Category Archives: Faith

Adrift. Anchored.

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “You know Me, and you know where I am from. I have not come of My own accord, but He who sent Me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him, because I am from Him and He sent Me.”  (John 7:28-29)

When I first read this red-letter passage, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it.  But yesterday, it came together for me, and my heart was filled.

The day started at 6:30 a.m, when I dropped my 86 year old father-in-law, along with his wife and my husband, off to have a medical procedure.  When I saw the hospital, and the gauntlet of Covid 19 security measures in place, I felt like crying.  It was real, and scary.

I left them to get him checked in, and drove to the nearby beach, where I parked, and went for  a walk.  It was early, and there were just a few people about.  The wind was whipping, and the skies were overcast. The tide was low, the seas were rough, and the shore was laced with foam.

As I traveresed the packed sand, it brought me back to the time when I was in college, and lived with my mom, and walked every morning along the beach only a couple of miles from where I was.  My favorite time was after a storm, when you could see mounds of foam skittering across the sand, propelled by the wind.

Caught in the memories, and concerned for my father in law, I felt strangely adrift.  I remembered how bereft and aimless I felt then, longing for an anchor.  Emotion welled up as I missed my mom. I thought over my life, and felt that there has been a theme of feeling adrift, and finding an anchor.  I could think of times when different anchors came along — my marriage to my husband, my children, my jobs and ministries.  And still, I could so relate to the random seashells, the foam that was tossed up, the endless churning of the surf.  I couldn’t help but feel the need for a strong anchor once again.

But then, there came over me the very sure knowledge that God’s hand has been on me since an early age.  I remembered my spiritual thoughts when I was young.  I reflected on my conviction that meeting my husband was part of God’s plan, as were so many other events in my life.  I remembered that, even in my mother’s death, I felt a very strong sense of God being there.

This verse came to mind: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Ps 139:10)  It was so perfect.  I had walked by the sea in the dawn, and felt His hand, that was always on me.  I was given the anchor of peace that I needed.

And suddenly the red letter verse for today made sense.  The Jews were adrift in a sense, perplexed about Jesus.  They wondered, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Yet here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying anything to him. Have the rulers truly recognized that this is the Christ? But we know where this man is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where He is from.”  They were trying to figure out whether Jesus was the Messiah.  On one hand, it seemed like the leaders were acting like this was true.  On the other hand,  what they knew about him didn’t line up with their understanding of the prophesies.

Jesus saw their confusion, and told them three things:

  1. That he didn’t come on his own. He was sent.
  2. That the one who sent him is true.
  3. That he knew the one who sent him, and they didn’t.

Jesus was anchored in the knowledge that he was sent from God, and that God is faithful.  Like me, he had a certainty that God’s hand was upon him.

So this is my hope for all of you, who are dear to me.  We will all deal with those seasons when life is real and scary.  We will all at times feel adrift, lonely, tossed about by emotions.

But when we’re confused, let’s make the space for God to show us that his right hand holds us fast.  That certainty will ground us.  I needed that grounding later in the day, as I dealt with different situations that came up.  There was no alarming news after the tests.  But it’s hard being concerned about a loved one.

Thank you, God, that we can know you, and that you are true.

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When We Experience Fear

Today, I’m going to talk to the children at church about fear.  I’m doing a lesson on Paul and the time he went through a terrifying storm at sea.  We’ll start the class by discussing what we’re afraid of – things like spiders and the dark.

This time of pandemic and quarantine has brought me to a place where I see my fears better.  And there are so many of them!  I fear saying or doing the wrong thing, which could set off a negative chain reaction.  I fear failure and being inadequate.  I fear having strong emotions that kidnap me.  I fear disappointing someone, or them thinking badly of me.  I fear conflict.  I fear the loss of equilibrium and control.

You know, I don’t think of myself as anxious, but as I write this, I realize that sometimes it’s like I fear everything! And my life becomes about managing everything, so I can alleviate the fears.

But Jesus didn’t do that.  That’s why I’m drawn to him.  Today’s red-letter passage is a long time favorite of mine, because it helps me to have the right perspective.

Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.  Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:16-18)

Jesus didn’t feel the need to manage his fears to please himself or others, and his words weren’t twisted by that.  His teaching had no flavor of trying to make himself look impressive. He believed that everything he taught came from God, so there was no cause to get puffed up about it. His only motive was to bring glory to God.

And I love that he said that someone whose only motive is to bring glory to God is a person without any falseness.  That’s what I want, not the discomfort of fears and needing to manage them. I want a purity that brings peace.

It’s just so wonderful to think about being completely true. And it’s wild to think that if I have fear, I’m being untrue.  I’m being fooled by lies.  When I’m anxious, the whole way I view the world is a fake construct.  Deceit is present, down to the bone.

Here are two insights I have that really inspire me.  First, that the reason Jesus could focus on glorifying God was because he wasn’t preoccupied with managing his fears.  He had plenty of room to focus on God. So if we want to glorify God more, we have to make room to focus on him. We have to get rid of our fears.  We have to change the way we look at the world, and not see it as full of threats.

And when this seems impossible, the second insight is that every time Jesus glorified God, God became bigger in his eyes, and what he might fear became smaller.  If we glorify God a thousand times a day, we will be less and less tempted to fear the world.

And this brings me to two additional thoughts:

  1. That we have to look to God to meet every need, whether it’s to take care of a situation, or it’s for affirmation. Then we won’t feel the compulsion to manage our fear.
  2. That we have to be willing to go through tough stuff, or even humiliation, because we are God’s servant. And there again, we have to look to Him for the strength to get through it and be adequate to the challenge.

In closing, let’s pray.

Father, help us to see that if we fear, we’re living a lie. 

Help us see the pure, shining truth that you are all that matters. 

Help us glorify you 1,000 times a day, so we see how amazing you are, and we aren’t tempted to focus on our fears. 

When life is hard, may we say, as Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”  And then help us to trust, and hold your hand, as a child holds his father’s hand for comfort. 

Help us to know that your grace is sufficient to get us through today, and that tomorrow will worry about itself.

Help us to find and live the purity that brings peace.

In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Slide I’m using for kids’ class.

 

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The Blessings of The Holding Pattern

My makeshift mask I rigged from an old cami.

Life is in a holding pattern right now.  We’re quarantined, staying home.  No longer are we going out to concerts or sporting events or arts festivals.  No longer are we getting with friends, or getting a pedicure or our hair done, or going out to dinner. I could go on and on,

It’s hard for me to be in a holding pattern.  I want to do things.  I want to take action.  I want to live large.

Today’s red -letter passage tells me that Jesus knew how to deal with holding patterns.  Meditating on this has opened my mind in encouraging and comforting ways.  I’m including the paragraph preceding the red-letter words for context.

After this, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He did not want to travel in Judea, because the Jews there were trying to kill Him.  However, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near.  So Jesus’ brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that Your disciples there may see the works You are doing.  For no one who wants to be known publicly acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world.”  For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.

Therefore Jesus told them, ‘Although your time is always at hand, My time has not yet come.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me, because I testify that its works are evil.  Go up to the feast on your own. I am not going up to this feast, because My time has not yet come.’” (John 7:1-8)

Jesus made this very insightful observation: “Your time is always at hand.”  It’s so true that for most of us, we don’t even think on waiting for the timing for God.  Right now, there are things in my life that I want to fix and address.  The only thing is, that the other pieces in the process don’t cooperate.  It can be so frustrating for me.  But I never thought to take it to God and say, “God, is it time for this thing to be addressed right now?”

Because God is big on timing.  Look at what God said to Abraham:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess . . . Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Gen 15:7,13, 15)

What’s cool about this passage is that we can see that God has a very specific sense of when things need to happen.  He planned for Abraham to have numerous descendants, and for them to inherit the Promise Land.  But it would be many, many years before this would actually happen.  How patient Abraham had to be.  He pretty much lived his life in a holding pattern.  He was a vagrant, moving from place to place. Yet he also saw God work in amazingly powerful ways.  He saw his dreams come true as he bore and raised a son, Isaac.

The idea of being in a holding pattern has special significance for today’s red-letter passage, because the festival that is referred to is the Feast of Tabernacles.  In this, the Jews remembered the time when they were in a holding pattern, and God took care of them.  The Israelites would take tree branches and construct temporary shelters and live in them for 7 days.  They did this so they recalled how God had taken care of them for 40 years in the wilderness.

Isn’t it crazy, in a sense, that God had them celebrate the time of being in the wilderness?  I mean, why not celebrate the time when they actually took the Promise Land?  Of course, that hadn’t happened when the laws regarding the festivals were written.  But still, it’s wild to think that the thing they celebrated would be the time when they were just waiting around in the desert.

But the thing they celebrated was that God took care of them in a completely amazing way.  There was always manna on the ground for them to eat.  Their clothes never wore out.  Moses described it with these words: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” ( Deut 8:3-4)

This was truly miraculous.  Yesterday, I did laundry, and I saw some of my clothes that were getting ratty and need to be thrown away.  I also went to the grocery store, and had to pay for the groceries I had carefully planned, ordered, and paid for with money from my husband’s paycheck.  But the Israelites’ clothes didn’t get ratty, and they didn’t have to pay for their food.

The Feast of Tabernacles was also called the Feast of Ingathering.  It celebrated the final harvest for the year.  It was the time of the year when the Jewish people had the most.  Their storehouses were full.  Yet God wanted them to live in booths, to remember the time when they didn’t have anything, but had to completely rely on God.  He wanted them to have the deep impression that everything they had came from him.

This is a long digression, but such a rich one.  Because in today’s red-letter passage, we see Jesus reflecting the same kind of thinking that God had through the Old Testament.  His brothers were like, “If you’re the Messiah, go down to Jerusalem and do your thing” But Jesus basically said that he had to wait to be sure that it was God’s timing, and not his own.

Did you ever think how hard that might have been for Jesus?  He knew what would help the world.  He saw everyone suffering, and so badly needing what he had to offer.  His heart went out to them.  Yet he waited, and didn’t go down to the Feast.  And he said something at the end of this passage that shows what his thinking was, literally, “My time has not yet been fulfilled.”

The Greek word used there does mean fulfillment.  It’s not just that Jesus’s time hadn’t come.  It’s that there was a plan that needed to be fulfilled.  The same word was used many times in Matthew to describe how the events surrounding Jesus fulfilled prophesies.  For instance, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matt 1:22-23)

Jesus had a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan.  He knew that God had taken years to work his will, from the time of Abraham, through Moses and the kings and prophets to the present day.  He knew, as Solomon wrote in his wisdom, that “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

How can all of this inspire us? First, we can decide to surrender to God’s timing.  As badly as we want things to change immediately, and as badly as we want to fix things, it may not be the right time.  Let’s pray about it.  It many be that God is simply waiting for us to do that.  It didn’t take long for Jesus to decide that it was time for him to go to the feast, after all.  In the next verse we see that he went, and started preaching half way through the festival.

Second, we can believe that God will provide for us during the holding pattern.  Jesus wasn’t worried about the delay in his ministry, in spite of the impoverished state of the souls around him.  He wasn’t focused on the lack, and it being up to him to do something about it.  He knew that God is the only real provider, just as the Jews knew this when they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles.  More than that, he knew that God is an amazing, miraculous provider.

I hope that you are as refreshed as I am by this study.  Speaking of Ecclesiastes, sometimes lately I can feel like Solomon when he wrote, “Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecc 1:2b-3)  It can seem like I have day after day of inconsequential pursuits.  Of course, I know that I’m doing much that is worthwhile, and there are many moments that are deeply fulfilling.  But there are also times when I get a going-nowhere kind of malaise.

There is purpose in the holding pattern.  I must believe in it, and let my soul be at peace.

May we all have a deep sense of walking according to God’s vast plan, and know that he is an amazing, miraculous provider.

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Faith, Favorite, John, Red Letter

When Faith Doesn’t Come Easy

What’s your COVID-19 dilemna?  The sticky, tricky situations and choices we’re facing right now are on a whole new level!

Today’s red letter passage deals with disciples who were faced with the dilemna of whether to still follow Jesus after he appeared to cross the line.

Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this teaching, Jesus asked them, “Does this offend you? Then what will happen if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before? The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. However, there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6:61-64)

Literally, the Greek word used here for “offend” means, “to put a snare (in the way), to cause to stumble, to give offense.” It’s very much the idea of a trap.

Isn’t it interesting that the teaching Jesus gave to help his disciples could also be a trap for them?  It reminds me of how he spoke in parables.  When his disciples asked why he gave them stories, instead of speaking clearly, Jesus said, so that his hearers would be, “ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.”  (Mark 4:12)

I think that if I were Jesus, I would have made it as easy as possible to understand, so that everyone could have a better chance of being saved.  But he didn’t do this.  I believe he wanted to see who would take the hard way, where faith doesn’t come easy and you have to work to have it.

So, by the very use of the word “offend,” it was like Jesus saw that his teaching could be a rock in the path of his followers.  They could stumble over it, and be deterred by it.  That would be the easy response.  Or they could stretch their faith to continue going in spite of the rock.  That would be much more difficult.

You know, the COVID-19 virus is putting us in situations where our faith is truly stretched.  I have a lumpectomy surgery that I’ve been trying to schedule.  Do I find a way to get it done, and trust that God will take care of me in the germ filled hospital, or do I trust in God and wait longer?  I have a client who got a wonderful new job, but then was canned before she started because of a hiring freeze. How does she keep from getting discouraged?  I have a friend who just made the decision to take a leave from her medical center job because she’s worried about the risk, but now she has lower income, and could even lose her job.  I have another friend whose husband needs to take the alternative medication that they’re using to treat COVID-19, and she couldn’t find it at any pharmacy except one.  How do these friends avoid anxiety?

Does Jesus allow us to be in these situations, just as he allowed his followers to hear the hard teaching, to see if we will take the hard way and work at having faith? I’m not trying to navigate the slippery slope of why God would allow a pandemic.  That’s way above my pay grade.

I just know that I want to live by faith.  Last night, I was doing some thinking when I was awake in the middle of the night, and I realized that living by faith is what’s most important to me, and I haven’t really been practicing it.  I’ve been action oriented instead, focused on what I can do to take care of every situation.

And that goes along perfectly with what Jesus says next in this passage:  “The spirit gives life; the flesh profits for nothing.”  Another translation puts it like this, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing.”

I don’t want to live by human effort.  It leaves me vaguely empty.  I want to take each situation to the realm of intimate fellowship, where I put it entirely in God’s hands.  I want to walk through my day like walking on water.  I want to ask of the Lord, and expect his answer.

I want to live by the Spirit who, as today’s passage says, gives life, and enables me to be more, and have faith at difficult times.  Here are some of my favorite verses on the Spirit:

  • “‘It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” Zech 4:6
  • “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”  Gal 3:3
  • “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2

Jesus concluded today’s passage by saying, “However, there are some of you who do not believe.”  Will we believe, or will our challenges become a stumbling block?  Will we take the easy way, or the hard way?  Will we walk by the Spirit, or human effort?

Living through a pandemic, we’re having to make tough choices.  But I believe that we’re being called to step up, like a hero on the front lines, to make the best decisions we can, standing in strength, and refusing to second guess or give into anxiety or depression.

It’s a battle to have faith, but we will fight it, because living by faith is what’s most important to us.

My prayers are with you all.

“But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” Heb. 10:38

(photo credit: cottonbro)

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When You Feel Uneasy

So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day.” . . . 

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” (John 6:53, 60)

What do you do when something makes you feel uneasy — when you don’t understand, and it seems off, or even wrong?  That’s what was happening with Jesus’s disciples as he spoke the words of today’s red letter passage.  They couldn’t wrap their minds around having to eat Jesus’s body, and drink his blood.  How could that be good or right?  They asserted, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” (Message translation)

Sometimes what’s going on in life seems too tough to swallow.  It can’t be right.  I have a situation recently where I’ve been thinking that.

When Jesus said these words, it must have felt all the more wrong, because Jesus had just stated that he would never drive his disciples away.  But then he said this thing that caused many of his followers to leave.  (John 6:66)   In the days that led up to this, he had given them multiple reasons to have faith.  He explained why he was equal to God.  He listed the testimonies about him.  He performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.  

So why would he change face and make it so difficult for his followers to have faith in him?  Why would he say words that made absolutely no sense, and in fact, turned them off?

I think it’s because this is the crux of what it means to be a disciple.  You have to be able to trust when it doesn’t make sense, or feel right.  There would be many times in the future when it would seem like everything was falling apart.  Jesus needed, and still needs, disciples who are going to believe in him when it gets crazy.

And my problem is that I have a hard time believing when it gets crazy.  Because it FEELS WRONG!  I keep thinking that the goal is for everything to fit together  and run smoothly.  I’ve so got to grow to the point that I define success as having faith when things feel wrong, not as getting things to the point where everything feels right.

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.” This is such an absolute statement.  First, because if we don’t eat the flesh and drink the blood, we can’t have eternal life.  Second, because eating the flesh and drinking the blood infers a commitment that’s all in. 

I love what how Message Bible translates it, “The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life.”  Jesus is saying, “You can’t just take a taste of discipleship.  You’ve got to sit down and feast on it.”

And that’s good for me to think about, because I tend to play it safe.  I noticed a few days ago that I was slightly disengaged. That’s my way of being in protection mode.

Jesus doesn’t want us to play it safe with him.  He wants us to take the plunge.  

So what do you do when your feelings are unsure?  You go with your convictions that are sure.  You take the leap of faith that’s in the opposite direction of your queasiness.  

That’s what the apostles did.  When the other disciples left, Jesus asked Peter and the Twelve, “Are you leaving too?  Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

When we know what we believe, we act on it.   Some things may not make sense.  Some things may seem crazy.  But we throw our life into the certainties we have come to see as true and right.

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Being in a Desolate Place

So they asked Him, “What sign then will You perform, so that we may see it and believe You? What will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  John 6:31-33

It’s really wild that Jesus compared himself to manna in this red letter passage.   I think we don’t realize how incredible the miracle of manna was.  Picture the scene when manna first appeared.  There were thousands upon thousands of men, women and children in every direction.  They were out in the middle of nowhere, with no food in sight.  Remember that these were people who were accustomed to having markets where you could buy your next meal.  They probably had seen the many fields where food was grown, as well as the storehouses where it was kept.  So imagine how scary it must have been for them when reality hit them that they were in the wilderness and there was no place to obtain enough food to feed all of them.  We want to criticize them for whining to Moses and being faithless, but we have to remember how hopeless this must have seemed.

And that’s when God enters with the miracle of the manna.  Every morning, when the Israelites woke up, they found sweet wafers on the ground.  They could go and scoop up as much as they needed to fill their bellies for the day.  This was the bread from heaven.

So when Jesus said, “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” that was astounding.  He was putting himself on the level with the manna that miraculously appeared, tons and tons of it, every day, and kept the Israelites alive.  He said that just as manna was the bread from heaven that kept them alive, he was a source of life.  In fact, he was the true bread from heaven.  He was a better source of life for the whole world.  

The Jews had a hard time understanding what Jesus was saying.  They tried to make sense of it, but they knew his mom and dad, and didn’t see how he could to come from heaven, much less be some kind of bread.

And that’s a subject for a future blog.  But I really want to focus on Jesus’s statement about being like manna, because it can be so encouraging for us when we think about it.  Let’s look at the parallels between Jesus and manna.

The manna came in a miraculous way.  Jesus, born of the Spirit and a virgin, came in a miraculous way.

The manna came to meet an impossible need.  Jesus came to meet an impossible need. 

What is the need Jesus came to meet?  The need to be reconciled to God.  The need to resolve the hopeless problem of sin, which produces spiritual death in every person on earth.  (Eph 2:1, Col. 2:13, Rom. 3:23)

We all absolutely need the true bread from heaven that brings life.

And I want to draw a couple more encouraging points from this red letter verse.  First that it shows that Jesus’s power to give life is as great and miraculous as the manna that appeared out of thin air and blanketed the earth for as far as the eye could see.  There really is nothing that’s impossible for him.  Jesus had just said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he sent.”  (John 6:29) When we see Jesus compared to manna, we can see that the sky’s the limit when it comes to exercising the muscle of belief in him.  As he said in Mark 9:23, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

Second, I want to say that we all have times, like the Israelites, when we find ourselves surprised and horrified at the situation where we’ve landed.  It was very clear to the Jews that God had been leading them.  There were the plagues, which were obvious signs that God was working on their behalf.  There was the parting of the Red Sea.  There was the pillar of cloud by day, and that of fire at night, which showed them which way to go.  But then they ended up in a desolate location. When they followed Moses out of bondage, this wasn’t what they’d imagined.

It’s the same with our lives.  We have clear indications that God is leading us, shutting some doors and opening others.  And all of a sudden, we’re in this place that doesn’t at all look hopeful and promising.  We want to say, “Whoops, God, you made a wrong turn.”

Right now I do feel that way.  I feel like one situation I’m in is not where I was supposed to end up. 

But then I remember that Israelites were exactly where they were supposed to be.  They were on the path of their journey to amazing blessings.  And it would be the grace of the manna that would sustain them on their journey.

And I know that if we’re following Christ, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be as well.  It doesn’t matter how desolate or hopeless it seems.  By his grace, we will have the daily bread to sustain us on the path of our journey to amazing blessings.  

Going back to the text of our red letter passage, the Jews asked Jesus what sign he would perform, so they could believe.  Jesus said, in essence, he was the sign. 

He is our sign as well. We don’t need things to work out for us to have faith.  We need to open our eyes more and more to who he is, and keep our eyes fixed on him.  May this be our focus today.

“We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 GWT)

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The One Thing to Do This Week

And when everyone was full, He said to His disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”

So they collected them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

This passage comforts me greatly. Right now, I feel very overwhelmed, wondering how I am going to be able to do all that seems to be required of me in the future.  When I think of this verse, it reminds me that God can meet my needs so completely that there will be more to spare.  That is super encouraging!

And then I read here that Jesus wanted to be sure that the leftovers were not wasted.  This also encourages me, because it reminds me that God lets nothing be a waste.  My view can be that the world is a series of chaotic mishaps.  Leftovers seem like more of the same, a sign of inefficiency.   But God can use what appears to be a miscalculation.  He’s all about finding what is useful, and making things useful.  With God, there’s always a working towards a purpose. So many times, I get glimpses of random puzzle pieces that turn out to fit together in exciting ways.

When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was already dark, and Jesus had not yet gone out to them.  A strong wind was blowing, and the sea grew agitated.

When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the sea—and they were terrified. But Jesus spoke up: “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then they were willing to take Him into the boat, and at once the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

You know, the disciples had to be super tired at this point.  They’d been with the crowd all day.  They’d distributed food for 5,000 and gathered up the pieces.  Taking care of the needs of that many that must have been exhausting for them, even if Jesus was doing the heavy lifting.

But I think they were also in a state of euphoria.  They’d seen a miracle.  They’d been a part of it.  They’d felt the excited buzz of the crowd.  They’d had one of those moments when they knew without a doubt that God was real and working.

They didn’t even have a chance to process it all when they got in a boat and faced howling winds and churning waves. Fear was all around them, like the dark, and they were rowing against the turbulence, trying to get to a safe place where they could finally get some rest.

Isn’t that what some of our days are like – highs, and then crazy challenged, mixed with exhaustion?  We don’t get a chance to get grounded.  We’re too caught up in the experience of the ride.  And it seems to be more than we can handle.

In times like these, it’s so great to hear Jesus say to us, “I’m here. I’m with you.  Don’t be afraid.”  We can take a deep breath and find calm, because there’s no challenge bigger than him. He walks on the storm to meet us.

When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it is not because you saw these signs that you are looking for Me, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”

Then they inquired, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

The Jews sought Jesus until they found him, but he didn’t commend them for doing so.  Instead, he called them out for having the wrong motive.  They were after the food bar.  They were thinking about their agenda – what they wanted from him.

This convicts me because I get all out of sorts, and then I realize it’s because I’m thinking about my agenda – what I want from God.  I want him to answer prayers in my way.  I really need things to happen according to my expectations. 

Jesus said that our agenda needs to be heavenly focused, not self-focused.  He repeated the message that food for the soul is what we really need, not the food of the earth.  They should have been running after him for this food, not for their immediate needs to be met.

When Jesus told them this, they tried to understand, “What does God want us to do, then?”

His answer was to do the work of believing in the Son.

I’m a marriage coach, and in a struggling marriage, one of the hardest things is for one spouse to believe in the other. They’ve been hurt and disappointed.  So they start thinking, “They’re always going to hurt and disappoint me.”

This was true in in the early years in my marriage.  But then I decided to put into practice the verse about wives respecting their husband.  I decided that I would believe that my husband was a good man and husband. I decided that I would believe the best about my him, instead of the worst.  This was a real inner battle that I had to constantly fight and win. It’s a mindset that I still strive to keep.

So that reminds me that it can be a battle to believe in someone.  Sure, the Jews who sought Jesus out thought that God was with him somehow.  They saw he could do miracles on occasion.  They were compelled by his teachings.  But he looked like a man, and it was hard to regard him as anything else.  That was going to take work. 

What work do we need to do to believe in Jesus?  If we’ve been hurt and disappointed by life in the past, does this affect our thoughts towards him? Can we believe that his heart for us is only good?  Can we believe that he’s always attentive, and always reactive to us?  Can we believe in his supernatural nature?  In his power?  That he’s always with us?  Do we believe in his name, which causes demons to tremble? Do we believe in his teachings to the point of putting our life behind each word, and following them? Do we trust him?

Yes, this is work.  But it’s so much what we need.  The Jews thought they needed food.  Jesus’s disciples felt like they needed reassurance in the storm.  What they really needed was the belief in him that would be an anchor for the soul.  

This week, there will be times we feel overwhelmed.  There will be highs, and crazy challenges.  We’ll be so tempted to run after our own agendas. 

Let’s remember that our best aim and focus is to do the work of believing.  

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