Baby oil is the secret ingredient to homemade modeling dough. Unlike the store-bought variety, it smells soft and fresh, and when I had three small girls, it lasted longer too. I’d cook up a batch every few months, and our daughters spent hours “making cookies,” stamping their plastic cookie cutters into the dough and giggling with satisfaction when the exact replica of their cutter—be it a unicorn or a dragon—looked back at them.
When I don’t understand something about God the Father, I think about this verse, Hebrews 1:3: “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command” (NLT).
How does that help when I question God? Jump over to The Glorious Table and read the rest of the devotional.
There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him. He likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit.
I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.
Some times of year, it can really stink.
I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not.
He has habits; I have reactions.
So there is another part of the story we started last week that piques my interest. And my nose.
After Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, the conversation between him and Martha that we began last week continues.
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.”Then Jesus wept.The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”
Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11.33-44)
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means that there is nothing in our lives that is so dead Jesus cannot resurrect it. Not any big deaths in our lives, and not the small deaths either.
Nothing is too dead for resurrection.
Not financial issues
Not child issues
Not job issues
Not relationship issues
Not sin issues
Not medical issues
—Nothing is too dead for resurrection.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes, we have to bury those things before Jesus can resurrect them. And sometimes? They will stink.
Jesus asks Martha if she believes who he is—the resurrection and the life. His real question, though, is this—Do you trust me? No matter what happens, do you trust me with your brother’s life—and yours?
We cling to those things that need resurrection, don’t we?
We know the marriage needs intervention, but we’re comfortable, at least, in our dysfunction. We don’t want to give our inch. What if he takes a mile? What if the immense work of changing the way we interact doesn’t change anything? What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?
Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. But if we don’t bury what’s comfortable, we’ll never know the resurrection to what’s beautiful.
We know our relationship with our kids is tenuous, but listening and learning is hard. Believing the worst of them is impossible. Believing the worst of ourselves is uncomfortable. Learning boundaries and giving freedom threaten to break us in shards.
It stinks when we struggle with those we love most. But if we don’t bury what we have, he can’t raise it to what it could be.
We know we need to change some things for our health, or we need to accept that parts of the way we’d like to look or be are not going to happen this side of resurrection bodies. (I do not want to accept that.) Learning to live with physical limitations (not to mention saggy boobs) stinks.
But if I don’t bury my need to look and feel 35, how is he going to resurrect what is and make it what it can be? (Also, if I don’t bury my need to binge eat macarons and chocolate.)
We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be.
It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.
Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.
Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.
All the fullness of life.
Do you know why “This Is Me” became the runaway hit song from Greatest Showman? Because we all know the feeling of hiding our mess. We know what it’s like to be afraid of revealing all that we are, the good, bad, and ugly, to a critical world.
We all long for the resurrection and life, not just in the future, but now, right now, in our mess today. It’s just that sometimes, we don’t long for it enough. At least, not enough to bury what is and let Jesus handle the smell.
Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”
I’m joining Suzie Eller today for #LiveFreeThursday to talk about momentum. You know–just keeping keeping on. Sometimes, we feel like we need permission to keep going, or to venture out into something new. Maybe we can take a page from Jesus, though, and see–there’s a difference between being heard and making sure you speak up. Don’t hold back on the latter, even if the former is’t happening. You see, Jesus knows.
Maybe you understand this scenario all too well. You have an idea for solving a problem. You voice it. You’re ignored. A few weeks later, someone else “happens” to have the same idea. It’s hailed as genius. At which point, you briefly contemplate some extremely passive aggressive move to make that person’s life miserable. In Christian love.
Or you’re sitting with your dear family and you say something, something somewhere on the importance scale between, “I’m on fire, call an ambulance” and, “Dinner is ready.” Those people you live with are sitting within six feet of you. Their (non) response signals that they have all been hijacked by alien beings who removed their brains and replaced them with red jello. You briefly contemplate actually setting something on fire to see if it garners any attention at all.
Not that this has happened to me. Except–All. The. Time.
It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It does not feel good not to be heard.
So I can relate a bit to Jesus in his next public appearance, at the synagogue. “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown,” he says. That’s about right. At least if no one is going to listen to me, I’m in good company.
Everyone has heard of this young up-and-coming teacher, Jesus. Most likely, many of them already doubt the chances that a carpenter’s son could teach them anything. A pauper from Nazareth? Not really rabbi material. And yet, there are those persistent stories about his wise words…
So it’s SRO in the synagogue the morning he shows up.
Part of the audience is waiting for the next big thing—some spectacular show like the water and wine gig.
Part of the audience is waiting to trip him up and dismiss him.
How many of them are there really to hear him? I wonder.
I think I have some idea of how Jesus felt. It hurts not to be heard.
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Luke 4)
Those hearing Jesus for the first time here see some important things in this first encounter.
First, they see a man who is unafraid to assert his identity and authority.
He knows they expect little. He is fully aware of their skepticism. He confidently takes hold of the Scriptures, reads, sit down, and then unleashes a giant bomb on the little meeting.
“These holy verses? They’re talking about me. I am the product of the prophecy. I’m the One. That’s all for today.”
I love how Jesus just drops these little gems into conversation and then goes back to eating his Cheerios or whatever like it is a common, everyday occurrence to go around telling people you’re God.
Only God could pull this off successfully.
Second, they see a man who is unafraid to say some unpopular things.
As long as his listeners could smugly put themselves in the position of oppressed martyr, they were fine with his words about releasing captives and helping the poor. But Jesus had no plans to let them color themselves the victims in this picture. He insisted they join him in being the agents of change for the real poor and marginalized. They did not like it. Most of us prefer to feel like martyrs rather than oppressors. It’s decidedly more comfortable.
Jesus wasn’t too concerned about comfort. He knew who he was, he knew why he came, and he knew he had the authority to carry it out. And he wasn’t afraid to say so.
I love this sighting of Jesus.
I know that many people are rightly turned off by the presentation of Jesus as an angry, judging, vindictive God.
But I wonder if many others aren’t equally turned off by the presentation of a Jesus who can’t or won’t take charge and tell the truth like it is. A wimpy Jesus who hangs around going, “Hey, whatever, it’s all cool in the end.” A Jesus who is just OK with whatever we want to say his mission was and whoever we want to believe he was.
That’s not a Jesus I would want to stake my life’s purpose on. I would find no comfort in trusting a Jesus who couldn’t make up his mind to be who he was and stick with it. So I am comforted and empowered by this Luke 4 Jesus. He is bold. He is purposeful. He is unafraid. That’s a Jesus I can follow with confidence.
And in the times when I feel unheard and unheeded, it’s a Jesus I can appreciate.
I wrote an article recently on women in leadership and how we often downplay our own abilities. We put on a Christian costume of humility and allow ourselves to remain unheeded and unheard. In the name of being good Christian women.
Only it’s not good at all. Jesus demonstrates a better way here. Now, I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. So, we don’t have the authority to go around asserting our opinions like they are infallible. We desperately need to err on the side of love and grace. But there is something important to see here.
When you know who you are, you know why you’re here, and you know Who has the authority to help you, there is nothing wrong in asserting that reality. We don’t have to coat it in sugar or wait for someone else to bring it up. We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us. He’s already done that.
We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us.
I get that fear. For a long time, I listened to it, afraid to write about what really mattered to me and, I was pretty certain, to God. Look what they did to Jesus here. They chased him out of town for reading a passage that challenged their complacency and then claiming he had the authority to make it real.
I was not interested in being chased out of the virtual town.
Now, I’m OK with it, because being heard is more important than being liked.
That’s why I love the Jesus I find in Luke 4. He doesn’t care.
Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He isn’t afraid to tell the truth.
Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows what matters.
Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows who He is and why He came.
One simple pharisee could have no idea he was unleashing the most quoted Bible verse in history. He just had questions. More accurately, he had statements–for which he never expected the reply he got.
In our ongoing exploration of who Jesus was through the eyes of those he encountered, we come to one of the most famous – Nicodemus. The things about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is that, while it looks strange to us, it should look oh so familiar. In fact, I suspect many of us come to Jesus the way Nick came. I know I see myself in his mirror all to well.
And the thing is, we don’t really know how he left. John 3 never tells us. I suspect that’s a deliberate lack of information. Maybe we are left to finish the story ourselves. Perhaps we are expected to end it as if we were in it. If we met Jesus the way Nicodemus does, how would we leave Him? What would we choose?
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3)
Two things leap out in the first two sentences of this encounter. One, the man comes to Jesus at night. Two, he does not ask questions, as others do. He makes a statement. Who does things like this? People who are afraid. And people who want to justify themselves. Which is often the same thing.
Nicodemus was worried his comrades would see him talking to this rebel. He was more afraid of Jesus. On the surface, the guy looks so assured. So certain. So positive that his standing in the community, his education, his record as a good guy who knows all the answers will be enough to certify him with God. But what if they aren’t? These are the fears that keep him hiding in the dark.
The dark works, though, because if Jesus is not really a prophet, he doesn’t lose anything because no one has seen him come. If He is, Nicodemus can make sure he impresses him with his knowledge.
But he forgets something important – fear-filled people have telltale signs. One of them is that they sneak around in the dark. Another is that they pose as self-assured know-it-alls.
Boy, don’t I know the drill on that last one.
He just wants assurance. But he’s wracked with doubts, or he would not be slinking around in the dark looking for a man with a reputation for turning assurances inside out and upside down. Do doubts sound familiar to you? Me too.
After some theological/metaphysical wrangling, we come to this.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear…. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”
And very quickly this encounter becomes about two things.
Come out of the dark.
Don’t be afraid.
Nicodemus, no, you don’t have all your theological ducks in a row. Yes, you really are lost on your trek toward the kingdom. All those assurances of yours that you’re living right, thinking right, voting right, meeting the guidelines right? Garbage. But here’s the thing—God so loves you anyway. He’s not waiting to condemn you. He’s waiting to nudge you into the light. Stop hiding. Come out of the dark. Don’t be afraid.
See why this story should sound oh so familiar now?
I’m a Nicodemus, begging Jesus to approve my manufactured goodness. Hiding for fear that it’s not good enough, and even greater fear that I know what it is he wants, and it requires stepping into blinding light that throws all my garbage into high definition.
Come out of the dark.
Don’t be afraid.
It’s like Jesus is coaxing a wounded animal out of the shadows so he can inspect the torn flesh and place his hands on it to heal.
We don’t know how Nick responded. We get inklings later on. But right here, right now, in this dark encounter? We don’t get a resolution. I think that’s because we have to make our own.
Will we walk out of the dark? Whatever our dark is? Will we believe that he comes to heal and not condemn? Will we subject our little kingdoms to the clarifying light that shows them for what they are? This encounter with Jesus is deeper than the previous ones. It’s personal.
Can’t we love a Jesus who calls the wounded and fearful into light?
Can’t we love a Jesus whose go-to is “I didn’t come to condemn you”?
Can’t we love a Jesus who sees past our self-assurance to our fears and doubts and knows those are the real question, no matter what comes out of our lips?
I’m loving getting to know Jesus better. Do you have questions and fears? Do you have encounters in Scripture you’d like to know more about? Let me know—I’d love to talk about it.
We’re in week three of exploring what it would have been like to meet the real Jesus for the first time. What would an encounter have felt like, looked like? How would it have changed us? Who is Jesus, really? We’ve been introduced to him. We’ve met him in baptism.
And now here.
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
(Matthew 4, John 1)
The next time we see Jesus encountering people for the first time, he’s calling them. Straight up telling them to follow him. No introductions. No “Hey, what are you doing, do you think you could take a break for a while?” Not even a “Who are you and what’s your resume, anyway?” Just this script which, if we take at face value, we cannot think of as anything but odd.
Jesus has bided his time for thirty years in Joseph’s house making end tables. Now he’s been baptized, beaten satan in the wilderness, and finally, the time has come. He gets to start what he came for. Key is in the ignition, suitcase is packed. And because he’s God and all, he’s smart enough to know what many leaders, Christian and otherwise, have yet to figure out. He needs a team.
He gets a chance to assemble his core, his dream team. I’ve worked in church planting—I know how important your core team is. You live or die by those people. If anyone could compile a dream team, Jesus could.
And what does he do? He goes and snags anyone who happens to by lying around that day with nothing else to do. Fishermen taking a break. People napping under trees. Grown men who can’t join him unless they bring their brothers and friends along for moral support. Seriously, who does this? He’d be fired as a manager.
I know—Jesus prayed and all. I understand all the theology behind this. But looking at it as a normal person would have at the time, which is how were trying to see Jesus in this series, it makes no sense. It’s a desperate, loser move. Jesus’ team is doomed from inception.
Yet something compels these people to follow him. It may be the same thing that compels us.
The disciples knew of Jesus. They would have heard the talk about his unusual “fringe” ways and his ability to handle God’s word. They’d understand people were watching him to be a big deal. They would have known he was an up and coming name.
They would have known no one with those credentials would bother with them.
No rabbi would bother with day laborers and farm workers. They amassed followers from the educated elite of Jerusalem. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathanael—they did not imagine any teacher would stop to discuss the things of God with men such as themselves. They had their place—and it was limited.
Yet, one day on the side of the lake, when nothing else is happening, a rabbi calls them. The rabbi calls them. He is not joking. Is it really any wonder they drop everything and follow him? We look at that with such amazement but really, if we realized the gravity of what’s happening, we would not be so surprised.
A rabbi is calling me. Rabbis don’t call fishermen. Rabbis don’t want people like me. I have never been good enough, smart enough, connected enough to be noticed by a rabbi. And now The Teacher has used my name. Mine. I can’t drop this net fast enough.
It would be like Lionel Messi telling some young kid in the vacant lot, “Hey, stop kicking that soccer ball around and let me teach you how to play.”
You know what else is amazing?
A rabbi is calling you.
He’s looking at you, wherever you are, whatever your employment, level of education, lifestyle, or background, and he’s saying, “I want you. Follow me.”
Look at Jesus’ first encounter with potential disciples. Really look. It’s like he just glances at people and says, “You want to come? You’re in.” You skeptical? You’re in. You uncertain? You’re in. You unworthy? You’re in. Whatever, people. If you want to come, you’re in.
Think about that for just a minute, and let it sink in how people must have felt about that. Let it sink in how we should feel about that.
We’re in. We’re called. On those days when you feel all kinds of not enough, put yourself on the shores of that lake and hear those words – follow me. Whoever you are. Wherever you’ve been. No matter what. Be mine.
Jesus’ first encounter with his followers was not a test of fitness but a call toward fullness.
He doesn’t ask for a resume; he asks for a reception.
I think that’s a Jesus we can love.
I think that’s a Jesus we can serve.
I think that’s a Jesus we can follow.
In the words of one of my favorite quotes of 2015:
Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense? (Jen Hatmaker)
I discovered Jesus as a thirteen-year-old watching Jesus Christ Superstar.
Most pastors and theologians I know would suggest that was a bad beginning. It seemed to take, though, as I’m still following Him some years later. You just never know which way that Holy Spirit wind is going to blow, do you?
I didn’t know the answer to the question the singers kept asking – Who are you, anyway, Jesus? Watching him die on a cross there on late night TV, I suddenly wanted to. I sincerely, desperately wanted to know who that was who would do such an incomprehensible, soul-searing thing. Because Sunday-school born and bred or not, I knew what he was doing, and I knew it was for me. I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it.
The culture that created that stage play and movie – my culture – was asking some macro and micro-cosmic questions.
Who do you say you are?
Jesus–Who do others say you are? Do you agree with them? Really, they were asking, Are you still relevant? Do you still mean anything? Is who you are still important to anyone here and now?
The answer was yes.
The answer is still yes.
Always, and eternally, yes.
But we have to know which Jesus we mean. Which Jesus is the conversation about? Which Jesus are we allowing to die on that cross and speak truth into our 21st century skeptical existence?
I promised an exploration into those questions, and it starts here, the first time Jesus makes a truly public appearance.
“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters was plunged beneath them at the hands of a wild-eyed wilderness preacher.” Rachel Held Evans
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3.13-17)
Do you think you’re who they say you are?
This is a pretty whiz-bang way to make your first public appearance. The clouds open up and James Earl Jones’ voice booms out of heaven. He labels you pretty clearly – God’s son. Well OK then. There should be no more questions.
Jesus could take his special effects show and make bank on it. He could have an instant platform and thousands of followers on twitter. He could get his own reality show. He could talk world domination. He could do ….all the things the devil will soon tempt him to do out in the wilderness. Exert his power. Use his position. Make it big and splashy and all about him.
But he does not.
John knows who he is. He offers to give Jesus his rightful place. He cannot fathom that Jesus would not want to step up into the limelight, nor that he would want to step down toward submission and anonymity.
It’s the first thing people who encounter Jesus see. A man who has defeated Satan’s temptations and been announced to the world by God Himself, but he calmly walks into the water like he is ambling up to a stoplight and obeying the ‘walk’ sign. As if he is anyone in the crowd of people who need this obedience like they need bread in a famine.
He doesn’t need it, but he chooses it, and in choosing, he says to the people watching him for maybe the first time, “I am here to restore the order of things, and though I could be your Almighty God I choose to be your companion on this journey. I’m starting something new. Come with me.”
Jesus’ first statement before the world was that he could choose power and glory — but he will not.
That’s a Jesus we can love, isn’t it? That’s a Jesus we can trust, perhaps, in a world where it seems Christian leaders have not taken that road often enough. That’s a Jesus we can want to get to know more. That’s a Jesus who is still relevant in 2016.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2.6-8)
We are quick to choose the power and glory. That shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s the choice first made in that fate-filled garden. But can’t you love a Savior who chooses humility instead, at a time when the power stakes are at their highest?
We’re told, in this world where Jesus is no longer considered chic, that even His followers have to choose power and glory if we want to have an impact. Perhaps the way of Jesus is more relevant than we realize. It’s relevant to meet anger with humility. It’s incredibly relevant to take the road of quiet obedience rather than offer sound-bites on our position.
I want to know a man who is so completely different. I want to walk beside One who insists on a life so counter to His world’s wisdom. I want to put into practice a relevance that is so radical it’s timeless.