Monthly Archives: May 2019

Feeling Useless, Becoming Useful

Now six stone water jars had been set there for the Jewish rites of purification. Each could hold from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”

So they filled them to the brim.

“Now draw some out,” He said, “and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine  (John 2:6b-9a)

One thing that strikes me about this is that Jesus can work with what’s there.  It’s like he says, “Hmmm, there’s no wine.  Let’s see.  What around here could I use?  Oh look, there are some big purification water jars.  That’ll work.  I’ll have them filled with water, and change that into wine.”

Jesus doesn’t have to have the perfect resources in front of him.  He can use what he has.  I think this is a good point, because we so often look at the limitations.  For instance, today, I don’t have a car.  I want to say that I can’t make it to my hair appointment.  But then I remember that I have a bike, and the salon is not far away.  There’s something I can work with.

Jesus finds what he can work with, in a much bigger way. And then he uses it.

The trouble is that the fixing we need Jesus to do is often tougher than manipulating molecules.  We need him to move the hearts of people.  Ok, let’s be real.  We need him to move our own grumpy, self-loving, comfort-seeking, faithless hearts!

Can Jesus work with the contents of our soul, like the contents of a jar?

He can, if we’ll get super intentional about being humble.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  I P 5:5

God works with us and through us when we’re meek and lowly, not when we think we have things figured out, or when we rely on our own wisdom and strength.  We have to see him as the resource we need in every instance.

And to do this, we need to empty ourselves.  We have to daily become nothing, as Jesus did.

  • John 5:19 – “The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”
  • John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
  • John 7:16 – “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.”
  • John 8:28 — “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
  • John 8:42 – “For I have not come of myself, but he sent me.”
  • John 8:50 – “I am not seeking glory for myself.”

Let’s model humility, and encourage others to seek it, so that God can work with the impossible situations we need changed.  Satan is having a field day.  Negative self-talk and emotional baggage reign.  Fears and bitterness control us.  Pride directs us.  These things are destroying us and our relationships.

Let’s embrace the blessings of being poor in spirit.

A couple of days ago, I spoke with a friend who was at the end of her rope, and I told her, in a sense, “This is a good place to be.   You’re desperate.  You’ve run out of ideas and motivation. You have nowhere to go but God.”

We don’t like feeling desperate and out of control.  We’re ashamed because we think we should be able to do better.  But that’s a good place to be, because then we are most aware of our need for God.  We’re finally at the place of nothingness.

And then Jesus can change our water into wine.  We’re a resource he can use for his purposes.

Last night, a sister who has been going through tremendous challenges brought two visitors to Bible talk.  The visitors got so much out of the evening.  They were very grateful that she brought them.  Isn’t that the way God works sometimes?  This sister thought she was going crazy with stress, but she stayed focused on God, and that’s when he used her.

Somehow, it’s when we feel the most useless, that we are at a point when we can be most used.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12-13)

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  (I Cor 15:10)

Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also those of wood and clay; some for honorable use and some for dishonorable.  Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  (II Tim 2:20-21)

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Filed under Humility, John, Surrender

When We’re “Running Out”

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 ran out, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why does this concern us?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”  (John 2:1-4)

I can relate to this wedding dilemna! For my son’s rehearsal dinner, we put a lot of effort into making it really nice.  We held it at an upscale restaurant.  There were special decorations.  I created a video.  We planned activities.

The price of catering included wine for a certain period of time.  As the event went overtime, the maitre d’ came to my husband and whispered that if anyone wanted another drink, it would incur an extra charge.  It was a moment of counting the cost, because we were already spending a good deal of money.  But my husband was feeling joyful and magnanimous.  He said, “Sure, let them have more if they would like.”  It turned out that everyone had had enough, so it all worked out.

But the point is that we wanted the rehearsal dinner to be super special.  I’m sure the people in charge of the wedding at Cana felt the same.  For them, running out of wine in the middle of the celebration would have been a huge downer.

So it’s no wonder that Jesus’s mom stepped in to try and alleviate the situation.  She knew and cared about the young couple and their families.  She didn’t want them to experience this discouraging failure at the time that should be the biggest celebration of their life.

Mary didn’t think twice about going to Jesus and asking him for help.  And Jesus let her know that this request was uncool.  It was putting him out. It wasn’t his time to do miracles yet.

Yet, if we continue to read the story, we see that Jesus didn’t hold back.  He honored his mother’s request.  He used his powers and saved the day.

This story really helps my heart.   Sometimes I feel like I’m asking Jesus for something that is inappropriate.  I mean, he’s the Son of God.  My request is surely small next to the needs of the world.  It isn’t a salvation issue.  I’m not asking him to alleviate something grave like world hunger.   How can I bother Jesus with my little matter?  He has to have more important things on his agenda.

But this passage reminds me that Jesus cares about the day-to-day things going on in my life.  His heart was moved to help his mother.  I’m loved by him, and his heart can be moved to help me as well.

And in the story, Jesus didn’t just tell them how much he cared, or help in a token way.  He helped in a huge way.  He totally fixed it.

He performed a miracle. I’ve heard it so many times, that I forget how utterly amazing it is that Jesus changed water to wine.    I have a Brita pitcher of water on my kitchen counter right now.  If someone waved their hand over it and then poured me a cup of Burgundy, I would be astounded.  My heart would be racing.

That’s the kind of Savior we go to with our concerns.  We pray to God in his name.  He cares, and he has the power to fix them, no matter how impossible they seem.

So what are you running out of?  Okay, maybe it’s not wine.  But it could be money, or a another resource.  It could be time.   I confess that, lately, I’ve been running out of hope.

Several months ago, I put a situation on my prayer list that had been stuck for years.  For awhile, it got even more stuck.  But then one event occurred that was exactly what was needed to shake things up.  This led to more actions that really got the situation turned around. It has been amazing. The changes are still in progress, but, I’m telling you, it’s a true miracle!

Don’t think twice about taking your depleted situation to Jesus.  He loves you deeply!  You can ask, and his heart will be moved.  You won’t be inconveniencing him.  It’s not too small a request.  And if it’s in the scheme of God’s good will, Jesus won’t hold back. He’ll totally fix it.

Last night at our midweek house church, we ate fresh peach cobbler with ice cream, made from peaches I picked from my tree.  We didn’t study the Bible this time.  We just sat, and were close  and shared our lives with one another.  I felt such an atmosphere of love.

And I knew that this was a thumbnail of the warmth that Jesus has towards us — such a deep, encompassing, nurturing love.

When I think of it like that, I’m like, this is how we’re walking around in life.  We’re cushioned by love.  It’s natural to share our heart and requests with Jesus, and know that they will resonate with him and be honored.

Mary knew that was her reality.  Let’s remember that it’s ours as well.

 

 

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Filed under Faith, John, Love, Uncategorized

Seeing the Glory

“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Then He declared, “Truly, truly, I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  John 1:49-51

It seems like I’ve been praying like never before this week.  So many of my friends are going through really tough challenges — marriage difficulties, the death of a family member, a crisis regarding a loved one, impossible situations at work.

I have a little prayer box, and I keep putting more things in it.

Today’s passage speaks to this.  It describes how Nathanael reacted when Jesus told him that he was a true Israelite.   Nathanael could see the divine power behind this statement, and he declared that he believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

What’s really encouraging about this is Jesus’s response.  He told Nathanael that he would see heaven open and the angels going up and coming down.

Well, before we go on, we have to look at this mystifying image of the angels.  What did Jesus mean?  We don’t know.  We don’t have any record of Nathanael actually seeing this in the future.

But we do know that it’s probably a reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28.

He (Jacob) had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and east and north and south. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” (Genesis 28:12)

The outcome of this story of Jacob was that God was going to bless everyone on earth through Jacob’s descendants.  This is a continuation of the promise God gave to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.  I believe that this promise is being fulfilled today as the gospel is being made known throughout the world.  Galatians 3 says, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:7-8)  

Thus, it very well could be that Jesus was telling Nathanael that he would see the miracle of the gospel being spread to all nations.

It could also be a reference to Nathanael’s entrance to heaven when he died.  When Stephen was stoned in Acts 7 and about to perish, he said, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)  Jesus could be telling Nathanael that, as one of the first to have faith in the Son of God, he would have a similar vision when he passed away.

We don’t know.  But we do know that Jesus said that Nathanael would see something great and wonderful.  And I think the principle here is that because Nathanael was able to have faith in a small situation, he was going to see the glory of Christ.

And that is something that can encourage us.  If we can just have faith in the small things, we will be able to see glorious things.

It may be that we will see this glory as we see the gospel being spread in miraculous ways.  We will certainly see it when we get to heaven.

But maybe we will see the glory because faith allows us to live a glorious life.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  (John 14:12) I John 5:4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”  And I love this verse, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”  (II Cor 2:14)

Just being able to have faith in the small things makes such a difference. It helps us learn to have faith in the big things. And then God works in big ways.  And we see the world in a different way, that we’re not perpetually defeated, but, instead, part of something dynamic and thrilling and hopeful.

Earlier this week, a friend called me to unload about a difficult situation.   After we discussed it, we decided, rather than try and figure out a solution to the problem, to surrender it to God in prayer.  I put it in my “prayer box.”

The next day, she texted me and said that the situation had worked out.  It was a small miracle.

A day later, I heard about something that totally discouraged me.  I got a lump in my throat that was like a huge ugly ball, too big to swallow, too big to fit in my prayer box.

And I had to tell myself, “I believe Jesus is the Son of God.  This belief is my very core.  So I must surrender the unsurrenderable to him.”  And I’m trying to do that.

You know, as I reflect on this now, I realize that God works when we give things to him.  But we expect him to work while we’re still holding onto our concerns!  We have to have the faith to hand it over.

Nathanael took a step of faith. And Jesus said that he would see glory.

We need to take that step of faith, and then the next, and the next, even though they seem huge.  When we do, we will live a glorious life.

As I look over my gratitude journal this week, I see how true this is.  God did some wonderful things this week!  One friend had an amazing breakthrough.  I started studying the Bible with another friend, and it went so well!  God taught me truths that I was able to pass on to others to help them.  I could go on and on.

Jesus is the Son of God.  Our belief in that makes such a difference.

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Filed under Books of the Bible, Faith, John, Red Letter, Uncategorized

The One Who Sees Us

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  (John 1:47-48)

What moves my heart about this passage is how Jesus truly saw Nathanael.  He didn’t just check out his appearance.  He saw straight through to the inside of who Nathanael really was.

Jesus saw that Nathanael was a man of integrity, someone with a mindset to do the right thing, no matter what.

When Jesus expressed this, it was a goosebumps moment for Nathanael.  The future apostle realized that Jesus knew his core, the thing that motivated him and made him tick.

There are other instances in the Bible where Jesus was the one who saw.  In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus saw that the woman had gone through multiple marriages.  When Jesus went to the town of Nain, he saw how deep the loss of a son was to a widow, and was moved to help her.  When Jesus was at the Pool of Bethesda, he saw a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years and asked the insightful question, “Do you want to get well?”

Isn’t this what our heart longs for today?  One of my life coach instructors teaches that people are always asking, “Do you see me?”  We all so much want someone to “get” us.  I know when I talk to someone and they lean into me with their listening, it feels like an itch is finally being scratched.

Because sometimes I feel with others like we’re not speaking the same language.  I want to make a connection, but I don’t know the words.  I want to matter, but my efforts fall flat.

We probably all feel that way at times.  That’s why we need Jesus.  He’s the one who can understand our language.  He’s the one who sees straight through to the core of who we really are — what drives us, what we need, what makes our heart sing.  It’s a rare and wonderful thing.

We can realize that we’re not alone.  We’re never an island.

And we can know that because Jesus sees, his heart is moved, and he acts on our behalf.

When we go through inner pain and turmoil, he leans into us, and weeps with us.  There’s a communion that takes place.

I really like what Jeanie Shaw wrote about this in her blog today: “I am learning, in my relationship with God, that there is special sacredness in suffering and intimacy in infirmity.”

There can be intimacy, a closeness, in the midst of that thing that makes us feel most isolated.

Because Jesus is the one who sees.

You know, there’s so much in my life now that’s a testament to Jesus being the one who’s seen me, so many times when I’ve been given exactly what I needed.  Marrying my husband is exactly what I needed, as was joining my church, and having the jobs I’ve had.  Our move to Auburn ten years ago was exactly what I needed.  My recent study of life coaching is exactly what I need.

The question is, what is my response to this?

Here’s what Nathanael’s response was to Jesus: “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus sees us.  His heart is moved.  He acts.  This happens innumerably more times that we perceive.

But maybe, sometimes, we will get goosebumps, like Nathanael, and respond with faith, “You are the son of God.  Only the divine could do this.”

 

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Uncategorized

The One Who Finds Us

The next day Jesus decided to set out for Galilee. Finding Philip, He told him, “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)

The cool thing about this passage is that Jesus found Philip.  He didn’t just come across him.  He actively looked for him until he located him.

Isn’t it amazing that we serve a Savior who searches for us?  It’s like we’re living out the story of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep on the hill and went after the one who was lost.  (Matt 18:12-14)  I can look back and see how Jesus sought me; how he set up situations so I would encounter him.  One of my favorite verses has been, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:8a)

Does he still look for me?  Does he come to me in my whirlwind of “to-dos” and struggles and side roads, and say to me, “You’re getting off track. Come on. Remember. Follow me.”

I need to stop, and look into his eyes and hear his earnest call again, “I believe in you.  I have a purpose for you.  This is the way.”

Yes!  This is the way.  This is it!  That must be what Philip thought when Jesus called him.  Philip went right away and told his brother, Nathanael, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold.” (John 1:45)

Philip had the heart to recognize the call, and how momentous it was.  Can we say the same?

This past week the 50 members of our little church gave $14,000 in a special contribution that will enable our ministry to continue.  We were tremendously encouraged.  It is astounding that we were able to give that much.  It says something about the hearts of the members.  They believe in what we’re doing.  It resonates deeply with them.  What they gave was, in a sense, a response to the call of Jesus they heard.

“Follow me.”  When we get it, and do it, it feels glorious!

But many times, we don’t recognize the call.  Many times, we follow imperfectly.

You know, I think the reason Philip responded to the call was because he could see what Jesus was, instead of what Jesus wasn’t.  We know what Nathanael saw at first.  He asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  All Nathanael could think about was how Nazareth was so sketchy.

And we can be the same way.  We’re supposed to look at who Jesus is, but instead we look at all the things that are sketchy — “My marriage is struggling.  I lost my job.  I don’t have the money to pay my bills.  This didn’t turn out like I expected. That person upset me.”

And we feel muddled.  Sigh.  As I think about it, I know the good news is that Jesus still comes to find us.

I can see the evidence of Jesus’s search for me like a breadcrumb trail through this past week.   My friend, Kenonia, and I got together and prayed, and within a minute, the prayer was answered.  Our friends, the Johnsons, sent an email detailing their plans to come and encourage our church in a couple of weeks.  A young woman I studied the Bible with years ago texted me that she’s now studying the Bible again.  My daughter and her husband successfully navigated together the complicated decision of whether to buy a house.  One friend who has had some challenges told me they are now doing better.  Another friend was on the brink of failing nursing school, and told me she passed.  And, of course, our church raised $14,000!  So many prayers were answered!

It’s not that Jesus at one time went after us to save us, or that he occasionally shows up in our lives.  It’s that Jesus is ALWAYS looking for us and leaving evidence of who he is, and how much he cares.

Then, when he finally gets our attention, he says, “Follow me.” 

Will we hear?  Will we respond?

When we remember who he is, and how momentous is the call, we will.

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Filed under Discipleship, John, Red Letter, Uncategorized