Monthly Archives: November 2019

The Peace of Staying on Track


Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing. . . ” John 5:19a

I love this passage!  I tend to run around, full of my own plans, trying to achieve all kinds of things.  At some point I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  It takes a while, but I finally get it through my head that it’s only going to work if I’m in sync with God, doing his will.

So this verse means a lot to me, because it says that Jesus stayed in sync with God.  To use an analogy, instead of taking his own train, Jesus looked for God’s train, got on board and remained there.  Even if life changed tracks, or took him to another “station,” he kept his eye out for God’s car.

To be like Jesus, we need to keep our eye out for God.   For the last few months, I’ve been keeping a journal of what I see God doing.  I note when someone comes across my path, or visits church, or starts studying the Bible.  I note people who are going through significant transitions.  I write down the names of those who are experiencing challenges or illnesses.  It’s not that I think that God wants them to suffer.  But these can be opportunities for him to work, and shape character.

It really helps me to write these things down, because when I see what God is doing, I see how I can plan my time around that.  I reach out to those who are seeking him.  I visit the sick.  I schedule times with those who need support.  I pray for those in challenging circumstances.

If I don’t keep my eye out for God, I feel off.  I know there are needs around me, but I can’t get away from my agenda.

“He can only do what he sees his Father doing.”  It’s a great challenge for us to be more like Jesus in this.  And it helps us feel “on,” instead of off, when we do so.

But this verse has deeper applications.  How could Jesus stick to doing what he saw the Father doing?  What kept him from doing his own thing?

I really think Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing because he completely trusted who God was and what God did.

Jesus was the answer to the failings of man in the Garden of Eden.  In the story, God had just made the whole universe and it was good, reflecting the innate goodness of the Creator.  But man didn’t trust God’s goodness.  He felt like God was holding out on him.  And so, sin was born.

Jesus was the opposite of this.  He never sinned.  He never stepped outside of what God prescribed, even when he was being put to death, because he trusted in God’s goodness.

Can we do the same?  It’s hard for me to trust when things are going “wrong,” according to my perception.  I’m just so sure I know how it’s supposed to go. I get discouraged.

Reading “Healing of the Wounded Idealist” by Justin and Irene Renton shakes me loose of my faithless funks.  This book helps me to see that I need to be less of an idealist, who, “sets hope on a specific outcome,” and more of a faithful realist, who, “trusts that God knows better than you and that your plans, as visionary as they may be, might not be best.”  The faithful realist realizes, “There may be a better way.”

God always works towards the better way — his “good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  He works towards a better way even when, maybe especially when, life takes us to the bleak places.

Jesus knew this, and that knowledge kept him on track.  I was given a wonderful example today of someone who lived this out, as I read Jeannie Shaw’s just published blog on the recent death of her husband, Wyndham, due to Multiple System Atrophy.

“As much as I hate this disease, God has walked with us through it all, and He has been enough,” she wrote.  “For this I am grateful.  It does me no good to ask why, though truthfully I often have. If I could understand all of God’s ways and how He sees beyond and works for good despite the evil in our fallen world he would not be God, for God is beyond the dimension of human understanding. There is nothing I can do about that except to surrender and trust. He is God and I am not. He remains a good, good God, with a perspective that is beyond my reach.”

Amen.  How could I say more?

Let’s trust more completely in the goodness of God.  Let’s take a deep breath, stop running around like crazy, and, instead, watch for God.  And when we see what he’s doing, let’s hop on board!

Sure, it’s scary.  Sure, it’s not what we thought.

But we can have a peaceful confidence, knowing that we’re on the right track.

(Photo credit Vladislav Vasnetsov )

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, John, Peace, Red Letter, Uncategorized

“Always Working” – A Great Comfort

Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews began to persecute Him.  But Jesus answered them, “To this very day My Father is at His work, and I too am working.” John 5:16-17

Sometimes I unconsciously think that God isn’t currently working in the situations surrounding me.  He’s focusing his efforts elsewhere.  Yes, he’s answering some prayers, and doing some cool things.  But my heart longs for him to move a few mountains, and I feel like he’s expending that kind of effort elsewhere, not here.

Reading today’s red letter passage does me good.  It reminds me that God is always working everywhere.  He doesn’t take a break from his work.  Yes, he rested on the 7th day of creation.  But we don’t have to say, “Well, it’s no use praying right now, because God’s taking a break.”  No, we know that God always listens and responds.

Let me say that again.  He doesn’t take a break.  He’s always listening.  He’s always working.

It reminds me of Isaiah 40:28,  “He will never grow faint or weary.”  When it comes to us, we grow faint.  We get tired.  For me, it’s the end of November, and I confess that I am flagging.  My excitement isn’t at its peak.  The concerns of the past year are weighing me down.  The effort of continuing to go, and give, are wearing me out.

But God doesn’t wear out.  That is so comforting.  He keeps going and giving at the same rate.

Think of situations throughout the Bible where people could be tempted to think that God had quit working.   Joseph was squirreled away in prison.   David was running and hiding from Saul.  The Israelites wandered in circles.   Jesus was persecuted and crucified.

But God was just as active as he had ever been.  He was working.  It’s only that his work was preparing for the next step.  And in each of the cases I mentioned, there was a great next step.

So when we’re in our dark times, can we believe that God is still working for us 100%, and preparing the next step for us?

And let’s look at the second part of the red letter statement.  Jesus is always working as well.  He constantly cared for people and their needs while he was on the earth.  He did have physical limitations.  We just read in John 4 about how he rested at the well while his disciples went to buy food.  But he was always willing.  When asked, he would say, as he said to the centurion, “I will go and heal him.” (Matt 8:7)  To him, it didn’t matter that it was the Sabbath.  God was always working, even on the Sabbath, so he would as well.

What’s super encouraging is that Jesus doesn’t have the physical limitations anymore.  Now he’s wholly spiritual, and can always be working like the Father.  His work is to go to bat for us before God.  “For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God—and He is interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34

Plus, Jesus doesn’t mention this part, but the Spirit is always working as well.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” (Romans 8:27) There are many other verses that illustrate how the Spirit is always working.

This makes us feel so much better.  So when we don’t see God working, let’s remember that there are things going on behind the scenes that we can’t see.  Let’s remember the nature of God, Jesus and the Spirit.

  • And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:19
  • How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:13

God is always listening.  He isn’t taking a nap somewhere.  He isn’t distracted.  He isn’t focusing his energy elsewhere, like it’s a finite resource.

He absolutely cares about our needs and concerns, and he’s expending effort on our behalf, whether we see it or not.

Because God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, always work.  That’s how they roll.  That’s who they are.


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Filed under John, Red Letter

The Thing That Changes Everything

Afterward, Jesus found the man at the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you.”  John 5:14

It makes you wonder.  Why would this guy continue to sin? He’d been laid up for 30 years.  Jesus picked him out of the crowd and made his life radically better.  Wouldn’t this man be so grateful that he would honor God with his life?

Either he didn’t realize how much had been done for him, or he didn’t appreciate it.

We want to say, “How blind can this man be?”  But we forget the foibles of human nature.

I remember a time when we had a group of young men over to dinner.  I bought special food from the store and spent hours preparing it.  They were unavoidably delayed, but when they did arrive, they basically ate and ran.  It made me feel bad, because their actions didn’t demonstrate a recognition of the time and money I’d spent on them.  It wasn’t that they were being deliberately rude.  It just didn’t cross their minds that someone had gone to a lot of trouble for them.  It didn’t occur to them that they should be so grateful as to stay and visit for a while.

In the same way, maybe the former invalid didn’t fully see what it meant that the divine representative had singled him out, taken time for him, and expended power to heal him.  Maybe he didn’t realize that gratitude should be expressed in action.

It like this video I saw recently.

In the video, everything we take for granted is gift wrapped, and the man treats it all like amazing presents.  He’s excited, and marvels that he’s alive, that he has a wife and children, and that he has electricity, running water, breakfast and a car.  It’s pretty convicting in a way, because around the world, may people don’t have these basic things.

When we look at this, we see that we all can be like the invalid man who was healed.  We forget that God has given us what we have.  We don’t act out our gratitude.

And we have been saved, so this should motivate us to action more than anything else.  II Peter is always convicting.  “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life . . . For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge (etc) . . . But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” II Peter 1:3-8

So let’s get back to the words of Jesus, “Stop sinning, or something worse will happen to you.”  If Jesus took out the time to heal this man, he took even more time to search until he found the man, and warn him about the consequences of his sin.

I might have been like, “The guy’s not grateful.  Now it’s on him.”  But Jesus sought him out and tried to turn him from his path.  Jesus had to really care in order to do that.  He showed mercy.  I love it.

And Jesus told him that thing that he needed to hear most.  He’d been physically healed, but spiritually, he was still stunted! He needed to repent.

Surely Jesus shows mercy on us as well, by giving us chance after chance to repent.  This is another thing that we don’t need to take for granted.  Any of us could die today.  Or God could turn his back on us, because that is what we deserve.  But he’s given us another day to make changes and give our heart more fully to him.

Here are some takeaways from today’s red-letter passage:

  1.  Will we see how fortunate we are that God has given us what we have?
  2.  How will we express our gratitude to God?  Will our gratitude motivate us to address our sin — our pride, selfishness, worldliness, etc?
  3.  Will we appreciate the mercy shown to us as we have another day to repent?  What will we do differently?

The man who had been healed thought that he now had everything he needed.  He didn’t realize that he’d been given the one thing that could really give him what he needed:  the opportunity to be grateful.  It was gratitude that could motivate him to repent.  It was gratitude that could keep him faithful and get him to heaven.

May we realize that the same is true for us.

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Filed under Grace, Gratitude, John, Red Letter

What We Need to Hear

Then Jesus told him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.”

Immediately the man was made well, and he picked up his mat and began to walk.

Jesus could be very direct.  Yes, he was compassionate and merciful.  But there were also many times when he simply laid out what needed to be done.  “Follow me” is one of his most well known direct statements.

God’s the same way.  I’m reminded of the time when Elijah was having a pity party in a cave, saying, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of Hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant. . .  I am the only one left, and they are seeking my life as well.”  (I Kings 19:14)

God didn’t commiserate with Elijah.  He just told the prophet, “Go back.”  He instructed Elijah to leave the cave and resume his work.

So it wasn’t out of character for Jesus to tell this invalid man, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”  In fact, it was probably what the man needed.

I remember when I was in labor with my son Max, and I was losing it and screaming.  The doctor came into the room and told me firmly, “Calm down,”  It might sound callous that he said that, but it was actually very powerful.  I saw the doctor as the leader taking control and getting us to the point of the baby being delivered.  I needed that.

Sometimes our pain or fear is so great that we need someone to tell us the way.  But there are also other situations that call for direct statements.  Sometimes we can dither endlessly, looking at all of the extenuating circumstances.  We need someone to tell us to quit equivocating, and just do it!

And then sometimes we need to tell others to just do it.  I studied the Bible with a woman this week.  She told me she would be willing to do anything for God.  My reply was, in a nutshell, “Then make these changes you need to make.”  I wasn’t being insensitive to her.  I was cutting to the chase, and telling her what she needed to hear.

I was also telling her what God needed her to hear. I want to do this more.  I’m too often held back by people pleasing.  I think things like, “They’ve had a difficult past.  It’s hard for them right now.  It might shame them if I say anything.  It might turn them away.  They’ll think I’m self righteous.  It could hurt our relationship.”  But God needs people to hear the truth that will get them moving.

We need to be so grateful that we serve a God who gets us moving.  Over the past few days, I’ve experienced several unexpected disappointments.  One was severe enough that my heart was weighed down and I needed time to get over it.  It’s important to allow space to grieve and acknowledge the hurt.

But it’s also important to not give into self-pity, or the temptation to wallow.  I wanted to say, “I tried so hard and then this happened.”  It was just like when Elijah said, “I’ve been very zealous for the Lord, and now I’m the only one left.”  It became about me, and my efforts, instead of being about God.

And God, like a father, with love, compassionate and firmness, simply said, “Pick up your mat and walk.  Shake it off, and go back to serving me.”

Wait.  But. Oh, okay.

So I did.

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Filed under John, Obedience, Red Letter

How to Get Unstuck


Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool with five covered colonnades, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda. On these walkways lay a great number of the sick, the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.

One man there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and realized that he had spent a long time in this condition, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me.”

Here’s a man who’s the definition of stuck.  He has some type of disability, and evidently can’t walk.  All he can do is sit among the throng of the flawed and unwanted, next to a pool that occasionally heals, and hope that some day it will be his turn.  He waits, day after day, year after year, for 38 years, but nothing changes.

Can we relate to this man?  Sometimes, the “healing” we want can also seem tantalizingly close, but unattainable.   We see others who are growing, and thriving, and moving forward.  Yet we’re tangled in our struggles.  We feel like we’re doing our best, but still remain in the same situation.

And Jesus asks a question, which is today’s red letter verse, that speaks to us as well, “Do you want to get well?”

It’s an uncomfortable question.  Because we want to answer, “Of course I want to get well.  I’m totally miserable.”  And then we want to add, like the invalid, “But there’s no one to help me with my challenges.  I feel so alone.  If only someone would come and show they care, I could do better.”

Yesterday, my sister in law sent me a link to a song called, “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier.  The gist of it is summed up in these words from the last verse, “Yea, we all could use a little mercy now.  I know we don’t deserve it. But we need it anyhow.”  This song very much moved my sister in law, because it spoke about the deep yearning in all of us to be heard. To be seen.  To matter.

The invalid needed some mercy.  He needed to be seen among the crowd of the disabled.  He needed to feel like he mattered to others, and to God.  So many others were healed when the water was stirred.  He tried to get there, but it was always too late.  If God helped them, but not him, he might have decided that God didn’t care.

And we’ve felt that way at times too.  So when Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” it can open up a world of hurt.  We want to lash out with, “I feel like no one understands.  No one’s on my side.  I’m really trying, but it seems useless and overwhelming.”

Yet Jesus does ask that question.  How could he be so callous?  The thing is, there’s an elephant in the room.  There’s a pool that’s only a few feet away.  For the man it was water called Bethesda.  For us, it’s Jesus, the living water.  It’s our ability to enter the holiest of holies and be in God’s presence.  It’s the indwelling of the Spirit.  All of these things are right at hand.

And Jesus asks, “Why don’t you fight to get to this water?”  And for us, that translates, “Why don’t you fight to drink more deeply of the healing water I have for you?”

Ah. We cringe.  Our hearts are exposed.  Why don’t we fast?  Why don’t we spend hours in prayer, as Jesus did?  Why don’t we study the Bible more? Why don’t we plan a retreat to just spend time with him?  Why don’t we put our face on the ground, and completely surrender?  Why don’t we make it a priority to have a breakthrough so we can know God better?

Why don’t we?  Because we just want to pray, and that will make things better.  We don’t want to get out of our comfort zone.  We don’t want to change.  It seems too difficult.  We’re too busy and preoccupied with our own troubles and life.

Isn’t it ironic that we’re so overwhelmed in our little world of struggles, that we can’t find the energy to go for the cure?

The more I reflect on this, the more I see it is true for me. There are ways I want to “get well.”  I want to reach more people with the gospel, for our church to grow.  I want my business to do well.  But the work I’m putting in to achieve my desires doesn’t reflect that I really want them.  I share my faith, but I don’t often do something like door knocking.  I work on my coaching Facebook page, but I don’t spend hours per week building the business.

I think my mentality about this is similar to my mentality about my physical ailments.  I’m having some discomfort with a tooth, but I don’t go to the endodontist.  And I probably won’t go until it’s absolutely necessary.  I have a breast lump that’s benign.  One surgeon says it should come out, and another says it’s fine.  I could have the surgery just to be sure, but instead, I’ll wait to see if something happens, and then I’ll act.

I really don’t want to disrupt my comfortable lifestyle.  I can live with the way things are.  And that’s probably the way the invalid man felt.  He wanted to get well.  And did try to do his part.  But the solution that was really needed would take a lot of energy and effort that would disrupt the pattern of life he was used to.  So he could live with the way things were and keep making lackluster attempts.

There’s just something about human nature that holds onto the status quo.

So Jesus asks the hard questions to shake things up.  In life coaching, I do the same.   I was speaking with a client last night who is very stuck in some ways.  The only way she will get unstuck is if I ask questions that challenge her mindset.  She has to learn to think differently in order to change and move forward.

And one of the main ways I challenge her to think differently is to ask her what she really wants.  She believes she wants one thing, and that drives her.  As we talk, she begins to see that she has far greater desires that will motivate her in a better way to a better life.

Jesus wants to do the same.  He wants us to get unstuck, and go after our best life.

So how do we get unstuck?  We ask ourselves the question Jesus asked, “What do I really want?  What’s most important to me?”

And then we stay focused on that, and let our energies reflect its importance.

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Filed under Breakthrough, John, Red Letter

How to Persevere

Persevere Gerd Altman

Sir,” the official said, “come down before my child dies.”

“Go,” said Jesus. “Your son will live.”  (John 4:49-50)

I think God is teaching me to be more like this official, who in today’s red letter passage asked Jesus for the second time to heal his child.  He’s teaching me to persevere when things don’t go as planned.

If I had been this official, it would have taken everything I had just to have the courage to come to Jesus in the first place. If Jesus said something that indicated that he wasn’t going to grant my request, I probably would have been out of there.

I can get easily discouraged.

But the royal official was persistent.  Jesus had just answered his first petition with an accusation, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”

That sounds like a “No” to me.  It even seems kind of rude.

But maybe it was also a test of sorts to see how the official would respond.  Would he get huffy, bitter or discouraged?  Would he say, “I thought you were a prophet, but you obviously don’t represent God.”  Or, “Don’t you know who I am?  I work for the king.  How dare you turn me down!”  Or, “I walked all this way for nothing.  I should have known you would never help me.”  Or would he slink away with a downcast face, feeling like nothing ever worked out for him?

He didn’t do any of these things.  Instead he was respectful.  He didn’t listen to his negative self talk, or jump to conclusions.  He didn’t back down.  He decided that there was a chance that if he asked Jesus again, Jesus might acquiesce.

And this is a red letter blog series about what Jesus said, so let’s look at his reply, “Go, your son will live.”

Isn’t this totally cool?  The man asked for Jesus to take the 16 hour trip from Cana to Capernaum, but Jesus said this wasn’t necessary, the healing would be done remotely!  It’s the kind of Lord we serve, that when we pray in his name, he can just say the word and our prayer can be answered.  I think we forget that sometimes.

Plus, we see that Jesus was willing to be persuaded to help someone, even when he felt like their heart wasn’t where it needed to be.  This gives me tremendous encouragement, because I know that sometimes my heart isn’t right.  I want to have pure motives, but I get all tangled up in anger, longings, disappointments or  hurt feelings.  I don’t feel worthy of Jesus being my advocate, but he still is.

We also see that Jesus does care, even when evidence points to the contrary.  If we get a “No” from God, we immediately want to think that God isn’t concerned about us personally.  Believing that he is, in spite of today’s “Exhibit A,” is an ongoing spiritual battle that we have to fight.

What are we taking away from today’s red letter passage?  How can we learn to persevere?  Here are questions we can ask ourselves:

  1. When something discouraging happens, do we decide that Jesus won’t work?
  2. When we get a “No,” will we try one more time?
  3. Do we believe that Jesus has much more power than we’re currently giving him credit for?
  4. Do we realize that Jesus’s nature is to respond, even when we’re struggling spiritually?
  5. Do we tell ourselves that Jesus doesn’t care, or will we fight to believe that he does?

Taking a deeper look at what we’re thinking when life doesn’t go as planned, or when we get a “No” from God, will teach us how we can become better at persevering.

Because it really is about how we look at things.  This morning I was journaling, and I realized that I’m having thoughts like, “Why should I keep trying?  It’s not going to work out.”

Man, that sounds morose.  But maybe some of you have the same inner voice. Maybe it’s really loud right now, because you’re weary from the setbacks.

Let’s remember that there are going to be setbacks (John 16:33), but Jesus is looking for those who will kick the negative self talk to the curb, and keep on going.

When life disappoints, we can focus our mind, instead, on three truths:

Jesus is still with us.

He cares.

He’s willing to help.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Gal 6:9

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1

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Filed under John, Perseverance, Red Letter