What You See is What You Get

It is important to use your eyes when you consider the miracles of Jesus.  You need “eyes to see” in order to get the full benefit.  Jesus’ miracles usually portrayed deeper truth in symbolic fashion.  For example, when He turned water into wine, the water came from pots used for ritual cleansing.  You have to “see” the difference between washing, done on the outside, and wine, which works from the inside, to see Jesus’ visual lesson.  Religious ritual would be supplanted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In that same way, consider the raising of Lazarus.  In that miracle, clearly Jesus portrays the coming of new, abundant life for the spiritually dead.  But beyond that most obvious symbol, consider this:

The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:44)

Can you “see?”  What is it that “binds” you?  What habit, personality trait, addiction, memory or fear prevents you from fully and gracefully blazing through life?  Jesus showed those with eyes to see He had power to unbind Lazarus.  Can you see He also has that power over what binds you?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Steadfast

You had to bang on the pipes if you wanted hot water at certain times of the day in our first apartment​  Outrageous, since we paid all of $40 a month for this 5 flight walk-up. But it was frustrating because it seemed the flow of water was always interrupted at the most inconvenient times.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love and mercy are steadfast.  Think about that word. When you desperately need to experience love, it can come from no greater source than Almighty God.  And steadfast means, no matter what is going on in your life, you don’t need to bang on the pipes.

Here is a sample:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  (Psalm 103:11-13)

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Wait for It

Suddenly and unexpectedly slammed with grief, I prayed for comfort. God’s response was specific, clear and effective.  But it was not immediate.  I had to wait. I felt like the guy who prayed, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now!”  For whatever His reasons, God let me wait a bit.  When His comfort came, it washed over me in a sustained way.

But why would God delay, why make me wait?  It’s not as though comfort was on back order.  The All Sovereign Lord of the Universe could have responded instantly.  Why wait? Perhaps it is to help us build faith.

Peter wrote about waiting for God’s promises, saying:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (`1 Peter 1:6-7) 
James wrote about waiting after praying for wisdom, saying:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)  
As we wait for God confidently and then have that trust vindicated, our “faith muscle” is developed.  As our faith grows, our relationship with God grows stronger.

Perhaps God also makes us wait to give us time to be spiritually strengthened and matured. Isaiah knew about waiting.  He wrote:

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strengththey shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Good comedians have a well developed sense of timing.  When one says, “Wait for it…” you know it’s worth the wait.  Better yet when God does.

More Than a Song

A flower spoke to me about worship.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  We were singing in church and I happened to see someone, lost in praise with arms aloft and an expression of abject wonder and joy.  She reminded me of how flowers turn to face the sun and, as they do, receive nourishment and vitality. The strength and life they receive is then manifested in the flower.  In a sense, they glorify the sun by their outstretched beauty.

It struck me that worship works much like that.  We tend to think of worship as an act that is directed toward God, a one-way deal.  But in reality, worship is interactive.  As we turn our attention toward God, praising Him, we also receive new strength and vitality from Him in that process. Like flowers turning toward the sun.  And, like flowers, as we to God in worship, His glory and beauty is manifested in our worship.

9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!  (Psalms 57:9-11)

What to Do

Yet another terrorist bomb.  More predictable responses from government and media.  Already, network art departments are designing background graphics to promote their newscasts and experts are deciding on a catchy name for the story.  Already, expressions of sorrow and determination have been issued, quoted and re-quoted.  Already, are first responders honored, makeshift memorials bedecked with flowers, funerals planned, security efforts tweaked.  It’s what we do.  The whole process has become stylized.  There is a ritual for it.  And people will become more accustomed to the tragedy, no longer able to fully feel the outrage and frustration.  We feel helpless to do anything that will truly make a difference.

Jesus told us what to expect and what to do.  Here’s what He said we could expect:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (Matthew 24:12)

Here’s what He taught us to do:

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10)

Perhaps it seems strange to ask God, all sovereign and all powerful, to do what He has already willed to do.  I don’t know how prayer impacts the accomplishment of God’s will, only that Jesus taught us to do it.  So, let’s do.  Urgently – and paying full attention to the meaning of what we are asking.  Yearning for that day to come.

There was a church that broke ground for a new building with an old plow to which several hundred slender strings had been attached.  They invited everyone to take a string and, when the command was given, to pull.  No one of those people or strings would have been strong enough to move that plow.  But together, it jumped through the soil and chewed it up with ease.  When Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to come, He handed each of us a string and gave us the command.

 

When You Least Expect It

You know how worthless you feel when you are really sick?  A prominent leader lay on his sickbed in that condition.  He was so afflicted, word got out he might die.  Various people came to visit, even though they weren’t real friends.  They said nice sounding things but when they left they bad mouthed him in public.  Even one of his best friends, someone who he regularly had over for lunch turned on him.  Can you imagine how low he must have felt, how worthless?  In his despair, he wrote down his complaints in a kind of poem.  The man was King David and the poem is now known as Psalm 41.

My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me.  (Psalms 41:5-9)

Fast forward 1000 years or so.  Jesus is about to be crucified.  He spends a private farewell with his closest friends, washing their feet and sharing a final meal.  And, as He passes out the bread, He tells them one of them will betray Him.  He quotes a line from that sick man’s poem:

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’  (John 13:18-19)

Words, scrawled by a man too sick to get out of bed, became Scripture and were fulfilled in the life of God’s Son!  Whodathunkit?  Next time you are feeling too sick, too discouraged, too insignificant, too misunderstood, too abandoned, too unskilled or too weak to be used by God, remember that man’s sickbed poem.  Don’t write yourself off.  God uses people for His purposes even (and perhaps especially) in their weakest moments.   He can use you, too.

When you least expect it.