us as sons.

What the Father says is true, whether we feel it or not. As we receive sonship, belovedness, and His pleasure from the sacrifice of the Son, we are continually renewed and made righteous.