A Word on Aging …

A word about aging…

I had a full career as a writer from day one through my mid-40s.  As a military contractor, my employer had access to all the government networks that would eventually become the internet. I was literally in on the ground floor.

That gave me the resume to dare to apply for a job in web design. At the interview, one of the young entrepreneurs said, “but would you be comfortable working with people who are so much younger than you?”


With 22 years in ministry, I’m technically at retirement age.  To me, that would be a long, silly vacation without the funds to enjoy it. “Do you have plans for retirement?” No, I do not.

I was blessed to retire from writing to become a programmer – and yes, I worked for and with people a lot younger than I was. Then, I was blessed to retire from programming to become a pastor. If I ever retired again, I’d be a musician – though I can’t imagine making more music than I make for church.

I am not an old sage. I am surrounded by people more spiritual and committed than I am. They are 30 years younger, and 20 years older, and everything in between. They’ve done a lot of living, too, so I don’t presume to know more or less than they do. I know some things; they know others. We share. It all works out.

Ageism may be the last acceptable prejudice in our society. I’ve had the honor of watching a lot of people age. I don’t chuckle over jokes about hearing, speed, vision, grey hair, or baldness. They aren’t funny. I’m also an adamant supporter of the generations that have followed us. They have their share of deadbeats, but they are otherwise the most responsible, ethical, and intelligent people I’ve ever met.

Jesus’ ministry on Earth was over in his mid-30s. Abraham was called at age 75. Moses saw the burning bush at 40, but didn’t lead the Exodus until he was 80. Samuel was called in his early teens.

God will use whom God will use. God gives us wisdom, sometimes from the mouth of babes. God gives us joy and new beginnings; they shouldn’t be suspect just because they come later in life.

Am I old? Chronologically, getting there. Physically, oh yeah, with daily reminders that the body is a rental that has to go back to the Vendor one day. Mentally? That’s a tough one. Experience has its perks, and its baggage. At this point, I just have to trust that God’s tossed salad needs me here.

God can do something brand new with your life, and it can start at any age. God forgive me if I have elevated myself at someone’s expense just because they were younger or older. We don’t select the year of our birth; it’s as locked in as skin color and gender. We all live TODAY, and none of is guaranteed another day.

I will try to draw good things from the treasure of my heart. I will seek the face of God in every person I meet. I will accept God’s gifts as they share them. I will affirm their dreams and potential. And I will try to not to judge them by age, for by the standards I judge, I will be judged as well.

Next Stop: Epiphany

The next stop on our annual journey through the holidays is Epiphany, January 6. In western traditions, Epiphany marks the arrival of the Magi to visit Jesus. It also makes a convenient bookend on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

To reiterate my favorite aside, “We Three Kings from Orient Are” were not. The Magi were Zorastrian priests, astrologers and/or magicians from Iran, then known as Persia. There were probably more than three, and almost certainly not all men. Given the role of women in ancient Persia, they likely supplied the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the first place.

(And, to settle an old joke, they actually did stop at Herod’s and asked for directions. Clearly, there were women in the camp!)

Sometimes, our traditions get in the way of our Epiphany. It’s a little thing, but if we think the three kings were just three rich male rulers, we can miss the bigger picture. Where the Bible is silent, we fill in the blanks. The Magi were complete outsiders, pagans and foreigners who were probably celebrating to have been invited to the event by the heavens themselves. God moved the very constellations of heaven to lead them to seek the Messiah.

The Middle East was afire with expectations of a Messiah. Religion and Government were on the lookout for a troublemaker who would use the Messiah’s mantle to lead a revolution. Jesus’ one-to-three-year public ministry would have been even shorter had He declared His identity openly.

From prison, John the Baptist sent disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you The One who is to come? Or should we look for another?” Jesus answered indirectly, but with evidence that comes with yet another Epiphany.

Luke 7 reveals that “in that same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight.” Jesus said simply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Gospel is preached to the poor.”

John knew the prophesies of Isaiah, who said the Messiah would preach to the poor, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. There are many great generals and leaders, but none has ever provided such convincing evidence of God’s endorsement. Just tell John what you’ve seen and heard; he’ll figure it out.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Some might ask, “Is Guyton Christian Church truly a Christ-Centered church?” All we have to do, like Jesus did, is point to the evidence:

Continue reading “Next Stop: Epiphany”

Let’s BE that downtown church!

You can see our steeple from the center of town. We own the corner, including the Disciples Post and the Slab. There will be a Sale on the Trail on October 22. Clearly, we have advantages the other churches do not have. It is not a stretch to say that in terms of location, we are THE church in downtown Guyton!

God has granted us this great location and visibility. We have unique musical talent, capable of performing completely unplugged, and at the drop of a hat. We have often taken that show on the road, playing at community events, showing up whenever we have an invitation and a place to sit.

On Oct. 22, I propose that we invite ourselves to the Slab, under a tent or tents, to present an unplugged Gospel concert during Sale on the Trail. I propose we set up picnic tables an serve up some of that great Moore Lemonade, close enough to hear the music without amplifiers.

That would be a prelude to a 4 o’clock event in The Depot, where we would share the Gospel in Word and song. The Oct. 23 service would be an especially musical service in the Sanctuary followed by a fellowship meal in the Christian Center.

Sounds like a lot of work. We have frequently turned down these opportunities because it’s too hot, or too much trouble. Usually, we abandon our corner for parked cars. This time, I say we rope off the Slab, strike up the band, and let hundreds of people passing by get a feeling for our hospitality, and our music.

When I got here, there was great excitement over new possibilities – then Covid hit. We have recovered, drawing roughly as many people Sunday mornings as we did before the pandemic – about 70 worshippers when both services are combined. We had one great revival, then another just before the lockdown. But before and after, it was too easy to ignore the crowds.

What would Jesus do? At festivals in Jerusalem, He would use the opportunity to preach and teach. He would feed people. And though He preferred to heal in private, He would not turn aside from those who needed Him.

There’s a festival in Guyton on Oct.22, and it’s on our doorstep. What will we do?

Let your imagination go wild. Maybe a mini-mall of vendors to draw people closer. A table with two elders and a big sign that says “Need Prayer?” Maybe we could mount a giant Chalice on the downtown side of the Christian Center, then say, “Right there! That’s our church!”

A lot of our musicians want an unplugged event. We can do that. Maybe you want to print flyers and hand them out. We can do that, too! What could we do if everyone who wants to grow the church showed up and pitched in? Sounds like a revival to me!

I’m presenting a broad outline of an event to showcase Guyton Christian Church. We’d draw musicians who want to play and people who want to listen – all of whom need to hear the Gospel. It’s good PR for our Gospel Jam and Bluegrass Service.

We have about seven weeks to get ready. That’s enough time, but it isn’t exactly long-range planning. If we all pitch in and apply our best talents, we can make it work. We could go farther, turning the Christian Center and the Depot into rest and cooling stations for the event. Think of the times we said, “What we should have done …” This time, I hope we can do what we “should have done” on so many previous opportunities.

Let’s go for a little “wow” factor: Wow, free lemonade? Shade to sit in? A free concert? Children’s activities? Wow, what a generous and loving church! Wow, that’s how a church SHOULD be! Wow, we might have found a church after all!

If we wanted, we could get on the phone a few days before and throw together a great bluegrass band from our ever-ready pool of talented members and friends. I’ve seen this church throw lavish fellowship meals and receptions with just two days’ notice. If that’s what we can do at the last minute, imagine what we can do with seven weeks’ lead time!

This is bigger than any one person or committee. What do you want the community to think of our church? How can we express that in an event? What can we do to inspire people to consider our church when they’re looking for a church? That’s a conversation for every group, every class, and every committee.

It’s easy to say we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to grow. We don’t have to change a thing. Still, I hear the growing concerns that we aren’t growing fast enough to replace those we lose. Not true, but perception is everything, so let’s have at it!

If you agree that we are not living up to our full potential as a church, then NOW is the time to do something about it!  God honors every honest effort, so fear not! If we draw even one new person to the Sunday morning service, we will call it a win. If not, we still win, because we served the Lord and tried to reach His people.

You (yes, YOU, dear reader!) can do something to make this event a success. A bake sale, a cake walk, an animal display, a vegetable stand, a children’s activity, an art project … Send me an email (pastorjoeltucker@me.com) with your private ideas or concerns. Talk amongst yourselves and see how your circle of friends can work together to promote Guyton Christian Church.

Bluegrass Revival


Enjoy a free concert and get to know
the singers, pickers, preachers & cooks
at Guyton Christian Church


10/22. 4 pm. Guyton Depot
10/23. 11 am. Guyton Christian Church
 plus a host of activities
during the Sale on the Trail. 
All Y’all’s Welcome!

What’s With the Cane?

“Why is Pastor Joel walking with a cane?” Fair question. Here’s why:

  1. I like it. My favorite toy as a child was any nice, straight limb. With a staff, I was invincible, able to walk the roughest terrain or climb the steepest hill. With a cane, I still am.
  2. I enjoy standing. I have a lean-to with me whenever I have the cane. I can stop and talk to anyone for as long as they like. I can stoop to talk to a child, then quickly stand to address the parents. 
  3. I enjoy walking. Guyton, GA, is a pedestrian community. Its big attraction is a walking trail, and its downtown community is a great stroll — and, hopefully, fruitful territory for spreading the Gospel. With a cane, I can walk for hours without fatigue.
  4. I like music. With the cane, I can thump a wooden floor. I can recalibrate my stride, walk in 3/4 time, or put the accent on whatever beat fits the song. I know, the song is only in my head — but the cane adds variety to the percussion.
  5. OCD. I have a shepherd’s crook; Grampa’s rustic walking stick;  Dad’s dog-head cane; Dad-in-Law’s brass duck cane; and a new brass-knobbed cane. One to paint, one to treasure, one or two to give away. And, speaking of which …
  6. Ministry-by-Example. There are many people who should carry a cane but don’t. I know why. They are embarrassed. It is embarrassing to use a mobility aid, although it shouldn’t be. I’ve already had people take theirs out of hiding when they see it’s okay to use one. 
  7. Dogs. I love them, but sometimes I trip on their turf. If they’re off-leash, that turf might be the middle of the street. I would never, ever, intentionally harm any animal, especially dogs and cats. It is also my intention to never get bit — again. On a gentler note, my puppy is very responsive to a gentle nudge. A cane in the doorway keeps him from bolting when I open the door.
  8. Cool factor. I like how it looks in the long shadows of Southeast Georgia. I like spinning the baton. I like watching the brass and wood wear and fade with use. I guess the nerd/geek/fashion-clumsy factors should counteract all that, but you know me — clueless.
  9. Endurance. I walk farther, stand longer, move with more confidence, and avoid back strain. I feel so good that I usually don’t need a cane –because I carry a cane. But sometimes …
  10. Physical. Doctors say with blood pressure this low, I might live forever if I switch to a diet of salt and fat. Usually, I’m active enough to keep the blood supply flowing to my brain. It’s rare that I get lightheaded, but it’s great to have a support when I do. My back is a miracle, and I never followed up on that fusing vertebrate thing. My back feels great! A cane helps it stay that way. 

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” I don’t deserve a handicap sticker, and I need the walk, anyway. I don’t welcome the attention, but part of ministry is getting people’s attention. It’s my conductor’s baton, my ringmaster’s cane, my shepherd’s crook, my drumstick — and, stealing from the series “House”, “Hold my metaphor.”

So, don’t worry. Pastor’s having fun and taking care of himself. It’s no sin for all y’all to do the same.

Salt is Good

MARK 9:38-50

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for our part. 

For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in m e, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, ;than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it: Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.

One of the great debates is preaching trivia is what did Jesus mean by salt? The need for salt is ancient knowledge. In common terms, salt is a seasoning, a preservative, a medicine, a cleanser, and an essential element in most living organisms. It’s as fundamental to life as water, breath and bread.

The body is bread. Add salt, and it’s better. It becomes inviting, something you might even crave, like a cracker or a potato chip. Eat too much, and you’re going to need a deep drought of that living water. Salt makes food more appetizing. Salt makes you thirsty.

I was convicted by a radio preacher the other day. He said that God has no use for our worldly displays. He probably would not appreciate my propensity for music and theatrics. But I remember that bread, water, air, and salt are very worldly elements. Jesus used real food on two occasions to feed the multitudes real, worldly food. Jesus preached about the Spirit, but he illustrated that through common, worldly things.

Salt. I can sprinkle it on so-so food and make it worth eating. I can add a lot and make a small dish go further as a garnish or a condiment. It has value all by itself, but especially in combination with food. 

“For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” So everyone will have trials and troubles. What about the sacrifice? Jesus was the last a sacrifice. He was salted with a little bit of worldly goodness. He had a sense of humor. He had compassion for the less fortunate. Everyone is salted with fire, but the sacrifice is salted with something else. The sacrifice is salted with the best of life.

I tend to think of salt as a sprinkling of compassion, forgiveness, and hospitality. Maybe it’s just a touch of whatever we’re missing to be more inviting. 

They will know we are Christians by our love. How do we win souls into the Kingdom of God? Well, everybody needs a little salt, even if they don’t need too much. Some need more than others.

Salt is good — but can you taste it? Has it lost its saltiness? How are you going to season salt? We know it still has saltiness if it still satisfies hunger and encourages thirst, like salt.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” In the end, I truly don’t know what salt is. Symbolically, Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she turned her eyes away from salvation and back toward her dying world. She wanted more physical, and got it all.

We need just a little, but it’s a vital ingredient. Exactly what it is eludes me. You figure it out. What makes the Body of Christ more savory? What makes people thirsty for the Word, or for Christian Fellowship? Find that, and you’ve found salt.

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You Can Unfriend

When you browse your newsfeed
and you need cat videos
And no one, no nobody knows the truth.
Look for that ellipses (…), and click on “unfollow”
And right away your newsfeed is less uncouth.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

When a friend you thought was loving
Delights to gore your ox.
And nothing they say makes a lick of sense,
If you’re always shoving
Your feelings in a box,
Cause what they say is racist, and rude, and tense,

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

Now ain’t it good to know you can unfriend
When people can be so cold?
They’ll tag you, and they’ll drag you
Into their fight if you let them
Ah, but don’t you let them.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.
Ah, darling, you can unfriend.
Ain’t it good to know, ain’t it good to know
You can unfriend.

Gifts of God

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

— John 10:22-30 NASB

Some of us want to impose our own conditions on God’s grace. Some people say it is available only to the select few, or to those who don’t sin, or to those who are baptized. We want to say that salvation belongs to some particular set of denominations and not to the others. Some people have even gone so far as to say that those who speak in tongues or faint at church, those who are “slain in the spirit”, are the only ones who are truly saved.

And I assure you, for everyone whose salvation we question, there is someone out there who questions ours as well.

I think that everyone here is walking the road to God. Some of us might be farther down the road than others. Some of us might be just getting started. And there might be some of us who are tempted to leave that road and go another way. But I think the very fact that we are in a Christian church and that we are intentionally listening to the gospel message means that we have each been called by God to be here.

In our scripture today, Jesus says that those who don’t believe are simply not the sheep of His pasture. We here the Good Shepherd’s voice, and we follow, because we recognize that voice. We are the sheep of His pasture.

How did we get here? How did we get so lucky? Most of us were raised in a church, maybe even in this church, and we’re here because we recognize the songs, the liturgy, the scripture, and the people. It’s just where we feel at home. We belong here. We didn’t earn the right to be here; it’s a gift of God. We were raised hearing that Voice of Jesus., We recognize that Voice. Others may have come to faith later in life, but something about that Voice, that message of love and forgiveness, rang true to us.

In today’s scripture, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I’d say we’re here because we want to follow Jesus. We know that voice. The next statement should give every one of us the confidence to face anything life throws at us. It should make us bold in our faith: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We can debate whether you can give up your salvation, but this verse tells me that no one can steal it from you. You won’t be lost by accident, an no one can take your salvation away. It’s a promise from Jesus Himself, and you can take it to the bank.

Now, consider what comes next: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all”. Do you realize that God has given us to Jesus? We’ve considered before that the ability to believe in Jesus is itself a gift of God, and that no one can just decide to believe. So God has given us that gift of faith. But in our scripture today, we learn that we are God’s gifts to Jesus. We follow Jesus because God has put us in the Good Shepherd’s pasture.

There are other places in the gospel of John where Jesus makes the same point. In John 6:37-30, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothingh, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

And at John 17:6-10, in what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name to the men [and women] You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

We talk a lot about the gifts of God – the gifts of tongues, of healing, of prophecy and such. But in another sense, each of you is a gift of God. God the Father has given each of us to Jesus Christ. We have been intentionally placed in Jesus’ care. I don’t look for another shepherd because I know that I was given to Jesus by God Himself. I don’t reject anyone who tries to follow Jesus Christ, because they were given to Jesus by God as well.

In the Old Testament, the original covenant, we learn that God set a nation apart for Himself, so that they could carry the message that there is but one God over all, a God who cares, and loves, and forgives. Now, God has set us apart as well, not by making us all members of one race, or one nation, but as sheep of one Shepherd, as followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter, who spent most of his life thinking his family and his country were the chosen people, said about all believers in Jesus, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. And we know Peter was talking to Christians, and not just to Israelites, because he also said “for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

So don’t keep looking for the gifts of God proof of salvation. If you’re looking for the gifts of God, look around you. Look in the mirror. WE are the gifts of God, and we were given to Jesus Christ, who will not let us go, and who will give us eternal life. He will raise us up on the last day.

This knowledge gives us the power to live joyously, confidently, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We fear no one. We don’t even fear death itself. We will never perish. Hallelujah!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, receive the Good News. Amen.

Marshmallow Manna

In childhood they were “marshmallow chickies,”
All soft and yellow, crunchy sugar birds.
Still soft and sweet and simple little stickies.
But neon chicks and rabbits? How absurd!

I close my eyes to eat them and recall —
My teeth on edge, I chew them with my tongue.
Of Easter fare I love them most of all,
As much today as back when I was young.

I wonder, will their sugar coat dissolve
As quickly as marshmallow melts away?
The answers, now as then, will still revolve
Around that tastebud/sweet tooth interplay.

Tastebuds die. Teeth fall out. Still, nothing keeps
Me from my Springtime rendezvous with Peeps.

A New Point of View

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

— 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can expect to gain a new point of view. Unfortunately, we’re still in the flesh, so sometimes we still see others “according to the flesh,” or as the world sees them. We all know what worldly things are: physical appearance, income, race, age, gender and the like. We can’t help but to see others according to the flesh; it’s our first impression of everyone. But even though we may see these physical attributes, we regard them according to the Spirit.

Jesus talked about regarding others according to the flesh. In Matthew 23, He said this about the Pharisees.

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

— Matthew 23:5-8

He was talking about people who want to make a good physical impression. I think we all fall into that trap. I wear a nice suit, I use “Rev.” in my title, and I like to be called “Pastor.” All of that is worldly stuff, according to the flesh. But according to the Spirit, we are all equal in the eyes of God. We have one Father, even God, and we’re all brothers and sisters. We have one Rabbi, even Christ, and we’re all fellow students. We talk about pastors and laymen, members and nonmembers, insiders and outsiders, Jews and Gentiles, but we’re all sinners, saved by grace if we’re saved at all.

When God sent Samuel to find a new king for Israel, he went to the household of Jesse. So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

Paul certainly saw himself according to the flesh. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees, a zealous Hebrew, blameless under the law. But after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had a different point of view.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

— Philippians 3:7-11

I think it’s safe to say that Paul had a new attitude. Before Jesus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians who thought he had a right to have people put to death. After Jesus, Paul became a servant. He was mighty proud, but Jesus knocked him off his high horse. After that, Paul became an ambassador for Christ. He used to come with soldiers and warrants; now he comes pleading and imploring. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)

We still see ourselves and each other according to the flesh, and there’s no getting past it. But how do we regard each other? In Matthew, the Pharisees said that Jesus did not regard the person of men. (Matthew 22:16) They meant that Jesus was not impressed by the long robes, broad phylacteries, big Bibles, long titles or big wallets. We know that Jesus was not against these things; he met with Nichodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and also with the Roman centurian and the Samaritan woman at the well. He ate with Pharisees and Tax Collectors alike. Jesus doesn’t judge people, good or bad, according to the flesh. Like God, Jesus sees the heart.

So how do we regard one another according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh? Jesus said that when we bless everyone, friends and enemies alike, we are like our Father in Heaven, who makes the same sun shine and rain fall on saints and sinners alike. We start by seeing others as our equals, because we have one Father, and we are all brothers and sisters; one Rabbi, and we are all fellow students.

We regard others according to the Spirit when we adjust our vision with the spiritual truths we’ve learned from Jesus. We’ve learned that God made each person intentionally, in God’s own image, and that deserves great respect. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, so we practice humility, because we’re all just beggars inviting beggars to the banquet.

We know what it means to regard others according to the flesh – judging them by age, income, race, background, gender, profession and the like. Let’s not do that. We used to regard Jesus that way, but let’s not just regard Him as a middle-aged Jew with long hair and a robe. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again to reconcile us to God, to restore our relationship as sons and daughters of the Father. I intend to redouble my efforts to regard others as exactly that, brothers and sisters, equals in the kingdom of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I pray we may all see others from a new point of view.

The First Sign

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

— John 2:1-11

The book of John uses seven signs to demonstrate the Deity of Jesus. The first is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The others were the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-5), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14), walking on water (John 6:16-24), healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The first 11 chapters of John are sometimes referred to as the Book of Signs.

The story of changing water into wine and raising Lazarus are only in the book of John. The rest of the miracles are similar to stories in the other Gospels. But these are in the book of John for very specific reasons. Some think it’s a map of the new creation, with seven miracles in tandem with the seven days of creation.

In this first miracle, Jesus converts the water in six vessels used in ceremonial washing. The word tells us they hold 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine, and the host of the feast tells us it is better than the wine served first. The host and the guests didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the disciples and the servants knew. The implication is that Jesus did it so that His disciples would believe.

In a Christian wedding ceremony, the preacher usually mentions that Jesus’ presence at a wedding in Cana is His endorsement of marriage. I think that’s true. Later, Jesus would say that even if it’s good not to marry, living as a bachelor isn’t for everyone. Jesus not only attended this wedding, but He blessed this wedding with the wine. Wine is an ancient symbol of God’s bounty, blessing and joy, and we certainly recognize Jesus as the source of new wine. So this story shows that in Jesus, God is generous; God is not opposed to human joy and fellowship; and God is not against marriage. This is all good news for us.

Some thinkers also see this miracle as a hat tip to pagan beliefs. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, fertility, and wine, a very important god to Roman pagans. By turning water into wine, Jesus proved Himself to be superior to Bacchus.

Wine certainly had a different significance in Jesus’ day. It was medicinal, ceremonial, and practical. But it would be very convenient to me if Jesus had avoided drinking wine, instead of making it and using it in religious ceremonies.

Some of you know that the church I last served had a very active recovery ministry, addressing drug and alcohol addiction. That tends to cloud my view of wine and all the references to wine in the New Testament. The Temperance Movement to outlaw alcohol started in the churches. Preaching would be easier for me if Jesus had avoided wine. And you know what that means? That means that compared to Jesus, I’m a stick in the mud. Sometimes I think I can be holier than Jesus. Sometimes I think misery, loneliness and seriousness are more holy than happiness and celebration. So maybe I have something to learn from this, the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. Maybe we all can learn something from this.

Have you ever heard of a church or sect that practiced shunning? You know, a church where if someone falls from the faith, gets divorced, or gets in trouble, everybody avoids that person? Jesus wasn’t like that. The Jews in Jesus’ day shunned Samaritans, single women, and the lame. Jesus didn’t shun anybody. If that’s true, then how can we call it Christian to shun people? Jesus welcomed everyone from the woman at the well to the thief on the cross. That’s the example we’re called to follow. But some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Have you ever heard of churches that wouldn’t have fellowship dinners because they thought it was unholy? I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. Jesus was always sitting at the table with His disciples and tax collectors. After preaching all day, Jesus served dinner on the grounds for 5,000 people, and He didn’t check anyone’s membership card. I don’t think Jesus would call that unholy – but some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Of course you know, that doesn’t make sense. We can’t hope to be as holy as Jesus. So when it looks like Jesus is doing something we would avoid, something like healing lepers or talking theology with loose Samaritan women, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is. When we worry about Paul eating with Gentiles or disciples who eat without washing their hands or Jesus letting a strange woman wash his feet with her hair, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is.

Jesus was not about fasting and suffering and shunning people. Jesus celebrated life and fellowship. Jesus enjoyed a good feast. Jesus was generous in blessing others – and Jesus wants us to be generous, too.

Do you know that Jesus told His Disciples to be perfect? He did! But His definition of perfect I different from ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

It is not possible to be holier than Jesus, but we need to see what Jesus meant by holiness. Jesus wants us to be perfect, but we need to see what Jesus calls perfect. Jesus says perfect is impartial, loving and generous to others no matter what. Jesus was perfect. God was perfect. And Jesus wants us to be perfect, too. Love the unloveable, bless those who curse, and pray for those who use you. That’s the first sign that we are Christians.