Come and drink!

From today’s reading of John 7-8

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39 (ESV)

The last day of the feast – the great day! – Jesus stands and delivers the great invitation. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Does anyone not thirst? In our fallenness we are a thirsty people. To my shame, I often foolishly run after all sorts of things that aren’t Jesus to fulfill my thirst. Yet Jesus is the only one who can quench it. Jesus gives me the Spirit, making alive the dead and the dry in me, satisfying the thirst that is endemic to fallen humanity, the thirst arising from long, long years as orphans, away from the garden, away from our Father.

Jesus says something here that, if you peer into it, is quite curious. “Let him come to me and drink” is followed by this promise, for whoever drinks: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

We rarely think about what happens after we drink. I’m thirsty, I drink a glass of water, and I’m no longer thirsty. So far so good, but drinking that glass of water does not make me a source of water. Yet drinking of Jesus is an in and out phenomenon. We drink, and are filled, and overflow in rivers (not trickles – rivers!) of living water.

Such is the Spirit. The Spirit knows nothing of temporary, solitary satisfaction. He is about filling beyond the brim, overflow, multiplication, abundance! Hold out a thimble and prepare to be drenched with gallons! Cracked ground becomes dark, rich fertile soil. Fruit emerges from the once-hopeless vine, green shoots push up from the soil. A parched, shriveled heart becomes full, healthy, beating out the rhythms of life in the Spirit. The Lord of life who can bring water out of a rock turns each of his followers into a spring of rivers. When we’re drinking deeply of the Spirit, strike us and more water will pour out. The invitation to the thirsty is daily called out from those flowing with this river of life – come and drink!

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3 (ESV)

The mathematics of Heaven

From today’s reading of Matthew 18

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:5-6 (ESV)

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)

Jesus is relentless love.

He stands against church growth strategies that treat people like numbers. When someone falls away, he pursues them and calls us to do the same. The idea of leaving ninety-nine to pursue one doesn’t make mathematical sense to us, but it makes sense to him. Oh to fully grasp the beautiful, redemptive mathematics of Heaven.

I can hardly put into words the impact this passage has on me. I have failed to pursue the one so often. I have passively sat back when observing others making the same mistake, rather than speaking exhortation to them and offering to run alongside with them in the pursuit of our lost sheep. I have given up on people, content to remain with the ninety-nine, then the ninety-eight, then the ninety-seven . . .

Without even trying I can think of a dozen young people who desperately need to be reclaimed. In light of that, I can’t really do justice to the scripture quoted above with lame words in a blog post and belated lamentations.

I do know this: it is difficult, frustrating, lonely work to search for the one, to try to bring them back when they themselves would rather be lost. That’s one reason so few of us do it. But it is the will of the Father that none of these little ones should perish. Jesus is relentless love.

May my love be relentless too. Enough said and amen.


From today’s reading of Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 (ESV)

In the parallel passage in Matthew 17 the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon. His explanation to them is very simple: “Because of your little faith”. This is as good an explanation as any for almost every failure and misstep in my life. Oh, this great puzzle of faith!

Have you ever thought that Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples here, and in many other places, is harsh? It reads that way, doesn’t it? “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you?” He seems exasperated, and there’s no doubt he is. But why?

I don’t know about the disciples, but I do know about me. Perhaps my problem is similar to theirs. I think I often get faith wrong. I see it as a work, as something to conjure. After all, if I need more of something, I need to work for it, right? I often see faith as currency, and the more the better so that I can buy God’s successes.

It’s illustrative that just a few verses later in Luke 9 Jesus places a child in front of the disciples as an example of what it means to be great in the Kingdom. And in the next chapter of the Matthew passage he says this:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3-4 (ESV)

One of the great shocks of being a parent is realizing how much faith your little ones have in you. It is a pure faith. They know you have what they need, and they aren’t shy about asking for it, smiling and eyes wide with expectation. In a healthy family there is no fear in the asking, and there is acceptance (albeit with some drama inevitably) of the answer, yes or no. Most importantly, there is no sense of work in the asking. The child knows she has no money on her own to buy the toy, so she goes to the only one who does have the money and might be willing to buy it, her mom or dad. A child’s faith is bold, because the focus of a child’s faith is squarely on her mom or dad. This faith is also wise; placing faith in the one with the resources is the only thing that makes any logical sense.

I think this simplicity of faith is often lost as we grow older and begin to take on resources of our own. The focus begins to shift from the Lord to ourselves, and this begets the effort, the work, the mental gymnastics that masquerade as faith so often, not to mention the caution, the hedging of the bets that accompany these wolves of work wrapped in the sheep’s hide of faith.

Jesus is exasperated by his disciples’ lack of faith, I believe, because they had, for quite some time, been physically with the Incarnate Faithful One, Jesus himself. Jesus was engaged in living a faith-filled life before his Father and pointing them to the same life of dependency and childlike trust. They had seen the results of this true, pure, golden faith over and over again.

Mark 9 records this interaction between Jesus and the demoniac boy’s father:

“if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:22-24 (ESV)

Amen brother. Lord help my unbelief.

I think Jesus is exasperated with me because faith is, in ways I still need to fully grasp, very simple. I’m the one who’s making it hard. I need to put my faith in Jesus. Because he can do it. He can do anything.

Worth it

From today’s reading of Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:18-27

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)

It’s hard to know what to do with this. I would follow after Jesus. I am following after Jesus, and pursuing him, but this pursuit fights against every fiber of my flesh and has many zig-zags, stoppings, trippings, and side-streets.

For a long time I thought of faith in terms of believing in certain facts, like believing in the theory of relativity or that the country of China exists. In other words, believing in something based on the available evidence but where I didn’t have the tools at hand, necessarily, to fully verify what I believe in. So faith in Jesus was believing that he is, and that he came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, paid for my sins on the cross, died, was buried, was risen to life and is coming again.

It is very good to believe in those things. And it touches upon faith to believe in them. But that belief is not exactly, or completely, faith.

Faith is leaping off a cliff and trusting in the one who has promised to catch you to do what he said. Faith lived out is, from a fleshly point of view, self-destructive and dangerous. I think in the past I have read Jesus’ words above wrongly. I have seen them as transactional, and – hear me out here – threatening. What I have heard him saying is “if you don’t give me everything, I’m going to leave you and eventually kill you.” Again, be patient with me and bear with my foolishness here.

I believe I had that wrong. I think what Jesus is saying is that he is life, and there is ultimately no life to be found anywhere else. What will I chase? What will I pursue? To whom will I go? He alone has the words of eternal life. If I don’t deny myself, I am indulging myself. I am feeding the idol of Self, and there is no life there. I’m going to die and lose everything if I go that way. Our world is rife with examples of people who have done just that. Jesus is not making a deal with me with his words. He is just speaking the truth about who he is and who I am, and what I am without him.

Jesus calls me to self-abandoned devotion to and single-minded focus on him, because he desires to give me life. This is so important, because it gets at the core of the call of God, calling me toward life in a way that will seem like death to my befuddled and sinful soul. I hear him calling me to carry a cross and deny myself – which is true – but he says that is the way leading to life for all who would follow him.

The words he says are not necessarily easier to integrate or live out knowing this. Jesus doesn’t call me to easy. But he does call me out of idolatry, out of shame, out of needless pursuits and into himself, into love, into purpose, into life. And those are things worth running hard after.

He is completely worth it.

Lord, convince my divided heart and doubled mind to run hard, and with self-abandon, after you.