First Things First: Jesus’ Miracle at Cana

Miracle at Cana

Turning Water into Wine at the Wedding at Cana / Fernando Gallego, 1480s

Are you ever offended at Jesus? He upset people from the very beginning. Some of us in the church haven’t liked everything he did for 2,000 years–least of all his sense of timing.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at a party, much to the consternation of those who think religion ought to be dignified and serious.

He brought the wine, much to the consternation of Christians who believe that anything alcoholic is evil. What was Jesus doing there in the first place, and what does it all mean?… Read the rest

How Gideon failed at success

Gideon and the angel

The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon / James Tissot

Everyone wants to succeed at what they try. The alternative is failure.

Successful people know failure. They have learned from it, worked out problems, and tried again until they succeed. That’s the way the world works.

Unfortunately, the world also has pitfalls that can ultimately destroy the successful if they’re not vigilant. The Bible has many examples. Let’s look at Gideon.

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What do you expect from Jesus?

Some people go to church week after week and often leave vaguely unsatisfied. Some people, when a famous preacher rents a stadium or coliseum, will drive many miles to attend the meeting. Does everyone leave happy and satisfied? Is that even the point?

What do we want from a church service or other similar gathering? Is what we want the same thing Jesus wants to offer?

Feeding of the 5000

The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (ca. 1413)

Jesus hadn’t intended to minister to a crowd.

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Mary and the sneakiness of God

Mystical Nativity : Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity / Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1500

There is nothing subtle about how the world operates. We measure power by size. Each industry has one or two dominant and large corporations.

The most powerful nations have some combination of the largest economies, international trade, military power, and diplomatic reach. Politicians vie to amass the most money so they can parlay their fundraising in to the most votes.

God doesn’t work that way.

Just look at how he prepared Mary for her role in God’s sneaky counterrevolution against the devil.

Satan appeared to win a great victory in Eden by corrupting the man and the woman God had made.… Read the rest

Stubbornness and faith: the man with the withered hand


At the height of his popularity, but when the Pharisees were beginning to view him with suspicion, one Sabbath Jesus entered a synagogue, by definition a Pharisee stronghold. Not that it was unusual for him to attend synagogue services; he probably attended somewhere every Sabbath of his life. But on the occasion Mark describes, a man with a withered hand was there.

All the Pharisees looked Jesus and the man with the withered hand, and what they saw was not so much a man in need as a reputed law breaker in their synagogue. Would Jesus have the audacity to heal the man on the Sabbath?Read the rest

Trusting Jesus when it makes no sense: healing the blind man of Bethsaida

Christ Healing the Blind Man of Bethsaida (14th. c.) 

Mark’s gospel records a very odd healing. Some people in Bethsaida brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Usually in Scripture we see Jesus instantly
moved to compassion, but these people had to beg him. Then, instead of laying his hands on the man, he led him out of town, where the story becomes odder still. Implicitly Jesus had challenging questions for the blind man, his disciples, and all of us: Do you believe me? Is trusting me still an option for you?

In Luke 10:13, Jesus pronounced woe to Bethsaida fir its unbelief at the miracles performed there.… Read the rest

Jonah the disobedient prophet

What I find utterly fascinating about the book of Jonah is that everyone and everything else in the story obeys God except his prophet. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, which is east of Israel. So Jonah decided to go to Tarshish, which is roughly modern Gibraltar, or as far west as anyone at the time could think to go. If he’d been able to find a boat going to New York and change to one bound for Buffalo, he would have bought a ticket there.

And so a storm came up. The weather obeyed God. The sailors, figuring some god was up to something, cast lots to find out whom to blame.… Read the rest

Miracles explained by higher mathematics

Edwin Abbott, an English classics scholar and theologian whose hobby was higher mathematics wrote a charming classic called Flatland 1880s. Flatland is a two-dimensional space inhabited mostly by various equilateral polygons and ruled by circles.

The narrator, A. Square, explains how two-dimensional objects can recognize each other’s shapes by calculating angles. Except for triangles, irregular shapes present a public danger and are not allowed to live. He also explained their culture and history.

In their year 1000, someone went insane and insisted that a third dimension existed. He caused quite a commotion until the circles passed harsh laws against proclaiming such a ridiculous heresy.… Read the rest

Pentecost

In the Old Testament, Pentecost was the offering of first fruits, a memorial of the establishment of the Mosaic  Covenant. Along with Passover and Tabernacles, it was one of three times during which the Law required Jewish men to present themselves at the Sanctuary.

By New Testament times, hardly anyone was able to get to Jerusalem for all three festivals. The largest number of foreigners came for Pentecost (Greek, by the way, for “fiftieth,” because it started fifty days from Passover).

The year of our Lord’s death and resurrection, Pentecost began ten days after the Ascension. The disciples had been waiting in Jerusalem for the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit.Read the rest

A prayer for boldness

“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, but stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” — Acts 4:29-30

I keep reading of prophecies, or at least predictions, that American Christians face persecution like it has never happened here before. Quite a variety of people have written about it, and they offer a variety of evidence. Frankly, the writers exhibit quite a wide range of credibility, too.

As I read this passage from Acts, it struck me that, while I have no idea how likely we are to face systematic persecution, the Bible has already told us how to face it.… Read the rest