Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Hope

Advertising is big business.  Wikipedia defines advertising as "a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience to continue or take some new action."  Most commonly this means that advertisers are trying to get us to buy stuff that we may or may not need.  We see this all year round in our consumer-based society, but Christmas is a time when they really bring out the big guns.  Special deals on products, one-day sales, limited-time offers, and let's not leave out "the newest best thing your Christmas won't be complete without!"

It can be overwhelming.  With so much demanding our attention, time, and money, it's easy to get distracted from what Christmas is all about.  But I think we can also learn something from those who are demanding our attention during this Christmas season.  Letting people know what is available to them and convincing them that they need it is the key to good advertising.  And advertising is not always bad if you have something that's worth something to someone.

Advertising at Christmas is not just a modern-day practice.  God is in the business of advertising too, and that's really what the first Christmas was all about.  He had something that people needed, and He sent messengers to proclaim the good news.  But He started way before Christmas Day.  Black Friday retailers don't have anything on God's advance planning.  Many of the Prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed that a Savior was coming hundreds of years before Jesus arrived, and months ahead of time God sent an angel to tell Mary and Joseph all about the role they would play in bringing this Savior to the world.  

On the night of Jesus' birth, more angels came to announce His arrival and proclaim, "Peace on earth and goodwill toward men."  But this wasn't the end of God's marketing scheme.  He sent John the Baptist to "prepare the way for the Lord", and when Jesus began His public ministry, He was a walking advertisement of what God wanted the people to know and take hold of.  "The kingdom of God is near," He said.  Salvation had come.  God's mercy was alive and well.

I was doing some searching this week on the word "hope" in the Bible.  I was looking for encouraging verses to share with those who need hope in their lives because of difficult circumstances they are facing this holiday season.  In the Old Testament I found it 70 times, used in both positive and "I have no hope" ways; and from Acts to Revelation, it is used 60 times.  But in the gospels, it occurs once, and only as a figure of speech rather than as a reference to having hope in God.

Doesn't that seem odd?  When the Old Testament Prophets and Poets talked about hope, they were talking about God bringing salvation to His people, in both broad and specific ways.  Oftentimes they were talking about Jesus, the Savior that would come and deliver them. And the New Testament writers were speaking about the same thing.  And yet Jesus Himself never used the word. 

I think the reason for this is that Jesus said it a different way.  He was much more specific in how He described Himself and His role.  He didn't say, 'Your hope has come.  I have arrived,' and leave it at that.  He said, "I am the bread of life,; I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd."  I bring healing, pardon from sin, satisfaction, eternal life, peace, joy, and everything that you truly need.  He told them about something they'd had all along.  Jesus didn't come to proclaim anything new.  He came to say, You are loved.  You always have been, and you always will be.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah was one of God's advertisers, and I see myself the same way.  I write to "encourage or persuade an audience to continue or take some new action."  But it's not just hype.  It's not about greed or running a successful company or inventing the newest best thing.  It's about sharing a basic truth: You are loved.

In John 17:26, Jesus says these words to His Father during prayer: "I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them."  What did Jesus come to do?  He came to advertise God's love.  He came to show us what we really need.  And He never stops!  I encourage you to look for ways that God has displayed His love to you.  As you celebrate the Savior's birth this season, think about what God's love really means for you.  What difference has God's mercy and love meant to you in the past, and how can it make a difference today?  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Place Called...

"You know the way to the place where I am going." John 14:4

Jesus did a lot during his time of public ministry.  He preached.  He taught.  He told stories.  He healed.  He made people happy.  He made people mad.  He spent time with "sinners", He dialogued with religious leaders, He talked to women, He blessed children, and He spent a lot of time with a particular group of disciples: twelve men He called to follow Him, learn from Him, and work with Him.

In the end, before He returned to Heaven in front of their very eyes, He gave them instructions to do the same.  To go and make disciples, teaching them to obey His commands, and immersing them in all that God is, just as He had done.  But He didn't leave them on their own.  He had two things to offer them.  His authority in Heaven and on Earth; and His presence.  "All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples...and I am with you always, until the end of time."


I was reading in John 14 this week, and it begins gloriously.  "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in Me."  He goes on to talk about this 'place' He is going to.  It's a place He will prepare for them.  To go ahead of them to get everything ready, and then to return and take them to this place so they can be where He is.

"You know the place where I am going," He says.  But they don't agree.  They don't seem to have any clue what He is talking about.  Is Jesus speaking in error then?  Do they really not know, or do they just think they don't know?  Since Jesus calls Himself the Truth a few verses later, I'm betting on the second one.  They knew, they simply didn't realize that they knew.

He responds to their confusion by saying. "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  He said the same thing at other times too.  "I am the gate for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the living water.  I am the bread of life."  'I am, I am, I am...all that you need.'

When we read the Bible, we see a lot of commands.  God's instructions for right and successful living abound.  He hasn't left us in the dark about what is good and what is bad.  He tells us plainly, and we have a choice: to listen and believe, or to go our own way.  But He doesn't stop there.  He also gives the reader a reason to believe.  He does more than spout commands.  He also teaches about who He is.  He is holy.  He is just.  He is love.  He is mercy.  He is our Father.

He is about goodness, but He is also about something else: relationship.

"You know the way to the place where I am going (to prepare a place for you to be with me)...I am the way."

What is He talking about?  A place of fellowship with Him.  A place called joy.  A place called peace.  A place called hope.  A place called healing.  A place called safety.  A place called...

What does fellowship with Jesus mean to you?

We get no hard and fast description of this 'place' Jesus wants to take us, other than this: He is there.  And the key to finding this place is to know Him.  Allow me to paraphrase: 'You know the way...I am the way!  Don't you know Me after all this time?  Don't you know the Father?  You have seen us both.  Wake up!'   I think Jesus is talking about the same place, a place of fellowship with Him, when he uses the words 'eternal life'.  "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28)  Do you see it?  He refers to His presence once again.  That's what it's all about: being with Him, walking with Him hand in hand, resting in Him.

It's a place called...You fill in the blank.  How well do you know God?  What have you allowed Jesus to be to you?  What have you allowed Him to do for you?  What are you eager to do with Him?  What more do you need to believe?  He makes fellowship with Him possible because of who He is.  Because this is what He wants more than anything.  He invites, teaches, leads, and He is there.  I simply follow, listen, trust, and enjoy.

I pray you will do the same.

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Dad And His Son

There once was a young boy who loved his daddy very much.  His daddy traveled a lot for his work, and when he was away, the boy missed him greatly.  For as long as the boy could remember, his daddy would be away on these business trips for a few days or weeks at a time, but he would always return, and his daddy would bring him a gift from the place he had visited.  Sometimes he brought candy from faraway lands, sometimes small toys that were unique to different cultures, and sometimes he brought special clothing.  The boy liked the toys the best, but he always looked forward to his daddy returning and seeing what he would bring him.

One day his daddy brought him something new and different than he ever had before.  It was a toy, but a unique one: a puzzle box from China.  His daddy explained what a puzzle box was, and they went about solving it together.  The boy was fascinated by the puzzle box, and once he knew how to solve it, he played with the puzzle box over and over.  On his next trip, his daddy decided to look for another one, and he brought a different puzzle box from another place back with him.  Once again they worked on the puzzle together and solved it, and the boy asked his daddy to bring him more.  He no longer wanted candy, clothes, or even other toys; just the puzzle boxes from anyplace his daddy could find them.

His daddy was happy to do so, and for awhile the pattern was the same.  The boy would greet his daddy at the door when he arrived home from one of his trips, ask if he had brought him another puzzle box, and most of the time his daddy had found one.  Some of them were easier to solve than others, but they always did them together, and they were both very happy with their new father-son activity.

One day when his daddy brought him a new puzzle box, the boy asked if he could try to solve it all by himself.  His daddy allowed him to try, and he was able to figure out the solution on his own.  The boy felt very proud of himself, and he began to ask to solve them on his own every time his daddy brought a new one home with him.  Some were simple for him, but some were very challenging.  Sometimes his daddy had to help him, but he always liked it better when he could figure out the solution on his own, and in time, as he got older, there came a time when he refused to allow his daddy to help him.  Even if it took him days or weeks to solve, he wanted to do it all by himself without any help, and his daddy respected his wishes.

One day when his dad came home with a new puzzle box, the boy took it from him, went straight to his room, and he tried to solve the puzzle.  He worked on it all evening but couldn't figure it out.  He worked on it the next day and the next, but he had no success.  Weeks went by, and the puzzle remained unsolved.  He spent hours trying to figure out the right solution, becoming more and more frustrated with each passing day.  Soon his dad had to go on another trip, and when he returned he had another puzzle box to give him, but he hadn't solved the first one yet.  He tried the new one and had trouble with it as well, and both of them remained unsolved when his dad brought another, which the boy was able to solve quickly, but the other two continued to baffle him.  When his dad asked if he had solved them yet, and he had to tell him no, his dad asked if he wanted help, but he was determined to figure them out on his own.  His dad respected his wishes and asked if he wanted him to stop bringing him new ones until he had solved the others, but the boy told him to keep bringing them.

A few years went by, and his dad continued to bring the boy new puzzle boxes whenever he came across them.  Some the boy could solve easily, some were more challenging but eventually he figured them out, and others were too difficult and remained unsolved.  This frustrated the boy greatly, but he didn't want to ask his dad for help.  He doubted he could help anyway, and he didn't want his dad to be disappointed in him.  He began to lose interest in solving the new puzzle boxes when his dad brought them home, but he didn't want to say so.  He continued to solve the ones he could, but finding the solution became less and less thrilling, and his frustration over the ones he couldn't solve became greater and greater.  He began to dread his dad's return from his trips, and he often waited for his dad to come to his room with the latest puzzle box he had found rather than asking if he had brought a new one.  He always thanked him when he did and wished he was as excited about the new puzzle boxes as he used to be, but he wasn't, and one day his dad finally said something about his lack of enthusiasm.

"I won't bring you any more if you don't want me to," he said, glancing around his son's room and seeing the many puzzle boxes he had brought him over the years.  He supposed his son was getting tired of them--bored with the ones that were easy to solve, and too frustrated with the ones he couldn't.  He wished his son would let him help.  Maybe they could figure them out together, but his son didn't seem to have an interest in that.  When his son didn't respond, he said something else.  "I remember when you used to love getting them, but I suppose you've outgrown that.  Maybe next time I'll get you something else.  What would you like?"

The boy didn't know, and he didn't respond.  He felt confused about why he didn't enjoy getting them anymore.  He didn't think it was because some of them he couldn't solve, but he did feel ashamed of that reality.  He wanted to ask his dad for help, but he didn't want to admit his failure either.  Which was dumb because his dad already knew he had never solved some of them.  He couldn't lie to him and pretend he had, because his dad would want to see how he did it, and he wouldn't be able to show him.  He felt stuck between wanting something like he used to and not wanting them because of the feelings of frustration and failure he knew he might experience.

His dad brought him something different the next time he returned from a trip, and the boy appreciated the gift, but it held little joy for him.  His dad continued to bring him a variety of things from all over the world.  Some were very expensive, and he was happy to have them, but nothing really excited him as the puzzle boxes once had.  He began to wish his dad would stop bringing him anything.  The gifts only reminded him that he had lost interest in the puzzle boxes, of his failure in solving some of them, and of his fear that his dad was disappointed by his failure.

One day the mere sight of the puzzle boxes in his room was too much to bear, and he found a large box to put them in, took the box out to the garage and set it on top of some others that had miscellaneous junk.  If his dad noticed, he didn't say anything.  Some time later his dad came home from another trip, and he came up to his room to give him what he had brought.  Opening the gift, the boy saw what it was, and he didn't know what to say.  His dad spoke before he had a chance to come up with something.

"I got that from the same shop in China where I bought the first puzzle box I ever gave you."

"Thanks," he said for a lack of anything better to say.

"I talked to the shop owner and told him about being there years ago when my son was a little boy.  I said I had gotten you a puzzle box and many others from all over the world but that you had lost interest in them, so I was looking for something else.  He insisted I bring you this one anyway, free of charge, and he said we would both understand why if we did it together.  Would you like that, or would you rather not?"

"Sure," the boy said.  "We can do it."

They spent many hours trying to solve the puzzle box, and it was a challenging one the boy didn't think he could have figured out on his own, but together they found the solution, and when they did, the boy felt a rush of joy he hadn't felt in years.  Looking up at his dad, he knew he felt the same way.

"You never wanted to stop helping me, Dad, did you?"

"No," his dad admitted.  "I was fine with you wanting to try on your own, and I was proud of you for solving them, but when you couldn't and got so frustrated, I wished you would have just let me help.  Not to let me do it for you, but for us to try and figure it out together.  That's what it was always about for me."

The boy knew he felt the same way.  It was late, and he went to bed, but the following afternoon when he arrived home from school, he went straight to the garage and found the puzzle boxes he had put away.  Taking them inside, he unpacked them all, and after dinner when his dad was home, he asked him to come to his room to see what he had done.

"Is this your way of saying you want me to help you with the ones you couldn't solve on your own?"

"Yes, but I also want to do the ones I did solve, but with you this time instead of without you.  I may have solved them, but I missed out on the best thing of all.  Doing them with you.  Doing them together."

His dad smiled.  "Yes, I missed that too, son," he replied.  "I didn't want to say anything when you started doing them on your own, but it was never the same after that."

"For me too," the boy realized.  "I didn't see that at the time, but now I do."

"Well, which one should we try first?"

The boy looked around at his collection, and as soon as his eyes fell on one of them, he knew that was the best place to start.  Taking it from the shelf, he took the puzzle box to his dad and placed it in his hands.

"Is this the one from Thailand?  The first one you were never able to solve?"

"Yes," the boy said.  "Seems like the best place to start to me.  It will keep us busy for weeks, trust me."

His dad smiled and agreed.  "Sounds like fun."

"Yes, it does."

They both laughed, and the boy had never felt such joy.  He loved puzzle boxes.  He loved the time he spent trying to figure them out.  He loved solving them, and he loved the challenge of it.  But he loved his dad even more.

Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment."  Matthew 22: 37-38

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rise and Live

"I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  Those who put their faith in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and has faith in Me will never die." John 11: 25-26

Over the last few days, I have been reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It's a remarkable story, to say the least.  It's also an intriguing one.  There's more to it than Jesus simply raising a man from the dead.  More than Jesus giving Mary and Martha their brother back.  And more than giving us the promise of eternal life.

The story goes that Jesus is away from his friends when Lazarus becomes ill.  Word was sent to Jesus to come, but instead of going right away to heal Lazarus, He waits until his friend dies.  Then He goes to Bethany, telling His disciples beforehand that He is going to show them something glorious when they get there.

Upon their arrival they are greeted by Martha, who promptly tells Jesus, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."  She also says something peculiar.  "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."  She doesn't actually voice what she would ask for, but Jesus knows and gives her a very assuring answer.

"Your brother will rise again."

Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

In her heart she is hoping for something else, but she's afraid to ask for it directly, and she doesn't think Jesus could possibly mean what she is secretly wishing could happen, that her brother would be brought back to life here and now right before her eyes.  Only a crazy person would believe such a thing was actually possible.  Life after death someday...somehow that seems possible, but life today...not so much.

I think that by now people were becoming used to Jesus performing miracles of healing the sick.  And when word was sent to Jesus that a good friend of His was ill and dying, there was an expectation that Jesus would come and heal Him.  And yet He doesn't.  Not this time.  Instead He waits until death has come, and then He goes "to wake him up".

Jesus could bring healing, there was no doubt about that, but could He go one step further?  Could He not only prevent death but also overcome it?

Yes! And He did.  Death was not the end for Lazarus, and He tells Martha plainly that death is not the end for anyone who puts their faith in Him.  This is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.  Life after death.  This world is not all there is.  Life was meant to be lived eternally.  That's the hope we have in Jesus.

But what about now?  What hope do we have for this life on earth as we know it?  When Jesus says, "I Am the Resurrection and the Life," what does that mean for us today?  I think there is a spiritual principle we can draw from His words beyond the truth that there is life after death and that "someday" we will experience such a phenomenon.  We can also find life after death now.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that there are things in this life that are similar to death.  The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death."  And this death can take many forms.  Mistakes, poor choices, and outright sins always have negative results at some point.  We have all experienced that reality.  Maybe you are there now.  Maybe as a result of one mistake, or maybe as a result of many.  But here's the hope: you don't have to stay there.  Putting your faith in Jesus not only means that you will overcome death to live eternally, but also that you can overcome sin and live today.

"I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  Those who put their faith in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and has faith in Me will never die."

Even though "death" comes, life is still waiting.  Jesus promises that.  And for those who choose to live in the reality of God's love, mercy, and truth: death can be avoided all together.  The pit of sin and shame and hopelessness need not ever be visited again.

Having faith in Him is about more than just forgiveness.  Mercy is the first gift, but there is so much more to this "life" Jesus gives than mere forgiveness.  There is power to overcome sin.  There is something waiting on the  other side of "death" that sins have caused.  No, you haven't done everything perfectly, but it's okay.  Yes, you really messed that up, but you can go on from here and choose a new path.  Wrongs can be righted.  Good things can still happen.  That sin you don't think you can shake, you can!  You can still have hope for the future no matter how bleak things are now.  You can rise from the ashes.  You can hear Jesus calling to you in the grave saying, "Come out.  I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  This is not the end for you."

Don't count yourself out of a blessed life.  It's never too late to rise again.  Have faith in Him.  Have faith in His love.  Have faith in His power.  Have faith in His ability to do the impossible for you.  Because He can, and He will.  Just believe.

"If calamity comes upon us...we will stand in your presence and cry out to you in our distress and you will hear and save us." 2 Chronicles 20:9

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Truth Will Set You Free

"He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."  John 8:44

Choices.  We all have to make them.  We make choices daily.  Some are minor and insignificant in the grand scheme of life.  What to wear, what to make for dinner, what book to read next.  (Well, that might be significant depending on the book.)  And then there are the more crucial decisions.  Choices we make at work that may be the difference between keeping our job or losing it.  How we treat other people and what we say to them.  (Our words and actions often affect others more than we know.)  Behavior choices are a biggie, i.e. doing the "right" thing.  And we often have to make a choice about what the right thing is.  Sometimes it's obvious, but other choices are more gray.

Most choices we face, however, aren't something we decide in the moment.  Many choices we make out of habit, because that's the way we've always done it, and we've never thought about doing it any different.  Or our choices may be rooted in our preferences.  (I wear pink a lot because I like pink and people say it's a good color on me.)  Or we make choices based on our beliefs.  I write daily because I enjoy it, but I also write because I believe it's something God has gifted and called me to do.  I also spend a lot of time at home with my family because I'm most happy here and because I value the time I spend with them.  It matters.  It's important.  I choose to do these things not out of spontaneity or mere habit, but rather because of the way I think on a deep level.  And most choices that we make, whether we realize it or not, we make based on what we really believe.

In John 8 we find a lengthy conversation between Jesus and some who claimed to believe in Him.  I'm not sure if they made some kind of outward display of their belief such as getting baptized or wearing their new Jesus Saves t-shirts, but somehow they express a desire to follow Him and Jesus challenges them on their sincerity.  First he offers them a promise.  He says, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."  Great news, right?  Well, some of them didn't think so.

"We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be free?"

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin...I know you are Abraham's descendants, yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word."

Jesus wasn't looking at them based on the outward faith they were proclaiming to have.  He was looking into their hearts.  What they were saying didn't match what they were thinking, and He knew that.  How?  His Father had told Him so.  "I am telling you what I have seen in my Father's presence." (vs. 38)  And He believed His Father over their own words of belief.  They thought they knew who He was and that they truly believed, but He knew better.

I think they were sincere to some extent.  They wanted to believe, but something was preventing them from doing so.  Jesus says that they couldn't believe because they didn't really know God.  They thought they were following their Father, Yahweh, whom their ancestors had followed, but they were instead following the father of lies, the devil.  "If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  He who is of God hears God's words, therefore you do not hear; because you are not of God."

So what does all of this have to do with making choices?  Everything.  To make right choices, we need to know the facts.  We need the correct information.  We need to know what God wants for us, and not only know it, but believe it.  God wants wonderful things for you.  He wants you to have peace and joy.  He wants you to enjoy the benefits of love--receiving and giving it.  He wants you to live in freedom from sin: from past sins and the regret or guilt involved, and to avoid sin in the first place so you don't have to go through the pain of negative consequences.  Jesus came to give us these things.  His Father sent Him to show His mercy and to teach us what is good and right and worth following Him for.  These are the facts.  Jesus spoke the truth.

"I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

"I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word he will never see death." (John 8:51)

"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

Believing the truth sets us free, but believing the lies of the enemy is a death sentence.  Listening to the lies of the devil chokes the soul.  It suffocates us.  What lies are you believing?  That you're not good enough, not valuable, and not loved?  That you can't escape the sin that has a hold on you?  That you're not forgiven and never will be?  That you can't make a difference?  That you're a failure?  That God's ways are not the best ways?  That He doesn't care about your needs?  That He will fail you?  That you don't matter?  That He won't answer your prayers?

Believing the father of lies leads to sin, fear. discouragement, despair, depression, guilt, pain, heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, or a feeling of failure.  (Be careful to distinguish between the two.)  If any of these feelings are all too familiar to you, take heart, you don't have to live under them another day, another minute, another second.  Believe God.  Don't believe the enemy.  'Resist the devil and he will flee from you.'  (James 4:7)  How do you know when you are believing the truth?  It will set you free, and you will know it.  You will feel the difference in your heart, and you will see the difference in the choices you make.  

"I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence."  He has told me what you need to hear.  I believe Him, and I wrote it.  I hope you're listening.

"The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly." --Jesus

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." John 6:33

I was reading a familiar story in my devotions today, and the precious truth of it hit me afresh.  It spoke of God's tender love and mercy toward us.  It reminded me that Jesus came to give us life.  It emphasized the reality that He always has a better way for us than we have for ourselves...

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery.  They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?"

Stop for a moment and imagine this woman's fear, humiliation, and pain.  She has been taken from who-knows-where and thrust before a crowd where her secret sin is exposed for all to hear.  Alone.  In front of Jesus, whom she may or may not have heard about; but still, He's a rabbi.  A man of God.  Wow.  Talk about being up a creek without a paddle.  Or rather, in an ocean with no boat.  Her life is in jeopardy here--literally.

She probably didn't know this, but she is being used as a pawn, as the next sentence in the narrative tells us: They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him (Jesus). Jesus doesn't give in to their tactics, however.  He has a point to make.  A very important point.  And He makes it...

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them.  "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared.  "Go now and leave your life of sin."

I find it interesting that the ones who initially accused this woman of wrongdoing ended up feeling convicted of their own sins and left in defeat, while the woman who had been accused was able to leave in forgiveness and restoration.  Isn't that just the way of Jesus?  When we think we're so right, He tells us differently.  And when we know we're wrong and think we're doomed, He tells us otherwise.  Either way, He is always right.  But the question is, what do we do with that?

I'm a little miffed that John doesn't tell us what this woman did following her encounter with Jesus.  Perhaps he didn't know.  Perhaps he never saw this woman again.  Or maybe she became one of Jesus' disciples too, and he fails to mention that.  But since we don't know, here are the two possibilities:  She continued on with her life as it already was, or she did as Jesus told her, to go and leave her life of sin, and her life completely changed.  Notice that Jesus didn't question whether or not she had done something wrong.  He knew what kind of life she was living, but condemning her for it wasn't on His agenda.  He simply wanted her to be free.

I'd like to think that she did go and leave her life of sin.  That she chose a better path for herself.  That she began to live a life of purity, dignity, and hope.  That she was restored, made whole, and found the life God had for her.  That she took back what the "thief" had stolen from her and found the abundant life Jesus said He came to give.

"Go now and leave your life of sin."  What do those words mean to you?  What things do you need to leave behind?  What has you caught in an endless cycle of shame, regret, anger, disappointment, fear, discontentment, pain...etc.  Where can you go from here?  Jesus isn't seeking to condemn you.  He just wants you to choose a different path for yourself.  He called himself the Bread of God who gives life to the world.  He came to give this woman that life.  He came to give you that life.  I pray that you will live forgiven, loved, and free.

"I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly." --Jesus (John 10:10)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are you sitting down?

"Have the people sit down." John 6:10

Have you ever been lost?  If you have, you know how it feels.  You know where you want to be, but you don't know how to get there.  Which direction to go.  Which signs to follow.  You feel confused and disoriented.  Your mind tries to put the puzzle-pieces together to bridge the gap between where you are and where you need to be.  But it's not easy.  It's slow-going.  It's a trial and error process.  Take this street--no that's not right.  Oh, great.  Where am I?  This doesn't look like a good neighborhood.  Yes, it might even be scary, leaving you feeling panicked and making quick decisions that make it worse, not better.  Being lost is a place none of us want to be.

Besides finding ourselves lost in a physical locality sense, we also may feel this way about life.  We may wonder what we are supposed to be doing.  How to make money and how to spend it.  What to make a priority and what to let go.  Who to spend time with.  Who to follow.  How to find happiness, peace, fulfillment, and purpose.  And, just like when we're lost in an unfamiliar area, we have similar feelings of confusion, frustration, and maybe even panic.  The puzzle-pieces aren't fitting together right.  We're not where we want to be, and no matter which way we turn, we can't seem to get there.  Even seemingly good solutions, tested and tried by others, don't work for us.  We may go about life, acting as if we know exactly where we are and where we're going, maybe even believing it ourselves, and yet in reality, we're lost.  Like sheep without a shepherd, Jesus would say.  Or in more modern-day terms, like athletes without a coach; workers without a boss; students without a teacher.

Jesus said this about the people living in Israel during the time of His public ministry, and their aimless wandering had been going on for quite some time.  That's one of the reasons why He came.  He came to lead the people, His people, on the right path.  The path of truth, love, and peace.  And He did this in various ways.  He taught them by using the ancient Scriptures;  He taught them by proclaiming the "good news"; He taught them by telling stories (parables); And He taught them by example.  He spoke about the love of God, and He showed them that same compassion.  He spoke about God's ways, and He lived by them.  He pointed out the wrongful thinking of the religious elite, and He did it differently.  He claimed to be the Son of God, and He proved it by the things He said, the miracles He performed, and His victory over sin and death.

I was reading about one of these miracles this week, and I "heard" something that I hadn't taken much notice of before.  In John 6, Jesus and His disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to a remote place and hike up a mountainside.  A large crowd follows them, and Jesus asks one of His disciples, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"  Philip doesn't think such a thing is even possible, claiming it would cost way too much money to feed them, even something cheap like bread.  Andrew has a little more optimism, seeing a boy with some bread and fish in his picnic basket, but hardly enough to go around.

Jesus, of course, has a plan.  He knows what He is capable of and that He is not limited by natural means.  If you know this story, you know what He does.  He takes the small amount of food and miraculously multiples it to feed everyone and have plenty of leftovers.  Through this story we draw out truths about Jesus and His miraculous power, and we also see that He simply cares about these people.  He doesn't want them to go hungry.  He knows their need, and He is willing to meet it.

But beyond their physical need for food, He also gives them something else.  A need for rest.  They have traveled a long way.  Some may have come to be healed of their diseases, as they saw or heard He had done for others.  Some may have followed Him out of curiosity to see what else He could do.  And some may have made the journey just to hear what He had to say.  To hear more about this Good News He was proclaiming.  Perhaps they were feeling lost and wanted to hear what He might have to say about their lives.  What they were doing right, what they were doing wrong, how they could find favor with God, how to receive this thing He was talking about called "eternal life".

"Have the people sit down," he says.  Seems like a logical thing to say since He knew they were going to be eating in a few minutes.  But I think Jesus' words here are very profound for a couple of reasons. One is because it was customary for people to stand in the presence of a rabbi, a teacher in Jewish culture.  So the fact that Jesus is inviting them to sit at all says something about His character.  He wanted the people to be relaxed in His presence.  They didn't need to stand at attention and show proper respect like many of the teachers of the day expected.  He didn't want to be honored, He wanted to be listened to.  And He didn't want to just teach the people about God's provision and His role and their loving Father, He wanted to show them the reality of it.  "Come to me, and I will give you rest," He said on another occasion, and He meant it.

Another thing I discovered is that the word for "sit" here is not the ordinary word for sit as we commonly think of it.  He didn't just invite them to sit, but to "recline".  To lay back.  To take a load off.  To relax.  To rest and be nourished, like sheep with a shepherd.  A good shepherd.  A loving caregiver who knew what they needed.  They had no other choice in this remote place.  And they took the opportunity to sit down and have their fill and experience God's abundance.

As Christians we are often challenged and expected to do more.  To be busy doing God's work.  To not waste precious time and make the most of our days.  And while we are called to meet the needs of others, teach, serve, and use our gifts, we are also called to rest.  Why?  Because we need it.  We're human.  We are like sheep, and we need a shepherd.  We get lost easily.  We get busy and think we're on the Holiness Express, only to look around one day and discover we're completely lost.  Confused, disoriented, and scared.  We're trying to make it on our own.  We're trying to save everyone else, and Jesus gently reminds us, 'Hey, you still need Me.  You need to trust Me.  You need to rest.  You need to follow Me, not chart your own course.  Come and rest.  Sit down.  Relax.  Take a load off.  Find rest for your soul.  (And your body too.)  "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."

Do you need to accept Jesus' invitation to sit down and rest?  Do you need to experience some peace? Do you need to be fed?  Are you short on some spiritual nourishment?  Are you confused?  Are you living in a state of fear, worry, guilt, defeat, or burden?  This is not what Jesus desires for you.  He desires for you to be at rest in His presence.  He desires for your heart to be filled with love, joy, and peace.

Is it?

'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.'  Psalm 23

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Empty Places

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water (from the well where Jesus was sitting), Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews did not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her. “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water...Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. It will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

“Please sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water so I will never thirst again and I won’t have to come here to draw water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I have no husband,” she said.

“You’re right. You don’t have a husband--for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t married to the man you are living with now.” (John 4:7-10, 13-18)

Excuse me, um...cough, cough...That’s being direct, Jesus.

At this point in the story, I can imagine this woman reacting in several ways to His words. She may have simply turned away, taking the water she had drawn and given Him a look that said, ‘You can get your own water, mister.’

Or, she may have turned defensive, trying to make excuses for her lifestyle. At this point her question about why a Jewish man was talking to a Samaritan woman would have come in handy, but she had already asked that, although Jesus hadn’t given her a straight answer, so she could have repeated herself. ‘Um, exactly who are you, and what right do you have to speak to me that way?’

Or, she may have asked what her marital status had to do with receiving this living water He was offering her; but she seemed to have caught on that Jesus was not an ordinary man, and she was intrigued enough to respond accordingly.

“Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus declared. “Believe me, woman, and time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

It’s an interesting conversation, to say the least. And while the woman may have been speaking “off the cuff”, expressing whatever came into her head, I doubt that Jesus was. For Him this wasn’t a random encounter. He didn’t treat it casually. He didn’t just exchange pleasantries and then go on His way. He had some things to say that He knew she needed to hear. His words may seem random, and even offensive, but they’re not. He had a point, and this woman heard Him loud and clear.

Once their conversation ends, she rushes off to tell the whole town about it, and ‘many of the Samaritan’s from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony’; Jesus also stayed with them for two days, and those who may not have listened to the woman initially heard and saw enough for themselves to know He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Someone who knew all about them and had something to offer that they were desperate for.

But what was it that Jesus said that was so convincing? Why did this woman believe? How did she figure out how to get this living water that He talked about? I’m not sure I know the answer to that because I wasn’t there, and it wasn’t me. Have you ever had an encounter with Jesus where you knew He was saying something specific to you, and you “got it”, like a light bulb going on? Maybe even in such a way that changed your entire perspective on something, and yet when you tried to explain it to someone else, putting it into words that make sense to them was difficult?

Jesus likes to get personal with us, doesn’t He? He’s a personal God, and we see this very clearly in this story with the woman at the well. First of all, Jesus was associating with someone that a lot of His own people wouldn’t have, but even more than that, He knew her very personally, and He treated her that way. He wants to do the same with me and you.

Getting back to the words that Jesus speaks to her about going to get her husband, however, I wonder why Jesus would have asked her to do something that He knew very well she couldn’t do. “Go and get your husband,” he says, and she is forced to respond, “I have no husband.”

Why did He do that? To humiliate or condemn her? No. He was making a point about her need for this living water. Something that would satisfy her empty, thirsty soul. His love and acceptance. The value and worth she had in His eyes. He was giving her an opportunity for true worship: to believe in His sufficiency.

If Jesus were to do the same thing with you, if He wanted to bring to the surface an empty place in your heart that He could fill, what would it be? What would He tell you to go get, where your only response would be, ‘I have no_________.

Think about that seriously. You may have more than one thing to fill in the blank. Some of them may be the result of how others have failed you, some may be shortcomings you see in yourself, and others may be related to your current circumstances. (I have no husband, no special talents, no job, no security, no peace, etc.) The list of our missing-pieces can go on and on. Say them all, or better yet, write them down; and then let Jesus say to you, ‘Let Me fill that empty place, and that one, and that one.’

Find your satisfaction and completeness in Him. He is enough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amazing Grace?

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith." (Mark 6:4-6)

Have you ever thought about what Jesus finds amazing? We often talk about being amazed by God. The amazing ways He provides. The amazing miracles He does. His "Amazing Grace"; How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. And while He certainly is amazing, should we truly be amazed at what He does? Isn't that who He says He is? He is love. He is mercy. He is all-powerful. Should we really be amazed when He provides, heals, forgives, and does the "impossible". Is there such a thing as impossible when God is involved?

A few years ago I witnessed several "miracles" take place one after the other. Some were in regards to physical or emotional healing, some were related to relationships, some were great displays of God's provision, and some were ministry-related. At first I was very much amazed by what I saw taking place, but after awhile I began to take a less awe-struck point of view. I think God was trying to prove a point at a time in my life when I really needed to believe in His presence and love, and it worked. There was no way for me to deny His faithfulness because so much was going on that I couldn't explain any other way. And yet in spite of all I saw happening, I often still have seasons of doubt in all that He is and all He wants to do for me and those I pray for.

Getting back to my original question about what amazes Jesus, we can find the answers in Mark 6, Mark 14, and Luke 7. In one case His amazement is a positive response to someone's faith, but in the other two, He is shocked by a lack of faith among those He is closest to. In Mark 6, we find Him returning to His hometown after taking His message of Good News all over the region. While His message was well received from place to place, it was not so welcome back home. People doubted His credibility, and therefore their faith was lacking. Those who did believe were healed, those who didn't were not. And the believing ones were very few.

I can imagine Him being heartbroken over this. And I'm sure He was, but even more so He "marvelled at their unbelief." (KJV) This word for 'marvelled' is translated as 'amazed' in other versions, but not in a positive sense. He was shocked, saddened, and left powerless. Did you know that we have the ability to render the Almighty God powerless with our unbelief? Sobering thought, isn't it?

A similar word is used in Mark 14 where we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is with His disciples on the night before His death, and "he began to be deeply distressed and troubled." In the KJV, the words "sorely amazed" are used, meaning "to astonish utterly". Some words for this we use more commonly today are: flabbergasted, overwhelmed, shocked, and taken aback. And not just somewhat, but absolutely and completely. In short, Jesus is floored. By what? That His time was drawing near? No, He was expecting that. What surprises Him is how quickly the faith of His friends is failing. They were losing confidence in Him. They were losing hope fast. And He says to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." Just as when He had gone home only to find a profound amount of unbelief among His family and friends, He is heartbroken once again. Those He had invested so much time in were ready to bolt, and He knew it. I don't think He was fearing so much what was coming, but what already was. He wanted them to see the glory of what He was about to do, but He knew they were going to completely miss it and feel devastated, abandoned, and fear for their own lives.

In sharp contrast to these two accounts of the faithless, we find a story in Luke 7 about a Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant who is near death. This particular centurion has great faith in Jesus' ability to heal him, even from a distance. He doesn't want to take up Jesus' precious time, and Jesus is amazed by his faith. "I tell you," he says to the crowd, "I have yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how He works. " (The Message)

I think that pretty much sums it up. Jesus was amazed that this man, a foreigner in Israel, had more faith than many of His own people who were supposed to "Commend Your works to another generation and tell of Your mighty acts. Speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty and meditate on Your wonderful works. Tell of the power of Your awesome works, and proclaim Your great deeds. Celebrate Your abundant goodness, and joyfully sing of Your righteousness." They were supposed to know that "The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in good to all and has compassion on all He has them food at the proper time and opens His hand to satisfy the desires of every living near to all who call on Him...fulfills the desire of those who fear Him...hears their cry and saves them...and watches over all who love Him." (Psalm 145: 4-20)

I fear that I am often far too amazed when I witness the glory of God, as if I am surprised, shocked, and flabbergasted that He actually cares enough to protect me, provide for the needs of my family, bring healing to those who need it, and delight me in unexpected ways. Instead of saying, "Wow, that's amazing! I can't believe He did that!" My response to His wonder and majesty should be, "Oh yeah. That's My God!"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Real Is His Love To You?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

I was meditating on these words from 1 John 3:1 as we celebrated Father's Day yesterday. I have a wonderful husband that is a great dad to our children, and I have an amazing dad myself. They are both caring men who have provided for the needs of their children and have taught them many good things. My husband and my dad are examples to me of God's love, and I have never had trouble picturing God as a loving Father because of them. I know God loves me like that and even more so, but I don't always live as if I believe it. Sometimes God's love seems distant and abstract, but only because I allow it to become less to me than I should. I sometimes think and live as if I'm an abandoned orphan rather than a dearly loved child of God. His love is always there but often clouded by my own unbelief. Perhaps you can relate to feeling less loved by God than you actually are.

I wrote the following poem as a reminder of all the ways God's love is so evident and available to me. No matter what I have done or haven't done; No matter what is going on in my life or around me, I can cling tightly to my Father's love to stay afloat and live in peace, joy, and strength. I hope you are blessed. May you live more completely in God's love for you each day.

How Real Is My Love

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the food on your table
And the home where you dwell
And the clothes that you wear
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the car you drive
And the work you do
And the fun you enjoy
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the friendships you cherish
And the blessings of family
And the place you call home
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the anger you hold
And the regrets you have
And the sins you hide
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the forgiveness I give
And the peace you long for
And the healing I bring
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the loss of someone dear
And the pain you feel
And the loneliness inside
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the Bible in your hands
And the promise of glory
And the hope of tomorrow
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the gifts you possess
And the cry of those in need
And the love you can show
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the needs you have
And the longings of your heart
And the waiting you endure
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the songs you sing
And the cries of your heart
And the truth and the light
Am I real to you like that

How real is My love for you, child
As real as the blessings you have today
And the beauty that surrounds you
And the grace in My eyes
Am I real to you like that

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lessons From Mom

My mother is a very special person. Anyone who knows her will tell you that. Sweet, loving, kind, funny, joyful, supportive, encouraging, and wise are a few words I would use to describe her. I am incredibly thankful for her and her love. In many ways I am who I am today because of who she is. It's true that the apple often doesn't fall far from the tree, and in my case that's a good thing!

My mother taught me how to be frugal without being cheap. She doesn't especially enjoy cooking, but her cooking is very enjoyable to eat (except for the Spanish rice and liver and onions--sorry Mom, I never could get used to those two dishes; but you can laugh at me now for having three of the most picky eaters ever). My mom would be the first one to tell you she's not perfect, and she never expected me to be either. She loves God more than anyone else I know, and she loves others unconditionally just like Jesus does. When I was bullied in school, she didn't tell me to fight back or flee; she told me to love my enemies and trust God with the hard things in life.

I think what makes my mother extraordinary is that she lives what she believes in. She believes in love. She believes in family. She believes in God's forgiveness, and she is so thankful for all He has done to bless her life. She believes in the good in others. She believes in the silver lining. She always has hope. She never gives up on anyone. She believes in the truth of God's Word. She believes in prayer. She treats others the way she would want to be treated. These are lessons she didn't teach me so much by what she said; she just lives that way, and I got the message.

My mother is an amazing seamstress. She made almost all of my clothes when I was growing up, even the fashionable things I would see in the store that all my friends were wearing. She would say, 'I can make it for much cheaper,' and she could; and she did. She made my wedding dress just the way I wanted it, including the layers and layers of lace that cascaded down the back and into the long train that everyone 'ooohed and ahhhed' over as I walked down the aisle; personally I think it was even more beautiful than Princess Kate's. I didn't inherit her love for sewing, although she did her best to teach me; but through her talent she taught me to do what I loved, not for money or praise, but for the joy of it and the blessing to others it would be. She was the first and only person to read my first novel, and although I knew it needed some serious work and never published it, her praise and encouragement inspired me to keep writing. The first novel I did publish was based on her testimony, and it was so satisfying for me to write because it reflected the values she taught me and the message of God's unconditional love: the cornerstone of her unwavering faith, and mine.

Thanks, Mom. Thank you for being who you are and never pretending that you're more than who God has made you to be. For never pretending to be perfect. For never letting me forget about God's constant care, His promises, and His forgiveness. Thank you for all the prayers and life-lessons you lived. I am blessed because of them, and I know many others are too.

Happy Mother's Day! I love you. Thank you for always loving me. May God continue to bless you. I know He will, and I know you know it too, because you taught me that. You taught me to live-loved. Because we are.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Do We Get It?

"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this , and it is marvelous in our eyes." (Mark 12:10-11)

I've had this thought running through my head today. Do we get it?

Get what?

Do we get how great God's mercy is?

We talk about it, sing about it, teach about it: God's mercy that He has freely given us. We just celebrated it last Sunday on Easter. We contemplated His sacrifice. We rejoiced in His resurrection. We proclaimed that He is Lord! But do we get it?

Where we would be without His unconditional love? Does that thought make you shudder?

On the flip-side, does your belief in His mercy make you thankful, hopeful, loving, at peace, joyful, and unafraid? Do we see how blessed we are? How secure, free, and alive? Do we feel it, or is it just a nice idea? Do we believe? Do we live it? Do we say with confidence, 'If God is for us, who can be against us?' Do we recognize that as a rhetorical question, or do we secretly have answers? The economy, the government, gas prices, the boss, family, adversity, difficulty, losses, enemy #1, #2, and #3--or perhaps the worst enemy of all--ourselves.

God is so many things. He is powerful; the almighty creator and sustainer of life. He is living, spirit, truth, justice, and righteousness. But above all, He is mercy. He is love. He is our Father and we are His children: His dearly loved children. In spite of our sin, shortcomings, weakness, shortsightedness, stupidity, selfishness, and unbelief.

He is mercy, and we are forgiven. We are blessed. We are secure in His love.

Do we get it?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him." (Mark 11:23)

Have you ever been inspired with a really great idea? Have you ever thought about doing something, gotten the details all worked out in your head, and then found that a few days, weeks, or months later, it pretty much fizzled into nothingness? Perhaps you tried something that didn't work out. You didn't have enough know-how to make it happen, or you did but the idea just failed for some reason. Or maybe you never got to the doing-stage. It was a good idea, but you didn't have enough time, money, or courage to go through with it. If that was the case for you, somewhere between having the idea and implementing it, doubt likely crept in. You had doubts about the idea itself, or you had doubts about your ability to make it happen.

In Mark 11, there's an interesting scene that takes place. Jesus is involved, and so is a tree. A figless tree to be exact. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. It's the day after what we commonly celebrate as Palm Sunday, just a few days before Jesus would be crucified. He is headed for the Temple where He ends up showing some major anger over those who had turned it into a marketplace, but along the way He is hungry, so He stops to have a little snack. But the fig tree doesn't have anything to offer Him. Jesus is upset by this, and He curses the fig tree, saying that it will never bear fruit again, and the next day they see that it has withered and died.

I find it interesting that Jesus would act this way toward a tree, and even more so because it says that it wasn't the season for figs. So, He's not only upset that the tree didn't have any fruit, but He also was expecting something that He knew it could not produce. He was expecting something from it that was not natural. He was expecting the supernatural from a tree that was just like every other normal fig tree.

Why? Why would He expect that? He made the tree. He knows what it's capable of and what it's not. He made trees to bloom and bear fruit at certain times of the year. This is the natural order of life. Why would He get so mad over something that wasn't even possible?

Like many of the stories Jesus taught, the tree is symbolic of something else. The tree is an object lesson for us to glean something from. But what? What was Jesus trying to say? In John 1:48, Jesus says to Nathanael, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree..." This was a common saying that referred to someone who had studied the Torah. Someone who was well-versed in the Law of Moses, as most educated Jewish men were. The figless tree then could represent the unfruitfulness of the Law. It wasn't producing the desired effect. The Law as given to Moses was meant to draw people to God. It was meant to bring them into a right relationship with God, but it wasn't working because no one could keep it. Instead of drawing people into God's presence and making them holy, it was just exposing their inability to be perfect. It was a good idea, but it wasn't working. It was expecting the supernatural from mortal beings.

Jesus came to change that. He came to provide a new path to holiness. Not one that was based on man's ability, but on God's power. His supernatural power that can transform us to live beyond ourselves. To love as He loves. To give as He gives. To do things we could never do on our own with our own limited thinking, resources, and desire.

Paul used a word picture when he talked to the Galatian Christians. 'The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.' (Gal. 5:22-23) He was explaining how these qualities are not something that we produce on our own, but that they come from God in an unlimited supply. When we are engaged with God and living by His Spirit, we become people that we cannot be on our own apart from Him. He infuses us with the supernatural, like a tree that produces fruit both in season and out of season.

The day after Jesus cursed the fig tree, He was walking by with His disciples and Peter noticed that it was withered and says, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you have asked for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him."

Does this mean that Jesus wanted them to go around cursing all the fig trees and ordering mountains into the sea? No. He had far grander things in mind for them to triumph over: Envy, greed, worry, fear, doubt, and unforgiveness; our natural tendencies that keep us from living the lives God wants for us. Don't let these negative attitudes and actions rule your heart. If they rule your heart, they will rule your life. Choose instead to live beyond yourself.

Easter...It's about you. Celebrate who Jesus has made you to be in Him!

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeing Jesus In The Crisis

Have you ever noticed that life has difficult moments? Sometimes the difficulty can be defined as a minor annoyance, an inconvenience, or bothersome. Other times the difficulty is much more severe. Tragic. Scary. Overwhelming. Perhaps you are facing something minor today or something major, and if not, you probably will tomorrow. Isn't that an encouraging thought?

Yes, difficulty is a part of life. My heart grieves for those in Japan who are experiencing tremendously hard circumstances. Many have lost loved ones, homes, and basic necessities. Everything gone in a moment, and then the aftermath. Hunger. Thirst. Sorrow. Cold and miserable conditions. The fear of exposure to radiation. I see the pictures and hear the stories, and yet I can't even imagine the hardship. The destruction. The grief. The unbearable anxiety.

Like me, you may be feeling fortunate that your world is much more calm and in-order. Seeing others in such dire need makes my problems and petty concerns seem much smaller, and they are, and yet sometimes the things we're facing may as well be like the aftermath of an earthquake or a tsunami. Fighting for survival brings extreme emotional distress, and so does a child custody battle, the end of a significant relationship, the loss of a job, the betrayal of a friend, financial worries...the list goes on. I don't need to mention your specific circumstance, because you know what it is.

It's hard. It's painful. It's frustrating. and when you're in the middle of it, the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't exist. You feel like you're going to be there forever. Your world is either falling apart, or you're working extremely hard to keep it together. Am I speaking to anybody here?

I'm not able to do a lot for the people in Japan, but one thing I can do is pray for them. And I'm confident that God is listening and is already bringing relief, healing, and peace to many. And I'm also confident that whatever crisis you are facing, He is able to do the same. How do I know? Because that's what He says He will do.

In Luke 21 Jesus talks about difficult circumstances. He knew the people of Israel would face them, just as they already were. They were looking for Him to come and remove the difficulty. To set up His Kingdom, overthrow the Roman government, and destroy their enemies. But Jesus hadn't come for that. He had come to show the way of love and peace. Not political peace, but an inner peace that no dire circumstances could take away. He said, 'Look, you're still going to have war, natural disasters, sickness, and other scary things. You're going to be persecuted for following Me, and you will be betrayed by friends and your own family members. You might have to leave your homeland. The Temple will be destroyed. Things here aren't going to change, in fact, they will get worse. But don't be afraid. Don't live in fear. Stand firm and you will gain far more than the peace and comfort that any earthly kingdom could give you. You will find true life.'

The abundant life that Jesus said He came to give us: it's not a problem-free life. That's not the point. What's it about? It's about knowing Him. It's about seeing Him and hearing Him and following Him. He's got good things to show you, good things to tell you, and good places to lead you. It's about love--giving and receiving it. It's about peace and joy even when the earth shakes, the illness comes, and important things are lost. How is this possible? Because He comes.

"You will see the Son of Man come in the clouds with power and great glory...stand up and lift up your head because redemption is near." (Luke 21:27-28)

He always comes, but are we always looking for Him? Are we lifting our heads with confidence in who He is--in His power and great glory? Or are we hanging our heads in despair?

I pray that you will see Him today. May you see the light of His love, His truth, and His presence. I wish you hope. I wish you peace. I wish you joy. Remember His love. Remember that He is near.

"Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever." Psalm 117:1-2