Monthly Archives: October 2019

How to Have Faith at All Times

cross-106416_1920So once again He came to Cana in Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine. And there was a royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged Him to come down and heal his son, who was about to die.

Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”  John 4:46-48

Man.  This seems a little harsh for Jesus to say.  I mean, here’s this guy whose son is dying, and he asks Jesus to fix that.   It seems like what anyone would want if their child was on death’s door.

So why does Jesus berate the man, and the Jews around him?

It has to be that Jesus saw something in this man’s heart that was out of order.  It’s really interesting to me that in other places in the Bible, when someone comes to Jesus for a healing, he says, “Your faith has healed you.” (Mark 5:34, Matt 9:22, Luke 7:50, Luke 8:48, Mark 5:2)  Yet in this case, Jesus evidently sees no faith.

In fact, he sees that he must perform the miracle for the faith to happen, instead of the faith happening, so he can perform the miracle.

That’s pretty convicting, isn’t it?  It makes us wonder, do we come to Jesus with the attitude that we’ll believe in him if he does signs and wonders, or do we come to him with a deep conviction of his divinity?

It makes me question myself.  Because I do see that I have less faith when things are not going my way.  It’s easy for me to have faith when our church is growing, and lots of people are being baptized.  But when we’re losing numbers, or struggling financially, I’m tempted to think that God’s not going to bless us, and we’re going to be defeated.   When my life is going well, it’s easy to feel great and write a lot of encouraging blogs.  But what about when I don’t feel good, or my depression kicks in, or I have an ongoing difficulty with someone?  I admit that I feel weak.

I surely don’t want to just be a fair weather believer.  I want to have just as much faith in the storm.

One reason I think this is hard for me is because I make following Jesus all about me.  I come to him seeking that he will meet my needs. And I have so many of them!

But what about his needs?  He needs to be believed in.  He needs devotion and reverence, because he is the son of God, the word made flesh, the light of the world, the truth, the way.  He needs unquestioning obedience.  This is his due.

If I’m seeking out Jesus as a way to get my needs met, I will only feel good when these needs are met.  If I’m seeking out Jesus because I want to worship the amazing son of God, I will always feel great, because he is the son of God no matter what’s going on.

That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to come to Jesus to get needs met.  He’s the only one who can truly meet our needs.

But our primary reason to come to Jesus has to be because of who he is, not what he can do for us. Otherwise we really will see him as a kind of a spiritual Santa Claus, instead of the One who was with God from the beginning, made all things, and now sits at the right hand of God.

So the next time we pray, let’s petition the Lord. (Phil 4:6, Matt. 6:11)  He wants us to ask.  He wants to take care of us. (Matt. 7:7)  But let’s also ask, “What do you need today, God? How can I show my devotion to you? Jesus, how do you need me to be you for the world?”

Let’s remember the examples of people who saw Jesus for who he was, like Peter (Matt. 16:16, John 6:68), Nathanael (John 1:49), the woman at the well (John 4:29), and the sinful woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears (Luke 7:38).

These people had the clarity of sight that’s called faith, and this prompted them to words and action.

May we be like them, instead of waiting for Jesus to act.  May we be givers more than we are takers, believers more than we are receivers.

(Thanks to the Deep Spirituality devotionals for ideas that contributed to my thoughts in this blog.)

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It’s Not About Us!

Ship

For in this case the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and now you have taken up their labor.”  John 7:27-29

Today’s red letter passage makes me think of my own efforts to share my faith.  If I’m not careful, I can make personal work all about me and my efforts. I think I need to find someone to share with.  Then, I need to actually talk to them.  Then, I need to say the right thing.  If they respond, I need to show them I care.  I need to serve them. I need to study the Bible with them in the right way.  And somehow, I need to get them over their obstacles so that they will come to a point of commitment.

Whew! When it’s all about me, it can feel heavy and intimidating.

But Jesus related a different concept in today’s red letter passage.  He told his disciples that others had already done the hard work.  They just needed to reap.  They just needed to pick up where the others left off.

Who are the hard workers that Jesus was referring to?  It was the prophets of the Old Testament, and also John the Baptist, who prepared hearts by communicating God’s word.

But I have to add that God did the hard work as well.  How much do we see that He’s always active, always arranging things so people will reach out to him, or respond to the gospel?

It’s crazy for me to think of the innumerable ways God worked to bring me to a point of commitment.  He put me in the right place to awaken my faith.  He put my future husband in my life.  When my heart was sad over my mom’s divorce, he drew me to him.  When my husband and I got married, he led us to a church that would change our lives

When I’ve studied the Bible with others, it’s sobering to realize how much of their conversion was not up to me.  One young woman said she was done, but then came to church one more time, and when she did, there was just the right sister visiting who talked to her for hours until she had a breakthrough.  Another woman hit a wall, and I thought it was over, but then she called me out of the blue while I was on vacation, walking on the beach, and said she wanted to be baptized.  Another started studying the Bible, and then disappeared for months.  At some point, one of her friends threw out an invitation for her to come back.  She came, made a commitment, and is still faithful today.

All of this reminds me that it’s NOT all about me and my efforts.  There are some great verses that back this up.

  • I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  I Cor. 3:6
  • As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  Isa 55:10-11

I think one of the best illustrations of what we are to do is given in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  One boy provided what he could, five loaves of bread and two fishes.  God made what the boy gave increase exponentially.  In the same way, we are to do what we can for God, and give him our best efforts.  But then we need to realize that he is creating the increase, not us.

And he will create the increase on his time table.

Or he might not create an increase at all.

I think that’s the hardest part for me to understand.   I have this bulldozer type of idealism, where I think, “I’ll just keep pushing forward and doing the good things for God, and he’s going to come through and work in amazing ways.”

But now I’ve realized that is actually telling God what he’s supposed to do.  Instead, I should say, “I’m going to put my efforts out there.  But what happens is up to God.  He may bless my efforts.  He may not.  But he’s always good.  I will trust him no matter what.”

The key is to put our efforts out there.  God wants to use us.  He wants to use the strengths and abilities he put in us.  But we don’t know how exactly he’s going to use us, or where he’s going with our efforts.  We want so badly to direct him, and tell him how to make our ventures successful.  In my case, I’m addicted to productivity, and I’m very motivated to see the fruit of everything I do.

It’s hard to, instead, do what I can, and trust God when things are quiet, and I feel unproductive.  It’s hard to be humble.  It’s hard to not think I am failing.

One verse that I love that helps with this is Ecclesiastes 11:1-2.  “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Put your investments in several places–many places even–because you never know what kind of bad luck you are going to have in this world.” (NIV, GNT) 

We just need to send our ships out.  We just need to invest in several places.  I know my husband and I don’t have all of our money for the future in one pot.  We have savings.  We have a 401K.  We have some money in Vanguard funds.  And even in the 401K, the money is in many different places.  We don’t know when the market might go down, so we diversify.

We need to diversify for God as well.  That’s another way of saying that we need to go about doing good and acting in faith in all sorts of ways.

Because, going back to the first point, our “investments” are just one piece of what’s happening.  God has been working, and continues to do so.  Others are contributing to the softening of hearts.  It’s not up to us.  We just do what we can, and give God something to work with.

One of our ships will return.  Jesus promises that there are people who are ready, and we will find them at some point.

But if we don’t, we keep on going.

We keep investing, using what we’ve been given — our abilities, our time, our knowledge.

We trust.

And we curl up, and find contentment in the Lord.

LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Israel, trust in the LORD now and forever!  (Ps. 131 GNT)

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Finding the Rewards and Motivation

Already the reaper draws his wages and gathers a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together.  John 4:36

Here’s my mash up translation of this verse: Even now, the one who is doing the harvesting is receiving his paycheck, and what he’s harvesting is people brought to eternal life, so that the one who plants the seed and the one who harvests the crop can rejoice together.

It’s a pretty cool passage when you break it down.  Jesus speaks of a harvest that’s already taking place. Wait, when did this happen?  We were just reading about Nicodemus.  Now suddenly, we realize that Jesus has brought souls to eternal life!  And what a surprise, they’re Samaritan souls!  The woman at the well believed in Jesus, and spread the good news to her whole town.  They came to believe as well.

“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” . . . And many more believed because of His message. They said to the woman, “We now believe not only because of your words; we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man truly is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39, 41

Jesus also says that the one who does the harvesting is receiving a wage.  We know he’s referring to his disciples as the harvesters, because later in the passage he tells them, “I sent you to reap.”  But what is this compensation he’s talking about?

We can look at some other places in the Bible to give us clues.  In Matthew 10:10, when Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the good news, he told them to not take money to buy food, because “those who work deserve to be fed.”  God would make sure that their needs were provided for by the people they ministered to. So it could be that Jesus was saying that the harvester would be sustained by the providence of God as he did the work, and that would be his reward.

The “pay” also could be an intrensic reward.  It could be the satisfaction of doing the will of God.  This certainly was true for Jesus, as he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

It could be the joy of bringing souls to eternal life. The verse goes on to say that the sower and reaper will rejoice together.  This is backed up when we look in Luke 10 at how the 72 disciples were sent out to minister. They returned with joy in their hearts.  Jesus told them, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Two initial takeaways from today’s reading.

What can we take away from today’s red letter passage?  First, will we be harvesters?  Jesus didn’t do much to set this harvest in motion.  He just cared about a woman. He just had a conversation.  We can do that too.

Second, will we see the harvesting process as rewarding?  There’s a reward we can experience now, because Jesus promises that those who seek the kingdom first will have their physical needs met.  (Matt. 6:33)  We can’t take it for granted if we have a place to live, clothes to wear, and food in our bellies!  These are perks we have because God is taking care of us.

But there’s also the reward of having a deep peace and satisfaction that comes from doing God’s will.  And there’s the reward of the joy we experience as our hearts burst in celebration when someone makes a decision for Christ.  Each new soul becomes dear to us, and we take the treasure of them into eternity.

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.  I Thes 2:20

Having the motivation to put this into practice.

How motivating are these rewards?  In life coaching, when someone wants to change a behavior, they have to have a proper incentive.  They can’t just say, “I’m think I’m going to start waking up early every day and exercizing.”  If they do, they’ll find themselves sleeping in!  Instead, they have to tell themselves, and believe that, “It’s so important to me to get into shape, that I will give up sleep for it.”

Sharing our faith has to become so important to us that we will push through and do it.  The rewards have to be a powerful incentive.  And for me, I admit, they haven’t been. I’m focused on too many other things that seem important to me.  And I don’t realize the magnitude of the reward.

I did a coaching workshop a few days ago, and I asked the participants, “At the end of your life, what would you regret not doing or spending more time on?”  When I asked myself that question, it was sobering.  One of the main things I would regret is not sharing the gospel with more people. That makes me realize that it truly is of top importance to me.  I just get distracted by day to day life.  Or I give into my fear of what people will think, or my love for comfort.

Just as I am trying to open my own eyes, I think that Jesus was trying to open his disciples’ eyes to the enormity of what they were doing.  After centuries of sowing, it was finally time to reap! God was bringing eternal life to souls, and the disciples were part of the process.  They needed to see that the labor of harvest was the best use of their time.  Everything else would fade away, but the work done in God’s field would last forever.

The real motivation and reward goes much deeper.

As I’ve thought of this over several days, I think that the real reward for being a harvester is much more than what I’ve written.  The real reward is that, as a follower of Christ, the harvesters were now living their new identity.

You know, if you don’t live out your identity, you feel unsettled.   You can pretend to be someone else, but sooner or later, you’re miserable.  But when you get your life in line with who you are, and what you value, you’re in the sweet spot.

So I think that living the life they were called to live was the greatest reward of the disciples.   Harvesting was their new groove, and they would feel most alive when they participated in it.  They had an exciting knowledge that was bubbling inside, waiting to be shared with others.  They had a light that was meant to shine, not be hidden under a basket. (Matt. 5:16) And shining for God would feel like the best thing ever.

It will feel like the best thing ever for us as well, if we can push through and live out our identity.  Let’s open our eyes to what’s really important to us.   Let’s realize and be motivated by the amazing rewards that are ours when we do the work.

And one day, we will have the greatest reward of all.  We will have treasures in heaven.  (Matt. 6:19-21) We will rejoice with the sowers over each soul from the field in which we labored.  It will be utterly sweet.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul? (Mark 8:36)  

Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life.  John 6:27b

 

 

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The Eyes of Anticipation

Do you not say, ‘There are still four months until the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest.  John 4:35

Are the fields ripe for harvest?  Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t believe this much for the city of Auburn.  We moved here 10 years ago, gung ho about helping the small church planting grow, and, although we’ve impacted many people, the church is still small.  It seems like most everyone isn’t really interested.

But yesterday, I watched a video about how one of the scenes in the TV series, “The Chosen” was made.  This series about Jesus and the people around him is one of my favorite shows regarding Jesus!

But back to the video.  In it, the director talks about how they made the scene where Peter and Andrew have been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything, but then cast their nets onto the water on the other side of their boat when Jesus tells them to, and they haul in a heavy, miraculous load of fish.

The director tells a super inspiring story of how, when it came time to film, all of the sources for fish to use in the scene had fallen through.   The only thing left to do was to film a large green mass in the nets, and later rely on the special effects team to create fish where the green mass was.  The director really had to step out on faith.  This was one of the most important scenes in the series, and it needed to have an impact.  He said that even though he would start to freak out, he kept coming back to a feeling of peace, that God would provide.

It turns out that even though the special effects guys assured the director they could do it, they’d never done created this kind of animation before, and everything they tried didn’t work.  It was a case where the film crew had to rely on God to provide the fish, so they could film the scene about how he provided the fish!  At the last minute, one of the tech guys woke up in the middle of the night with an idea how the effect could be generated.  It worked, and the scene is amazing.

What’s wild, is that I’ve experienced the same thing as they did in the video.  I also worked for a Christian TV show, and we often had to rely on prayer when we had no idea how something was going to work out.  We would be a couple days away from deadline, and have no one to film.  We would be set up for a film shoot, and then find out that they’d taken away permission for us to film at a crucial location.  We would have 100% rain forecast on the day that we’d scheduled to shoot. In each of these cases, the executive producer and I would pray, and then go forward believing that God was going to supply what we needed.  And it always came together.

So since I’ve experienced this, why am I not doing it more now?  I’ve forgotten.  I’ve been beaten down by disappointments.

But now I’m excited and energized to get back to practicing this kind of faith.   I want to do what I can, and then trust that God will to provide what I can’t.  I want to give my best to each situation, but also see more that prayer is crucial.

So much of what we do in our days needs God to help it come together.

Jesus told his disciples to open their eyes and see that there were people ready to respond to the message, just as the woman at the well did.  The disciples would have thought that no one was open in Samaria.  They were wrong.

And I’ve been wrong, too.  There are open people in Auburn.  God wants me to open my eyes, pray, and go forward with the anticipating of seeing them.

This is only the beginning.  There are other areas in my life where I can apply this principle.  I’m buidling my coaching business.  I have a health situation that needs to be resolved.  And more.

I want to go forward in anticipation that God will supply in these areas as well.

I pray that you will be inspired to do the same.

“At daybreak I lay my plea before You and wait in expectation.” Ps 5:3

 

 

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Food They Know Nothing About

invisible food

Meanwhile, the disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But He told them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

So the disciples asked one another, “Could someone have brought Him food?”

Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.  (John 4:31-34)

I’m going to express my thoughts on this red letter passage in a roundabout way, so stay with me.

My friend Marge and I just studied sin, and then the cross, with a friend.  Doing so made me think more about my own sin, and how Jesus died for me personally.  I lose touch with this sometimes.  It’s hard for me to remember the raw hard truth that my sin was, and is, serious enough to put me on “death row,” and Jesus took my place there.

Reading the Old Testament has actually helped me with this.  I’ve been in Numbers, and I see there so many times that the Israelites complained, and how displeased God was when they did so.  I think right now this convicts me about my sin more than anything else.  Because I’ve realized lately how much I complain, have self pity, or just feel discontent.  I could certainly have been one of the ones who was killed in a plague, or bit by a snake as a consequence for their grumbling.

Yet God was ultimately merciful to the Israelites.  At one point he had Moses put a bronze snake on a pole, and everyone who looked at that snake was healed, instead of dying for their sins.  (Numbers 21:9) I can picture myself there with the rest of the Jews, whining and being irate, and then watching in utter horror as the ground became a slithering mass of snakes that were sinking their fangs into people right and left.  I would have been sure that I was doomed, as I saw everyone around me falling to the ground and writhing in death throes. Then, I can imagine the absolute relief I would have when Moses brought out the bronze snake, and I realized that even though I deserved the punishment, God had been gracious and spared me.

That bronze snake is a foreshadowing of Christ on the cross.  And as I picture it so clearly, I can see how much the cross saved me, even as the bronze snake saved the Israelites.

What does this have to do with today’s red letter passage?  Well, one way I’ve been working on my disgruntled attitude is to tell God “thank you” for the situations that make me want to grumble or have self pity.  I tell him that I’m grateful to go through each challenge, because they remind me of how much I need God, and that he’s the only one who can truly meet my needs.

They remind me that I have spiritual food to eat that others know nothing about.  And what wonderful food it is!  I should remember this food always. But when life is going well, it’s easy to forget.

I love that Jesus was so much in touch with the spiritual food.  He goes on to describe his sustenance: “My food is to do the will of the Father and to finish his work.”

I’m sure that I don’t fully understand this, but as I get older, I’m understanding it more.  Last week I felt very restless.  I felt so motivated to do something worthwhile with my time, and not just spin my wheels.  And the thing that felt most worthwhile was to do things for God.  I was very grateful that my husband and I rode our bikes on Saturday morning to the local park where they were having a City Market.  We met some great people and had good conversations.  We were outward focused.  It felt so much better than sitting at home.

I know my husband has been feeling this restlessness too lately.  He works all day, and that’s productive.  But he’s been longing to do something more.  So he joined a local organization that helps get people out of poverty, and he’s been volunteering every Tuesday night.  He loves it.

The challenge for us from today’s red letter passage is, first, to seek to have a greater recognition of the spiritual food that’s available to us.  Thanking God in hard times is one way to have this, because it opens our eyes to our spiritual hunger and focuses us on God as the one who satisfies that hunger.

The second challenge for us is to seek to to satisfy our restlessness by doing God’s will and work.  Working at a job is good. Recreation is good.  But our souls long to have purpose.  They long to be lined up with God’s heart.  Doing God’s work is truly food for the soul.

Ah, it makes me sigh when I think about how sometimes I can’t even see my own sin and spiritual poverty, yet Jesus could see the spiritual to the point of filling his soul.

But it also inspires me.  I know that as we learn about Jesus, and the whole Bible, we surely will also understand more about the food that others know nothing about.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  (Matt. 5:3, 6)

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isa 55:2)

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Jesus is Our Answer

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

Jesus answered, “I who speak to you am He.”

When Jesus sat down at the well it was noon.  It was hot.  It was deserted.  No one wanted to brave the heat of the day.

Then along came this woman with her jar to get water.  What was she doing there?  It becomes evident that she had a checkered life, and was probably avoiding folks because she knew they would diss her.

Here was a woman who most likely lived in the shadow of fear.  She’d somehow gone through five husbands.  She couldn’t help but worry about what would happen if her current shack up guy left her.  How would she provide for herself?  Life always seemed to let her down, and the next struggle was right around the corner.

Lately, I’m finding that I can relate to this woman.  I’ve realized that I have many more fears than I thought.  I started reading a new book called “Healing of a Wounded Idealist” by Justin and Irene Renton.  One thing the book said that really convicted me is that self pity is a sin that we often don’t see, but that we need to repent of just like we would any other sin.  A way to see if you’re falling into self pity is to see if you complain to yourself, “Why is this happening to me?”  It turns out that I do that a good bit.  I just haven’t been seeing it as self pity.

So anyway, the book says that the way to repent of self pity is to practice being grateful for everything, the good and the bad, as I Thessalonians 5:18 commands.  The way I’m putting this into action is to tell God how I am thankful whenever I think about something that is troubling me.  As I’ve been doing this, I’m seeing that many of my troubling thoughts are fearful ones.  I fear that my health problems will get worse or impede my life style.  I fear the things my husband is going through.  I fear that my children will grow away from me.  I fear that I won’t be able to stay on top of the housework or yard work.  I fear that I won’t be a good friend to others.  I fear change.  I fear that I’m not enough, and I’m letting God down.

What’s cool is that thanking God when I’m fearful really helps!  I don’t fall into self pity as much, and my fears are not as great.  And one of the main reasons this is effective is because I have Christ. With Christ, there are so many more reasons to be faithful and hopeful, instead of fearful.

And that’s what Jesus was saying to the woman at the well.  He told her that he was the Messiah.  What?  He almost never admitted that.  But he did to this woman.  He was letting her know that he was what she was looking for.

Because I believe the woman was truly seeking.  She said that the Messiah, when he came, would explain all things.  That meant that she wanted some answers!  Maybe she wanted to know why her life was so hard.  Maybe she wanted to know why God allowed the Romans to make life difficult for everyone.  Surely she wanted to know who was right, the Jews or the Samaritans!

But the thing is, she wanted answers, and Jesus told her that he was the penultimate answer.

Thank you, God, that Jesus is the Messiah, the answer.  Thank you for the times that I feel like I’m not enough, because it reminds me that Christ’s grace is sufficient.  Thank you that I have physical ailments, because it’s an opportunity for Christ to be glorified as I cling to him.  Thank you for relationship struggles, because it reminds me to get my emotional needs met in Christ.

Yesterday, I went to see a surgeon in Macon for a second opinion on whether I needed surgery on a benign breast lump.  He said I didn’t, but then he found a new breast lump that concerned him.  Yikes, I wasn’t ready for that!  I could feel the tears welling up.  Having Christ with me helped me so much with not giving way to fear.  I was able to be cheerful through a quick ultrasound, and I was told that there was nothing to worry about.

Let’s remember what it means to us Christ is the Messiah.  He is the answer.  He can calm every fear.

Ken and I BBQ

Ken and I having BBQ after the appointment.

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