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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Seeing Jesus On The Front-Side

There is a unique story in the gospels that tells about a particular miracle of Jesus, and it makes me smile every time. Jesus and His disciples are invited to a wedding, and they go. It's a festive occasion, and I can imagine them having a good time. Jesus isn't preaching or healing or being asked a lot of questions. In fact, most people aren't aware of who He is yet, because He hasn't begun His public ministry. He's just Mary's son who brought some new friends to the wedding. Jesus isn't the center of attention, the Bride and Groom are, even if their names aren't mentioned in John's narrative.

The story goes like this: Jesus is enjoying the party along with everyone else, and then His mother comes to Him and says, "They have no more wine." Apparently this was a big deal at a Jewish wedding, and His mother is concerned for the family. We don't really know if this was a result of poor-planning on the part of the bridegroom and his family, or if some of the guests were being a little too greedy. This may have been a poor family pulling together a wedding on a shoe-string budget, and the wine they had was all they could afford. But whatever the reason behind it, the wine was gone, and Mary asks Jesus to solve the problem.

"How does that concern you and me?" He asks her. She doesn't respond and simply turns to the servants and says, "Do whatever He tells you to do." She seems to have confidence in her Son to get some more wine from somewhere, and He gets it. But He doesn't make a trip to the wine shop to pick up a few more bottles. He just asks the servants to fill up some water jars and turns the water into wine. The best wine, and plenty of it.

I can imagine John sitting down to write about the man he called Jesus. He starts out with some grand, eloquent words...In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2) He continues on in this eloquent style for awhile, but eventually his description of the Messiah gets a little more personal. He talks about meeting Jesus for the first time, the little conversation they have, and then he tells how several of his fellow disciples first encountered Him and why. Each of their stories is a little different, but they're all intrigued by Him. And they follow Him when He says, "Come, and follow Me."

They end up following Him to this wedding. How they interacted with Him that day, we don't know. We just know they were all there together, having a nice time most-likely. And then these ordinary men witness their new Friend do something truly miraculous. I can picture them rubbing their eyes and shaking their heads in bewilderment. "Did he just do what I think he just did? Did you see that? Holy cow! Who is this guy?"

John puts it this way. This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11)

I think it's interesting that Jesus revealed His glory to His disciples in this "little" way. I say, little, in comparison to things Jesus did later, like healing people of their diseases, giving sight to the blind, and raising people from the dead. Turning water into wine is just as miraculous as anything else Jesus ever did, but not as significant in terms of life-and-death issues. As I was jotting some notes down in my journal on that, however, I thought, 'How often do I see Jesus in the "little" things?' He doesn't have to raise the dead for me to see His glory. I've seen Him do some "big" things once in awhile, but thank God I haven't had to see Him do those big things too often. Why? Because He takes care of so much on the front-side.

I haven't had to ask Him to heal me from an incurable disease because He's kept me healthy for 41 years. I haven't had to see Him provide in "supernatural" ways very often because most of the time I've had plenty. I haven't had to ask Him to restore my sight because I've never been blind. I haven't had to see Him raise one of my children from the dead because He's kept them healthy and safe. No, the things I've seen are a lot more like Jesus turning water into wine. The everyday things that I often don't even think about because they just happen like clock-work. Most of the guests at that wedding never even knew there was a problem. They didn't see the miracle because there was no need for that. Jesus didn't go around telling everyone what He had done, not even the Bride and Groom, but everyone there benefitted from it.

Sometimes obvious miracles are needed. And sometimes the healing or answers we're looking for don't come. But Jesus always saves the day somehow--just how we need and however we can best see His glory, even if a lot of waiting or sorrow is involved. But we don't have to wait for those "big" things in life to see the faithfulness of our God. We can see it every day. Learn to recognize miracles on the front-side, in the "little" things, and you will see how blessed you truly are. Because a lot of little things add up to Something Big: His love for you. His care. The peace, joy, and hope He wants for you. And enough of those things to share with those around us.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let Him sing songs of praise. (James 5:13)