Water in a Basin

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“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.” John 12:3

“Then he (Jesus) poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:5

Sacrifice hurts. Sacrifice is hard. Love is sacrifice.  In John’s gospel, Mary’s sacrifice foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice, both demonstrating the full extent of love.

Mary took a valuable possession, worth a year’s worth of common wages, and poured it over Jesus head, body, and feet, wiping his feet with part of herself. (See also Matthew 26; Mark 14) Her action was beyond convention or expectation.   It was done at the expense of her money, her pride, and her reputation. It was an act of adoration and love that was despised by man, but commended by her Lord and friend. Mary was already doing what Jesus would soon call his disciples to do.

Jesus’ took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. He poured water into a basin. He took the position of a Gentile slave, defying convention and expectation, and washed the feet of the friends who would soon reject him. It was done at the expense of his pride, his rights, and his dignity. It was an act that was defiantly despised by one of his best friends, Peter, but commended by his Father. It was an action that foreshadowed and symbolized the humiliation he was about to endure and the complete washing that his death and resurrection would secure. For John, years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, it also symbolized a washing away of sins that baptism would symbolize for Christ followers for years to come. (Same language is used for baptism in Acts 22:16, I Corinthians 6:11)

John records Jesus’ take on his own actions. He tells his friends, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Later he will tell them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you should love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12-13)

The first commandment these disciples would have known was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gave a new commandment, upping the ante, and deepening the love requirement. Now he compelled them to love sacrificially, like he did when he washed their feet and like he will do by bearing the penalty for the vileness of their sin in his humiliating death on a cross.

Jesus asks all of us who choose to imitate and obey him to do the same, to love sacrificially by “washing one another’s feet.”  Washing feet may involve doing something you don’t want to do. It may involve not doing something you really want to do. It hurts. It’s hard. It requires confidence in the one who loves you so much that he would sacrifice for you. Will you humbly pour some water into a basin today?

Jesus’ Tears

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I don’t just cry; I weep. It’s not pretty or dainty. It’s ugly and raw. The sounds that accompany the outbursts are often guttural and unpleasant. Though it usually flows from something I see or hear at surface level, it always exposes something much deeper.   Tears, for me, are a passageway for joy or pain, an escape route to restore balance to my soul. I do this because I am an image bearer of a God who weeps.

Jesus said that the eyes are the lamp of the body. (Matthew 6:22) They reflect what our gaze is fixed upon. This light shines into the innermost places of our heart, revealing its condition. Jesus’ eyes, John tells us, spilled forth water mixed with proteins and oil. The living waters of Jesus’ Spirit were stirred. He wept. (John 11:35)

John reveals the scene that Jesus’ eyes gazed upon. It was a public display of mourning…for his beloved friend, Lazarus… who had been dead for four days.   Communal displays of grief were not uncommon in Jewish first century culture. Often professional mourners joined family and friends for seven loud days of weeping and wailing. For three days, however, the wailing had a distinct purpose; there was still hope that the spirit of the dead person would rejoin the body and live again. By day four, the tears turn to unabashed grief, sorrow over the finality of the situation.

John says that when Jesus saw this scene, especially the pain of Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (Jn 11:33, 38) The Greek verbs used here evoke a less serene image.   They reveal anger, literally the snorting sound a horse makes before a charge in battle, emotions so strong that they cannot be contained. They force action. Jesus demands that to see where they’ve laid him and to roll back the stone of the grave.

The verb translated “troubled” literally means agitated, the same word applied to the healing waters in John 5.   Jesus, who had just declared to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is staring down death and the “finality spell” it has cast over his followers.  He is agitated, riled up, angry no doubt, and he desperately wants those he loves to understand who he is and what he has come to do! His power (grace) could not be contained as he brought Lazarus back from being overwhelmingly dead, a foreshadowing of his ultimate victory over death through his own resurrection that was yet to come.

On another occasion, as he approached his own death, Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, lamenting over those who couldn’t understand the implications of his incarnation. (Luke 19:41) Jesus’ tears are a window into the indignation and compassion of God, troubled by the chaos, suffering and death that sin ushered into his creation, but overwhelmingly saddened by those will not accept Jesus Christ as his appointed pathway back to redemption and life, abundant and eternal.

My tears release the joy or pain deep within (literally the chemical remnants of stress) to restore homeostasis or balance to my physiological body.   God’s angry tears reveal his intention to restore balance to his fallen world.   Jesus, God with us, would lay down his life, a perfect sacrifice for sin, and utterly destroy death when he rose three days later, never to die again. A living Savior whose Spirit was stirred, now offers that same Spirit to those who will believe in Him, a guarantee of eternal life. Will you believe today? Death does not have to win. Jesus enables those who sow with tears to reap songs of joy!

 

 

Water of Consecration

The Jordan River

The Jordan River

My husband asked me to marry him on a rock. This wasn’t just any rock. It was specially chosen by him. The view from the rock framed a beautiful river valley, nestled in the Colorado Mountains. It represented his home, his history, a part of himself, and he hoped it would mark a start to our future together. More than anything, it was a place where we both felt the presence of God, and we sensed the Spirit leading us to commitment. We’ve since taken our children to that very rock, a place of consecration for our family. It was there that our family’s collective service to God began.

The Jordan River, in John’s gospel, frames Jesus’ ministry as a special place of consecration. It was in these waters that John the Baptist testified to the Holy Spirit’s consecration of Jesus as God’s chosen one. (John 1) It is back to these waters that Jesus returns at the end of John 10 to remain until the appointed time for his journey to the cross. It is no accident that Jesus returns to the Jordan River after a special Feast of Consecration, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, where he proclaimed himself the very dwelling place of God that the feast sought to commemorate.

The Jordan River was no stranger to consecration. It was at this same river more than 1000 years earlier that Joshua proclaimed to the Israelites, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5) And wonders He did, halting the waters as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant hit the river bed and gathering them into a water wall so that the Israelites could pass through from wilderness wanderers into Promised Land dwellers. Reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites associated God’s deliverance with his power over water.

To consecrate means to set apart something or someone for the worship or service of God.   The Israelites were God’s chosen ones, agents of His glory! As a nation, they would suffer domination and occupation for centuries. Their temple, reclaimed from the pagan desecration of the Seleucid King, Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC by the Maccabees, became a symbol of God’s presence and miraculous power, consecrated for his glory! They celebrated it with the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah.) It was after this Maccabean retaking of the temple, that one single oil lamp miraculously burned in the temple for 8 days. As a part of Hanukkah, candles commemorated this event, lit for 8 days in November/December of each year, even to the time of Christ. As a Jew, Jesus recognized the great significance of this Feast.   Jesus longed for his followers to see and realize that He, the light of the world, was now the consecrated, chosen one of God to bring the miracle of redemption to his people. Later Peter told the early church that as believers in the atoning blood of Jesus and his resurrection victory over sin and death, we are now God’s consecrated ones, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people possessed by God to proclaim his glory! (I Peter 2:9)

The rock by the river in Colorado is a symbol of my covenant commitment to my God, my man, and my marriage. The waters of the Jordan are symbolic of God’s commitment to his people, his deliverance, his provision, and the way back to himself, his incarnate son as the agent of redemption and reclamation of his true dwelling place, the hearts of all who would believe in and trust him.

Spiritual Sight

understanding

I recently read Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. What struck me most was how uniquely and profoundly Helen could “see” the world despite being deaf and blind since infancy. Jesus seemed to talk about this ironic phenomenon a lot. He said the blind could often “see” (perceive or understand) what those with sight could not. Jesus recalled the words of Isaiah, as he attempted to reveal spiritual truth in story form to his followers in parables, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matthew 13:13-15)

The apostle John longs for his readers to “see” spiritual truth in his great narrative as well. In chapter nine, he concludes the events surrounding the Feast of Tabernacles and its unique way of revealing Jesus as the son of God. The last day of this feast included a great water ceremony where Jesus boldly declared himself the living water, which the Jews ceremonially poured out from the Pool of Siloam. (7:37-39) It was followed by a great light ceremony in the Temple court of women, where sixteen bowls were placed on four large stands, filled with oil and wicks, and the night sky of Jerusalem was lit up to singing and dancing. It was likely in this very place that Jesus declared in John 8:1, “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”

Enter a blind man, who regularly walks in darkness, who will tie these great revelations of Jesus together in a profound way. He is enabled to see light in the world for the first time by the one who declared himself the light of the world. He is asked to wash spittled mud from his blind eyes in the same living water of the Pool of Siloam (which means sent) by the one who had been “sent” from God. (John 4:34, 5:23, 37, 7:28, 8:26, 12:44, 14:24) Again, Jesus heals him on the Sabbath, a day where only God should be at work, baffling the smartest guys on the street as to who Jesus really was, and leaving them spiritually blind!

The story culminates when Jesus meets with the newly seeing blind man privately to expose the spiritual sight he has received! After the man had boldly proclaimed Jesus to be God and been subsequently kicked out of the synagogue, Jesus asks him a more probing question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He had made a reasoned conclusion in his head; now Jesus was asking him about the condition of his heart. The man’s confession of faith, “Lord, I believe” and his worship of Jesus reveal an open embrace of Jesus as Messiah. He is certainly not walking in spiritual “darkness” anymore.

What about you? Are you able to see, but still walking around in the dark? Have you allowed the living water, the Spirit, to open your eyes so that you can understand with your heart the healing power of Jesus Christ? He longs to shine his light into your dark places.

 

Drink Up

Offering Living Water

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time, the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. –John 7:37-39

Have you ever been really thirsty? To say that we “need” water is an understatement. Dehydration is fatal and the symptoms experienced are brutal. As a person loses only 2% of their total body fluid, (we are literally made of water) the symptoms are subtle.   You may feel thirst, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, chills, dry skin, dark colored urine, dry mouth, and headache. But the longer you go without water, the more urgent the need becomes. When you reach 5% fluid loss, you can’t deny that something is wrong. You feel your heart rate racing and your temperature rising, you can’t sweat or urinate, and extreme fatigue and muscle cramps takes over and demand you take notice. At this point you are actively seeking water. If it’s nowhere to be found, at 10% fluid loss, death is imminent. You can’t walk, see, or urinate. Your skin starts to shrivel, pain overtakes you, breathing slows, and you finally succumb to unconsciousness. To be thirsty, quite literally, means you are on a path to death and need to access water in a hurry!

To be spiritually dehydrated is no less fatal, and the symptoms start out just as subtly. Maybe you have lost your appetite for God’s word; reading it just doesn’t taste as good as it used to? You question if words written thousands of years ago can really “speak” into your life; alter your difficult circumstances? Maybe you’re questioning whether your faith is really accomplishing anything? You feel dry, complacent, and unable to pray. You’re going through the religious motions because they are what you’ve always done. Maybe you’re just tired, weak…worn out?  The longer you go without a drink, or the longer you go trying to satiate your spiritual thirst with fleshly drinks, the more intense these symptoms become.  You struggle to find peace, purpose, even hope? Are you thirsty?

Jesus claimed to offer living water to the thirsty, a continuous source of hydration from within, his very Spirit to drink.  John records Jesus’ offer pre-sacrificial death; pre-glorification, so he offers us a commentary on Jesus’ claim. John said that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit that he was yet to pour out to those who would believe.

These words of Jesus had all sorts of implications to John’s audience, because the context of the claim was an important Jewish Festival, the Feast of Tabernacles. One of three yearly pilgrimage festivals for the Jews to Jerusalem, this one celebrated the fall harvest and recalled the provisions of God in the wilderness wanderings of the Jews, when they lived in temporary shelters and their breakfast, lunch and dinner fell from the sky and their water poured out of rocks. On the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles, in Jerusalem, an important ritual ensued. A mass of worshippers followed their high priest who took a golden pitcher, filled it with water from the Pool of Siloam, walked back up the steps of the temple, and poured it out in front of the people, recalling God’s promises to pour out His Spirit on his people. Jesus boldly interrupted this ritual when he screamed out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him COME TO ME and drink.” It was if he was saying, “I’m the water you’ve been waiting for!”

Close to 2000 years on the other side of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, witness and ascension back to the Father, you and I still have access to this spiritual drink, the very Spirit of God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God our Father. The offer is a free gift, a complete filling, a loving response to our belief in him, our complete trust in his saving, redemptive work on the cross, but it demands that we drink.  Paul said to our Christian ancestors, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (I Cor 12:13) Later, he told believers to be filled with the Spirit instead of getting drunk on other kinds of “spirits.”

The physical symptoms of dehydration demand we go on a hunt for water and then get it into our system!   The good news for the believer in Jesus is that we already have a continuous stream of living water, the Holy Spirit residing inside of us! We have all of the Spirit, but the Spirit may not have all of us. If you are experiencing the symptoms of spiritual dehydration today, drink deeply! Cry out to God in prayer, asking him to help you pour out the junk in your heart and mind that is blocking the cleansing, empowering work of the Spirit within you. Seek him… in the words of Scripture, through the counsel of a Spirit-filled friend, in heart felt worship via song, poetry, dance…and you will find him, when you seek Him with all your heart. (Jer 29:13)

Overcoming Waters of Fear

I fight with fear…a knock-down, drag out fist fight of the mind. The waters of self-doubt seem to swell most at night, when the enemy convinces me that I’m not good enough as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend. My body convinces me that I am in danger. Fear convinces me to trust my own instincts of self-preservation in order to remain safe and secure, either fighting to defend myself against rejection or taking flight when the water threatens to get over my head. The apostle John presents Jesus calming the waters of fear and doubt in John 6 to show his followers that He is the same God who had delivered them through the dangerous waters of their past.

John chapter 6 brings us to the Jewish feast of Passover, a time of great remembrance and celebration for the Jews, recalling God’s protection and provision when he led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and into their promised land of Canaan. The apostle John masterfully blends elements of this week long ritual observance with the work of Jesus,  proving him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the perfect object of their Passover observance! Just as God proved himself powerful over water by parting the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to walk through on dry ground to escape their Egyptian enemy, Jesus walks on water and calms a storm in the presence of his disciples. Just as God provided manna and quail daily in the wilderness to provide for his people, Jesus multiplies a few pieces of bread and fish to feed the multitudes. Finally, as the culmination of the observance, John will have Jesus referencing his own flesh and blood as the bread and wine of the Passover meal, which was consumed to remind the people of the redemption they experienced when the angel of death passed over their doors in Egypt, prompting their release from slavery.

From this context, let’s consider Jesus’ command over the Sea of Galilee, dispelling the fear of his followers.  In John 6:16, His disciples were no doubt exhausted and confused, pursued by a crowd of people who had witnessed some amazing miracles and were ready to make Jesus king by force! Facing a riled up mob, their leader withdraws to pray and leaves them to fend for themselves after dark, in a meager boat on an angry sea.   Put some creepy background music to this scene, and you have the elements for a good horror flick!  Faced with a fight or flight response, they take the flight option, flying by the seat of their pants, and rowing for 3 ½ miles into blackness, wind and swells.   I think John was kind to describe them as “terrified” when they saw Jesus approaching the boat and walking on water. They were probably screaming like little girls, out of their minds and their bodily functions with sheer horror and panic.   Just as the Israelites faced fear as an entire Egyptian army approached and pinned them in at the Red Sea, with nowhere to go but to their assured death in the waters before them, the disciples likely feared for their lives.  Jesus uses the same type of phrase to describe himself as God used with the Hebrews, “It is I” (John 6:20) is reminiscent of “I am that I am,” (Exodus 3:14) and the message was the same as it was to Moses, “Do not be afraid.” The disciples are persuaded to take him into the boat… faith in the grip of fear.   Immediately, the boat reaches the shore… fear abated.  Perfect love, indeed, drives out fear. (I John 4:18)

The message is unchanged for you and me as Christ followers, today. The perfect Passover lamb has been sacrificed on our behalf and rose again to conquer fear and death once and for all, leaving his very Spirit residing in us as believers! When fear grips us, and fight or flight tempts us, Jesus says, “I am here; don’t be afraid.”  If God, the Father, Son and Spirit has power over the elements of nature, over his very grave, do you not think He can handle the people, diseases, and circumstances that threaten us today? Paul put it this way, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) The storm may still rage and our bodies may or not be spared, but we are promised that our hearts and minds are always guarded in Christ Jesus. This is the weapon I fight with on my fearful nights. I envision Jesus calming the storm in my mind, and taking my meager boat to the shore where I’m heading. May you find his peace today in the middle of your storm!

 

Healing Water

healing water

Healing.  It can mean 1. to make healthy, whole or sound; to restore to health or 2. to bring an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, to reconcile, or 3. to free from evil, cleanse, and purify.  The apostle John reveals Jesus as Divine Healer, Son of God, uniquely empowered to do all three.

In chapter 5 of the Fourth Gospel, John brings the reader to another pool of water.  This one was called Bethesda, an Aramaic word that can be translated “House of Mercy.”  In Jerusalem, this was the hangout for the powerless and invalid; ones in need of a little mercy in a culture that afforded them none.  We might call it Mercy Hospital today, your best hope when you get a dreaded diagnosis.  Common consensus was that the waters had healing qualities, physical and mystical, even if the improvement was only short-lived.  As a physical therapist, I’ve seen therapeutic water work wonders on spastic, paralyzed bodies.  If you couldn’t walk for 38 years and had to sit and beg, why not camp out here?  Worst case, you’re not alone in your infirmity; best case you might get a hand up or out, maybe even a cure.  Either way, the man is helpless.

John points out that Jesus came here on a special day, a ritual day of rest and devotion, Sabbath.  Jesus is about to make the rounds of the three big Jewish Festivals in Jerusalem, and Sabbath sets the tone for them all.  To a Jew, these were the high holy days of devotion to God, and observing them perfectly was imperative.   Good Jews had a valid reason; these observances were laid out to the letter in Scripture, and intensified by rabbinic interpretation.   They were each a means to an end, the promised Messiah, but they became an end unto themselves.  Jesus, in John, takes each Festival and deepens its meaning, revealing himself as the very object of their worshipful expectation.

At Bethesda, the Father of all Mercies is at work in the Sabbath.  While His people rest, God is restores bodies and soul to health, physical and spiritual wholeness.  Jesus makes his way to a place where the need of healing is great.  He selects one man from among the masses, a soul who represents the deep disappointment and despair of mankind.  When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he is uniquely claiming to be God, the Son, doing only what the Father is in fact doing on that special day.   Jesus radically heals the man’s body, but more importantly exposes his heart’s desire, leading him to repentance and reconciliation.  This supersedes any power of angelic water or even the letter of the law; Jesus is the only one who gives life.

John quotes Jesus’ defense of himself to the pious who condemned him.  Jesus says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.  Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.  Moreover the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father who sent him.”  Glory.  It is God’s alone and Jesus reveals it.  He has the power to heal the body and the soul.  He is the living water, all that needs to be stirred up for ultimate healing.

Where do you turn for healing?  Do you trust the hospital or the Holy?  Do you fear the one who can destroy the body more than you trust the one who can restore the soul?  Do you pray for physical healing and neglect prayers for spiritual healing, reconciliation and purification for the sick and dying?  James, Jesus’ brother and leader in the early church said it this way, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16) Healing and forgiveness are connected.   Our prayers are powerful and effective for true healing, for reconciliation between ourselves and our fellow man with God, and for ultimate triumph over sin and death.  Sabbath healing is ours to claim in Jesus Christ, life giving rest for the body and for the soul.

Redirected by Living Water

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Redirection.   We all need it, but we rarely want it.  Just as water will always seek the path of least resistance, so human nature will choose to go around or under an obstacle rather than up and over whenever possible.  The composition of the terrain determines whether water will be able to erode a path through a mountain or will ultimately have to run parallel to the barrier.  So, too, the Spirit of God, living water, must find in its host a willing heart, an open and malleable spirit, if He is to change the direction of a life from mortal to eternal, from a life of sin to a life of worship and witness.

The woman at the well in Samaria, who Jesus encounters in John 4 and to whom he makes this life altering offer, is an unlikely candidate for change.  To the first readers of John, she represents the opposite of Nicodemus in every way, an uneducated and unnamed woman from the wrong side of town, a heathen no less, from a pagan tribe of people with whom Jews didn’t associate.   Even amongst her own people, she is shamed and marginalized, one who has suffered great dishonor and disgrace by being cast aside by previous husbands and left to fend for herself.   Jesus recognized in her, however, the heart of a God seeker, and broke every Jewish protocol in speaking to her at all, radically offering her words of life!

John uses great literary skill to show his Jesus as the light of the entire world, no longer a respecter of race, religion, or gender, equally Jewish Messiah and Gentile Redeemer, a savior for all who will believe in him.   In a great paradox, the respected Jewish rabbi, Nicodemus, came to Jesus at night and remained in the dark, while this outcast woman encountered Jesus in the middle of the day at peak daylight and was  enlightened!

Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water.  He used a basic and essential human need to reveal himself to her.  He said,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it was that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Living water was a common term of the day, a descriptor for water with a perpetual source, a continuous spring.  It was extremely valuable, and its water was used for Jewish ritual washings.  The Samaritan woman knew that there was no living water in Shechem, and likely thought Jesus was being pretty audacious, trying to one up a hero of her faith, Jacob, who she believed gave her people the well.  Little did she know that the water he spoke of would change her life!  When Jesus went deeper and got personal with her, revealing her sin and the sins committed against her, she quickly diverted attention to her religion and its limitations.  Sound familiar?

Jesus graciously and lovingly met her at her level of understanding, but refused to leave her there.  He was pursuing the heart of a worshipper.  He said that “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”   Jesus saw in the woman a receptive heart so that the living water he offered would be in her a perpetual source of truth, power and eternal worship welling up into eternal life.   Believe she did!  As unlikely as she was, she became the first missionary recorded in the gospels, empowered to face those who shunned her, telling her community about and leading them back to Jesus.  Many more believed because of her witness!

Have you faced the seemingly unmovable barrier of sin in your life?  Are you diverting attention off of yourself and blaming others for your stagnancy?  Instead of opting for the path of least resistance, will you allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the living water, to do the work of erosion in the soft terrain of your heart?   He has already overcome sin and longs to give you peace, joy, and purpose, an abundant life indeed!  May you be empowered to worship and witness today!

Water and Spirit

water dove

Transformation is tricky.  We often try to do it on our own.  We believe that if something in us needs to change, we can, through self-determination, just change it!  From diets to self-help, we are quick to externalize change and convince ourselves that a plan or check list will do the trick.   We are slow to examine the heart, the inner place that is desperate for real help, for a power to change us that is beyond our own abilities and will.

Jesus said it this way to Nicodemus, a strict Jew, a guy desperate to figure out how to be a good rule follower,   “I say to you, unless one is born again (from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.”   When push back inevitably followed, Jesus answered, “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Frustrated with Nicodemus’ refusal to believe this deep foundational truth, Jesus concludes the discourse saying “…so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15)

More than a ritual washing or a religious conversion, Jesus seems to be presenting to Nicodemus a means to complete renewal of the whole person, a total transformation, a birth, from above, of water and of Spirit.   Just as a baby cannot birth herself, but rather submits to the contractions that push her through, so one must submit to radical soul mutation, the renewing birth process of the Spirit to be able to see and to enter the kingdom of God, into an eternal life that is both here and now and not yet.

Passage through water is important in God’s kingdom on many levels, as a means to the promised land, (Exodus 14-15, Joshua 3-4) as a means of cleansing and hope of renewal (Ezekiel 36:25-27, Isaiah 44:3), as a means of repentance (John’s baptism pointing to Christ, Acts 19:2-5, John 1:15) and finally as a means to die to sin and rise to new life (Christian baptism; Romans 6:1-4.)   Water in itself, however, is not enough to accomplish its work.  It is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s power to cleanse, redirect, redeem, save, and transform.  The Gospel of John points to Jesus, God incarnate, who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)

This birth of water and Spirit is God’s work, not ours.  It is God who has the power to remake the whole person, from the inside out, to rebirth a person into His kingdom.  The law on its best day works on a person from the outside in and is unable to enact lasting change.  Jesus came to fulfill the law and to write a new law (a completed version of the first one) on our hearts by his Spirit.  Our part, as Jesus told Nicodemus, is to believe and to submit.  The Holy Spirit continues his changing work, making God’s children look, talk, act more and more like Jesus every day! (2 Corinthians 3:18)  That is true transformation!

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

May we accept and trust this awesome transformative power of water and Spirit to produce in us good, lasting, undaunted Kingdom fruit.

Water and Wine

glass of wine

I like things that are really good.  I like good books, good movies, good food, and good coffee.  When I experience something good, I love to talk about it with people I love, sharing good things with good friends.  Jesus did too.  He shared conversation with good friends, often using the good food and drink they enjoyed as a way to reveal himself and his Father as the ultimate source of blessing!

John carefully selects seven signs in his gospel to reveal a complete picture of the depths of the Father’s glory, physically manifest in his son Jesus Christ, and confirmed by his own Holy Spirit.   John is remembering these events later in his life as he reflects on what it means to follow a resurrected Savior and friend whom he can no longer see, but whose very Spirit lives inside him.   I’m sure the amazing events they witnessed together and the loving conversations they shared replay in his head as he decides what to write and how to write it.

John’s first recorded sign is a curious event, where Jesus seems to reluctantly change Jewish holy water into celebratory wedding wine.  Perhaps John was remembering the numerous references Jesus made to himself as living water and to his own blood as wine to drink during his lifetime, and the fulfillment of those claims in his death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps he was thinking of the numerous implications fresh water and wine had in Jewish ritual law and practice and how Jesus took them to a new level.  Perhaps Jesus’ mother, in John’s care after his death, often reminded John of the time when her son made some really good wine!   For whatever reason, this event reveals something deeply important to John about his friend and Lord Jesus!

The water in this story is significant.  John clearly states that Jesus commanded six stone jars, used for the Jewish rites of purification, be filled with water.   We know that the Jews only used water that came from a running (or living) source, like a spring to use for numerous ritual cleansing and purification rituals.  (See Leviticus 15)  They associated living water with the promises of God to cleanse them from their sin, and enable them to follow the law.   Ezekiel prophesied that a day was coming when God would cleanse them with clean water and put his own Spirit within them, where he would remove their hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh! (Ezekiel 36:25-28)  Could John be introducing his audience to the one who would do that very thing?

The wine in the story is also significant.  The Jews had long associated wine, and the abundance thereof, with the blessing of God. (Psalm 104:14-15, Proverbs 3:5-10)  A wedding feast, in Jewish culture, was the ultimate display of joy, honor, tradition, and community.  At great expense, a week-long celebration was on display, with food and wine for all!   At the wedding in Cana, the standard issue wine proved not enough.  As it ran out, the honor and reputation of the family involved did too.

When Jesus reluctantly got involved, at the request and demonstration of faith by his mother Mary, he proved God’s ways, his kingdom, to be really good, fulfilling every need from the basic to the eternal.  He took purification water, used in a habitual attempt to cleanse the curse of sin, and made it into a seemingly endless and valuable blessing for all involved, the best for last, according to the wedding host!  In many ways, Jesus fulfilled the law in their presence, just like he said he would do. (Matthew 5:17-20)  The few that knew what had just happened, including John, saw glory and believed!

When God gets involved in my messy life, I’m amazed at His transforming power!  The God who made water into wine, makes me new every day, conforming me little by little into the likeness of Jesus! (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)  He even takes my stone water jar attempts to cleanse my own sin and assures me that when he looks at me, he only sees the perfection of Jesus as His Spirit lives in me!  Even the angels celebrate that with him!  He’s a celebratory wine kind of God!  I do like things that are really good!