Solomon’s Porch

A couple of times a year I find myself at Solomon’s Porch eating a Tribe of Reuben- without the sauerkraut- with a couple of friends who bite into a Wesley Club, or The Calvin with extra tomato. Occasionally, I’ll get adventurous and order one of the Twelve Apostolic Franks, like The Judas, about which the menu reads, “Even he couldn’t deny this one: Bacon wrapped, beer cheese, and tomato.”

Solomon’s Porch is a café just off the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary. Here, I share meals with Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Methodists. We discuss our lives over Ethiopian coffee.

We discuss classes. “So Witherington claims that Lazarus is the beloved disciple! What?!”

“Take Church History II with Dr. Zaida Perez. Her Latina perspective balances recorded history.”

Which leads to conversations about what God has done in our history. “You won’t believe what I saw God do in India last summer!” exclaims a UMC intern.

“I’m moved to tears every time I assist with communion. To speak, ‘The Body of Christ, broken for you’ over people is more powerful that I ever imagined,” recounts an Anglican, still visibly moved by the experience.

“I preached a sermon at a home in China a few years ago, and hardly anyone came. But one young man heard the Gospel. He’s gone on to plant 47 churches,” remembers a non-denominational believer from Trinidad.

We’re a mixed denominational bag-a flock of sheep not necessarily prized for the quality of our wool- recounting the Voice of the One Shepherd in our lives.

John 10 reads, The sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (4, 16).

When Jesus spoke these words “the Jews were divided” (verse 19). Really, they were already divided. There were Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and other Jewish groups in the Diaspora. Yet, we find representatives of all of them in the church. They worship along side converts from fertility cults, Greek religions, and Roman Emperor worship. A mere skim through the Epistles reveals the messiness of their unity. There was a lot of mud on their wool.

Even so, they had one thing in common: they knew the voice of Jesus. They were able to discern it clearly over all the other noise so that they could walk toward Him together.

Jesus strolls through Solomon’s Porch after he announces that he is the Good Shepherd. It’s winter. The frustrated, divided Jews gather around him, and I wonder, as the winter wind whipped down his neck, if he got a foretaste of the coldness his future sheep would harbor against each other. Did he feel the frost on the flimsy fences we’d build between ourselves? He seems to sigh, “I have told you, and you do not believe . . . My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  . . . The Father and I are one” (verses 25-30).

They are One. We are one.

Winter is replaced by spring, and at a high point in our church history, a diverse flock yet again gathers together on Solomon’s Porch.

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch (Acts 5:12).

Maybe they shared a cup of Roman Arabica to jolt awake enough to believe it was true that they were really fellowshipping with a Jew from that sect, an Essene, a Jew from that class. Maybe they laughed about the former, irrelevant distinctions they’d drawn, and asked, “Surely the Gentiles aren’t a part of this flock too? Are they?” But, before they could respond, they were interrupted, because, “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women” (Acts 5:14).

There’s no time to build fences. There’s work to do. There are meals to be shared in the field where we can be still together in order to hear the voice of the Shepherd. There is no time to debate doctrine; only time to ask, “Where have you heard the voice of the Good Shepherd lately? What is He saying to you? To US?” There is only time to live together, confident that He is calling, leading us to amazing adventures-together.

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10: 3-4

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC

Unwilling to See

I have known a couple of children who were considered legally blind. When I say I’ve seen a glimpse of using another kind of sight in the world, I mean I’ve seen it up close. The way they engage with people and objects around them is mesmerizing. They navigate around what seems normal to a seeing person with creativity and wonder. To be truthful, I think I’m fascinated by this process because of fear. I’m terrified of being blind.

It’s a somewhat irrational fear because there is no threat to my health that should affect my eyesight. We even have a little family joke because I am the only one in my immediate family who has not needed glasses. Although age may eventually catch me there. Nonetheless, somewhere in the deep dark places where fear waits to claim us, I fear going blind and having to relearn the world.

Maybe that’s the real fear. I like to see where I’m going and what might happen ahead. I like to know what’s around me. When I read John 9, and so many other accounts of healed blindness, I can connect to the celebrating part because I can’t stand the darkness part. To be able to see when you couldn’t before—Yes! Bring on the cheers and dancing and gratitude. Woo-hoo!

And then this strange little chapter takes a turn. I read the story happening around the story. I want it to be about healing and faith and Jesus and good news. . .but there is so much more going on here. It feels similar to the deeper root of my own fear. Maybe there is more than just blindness. Maybe there is fear about control and comprehension. Looking for answers instead of accepting the reality of a miracle. Our Jesus is so good, though. He is not afraid of their questions or their doubt. He makes room for their searching just like he made room for healing when it was needed.

There’s also a trick of language in this passage that has caused much debate and trouble over time. The common NIV translation (and others) say, “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.”

How many times have we spun round this verse trying to understand why a loving God would inflict suffering in order to be glorified? I confess I’ve mostly brushed past that part and headed for the celebration. Wise, learned souls tell me there is something not quite right about how we read that, though.

Studying the complications of language transfer, we discover this really is something lost in translation. Greek uses phrases in strange order, and more accurate interpretations indicate this was reversed. Jesus was saying this suffering occurred, but now we get to see a glimpse of God’s glory. He didn’t implicate God in causing the suffering. Jesus was setting up the next part of the plan. He was pointing out that He is light to come and save us, but His time is limited. He must do the works that are available while they can be done. . .He must take the opportunity to heal when it is presented in order to display the glory of God while it can be seen in person.

Don’t we do that all the time? We flip what we heard or we apply meaning to the wrong phrase of something important. Then we spin in circles trying to find our way back to God from confusion. We even blame him for the problem. While he slowly rubs a bit of spit and mud into our blindness, waiting for us to obey and see more clearly. He answers the questions by casting more light.

 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”  Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."

It’s possible that sometimes I am already blind and don’t know it. I let fear and a need for control and answers and clarity cover up what I should be able to see. Jesus casts light by pointing out blindness to the oblivious and reminding the faithful of their clear-sighted purpose. Let me be a seeing person today, Lord. Teach me to wash out doubt and fear when privileged with seeing a glimpse of God’s glory. I want to dance with the blind man.

Dana Spivy Children`s Minister Maury Hills Church Columbia, TN

"One Thing I Do Know"

It must have come like cracks and fissures breaking through decades of impermeable darkness. Who knows how long it took for the pool to come into focus, or for his eyes to adjust to what must have been the astounding brightness of everyday light. In all those early moments of merciful sensory overload, I wonder if he took a little extra time getting back to town, on a route he might have somehow known but never seen. And as his eyes opened up, and the world with them, what did he want to do first? Match his parents’ faces with their voices and touch? Finally find out what people meant by blue or green? Or meet the man who made the miracle mud? By the time he gets back to town, as it so often goes in John, Jesus is nowhere to be found. Instead, his inexplicable change of fortune meets only suspicious neighbors, antagonistic local leaders, and his own flummoxed and fearful parents. And instead of being the subject of celebration, he becomes the key witness in the authorities’ investigation into that Sabbath-breaking troublemaker, “the man called Jesus.”

Timid and succinct at first, his testimony about his encounter with Jesus seems to gather steam. At first, he only confirms that he doesn’t know who or where Jesus is. In the next round of questioning, he gathers steam and confesses that Jesus must be a prophet. By the time the inquisition has reached its climax – and just before it ends with his ejection from the synagogue – he confesses that this man must be from God because, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” By the time Jesus comes to him again at the end of the story, he sees Jesus clearly. Then he worships.

Having walked away from an encounter with Jesus with my own face mud-streaked and my eyes dazzled by the everyday brilliance of grace, I find myself bearing witness with increasing boldness. The still greater grace is that such boldness does not come to any of us on the basis of our eloquence or even complete understanding. An encounter with the living Lord can make miracles out of mud and bold proclaimers out of former blind beggars.

Amanda Pittman Durham, NC Th.D. Candidate in Christian Education and New Testament Cole Mill Road Church of Christ

Who Asked for Suffering?

As he walked 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?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him…  When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (from John 9:1-7)

Unlike many miracles of Jesus, this blind man did not ask for healing. He didn’t stretch out to Jesus like the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34), he didn’t fall to the ground begging for mercy like the leper in Luke 5. Jesus didn’t even ask him if he wanted to get well like he did with the paralytic man at the pool (John 5:5-17). The guy was just minding his own business, became the subject of a theological discussion, got mud made with spit on his face and was told to wash it off. He washed the spit-mud off and received the healing.

Usually you have to ask, sometimes beg, to possibly receive some pretty fundamental things in life. Gifts like compassion and forgiveness are given after you’ve convinced someone that you’re deserving - that you’re truly sympathetic or sorry and that you’ve earned your way by suffering enough. But forgiving others is hard when the hurt still stings, and compassion is tough when I’ve got enough of my own problems.

This is why the freely offered forgiveness by the families of the shooting victims in Charleston is so remarkable. Forgiveness was not offered after the shooter asked for forgiveness, received legal justice or even after the families had time to reflect - it was given immediately to a man still intensely gripped by the darkness of fear and hatred and while their horror and grief was still new. It was a sacred act for a sinner. This man has not asked for forgiveness (as far as I know). He certainly doesn’t deserve it.

The blind man was not a sinner and merely lived in physical darkness. He received a physical mercy and they were both offered spiritual mercy. Neither the shooter in Charleston nor the blind man asked for what they were given, yet they were both given these gifts ‘so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’

It was the evil of racism, not God, which caused that man to kill nine people who had welcomed him in. But the forgiveness, the healing, is certainly an opportunity for the works of God to be displayed, as examples of generosity of spirit – something to clutch to my heart and remember when I need to be forgiving - at least we can rejoice with that.

Some of my thoughts on the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church last week.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. (John 9:4a)

LaCanas Y. Tucker Manhattan Church of Christ New York, NY

Light of Life

I sit slouched in my ergonomic chair at the office and squint at my computer monitor, searching for and scrolling through the job openings. My current gig is up. Our company did not make it; and I knew when I accepted the position that it would be a tossup. Unfortunately, it's time to find a new job. Where could I possibly land? Freelancing sounds good. No sick days, no vacation days, be your own boss to a certain degree. But, no health insurance? No co pay assistance with my daily medications. The irony makes me giggle a little...

A year ago, I was worried... no. I was terrified, and struggling with sudden, worsening neurological symptoms. Numbness and phantom itches on my legs, vision issues; the doctor first diagnosed a pinched nerve. I knew it wasn't a pinched nerve. An MRI showed that several lesions on my brain and spine were causing the problems. Multiple Sclerosis. I was able to see an amazing specialist. Now, just a little over one year later, all MS symptoms are gone and have been managed well by diet, exercise and an oral medication.

Praise God!!! Those two words don't do it justice.

Yet, here I am: worried again, struggling. But this time, with job security.

Why do I doubt? Why do I worry? I hold this Book in my hands (or the digital version on my iPhone); and I am gripping tightly to the leather bound foundation of my every last drop of faith. Why do I think God is so small? Or rather, why do I forget God is SO BIG?

In John 8, Jesus Christ stood before the people in the flesh, speaking directly to them- probably making direct eye contact with many, and still, they doubted. 

Why is it so hard for me to be reassured that I am loved and valued? As I do the math of how much of an unemployment check I will receive vs. how much money we have historically spent in a month, hopelessness takes hold of me. Darkness overcomes me.

Have you ever thought about what darkness meant to Jesus? My knee-jerk definition of darkness in life is:  trials, confusion, stress, and hard, often painful days. Maybe that isn't what darkness is, in this passage. I think Jesus meant we never, ever have to fully know the same kind of dread and fear that existed before He came to earth. Because of Him, as we stumble through our trials and difficulties in life, if we so choose, we can always have the light of Jesus to illuminate our path.

And now, I'm starting my fourth week at my new job. My first duties of the day begin with turning on all of the lights in the office:  the lamps on my desk and in the corner, the recessed lights above, and finally, the lights in my boss's office.

Before writing about John 8, it hadn't even crossed my mind. Maybe He is reminding me. At the beginning of each new day; something so mundane, and yet, I can almost hear the words straight from His mouth as I reach under the lampshade and feel with my fingertips for the switch in the dark.   

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

Angie Willis Culver Palms Church of Christ Los Angeles, CA

Can the Messiah Come from Galilee?

I live in a place where diversity is so profoundly a part of every day life that people forget that most people in the world don’t live this way. I have become so accustomed to diversity that I have forgotten that people will sometimes stare, sometimes pull back in fear when a family that looks like mine comes to their community. In Los Angeles, where we live and work and play, we have friends who are all kinds of American, but we also have friends from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Luxembourg, China, Vietnam, Germany and Japan. We have friends who are spiritual, friends who celebrate the power of the full moon, friends who are Catholic, Jain, Jewish, Hindi, and Buddhist. Our friends have come from all over the United States and all over the world. So, when I find myself in a place where people aren’t used to that level of diversity, I am surprised in ways I shouldn’t be. I know the history of our country and the people who have come to live to here and for this reason, no amount of prejudice, racism, privilege, or fear ought to surprise me, but it still does. Recently, I have had the opportunity to reflect on all the old tensions that exist in our nation. Some of these experiences are close to home and some of my dearest loved ones have had challenging days. In other cases, these old patterns have presented themselves on a national scale and I am sure each of you can think of an example, where you are, of someone who is different in one way or another being judged by appearance.

This is where my thoughts go when I read John 7. In John 7, Jesus finds himself with a group of people who do not believe in him, who whisper behind his back, who plot to kill him all because they believe that the Messiah could not possibly come from Galilee. The Messiah could not have come from Galilee some say because Galilee was not Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Galilee may have been a place of social dissent and political protest. Some believe the people there engaged in social banditry, taking from the rich to give to the poor. It isn’t clear, but it is suspected that some of this dissent and protest took violent forms. So Jesus could not be the Messiah because the Messiah could not engage in economic, political and social protest.

In the midst of this unrest, Jesus speaks and says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” Jesus is saying don’t look at me and where I’m from and draw the wrong conclusion. Don’t assume that I am not the Messiah, do not assume that I don’t have value, don’t assume that I can’t change the world. Jesus continues to challenge us this way today. When we meet someone who doesn’t look like we do, or believe like we do or worship like we do, or that does not have what we have, I hope that we will hear Jesus shouting in our ear, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” My creation has value, my creation can change the world, and I often use those from the least likely places to teach humanity how to love.

When Jesus later says, “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,” I suspect that he meant those who are thirsty to know how to judge correctly, will have their thirst quenched.

Let’s pray that rivers of living water flow from us, that we judge all of our neighbors correctly. Let’s listen for Jesus’ voice in unexpected places, for rivers of living water to come from our most unfamiliar neighbors.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly . . . 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. (John 7:24 and 37b-29a)

Spring Cooke Deacon Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA

Deep Breath

For my 18th Birthday my parents surprised me with a scuba diving trip at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Inside the 6.3 million gallon tank there are four whale sharks, a manta ray, and several thousand other fish and sharks from over fifty different species. It was a dream come true! When my dad and I arrived we saw that we were in a group with four other people. After putting on our wetsuits and gear we went to the dock and put our feet in the water in preparation for our underwater adventure. I was all too eager for my turn and went down as fast as I could.

My first three seconds underwater were some of the most beautiful seconds I have ever experienced. Beautiful fish everywhere I looked! As I took in the magnificent scene, a 17-foot long whale shark glided by three feet in front of me and flicked his tail. I spent the next 30 minutes of my life in total awe. I watched the manta ray compete for all of our attention by doing flips and swimming right over us. I watched the whale sharks move seamlessly over the top of the tank. And when a shark swam too close to me, my nerves almost got the best of me!

When it was all over we got out of the water and I was flying high. I thought, “How can anything else compare to the experience of that underwater world?” It had been a spiritual experience for me. Quickly, however, I noticed that though we had started with six divers, now there were only five. Confused, I asked the dive master what had happened. He explained that one of the men could not go the last four inches underwater. He could submerge himself up to his nose, but taking that first breath under the water caused him to panic and he had to cancel his dive.

Do you ever wonder if Jesus was who he claimed to be? So many times in my faith journey I feel like I have to take a leap of faith and hope that Jesus provide’s a net to catch me. The lifetime struggle of daily choosing to believe can seem exhausting. Some days I can dive right in — it is easy to believe and have faith in Jesus. But other days I feel just like this man in Georgia — I just can’t seem to take that first breath of faith. Sometimes I just can’t gather enough trust to let go and surrender.

In John 7, Jesus is the gossip of the town in Galilee. Everyone wants to know if he is really who he says he is. Jesus tries to be plain about it, but nobody seems to get it. Then Jesus says “ If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

When Jesus makes a promise he means it. It might take all of our courage, but he continually invites us to take another step in our relationship with him. His promise isn't that when you take that first breath and enter the water that it will be easy and perfect. His promise is that he will bring you somewhere you have never been before. The world becomes more rich and beautiful when you live with living water. Your walk will be deep and it will be wide. It will be hard and beautiful and so worth it. I am glad I took that breath and scuba dived that day, but I am in awe of the magnificent work I have seen God do when I took a breath into living water. May we be a people who dive into living water without fear. May we always have the courage to take that first step of faith, for he has promised that once we do we will never thirst again. May our hearts flow with rivers of living water.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

Holly Racca Middle School Youth Minister Southern Hills Church of Christ Abilene, Texas

Lost in the Familiar

I have taught children most of my life. Certain passages are favorites in our children’s classrooms. As a children’s minister I hope that children become familiar with the Bible and develop an understanding of God’s story.  Most Bible class curriculum teaches 150 narratives that will give children a solid foundation of the God’s story.

Two of those passages are in John 6. Who can pass up telling and re-telling the feeding of the five thousand? I love that story. It even includes a young boy. I love to imagine how Andrew knew about the young boy’s food, did he just pick him out of the crowd, or did the boy offer up his loaves and fishes? And then, as if that isn’t enough to pull in the youngest of readers, Jesus WALKS ON WATER. We have created boats and pretended to be the disciples as Jesus walks right up and gets into the boat. “Now kids, can you show me your scared face?” I might say. Imagine 15 kindergarten kids with their best, over-acted, scared faces. And then, one sweet little boy steps into the make-shift boat and says in a low and powerful superhero voice, “It is I. don’t be afraid.” Imagine 15 kindergarten kids with their best, over-acted, happy faces. Who can pass up teaching that Bible story!

Over time, the children hear these stories so often that they become familiar with them. There was this one time that Jesus fed 5000 people … and another time he walked on water … let’s not forget raising people from the dead … or overcoming death after three days in the tomb. These facts turn Jesus into the kid’s favorite Bible super hero, not unlike their favorite Avenger.

Sometimes, I think we teach the mystery of God’s power right out of the Bible. We make Bible stories so familiar that we forget to see God’s hand all over it. We forget that only one person in all of history could have fed 5000 people with those loaves and fishes. We talk about Jesus walking on water as if it was an everyday occurrence.

The extraordinary can be lost in familiarity.

Pitter-patter of toddler feet first thing in the morning is so familiar to a Mom that she can hear the soft shhhh-shhhh on the carpet while never hearing the alarm clock go off right beside her.

Spouses commit to each other and keep their marriage covenant in good times and bad.

Friends enter into each other’s darkest moments, sharing pain and showing unconditional love.

These things become so familiar that we lose sight of the God’s power in them. A Mom becomes so attuned to the tiny creation that God gifted her family with that she can hear the tiniest of noises, so that the child is always safe. Spouses forgive even when it hurts, forgiving as Jesus did on the cross. A friend remains in the life of someone in despair because they are committed to showing compassion and mercy and love. The extraordinary is there in the familiar if we are only willing to dig below the surface and enter into God’s story.

Many disciples deserted Jesus. These disciples could not recognize the Messiah standing right before them because they were so familiar with the prophecy they could not reframe it and see Jesus for who He was. God in flesh, the extraordinary, was in their midst. Yet they walked away. His teachings were too hard because He was not what they had been expecting. They preferred the familiar. The familiar is easy. It allows us to walk away believing that God was not there at all. Don’t give in to the familiar; always look deeply for the extraordinary … the eternal.

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:26,27)

Shannon Rains Children and Family Minister Kingwood Church of Christ Kingwood, TX

Hunger Always Wins: Feed Me

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had issues with food.

I used food as a means of controlling something when I wasn’t in control of anything. By taking authority over what I put in my mouth (or didn’t) I disassociated myself from that which I could not control – my mother’s illness, for example – and put the focus back on myself. Food gave me a sense of control and power when I felt out of control and powerless.

Unfortunately, false security and power don’t really stick to your ribs. Hunger can only be denied for so long. Even to the most authoritative anorexic, hunger will, eventually, win. The body will do whatever is necessary to regain balance, sending up red flags and warning bells, hunger always wins. No anorexic remains in control forever.

Hunger is something that dwells deep inside, a mortal ache of emptiness. It is not a quiet longing but an urgent yearning. For fullness. The yawning emptiness of depression, loss, grief…they mimic this mortal ache. So often we confuse one longing for another. So often we seek to end our spiritual emptiness with the temporal and temporary substitute of food.

They were thousands on the road that day in Ancient Israel. Likely, many on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Travelers, moving together through the dust. They had heard of this man, this prophet Jesus who had been performing miracles and wondrous signs around Galilee. When they heard He was there, they could not stay away. Tired, they crowded onto the grassy hillside, expectant. They were hungry. They were aching for food.

He fed them, all of them, with just a few loaves and two fish. A peasant’s meal meant for one, shared by thousands. At the end of the day, they were full. Assuaged of that internal ache, for once; they could not wait for more. They wanted to make Him king, this provider of the miraculous Manna, only better. They thought their full bellies would be the answer to everything.

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:26-27)

The idea that there was something beyond this extraordinary miracle was, quite literally, mind-boggling. You mean it gets better than this? Hungry pilgrims who daily worked for their food, who toiled for every mouthful, could not fathom more. What could be better than a free lunch?

"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:49-51)

How often have I mistaken throbs of loneliness or shame for pangs of hunger? How often do we seek a mortal end to our spiritual need? Like the pilgrims, we want to assure ourselves forever a free lunch, a quick fix. Simple solutions to stem the ache, but always, always…hunger wins. Our solutions, they do not last.

They could not accept this. The eager thousands abandoned this radical Rabbi on the hillside Unable to overcome their confusion, they went back to that which they knew, a feast day and full bellies, but empty souls forever yearning to be fed.

Which would you choose? The temporary fix, the momentary full, or the forever flesh that always provides, always endures, never stopping, never giving up, forever kind of fullness.

Letting go of what we think we want, and taking hold of that which is proffered freely, without cost, without expectation.

The Bread of Life.

"This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)

Adelle Gabrielson Assistant to Children’s Ministry Campbell Church of Christ Campbell, CA

A Deadly Routine

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath…(John 5:1-9)

For 38 years he sat. On the same mat, in the same spot, and with the same people.

day after day

week after week

month after month

year after year

Come with me and sit on his mat for a moment.  Place it as close to the waters’ edge as possible. Some days the stirring comes early, and other days it is right before sun down. Who knows today?  So I wait. This is the kind of waiting that drains the energy right out of my body, like a balloon slowly losing air. The sun is beating down as sweat trickles down my forehead making mud in the dusty Jerusalem sand. I hear people bustling to and from the temple. They are coming to trade, to shop, and to worship. It is the same people, the same sounds, and the same conversations day after day. 

And then, all of the sudden, I see the bubbles begin to make their way to the surface of the pool. There is a fleeting moment of inspiration, and I begin my slow and painful descent into the water. My old, tired muscles threaten to give way as I lift and lower myself down. Just as my lifeless legs are about to be submerged, I see my friend, the very one I was chatting with moments ago, cut me off and lower himself into the pool. My rightful healing is stolen out from under me. Again. Just as it was the day before and the day before that, and just as it will be tomorrow.

The monotony of a perpetually disappointing routine has crushing effects on a life. In fact, it can drain the “life” right out of you.

John invites his readers to consider: “Does the man want to get well?“

And we have to wonder, if he does, why would the man not implement a new strategy, recruit some help, or increase evening push-ups to gain strength? I want to yell at him: “TRY SOMETHING ELSE! Sheesh. Because 38 years is a long time.”

And Jesus asks the man: “Do you want to get well?”

But the man only offers an excuse: “I have no one…” (5:7).

Jesus responds: “Get up take your bed and walk” (John 5:8).  Get up. The Greek word is εγειρε. It means “to raise up, arise, or come back to life.

It is the same word John uses in 5:21: ‘For just as the Father raises (εγειρει) the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.“

Come back to life. Resurrection is a theme in John’s gospel. And it takes many forms.

A dead son.

A dead purpose.

A dead soul. 

A dead marriage.

A dead party.

A dead Joy.


This was the state of the nameless man who came back to the healing pool day after day.

Have you been there? Stuck in a routine that leads to death. The death of a friendship, a marriage, purpose, or joy? Or the kind of spiritual death that comes when the soul is no longer fed?

Jesus comes to us in the midst of routines and realities that threaten to consume us, and He invites us to step into a different story. Step into a new way of being and interacting with the world. Step into a new creation.  A new life.

But do you want to get well?

Jesus asks us, as he asked the lame man: “Do you want a different reality because this is going to be more than just walking instead of crawling? This is going to be a whole new life.”

Get up, take your mat and walk.

The invitation out of death and into life still stands. Resurrection is still a reality for the Jesus follower.

So roll up that mat. Because true healing usually requires something of us, doesn’t it?

Jesus invites us to walk in the new creation way, now.

Kelly Edmiston Youth and Family Minister First Colony Church of Christ Sugar Land, Texas

Testimony and Identity

When I was younger, I carried a card of proof-texts in my Bible. It was white with a blue border, laminated for durability, and contained the requisite citations for the five steps of salvation, among other critical matters. I inherited from my precious community of faith a clear sense that faith could be logically demonstrated with lists, graphs, charts, and appeals to biblical evidence. The last sixteen verses of John 5 appear to fit this framework quite nicely. In the context of controversy and debate, Jesus recounts the testimony that ought to establish his identity as the one sent by the Father. He calls John the Baptist as his first witness, then points to the work that he has been doing as further proof. In the immediate context of this chapter, this work is the healing of the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethsaida. Finally, Jesus claims that the scriptures themselves testify about him, and though he stops short of providing the specific proof texts here, he seems confident in the ability of his audience to fill them in. 

In the midst of this language of testimony and the imagery of legal proceedings, I confess that I often locate myself among the perplexed members of the jury. In fact, the longer I study Scripture, the more empathy I feel with those who encountered Jesus and could not make sense of what he said or who he was.  In some ways, I feel this most acutely when reading the gospel of John. Jesus describes himself in metaphors and speaks in double entendres, breaks convention and commandment, and creates controversy. Twice when Jesus heals someone, they don’t know who he is until he appears to them a second time. Just one chapter over, Jesus has so thoroughly mystified his crowd of admirers that many of them simply leave.

One of the deep paradoxes of faith is that the identity of Jesus is both explicable and ultimately beyond all explanation. No wonder Jesus resorts to metaphors to explain who he is. No wonder Jesus confounded so many who met him, and yet compelled so many to follow him. And no wonder that we too can be confounded and confused in our faith at the same moment that we find ourselves convicted by the truth that sets us free.

Jesus challenges his opponents with the following words:

“You search the scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (John 5:39)

May we never be guilty of confusing that which bears witness to Christ with Christ himself. And as we minister and teach and testify in our own ways, may Christ never cease to surprise us into deeper walks of faith.

Amanda Pittman Durham, NC Th.D. Candidate in Christian Education and New Testament Cole Mill Road Church of Christ

Spirit and Truth

Towards the end of my first semester in college, I was invited to study the Bible by a fellow student, was baptized at the beginning of my second semester, and joined a church of which I remained a member into my mid-20s. (Growing up, I’d attended Catholic and Methodist services with my grandmothers from time to time; but I didn’t have a definitive religious affiliation or an ongoing, formal spiritual practice.) As it was structured at the time, the church that I joined in college was a “high demand group.” Once this was clear to me and I left this church, I took a long break from all church for awhile.

Many years later, by the time I felt compelled to ease my way back into fellowship, I was craving the “easy yoke” and “light burden” that I’d read about Jesus offering (Matt 11:28-30) – but hadn’t yet experienced in my Christian walk as an adult.

Burned out by legalism and traumatized by (among other things) years of living in fear of judgment and condemnation yet yearning for a practical understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, I was also drawn to the simplicity of John 4:23-24 (NIV – emphasis mine):

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

I’ve contemplated the principle and practice of “worshipping in spirit and in truth” for many years without coming to a definitive conclusion about what it means. Indeed, it seems somewhat purposefully elusive. After all, John 3:8 says “everyone born of the Spirit” is like the “wind blow[ing] wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” In other words, perhaps we aren’t meant to have a precise, ironclad, one-size-fits-all interpretation and application of these words. (I believe that’s the case with much of what the Bible says.)

Even so, there’s sap to Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 4:23-24:

But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.

Worshipping in spirit and in truth – I prefer that over the checklist of “Must do”s and “’Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’”s (Col 2:20-23) to which I was subject for so many years. Worshipping in spirit and in truth suggests the relational quality that is God (Father/Son/Spirit) and the relationship that He has with us. What a gift to be able to come to God honestly, as we are, without pretense and imperfect, sincerely seeking a deeper and deeper understanding of and abiding in Him. That this is what He wants! He simply wants US.

Moreover, Jesus promised that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 25-27) He says: “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life.” (John 14:6 NIV emphasis mine)

The yoke Jesus offers is easy and the burden light because God is doing the heavy lifting. The Father abides in us as we abide in Jesus through the Spirit He gives us; and God will carry on to completion the good work that he began in us. (Phil 1:6, 1 Thes 5:24) We are simply called to believe, like the royal official whose son is healed by Jesus - from a different town. (John 4:50)

(Even believing is hard sometimes, you say? Yes, I agree. Thankfully, grace is sufficient. (2 Cor 12:9))

What a blessing to walk with God in spirit and in truth!

Shannon Harris New York, NY Member of the Manhattan Church of Christ

Seen By Many, Known By Few

After being out of the spotlight for more than 10 years, Monica Lewinski recorded a TED talk where she tells how, as a 22 year old intern, she had an affair with her boss (and the public shaming that followed). Some of you know her name only in rap lyrics and retrospect – others of a certain age remember her story well which was plastered all over the internet in a most unflattering way. When Monica’s story broke, I was busy raising two kids and building a business, self-righteous in my church-going, devotional-reading ways. I watched just enough national news to assume I knew her “type” – loose bimbo making love to President Clinton in his office, probably as manipulative and power hungry as I imagined him to be.

As I watch Monica tell her story, I am shocked at how differently I feel toward her now. As a mother of a 23 year old, I wonder if my daughter might ever be intimidated by a boss, or infatuated with a much older boyfriend. As a wounded survivor of a counseling experience gone bad, I understand Monica’s vulnerability and feel empathy for her experience. And as a seminary student who’s read more than my share of research about honor and shame, patriarchy and power, I realize that Monica’s story is one of millions about women who go “looking for love in all the wrong places” and the men who take advantage of them.

One of the self-descriptors Monica uses is that she was “seen by many but known by few.” Doesn’t that describe a lot of people in your world? We see them often, maybe daily, but we only see the exterior view, the one they want us to see. Just as often perhaps, we see the view we want to see. We make assumptions based on how they are dressed, where they hang out, who their friends are. We make judgments and lump them into categories without ever actually listening to their stories. They are seen by many, but known by few

Monica’s story reminds me of another woman’s story from John 4, but we don’t know her name. She is gathering water, a mundane job she’s done every other day, when she meets a man who will turn her world upside down. Many of you guessed whose story I was telling as soon as I mentioned the water. You might have even had some unconscious assumptions about her come to mind.

But in the text itself, John gives us far fewer details about the Samaritan woman than the Starr report gave us about Monica Lewinsky. We don’t know her name or why she came to the well at the hottest hour of the day. And we don’t know why she was married five times, or why she was living out of wedlock with another man. She was seen by many, but known by few.

We do make plenty of assumptions about her, though. One commentary calls her a 5-time loser who’s currently committed to an illicit affair. I daresay most of the sermons you’ve heard on this chapter assume her immorality; I daresay most of us who heard about Monica Lewinsky in the 90s assumed the same and more. But when we view scripture through a 21st century lens of what a 5-time divorcee would look like, we may be reading something into the text that simply isn’t there. In that patriarchal first century society, she may have been widowed at a young age (even 13!)– she may have been divorced because she was barren – in either case she would have been in dire financial straits with need of a provider. She may have settled for being a concubine or a slave, just to have her daily needs met. Jesus knows all this about her, bringing up the fact of her 5 marriages. But Jesus suggests no shame, no condescension, no condemnation.

So why is Jesus engaging in conversation with her?

Perhaps because of her willingness to ask for help – “Sir, give me this water!” She is thirsty for more than she knows. As the woman engages Jesus in theological discourse (the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anyone!), she realizes Jesus is a prophet and the talk moves from physical water to spiritual worship. Jesus sees her as a precious sister whose thirst won’t be satisfied with water from the well. He affirms her hope in the coming Messiah by saying I AM – the one speaking to you. Now a recipient of living water, the woman runs off without her water jug, ready to share her testimony with an entire town.

Think of those who are different from us in race, gender, or economic standing – the ones who are “seen by many and known by few.” Maybe they are spiritually seeking living water, like the Samaritan woman at the well. As kingdom people, maybe we’ll have to travel through Samaria today, an unfamiliar path with a well on the way. Jesus offers the same living water to Pharisees and fishermen, to sinners and Samaritans.

May the same be true of us.

"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14

Dawn Gentry Johnson City, TN MDIV student at Emmanuel Christian Seminary Member of Grandview Christian Church

Higher Thoughts, Higher Ways

I don’t know about you, but I like it when things make sense.  It makes me feel safe.  So, when I read the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1-21, it is almost enough to throw me into a tailspin.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who comes to Jesus at night, probably so the other religious leaders would not see him speaking to him, and tells him that they know he comes from God because of the miracles he has been performing (v. 2).  Jesus does not even address Nicodemus’ statement.  He answers him by saying, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (v. 3).  Where did that come from?  It doesn’t even make sense.  How can someone be born twice?  It is impossible.  Jesus explains to him that it is a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one, but “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” (v. 8)  It can’t be explained, and Nicodemus is still confused. 

One thing that I have learned in my relationship with God is that the greatest blessings come when we yield to the things that just don’t make sense to us.  It is easy for us to be obedient to things God calls us to do when we can make sense of them.  “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)  God knows so much more than we do.  God sees the big picture, whereas we only see glimpses.   Sometimes, our lives and our ministries seem like a big puzzle, pieces all jumbled looking like a mess on the table.  But when we surrender everything to God, he helps us put the puzzle together piece by piece and creates a picture even more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.

But God, it doesn’t make sense for me to say that to her, she is going to think I am crazy.”

“But God, it doesn’t make sense for me to go into public ministry.”

“But God, it doesn’t make sense for me to go to school after all these years of being out of school.”

“But God, I don’t even know that person and you want me to go pray with him?  That doesn’t make any sense.”

“But God, you want me to apologize?  He hurt me first.”

“But God, it doesn’t make sense for me to leave my high paying job to become a missionary.”

“You want me to do what?”

Jesus didn’t perform miracles to show off or to display himself.  His miracles were about two people: the person he was ministering to and his Father.  So when Nicodemus tells Jesus that he knows that he is from God because of the miracles he performs, Jesus changes the subject.  It is almost as if Jesus was saying, “Great!  Now that you know who I AM, let’s get on with it and talk about what really matters…your salvation.”

When God asks us to do things that don’t make any sense, it is never about us.  It is about the person He wants us to minister to and about pointing them to Him!  If we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we must be willing to be uncomfortable sometimes.   Jesus, being stripped of his royalty to come to this earth to take our sins upon himself and pay the penalty for our offenses so we won’t have to….that doesn’t make much sense either. 

One thing that we learn about Nicodemus is that he finally got it.  In John chapter 7, he defends Jesus, and after Jesus’ death in John chapter 19, he brought spices and helped prepare His body for burial.  Instead of coming to Jesus in secret, he began to come to him in the light of day.  The conversation he had with Jesus may not have made sense, and left him confused, but in time, it all became clear. 

What is your “But God…”?  When we step out in faith and say “Yes” to the things that don’t make sense us, our faith will increase because it is in those times that we will be able to see God at work in the lives of others in a brand new light.  We have the awesome privilege of being used by God.  Let us make the most of every opportunity to serve him. 

Karisa Madera Executive Assistant Central Church of Christ Del Rio, TX

Take the Plunge

The left side of my closet is reserved for dresses I never wear. There’s room for taffeta to poof far on the left. For many women, this is the bridesmaid dress section. These dresses are hung left, beyond the winter coats, so all of the negative emotions that hide in those layers of chenille and lace remain hidden. After all, who wants to feel jealousy lurch when reaching for the perfect pair of stilettos; or resentment rob celebratory thoughts while peeling a favorite Donna Karan blouse off the hanger? Those, “Someday my prince will come” thoughts need to stay left. Way left.

Contemplating who we are not, and who we wish we were, can make the morning coffee bitter.

One bridesmaid dress hangs in full view though, right in the middle of the one-size-too-small slacks section. Yours may be simple, elegant black, or it may be coral silk with an itchy petticoat and shoulder pads. The important thing about this dress is that it does not have any resentment, bitterness or jealousy hiding in its pockets. It’s the bridesmaid dress from your sisters wedding, or your best friend’s wedding. It’s the dress you wore down the aisle with joy because you love that woman, whoever she is, more than you love yourself.

You don’t wish you were her. You’re made better by knowing her.

You would do anything for her, and dye your shoes to match.

Now John the Baptist did not have a closet of camel hair best man tuxes, but he was fully aware that he was ministering in Beulah Land - the land called Married - the holy place where the Groom was coming to meet his bride.

And he knew he was destined to never be more than the loyal best man.

More than that, the Groom had come and was taking over John’s job right there in the springs near Salim! The fourth Gospel has Jesus and John’s ministry overlap, so we find the cousins together in chapter 3 bringing people out of the chaos, through water, into purity, if just for a time.

John’s disciples are vexed. “The one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”

The flower petals dropped by those paving the way quickly get trampled upon and forgotten about once the bridal party enters the room.  

Yet John wasn’t vexed. He knew he was no Jesus. Not one verse indicates that John would have preferred to have been the Messiah, or felt one twinge of jealousy for his cousin. In fact, John was joyful about fading into the shadows so his friend could begin the walk to His bride.

John and Jesus were close. Likely, the two played together as children, dreamed about this day of revelation. And it was not one-sided. John and Jesus were so close that after John is killed, beheaded for being such a faithful best man, and Jesus has an especially bad day escaping stoning and arrest, “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there” (10:40).

There’s comfort in shared places, even with just the memory of a departed friend.

We choose a side of the river in which to be baptized every day. We can choose to dress as John’s disciples who lament about who they are not. If only I had a husband like that, a job that paid that well, a figure like hers, a life that perfect… The trouble with that side of the river is that there is no life there.

There’s some temporal washing as we flirt with God, but we’ll never be the Bride on that side of the river.

Yet, if we quiet the who I wish I was instead thoughts for a bit, we’ll hear Jesus proposing. He’s calling us to take the plunge on His side of the water. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa. 62:5) Your true friends, like John to Jesus, will rejoice too. They’ll gladly step back into the shadows and watch you twirl in the gown of Christ.

Occasionally, from then on, you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, made perfect for all time, and you’ll be struck confident in who you are - a vital part of the body of Christ.

The Groom lifts the veil of His church as He passes her through the waters, and she rises up complete, second fiddle to no one’s pink taffeta.

"The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete." John 3:29

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC

Planting Seeds

A few weeks ago, on a sunny day, I decided it was time to plant seeds in the garden. I wait to buy starter plants, because, I have learned that February spring days only serve to get our hopes up. So, I planted seeds. Lettuce seeds. Teeny-tiny little seeds barely visible in the bottom of their brown packets.

Reese, my six year old son, and I turned the soil and prepared the raised beds. We dug our little trenches, the new home for the seeds. I gently placed the teeny-tiny little lettuce seeds in the ground. But, Reese scattered his seeds, much to the dismay of his perfectionist Mom. “They are too small”, he said!

And then … 2nd winter. That’s what I call the dreadful temperature drop just after the February spring days tease us to wear flip-flop and shorts, plant our gardens, and mow our lawns. Freezing temperatures and rain. Rain! For DAYS … ON … END! Now, the muddy, soggy mess of a garden can only be viewed from inside my master bathroom.

The seeds are nestled in the ground. I have not forgotten the seeds. I’m not tending them, either. The seeds are just there, waiting.

The Master Teacher planted seeds. Different seeds. Seeds that will also wait, just below the surface, throughout dreary, hope-less, and even, death filled days.

In John 2, we read the familiar story of the day that Jesus cleared the temple courts. He made a whip, he drove out the animals. Jesus scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned the tables. It must have been a chaotic scene to witness as Jesus made the point that the temple of God was not about making a profit! But, Jesus had a bigger point to make! It will only become fully known sometime later. The Master Teacher prepared the ground for a teaching moment.

The Jews challenged Jesus’ authority.

And … Jesus chose to plant … to scatter a few seeds.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  John 2:19, 20

And so the seeds lay, dormant, until the sun broke and the tomb was empty and death was overcome! And then it happened … the disciples made THE connection. Just as the beautiful green of teeny-tiny lettuce blooms are peaking above the dull brown of my garden, the seeds Jesus planted bloomed in the disciple’s hearts.

Are you planting seeds in the garden that God has entrusted to you?

“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” John 2:22

Shannon Rains Children and Family Minister Kingwood Church of Christ Humble, TX

The Guest List

I’ve long held that a wedding comes about because of what happens during the relationship of the bride and groom. The event itself reflects what the journey has been to that point. The people involved are already part of the story. Do you notice how we don’t attend weddings of strangers? Being invited is part of the celebration. The guests are playing witness to something important and sacred.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples. (John 2:1-2, ESV)

I like that we get to read about Jesus going to a wedding. It is a gift of Scripture to see Him participate in the norms of society and culture, for Jesus to attend a party with friends and family. We get to see Him attend festivals and practice traditions. We see Jesus walk through the “normal” parts of life. Doesn’t that make Him seem more approachable? Just a little closer to something I can emulate? Cana, in John 2, is often where I go back to meet Jesus when my heart feels far away from Him.

Let’s view a bit of context. Weddings were a big deal in Jewish culture. There were social obligations to uphold for the community, especially in smaller towns with lots of connections. What was served, how the event went and who was there all mattered very much because it was rooted in their community of faith. To run out of wine could bring enormous shame on a family. Insane things happen at weddings. Who’s to say what brought about this impending catastrophe, but now we need a problem-solver. Enter the quintessential Mother.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”. . .His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3,5, ESV)

Mary knows her Son is a good man and capable of great things, whether they be spiritually imbued or not. She cares about the family holding this wedding and will do what she can to support them. The commanding grace of a Mother moves her Son to action. Sure, He resists, but the English translation mistakes the response for impertinence. The address is actually just a formal response, noting that Jesus’ purposes may not align with the request made here. Something happens in those moments of decision, though. I wish we could see His face. You know, the way we want to see the groom’s face when His bride enters. I want to see how Jesus looks at these precious friends and waiting servants when He changes all of glory with some stone jars and water.

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, . . .Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” (John 2:6-7, ESV)

There’s a lot of spiritual layers to this story. The jars being made of stone matter because that points to purification rituals instead of simple storage. New wine coming after the old is gone is foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry. The coming of Jesus to captivate his bridegroom of humanity being compared to a wedding feast is weighty imagery in this moment. Even where John chooses to tell this story, in a chapter including another moment of spiritual cleansing by the hand of Christ, points to a bigger meaning. But what if there is a smaller reason?

Celebration is a good thing. It takes dark and light to get through this life, and we need reasons to expand joy, eat lavish food and drink deep from rich glasses. When Jesus steps to the very edge of His human role of wedding guest and blends in the role of Messiah to keep a party going, I feel God reminding me He loves all the parts of my life. He values the parties and the social obligations because they are not only part of who I am, but they are part of who He wants me to be in the world. Christ wants me to live and love and celebrate, and He wants me to include Him in those moments. The promised Messiah isn’t too important for my guest list. He knows the rituals and the norms, and Jesus wants to expand joy among our loved ones right alongside me.

It is a gift of Scripture to see this simple moment and know all of my moments catch His eye, like six stone jars filled to the brim with what is yet to come. . .and that it will be delicious.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11, ESV)

Dana Spivy Children`s Minister Maury Hills Church Columbia, TN


My father-in-law died two weeks ago. He was on hospice care. His pain was managed and his needs were met by gentle and compassionate providers. His wife, children and grandchildren, brothers and sister, all spent his last week with him. We prayed and sang. We said “good-bye.” From all accounts, it was a good death.

But I wonder. Is there really such thing as a good death?

In secular society, we talk about death being a part of life. We talk about birth and death, the beauty of the life cycle, compared to the beauty of the seasons in a year. We hum “The Circle of Life” and think about cute little lion cubs taking over their father’s throne. And we use all of our education and intellect to reason that death is just a part of life.

In religious circles, we talk about God and eternal life. We quote Paul who said “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” and we sometimes act like there is no reason to be sad at all.

Sometimes people are suffering and death is a merciful end.

Sometimes there is beauty and joy in the middle of the sadness of death — sitting on the living room floor surrounded by old pictures, meals with relatives and friends, together after many years, memories, stories, flowers.

But the goodness of death isn’t really about death, is it?

When there is goodness in death, the goodness is about life. Life. Not death.

The being together — that’s life, not death. The memories — life, not death. The food and the friends and the stories — all life, not death.

Even when death is a merciful end to suffering, the death itself is not really good. Sometimes death is certainly better than suffering, but if we could have what our hearts truly want, we would have healing. Life. Not death.

We’re longing for life. We’re searching for life. We’re clinging to life. We’re fighting for life. Not some religiously constructed view of an eternal mansion on a street of gold. And not just bare-bones physical life either. But true life. All the joy and sorrow and laughter and pain and noise and quiet and heat and cold and everything that makes us real. Life. True, full, abundant life.

When we speak of a good death, we are speaking of a death that is filled with life. Life in the face of death. Life breaking through even in the valley of the shadow of death.

John 1:4-5 says “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

In this mysterious, poetic verse, John is telling us the secret. Jesus is the one we are seeking. We may not even know it but as we search for life, as we cling to life, as we fight for life, as we long for life, we are searching for God. Because God is the author of Life. And the gospel writer tells us right at the beginning of the story that God through Jesus Christ is bringing Life to all people.

True life. Abundant life. Life that cannot be overcome by death. Life that never ends.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:4-5)

Amy Bost Henegar Minister for Family Life and Spiritual Formation Manhattan Church of Christ New York, NY

Turning Point

It’s a dark, cold night. I feel the burn of the icy wind slap the window outside as I set out down the road. I see the trees bend and threaten to break as they are beat up by the storm. The pitter-patter of rain on the car sounds reminds me of the low, loud beat of a bass drum. I feel my fingers clinch the steering wheel tighter. I realize I am lost. The dark is getting darker around me. I come to a sign and see these words “Warning: Keep Out” with an arrow pointing right. As I slowly make my way to the right, I peer out the window at a 20-foot drop. Deep breath. I would be at the bottom of that construction site drop if it were not for those words. Words create turning points.

The test is positiveYou’re pregnant. The tumor is malignant. We are getting a divorce. Will you marry me?  Simple words that comprise simple sentences but packed full of power. Power to change the course we are walking. Words create turning points in the stories of our lives.

John’s gospel begins with these words.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 ESV)

John calls Jesus the Word, logos.

John orients the reader to the gospel narrative by introducing God’s pre-existent Word as Jesus, the unique, one and only, begotten Son of God. John wants to make sure that his readers understand the intimate connection, the oneness, of the Father and the Son. To see and hear the Father is to see and hear the Son, and to see and hear the Son is to see and hear the Father. This is the claim that the religious leaders called blasphemy and leads to Jesus’ death, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58); “The Father and I are one” (10:30).

God cannot be separated from His Word. They are one.

To reiterate this oneness reality, John takes us back to the creation story, “In the beginning…” (Gen 1:1, John 1:1). God used words to turn a formless void into a heavens and an earth. He used words to create the universe. In the beginning God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Gen 1:3).

In Genesis, God speaks creation into existence. In John, God speaks new creation into existence. And just as Adam is the climax of the creation story, Jesus is the climax of the new creation story. The creation of Adam is the turning point in Genesis, the incarnation of Jesus is the turning point in John. He is the firstborn, the new Adam, the true humanity. In Jesus new creation invades the present. The future becomes the now.

It is as if John is saying, in Jesus there is a new Genesis.

The incarnation is the turning point in the story of creation, the story of Israel, and the story of us. He is the Word that changes everything.

Creation is being renewed. No longer will it be subjected to decay because in Jesus there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Israel is confronted with the choice to let go of their Messianic expectations and accept the unique Son of God or perish. And we must choose too. We must accept life or death, walk in light or darkness.

Jesus, the Word, is the turning point in the story.

The incarnate Word is the means by which we can face the words that create turning points in our lives. I’m Sorry. It is cancer. You’re fired. I messed up bad…

These words change us. They interrupt our lives and threaten to define them. But Jesus, the Word from God, is a word stronger and louder and greater. He is the Word that overcomes the words of this world because He is with us. He is with us in the waiting room when bad news is received. He is with us in the office when the offer is not given. He is with us when we are headed toward the pit. He is God’s Word spoken to us. And His Word overcomes.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Kelly Edmiston Youth and Family Minister First Colony Church of Christ Sugar Land, Texas