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.

 

Filled

It is almost Super Bowl time and many of us have plans in place to get together with friends and take in the festivities together. Some are invested in the game, but not all. Some will have their stop watches out to time how long it will take Pink to sing the National Anthem. Others will be eager for stoppages in play so they can check out the newly released Super Bowl commercials, and still others will await anxiously to see what surprises will accompany Justin Timberlake and the Half-Time show.

Now imagine that you are just about to watch the second half of the game kick off.  You are still recovering from the half-time show and wondering if the Eagles can hold off the Patriots or if they will be planning another parade in the greater Boston area.  Then, there is a panic – the food is gone. There is no more coming. What do you think the reaction of the houseguests will be? Some may think “it’s okay, I’ve really eaten enough”, some will look to order pizza, some will maybe revolt or at least black list this place for next year. For the host of the party, it would be an embarrassing oversight to run out of food on Super Bowl Sunday.

Now, let’s take a look at a potentially embarrassing moment at a celebration in the Bible.  This time, we are looking at John 2. It is not a Super Bowl party, but instead, it is a wedding – a joyous celebration that could go on for days. And in this moment, the wine has run out. It is a potentially embarrassing situation for the hosts. Mary, Jesus’ mother hears about the issue and brings it to His attention. He doesn’t jump at the chance to take action. Instead, he tells her that “my time has not yet come (vs 4)”. But she then instructs the servants to “do whatever he tells you (vs 5)”

And to the surprise (I’m sure) of these servants, Jesus tells them to fill these large jugs with water. The bible points out that this is means fetching between 120-180 gallons of water – many trips to the well – it would take lots of work to make this happen. And what do you suppose they were thinking. We have all these guests and we are going to give them water? This is a disaster! Who is this guy and why are we listening to Him? This is going to take a long time and…water at a wedding?  We will be the laughing stock of the whole region. This is going from bad to worse.

But it doesn’t go from bad to worse. Instead, this is the first miracle that Jesus does publicly. It becomes a real circle-the-date-on-your-calendar moment. Miraculously, Jesus transforms the water in these vessels into the finest wine served. A sampling is taken to the head of the banquet and he is surprised by the quality of the wine that he tastes. The guests are none the wiser and the reputation of the bride and groom is preserved.

The takeaways from this story are:

1- Be faithful in the little things – What Jesus said would seem crazy and with the servants and the wedding planners on the edge of being embarrassed by this wine-shortage. And they had no reason to believe that anything miraculous was going to come from this exchange with Jesus. He had not yet established his history of miraculous wonders and built his reputation of awe-inspiring feats. He was just a guy at a wedding reception. But they did listen to Him. They did trust that He would do something helpful for their case. It would have taken time and effort to fill those vessels with water – time that could easily have allowed doubt to stop them from filling the jugs all up – but they persisted and their faith was rewarded.  They are the ones that got to witness this miracle. God is still in the business of helping people in miraculous ways. We are invited to trust Him – and to obey Him in the little things.

2- The Disciples Believe – Verse 11 tells us that this was the first time that Jesus revealed his glory and the disciples believed in Him. This story doesn’t tell us if they were privy to the information about the wine running out, but it does show us that they spent time with him and that their lives were changing. They would of course continue to travel down an unpredictable path where they would learn from the Master and see things far beyond what they could imagine. It is amazing how life changing time spent with God can be. Will you spend time with Him and allow him to change your life. Will you believe him, trust him and allow Him to lead you on the adventure of a lifetime?

Keeping Track

This is the third post in a mini-series among the Tangible Truths that our Radical Jesus has challenged us with. We talked about loving our enemies, we talked about loving our neighbor, even if that neighbor is an enemy. And as we have talked about loving others, we will finish this mini-series by looking at what true forgiveness is in relation to the love we are called to show to others. Our text is Matthew 18. verses 21-35.

Here we see Peter comes to Jesus and asks a bit of a loaded question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Now there is not a lot of context here as to what Peter may have been thinking, but I picture it as Peter attempting to show Jesus how he “gets it”. He is showing Jesus he understands what Jesus has been teaching and demonstrates this learning with what he feels like is a pretty radical concept. Forgive someone seven times?  After all teaching of the day suggested that forgiving 3 times was the limit. So imagine how Peter’s mind would be blown by the answer of seventy times seven. If Peter is attempting to prove the depth of his spirituality, he is outdone by Jesus answer.

But here is the way my mind was blown as I was studying this story. I read it just a couple days after a bible study that focused on 1 Corinthians 13. And there in the midst of that chapter, clear as day, it says in verse 5 (love) keeps no record of wrongs.  Did you catch that?  Now let’s put it together with the “loving others” we’ve been talking about for the past few Tangible Truths. If we are loving others, we are not to keep record of the wrongs they do to us. If we are loving them, we will not dig out our tally sheet and put another notch on the page beside their name. That is not loving forgiveness. And again, Jesus models this for us as the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 8.12For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

But in case you missed it, Jesus drives his point home with a parable. He talks about a servant who owed a great debt to the King who has called for his debts to be settled. This servant doesn’t have the means to repay the large debt and the King calls for him and his family to be sold to repay what they owed. The servant pleads with the King, and the King, taking pity on him, releases him and forgives the debt completely. He owes nothing!

This servant, freed from this penalty, finds another man who owes him a small sum. Like the servant with the king, this man also pleads for mercy, saying he cannot repay the debt. Finding that unacceptable, the servant grabs the second man by the neck and begins to choke him. He then has that man thrown in prison until the small debt could be repaid. Word got back to the King who called the first servant back in, reinstated the debt and had the first servant thrown into prison until the large amount he owed was paid in full.

We deserve to be on the hook to repay everything that has been done for us, but God knowing that we will never be able to repay that debt, doesn’t require it of us. He has cancelled the debt and freed us from any sentence that it held. But as we discussed in the previous two Tangible Truths, He calls us to do the same for others – forgive them, not hold their actions against them and remember that we are no better than them. We also have been forgiven of much greater offenses than another person could ever commit against us.

I am challenged by these lessons on love. It is so much easier to hold on to grudges and withhold mercy and forgiveness when people hurt us. But if we want to follow the example Jesus set for us – if we want to follow His teaching and live the life He calls us to, then we are compelled to remember that He calls us to love others – our neighbors, our enemies, those who are hurtful to us. I pray that I will never again overlook these lessons and that His presence in my life would be demonstrated by helping me carry out His commands to love and forgive.