Category Archives: John

When It’s Hard to Have Faith

“Truly, truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, and yet you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.   (John 3:11)

This is a longer red letter passage than usual.  But the individual verses are connected in totally cool ways, so I’m going to go through it piece by piece.

One thing that is puzzling about this passage is that Jesus speaks in the plural.  So the first thing I want to explore is who is “we?”  There’s no knowing for sure, but I think one possibility could be that Jesus was including himself in the company of all of the prophets who came before him.  They spoke what they received from God, yet got no love from their hearers.  It was as Ezekiel said about the Jews, “They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ez 12:2b)

Jesus also might have been referring to the disciples who were following him.  From the other gospels, we know that they were going about healing, telling people to repent, and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  They were testifying, yet many did not believe them.

In summary, I think Jesus was saying, “What is it with you folk?  You’ve had direct witnesses to God telling you his will, but you never paid them any mind.”

Then I want to look at is what Jesus said next, “You can’t even believe when I talk about earthly things.  How are you going to believe when I talk about heavenly ones?” (Paraphrased.)

What did Jesus mean by “earthly things?”  It probably refers to what he said and did while he was on earth.

  • So the Jews gathered around Him and demanded, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”   “I already told you,” Jesus replied, “but you did not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify on My behalf.”  (John 10:24-25)
  • “But I have testimony more substantial than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish–the very works I am doing–testify about Me that the Father has sent Me.”  (John 5:36)

Like the prophets of old, like the disciples, Jesus gave a sort of testimony, but people didn’t believe.  And Jesus was saying, “If you can’t believe in this testimony which is physical evidence that you can see, how are you going to believe in what you can’t see, which is heaven?”

The third thing I want to discuss is Jesus’s statement about. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven.”  It’s just my take,  but I think Jesus is playing loose with the time frame here. He includes his coming from heaven, which happened when he was born (John 1:4), and his future return to heaven (Acts 1:9) in the same sentence.  He defines himself as the one who came from heaven and will return to heaven.  He’s trying to get people to see that as the only actual witness to heaven, he’s the only one qualified to give testimony about it.

Lastly, Jesus asserts, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. ‘”

This statement follows perfectly from what preceded it.  Jesus said people didn’t accept the testimony that they’d been given.  And if they couldn’t believe in the testimony of him on earth, they wouldn’t able to believe in heaven.  And he was the one who could authentically testify about heaven.  And he was the perfect one to provide a way for them to get to heaven.

Let me break this last part down a little more.  When Jesus was lifted up, which happened with the events of the cross, that became the catalyst for the Jews to finally be able to believe.   As Jesus stated later in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   Jesus’s death and resurrection would capture people’s attention like no testimony of the past.  It was the game changer. It was the faith bringer.

And what would people have faith in?  Not only Jesus, but the eternal life he brought.  They would believe in heavenly things.

Our gracious God, through his Son, in one fell swoop, made a way for those who heard the testimony to completely believe.

What does this mean for us?

Can we relate to the Jews of old?  I certainly can.  Lately, my life feels like the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.  Some fundamental parts of my landscape have changed.  And now there are times that I just can’t seem to have faith.  I can’t believe that things will work out.  Even after all of the “testimony” God’s given me in the past, all the ways he’s worked in my life, I keep slipping back into the swamp of thinking, “It’s going to stink.”

I’ve been reading a nonfiction book about people whose faith is the very opposite.  It’s written by a man named Surprise, who tells the story of when he was a teenager in Mozambique and heard God’s voice in the middle of the night, telling him to leave his village.  Surprise obeyed the voice, even though he had never heard about God or Jesus.  After wandering in the jungle for two weeks, he came upon a clearing and saw an aged man who had been told in a dream to wait for him. This man took care of him and shared a very simple version of the gospel with him.  Surprise believed, and over time, began to go into the surrounding villages and tell the people there the good news about Jesus.  At first he didn’t have a Bible.  He only knew that people were sinning and God loved them and had sent his son to die for them.  But he shared what he knew, and everywhere he went, the people believed.  They didn’t have to have lengthy studies or explanations.  They had simple faith.  Surprise started hundreds of churches.

Maybe, in the Western world, we make faith too complicated sometimes.  Maybe there’s something about our cultural mindset that makes it difficult to believe.

Maybe we all just all need the cross.  The simple message of the cross is what impacted the villagers in Africa.  It impacted the people at the time of Christ.  It’s our lifeline when we’re pulled every which way by the world and our troubles.

I recently came across this blog by Julia Martin on “How do You Remain Faithful to God When Life is Terrible?”  She writes,”When we suffer we must run and collapse at the foot of the cross. It is there that we look up to see His hair blowing in the wind, His blood dripping on the rocky ground. It is there that we lift our face to see that this Man, the One in the center, is staring at us, not with eyes that condemn but with eyes of love.”

Isn’t that picture compelling?  Does it work on your heart? Can you see how cherished and valued you are, in spite of your perceived flaws?  Can you see that there’s someone who experienced the depths of despair, and can relate to what you’re going through?  Can you know that there’s hope, because, by the power of God, this man’s story ended in triumph?

I know that the foot of the cross can be the only place where I find healing and peace.

But thinking of heaven also helps.  As I remember that my citizenship is in heaven, my perspective changes.  I’m fortified by the realization that my place is with the almighty and all-loving God, wrapped in his safe, comforting presence, not with all of the worries and dysfunction of the world.  One day I’ll be there in reality.  In the meantime, it helps to remind myself that I don’t belong to all this angst.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Heb. 12:22

In conclusion, the passage we’re looking at today was a part of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was perplexed.  He didn’t get it.

Neither did many of his peers.

And even today, I can struggle to get it.  But if I walk with God through my dark valley, he holds my hand and guides me until the shadows dissipate and I find a glimmer of hope.

If you’re struggling to have faith, reach out for God’s hand and let him walk through that dark valley with you.  Know that Jesus came and was lifted up to make a way for you to believe.  Remember the cross.  Remember heaven.  With a simple faith, knowing these is enough.

I wrote this blog over a period of days, and I’m feeling better now.  God has worked in amazing ways to bring light to my soul.

I know the same will be true for you, if you persevere.

All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true.  You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.  II Peter 1:19 (CEV, NLT)

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Finding the Old Treasures

Treasures and Light Bulbs

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and you do not understand these things?   (John 3:10-11)

Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He was a top dog among the religious officials.  He was steeped in the knowledge of the scriptures.  You could probably ask him any religious question, and the answer was on the tip of his tongue.

Yet what Jesus said stumped Nicodemus. What was all this talk of being born again, and of the Spirit?  “How can this be?” he asked.

Jesus answered him by saying, “Wait a minute.  You’re the one who instructs all the Jews.  How can you not get this?”

Ouch!  But, as the Ellicotts Commentary for English Readers puts it, “Do teachers of Israel know not these things when they lie beneath every page of the Old Testament Scriptures?”

There were truths in the Old Testament that should have switched on a light bulb for Nicodemus when he heard Jesus teach them.  Look at these passages:

  • I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. (Ez 11:19a)
  • I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ez 36:26)
  • I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. (Ez 37:14)
  • The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted . . . until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high. (Isa 32:14a, 15a)
  •  I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isa 44:3b)
  • And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Joel 2:28a)
  • And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. (Zech 12:1)

And that’s a challenge for us.  Is the Old Testament switching on light bulbs for us?  How much do we know it? How much are we reading it, to remind ourselves of all that is there?

Paul told Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim 3:5)  The holy scriptures Paul was referring to had to include the Old Testament writings, because when Timothy was growing up, the New Testament books were just being penned.  So Paul said the Old Testament scriptures are a great source of knowledge for salvation.

I have a friend who attended church for years, but didn’t come to a saving faith.  Finally, she started reading the Bible on her own, starting in Genesis, and going all the way through.  The more she read, the more she fell in love with the gracious and amazing God she discovered. Then as she got to Jesus, her heart opened up as she saw how he reflected everything else she had studied.   It was the knowledge of the Old Testament, put together with the New Testament scriptures, that converted her.   She was baptized a few weeks ago.

The thing is, that’s just the beginning.  There’s so much in the Old Testament that can open up our hearts in cool ways.  We’ll find that almost everything in the New Testament has a basis in the Old Testament.  The more we understand the Old, the more we’ll understand the New.

So I’ve been getting convicted that I need to start regularly reading through the whole Bible. Sure, I have daily devotionals. (Well, mostly!)  But I need to have a regimen of exposing myself to the all of scriptures, not just bits and pieces.  There’s a wealth of great stuff that God put in there for a reason.

There’s this turn of the century Bible teacher I admire,  James A. Harding.  Harding was known for his knowledge of the Bible.  He read through the Old Testament 60 times, and the New Testament 130 times.  And everywhere he went, he urged people to do the same.  It was said in his eulogy that he, “set more people to reading the Bible … than any other preacher; and he infused his own love and appreciation of the Word into those who came under his sway.”

I so want to infuse my love and appreciation of the Word into those around me.  That’s the reason I blog.

Here’s a great verse,  “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”  (Matt 13:52)

We can have a storehouse of gems of truth from both the New Testament and Old.

You know, Nicodemus was a good guy.  He sought out Jesus and put his faith in him.  But he was a teacher of the law, and Jesus expected him to understand the scriptures.

Today, we are Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor 5:20), and Jesus expects us to understand the scriptures as well.

Let me encourage you to find a way to read the Old Testament more.  If you’re a new Christian, don’t get overwhelmed.  Start by reading all of the New Testament, book by book.  Then develop a system to read the Old Testament as well.

There are all kinds of reading plans on Bible apps and web sites.  You can listen to the Bible.  There are online devotionals that study books of the Bible, including first5, which some of my friends love.  I just bought a chronological Bible that is divided up into daily reading plans.

Let’s make this our challenge: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” ( II Tim 2:15)

Let’s do our best to correctly handle the word of truth.  It’s going to take work.  We’ll have to be intentional.

But the light bulbs are worth it.  The gems of truth we will gain are worth it.  And the love and appreciation of the Word that we will infuse to those around us will be a tremendous blessing.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103)

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The Crazy Blowing of the Spirit

windmills

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)

The other night, I couldn’t sleep.  My mind was spinning with thoughts of stressful situations.

But then it occurred to me that I have a resource that can get me through all of the challenges, including getting back to sleep.

I have the Spirit.

The Spirit is like an extra thing.  I don’t have to depend on the same old stuff that hasn’t worked.  There’s something in me waiting to be tapped, waiting to give me hope and strength, telling me I can make it.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  (John 4:4)

When I remembered that I have something in me that is stronger than those things that daunt me, I felt empowered.  I knew that I could handle the trials.  Sleep began to creep over me in a supernatural way, and soon I was snoozing once more.

The Spirit is amazing.  So it’s no wonder that Jesus would tell believers that they need to be born of the Spirit.  They would need a piece of the divine in them to carry out his mission.  They would need extra strength to overcome temptation and persevere.  They would need to be different than the world.

Here are some things we can take away from today’s red letter passage.

We’re a part of a spiritual kingdom.   The context of this passage is that Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus about how to see the kingdom. Jesus said the flesh gives birth to flesh, and spirit to spirit.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “What you seek is actually invisible.  It’s a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one. And so, to be a part of this kingdom, you’re going to need to be born of the spiritual.”

Do we understand that those of us who follow Jesus are born of the spiritual, and that’s our milieu?  We work through an invisible realm.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Yesterday, I coached someone who was being pulled in two directions.  One one hand, they wanted to solve their financial challenges by finding ways to make more money.  On the other hand, they wanted peace, and to be more centered in God.  They decided that focusing on the latter would help them achieve the former.

This is what we have to keep remembering.  We look for physical solutions to our problems.  And this is not a bad thing.  But the way we operate is to seek the kingdom first, and pray.  Our solutions start with the spiritual, with faith.

The Spirit is a moving force.  Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind, which is anything but stationary.  As I’m writing this, I’m on an airplane flying across the US.

Airplane Sky

View from the airplane window.

It would do me no good to be on the airplane and sit on the tarmac.   I did that once before, when there was a thunderstorm delay, and we were stuck for hours on a hot airplane.  That was the pits!

And so it is with the Spirit.  It’s meant to take us places.  Sometimes it motivates us to physically move to a different place or situation.  Other times it empowers us to grow internally.

“For God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self discipline.” (II Tim 1:7)

The Spirit takes us to unexpected places.  Jesus said that the Spirit is like the way the wind blows and no one knows where it came from or where it’s going.

Do you ever look around you and say, “This is crazy.  I don’t know how I got here.  But it’s good.”

I was talking with my son in law recently.  Over the past four years, he, my daughter and my grandchildren have lived in Chicago, Seattle, Indonesia, and now in  in the San Francisco area.  It’s been a wild ride.  But he’s come to realize that God took him and his family to a place where they will do their best and thrive.  He said this is not how he would have planned things!  But he sees that God’s way is much better.

The same is true with my own personal development.  Believe me, I would have self-helped myself in different ways than the trials I’ve endured.  My way would have included a lovely smooth path.  But the Spirit has brought me from a place of being opinionated, judgmental and full of myself, to being more surrendered and more dependent.  I’m more joyful and peaceful.  I feel more ready for heaven.

In conclusion, let the Spirit work.  Don’t restrict it!  Do we open ourselves up to the workings of the Spirit, or do we quench it? (I Thes. 5:19)

I’m off the airplane now. But on the flight, there was a little boy behind me who kept up a constant stream of commentary.  He exclaimed about what he saw out the window.  He expressed his excitement at take off.  He asked random questions.  Whatever he said was unfiltered.  Meanwhile, no one else on the plane was talking.  They kept their thoughts to themselves.

It reminds me of the way we are with the Spirit.  We’re reserved. We’re civilized. We’re fearful and cautious.  We don’t let that inner self run wild and free.

But where would the Spirit take us if we let go a bit?  Recently, my friend Marge was inspired to take her small group to visit a church right around the corner for midweek services.  She wanted to promote unity.  It was kind of a bold crazy thing, to walk a diverse group of people into to a little country congregation.  But they ended up having a great fellowship.

Who would the Spirit create in us if we let go a little bit?  As I’ve studied life coaching, I’ve been able to throw off more of my negative self talk.  I’ve had so much more room for spiritual thoughts and growth.

windmill 2

After I got off the airplane, I drove through the prairies of Eastern New Mexico.  Along the way, I saw the giant windmills that are becoming more prevalent as the nation utilizes wind energy.  The windmills are a great visual for me.  The propellers are set way up high, where their motion can be unimpeded. (Okay, there’s a telephone wire in the picture, but it’s actually far away.) It reminds me that the “wind” of the Spirit works best when we raise our focus to God, instead of at the level of our worries and fears.  The blades are continually rotating, and it reminds me that the Spirit is an ongoing force.  If we get in the flow of it, we will have a constant cycle of love, joy, peace, patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control.

Let’s appreciate how incredible it is that Jesus came to bring a spiritual kingdom.

Let’s live as citizens of this kingdom, and draw on the amazing resource we have in the Spirit.

Let’s be conscious of the times we clench up and inhibit the Spirit, and strive to open up instead.

It’s a wild ride!  But it’s going to take us to amazing places, and do amazing works in us.

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The Continuing Adventure of Being Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:1-3)

This was a bold move for Nicodemus.  He was a respected Jewish leader, and yet he took the risk of coming to Jesus and expressing faith in him, knowing that the other religious leaders were highly critical of this new teacher.

Jesus’s response, which is our red letter statement for today, was equally bold.  He told Nicodemus that more than belief would be required.  The Pharisee would need to be born again.

What does it mean to be born again?  We’ve heard this phrase so much that it can lose its impact.

Last week, I got the totally encouraging news that a long time friend of mine got baptized.  I met her back in 2011 when she was a master’s student at Auburn University.  We studied the Bible, and had many spiritual discussions over the years, but she wasn’t able to make a commitment of faith at that time.  She continued her spiritual journey over many years, and it was so thrilling to me when I heard that she had finally come to the point where she completely gave her life to God.

She texted me, “Now I want to please God.  Before I wasn’t interested in that.  I just wanted to please others.”  She went through a complete transformation.  She was a different person after her baptism.  She wasn’t just immersed in water.  She didn’t just profess faith.  She genuinely was born again.

For those of us who have been born again, I think it’s a good reminder that we also have been completely transformed.  That means that we now have a different identity.  I recently had coffee with a new friend who told me about her church.  “I don’t understand why some of the members act like they’ve just kind of added God to their life, while others are completely committed,” she said.  I thought she was pretty observant to notice this.  She could see that some people make Christianity one of the things they do, while others make Christianity who they are.  Being born again involves making Christianity who we are.

Is Christianity still who we are?  We’ve been adopted as God’s children.  Do we see ourselves as part of his family?  I’ve been watching this reality series, “Relative Race,” in which the contestants  travel around the country to see who can be the fastest to find blood relations they’ve never met.  It’s super poignant, because some of the contestants were adopted, and never knew their birth family.  To see them embrace their father, brother or sister for the first time is amazing.  You can’t help but be tremendously moved.

Do we appreciate that we’ve found a whole new wonderful family — a spiritual family?  What’s our identity as part of this family?  My grandchildren are visiting us right now, and it’s very natural to pass on to them what it means to be a part of our family.  They see our devotion to God as we go to church, pray together and talk about him.  They see how we love and respect others.  We teach them our values.  We talk about how to behave.  I sing them the songs I learned from my parents.

Family identity can be powerful.  I remember my mother telling me about her father, who died before I was born.  She told me how he was a cowboy, but he never used profanity.  He said that cussing was for those who weren’t smart enough to think of other words.  That story really made an impression on me.    I decided to never use coarse language, because I wanted to follow my grandfather’s example. To this day, I’ve stuck with that.

The example of Jesus is even more powerful.  It strongly inspires us to not only take on his behavior, but also his character.  This is what we signed up for!

But sometimes, over time, we grow comfortable with where we are.  We start to be more like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus and telling him how awesome he is, and missing the rebirth.  We forget that complete transformation isn’t a one time thing.  It’s ongoing.

It’s actually an adventure to work on being transformed!  We can step out and do something with crazy faith.  We can love someone, even when it doesn’t make sense.  We can decide to live in total surrender.   We can pour out ourselves in generosity.  We can make a radical decision about our sin.  We can thank God, no matter what.  We can be joyful in tough circumstances.

Nicodemus thought he was making a bold move.  Jesus was like, “You can have a bold new life!  One that’s completely different than the one you had before.  One that’s completely different from the people around you.  One that’s vibrant and inspiring.”

You know, it’s interesting.  My slogan in my life coaching business, Broad Tree Coaching, is “Support for Becoming All That You Are.”  When I coach clients, I support them as they learn what their values, needs, talents and purposes are, and how to align their lives more closely with these.  I support them in becoming authentic.  I support them in building integrity, and being true to what is important to them.

Now it strikes me that what God does is support us as we learn to align our lives more closely with our spiritual values and purposes.  He supports us in becoming authentic in our new identity.

Every day, we can choose to grow and live up to who we are.  Every day, we can be born again.

“Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”  Eph 4:24

“That way you won’t be guided by sinful human desires as you live the rest of your lives on earth. Instead, you will be guided by what God wants you to do.”  I Peter 4:2

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. . . Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (From Colossians 3)

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  II Cor 5:16-17

“Do not conform to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

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How Do We Keep On Going?

On account of this, the Jews demanded, “What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do these things?”

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

“This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?”

But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His body.  After He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. Then they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)

Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately:  How do we keep going in tough or totally discouraging circumstances?  Today’s red letter statement gives us insight into an answer.

In the statement, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection.  What impresses me is that Jesus said this at the beginning of his ministry.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus doesn’t start talking about his impending death until Luke 9.  But in the Gospel of John,  he speaks about it early on, just after he calls his disciples and performs his first miracle.

It shows us that this was always so much in the forefront of Jesus’s mind.  That’s mind blowing to me.  It’s so different than the way I think.  I love to be productive.  If I were Jesus, I would be working towards creating tangible results.  I would want to see the evidence that I’m impacting people and creating a movement for God.

But Jesus served ceaselessly with the knowledge that his efforts would seem to fail.  All of his followers would leave him.  His movement would be virtually extinguished.  He would be condemned to death by those he sought to help.

Can we serve God like Jesus, knowing that we may not see the fruits of our labor?

We can, if we have the mindset that Jesus had.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”  I think he answered the Jews with these words, not just because he wanted them to remember later and have faith, but because the words were the very basis of his faith.

Jesus was fueled by his belief that he would be resurrected.  He knew that his life on earth would feel ineffective at times.  It was his life after death that would change the world.

There are two lessons we can get from looking at the perspective of Jesus.

First, let our goal be “death,” not accomplishment.

Jesus said later in his life, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

Jesus knew that, just as the “death” of a seed results in the growth of a plant, his death would result in the growth of the church.  And then, as a plant continues to regenerate, so would the church.

Today, we die to self and sin, knowing that this results in growth and regeneration.

  • We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.. . . Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . . So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. (II Cor 4:10, 12)
  • If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Luke 9:24)
  • For if you live according to your human nature, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you put to death your sinful actions, you will live.  (Rom 8:13)

As it was for Jesus, the basis of our faith is the resurrection.  We believe that our labors bear fruit as God works through our death.

Second, look less for gratification on earth, and more for gratification in heaven.  Hebrews says about Jesus, “Because of the joy awaiting him,  he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Heb. 12:2)  The real joy, for Jesus, didn’t come until after his death.  That’s not to say that he didn’t have joy on earth.  He most certainly did.  But the true gratification came later.

And the sure belief of this coming happiness gave Jesus the strength he needed to hold up through the daily rigors of his ministry.  It gave him the fortitude to submit himself to a humiliating and tortuous death.

Can I find the same kind of strength?  Because I’m realizing that I need to ask myself,  “What if I knew that all this work I’m putting into serving God would fall flat?  What if I knew that the result of my labor would be my death ?  Would I still go out every day and deny self and give?”

As I said before, I’m so results oriented.  But I need to look further than gratification on earth.  The gratification I’ll have in heaven needs to become my biggest motivator.  I confess, that when I was younger in my faith, it was so hard for heaven to be a motivator.  As I get older, I’m finally seeing this better.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Matt 6:19-20

Jesus lived by those words.

How do we keep going in discouraging circumstances, when everything seems to be going wrong?

We look at how Jesus kept going.

We picture the surpassing bliss we will feel when we’re safe in the arms of our loving Father in heaven.

We believe in the power of surrender, of repentance, of prayer, of nothingness before God.

We say, “The only hope I have today is in death. I have no answer to Satan, except that I die and put myself and my work in God’s hands.”

And then we let our faith swell until it’s bigger than every failure, saying, “And I believe that God will work the power of life on whatever I put to death in him.”

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.  (Matthew 13:31-32)

I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (I Cor 3:6)

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Filed under Faith, Humility, John, Perseverance

Clearing Out Self

When the Jewish Passover was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables.  So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those selling doves He said, Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.(John 2:13-17)

Here’s a model of what Jerusalem looked like in Jesus’s time.  The temple is in the foreground.

temple

I can picture how excited someone would be who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  I can see them anticipating being physically close to God, because back then, the Lord resided in the Most Holy Place at the temple.  As they approached, they would see the temple gleaming the sunlight, high up on a hill.  How their hearts would thrill!

Contrast this with what Jesus found.  As he entered the temple, the courts were teaming with vendors and money changers who were clamoring for attention.  There wasn’t a sense of reverence and communion, but instead, of profiteering.  The sacred act of worship had become a transaction.

Jesus saw greed.  He would preach later, “No one can serve two masters. . . you cannot serve both God and money.”  (Matt 6:24)  People were serving the master of money.  Idolatry was thriving in the very temple where people went to be with God!

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

Here are some practicals we can take away from this red-letter statement by Jesus.

Make church about God, not about us.   Not long ago, my small group read Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Churches.  In it he talked about how churches are now structured around a consumer model. “We are actually ruining people by making them consumers,” Chan said in an interview.  “Because you’re supposed to be turning them into servants.  We don’t come to be served.  We serve and give our lives as a ransom for many. It’s at the core of what we understand it means to follow Jesus Christ.  And we’ve twisted it and it’s evil.”

Do we make church about us, and our needs?  Or do we come with a pure motivation, seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and giving ourselves as a living sacrifice?

Make our private devotionals a time of reverence and communion.  Today, we are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides. (I Cor 6:19)  The question is, are we coming to the temple in the same way the worshippers of old would come to the temple? Are we excited to connect with the seed of God that is within us, which helps us connect with the God who cannot be contained? Do we realize how amazing it is that we can be close to the Holy One who created and sustains the whole universe? Do we make sure our time with him is devoted to him only, and free from distractions?  Or is our temple crowded, and noisy with other things vying for our attention?

This song illustrates what the attitude of worship should be.  I’ve included a video and some of the lyrics.

Who else commands all the hosts of heaven
Who else could make every king bow down
Who else can whisper and darkness trembles
Only a Holy God

What other beauty demands such praises
What other splendour outshines the sun
What other majesty rules with justice
Only a Holy God

Come and behold Him
The One and the Only
Cry out, sing holy
Forever a Holy God
Come and worship the Holy God

We so need to meet with God, and bow down to him, and pour out our hearts as we are overwhelmed with the utter realization of how awesome and holy he is.

Yesterday, I had a one-on-one phone call with my life coaching teacher to evaluate the final for my class.  For the final, I coached someone, and my teacher listened and transcribed the session.  So in our evaluation conversation, we discussed in detail how my coaching was, what I did well, and what I could improve.

I was discouraged that my instructor told me that I’m still trying too hard to be in control of my coaching sessions.  The goal is to let the client steer the sessions.  I keep trying to take the wheel, and direct them.

It was sobering that she told me this, because I know I do this, and I was trying not to.  It’s so hard to change!

But at least it gives me a very clear picture of how I need to be with God.  I need to completely let him steer, instead of trying to grab the wheel.  This morning, while I was praying, I pictured a stage on which God was the only player.  I cleared the stage of everyone else, especially me!  And I thought, “This is what my days have to be.  God has to be the one on stage, not me.”

My youngest daughter got me a new journal for Mother’s Day, and I’m using it to keep a list of what I see God doing.  I’m trying to live out the words of Jesus, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.”  I’m taking note of what God is doing, and tooling my actions to match his.

God is teaching me in so many ways to clear out self.

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

There’s so much we need to clear out so we can worship God.  We need to deal with our materialism, our love of self, the desire to control.

Idols don’t belong in the temple.  They ruin what it was meant to be.  And what it was meant to be is amazing.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Phil 3:7-8a)

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Filed under Glory Above All, Holiness, Humility, John, Red Letter, Surrender

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