John 17 has to be one of the greatest treasures of Holy Scripture. The largest chunk of prayer content that we have from the mind and heart of Jesus to His Father. Call it the “High Priestly Prayer” or “Jesus’ Prayer of Consecration” … I don’t care. But what I delight in these days is prayer, a Savior-Son who prayed, and the glorious direction His prayers give to mine. I’m simply awash in Trinitarian Trust. Let me simply illuminate a few items that have captured my expositional attention and consumed my prayer focus.
(1) Jesus trusted the Father because He knew that His own glory was wrapped up in glorifying His Father. His was not a forced, manufactured, reluctant obedience. His was not a “just get through it and get it done” obedience. His was a “for the joy set before Him endured the cross” kind of obedience (Hebrews 12:2). His was the response of an obedient Son who knew the path of greatest joy was found in the path of obedience to His Father’s plan. He was neither faking humanity, nor mired in human complaining. The bottom line is captured in the first lines of His prayer to the Father (17:1-5) … He wanted to give the Father glory, and trusted that in giving the Father what He rightly deserved, He would find His glory and joy full! Why can’t I live with that same laser-like focus everyday? My greatest joy found in obedience to the Father … trusting Him no matter what the circumstances.
(2) This one seems so simple and yet so profound to me today. Jesus didn’t give the disciples a “punch list, to-do list, or master plan for establishing the Church”. When He said back in John 16:12-13 that the Holy Spirit would come and teach them the many things Jesus still had to say to them but knew they couldn’t handle yet, He actually left it to the Paraclete to do. When He said in 16:14-15 that the Spirit of Truth would glorify me (Himself – Jesus) by declaring what they still needed, He trusted the Spirit. He didn’t feel the need to get in all the stuff the disciples would need to establish church leadership, deal with conflict, or battle particular heresies … He simply prayed for the disciples to be Protected by the Father & Sanctified by the Father. And trusting the Father, He left the rest to the Spirit.
The Son trusted the Father (by obediently going to the cross), and the Son trusted the Spirit (by leaving unsaid and untaught what He knew the Spirit would carry forward). God trusting God! How can all of that not make you want to Pray more? Trust more? Obey more? I agree, I’ll shut up and go pray!
An Obedient Son,
Just preached John 13:1-20 … and was “locked in” to the phrase in v10 that the one who has bathed “is completely clean”. What an amazing Gospel promise and one that we don’t probably consider often enough, and certainly don’t “live in” often enough. The first picture Jesus is giving to the disciples at this foot washing episode is the complete cleansing that the cross provides. The first and primary picture that guides the rest of the pictures is the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), the cleansing blood of the Lamb, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that makes us not just clean … but completely clean.
Why is this so hard to embrace? Because we feel so dirty. Sin had left its crimson stain and we try so hard to scrub it off through our moralistic behavior, good deeds, and sacrificial service. And guess what? Not only do those things not “get it off”, if we are in Christ, it’s “already off”. We are completely clean. Judas wasn’t of course, and Jesus knew this … it wasn’t merely his feet that were dirty, his heart was dirty. This was hard for the disciples to understand, which is why the narrative is so fascinating … it’s so much more than physical foot washing. It starts with the washing only Jesus provides … and then once we’ve been washed in the blood, we can follow His example of washing “the daily dirt” that gets on us living as fleshly people in a fallen world. I can’t make your heart clean, but I can serve you by reminding you of the ultimate cleansing you’ve already received, help you live in the reality of that, and push you to get involved in stinky feet sorta ministry with the world we live in.
Child of God … You are completely clean. Justified, forgiven, and free! Of course we haven’t arrived at perfection, we strive in the flesh to be all that God has made us. And until then, we must live fully aware of the Gospel cleansing that is complete. Not seeking to add anything to it … and daily loving each other, serving each other, and ministering the Gospel to each other!
Committed to washing your feet,
Here’s the pesky quote I read on Sunday that has haunted and challenged me since I first received it back in high school. Funny how reading it again 25 years later and I still have so many areas I need to DIE in …
“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ-that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take all in patient loving silence-that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it-that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God-that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown-that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances-that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart-that is dying to self.”
Studying John 3:16-21 I couldn’t shake the character Gollum from my mind. Tolkien so carefully crafted a character that epitomizes “loving darkness rather than light.” He killed for the Ring, he hide for centuries to keep his “precious” safe, and when he ventured out to spy or thieve he hid behind the power of the Ring. Quite simply, He Hated The Light! The preciousness of his sin was far greater to him than the exposing power of the light, even if it meant he lost family, friends, health, and sanity. Even if it meant he lived in a gross, fermenting cave. Now before I make the jump to us, let me reflect on another piece of this great story. Bilbo, Frodo, and Samwise all at different points in the story felt compassion for Smeagol/Gollum and preserved him rather than destroyed him. Remember, Smeagol was once a Hobbit too, before the One Ring destroyed his life and turned him into the grotesque creature Gollum. These other Hobbits saw something of themselves in him and it brought out sympathy even in the face of his lies and mistreatment of them. My point? Of course we all have our caves hidden deep beneath the Misty Mountains, we nurse our own “precious” sins, tucked safely away from the light and exposure. And lest we get mad at everyone else’s “walking in darkness” let us feel it in ourselves first and walk out of our own caves. Let’s not despise Gollum before we recognize where we are him. Oh, that I might release that which is “precious” to me outside of Christ and boldly expose my heart to the piercing light of the Gospel. May your fate and mine be far different than Gollum’s. And if you aren’t sure what that is, I guess you’ll have to read the books.
Loving the Light,
Just preached the Nicodemus story in John 3:1-15. I like Nicodemus, but it would have served him well to ask Jesus the question, “Help me understand what you mean?”
Jesus said some pretty crazy things, “You must be born again to enter heaven.” Huh? What? Nicodemus asked the argumentative questions rather than the understanding questions – “How can an old man enter the womb a second time?” Fair enough Nicodemus, but it’s not helping you understand what the New Birth is all about.
So here’s my tip of the day … of the month … of life – When you don’t understand, or even agree with, something … stop and ask this question first – “Can you help me understand what you mean?” Trust me your friendships (and walk with God) will be the better for it!
Always Trying to Understand,
Obviously I’ve gome back to my beautiful black Moleskine journal as I walk through the Gospel of John. I just wanted to give a sampling of my journaling as I encouraged you all to participate with me. Thanks for jumping in, I have loved hearing your insights and to just hear you talk about “your journal”. Keep it up!
Journal Entry Reflection: Write and reflect on what it means to be a road builder. Where do you hinder people from meeting Jesus? Where do you help?
I guess I’ve never really thought about my ministry like the ministry of John the Baptist until now, but I like it. I love the concept that I prepare the way for people to get to Jesus. It does scare me though, because I know how often I have, and do prevent (or at least make it hard) for people to see past me to God. Without a doubt the biggest barricade in my arsenal is my pride. I’m confident that my commitment to myself turns people sour as they contemplate following Jesus unhindered. My pride even raises up as I write, thinking “how humble and honest of me to write such a statement.” Yuck! I pray that the place I make smooth, straight, broad paths is in the ruthless commitment to daily rooting that pride out deep down. I love to preach the Gospel to unbelievers and believers and smooth out the way to them understanding the love of God for them through His Son Jesus. Let me do good road construction in that God, please!
What I Need to Pray About: Write and pray about jumping into greater places of “sandal untying” humble service. How can God use you right now to serve others more sacrificially?
God, this message to be a servant feels so basic, yet I’m reminded … rebuked, at how often I need the call back to it. I do, I need Your shove into sacrificial, thankless, slave-ness. It’s really easy, well easier, God to do this for the Church, for others … gets harder to go lower and lower at home. You have given me such an amazing wife who does so much to love and shepherd our family … and I still let her do to much of the serving to me and not enough the other way around. God, I need to untie her sandals more, untie the sandals of my kids more, and bless them with my heart of service, beyond what I think is expected of me. Needing Your help here God … pour on the grace! Amen.
Journal Entry Reflection: Write and reflect on the words grace and truth. Where are you out of balance in your understanding of God? Where are you out of balance in your life and ministry?
I love that grace and truth weren’t new concepts attributed to Jesus, but are rooted in the character of God. The lovingkindness and faithfulness of Yahweh God in the Old Testament that now become expressed in the grace and truth of the Word, Jesus Christ. So, I’ve tried to wrestle in my heart with where I’m out of balance over the past couple weeks … I asked Michelle what she thought. She said that I probably land on the grace side, funny … I would have said I land on the truth side. I so love truth and theology, so love talking Gospel for life and ministry that I see myself more ready to teach than ready to serve. But I’ve also been around those that wield truth like a club to beat on people that I’m so sensitive to not doing that. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, I want to believe the best about people … that is where perhaps I sometimes take too long to speak truth into their mess. What a great grace that as I look to Jesus, His perfect grace and truth brings me to equilibrium and the honest pursuit of both of these characteristics in my life. Thanks God!
What I Need to Pray About: Write and pray about being a person of grace and truth who displays that glory of the Son to the world.
Oh how I want people to see through me to the glory of God. Oh how I still manifest self-boasting glory that robs You God of what is Yours and Yours alone. You who have lavished grace upon me, unclog the pipes of my soul and let that grace be a conduit that flows through me to others … so that they get the grace and You get the glory! You have lavished truth on me, opening my blind eyes and letting me see the cross clearly … let that truth move through my heart and mind into my mouth so I may always testify of what is true about You to the world. Make yourself famous through me Oh God! Amen.
Journal Entry Reflection: Write and reflect on how the true light enlightens everyone, even those who reject Him.
God is love. That’s the first phrase that comes to mind. He is not prejudice, not a racist, not one to show favoritism. He loves the world, sent His Son to come into the world to save sinners. I believe in the great doctrines of grace … I love the Reformers and the clarity with which they speak of salvation by grace, and yes, I believe God loves the world. Bible texts always trump theological systems in my book, and thank you Lord, that Bible lovers of days gone by thought so too. The Logos created the world, and the Logos was sent to be the Savior of it … how beautiful and poetic is that? Just as everyone benefits from the Sun, so everyone benefits from the Son. There is no other way to be saved! Of course people can stay indoors and hide from the Sun, and so people can harden their hearts to the Son and remain in the darkness, but they are indeed without excuse. Let me see everyone as loved by God and in need of being exposed to the Light of the Son. Shine on me God, so I can shine on others!
What I Need to Pray About: Pray about the three great words of 1:12. Thank God for how each of these words minister to your soul.
Thank you Father that I wear the title Child of God, I peel off the other name tags I’ve stuck on my chest and look so hard to find importance and meaning in … give me the rest that comes from staring into the mirror of the cross and seeing you give me the name Child of God. May my insecurities flee as the Light drives them away. I’m humbled that you gave me the right to be born a child of God! Amen.
Journal Entry Reflection: Write and reflect on a few characteristics of a witness of Jesus from the simple description of John the Witness in John 1:6-8.
It immediately jumps out to me – “sent from God”, and I can’t move past that characteristic. I suppose it was easy for John to know he was sent from God with his mom telling him about his in-womb gymnastics and the stories of dad’s silence, but how do we know if we are sent by God. As a pastor I immediately think of my calling, but honestly that one was a hard one for me to land on. I didn’t have any visions, no stories of angelic visits, just a growing sense that God was using my gifts to serve others, and I kept falling more and more in love with the Word and the Church. Years later I still have to preach to myself that God has sent me to serve his Church, it doesn’t come without doubt, but it increasingly comes with courage and conviction. I suppose if I step back from my pastoral call a bit, it’s still just Bible truth that as a child of God I’ve been sent to be an ambassador of God to the world … we all have. So I may not be John the Witness, but I do want to witness to the Light with the same firm conviction that God has sent me to this place for this time to hold up the candle for my world to see.
What I Need to Pray About: Pray about one or two of these characteristics that you would like God to develop in your life.
Help me God to not be swayed by public opinion, nor by the praise or criticism of men, but let me always operate out of the firm conviction that I have been sent by you to serve and bless others. Of that I need not question, nor shy away from, but courageously move forward in the strength of the Spirit trusting you will use me in the ways you have planned. Thanks Father for such a sweet calm and confidence that guides my days, months, and years. Amen.