Tag Archives: Jesus

all things new

I suffer from stage fright. I have for as long as I can remember–well, at least back to my days of violin lessons. One of the objectives of Suzuki method is to get children used to performing by frequent recitals starting at young ages. Since I started at age 9, maybe it was already too late for me. Playing in groups was fine, quartets, great, no problem. Duets…well, uncomfortable. But solo, even with accompaniment, was difficult. As I’ve gotten older, it’s only gotten harder, probably simply because the opportunities are not as great.

This past Sunday I served on our music team at church. This is not unusual; I serve as a vocalist every 4-8 weeks. I enjoy it immensely. I love to harmonize and see myself more as a vocal instrumentalist than a song leader. I don’t think this is how our worship leader has seen me. The past few times I’ve served, he has designated that I should sing X part on X song and asked me to work out with the other female vocalist who will lead a given song. I have always practiced my part and deferred to the other female vocalist. Then came the email for last Sunday. First off, I was the only experienced female on the team. The other woman is completely new. I knew I was going to have to take more of a front seat singing.  Next, there were 3 brand new songs–lots to learn and become competent on. Then came the note attached to the brand new song, “All Things New: “Lisa, I would like you to take the lead on this song.” Bam. Bye-bye peace of mind, hello turmoil.

I applied myself to learning the new music, and Nicol Sponberg’s song especially. All Things New turned out to be an unexpected gift to my preparations. The chorus goes:

So we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray
You will come and make all things new
And we won’t be afraid as we long for the day
You will come and make all things new
Come and make all things new*

As I practiced it began to dawn on me that stage fright is not something God wants me suffer from. I certainly have a lot of responsibility in this area–I need to prepare my voice, learn the music, be able to sing my part when other voices and instruments are assaulting my ears. Then what? I need to rest in the preparations that have been made and ask God to deal with the unnecessary anxiety.

On Sunday, I warmed up my voice, listened to the new music again, drank decaffeinated tea with lemon and honey and prayed “Lord, I’ve done all I can. Please honor my preparations.” During the service, the Lord brought together how I had prepared, His truth about who I am and how pleasing my sacrifice of praise is to Him, and his gracious presence.

At the offertory, I began singing “All Things New.” After a nerve-wracking start (those first two phrases are low!), the truth of Nicol’s words connected with the Lord’s presence within me. Suddenly I had confidence–confidence made possible by my preparations, but coming from Christ’s glorious presence causing me to proclaim the truth of who he is in the offertory song.

Gracious God, thank you for making ME new today. Thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Let me continually seek the newness of your abundant life in this twisted life here on earth, even as it is perfectly manifested in heaven. Amen.

*Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/nicol-sponberg/all-things-new-lyrics/#WdvTiCzfKJALLVPi.99

regaining your first love

This fall, I’ve been tag-team-teaching an adult Sunday School class titled “Reclaiming Your First Love.” The title comes from Revelation 2:1-6 where Jesus is speaking to the church at Ephesus, which is largely positive, until he comes to the meat of the matter “But I have this against you: that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

Jesus then outlines three things the church should do in order to return to love:
Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.”

  • “Remember from what you have fallen”
  • “Repent”
  • Act – “do the works you did at first”

“Remember then from what you have fallen…”

What does this statement refer to? “The love you had at first” is the object of this statement. Jesus isn’t telling the Ephesians to remember the wretched things he saved them from—he’s asking them to remember the amazing love they were gifted with when they first became believers!

Let’s take a minute & recalibrate here. When you read the statement “remember from what you have fallen,” what pops immediately into your mind? I bet it’s a bunch of negative stuff, right? Unfortunately for us, just talking about falling from something immediately brings to mind what we’ve fallen into—sin, suffering, death. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s referring to what the way they responded, who they became when they first heard the Gospel. Fortunately for us, we have an account of this:

While Apol′los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.There were about twelve of them in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran′nus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.—Acts 19:1-10

From this passage we find a few characteristics of the love in which the Ephesians responded to the Gospel. First, there was an immediate recognition of the truth of the Gospel, this recognition was followed by an immediate action on their part—being baptized. This, in turn, was followed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit—in this case, speaking in tongues. Finally, we see that they continued to preach the Gospel, even after being thrown out of the synagogue, to the degree that “all the residents of Asia heard the word.” It’s amazing that in this account, we have each of the three instructions Christ gives them—remember these events, repent just as they had to initially, and to act, to do the works they did in the beginning, namely, proclaim the Gospel.

So what they needed to do in order to return to their first love was to simply do again what they had done in the beginning. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In my next few blogposts, I’m going to look at each of these three instructions individually, in greater depth. Up first: “remember.”

Encounters with Jesus – Nathaniel

Fig Tree

A fig tree, Nathaniel’s hangout. Image courtesy of Wikkipedia Commons.

I’ve been teaching adult Sunday school this fall and we’ve been looking at things that will help us “return to our first love,” Jesus. So far we’ve talked about reclaiming our love of God’s Word, reclaiming God’s promises, and we just started in on learning to hear better from God. To do this, we’re back in the Bible, specifically, the Gospels where Jesus encounters ordinary people who get their minds blown by what he has to say.

Today, let’s take Nathaniel. Jesus first calls Philip, and then Philip tells Nathaniel, hey, I found the guy who the law & the prophets talk about. (Read the full story in John 1:43-51.) This is where Nathaniel famously makes his remark “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As Nathaniel is walking down the road towards Jesus, Jesus says

“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathan′a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathan′a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

I have always found this an obscure passage! Why did Nathaniel make that comment about Nazareth? Why did Jesus say Nathaniel was “an Israelite indeed?” Was he being sarcastic? And why was it so important to Nathaniel that Jesus saw him under the fig tree?

One thing that is clear, however, is that Nathaniel recognized something different about Jesus, something that he was open to. And Jesus, in turn, was able to say exactly the thing–the very specific thing–that caused Nathaniel to have a revelation of who Jesus truly is. An incomplete revelation, but nonetheless very full and rich. Nathaniel proclaims the Gospel as he understands it in that moment. It is because of Nathaniel’s openness and recognition that Jesus promises him even greater things–Nathaniel is going to have his spiritual eyes opened wide to see the comings & goings of heaven.

There are three things I want you to note from this passage. The first is that Nathaniel spent time in the scriptures. This is implied in two ways; first, it’s clear Philip and Nathaniel have studied the Torah (the law) and the prophets together. We also know (from a note in a good study Bible) that a fig tree is known as a place for study and prayer. Nathaniel was a good student of the Word of God. Secondly, Nathaniel expected to see God at work in the world. Again, Philip’s message that the one written about in the law & prophets was here indicates that both he and Nathaniel were on the lookout for the Messiah. Granted, their idea of a earthly kingdom wasn’t what God intended, but they were on the lookout and that’s the important thing here. Third, it appears Nathaniel called it like he saw it. He had no guile, no deceit. Even his comment, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was an honest one. Jesus recognizes this about him–he is a “true Israelite,” a model Israelite, if you will.

Nathaniel is studying the scriptures, looking for God at work, and making honest assessments about the world around him. Jesus affirms these traits in Nathaniel and because of them is able to reach something deep inside him that makes him proclaim the truth of who Jesus is.

What do we need to hear from God, to encounter Jesus? Immersion in the Word, openness and an honest expectation that God is at work.

Transcript 1.b: Mary M. con’t

Things were getting tense. The Pharisees were obviously pooling their mental resources and coming out to ask Teacher questions merely to trip him up. How he managed to keep his cool through all that, I’ll never know. Especially when they brought the woman they’d caught in adultery to him! I was so angry and appalled and felt shamed for her. I wanted so much to go out there and just stand with her, but I was so scared. [Pause.] I wish I could have done that. Maybe I could, now. [Clears throat.] Well, in the end the Teacher had the last word. “Let anyone who’s never sinner throw the first stone.” How do you respond to that? You don’t, you can’t. What they did was really all they could do, really. They just left, all of them. And then the teacher asked the woman “where are your accusers?” And she responded “no where around here.” She was in shock. Teacher said, “I don’t accuse you either. Go and don’t sin this way again.” She left quickly, but just like someone who’s been staring down a knife. She didn’t quite understand how it was her life was spared. I don’t think any of us really understood except the Teacher.

That’s just an example of how bad things were getting before the Passover, as we were pushing towards Jerusalem.

Then the Teacher sent some of the men out to find a colt and we all thought “this is it.” What it was, I’m not sure, although I think most of us still thought it was going to be a political overthrow. Kingdoms are about governments, right? That’s what we thought would happen–I figured it would be a bloodless coup, since none of us could really fight, but I think many of the men thought Teacher would just turn them into warriors, like he healed people, with a word.

It was amazing and glorious and tense, that entry. All those people, waving palm branches, putting coats in the road, shouting “Hosanna!” In the end, we didn’t even stay in the city overnight–it was so crowded because of the Passover and I think Teacher knew things would come to a head too quickly if we stayed. So we’d spend the night in Bethany and go into Jerusalem during the day so the Teacher could preach and teach again. And cleanse the temple one last time!

I was there at the Passover meal–his last meal. I made myself useful by helping to cook and serve the meal. It was worth it to be near the Teacher. And then he did the thing that shocked us all. Have you heard about it? That he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the disciples’ feet? It was shocking. It still takes my breath away. Here was the man we were looking forward to crowning as King, washing our feet, lower than the lowest servant.

His arrest. No, I wasn’t there. Isn’t that crazy? As someone who worked so hard to stay as close as possible to the Teacher…I wasn’t there. In a way, I’m glad. I don’t know how I would have responded. Would I have tried to grab a sword, like Peter? Actually, I suspect I would have screamed and tried to in front of him–the mothering instinct, I guess. I heard what had happened while he was being “tried” at the Sanhedrin, if you can call it there. I couldn’t get too close, it was so crowded–and to be honest, we were frightened. [Question.] Oh, me and the other two Marys. We had seen Peter, but he acted like he didn’t know us–he was really struggling…

Anyway, we followed from the Sanhedrin to Herod’s palace. We’d hardly arrived when Herod shunted Teacher off to the Roman authorities. It was awful. Pilate kept coming out…it was clear he didn’t know what to do with the Teacher. He’d try and release him, but the Pharisees convinced the crowd to agitate for the death penalty. When Mary (Teacher’s mother) first heard this, she almost fainted. We all protested, but we were shouted down by the crowd. That was the closest I have ever been to a riot. [Makes a shuddering sound.] After a while it was like the crowd had become a single entity, a beast, just out to consume Teacher Jesus.

That’s when Pilate attempted to release Jesus. By then it was too la175px-Eccehomo2te, the Pharisees had incited the crowd to the point that they’d settle for nothing less than death for the teacher. That was where John joined us, about the time Herod had sent the teacher out to be flogged. It was excruciating. He received the maximum number of lashes allowed under Roman law, you know. I don’t see how anyone could endure that kind of treatment and remain alive, let alone standing. I don’t know how the Teacher did it…

Then Pilate released Teacher to the solders to be crucified.


How would Jesus witness?

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage...

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a church tradition that put a strong emphasis on personal witnessing of Christ. You never knew when the Lord might “call upon you” to “give your personal testimony.” There was not much clarity about what that meant, or how to accomplish it. I will say that our Sunday evening church services were dedicated to singing hymns and “giving testimony,” which seemed to me to be a bunch of people standing up to give a list of things they were apparently grateful for in what seemed to me to be a very dour manner.

As a result of these instructions and modeling, I recognized that my own “personal witness” was not very compelling. If I didn’t find laundry lists of how the Lord had met me very compelling myself, why would some non-Christian? Come to think of it, didn’t everyone get “met” in these ways? To top it off, the sense of “being ready at any time” to give my testimony made me feel as though there could be a heavenly pass/fail pop quiz at any moment and gave me an anxiety when hanging around unbelievers.

This has been slowly changing for me in a couple of ways. The first is that I’m truly grateful to the Lord for what he has done for me. Gratitude expressed in humility begets joy. Suddenly when I talk about “what the Lord has done” it’s neither abstract nor passionless–it’s personal and filled with joy. When that happens, our personal testimony is compelling because it doesn’t just tell you about Jesus–he inhabits our testimony, and that is truly Good News.

The other change is that I’m realizing how compelling Jesus really is! Earlier in the week I was reading the story of Zacchaeus. From what little we know, Zacchaeus had only heard about Jesus, but from what little he’d heard, Zacchaeus had to see him! So this self-important, wealthy, prominent and yes, probably hated tax collector, knew nobody was going to let him to the front of the line to catch a glimpse–so he climbed a tree. Imagine his surprise when Jesus stops, calls him out by name and tells him he is hosting the Son of Man that afternoon! Then, hearing all the snide comments being made, Zacchaeus gives half of his wealth away, and offers restitution to any he has cheated. This response to Jesus is Zacchaeus’ salvation. (Read Luke 19:1-10 for the full story.)

Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about our testimony, even when we’re being challenged by people who are hostile to him (see Luke 21:13-15). What he wants is for us to live our lives seeking after him. Our response to him is our testimony, but it is giving that testimony in a way that is filled with Jesus’ presence that makes it the Good News.

Know scripture to know Christ

st-jerome-iconI recently received an email from a friend titled “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” My gut-level reaction? “What an obnoxious thing to say!” However, knowing my friend well, I scrolled to the bottom of the email. Who said this conceited thing? Jerome. You know, Jerome of Stridonium? Early church father? Translator of the Bible into Latin, known in Catholic circles as a Doctor of the Church? Yes, that Jerome. Being that I live and move and have my being in a tradition that respects its elders, particularly this set of them, I sighed deeply, shelved my effrontery and read the sermon she sent, which didn’t adhere very tightly to its title.

Yet the phrase has stuck in my mind: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The recovering Evangelical in me scoffs at this statement. Please. It brings to mind all of the things I dislike about my church upbringing: the gold standard of scripture memorization–talked about much more than done. Upholding the Bible as containing everything necessary for salvation, shouldering the Holy Spirit out of the picture, sometimes even Jesus. Dissecting short passages of scripture, looking at the Greek and the Hebrew but not effectively reassembling the whole into something enriched by the education, just leaving the text dismembered. This left me vulnerable to Cartesian dualism in college. I have good reason to be wary of a phrase like this.

Of course, there is definitely a part of me–let’s call it the evangelical with the small e–that recognizes the truth here. It is very difficult to know Christ outside of the scripture. While I’ve heard some amazing missionary stories (from my Evangelical upbringing) about people who found Christ before a missionary ever set foot in their country, usually those stories end with a missionary setting foot on their soil and hearing how the new Christian has been praying for someone to come and explain to them who Christ is!

In order to know someone, you have to spend time with them and the primary way we get to know Jesus–since he doesn’t generally walk into our lives and sit down for a cuppa tea–is to read scripture.

Now that I’ve defused the phrase for myself, I realize something else: I think of “knowing scripture” as studying/memorizing scripture. I learned long ago that Bible study is the fast way for me to move from listening to God to learning about him. Learning about God is not a bad thing. But when we humans move into a straight-up observational mode we can easily stop identifying with the subject, objectifying them, or even stalking them. (Do this with any celebrities?) If we are not learning about God or Christ in conversation with him, we run the risk of increasing our knowledge without actually “knowing” him any better.

So how do I apply myself to scripture in a way that helps me to know God? For me, it’s about knowing, retelling and applying the stories of Scripture. Think about the woman caught in adultery. She was brought to Jesus and thrown at his feet. The Pharisees explain the situation and ask Jesus “What would you do?” And what does he do? He bends down and scratches in the dirt. He takes a deep breath. He collects himself, then he says: “Let anyone here who doesn’t sin throw the first stone.” Isn’t this brilliant? He, in one phrase, saves the woman, probably saves his own neck and sends the Pharisees away ashamed. Ashamed! The righteous Pharisees get a set-down from Jesus. This story inspires awe, amazement and respect for Jesus in me. This is the kind of guy I want to hang out with!

Figure out the best way for you to know Jesus personally–meaning as a person–and look for him in that way. You do need scripture to know Jesus, but you might need to know scripture in a different way to know Jesus in the best way.

My “Message” from Matthew 5

Words in Red Gospel of Matthew (7)

Words in Red Gospel of Matthew (7) (Photo credit: Lex Photographic)

Recently my house group decided to add a component to our discussions. Beyond discussing the prior Sunday’s sermon, we would also go through Matthew’s Gospel and personalize Jesus’ words to us: his promises, his commands…anything really that stood out to us. We’ve been working our way through Matthew 5 and I realized that beyond personalizing what Jesus says, I needed to paraphrase his words so that my soul “gets it” and can take them in more deeply. Below are a few of the things I’ve written in my journal from Matthew 5, from Jesus’ point of view.

Lisa, you are the salt of the earth. Be yourself! Season the world with your presence and you’ll season it with mine. If you can’t be your salty self, you’re not salt, not even a good salt substitute. You’re just dirt, only good for being walked on. Stay salty!

Lisa, you are the light of the world. It’s ridiculous to turn on a lamp and then stick it in a closet. Let your light shine in the world. Let the good things you do be out there and apparent to other people. Other people will see it, recognize it and give my Father the glory for it. Be light!

Lisa, the law still stands. There is still good and bad. I didn’t wipe the law out, instead I kept it perfectly (so you wouldn’t have to) and took all the punishment for breaking it (so you wouldn’t have to). That doesn’t mean you can do what you want–I want you to honor the law and the prophets, and then my Father will honor you in heaven. “Righteousness” is still important–just get it from me and not from your own smug self-satisfaction.

Lisa, if you are trying to get into worship and remember a quarrel with another person, go apologize, be reconciled and then offer your praise and thanksgiving.

Lisa, if looking at a man causes you to sin, poke your eye out. This rule also applies to the things around you that might cause you to lust, be prideful, greedy, be a glutton, be lazy, act with out of control anger or envy others. Unplug your cable, ditch unwholesome books, stop subscriptions to beautifully decorated house magazines or catalogs. After all, it’s better to have one eye and be in the kingdom of God than hand yourself over to your desires and burn in hell.

Lisa, don’t take oaths or swear by my name or any other name for that matter. A simple “yes” or “no” is all you need. Trying to make your own word permanent or eternal through swearing is trying to be like our Father! It’s a blatant temptation from the evil one.

Lisa, be meek and humble when faced with people who are openly hostile to you. If they slap you, don’t fight back: offer them the other cheek. If they try and sue you, settle with them generously. Go to lengths for them that are twice as far as they ask.

Lisa, give generously to those who ask for help. If someone wants to borrow something from you, give it to them.

Lisa, love your enemies and pray for people who make your life miserable. God loves them as much as he loves you. Loving those who love you is easy, but loving those who hate you is a mark of the heart of Father God.

Lisa, be perfect. I won’t stop at “fixing” your little problem you’re praying for–I want you to be completely and utterly changed so that when people look at you, then see me! I want you to be a holy and righteous woman. Cooperate with me in this transformation.