Faith… and letting go…

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John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This is the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. I’m drawn to the last verse “and his disciples believed in him”. What exactly does that mean? I’m not sure. When we read the gospel accounts of Jesus, the disciples appear to have days when their faith in Jesus is strong and others when it’s not. Mostly not. Several times Jesus himself describes his disciples as “you of little faith”. He says, “How long must I put up with you?”

I’m pretty sure Jesus would say the same things to me. I have good days and bad days in relationship to my faith. One day I have courage, the next I don’t. I can let fear and anxiety get the better of me at times. I hedge. But since faith is a gift of God anyway, I have hope that I can get better. My faith can grow, with God’s help.

Today I’m thinking of places in my life where I need to exercise faith, where I need to trust God for something I can’t possibly do on my own. At this particular moment, my young adult children come to mind. I’ve mentioned many times the challenge of letting go of them as they’ve become adults. Sometimes it’s really hard for me. I see them moving in ways that I expect will not end well. I do my best to offer input when appropriate, but that’s about all I can do. They’re not little children anymore, or even teenagers. I know this in my head, but in my heart I want to protect them, guard them, keep them from the landmines of life. But that’s not my role anymore. It’s hard. Really, really hard.

That said, knowing that they’ve been raised in the faith, that the Word of God has been sown into them since the day they were born, that the Lord holds them in his hands even now, I find grace to trust that God is working in them. And in me. And my anxiety gives way to peace that passes understanding. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Think… then talk…

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John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

This is a funny exchange between Nathanael and Jesus. Apparently Nathanael didn’t think much of Nazareth, or the people from Nazareth. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can only imagine how embarrassed he must have been when he later realized that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah. I can also imagine Jesus giving him a hard time about this. “You can’t expect much from me Nathanael because, well, I’m from Nazareth and all.” (with a smile and a wink from Jesus).

Then in v.47 Jesus says of Nathanael “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” In other words, here’s a guy who says what he thinks. There’s no filter with this guy. I’m guessing there were many times when he said things he wished he could take back. I have a bit of Nathanael in me too. I’m not quite as raw as I once was, but my verbal filters can fail me from time to time. I say things I wish I could take back.

Lord teach us to guard our mouths, to think – and then talk. Amen.

What are you looking for?

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John 1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.

It’s a simple question. What are you looking for? The two disciples didn’t really answer, but responded with a question of their own. Where are you staying? Jesus said “Come and see”. We don’t know what the disciples were looking for at that point. As they continued on the journey with Jesus for the next three years, some possibilities emerge. They may have been young men looking for adventure. They may have wanted to see the “show” present wherever Jesus taught and ministered, demonstrating the Kingdom of God with signs and wonders. Later it appears they wanted to share in the glory Jesus would experience when, as they mistakenly expected, he became the new King of the Jews. Whatever their motivations we know they indeed followed Jesus and became the bearers of the gospel of Jesus Christ when his time on earth was done.

What are you looking for?

I remember being a young man about to finish my undergraduate degree, but not really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had taken the entrance exams for law school because I thought perhaps I would become a lawyer. Nope. My heart wasn’t in it. I felt the anxiety of transition from school to… something. I just felt… lost.

It was about that time of my life that I started to lean into faith for help. For direction. For a sense of purpose beyond making a living. I didn’t really expect it, but I found what I was looking for via the church and in relationship with Jesus. Something on the inside just clicked for me and it’s made all the difference.

What are you looking for?

Jesus is asking you and me today. How will you respond?

Beauty as currency… but not to God…

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John 1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

v.26 is intriguing to me. “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me…”. He’s essentially saying that Jesus was present among his disciples at that very moment, but they didn’t realize it – which suggests that Jesus didn’t stand out from the crowd based on his appearance. I wish one of the gospel writers had given a physical description of Jesus – not that it would matter in the great scheme of things. But I’m curious. I can’t imagine a present-day writer doing the same.

I have two young adult daughters who are blessed with their mother’s good looks. I was recently at the grocery store with my daughter Danielle (pictured on the right above) and chuckled when I observed how the young male employees interacted with her. They were all smiles and extraordinarily helpful. As we were leaving Danielle said, “Wow, the people at this store are so friendly and give such great service”, to which I replied, “Yes – for you.” Danielle was surprised when I told her I don’t get the same treatment when I shop alone, nor do I expect do most other patrons. She gets treated differently because she’s young and pretty. I see it all the time when I’m with her or with her sister Victoria. But they are often oblivious to this. It seems normal to them.

In a culture obsessed with physical appearance, beauty is a form of currency – dare I say, particularly if you are female. It’s true for males of course, but not to the same degree. You might argue with me on that and that’s fine. My point is, appearance counts a great deal in the culture at-large, but not so in the Kingdom of God.

What we see over and over in scripture, is that God is concerned with one’s inside, not one’s outside. It’s another way that the Kingdom of God is very different than the kingdoms of this world. Lord, teach us to focus on what matters to you. Amen.

Making sense of John…

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John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

I remember the first time reading this passage as a young adult trying to understand scripture. I was baffled. “In the beginning was the “Word”… Huh? I know. Not easy to interpret, so here’s a little information you may find helpful.

Notice that “Word” (“logos” in the Greek) is capitalized, which gives us a hint that the writer is not referring to something written down, but rather a person/being. “Word” functions here to describe the creative/generative power/person of God that once brought order from chaos in creation, that spoke to God’s people via the prophets, that took the form of flesh and blood in Jesus, that gets released each time we here the Word of God proclaimed on Sundays, that turns us from sin and death toward eternal life in Jesus Christ.

One reason why I read scripture at the beginning of each day (even if I don’t write a blog post EVERY day) is to give the Word an opportunity to mold and shape me for the day to come. And I pray that, as you read the words of this blog, you experience the Word being let loose in you, to transform you from the inside out.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Making sense of the bible…

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Luke 24:44 Then (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 

It’s clear that, despite Jesus’ repeated explanations, his disciples still did not understand what was happening. It wasn’t until Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” that they began to make sense of what Jesus had been trying to tell them for some time via the teaching of scripture. Yes he would die, but he would rise again.

I remember the first time I tried to read scripture in any systematic way. I was a college senior, in my early 20s. Parts of the bible, like the gospel accounts of Jesus, were easier to read, even if it didn’t all make sense. Much of the rest of scripture was a complete mystery. More often than not I was left thinking – huh? Bizarre. Unintelligible. Like reading another language. Maybe you’ve had that experience as well.

But what I found was that the more effort I put into reading and learning scripture the more things made sense. Part of that is simple familiarity. When you read something over and over you get a feel for what it’s trying to say. But I also believe the Lord honors the honest effort we put into the process. The disciples in our passage had committed their entire lives to Jesus. Now that he was leaving, Jesus extended to them grace to understand scripture. Understanding was a gift given in the context of great commitment.

If you’ve been trying to read and understand scripture, stay with it. As I do. I’ve been at this for many years now and still read things I don’t understand. But little by little the Lord honors our desire, our humility, our commitment to know the Lord through his word. Don’t give up!

Lord, open our minds to understand the scriptures. Give us grace to read and apply your holy word. Amen.

God the protector…

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1 Samuel 5:1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon (Dagon was the god of the Philistines) and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him…. 6 The hand of the LORD was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and struck them with tumors, both in Ashdod and in its territory.

The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in battle and had taken the ark of God (the special receptacle made to hold the tablets upon which Moses wrote the commandments) as spoils of war. If you read the rest of this chapter you will see that the Philistines kept moving the ark of God . But each time they moved the ark, bad things happened to the residents. Eventually the Philistine people became so afraid of the ark they had no choice but to send it back to Israel, which they did. But they suffered mightily before doing so.

It strikes me how vigorously God often (but not always) protected the Israelites in their time of need, particularly when battling an enemy with superior numbers. Why doesn’t God do this sort or thing today? Christians are persecuted all over the world. Churches are damaged or destroyed on a regular basis. Why the “hands-off” posture by God? I realize there may be less visible ways God intervenes on peoples’ behalf today, but visibility was one of the most important elements of God’s method as revealed in the Old Testament. When God was protecting his people, he made sure enemies knew who was acting – and what would happen to them if they continued to oppose Israel. Overt actions by God served as a deterrent for other would-be enemies.

Lord, today I call upon you. Intervene where Christians are persecuted. Make it known that you are the God of all things on heaven and earth. Advocate on behalf of your people as you did in former days. Amen.