I know I know…you’re probably humming the song…but this isn’t about that! Today’s reflection comes from John 1, and while I preached through the Gospel of John last year; I did not cover this very interesting text sandwiched between the witness of John the Baptist and the Wedding at Cana. Here is the text:
John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”
My initial thoughts here centered on how a story starts as a “poking-fun-at-rival-towns” in the area and then ends with the heavens open and this Jesus being the stairway to heaven! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Well, I think it is Jesus just being Jesus…
You have to love the faith of Philip in the story…after Jesus’ invite to be a disciple, Philip is trusting and acting in faith. But then there is the more skeptical Nathanael, and hew really makes the story interesting. I mean, we have read the introduction to John in which Jesus is introduced as the very WORD of God, the LIGHT of the world, and that Jesus has come to create a new people who will be given the power, through the Holy Spirit, to live the abundant life of God. Apparently Nathanael doesn’t read…just kidding…but he is caught up in where this guy is from…Nazareth.
You see, important people are supposed to come from important places. Leaders come from Jerusalem, not Nazareth. Linebackers are developed at Penn State, not Rutgers (yikes). And good quarterbacks play at big high schools, not the little ones. Politicians need to be from metropolitan centers, not podunk rusty has-been towns. The promised one coming from Nazareth…that is surprising. But Philip just invites…Come and see…
So Nathanael does go and see this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus. Jesus immediately offers some encouraging words to Nathanael. In contrast to Nathanael’s response about Jesus, Jesus calls Nathanael a man of integrity and a genuine son of Israel. I laughed at Nathanael’s response…how do you know about me? (I was thinking of him smirking and saying, “Yep…you got that right buddy! But prove it!”)
Then this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him…not from a distance, not just now, but under a tree…not just any tree but the fig tree. Jesus claims that before Philip found Nathanael, he knew where Nathanael was…under the fig tree. While Nathanael’s presence under a tree probably meant that he was learning from a rabbi or other teacher, the fact that Jesus has supernatural knowledge takes center stage in the story. In fact, this revelation leads to Nathanael’s proclamation, “You are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
Yet Jesus is somewhat stunned at the proclamation given that he really didn’t do all that much. What comes next is of utmost importance because Jesus recaptures the image of Jacob’s ladder and places himself as the mediator between heaven and earth. Therefore, we can assert that just as Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became a symbol of the special relationship the people of Israel would enjoy as God’s chosen people; now Jesus is a new Jacob, establishing a new people who will share access to God through Jesus.
I must admit that as I read this, I wonder what all my eyes will behold because of Jesus. When he tells Nathanael that he hadn’t seen anything yet…I can only imagine Jesus needs to say that to me as well. I sometimes get stuck in the smaller revelations of God that I forget the larger picture…renewing all things, true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sure, Jesus saw me first…before I was found and brought to him. But he wants me to see so much more…and Jesus wants you to see so much more. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus in glory!
For our faith ancestors, Psalm 126 was traditionally known as a “Psalm of Ascent,” which meant that it was sung by travelers as they made their way to the Temple. Of particular interest is the understanding that this is not a Psalm of David, but one that was probably written during the return to Jerusalem around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, one caution would be to hinder the usefulness of the Psalm by tying it too tightly to its historical circumstances. While historical context is enlightening, God’s people are always in need of salvation and the Lord’s strength to restore us from our chaos and terrible choices.
126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
A Note about the Streams of Negeb (or Negev in the NIV) - These streams are well-known for being dry and being dry often. However, these stream beds can suddenly be rushing floods when the seasonal rains arrive. So, we can see the imagery here of a lack of hope suddenly turning into the arrival of life-giving deliverance.
The point of this Psalm is that we as God’s people live by both memory and hope. During this Christmas time, we remember the story of Jesus’ birth and what his coming means for us. We reflect on the cross and the resurrection as we take the Lord’s Supper. We hear the teachings of Jesus proclaimed and lived out as we interpret the Scriptures. We try to become like him as we live in the community of the church. And yet, through the tears, sorrow, and hard times—we hope. We hope that Christ is coming again, and our memory of what Jesus has done compels our belief in what He will do! Like the memory of Jesus burst on the scene unexpectedly and without warning, so we prepare ourselves for the hope of Jesus’ coming that will complete all things. Within these boundaries, we are a glad and joyful people!
As I continue to read the little book on the Holy Spirit by Lois Malcolm, I am challenged to think about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the church, and in my personal faith, love and hope.
In a chapter entitled, “The Spirit Creates Faith” Lois explains the freedom the Spirit gives us to live the life of Christ. I want to share with you a couple quotes and allow you to simmer on them a bit.
“We do not lose our unique individual identities when we enter into Christ’s life; we do not become Christ. Rather, we become more fully ourselves. Christ’s life-giving Spirit gives us the power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives—patterns that keep us trapped in destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—so that we can be all that God has created us to be, so that we can, by faith, step into the possibilities God would have for us. Where destructive patterns in our lives have abounded, now grace can abound all the more!” (56)
Here’s why I like this--I get the feeling that a current trend in Christianity is that we know a lot about different personalities and then seem to prefer particular ones over others. We have expectations of how men and how women should be (and act)…and in the call to be more like Jesus, we need to be careful not to place our personality preferences on others. We are to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, but we are also to truly be more ourselves and to learn to appreciate who we are in Christ. While the destructive patterns need to cease, introverts filled with the Spirit and extroverts filled with the Spirit may both seek Jesus and do so in ways that are unique! I could go on…but my point is that in being a Christian…you don’t have to fit a “mold,” you are free to live in the Spirit’s guidance of your individual identity! That is a great thought, especially as I (or you) live out my (or your) faith prompted by the Spirit’s work!
A second thought from the book is this:
“Thus, with faith comes profound self-love. Through the Spirit’s power, we are able to love ourselves—and accept even those parts of us we are most ashamed or guilty about—precisely because God knows and loves every part of us. Indeed, it is only when we re no longer so buttressed by the incessant demands of our own fears and desires—when we can actually become an integrated rather than a divided self—that we can truly attend to what others need, that we can truly attend to their interests and not merely to our own.” (59)
Here’s why I like this--I think many people learn to hate a part of themselves, and I think some Christian circles teach this self-hate as way of dealing with sin and making sure that a believer will not return to that sin; thus returning to shame and guilt and all things evil. Yet, how wonderful is the love of God that declares “I love all of You” including the deepest and darkest places of our hearts, minds, and souls. And this love, instead of making us fearful and embarrassed, provides us with freedom from the very sin curse we participate in…and in so doing we are accepted into the family of God. I also like to think that as we are made whole by the Spirit, we join with other people who are made whole by the Spirit and then we have a group of people joining together to make the world whole by the Spirit…and that group is called the church. And it is the church in which we can attend to the needs and interests of others. The opposite of this approach is the all too familiar consumer approach to church…I will sell the good parts about myself and I will only be a part of the church if it serves my needs. This type of faith doesn’t end with “profound self love” and “attending to the needs of others.” Only the Spirit does that!
A couple weeks ago I picked up my daughter from school like I do everyday, on the way back to the car from the courtyard she asked me if those prayer cards at our church were for everyone. I assured her that anyone could put a prayer request on the cards. She seemed really interested in prayer cards, particularly if she could use one…the conversation became more clear:
Her: “You know how we pray every Sunday using the prayer cards that people turn in…”
Me: “Yes…” (dodging parents, children, and still oblivious)
Her: “Do you think I could fill out one of those prayer cards this Sunday?
Me: “I think you can fill out a prayer card whenever you have something to pray about.”
Her: “I have something daddy…”
Me: “Ok, do you want to share with me what it is?” (thinking she might share something embarrassing…or personal…)
Her: “Yes, I have a friend in my class and she told me that she doesn’t go to church because her family just does not go and she also told me that she doesn’t believe that there is a God…So I would like to pray to God so that He can show her that He is real.”
Me: Well then, that seems like a good thing to pray about.” (speechless really…)
About half-way through the second song on Sunday Morning, my daughter asked me if I had a prayer card. I told her I didn’t (because I never pick up one—too busy on Sundays to fill it out) and then proceeded to tell her where to go to get one. My awesome daughter stomped out of the row (she had loud boots on) and walked to the lobby area—returning with a smile and a card in her hand. She filled out her name and in the designated area she wrote, “I would like to pray for my friend ________ who does not go to church and does not believe that you are real.” (something close at least…)
She hands me the card and I glance at it because her spelling is still somewhat of a challenge to read at times…but she had made her message clear and I could decipher it! So, my daughter’s friend was prayed over in worship service that Sunday one or two weeks ago. I must admit to you I said a little prayer that Sunday Morning as well and it was, “Lord God, please help me not to mess this up…may she always have faith that you are real and that you listen and respond to our prayers for those in need.”
Sundays are busy for me. I teach. I preach. I hug. I shake hands. I field questions. I sing along. I pray along. I sometimes wonder in all of my activity if I fail to realize that God is there with us, ready to accept our offerings and listen to our cries for help. God empowers the truth we teach and revels in the hugs we share. God must be very proud of a young girl who brings her friend’s situation to Him…And God must think that I need a lesson in what it means to have faith that He can reveal himself to those who do not know him—maybe God needed to remind me that in my church activity there is time to connect with Him (The Living and Present God).
Lessons received, thank you God and B (my daughter).
I do believe this is the last post for the Summer 2017 Blog Tour, I hope you have enjoyed the posts and have been challenged by them. Scott Johnson has written this word, and it is another challenging thought about how God is glorifying when we trust and put our faith in Him.
Change is terrifying. Whether its work, school, marriage, or grocery store layouts, change is never fun. When our congregation at Crosspointe Church of Christ faced the fact that we were a hospice church, a church on life support, and we had to move. Fast. Over 10 years our attendance had decreased by two-thirds.
Through a long, agonizing series of events, we begin to seek God's direction. Where did He want us to move next? We had several congregational meetings that only gave us confirmation that things were bad. We either had to seek out a resurrection or pull the plug. There were no other options. Change had to come.
We had less than a month before we had a final meeting with the entire church to reveal what was next. Taking the church off life support was not an option. So we were relaunching. We were moving to a new mission. I was asked to craft it. I was hopeless. So I sat down to write.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table one night. I couldn't think. I couldn't pray. I was beyond frustrated and angry. As I watched the laptop cursor blink, as I stared into the white screen, I gave up. I quit. I stopped. I walked out.
I went out onto the back porch and looked at the sky and begin talking to God. I told Him how tired I was. I told Him how discouraged and angry I had become. I told Him that I was sick of it. I told him I quit. And then I told Him that if He had any ideas, I'd love to know them.
And then I hit a watershed moment in my life. I said, "God, you've got to show up or Crosspointe isn't going to make it. She's your body. You created her. You know what you have in store for us. We give up. I give up. Please, give me your vision."
I stood there in the silence for a while. And then it happened. God put something into my heart and brain that ignited a fire in my bones.
He brought this Scripture to mind:
"I will restore to you the year that the swarming locust has eaten..." (Joel 2:25a, ESV)
What God brought forth that night has completely re-forged Crosspointe. Sunday we had our first progress meeting since the relaunch one year ago. In that year I've seen our members step out in ways I never dreamed possible. I've seen more generosity, kindness, and boldness than I ever thought we'd muster. You can follow what this has looked like in the daily life of Crosspointe on my blog https://oldesoultheology.com/.
The years eaten away by the destroyer...have slowly begun to be restored.
God's people at Crosspointe had the audacity to trust in the God who breathed out the stars... and step out onto the waves. We're not there yet, but exercising our faith has grown it exponentially.
“We're trusting, Lord. We know you'll deliver us. We believe, but help our unbelief.”Wherever you find yourself in your walk with God, ask the question: What is holding me back from completely trusting Him? What's my obstacle? And then pray...and kick it right down. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
Scott has been on both sides of the fence: life without Jesus and life with Jesus. He wouldn’t go back for anything. As a former drug addict, he has a passion for sharing Jesus with the world. He graduated from Ohio Valley University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Texts. He has been in full-time ministry since 2007 and served two churches in that time. Scott is the Senior Minister at Crosspointe Church of Christ in Franklin, Ohio. He resides in Middletown, Ohio with his wife and their two children. He loves to play guitar, drink coffee, help people, and enjoy his family
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.