Sunday, March 30, 2014

the Right Time

John 7:6-9 Reprise

I'm thinking about this, what Jesus said to His brothers:  

Now is not the right time for Me to go, but you can go anytime.

Because Jesus was on a mission, to accomplish the work His Father gave Him, it was not ONLY about doing WHAT the Father instructed Jesus to do. It was also about the right TIME.

How many times have I done that -- I've said something that was true, but at the wrong time. Or in the wrong way.  Or in the wrong place, with too many people around.  You've done that before too, right? If you have, I am sure a similar thing happened:

It did not go well.  Yeah. 

After I continued to pray about telling the truth, Jesus reminded me to wait for His perfect timing.  "Stay with Me, Barbara. Don't run ahead," He often says to me. Because I want to rush into something before the Holy Spirit has prepared hearts and set the stage for the miracle He intends to work in the lives of my loved ones.

Lord, You know I still have the patience of a 3-year-old!  Help me to wait for the Father's perfect timing.  No matter what urge I feel from my heart or from others, let me wait, as You did. Help my trust in You! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Argument

John 7

I remember the arguments at home.  My mom and dad shouting. I sat in my room afraid, crying.  It did not happen often, but when it happened, I remembered.  I remember one argument between my dad and his brother; even my dad was crying.  

I remember the argument at the church meeting. Men of God, men I respected and had come to love. They were not shouting, and yet there it was.  I sat next to my friend and my eyes were dry but inside it was happening all over again.

Here it is happening with Jesus too.  Jesus and His brothers, Jesus and the religious leaders.  Trying to trick Him, trying to "expose" Him, trying desperately to get rid of Him but He just would not go away.

I hate arguments.  I read this chapter and it's hard to take in.  Why couldn't everyone just get along?

Because Jesus would not back down.  Jesus would not go along.  He had His own agenda--His Father's agenda--and would not do anything else.  And so when His brothers told Him to go to Jerusalem for the Festival, Jesus replied:

My time has not yet arrived; but for you My brothers, by all means, it is always the right time. You have nothing to worry about because the world doesn’t hate you, but it despises Me because I am always exposing the dark evil in its works. 

No one likes to be told they are doing wrong. But that did not deter Jesus.  He told truth no matter what the consequences.
Jesus did not make nice. Jesus did what His Father wanted Him to do.  Jesus told truth. He was not afraid.  He did not sit in His room and cry, or say yes to avoid confrontation. He stepped up, even when the world hated Him.

Beloved, I know I need to do this too.  I know You are calling me. In my flesh I am afraid. Give me courage to be a truth-teller.  Guide me to be compassionate and loving.  But not to hold my peace when I should speak up.  Give me the wisdom to know what to say and when, and the courage to do it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

sheer muscle and willpower

John 6:60-71

Jesus had just told the crowd following Him that in order to have eternal life they would have to eat His body and drink His blood.

Ever get to that part of the story where it just seems too hard to go on? Maybe your life is that way right now.  You just need to sit down, take a breath.  You are gazing behind you with longing, thinking seriously about turning around.

That's where this crowd was.  They liked the healing miracles, they liked being fed the loaves and the fish.  But Jesus' body?  And His blood? Many of them were not up for it and started to mutter...

Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

Jesus sensed that His disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where He came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.”

(Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with Him. He knew also who would betray Him.)

He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to Me on his own. You get to Me only as a gift from the Father.”
Gio Power!

Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen.

Those words stick out to me.  Pretty much, that is how I make everything happen.  But not faith.  Faith does not work that way.  Faith is a gift from the Father.  It's all Him.  Even the works I need to do: to believe, even that I must receive, by the Spirit from the Father.

I need Him for everything. 

Yet, I believe.  I have been given the gift. That's why I love the words Peter says next:

Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

Yes, indeed, who else can I go to?  I am ruined now.  I have seen too much.  I have experienced too much.  I must believe.  I have already committed myself and am confident that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  

Even when His sayings are too hard.  Even when life is too hard.  Even when I am tired and my head hurts and my heart hurts and I want to go back to my easy life---and yet, now I have gone too far for even that!  Now I know life is never better, never sweeter, never contains more joy and peace, than when I rest in His truth and love.

There will be those who do not believe today.  There will be others who refuse to believe ever. Let us have compassion for them.  Let us pray for them.  Let us never envy them, hate them, fear them. Let us never give up telling them. Most of all let us rejoice we have been given the gift.

Thank You Beloved! I am not worthy in the least, yet You love me! Ahhhh!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What does God want?

John 6:25-59

"Why are you looking for me?"

Yesterday Jesus had fed 5,000 families.  The next day, the crowd came looking for Him.   

"...Is it because you saw miraculous signs? The truth is, you are looking for Me because you ate the bread and were satisfied...."

I am no different.  I want help in my everyday life.  I want healing for my ill family members, good jobs for my daughters, protection for my husband, success for a friend's project.  I come to Jesus with my list. Oh, sure I thank Him, but again I thank Him for the tangible things He has given me: provision, protection, prosperity.

Here Jesus reminds us that He longs to give us much more than that.

"...But earthly food spoils and ruins. So don’t work to get that kind of food. But work to get the food that stays good and gives you eternal life. The Son of Man will give you that food. He is the only one qualified by God the Father to give it to you."

Jesus longs to give us eternal life.  Life forever where He rules and reigns.  Where life is what it is meant to be, not like this broken dying world.

Even still, people people want to know what they have to do...

The people asked Jesus, "What does God want us to do?"

Jesus answered,
"The work God wants you to do is this: to believe in the one He sent."

Could it be that easy? Just believe?  Is that all?  Well, yes and no.  If we really believe, we act in a way that demonstrates our trust.  If we believe a chair will hold us, we will sit in it. If we believe an airplane can fly,we will board it. If we believe bread will nourish us, we eat it. Belief is more than mental assent. It is sitting in the chair, boarding the plane, eating the bread.  Otherwise, we do not believe, not really.  So Jesus continues:

"I am the bread that gives life. No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry. No one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty... Believe Me when I say that you must eat the body of the Son of Man, and you must drink His blood. If you don’t do this, you have no real life."

Belief is like that, it leans in.  It entrusts. It takes and eats.

It is easy to look for Jesus to help us in our everyday life and He has demonstrated that He wants to do that.  He did feed those 5,000 families not just to make a point -- that He is God -- but also because they were hungry and He loves them!  But Jesus wants so much more for us.  He wants to give us life eternal. He wants us to believe that too, and trust Him enough to allow Him to change our life.  

Believe in Jesus.  It always comes back to that.  

Beloved, so often I too am looking for something to do, the great work I can do for You.  But it is simple really: trust You. And as I trust You with my everyday life, and rest in Your care, You do something miraculous. You nourish me and change me from the inside out.    

"Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him has eternal life. I will raise them up on the last day. This is what my Father wants"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

what the Father is doing

John 5:19-40

I loved my dad so much.  One sweet memory I have is when I was age 12, I began to work for him in his hairdressing shop.  He called me his "go-for." He would ask his customers if they wanted coffee, and then he would send me across the street to buy it for them.  He would cut hair and I would sweep it up.  He would roll their hair into rollers, and I would stand beside him and hand him clips.  I loved watching him work.  Eventually when he grew older, and was unable to cut our hair, I took over.  I still cut my husband's hair today, without even one formal lesson.  I remember what my father did, and I do that. 

I think of that when I read Jesus' words:

I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing. 

As I followed my dad around the shop, and stood close by, listening, looking for ways to help, following his instructions, I became like him.  That is what Jesus wants for me. I never thought anything about running across the street to buy coffee.  Dad gave me money and he sent me, so it was all right. I trusted dad.  Dad proved himself to be trustworthy to me over and over again.  I was confident in Dad's love. I also knew what he was doing.  He hid nothing from me.  And because he showed me, I too could do those things. 

I can do nothing on My own. I judge as God tells Me. Therefore, My judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the One who sent Me, not My own will.

Jesus followed His Father and did His will. Jesus never did His own thing.  He never went His own way. He and the Father were One.  They agreed and worked together. 

But more than obedience, more than following a bunch of rules, it was about relationship.  Jesus followed God the Father because He trusted in the Father's love.  Just like I trusted in my dad's love.

Here you are scouring through the Scriptures, hoping that you will find eternal life among a pile of scrolls. What you don’t seem to understand is that the Scriptures point to Me.  Here I am with you, and still you reject the truth contained in the law and prophets by refusing to come to Me so that you can have life.

It is not about the rules.  It is about Jesus.  It is about leaning in, learning about Him, and then seeing His great compassion, power, justice, and purity. 

And when we do see Him, truly see Him, how can we not fall in love?  How can we not trust Him? How can we not become like Him?

I remember that trust, Beloved, that I had for my dad.  I see it again now with Gio and Al, the blind, unsoiled trust of a child.  No wonder You tell us to be like that, like a child. 

Remind me again of the beauty of Your holiness so I can rest in Your care and obey Your truth. Do not allow riches, fame or anyone's approval ever deter me from following You. 

I have pursued you, coming here in My Father’s name, and you have turned Me away. If someone else were to approach you with a different set of credentials, you would welcome him. That’s why it is hard to see how true faith is even possible for you: you are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signs and Wonders

John 4:43-54

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe."

Jesus was back in his home town.  Word had spread before His return.  They had all heard the talk of miracles before He arrived. A government official rushed up to Jesus, begging Him to come and heal His son, and this is Jesus' reply.

Again, I think, what is happening here?  This answer is so harsh to a man who has come to Jesus in desperation to heal his son. Why? Then I realize, there is a lack of faith. And lack of faith always frustrates Jesus.  It is much clearer in the translation called The Voice:

As Jesus traveled to Cana (the village in Galilee where He transformed the water into fine wine), He was met by a government official. This man had heard a rumor that Jesus had left Judea and was heading to Galilee, and he came in desperation begging for Jesus’ help because his young son was near death. He was fearful that unless Jesus would go with him to Capernaum, his son would have no hope.

Jesus (to the official):
My word is not enough; you only believe when you see miraculous signs.

My word is not enough for you.

How true this is for me.  How much this must hurt Jesus when again and again I do not trust Him until I receive the answer to my prayer. I cannot believe He will answer before I see it. Even now, after so many answers to prayer, I do not trust Him. Instead I stand there and continue to beg...and whine even!  Like the official:

Sir, this is my son; please come with me before he dies.

Still Jesus has mercy and says the words to comfort and assure him that His intent is to heal:

Go home. Your son will live.

When he heard the voice of Jesus, faith took hold of him and he turned to go home.

That's what I need to do.  Have faith, turn around and go home. Continue with my life like I trust Jesus to do it.  Repent of my unbelief and have peace that He will never deny me or my family any good thing.  Beloved, I believe You are God but I still struggle to believe You will help me, that You will answer my prayer today.  What else am I waiting for You to do to prove You love me and can be trusted?  Please allow faith to take hold of me too! 

On the way home, the man’s servants came and met him. They said, “Your son is well.”
The man asked, “What time did my son begin to get well?”
They answered, “It was about one o’clock yesterday when the fever left him.”
The father knew that one o’clock was the same time that Jesus had said, “Your son will live.” So the man and everyone in his house believed in Jesus.

That was the second miraculous sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ripe for harvest

John 4:15-42

Hard to recall a time when there were more Bible-based films out.  Son of God came out a few weeks ago, this week God is Not Dead, next week Noah, and just in time for Easter, Heaven is For Real. Whether they are all perfectly Biblically accurate or not, one thing is for sure.  People are interested.

Which is funny because I am reading this book now: Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. This is not an intellectual question for me.  I mean, it's my daughters, their friends, and most of my family. They don't want to go to church.  Even on Easter, I will consider it a miracle if more than just me and my husband and grandson are together at church. 

Even if you are not in Jersey, check out this series of videos,
available on the website
starting March 30.
It's not like my church is boring or out of touch with what is happening in the world. It's awesome. 

And it's not so that people are not interested in God.  Millions have been spent on these movies above and many will go out to see them.

So why is it so hard to talk about God?  Why is it so scary to invite friends and family to church?

Samaria, where this incident in John's gospel took place, was also a place where nobody wanted to go to church. "Church" for them was in Jerusalem but for centuries, Samaritans dissed that place and set up their own places of worship closer to home. When Jesus reveals that He knows the past of the woman at the well, the next thing she does is assume He is a religious guy out and about, and she asks the question which was burning in her heart.
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that You are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

There it is: our family changed churches.  Is that ok? But it's more than that. This response says it had been troubling her, it's something she had been thinking about, a questions she wanted answered.
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks...”

Then Jesus does something amazing, something He did rarely, really not at all at the beginning of His ministry.  He tell her, this woman from the wrong side of the tracks with a bad reputation, who He really is.

The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared,
“I, the one speaking to you—I am He.”

Wow, to entrust that to her, it's huge!  Because He is NOT opening any of His teaching with that line: "Hi! I am Messiah--listen to Me."  Not at all.  But He tells her.

And she runs -- leaving her water pot -- and tells the rest of the townspeople.  The townspeople who she wanted to avoid by coming to the well at mid-day. And with no preamble, no training, no second thought, she tells them:

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

And the reaction of the townspeople?  Wouldn't you expect them to say: "She's crazy!" --or-- "That's nice for you." -- or -- "Ok, but be quiet we are watching the game." ??? Not at all. 

They came out of the town and made their way toward Him... So when the Samaritans came to Him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”


This is why Jesus said to His disciples: Don’t you have a saying, "It’s still four months until harvest"? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life.

Jesus' disciples, like me, didn't see it.  All they saw was a foreign woman talking to Jesus. But Jesus wanted them to open their eyes and look around them. That's what He wants me to do too.

The woman at the well was so excited about what she discovered, she didn't over-think.  She just went with it with amazing results.

Jesus help me be bold, help me to see, help me tell them the amazing news that You are the Savior of the world, that You are the Son of God, You are NOT dead, that Heaven is For Real. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

FREE Gift!

John 4:1-14

They call me up and offer me a free gift.  You get those calls too, right? It used to be vacations or other prizes; lately it's cheaper natural gas prices, but no matter, it's all the same thing.

So I stop their presentation and say, "Are you selling something?"

"Oh, no," they rush on, "We are offering a FREE gift!"

"That's even worse! No thank you, goodbye." I quip and hang up before they can begin another sentence.  My daughters listen in the background when I do this and giggle.  "Oh mom!" But I have been burnt before by the "free" gift, which was never something I wanted or needed, plus was never really free.

Jesus' conversation begins with the opposite statement.  Here He asks for a service:

When a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”

This is how it happened with me too, Jesus began the conversation with me asking for a service: a commitment to follow Him with whole-hearted devotion. As I continued the conversation, I realized that I received the better end of the the Samaritan woman did too...

The Samaritan woman said, “I am surprised that You ask me for a drink, since You are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman.” (Jewish people are not friends, do not share things, have no dealings with Samaritans.)

Jesus said, “If you only knew the free gift of God and who it is that is asking you for water, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I love this: now, after He asked for the service and she does not run away, then He makes His offer. Although any other Jewish man would not have even looked at her because she was a woman and a Samaritan woman at that, Jesus does not need to play by those rules.  As the Son of God, He cannot be corrupted nor defiled by this woman. But the only thing she needs to do to receive the FREE gift is TO ASK.

But what is this really: Living water? Is this something else I don't want or need?  She's not sure either so she asks...

The woman said, “Sir, where will you get this living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with, no bucket."

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again because physical water only temporarily satisfies thirst, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty because spiritual renewal/eternal life is forever.  But; indeed the water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life."

The FREE gift is not only free, it is also endless, bottomless, renewing.  It is spiritual life that gushes and overflows. 

These two pictures tell the whole story.  The well is the only water in a dry and dusty place. You need to work hard with the bucket to get only a portion of water you need. 

The spring of water is  available, even overflowing. There is no hard work involved.  Take all you need. There is plenty more.

That is just like the spiritual life that Jesus offers.  You don't have to buy it. You don't have to earn it.  You don't have to be good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, the right color or have the right family back ground.  You just have to ask.

Jesus, this is the kind of love that I want to show to all I met, Your kind of unconditional passionate love. I don't want to judge their goodness, or their motives, nothing.  I just want to love them like You do.  It is hard, but then You remind me that I too have this spiritual life in me, like a spring of water gushing up inside.  Change my heart, give me the courage to be the woman You always planned for me to be.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rescue me

John 3:9-21

Who would you call for if you were in a terribly dangerous situation, facing certain death?

I don't see life that way.  I see life as pretty mundane.  I wake, turn over, hit my snooze alarm, eventually get up into a hot shower, make coffee and my lunch.  I drive to work, put in my day, drive home, make dinner, clean it up and I am back in bed again.  Nothing dangerous about my everyday life.

Until Joe calls and says mom can't stand up today.  Until I notice the dark spot on my chest is getting bigger.  Until I notice one daughter struggling to complete the work required for her teaching certification and the other one's temporary job is coming to an end with no replacement in sight. Until I realize I have a habit that needs breaking and I just can't manage to do it. Then I start to look around, look up.  Who will save me?

In the middle of this passage is the big E on the chart, the reason why Jesus came:

Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction. 

We don't notice it all the time but this world is headed toward certain destruction. The whole world, and us individually too. We might be well today, but eventually we all die.  All of us. Things might be going well today, but eventually we all need to look around for someone to rescue us. Who will you choose?

That is the point really.  There is a choice to be made, whether we realize it or not.  We may want to avoid it, but we cannot.  Even failure to choose is a choice.

Jesus was like a light in a dark place.  His light, His life, and what each person He met chose to think about it, was the judgment.  He did not judge.  We do.  We pick. It's our choice.
Ok, maybe this is a bit harsh and funny in a sick way
but I just had to post it, sorry!

Why does God allow for judgment and condemnation? Because the Light, sent from God, pierced through the world’s darkness to expose ill motives, hatred, gossip, greed, violence, and the like. Still some people preferred the darkness over the light because their actions were dark. Some of humankind hated the light. They scampered hurriedly back into the darkness where vices thrive and wickedness flourishes.

Yes, to be honest, I want to hide my bad side. And sometimes, I do want to cling onto and enjoy my vices.  But more and more, I want to bring them into the light of Jesus' love, so He can heal me, make me beautiful, make me whole.

But she who practices truth, who does what is right, comes out into the Light; so that her works may be plainly shown to be what they are—wrought with God, divinely prompted, done with God’s help, and in dependence upon Him.

Practice truth.  Over and over again I want to practice, until I get it right. Daily, hourly, moment by moment, I choose You, my Beloved Jesus.  I choose You.  And as I live my life in front of others, I pray they will see the joy and beauty of being rescued by You.

For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nicodemus came by night

John 3:1-8
Nicodemus Came by Night,
an oil painting by Walter Rane - Salem, OR
In the often well worn story, I am struck anew by the beautiful interplay between a man who wants to understand truth and the Man who is Truth: Nicodemus and Jesus.

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees, a religious party which strictly observed Old Testament laws and later customs, and an important Jewish leader, a ruler of the Jews; probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court of the time. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles (signs) you do unless God is with him.”

With all the controversy already swirling around Jesus, the miracle worker but unorthodox rabbi, Nicodemus is still shows himself a true seeker. He sees the miracles, he knows what they mean, that they are meant to point to God's power.  He is not ready to risk the public ridicule that would come from meeting Jesus publicly. After all, he is a high-ranking leader. Instead, he comes in the shadow of darkness, alone. His manner reveals a man who wants to understand, not to judge.  And that is the key that will open the door of truth for him.

Jesus answered, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

This is the first confusing part for me.  Jesus answered?  Answered what question? Nicodemus had asked no question. Jesus does not wait for the question. Jesus knew what he needs most to hear and He didn't waste any time to tell him.

But even what Jesus says is confusing. How can anyone be born a second time? Jesus goes on: Like from like. Whatever is born from flesh is flesh; whatever is born from Spirit is spirit. Don’t be shocked by My words, but I tell you the truth. Even you, an educated and respected man among your people, must be reborn by the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. 

How do you you tell a dead man he is dead?  How do you tell him he must be born in order to live? It is like explaining sight to a blind man, like explaining words to the deaf.  It is like the water pump scene in The Miracle Worker, where Anne Sullivan finally gets through to Helen Keller that all the objects have words and she can express herself in sign language.

It is a mystery, one that cannot be explained exactly using mere words. It is unpredictable, one that cannot be forced or controlled.  It is a miracle, one that needs the power of the Holy Spirit.  

The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.

The openness of Nicodemus allows him to hear this and not turn away in judgment. In the end, we see him as a believer, but it does not happen in this passage. It does not happen overnight.  But it happens. The senses awaken and the knowledge that cannot be explained explodes in Nicodemus as it does in Helen. Helen's teacher is persistent, loving, focused, relentless, forgiving, compassionate and so Helen gets it.  We can trust that the Teacher that met Nicodemus in the night is the same when we meet Him.

Jesus, You are The Miracle Worker. The One that opens our eyes and ears. Beloved, You know the ones who I still ache for because they have not come to You, not at night, and not at all.  And yet, Beloved, only You can draw them.  Only You.  Help me rest that You are persistent, loving, focused, relentless, forgiving, and compassionate and You will give them Your Spirit.  Thank You for giving it to me.  Thank You for opening my eyes and letting me see. Thank You!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What sign can You show us?

John 2:13-25

I try to picture it, Jesus meek and mild, with a whip in His hand, driving out the men selling sheep and doves. If someone said the words together, Jesus and whip, I would normally envision Jesus being whipped by the Roman guards.  But that is later in the story.  Here it is Jesus with the whip, driving out the merchants selling animals and exchanging money. I imagine for our generation, the version that fits best is The Voice:

Jesus fashioned a whip of cords and used it with skill driving out animals; He scattered the money and overturned the tables, emptying profiteers from the house of God.  There were dove merchants still standing around, and Jesus reprimanded them.

Jesus says,
"What are you still doing here? Get all your stuff, and haul it out of here! Stop making My Father’s house a place for your own profit!"

It makes me stop to wonder, what would Jesus say about our churches if He came in? How much of what we do in church is for our comfort, for our profit, done with mixed motives? It happens gradually and we don't notice it happening. Of course Jesus can see what is happening in our churches.  We need to read this with conviction.  Not much angers Jesus, but He is angry here.  When we gather to worship, it is holy to Him, set apart for God alone.  Nothing is wrong with a marketplace, but God's love, and access to a relationship to Him, is not for sale. It is not for profit. Not ever.  

The Jews watching were indignant and resented Jesus' interference with the status quo:  

Some of the Jews cried out to Him in unison, "Who gave You the right to shut us down? If it is God, then show us a sign."

I forget as I read that Jesus looked like any other man.  There was no large sign on His forehead "I AM GOD" for them to see.  They did not know.  John tells us previously in 1:11, He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.

"You want a sign?" Jesus replies, "Here it is. Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days."

This gospel written by John is all about signs.  These are the signs that told us that Jesus is God.  None was greater than the sign of the rebuilding the temple in three days, because He was talking about His body. He was talking about His resurrection. 

Jesus is God.  He sees into our hearts to our motives of worship and service and all we do "in His name."  We need to do it with pure motives.  Not for ambition or profit or appearances.  Only in faith and for the love of Him, and His children here. 

Beloved, my motives are not always pure.  You know that already, but I need to tell You.  I need to confess it. Thank You for reminding me of how serious it is.  Cleanse me and make my heart more pure for You.Thank You for forgiveness.  Help me show it to others. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On the third day

Here's the trivia quiz for today: What did Jesus do on the third day?

Jesus turned water into wine. 

John, the beloved disciple, writes his gospel to point to seven miracles of Jesus, the first and the last being on the third day.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

Here's Jesus' mom, being a mom just like me or you.  Her family is having a wedding and the hosts stands on the brink of embarrassment. There are many guests, and there is no more wine. And Jesus acts just like a normal son.  He lets out a sigh and replies, "Dear woman, is it our problem they miscalculated when buying wine and inviting guests? My time has not arrived." 

But Mary knows her Son all too well. She knows His time, but knows better His heart:  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Thus six massive stone water pots, that could each hold 20 to 30 gallons, were filled to the brim with water by the servants and turned to wine by Jesus.  Not just any wine.  But the best wine.  So good that the master of the wedding feast declares, "This wine is delectable. Why would you save the most exquisite fruit of the vine? A host would generally serve the good wine first and, when his inebriated guests don’t notice or care, he would serve the inferior wine. You have held back the best for last."

Such a delightful story, such a powerful miracle. Still, it always bothered me to read Jesus' initial reaction to Mary here.  It almost sounds disrespectful, as if Jesus is saying to her, "Seriously? You want me to get involved in this petty wedding planning blunder? It's none of our business, I am off the clock still, and busy with more important things.  Can't you see I'm teaching My guys here?"

But Mary knew Jesus well and was not at out put out.  Instead she says not a word to Jesus again but immediately directs the servants to do whatever Jesus instructs them. Mary was used to His push back and was confident that if she kept moving in the direction of her request, He would do it.  And Jesus did, and then some.  He not only provided more wine, He provides about 180 gallons of extraordinary wine.

Jesus continued to push back in the gospels, most notably to the Canaanite women in Matthew 15:26-28.  Jesus calls her a dog.  She is undeterred and continues to plead with Jesus to heal her daughter, who is demon-possessed and suffering terribly. Jesus admires her faith and grants her request.

In our lives, Jesus is going to push back.  He will take His time.  It will look like He is not going to act, like it's not His business, not His time, and He's got more important matters to attend to.  But nothing is further from the truth.  Jesus cares deeply about our concerns. Nothing is too trivial for Him to act powerfully on our behalf. But He is wants us to grow in our faith more than anything else.  And if an uncomfortable period of waiting will produce deeper faith in us, that is fine with Him.

In the end His provision for us is far and beyond what we can hope for or imagine.  We need to push on in faith.

Jesus, how hard it is for me to push on with my prayers when I see nothing happening.  But that is what you want from me.  I see now You love and serve assertive women in the gospels!  I am so encouraged by that! Help me to persevere in faith and not lose heart. Remind me that Your timing is perfect.  You are never late and always care about what I care about. Your results are always amazing! 

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

He had compassion on them

Matthew 9:18-38

In college, I majored in Mathematics.  I loved the order of it, like a puzzle I enjoyed to decipher.  It was logical, it made sense. It was dependable and consistent, and if I followed the rules, I could always arrive at the correct answer.

I guess that is why reading the gospels always confused me.  I was looking for order, for the list.  Do items a, b, and c and this is how it will turn out for you. But Jesus defies order.  He is so other.  You just can't figure it out.

Nowhere is that more evident than in His healing and miracles.  They follow no pattern.  Belief certainly helps, but it is not necessary.  Here Jesus healed the woman who suffered with bleeding for 12 years because she snuck up behind Him and touched the hem of His robe. “Be happy, dear woman. You are made well because you believed.”

In the next verses, He raises a dead girl to life, even though people had already come to mourn her and laughed at Jesus when He arrived. He tells them, “Go away. The girl is not dead. She is only sleeping.” Then Jesus grasps the dead girl's hand and raises her back to life.

Continuing on, Jesus is harassed by two blind men, following Him and shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus asks them:“Do you believe that I am able to make you see again?”  He checks their faith before He heals them.

There is no pattern, although I look diligently for one.  The dead girl had no faith. The blind men were yelling at Him.  The bleeding woman did not even ask Jesus for help.

Then it occurs to me: why am I looking still for a pattern?  Jesus, You healed because You loved.  Matthew, who was there and watched You closely, puts it well: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

You healed because of Your compassion. Nothing they did. It's all You, all You.

I see that in my own life.  So many times You redeemed situations when I never asked You.  You protected me despite the dead-end path I was taking.  You loved and had compassion on me when I was NOT trusting You, when I was DEAD to Your Spirit.  You took my hand, like the little girl, and raised me to new life.

Jesus, You went through ALL the towns, spreading the gospel and healing EVERY disease.  You are going through New Jersey, even NOW, spreading the gospel and healing every disease.  I just can't see it. Like the men, I am blind.

Beloved, have mercy on me too!  Open my eyes to what You are doing all around me.  I want to be a part of it.  Send me out too!  Send me out to have compassion as You did.  Please send me out to gather Your harvest! 

“There is such a big harvest of people to bring in. But there are only a few workers to help harvest them. God owns the harvest. Ask Him to send more workers to help gather His harvest.”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Old and The New

Matthew 9:14-17

Mid-March and the snow remains.
Usually I hate change.  This winter, however, the change of season can't come fast enough. Jersey suffered through storm after storm, with the snow piles so high, we despaired of them ever melting away.  Even at mid-March, see how the snow remains in my front yard?  Deep, dirty, cold snow, making the landscape gray and sidewalks impassible.  This season, I am more than ready for change!

However, change can be unpleasant.  More often, it is a mix of good and bad.  How I enjoy the calm in my home since my daughter and her son moved out! And yet, I miss the commotion of Gio's boundless chatter and energetic ramblings through our home. 

Jesus' entrance on to the pages of history introduced an enormous change for the Jews of His day.  Not only the judgmental types, but for all who followed the traditions.

Then the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus. They asked, "Why do we and the proud religious law-keepers many times go without food so we can pray better? But Your followers never go without food so they can pray better." 

An honest question from men who loved God and sincerely followed the Law. So Jesus answered them with an example to help them understand. 

Can the friends at a wedding be sorry when the man just married is with them? But the days will come when the man just married will be taken from them. Then they will not eat food so they can pray better. 

There is nothing wrong with prayer and avoiding food to pray better.  But for the followers of Jesus, He was still with them and their joy was full experiencing His miracles and hearing Him teach. It was not the season of sorrow, not yet.  That time will come after Jesus returns to heaven.

That is the problem with rules. Life is too complicated for lists. Over generation, Jewish religious leaders had made their own lists from the teachings of Moses (first five books of the Bible), with good motives.  They started by answering honest questions by making the rules more exact. But in the process, they ended up with a list too long for anyone to follow. In the process of refining and teaching their lists, they lost track of the God who gave them His Law to bless them and keep them close to Him.  Their lists of laws became like the snow that covered New Jersey this winter: deep, cold, dirty, making life exhausting.

No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because if the new piece pulls away, it makes the hole bigger. Men do not put new wine into old skin bags. If they did, the skins would break and the wine would run out. The bags would be no good. They put new wine into new skin bags and both can be used.

Jesus had no intention of amending the lists of Laws that had evolved over the years into Jewish tradition. That would be like using a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes, as The Message translation paraphrases. Jesus intended to start over.

Starting over is difficult. Especially for a woman like me who hates change. Even positive transitions are uncomfortable as I get used to a new situation. But when I trust that Jesus is with me, in me, in charge of my small little life as well as the universe, I can take a deep breath and make the first step into the unknown. That's all I need too.  Faith for the next step.  And then He is right there, with me, helping me with the next one. If I try to see the whole picture, plan the whole thing out, make a list of all the contingencies, I get exhausted and afraid.  But when I focus on His sweet face, and take just the next step, then I have the courage to go on.

Right now the big transition for me is seeing my daughter and grandson go off on their own. It is time, it is good, but it is new, and so it is uncomfortable, but as I hold onto Jesus, He helps me take the next step.

Isn't that Jesus' point anyway? He wants us to draw close to Him, not merely make lists and make sure we follow them!

When we choose to follow Jesus, He has no intention of making a small change in our life. He will not stay in the corner.  His influence will not only be seen on Sundays or in certain seasons of our lives.  No, Jesus is intending to take over.  He will make us brand new. And then, season by season He brings us through changing seasons. His point, His goal, is always to keep us close to Him.

Please Jesus, stay close to me as I begin the empty nest season. Allow me to see the goodness in it and find ways to be a blessing with what You have put in my hand at this time.   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Guess Who's Invited to Dinner?

Matthew 9:9-13

It was 1967, and I was age 12, when the movie Guess Who is Coming to Dinner was released, a story about Joanna, a young woman who brings her fiance, John, home to dinner.  The dilemma?  She is white and he is black. The drama was close to home for Americans of that era because a mere six months before the movie was seen in cinemas, marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in 17 states. While Joanna had been raised by liberal parents who  taught her to treat black people and members of other racial groups as equals, it became a problem when she wanted to bring one into the family.  

As the drama of Jesus' ministry continues, the Pharisees had problem with a similar feel. They too were concerned with who was invited to dinner:

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”

However the Pharisee's concern was more practical. The people Jesus had invited to eat with Him were not merely a different color skin, as in Joanna and John's case. They were bad people. They were notorious sinners. Don't think people who gossip about their neighbors and cheat on their taxes--oh no--these were more like drug dealers, child molesters, and international espionage agents. The dangerous kind, the kind your mother warned you about, and for good reason! That kind of sinner.  

If Jesus was a teacher, sent by God, why would He choose to get close to these kinds of people?  Of course, the Pharisees judged Him, but none the less, when asked honestly, it is a good question.  Here's the answer:

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Jesus compares the sinner to the sick person, who cannot help themselves.  That's the problem.  When we sin, we cannot help ourselves, we need help.  Ask anyone who has ever been to an AA meeting, and they will tell you, that is the first step to recovery: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. And then the second: Came to believe that a Power (that's God!) greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Then one more: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

The sinner needs Jesus to help her, she cannot help herself.  That's why they need mercy, not religion. That's why they need us to tell them about Jesus' love, forgiveness, and power for restoration.  Another translation reads: I want you to show kindness to people. That's what Jesus was doing.

And that's what Jesus wants us to do too. Show kindness to people, even messy people.  Even dangerous people. Those are the people who Jesus is inviting to dinner. 

Beloved, this is very scary.  I don't want to do this. It is counter-intuitive.  Aren't we supposed to avoid dangerous sinful people?  It is so much easier to just hang with people who think and believe like I do, to coddle the insiders.  But instead, you ask us to invite the outsiders.  

I am not sure I can do this!

Maybe, I need to admit that I am powerless to do what You would ask me to do and believe You alone have the power to live this kind of life.  Ultimately I need to turn my life over to You so You can live Your life through me.  

Yes, let's do that!