Hope


Last time out, I shared some thought about one of my favorite bible stories. The woman who was healed by touching the edge of Jesus robe in the midst of a crowd. He gives her space to share her story and reveals that her faith has healed her.

All in all, it is an amazing story, however, not everyone in the crowd was happy for this to go down the way that it did. One man was likely preoccupied with a growing anxious tension in the midst of this miracle.  In Mark 5.22, we meet Jairus – one of the synagogue rulers. He comes to Jesus and asks that He come and help his ailing daughter. Jesus starts on his way when the woman touches his garment and things grind to a stop. Now as discussed last time, the story of the woman is compelling and miraculous, deserving of the time and attention it gets.

But put yourself in Jairus’ shoes. The clock is ticking. You daughter’s health is getting worse. It is taking a long time for Jesus to make his way through this large crowd, and then everything grinds to a halt for this woman’s story to be heard. There is a lot of excitement as the crowd has witnessed this miracle and “the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (vs. 33).

Then, while she is still speaking, Jairus’ worst fears are realized. Someone arrives from his house, saying that his daughter has died and he needn’t trouble Jesus with this anymore. (vs.35).  Imagine  the grief that comes in waves over Jairus in that first moment. Grief is a funny thing. It catches you off-guard, and you don’t quite know which emotion to give its place first – anger, blame (of self or others), questioning, emptiness, despair. They all battle for a spot and leave your mind swirling. Jairus was likely processing these words and starting to feel some of these different emotions when Jesus, having heard what was said to Jairus, says something unexpected.  In verse 36, Jesus tells Jairus “Do not fear, only believe”.

It is hard to tell, not being the one in the situation, if this would be comforting or confusing. You’ve just heard that your daughter is dead, and the hope you placed in Jesus is fading at the news. Then He tells you to hold on to that hope, that all is not lost. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I expect in the same situation, I would have been mostly grief-stricken, and maybe a little confused.

Jesus steps out of the crowd, allowing only Peter, James and John to come with him to Jairus’ house. When he arrived, there were people wailing and weeping (vs 38). Jesus utters another seemingly crazy statement – telling them that she is not dead, but simply asleep. They laugh at him, but he sent them out of the house, and with the three he brought with him, Jairus and the girl’s mother, He takes her by the hand and the daughter gets up. Mom and Dad were amazed and, no doubt, grateful.

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- The limits of possible – Jairus was in a bad place throughout this story. His daughter is really sick. The text doesn’t let us know if she has been sick for a while or if it is a pretty new situation, but it is clear that Jairus is desperate for help – ready to do everything possible, everything in his power to make his daughter well again. And it appears that it doesn’t work – that it will fall short. The limits of the possible have been reached. But thankfully, our God is not restrained by our limits of possible. The Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah as much in Luke 1 when he reveals that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth is going to be pregnant despite her advanced age. God is in the business of miracles and that allows us to…

2- Hold on to Hope –  Hope can feel fleeting. Maybe the diagnosis or the prognosis is not good. Maybe a prodigal child is running further away. Maybe something that you have been hoping for and moving towards doesn’t seem to be working out. Maybe the loss that you have suffered and the grief that accompanies it is stifling and becomes the only point of focus you can see.  “Just believe” – Those words can seem empty. But all hope is not lost. The only hope left is to draw closer to the Creator. He knows! He understands when we feel like giving up under the weight of the world. Jesus himself said in John 16.33 that this world “will bring trouble but take heart, I (Jesus) have overcome the world.”  How do we hold on to hope? We draw close to Him, we pray, read our Bible, and allow the Creator of the universe to show us His love, comfort and plan to turn whatever we are going through into something that can be used for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). There is not a magical way that removes the pain and hardship in this life, but there is a place where hope can be found, even in the smallest glimmers, in the midst of the challenges. Hold on to that and see Him show His love and faithfulness to help you see that He is there, inviting us to trust Him like He did with Jairus. Do not fear, only believe!

Touch


This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’ll do 2 posts from this story.

In Mark 5 we read a story of a woman who has been suffering with an issue of blood. Verse 26 tells us that she “had suffered under many physicians and spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. Not a lot of detail, but that’s pretty grim. She had spent to the point of poverty, but still was sick. She would have been “unclean” and likely living among the other “unclean” on the edge of town. And, this was her life for MORE THAN A DECADE! 12 Years, she suffered with this issue, and the isolation and stigma that it brought. There is no mention of her relationship with her family, but it is fair to say that she was at least limited in her interactions with them and may have been estranged from them.  But she knew the stories of healing that were Jesus’ reputation. She decides to try to get close. This is not an easy decision, because as one of the unclean, she would not have been welcome to wander through the crowd. She’d be greeted by name-calling or worse. Going through the crowd would take some resolve.

But she had the resolve to make the attempt. One of my favorite Christian bands of all time – Everybody Duck – wrote their song “Close” about this story. The lyrics say “The crowd around her last hope so thick she could not get through… The largeness of the crowd prevented her from getting through, but she pressed on where most of us would have not.”  And that is the key. She pressed on and touched the edge of His cloak. Unexpectedly, Jesus then stops and asks “Who touched me”. His disciples scoff at his silly question. “You see this crowd pressing around you and yet you say `who touched me'” (vs 31).  The woman knows that He is talking about her and she falls at His feet and tells her story. He then tells her that her faith has healed her. But with this statement comes the second surprising thing Jesus says. After years of carrying the stigma of being unclean, alone and destitute, Jesus looks her in the eye and calls her “daughter”. That is powerful!

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- Close – I will give credit again to Everybody Duck for this first point – it chokes me up every time I listen to the song. There were others that were pressed in against Jesus but not all of them had a life changing experience. Everybody Duck sums their song up by saying “the difference in touch simply that hers was made in faith“. Gut check time. I have attended church my whole life. In fact, I am on staff at a church right now. I am “close” to Jesus all the time, but do I take that closeness for granted? Do I still see that He is always making life-changing connections with those who desperately need it? Do I still recognize my own need? Or am I too quick to point out the unclean nature of others that are seeking Him? I pray that God will help us see the needs that surround us and see His miraculous work. May we never take God for granted.

2- Determined – On the other side of the story is the woman who is so beaten down by life – labelled, impoverished and out of options. Yet, somewhere, buried beneath the hard experiences, hurt and loneliness, there is a measure of faith and hope that propels her forward. Despite the names she may have been called along the way, the difficulty of the task, and the history of being let down before, she continues to press forward – all the way to Jesus. And her faith is rewarded with healing. But more than that. It is met with belonging. Jesus shows the love and value that she has to Him. “Daughter, go in peace”. In this touching moment, we are reminded again, that Jesus is able to heal us and meet our needs. But more than that, He offers relationship. He offers love, and a place for us.  We may think we know what we need from God, but when we seek Him with determination, He goes beyond what we think we need to meet our deeper needs.

3- Hope Amidst Hopelessness – In the talk-show world, this would be called a tease. You see, while Jesus heals this woman and gives her the place for her story to be shared, there is more going on. This episode occurs in the midst of another tense situation – that will be the topic of the next post at Living up to My Name. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Least


Have you ever had the same bible story or passage come up repeatedly in different settings over a short period of time? Like hearing a story on an add on Christian Radio, then having a rabbit trail at Bible study bring the same story to light again, and then having the pastor at church talking about the same passage a week later in church. It is noticeable when it happens and leads me to do some self-searching to figure out why? What lesson is God trying to bring to my attention? What do I need to learn from the passage? How can I apply it to my life?

Lately, it has been the passage found in Matthew 25.31-46. Jesus is talking about when He takes his place on the throne and He separates the masses in front of Him into two groups. He invites those on His right to come to their reward and similarly sends the group on His left to their eternal punishment. Both groups are a little confused by the criteria that the King has used to separate them. He had said in verse 35-36 to those whom he welcomed “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” And said the opposite for the group that he sent to punishment. Both groups asked “when did we see these things” and the King replies (vs 40 and 45) “Truly, I say to you, as you did it (or didn’t) to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it (or didn’t) to me.”

Now I have heard this story many times before – I thought I has a good grasp on the point – notice those around you, help those in need and shine Jesus light on the weak, poor and marginalized. It could look very valiant – serving in a soup kitchen, giving out money or food to those holding signs at exit ramps, gutting houses that flooded, volunteering at Feed My Starving Children, or many other noble causes. But then I listened to a song I’ve listened to many times before. This time one particular line hit me hard. The song is “This World” written by “Caedmon’s Call”.

Did you hear the lyric neatly tucked away in the bridge of this song? At about the 2:06 mark is the line “… the least of these look like criminals to me So I leave Christ on the street“. That thought shakes me up a bit. We tend to default to the adage “God helps those who help themselves”. So we are ready and willing to help those who in all humility are asking for some help from those of us that “have it together”. That’s when we act. But first of all, we don’t really have it all together. We are all fallen and flawed people trying to navigate life through our own issues. To think differently is to lie to ourselves.

And the heart of the Matthew passage, I believe is resonated in the above lyric. We are to show God’s love, compassion and helpfulness to everyone from the greatest to the least. And the least may very well be people that are not asking for help, and may even look to hurt us or take advantage of us if given the chance. I ask you, who is the one with the greatest need to encounter a forgiving savior? A humble, broken person looking for any help they can get, or an unrepentant convicted rapist or murderer? The answer is they both have the same great need to encounter the Jesus of the Bible. And their need matches our need for Him too. As believers, we are His chosen representatives in our world tasked to “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19) So what do we do with that?

It is so easy for us to pass judgment on others and determine for ourselves who is worthy of our help and attention. But the verse in Matthew 25 makes no such distinction. Instead, it identifies those in need as the “least of these” which suggests those at the bottom of our “worthy” list.  What does that mean? Well, allow me to draw your attention to another lyric from a different song –  “Leaving Jesus” by Send the Beggar.

at 2:23 they sing

“I won’t treat my witness like some kind of sickness, I won’t make the beggars think You think they’re lepers.  I’ll leave Your life near them (repeat)

And they don’t call me Jesus but I leave your name everywhere I go. I prove that You’re here by being here, like tracks in the snow

And they don’t call me Jesus, but I leave your name like bleeding fingerprints. but the blood that I leave says more than these, these words upon my lips.”

The message is clear, our actions speak louder than our words. We pour ourselves out for others to know Him.  This is the task that we have been given. We share the truth of the Gospel, even if it falls on the ears of mockers. We don’t judge who is worthy to know Christ, but we remember that we, ourselves, are not worthy of the gift of His grace. And we ask for His eyes to see His beloved creation so we can be blinded to our prejudice and self-importance. In doing so, we extend God’s loving, forgiving arms of grace to the lost that He loved enough that He died for. May we have a true perspective of our own need for a Savior as we offer ourselves to serve those He came to save. Doing so leads to eternal reward, failing to do so leads to eternal punishment. It seems like He takes this pretty seriously, I guess we should too.

 

Grabbing our Attention – David Bote – 3B – Chicago Cubs


Cubs Rookie infielder David Bote

I would consider myself to be a big baseball fan. Maybe not a die-hard, but pretty close – especially in a season like this where my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, are winning games at an historic pace. But outside of following Red Sox games, the other highlights each night are easily dismissed unless there is something that happens so rarely that it has people talking about it for a few days. Such an even happened last Sunday, when Cubs rookie third baseman David Bote, seeing big league action largely due to an injury to All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant, did this.

According to the Kansas City Star, it is only the 3rd time in the last 30 years where a player hit a walk-off grand slam while down to his last strike. It is the stuff kids dream about in their most dramatic dreams. For Bote, recalled and sent down a handful of times already this year, it was his third major league home run. He had been playing well at AAA and doubled in his first at bat in May, at Coors Field in Denver – a short drive from where he grew up, in front of many family and friends.

Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, 2 out, down by 3, 2 strikes on the batter. rookie pinch hitter, Grand Slam! I’ve dreamed about a moment like Bote lived last Sunday.

For Bote,(pronounced Bo-tee), a dream sequence like that lived out in real life really grabbed the attention of the baseball world. And it gave a chance for his story to be shared. He was drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 baseball draft (554th overall). He learned this news while on a mission trip in Kenya.  – a story that had him considering leaving baseball dreams behind when his progress through the minors was slowed. He asked his wife if she thought he should give it up. Bote recalls “she said ‘We didn’t stay in ‘A’ ball for five years to give up now,’ ’’ Bote continues “We had a 3-month-old at the time. She was like, ‘Don’t do it because of me. If you want to give it up, do it, but not because of me.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not ready to give it up.’ Knowing she was 100 percent supportive made it that much easier.”

This moment, and the many other rookie season highlights that Bote has lived this year are amazing, and as fans, we are grateful that he didn’t quit baseball when the grind was discouraging him.

They stuck with it and now, all of baseball knows his name and his power to straight away center field.  As you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, Bote’s faith in God is deeply rooted. It says “Living by the verse Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” — Bob Bote (David’s dad) told Sports Spectrum that faith was always an important element in how he raised his children.“After games and other life situations, we would discuss how God was involved, what He might be trying to teach us, and how to glorify Him by our resulting actions,” Bob said. He began to provide spiritual encouragement to David as he began to watch his son’s baseball progression. “Be an encourager,” Bob told Sports Spectrum. “Treat others the way you want to be treated. Give praise to Jesus in all situations and results and be humble.”

Here are my takeaways from Bote’s story

A mob of happy teammates awaited Bote at home plate as he brought in the unlikely game winning run.

1- Encourage and be humble – David’s dad shared his advice to his son – Be an encourager, treat others well, praise God always and be humble” What a great checklist to live by. And there is more.  Being aware of God’s presence in all situations, looking to learn lessons from what we go through and how we can glorify Him by our response to what life brings our way – these are all great practices that we can develop by keeping God as the center of our attention. I find these thoughts a challenging reminder to take the focus off the hardships and instead focus on God. He invites us to trust Him instead of worrying (Matt 6.25-34) and depend on Him to provide for all we need (Philippians 4.19).

2- Support System – Bote considered giving up baseball because he felt like things were not progressing. He discussed it with his wife, who was living his baseball dreams with him. She continued to support him, and whatever the decision was. I really connect with this part of the story. My wife is easily my biggest cheerleader. She is so supportive of me, encourages me and shows by her words and her actions that she believes in me often more deeply than I believe in myself. To have that strength of support and depth of love and partnership really does empower me to move into challenges with confidence because I know that she is with me in the thick of it. And I get to do the same for her. She is an amazing woman who is doing some great things. It is my joy to support her in what she does being for her what she is for me.

All Star Week Pt 2- Blake Treinen – Oakland A’s RP


A’s All-Star Reliever Blake Treinen

Part of the joy of writing this blog is hearing the unlikely stories and the amazing journeys that many players have followed. So many names that have become major league players, even All-stars – came close to giving up, quitting or being forced out by injury or circumstance. But they push through, and their story becomes as interesting as their success.  Blake Treinen is one of those stories. The 30-year old Oakland A’s closer will appear in his first career All-Star game tonight, the result of a first half where in 40 appearances he has already set career highs in wins and saves, while posting a minuscule 0.94 era and holding opponents to a .174 batting average. And while the A’s have some significant hurdles to cross to make the playoffs, they have been turning heads with their better-than-expected season and their solid bullpen.

Treinen’s sinker has helped him puzzle the batter’s he has faced – they are hitting well below ,200 against him this year.

Treinen’s story is one of perseverance through challenges. Here is a summary.  He played High school baseball as a freshman but quit in his Sophomore season after developing diabetes.  He came back to baseball, but was not recruited to play college ball. He attended Baker University, but baseball options there were limited so he transferred to Arkansas, hoping to win a job as a walk-on. He didn’t. Home for Christmas, Treinen attended a one-day pitching clinic put on by a local minor league baseball player Don Czyz. Czyz saw potential. He contacted a former college teammate who was head coach at South Dakota State. Treinen transferred there after finding out they had just started offering the career program he was interested in. He sat out a year due to his time at Arkansas and then starting pitching for the Jackrabbits. Now he was getting noticed. He was drafted by the Marlins in the 23rd round. But a failed physical sent him home without a contract. He was crushed by this. He called his parents, his coach and the SDSU team chaplain. The chaplain assured him with Proverbs 3.4-5. Treinen kind of blew it off, not feeling comforted. His parents picked him up at the airport and were driving through the early morning hours towards home. That is when, according to this CJonline article, Blake said “There’s literally no one out there at 2 in the morning. This red Cavalier drives by and I’m telling my parents at the time that my team chaplain had given me this verse, Proverbs 3:5-6. The car drives by as I’m saying it and their license plate was custom. It read, Prov356. I’m like, ’OK, if you all don’t believe in signs that there’s a God … I’ve had too many things happen in my life that have pointed in that direction more than the idea that there’s not.”  He goes on to say “My biggest crutch throughout everything has been Jesus. Baseball is part of my testimony to my faith. All I’ve ever known is baseball and God has been with me every step. Every trial has been through baseball in some form, and he’s always seen me through.”

Here is a compilation of how effective Treinen has been this season.

And this year, a new height has been reached. Treinen had known some success with the Nationals as a closer, but he is shattering his personal bests this year and his out-pitch – a sinker that averages in the high 90s has troubled opposing hitters all year. I’m excited to see him play tonight, and to share his story of faith and determination.

Here are my takeaways from Treinen’s story.

1- What’s Your story – I’ve said many times on these virtual pages that our story is such a key part of our life. Our lives and experiences are meant for us to know that God is real and active in our lives, but also for others to see God at work through our circumstances and be drawn to Him. Treinen talks in the articles that I linked to above about having some doors slammed shut and others open up. I’m glad to share Blake Treinen’s story. Because we can see similar things occurring in our own stories.  I challenge you all to reflect on your own story and see how God has been faithful and drawing you in to trust Him in all circumstances.

Treinen is congratulated on a save for the A’s – something that has happened 24 times already this season.

2- You Never Know –  Part of what makes this story so intriguing is the “coincidences” throughout. The most jarring is the personalized license plate bearing Proverbs 3.56 just hours after Blake was offered those same 2 verses as a comfort for this challenge he was facing. Consider all the pieces of the story. He happened to be sharing that part of his story and the verses that were shared with him with his parents as the car drove by. It makes you wonder about the driver of the red Cavalier. What happened in his/her life that led them to get that particular verse printed on their license plate. Do they know the impact that it had on this passenger in the car they passed? A man who now finds himself in the baseball All-Star game. Kinda makes you think about all the different ways that you are able to share your faith with others. Maybe it will be in a deep conversation about theology and doctrine, maybe it will be in reflection of a movie that you watch with some friends that brings up topics of faith, sin, grace and forgiveness, maybe it will be a Christian themed t-shirt you are wearing or a tattoo with a bible verse or crying with a friend that has just had their world turned upside down by tragedy. There are may ways that God uses to reach into the lives of others around us. Sometimes He even uses your license plate!