Hidden Corners of Glory

grapes

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:11

This story of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana has always interested me. Mostly because of what the story says, but even more because of what is left unsaid. Each time I read it, I ask another question. My list has become quite long: How did Jesus know when the time was right to start doing miracles? How did the water turn into wine? Did Jesus pronounce a blessing over it, like the pastor at communion, or did he stir it? Maybe his shadow falling over the clear, deep pools of still water reflecting the evening sunlight was enough to change it. Or like the mud paste he used to heal the blind man, did he spit in it? Oh, goodness. If I was in the family hosting this party, trying to impress our friends and relatives, I would certainly hope not.

No one knows how the water actually changed into wine. Neither does anyone seem to know the names of the bridal couple or why Jesus responded to his mother the way he did.

The unspoken message in John 2 is about expectation. The wedding guests expected to drink their fill of wine at their host’s expense. Mary expected Jesus to heed her request to bring peace. Jesus expected to be able to wait a little longer until his glory became known. This clash of motives plays out in the humble home of a local village family. Money probably ran a little short for this middle class Galilean family, as it does for all of us from time to time. The guests kept on enjoying the feast, and the wine supply was starting to dwindle. Running out of wine at a Jewish wedding was the worst insult to both the host and the guests. The host would feel humiliation over his inability to provide adequately for the celebration. The guests would have felt disrespected. This outcome would have branded the wedding couple with a reputation they’d never live down. Lawsuits may even be brought against them.

Mary saw this situation brewing under the surface of the simple surroundings and the merrymaking. Something must be done, but what and by who? Seated across the banquet table from her was the only one she ever needed–her son, Jesus. I like to imagine that over the years, Mary probably witnessed Jesus settling disputes among his siblings, offering a solution, speaking comfort, making peace. She says to him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus puts her off with the statement, “My hour has not yet come.”

Mary seems to ignore him. In full confidence and faith, she turns to the servants and tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.”

If I was Jesus, I would have rolled my eyes at my presumptuous mother. But since he is perfect and I am not, he probably handled the situation much better. Jesus gives instructions to fill the stone jars with water, draw some out, and take it to the master of the party. Somewhere between the words leaving Jesus’ mouth and the liquid reaching the master’s mouth, the water had changed into wine.

Jesus’ glory was revealed. In a common family living in an obscure town, glory shone. During a large, crowded celebration, glory sneaked in. While saving simple people from disaster, glory quietly spread in the form of kindness and understanding.

Like Mary’s life, the lives of this wedding couple, and the lives of the small town guests, our lives are filled with the simple, the common, the crowded, and sometimes, the disastrous. Jesus is present with the soothing word of comfort. He provides when our resources run out He makes peace in situations that seem to have no happy ending. This is when his glory shines. He reveals himself in subtle, miraculous ways that we would miss if it wasn’t for his glory shining on them.

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Rest in the Shade

ravine

I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Song of Songs 2:3-4

Over the years, I have developed a chronic condition known as fascination of the life and ministry of the prophet, Elijah. Lately, the Lord has been speaking to me through his story in the books of first and second Kings.

The Bible gives a narrow window through which we glimpse the life of this Man of God. He lived in Israel. Although Elijah was such an influential voice during this era of Israel’s history, only a brief span of his life is exposed to us through the stories in the books of Kings. The king of Israel, Ahab, had led the nation so far away from the worship of God that now the time had come to begin reaping the consequences. We all know who God chose to deliver the bad news–Elijah. Lucky man.

Elijah became the enemy. The king placed high priority on getting rid of him. The word of God came to Elijah again. This time is was meant for Elijah’s comfort and not for the rebuke of a wayward king. “Leave here. Turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there” (I Kings 17:2-4).

First Kings goes on to tell us that Elijah did what the Lord told him. Elijah lived there for a long time–at least three years. In a nation that had forsaken God, Elijah continued to enjoy God’s presence. During an extended season of extreme drought, Elijah feasted on God’s unending provisions. In the face of a king’s wrath–a king with the entire military at his disposal–Elijah found a place to hide away, safe and protected under God’s watchful care.

Over the span of those three years, the king looked everywhere for Elijah, but never found him. Why? Because God covered him. Psalm 91 mentions the safety found in the shade. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2).

Danger couldn’t find him. the king’s anger couldn’t touch him. Hunger couldn’t weaken him.

Song of Songs 2:4 refers to a banner of love. The Student Bible says a banner was a large military flag that held a fighting unit together in battle. In the noise and dust of a fight, soldiers needed a visible sign to keep them oriented (p. 600). God spread his banner over Elijah. This orienting symbol wasn’t made of cloth with a royal crest. Rather, it was love and it came complete with God’s presence. “Fear not, I have redeemed you,” God says to Israel through Isaiah, “I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. For I am the Lord your God. You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43:1-4).

Elijah lived in the ravine–a crevice running deep between two rocks. It became the place where he enjoyed God’s care, his provision, and his love.

 

 

Celebration in Faith

sunlight-and-trees

We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.       2 Corinthians 4:18

A celebration in faith means that we take God at his word. We’re already in the condition of faith when we believe in him. The ongoing celebration of faith is lived out of that belief.

How do we stay attentive to the present–the place where things don’t always work out, or they change, or get difficult–while also discovering joy in the experience? It sounds like a set-up to frame an impossible dilemma. Pain and darkness get juxtaposed against the life we really want. So, does this mean we have to choose to deny the reality of pain or despair in our lives so the we can search for a place of bliss? Maybe we must trick ourselves into a sense of false security. We try to get ourselves to believe that, “Oh, everything will be OK,” when in reality the actual situation continues to deteriorate around us. We get stuck and don’t know where to go.

This is the time to pause and take a step back for a larger panoramic view. In these times, our understanding of God and our framework for functioning in the world don’t work anymore. We default to questions like: Has God left me? Is he trying to teach me something? Is God angry? It’s fearsome to come to the end of something–whether that something is a relationship, a career, a season of life, someone else’s life, our own strength, or our ability to make sense of anything.

Faith suggests a different way. Instead of thinking we can have only suffering with no joy, or mistakenly assuming that joy is never accompanied by hardship, faith asks the question if perhaps there is a balance. “Can we live fully submerged in pain and trial while at the same time finding joy?” Can we learn how to find order in the mess? Peace in the chaos? Gratitude in the suffering? Light in the darkness? Beauty in the ugliness? A reason to throw a party when no occasion for celebration exists?

I want to take some time to tell a brief story to illustrate. Growing up on the farm gave us cousins many chances to work hard and get dirty doing it. Same for my dad, uncle, and grandpa. Lots of times, after a day of working out in the field or with the livestock, grease and mud, even manure, found their way onto hands, shoes, and clothing. As devoted observers of afternoon coffee time, we’d sit on the back steps, remove our shoes, wash our hands, and go to the kitchen. Grandma would have a celebration waiting. Coffee. Cake. Cookies. Sandwiches. All of it served on her best china. Grandma knew how to create a special occasion in the midst of the ordinary toil of a workday. She met us with love and acceptance when all we brought into her house were grease-spotted jeans and odors from the barnyard. She found reasons to throw a party in spite of the fact that she’d have a table full of dirty dishes to wash afterward.

Faith. Sometimes God calls us to endure hard things. But he’s always near. When we come to the end, we can stand on the truth that God is waiting to give a new beginning. Every time. Faith. Hebrews says it’s the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction that things not seen are in fact very real. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. What is seen is temporary. What is unseen is eternal. The mess, the grief, the dark will end. That’s good news. Peace, gratitude, and joy–they remain. That’s even better news.

Faith asks us to endure the temporary because we know what really lasts. God. Who he is, who we are in him, and what we enjoy as his children living in his covenant grace and under his sovereign care will never pass away. We grow stronger and more secure in him day by day. The small gifts discovered in each of these days provides endless reasons to throw a party.