Jumping into the Lake

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. – John 21:7‭-‬14

This is the last water-related passage in John, and the last one in the gospels. The Living Water has been crystal clear in the Gospels up to this point despite the inability of many, including the disciples at times, to see it. This past summer I had the opportunity to check an item off of my bucket list – to swim in Crater Lake, the deepest in the United States. The water was incredibly clear and not as cold as I would have expected. Jumping in was the hardest part, once I was in the lake the scenery and shear magnitude of where I was made me forget any chill in the water.

My father used to say “go jump in the lake”. I do not think this is what he meant when he said it. Peter and the others had just figured out where to cast their nets, but not why they were doing it. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” recognized this Man on the shore and only after that did Peter see Jesus.

Peter’s reaction was typical, jump in the lake first, think second. In a scene reminiscent of Forrest Gump when he saw Lieutenant Dan Peter just wraps himself in his cloak and jumps overboard. I am a bit perplexed by Peter’s wrapping himself in his garment before jumping in the water. This would seem counter intuitive and unwise. How does one swim wrapped in a garment? Perhaps that is the point. Peter was often wrapped up in things that distracted and kept him from swimming and walking on water.

The passage does not describe Peter’s thrashing about to get to shore wrapped in his garment, but that is the picture that my imagination conjures. The others, perhaps wisely, remained in the boat and arrived at the shore to meet up with this mysterious Man and the probably wet, cold, and tired Peter. Fortunately Jesus has a warm fire going with some fish and bread for them to eat. Jesus says something profoundly ordinary to the somewhat confused men “Come and have breakfast.” He did not say who He was or why He was there just come and eat.

This seemingly banal breakfast with their Lord alive and well must have been somewhat surreal and “spiritual squall” inducing. They were afraid to ask Him who He was “None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” Why did they not dare and ask Him? Would Jesus have minded them asking? My impression from the rest of the gospel interactions is that Jesus would have been happy to have them say what Mary said “Rabboni” “teacher”. These men, with the exception of Peter, were really afraid to reach out and Love their Lord. Peter had His own issues with acknowledging Jesus in front of others which Jesus will deal with shortly.

So which is better to be unsure and unwilling to “see” Jesus or to jump out of the boat and swim for it like Peter? I think the surprising answer is actually neither. The true journey home requires neither swimming skills or independent insights. It requires a humble servant willing to faithfully follow and love Jesus even when we are not sure He is even there.

Prayer: God help us to faithfully follow You even when it is difficult to see you.

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Where to Cast our Nets

Pacific Ocean Near Depoe Bay, Oregon

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. – John 21:1‭-‬6

Well since my last post of I have traversed the country with my daughter and two cats in a Toyota Matrix. These are adventure cats and they weathered our adventures well, including one close call in Wyoming where they closed the highway just after we had passed through.  I was also blessed to  spend 4 days on the coast of Oregon marveling at the beauty and power of the Pacific Ocean. I was reminded once again how big God is and how His voice can be heard over such mighty waters.

I am back where I began my journey and ready to get back to “normal” life again with my walk on water.  In today’s passage the disciples have also gotten back to their “normal” lives as fisherman. I am not sure what impact their time with Jesus really had on them at this point. They don’t seem to be seeking in the way Mary was seeking Jesus. Yet He shows up anyway.  They apparently still need some more fishing lessons from the Master.

Jesus appears to these men, albeit in a slightly different mode than His previous experiences by, and on, the lake. The disciples are apparently busy fishing and forgetting all the spiritual squalls and signs Jesus shared with them.  It is interesting that they were out fishing all night and their efforts were fruitless.  It was only with the coming of the day and Jesus that they were successful.  Of course to be successful they had to listen to this anonymous man on the shore and “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”  This worked so well they had more fish than they knew what to do with.

This story leaves me wondering why they did not recognize Jesus. Were they so caught up in their “normal” lives again that they simply were not looking?  This is easy to do.  I think it takes spiritual whiskers and keen eyes to see God “on the shore”.  Another question that occurs to me is “what is the “right side” of the boat?” How will we know? It seems the fisherman have provided the answers: 1) admit you have no fish; and 2) be willing to listen when God tells you where to cast your net.

Admitting you have no fish is hard in our success-based culture.  We all want to have it together and come across as independent and in no need of help.  If we are unwilling to admit we have no fish we may never get the direction we need about where to cast our net.  In the larger sense “casting our net” is really figuring out what we are supposed to be doing as we make our way along the journey to that River that no one can cross.  It is how we invest the 24 hours we have each day.  We all have the same time, but as Gandalf said “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Prayer: God help us to both admit we have no fish and seek Your guidance about where to cast our nets.

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Never Stop Seeking

Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Alexandre Cabanel

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” John 20:11‭-‬17

Today’s passage is a mixture of sorrow, confusion, and finally relief.  The water reference here is to weeping and tears – samples of our souls. The Mary here is Mary Magdalene whose life was turned upside down by this Man who was perhaps the first person in her life who really saw her.  It is ironic that she is one of the first to see Jesus after he has risen.  The famous renaissance artist Leon Battista Alberti once said “Movements of the soul are made known by movements of the body.” Mary has a wondering soul and she did something about it, even when everyone else had perhaps given up.

There is much speculation about Mary’s life and the love she had for Jesus.  I will not wade into those murky and potentially treacherous waters.  What does seem clear is that she was a faithful follower of Jesus to the end, in fact beyond what appeared to be the end of His earthly life.  She never stopped looking for Him, never stopped seeking.  That is exactly the type of followers God is seeking. She really got what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples and others about being born of water and accepting the Living Water He offered.

It is telling that Mary was the only one of Jesus’ followers that stayed at the tomb expecting a miracle.  She continued to seek Jesus out even when it seemed from a secular standpoint to be hopeless.  She never lost hope and neither should we.  I think most Christians will admit that being on the journey to follow Christ has both exhilarating mount top victories and depressing dry times where God seems to have left us or seems distant.  The account of Mary includes all of these emotions and spiritual squalls packed into a single event.

The longer I walk this road of following Christ the more I am convinced that the highs and lows that Mary is experiencing, and that most Christians experience, are a feature not a flaw.  It is through this relational roller coaster that we learn to hold on to Jesus.  Of course there are a myriad of tempting substitutes in this land of oblivion that we are free to choose as well, but I think it is in this process of continuous choosing that we get good at seeking like Mary.

Prayer: Thank You God for choosing us, help us to continually choose You.


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Blood and Water

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ by Wilhelm Kotarbinski

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” – John 19:28‭-‬37

Happy New Year!  This passage is a tumultuous way to end a turbulent 2020 and begin a hopefully different 2021.  Not since the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic has there been a such a global health crisis and, apparently despite the vaccines, it is not over yet.  Hopefully we will be able to avoid some of the lasting after effects that people in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s experienced.  Time will tell, but back to today’s bit of rough water – the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.  I confess this is a hard passage to read and reflect on, but I signed up to float the entire river which includes both quiet waters and rapids so here goes.

Jesus is in the midst of being killed by the people He came to heal and help through one of the most horrific means imaginable – crucifixion.  I will not dwell on the sordid specifics of crucifixion and the physical cruelty it represents.  Suffice to say it would qualify as cruel and inhumane punishment by any measure and in most cultures past and present.

Jesus is playing out an event that has been prophesied for hundreds, or even thousands, of  years (Psalm 69:19-21).  He is thirsty.  I am sure his physical body was thirsty and in great pain but I think there was a spiritual component to His thirst.  In a divine dynamic that I do not fully understand God allowed Himself to become separated from the spiritual world for a time so that He could be fully human.

I am not sure why this physical sacrifice and spiritual separation was required, but for some time Jesus has known that this was coming.  Perhaps there is a metaphysical reason for this crossing over onto our side of the river that defies our earthly understanding.  Clearly Jesus and God thought this sacrifice was needed to accomplish the forgiveness of our sins and restore a right relationship between us and God. 

I can think of a few explanations but this is really like a five year trying to explain nuclear physics – so forgive my potentially misguided musings.  I have come up with three possible reasons: 1) to provide us with an example of radical love and sacrifice; 2) tp give us a destination to shoot for on “this side of the river”; 3) to satisfy some aspect of the spiritual world that is outside our earthly understanding.  I am sure there are many more possibilities but these are the ones that rose to the surface today.  I am sure others will emerge as I float on down the river.

Certainly Jesus’ willingness to die rather than betray His purpose qualifies as an example of the radical love that God has for each of us and the sort of love we are to have for God and others.  His death was also a reminder of the level of sacrifice required to be with Him for eternity.  We are to be willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of God just as He did for us.  The closest earthly analogy I can think of for the kind of spiritual separation that Jesus endured for us humans would be whole body paralysis through some sort of spinal injury.  I cannot imagine how this would feel and how devastating that sort of disconnection would be both for your body and your soul.  I would think that such an injuring would bring into focus the inner part of our being and make it clear who we are when stripped down to the soul.

The second possibility is that the overcoming of death by Jesus served as a sort of beacon or lighthouse to lead us to the river that no one can cross. Finding this impassable river is important, but not really the hard part.  Once we find the river we must use the faith and following techniques we practiced throughout our journey home so we are ready to take Jesus’ hand so he can lead us across the river.

The third possibility involves satisfying some “deep magic” as C.S. Lewis put it in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  This children’s story is an amazing allegory for the life of Jesus.  In the story Aslan the great lion and Christ figure must allow himself to be killed by the witch and her followers to rescue Edmund the traitor.  This act of allowing an innocent to be killed in Edmund’s place satisfied some deep magic which is not really explained in the book.  I do not fault C.S. Lewis for this omission.  It, like the sacrifice Jesus subjected Himself to, may defy earthly explanation.  I am content to admit that there may well be spiritual laws that govern the unseen spiritual world; just like physical laws like gravity govern the physical world.  The fact that these spiritual laws may in some sense be unknowable from our earthly reference frame does not surprise me or sink my faith in the profound importance and meaning of this event.

The water reference comes into this passage is a rather Macabre way when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side and it brings forth “a sudden flow of blood and water”.  I am not sure what the significance of this other than that the One who called Himself the living water willingly poured himself out for us and it is His blood that He promised would cover our sins.  That is amazing enough for me.

Prayer: God than You for giving up Your life for us as an example of radical love and sacrifice.

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Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. – John 16:19‭-‬22

Jesus is having a hard conversation with the disciples. They are confused about Jesus saying He is going away. I am sure from His follower’s perspective this seemed nonsensical. He was at the pinnacle of His earthly power and influence, healing and feeding sick and the lame, taking on the establishment religious leaders, and upsetting the Roman governors.

I suspect the disciples were perplexed by talk like “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Was He off for another stroll on the lake during a storm, perhaps another meander into the mountains to be transfigured, what was Jesus talking about?

Instead of explaining in concrete and specific terms Jesus paints a very personal picture of what the future will look like for His followers. Jesus explains “you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices”. There is a coming disturbing dissonance for these disciples. Their world will be turned upside down and they will weep.  Weeping and tears have been a symbol for soul sickness many times before.  Jesus is painting a picture here of a heart-wrenching soul sickness while others around are rejoicing and reveling in the very event that has made you ill. Jesus predicts a happy ending to this traumatic tale, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” He provides a powerful metaphor to make His point.  One of the most traumatic yet joyous experiences imaginable – childbirth.  I am not a woman so I may never fully understand and appreciate this metaphor the way my wife and other mothers can, but I was present during the birth of both of my daughters and I can attest to bring both traumatic and joyous both times.

Our oldest daughter took her time coming into this world and I know my wife was anxious for her arrival well before the event. We even resorted to driving on bumpy roads with the hopes that this might speed up the process.  We did the Lamaze classes and I had my breathing down pat.  I realized only after the fact that the breathing and training are actually probably more useful for distracting the father than helping the mother.  It did distract me enough to prevent me from feinting and becoming a nuisance.  After many hours of labor our daughter was born and it was indeed a joyous experience.  Of course her birth was merely the beginning of lost binkies, sleepless nights, fevers and illness, and the many highs and lows which are all part of the journey.

Our second child came into the world quite a bit differently.  She came on time and with a short labor in the middle of the night.  We rushed to the hospital and I was not as practiced in my Lamaze technique the second time around.  Both the doctor and I were a bit sleepy, but when our daughter arrived and had trouble breathing we all woke up pretty fast.  After a brief but traumatic (for our daughter and her parents) stay in the neonatal ICU for an infection we were able to bring home our beautiful baby and begin our adventure with her as well.  I gained a new respect and appreciation for nurses during our baby’s stay in the ICU.  The nurses were amazing and we could not have navigated those turbulent waters without them.

So despite my maleness and lack of ability to actually experience giving birth to a child I think I can appreciate the spiritual squall that Jesus is talking about that is on the horizon for His followers and why He chose to use the analogy of childbirth.  His time has come and He knows it will be really hard on those that love Him, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”  I have asked my wife about this idea of forgetting the pain and she admits that it is a thing.  She remembers the event but I think the joy overwhelms the pain.  That is what Jesus is describing here.  This amazing joy will come only after a very difficult road that He and His followers must walk.

The road to finding the savoir looks very different for everyone, just like the birth of my two daughters.  I think what Jesus wants to reassure His followers, both those listening to Him here and all those that will come after like myself, is that no matter how hard or difficult things can get in this land of oblivion there is joy and new life to be found in Him.  He is the waiting on the banks of the river ready to help all those who seek His help to cross.

Prayer: God thank You for the gift of new life both through our precious children and Your Son.     

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Eddying Out – Compilation to the Confluence

Water-Related Posts in the Old Testament Compiled by Peter Wampler 12/29/20

Well I finished compiling all of the water-related posts in the old testament today….and the total by my reckoning is 544.  I am sure I have missed some but this is probably a pretty close estimate.  It has been a while since I reached the confluence of the old and new testaments on July 31, 2018.

I am rapidly approaching the end of the Gospel of John.  I was hoping to make it by the end of the year, but alas the number of reaches is too much to cover in the time before the new year.  When I do reach the end of the Gospels I anticipate this will represent another branch in the river.  The Gospels have provided amazing insights and deep water about the Messiah and His purpose in coming to earth.

The next reach of the river will focus on how His disciples carried on after He left and how all the spiritual squalls He put them through prepared them for His spirit to provide guidance and grace in His absence.

I am sure that this part of the river will contain its own challenges and difficult passages, but I am looking forward to the journey.

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Stepping out of the Cave

Maria, sister of Lazarus, meets Jesus who is going to their house by Nikolai Ge

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.   When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.  “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”   Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” – John 11:17-‬42

It is not often that we get a glimpse of the soul of God, but I think that is what we are given in this passage.  Jesus, the Messiah, “the resurrection and the life” is visiting Mary and Martha who have just experienced great earthly loss.  Lazarus has died and Jesus is here to be the resurrection and the life for him and for all those who are there to witness the event.  In previous chapters (John 11:14-16) Jesus has told the disciples that this spiritual squall is meant to be a sign for them to believe that He is not only the Messiah but the Son of God with power over life and death.

The passage begins with Martha going out to meet Jesus while He is still on His way to Bethany from Jerusalem, apparently a two-mile walk.  Martha go out to meet Jesus while He is still on His way with great faith in Jesus’ ability to help in a seemingly helpless situation, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  I am not sure what she thought He could do but she was hopeful none the less.

Jesus responds “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, knowing that her brother is dead, places her hope in the future resurrection that Jesus has talked about many times before.  Her understanding of who Jesus is and what He is on earth to do is about to get much bigger.  Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha, still thinking that any resurrection from the dead is in the far distant future, responds “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  Although technically correct, her view of Jesus was still not big enough.  Martha returns to their house to fetch Mary so she can go to Jesus too.  Mary also finds Jesus while He is still on His way but she is distracted by the recent loss of her brother Lazarus. 

She is confused and conflicted, she says to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Perhaps she was wondering how this Man who claimed to be the resurrection and the life could allow her beloved brother to die.  Lazarus was also a good friend to Jesus and He is apparently moved to tears by this loss “Jesus wept”.  His soul was laid bare by this loss of a friend and the impact this had on his sisters.  The crowd, and perhaps inwardly Mary and Martha, question why His ability to heal others was not used to prevent Lazarus from dying.  Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying and allowing his death and resurrection was part of a bigger plan, just like His own death and resurrection which will come in a short time, at least as we humans measure time.

The same compassion and love that Jesus showed for Lazarus is what will lead Him to the cross to accept crucifixion for everyone else.  God loves each and every one of us deeply and with the same intensity that He loved Lazarus.  He weeps for us too, especially when we choose to remain separated from His love.

Lazarus’ death and resurrection serves as a sign for those who witnessed it, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  The act of raising Lazarus from the dead was a miracle to be sure, but the main target of this demonstration of divine intervention was not Lazarus.  It was for Jesus’ disciples, all those who witnessed the event, and those who read about it later like myself.

Of course we know the end of this story is that Lazarus emerges from the cave alive and well.  The reality is that God is still in the resurrection business for all those who are willing to be born of the spirit.  We can all step out of the cave and experience the Light of the World.  In order to have this eternal life and rebirth all we need do is die to our selves and be willing to drink in God’s living water drawn from the wells if salvation.

Prayer: God You offer all of us new life in You.  Help us to walk out of the darkness and experience the new life that you offer.

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Ecosystem in our Souls?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.  His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”  “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.  He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”  “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. – John 9:1‭-‬12

I guess in my excitement to reach the “end” floated right by a water reference.  So I am schlepping back upstream today to pick up this reach of river.  The topic of today’s passage is about healing and spit. I reflected in a post called sight from the savoir about this story in the book of Mark (Mark 8:22‭-‬26).  In that post I explored the metaphorical meaning of this miracle and the soul connection that Jesus was trying to make through this healing.  The focus of this account is slightly different and revolves around an important question posed by those present “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  What the disciples were wondering was whether the actions of this man or his relatives resulted in this “punishment” of blindness.  Jesis’ answer is neither, his illness and the healing at hand are part of a someone else’s story that God needs to tell these people.  

The idea that spiritual forces are responsible for our health has been around for about as long as human history has been recorded.  I suspect this was because until the early 1900’s we did not really have much ability to see or understand the unseen microbes that were often responsible for our illnesses and imperfections.  Well it turns out we have a veritable zoo of critters living on and in our bodies  It is becoming increasingly clear that this ecosystem of entities is a feature not a flaw.  For example, our ability to digest food is at least partly a result of symbiotic bacteria that live in our stomachs and intestines.  These helper organisms provide all sorts of assistance in the process of digesting and recovering nutrients from our food.  When we seek to sterilize and sanitize we may be killing off our friends as well as our enemies.

Of course not all organisms and entities that inhabit our bodies are good and beneficial.  Things that make us ill are typically referred to as pathogenic, causing pathos or illness.  The means by which these organisms and entities can impact our bodies is very diverse.  They can produce toxins which are poisonous to our bodies, hijack the machinery of our selves and make billions of copies of themselves, and they can fool our immune system into attacking our own bodies.  Examples are too numerous to mention but include bacteria like Cholera, viruses like COVID-19 that we are dealing with right now, and a whole host of other pathogens that are trying to break the machinery of our bodies rather than support it.

So the question that occurs to me is do we have a similar ecosystem of entities in our souls?  Are their good (angels/saints?) and bad (demons/impure spirits?) entities that inhabit our souls and can serve to help or hinder our spiritual health?  It seems like on several occasions Jesus acknowledged and addressed this spiritual ecosystem in healing people.  One of the most striking of these examples was when He healed the naked man at the tombs and sent the legion of demons that were inhabiting his soul into a herd of pigs. The story is told in Matthew 8:28-34Mark 5:1‭-‬20, and Luke 8:26‭-‬39.

The demons that Jesus drove out of the man knew and recognized Jesus as the Son of God.  There are many other occasions where Jesus makes it clear that there is a spiritual world that is present all around us, which most of us are largely oblivious to.  This spiritual blindness is what Jesus heals in people, even when He is simultaneously healing their physical bodies.  He lights up the dark places in our souls if we allow Him access to these places.  Our response to this reaching out by God can be to walk into the light and embrace the coming dawn or to retreat into the dark and hide.

I recently re-watched the movie “It’s a wonderful life” which is a tradition for me at Christmas time.  I love the story of realization and redemption as George is given a glimpse into a world without his contributions.  This simple story hinges on the idea that there is a spiritual realm and that God, and the entities (angels) in it, care deeply about our lives and the decisions we make. I don’t know if there are angels with names like Clarence trying the “earn their wings” that take up our cause and interact with our lives in ways like those depicted in the movie.  Given all the references to the spiritual world and the spirits that inhabit from the mouth of Jesus Himself I cannot dismiss the possibility.  I will not pretend to understand how this spiritual ecosystem works but it seems that it is real and something we ignore at our peril.

Prayer: God help us to have a healthy focus on our inner selves so that we can see and understand the spiritual world around us.

Posted in Angels, Christianity, Discernment, Following God, Free Will, Healing, Impure spirits, Jesus, John, Miracles, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Love to the End

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. – John 13:1‭-‬17

Today’s passage is an intimate interlude between the birth of Jesus we celebrated yesterday and the confusing crucifixion that is to come.  The disciples and Jesus are sharing a meal together awaiting the Passover.  I love the sentence “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  Jesus was showing these followers that He was a God who Serves which was something quite different in human history up to this point, and since this time.

Everyone is eating the evening meal and probably talking together about the coming celebration of the Passover.  Jesus is the only one who knows what is coming and what He chooses to do is very telling of His love and the way He shows it to His followers, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God”  Despite the fact that God had given Him the power to do great miracles Jesus chose to lay down His life for His friends because He loved them.  He shows this love by washing their feet.  Much of the washing in the Old Testament was an effort to be ceremonially clean so that one could enter the presence of God.  Jesus is making these followers clean in a symbolic way.

God has been in the business of bathing the people He loves for a very long time.  In fact there are several occasions in the old testament where this intimate side of God is revealed.   The first mention of washing feet that I found was in Genesis 18:1-5, when Abraham entertains three representatives of God and offers to bring water so they can wash their feet.  There is no implication of intimacy with God in this event, Abraham was still in the mode of sacrifice and service to a relatively impersonal God.

Moses models a slightly more intimate love for those that are following him by following God’s instructions to washing Aaron and his sons in Leviticus 8:1-10, and in Exodus 30:17-21 Moses is instructed to “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die.”  So we have not exactly reached the point of intimacy yet but there is a connection between being in God’s presence and washing of one’s feet.

In Ezekiel 16:1-14 God describes His care for the people of Israel like this: “I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you.”  This is not exactly foot washing but there is an intimacy here that is very similar to that described in this account in John.  There is more of a hint of the coming intimacy in Isaiah 1:15-20 when God commits to “coming to settle the matter” of our sin and separation from Him.  I am sure there are other references buried in the old testament and the gospels but I will return to this reach now and see what God has to say about this account of foot washing.

Jesus is busy serving His followers by washing their feet, and Peter is busy missing the point. When Jesus comes to Peter He pipes up in true foot-in-the-mouth Peter fashion “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Instead of  realizing his mistake and the “me” focus Peter doubles down, “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Peter wanted to control the way he would be served by God.  As I am writing this it occurs to me that although Peter’s control complex seems ludicrous in this context I am guilty of similar control issues when it comes to God and how I allow Him to serve me.

I think that I am more comfortable making sacrifices for God than allowing Him to make sacrifices for me and serve me through His actions.  From everything I have read, including this passage, this service thing is a two-way street with God.  He wants us to both serve Him and allow ourselves to be served by Him – at the same time.  This is a bit like the way He wants us to pursue Him while He is pursing us.  I am not sure why this seesaw servitude is part of our relationship, but I think it does make it richer than a mere one-way mirror.

In the final parts of the passage Jesus makes it clear that part of the reason He is washing the disciples feet is as an example of how His followers are to love and serve one another.  The take home message for me is that we as followers of Christ need to be just as good at receiving service as giving it out to others.  This is not always easy, especially in a culture that highly values self-sufficiency and independence.

Prayer: God help us to serve one another in love and accept the love and service of others.

Posted in Ceremonial Cleansing, Christian Community, Christianity, Discipleship, Following God, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, Life Together, Messiah, The Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great Conjunction

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 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. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. – John 7:37‭-‬44

Merry CHRISTmas!  This passage is an amazing reminder of the spring of living water that arrived in the form of a baby over 2000 years ago. This baby’s parents were not rich or powerful.  They were simply obedient and willing to be part of God’s plan.   God condensed from the vaporous cloud of the old testament into a living, breathing, window between the secular and spiritual worlds.  The great conjunction that we are celebrating today occurred at a geographic location called Bethlehem, roughly 2000 years ago.  The exact place and date of this conjunction is not as important, in my opinion, as the fork in the river that occurred with the arrival of Jesus – perhaps the most important event in human history.   

Interestingly, we just experienced what is referred to as a Great Conjunction (December 21, 2020).  This is when, from earth’s viewpoint, the planets Jupiter and Saturn appear to be occupying almost the same place in the night sky creating a brighter than normal “star”.  A similar Great Conjunction may have occurred near the time of the birth of Christ, and may have been the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem” that the wise men from the east were following to find Jesus.  A celestial conjunction is a function of the laws of physics and planetary motion which have been known since Newton.  Clever mathematicians and/or computer programs can predict the timing of this sort of conjunction with amazing accuracy and specificity.

It is somewhat interesting that it is the “last and greatest day of the festival” when Jesus proclaimed something very profound “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  Jesus is referring to a previous passage in the old testament about “rivers of living water”.  I went back to explore which part of the “river” He was talking about and found a few possibilities.  I found four likely candidate, but I am sure there are others.

In Jeremiah 2:9-19 God refers to two sins the Israelites had committed “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” This would be my first choice of the verse that Jesus had in mind when He was saying to the people “rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  This was the same advice and insight Jesus gave the Samaritan woman at the well, we must access Living Water to truly live.  Really since the Garden of Eden humans have been trying to drink water from their own cistern instead of relying on the Living Water that comes only from God.

Another contender for the passage Jesus might have been thinking about is Zechariah 14:1‭-‬9.  I reflected on this passage back on July 26, 2018 in a post entitled “Twilight Time“.  Zechariah includes these lines “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord , and his name the only name.”  This was truly a prophetic reflection of Jesus and makes today’s passage even more of a time bender for sure.

In Jeremiah 17:5-13 we find “Lord , you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord , the spring of living water.”  I reflected on this passage back on January 25, 2016 in a post called Roots by the Stream.  In this passage God was comparing and contrasting those who trust in “the flesh”, with hearts that turn away from God, and those who trust in God and whose hearts are in a constant state of seeking after God.

Isaiah also has a reference which is a candidate for this confluence.  In Isaiah 12:1-6 it says “The Lord , the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense ; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  This is slightly different than the springs of living water but the meaning is clearly similar.  The connection to the conjunction of the savior and  and salvation is more clear despite the slightly different language used.  I reflected on the Isaiah passage on September 14, 2015 in a post entitled ““.  I was struck by the amazing prophetic picture presented.  It includes this statement which I am even more convinced was referring to Jesus, “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you”.

This passage has been just the sort of mixing of the old and the new that I expected to find when I passed the confluence between the old and new testaments.  This journey of exploring water passages in the bible has given me a new appreciation for the ways that the Bible is like a braided river.  I am like the Mole in Wind in the Willows:

“The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”

What God has been giving me through this passage, and others like it, is a glimpse of the “insatiable sea” which is the Living Water that Jesus was referring to when He said “rivers of living water will flow from within them”.  I also have a new appreciation for how wide and long the river is that I am navigating in my float through the bible exploring water passages. 

This passage marks my 669th post to this blog which I started back on June 22, 2014.  I am working on mapping all the passages organized by book of the bible and I hope to make more headway on this compilation over the holidays.

I hope you have a wonderful CHRISTmas!  May God’s Living Waters flow from you this season.

Prayer: God thank You for the wonderful conjunction that You orchestrated when You came to earth to help us find the Living Water to satisfy our thirst for You.

Posted in Christianity, Covenant, Discernment, Discipleship, Following God, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, living water, Messiah, Prophecy, reconciliation, Redemption, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment