My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Keeping it on the down-low: A meditation on John 7:1-13

His brothers said, 'Why don’t you leave here and go up to the Feast so your disciples can get a good look at the works you do? No one who intends to be publicly known does everything behind the scenes. If you’re serious about what you are doing, come out in the open and show the world.' His brothers were pushing him like this because they didn’t believe in him either.”

Jesus came back at them, 'Don’t crowd me. This isn’t my time. It’s your time—it’s always your time; you have nothing to lose. The world has nothing against you, but it’s up in arms against me. It’s against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions. You go ahead, go up to the Feast. Don’t wait for me. I’m not ready. It’s not the right time for me.'”

He said this and stayed on in Galilee. But later, after his family had gone up to the Feast, he also went. But he kept out of the way, careful not to draw attention to himself.” John 7:3-10, Msg


Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space!
Genie in Disney's Aladdin

Genie could do a lot of cool stuff
What if you could wield the same power Jesus did? To what end would you use it? To empty out the local hospital and special care unit at the nursing home? To work such wonders within the county jail that in a single day the sheriff would have to lay-off staff as there were no more inmates to supervise? To visit every household where a hospice nurse was keeping vigil and essentially raise the dead? Or what other miraculous deed could you imagine completing with the cosmic powers of the Most High at your disposal?

Not once and for all but an ongoing reality
I'm a Pentecostal and by definition and implication I believe in the Holy Spirit's ongoing ministry in the world today. The Day of Pentecost, the historical birthday of the Church, is not just a day we commemorate annually; rather, it is – or, at least, supposed to be - an ongoing reality. Jesus told his first disciples not to leave Jerusalem but “wait for what the Father has promised. You heard Me speak of this. For John the Baptist baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4-5). And a week and a half later his promise was made good when the Holy Spirit rained down in buckets upon them and about a hundred others. The courage they had lacked they now had in abundance. Boldly they proclaimed the message of Jesus to whomever would listen to them. A professional, lame beggar is wonderfully healed and a decidedly dead woman is brought back to life. Nothing, it seemed, could stop them now. But it didn't end with them. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not a movement regulated to the early half of the First Century AD. He's alive and well and working in the earth today.

And yet, in over twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, truth be told, I have seen and experienced few of what John Wimber used to describe as “power encounters”. I've not seen anyone raised to life. I've never seen a person in a wheel chair rise out of it and run. Once my wife and I were personally used to exorcise an unclean spirit out of someone and while the person knew she was delivered of the thing when it was over, it was definitely not a Linda Blair-like a la The Exorcist event. For a six-year period our fellowship held a monthly healing service and while we prayed with lots of folks who ultimately felt comfort, encouragement and love, we really didn't rack up significant stats to submit to Charisma. Nevertheless, I remain a committed Pentecostal believing fully that if we see little demonstration of the power of the risen Savior in our midst the problem isn't with heaven. It's somewhere on this end of the equation. Or is it?

My personal devotions have been in the Gospel of John this year. Unlike the other gospel accounts where Jesus will frequently work acts of power, the way John tells it Jesus will perform a miracle now and again but under the radar, as it were, and frequently - if a miracle can be described as such - in a demonstratively subtle manner. In chapter 2, at a wedding where he is a guest he transforms water into wine, an event that Michael Card refers to as “one of his most unmiraculous miracles.”

There was no waving of arms, no calling attention to himself. Jesus simply takes the water of the old orthodoxy and unassumingly transforms it into the wine of the new reality. His other miracles in John will follow the same pattern, except for one:
    1. In chapter 4 he will heal the official's son in abstentia.
    2. In chapter 5 he will cause the lame to walk by simply saying “get up.” This man does not even know Jesus' name.
    3. In chapter 6 he will feed the five thousand by simply pronouncing the blessing over the meal.
    4. Also in chapter 6 he will walk on the water. Mark observes that he was walking past them, his purpose simply to get to the other side of the lake (Mk 6:48).
    5. In chapter 9 he will heal the blind man, also in abstentia.
    6. The single exception of the rule in regard to Jesus' unmiraculous miracles is the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. This he accomplishes by means of a loud shout. (John: The Gospel of Wisdom by Michael Card)

Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda
A well-meaning and sincere member of our fellowship once affirmed to me that if we had the power of God like Jesus and the first disciples had we could empty out Lake View Medical Center (the largest hospital in our county.) John's testimony seems to suggest otherwise.

In John 7, the Feast of Tabernacles has arrived and as was the custom Jewish men were to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate and remember their ancestors' wilderness wanderings. While people are packing and making ready for the journey south, curiously Jesus goes about his business as if it's just another day of the week. His brothers chide him and remind him that if he's serious about being a public figure than he shouldn't be hanging around the backwaters of Galilee. Jerusalem is where the limelight is and where stars are born. “Work some of your magic there,” they opine, “and watch how your following will grow again” (recall that at the end of John 6 a lot of people “unfriended” him with his Capernaum sermon about the necessity of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” You'll have that.) But Jesus won't be manipulated by them or anyone; he'll go when he feels the time is right and not a moment before.

Obi-Wan sorta looks like Jesus, too
Of course, as soon as his brothers leave town, he gathers his things and begins the journey by himself. In my mind, I envision Jesus making that ninety mile trip incognito, dressed like some First Century Jedi complete with hooded cloak. He lingers on the fringes of the caravan, hearing the occasional camp fire conversations about him whether or not he is a good man or little more than a snakeoil salesman. Like the genie in Aladdin's lamp, phenomenal, cosmic powers are at his command within the “itty bitty living space” of himself. But he doesn't wield them dramatically like a light saber or as Master Yoda might by raising an X-Wing fighter
If you've seen the movie,
I think you get it
out of the muck of a Dagobah swamp. He doesn't because as he asserted with the audience that gathered around him following the healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda, “...the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19, NIV). And as the feeding of the multitude outside of Bethsaida demonstrated, miracles don't normally spur people on to true faith. Quite the contrary. As Bruce Milne puts it, “Hunger for spectacular signs is the enemy of real faith, since it leaves the fallen, self-centered heart untouched and unrebuked” (The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of John).

I used to feel inadequate when a sick person came to me for prayer and despite my most sincerest intercession “nothing” came of it. They were still sick after the fact. Most people don't blame their ministers for not making them better. They know it doesn't usually work that way. (I do recall a very distraught woman who called me once and cried electronically on my shoulder about her husband who had left her. When I tried to comfort her with a “I've been praying for you” remark, she screamed into my earpiece, “WELL, IT'S NOT WORKING!” Admittedly, she had had a bad week.) I still pray for healing. I still believe that the Jesus I follow has real, phenomenal, cosmic power that if he so chooses can cause dead limbs to be whole again and set bound persons free from unclean spirits. But as John's gospel tells it, our Savior came serving. “When the disciples were hungry, he fed them. When their feet were dirty on the night of Judas' betrayal, he washed them” (A Better Freedom by Michael Card). This reminds me that as I go about my ministry which frequently seems to major in little more than in handing out cups of cold water in his name (Matthew 10:42), it is no little thing after all to emulate the One who usually sought a low profile and did not try to make the headlines – until it was absolutely necessary.

Granted, he didn't do this all the time