Monday, January 27, 2014

Stuck in a Rut?

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the routine-ness of life?

I recognize the trap when rut-like scenery comes into focus - 

busy but unfulfilling days,

a quick but disinterested mind, 

a willing but lethargic spirit.

That's when I cry out to the LORD, asking the Father to stop the merry-go-round I'm on and the Spirit to revive the Psalm 42:2 yearning I desire.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?"

And in faithfulness He answers me as surely as He answered Jacob in Genesis 35:3.

"Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone."

He is delivering the remedy this time through the book of John. My focus all week has been on the account of the paralytic in chapter 5. Jesus met the Samaritan woman in Sychar at Jacob's Well. He met the invalid in Jerusalem beside a pool near the Sheep Gate. 

There are several points that catch my interest immediately. 

John is the only Gospel that contains this narrative. 
The Sheep Gate is the entrance used to bring in the sacrificial sheep and lambs, the first and last gate mentioned in Nehemiah's report about the rebuilding of Jerusalem. (1:1, 32) 
The word Bethesda in the original Aramaic means house of mercy or grace.

John reports that a "great number" of needy people were waiting by the pool. The Savior approached ONE. God says "Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time." The man had been lost and suffering in helplessness for thirty-eight (38) years. (vv. 3-6)

Jesus went over and spoke to him, the One out of the whole hurting crowd. There's no information that the bedridden man called out for assistance. According to verse 13, the man probably didn't even know who Jesus was. Yet the Savior of the world singled him out for a personal conversation. 

The Christ asked whether he wanted to get well and the disabled man merely shared the truth of his situation. He wasn't able to get himself into the healing waters. Without any further discussion, Messiah directed him to "'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.' At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked." (v. 8,9)

My own life comes into focus and I simply can go no further. I read these nine verses over again and again, meditating on their impact in my life.

I too was lost and suffering in helplessness. I too was paralyzed in my sin and unable to get into the healing waters. I too was One among many waiting for healing. Jesus approached me and spoke to my heart as surely as he did the invalid by the pool at the Sheep Gate. I have to confess that I'm not sure I really knew who He was on the day I answered His question and said I too wanted to be healed. 


"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  Hebrews 13:8

Even though I was thoroughly immature and untrained, the Messiah, the Lamb of God and great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Healer of John 5, relieved me of the paralyzing consequences of my sin - for His own glory. 

"For the sake of Jacob my servant, 
of Israel my chosen.
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor.
though you do not acknowledge me.
 I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting
men may know there is none besides me,
I am the LORD, and there is no other."  Isaiah 45:4,5

The new life I experienced after twenty-three (23) years of lostness and suffering was filled with joy and peace, conviction and zeal. Over the years since then I've had countless highs and lows. Through them all God has been faithful to meet me, speak to my heart, and call me forward. How blessed I am.

Christ's life-changing encounter with me was specific and personal, detailed and loving, powerful and compassionate, rich and effective, merciful and gracious, kind and just, tender and strong, and He continues to call to me in my ongoing journey. 

How about YOU? Can you hear His voice, "Do you want to get well?"

Are you in the midst of a crowd or overwhelmed by the merry-go-round? He's calling out to YOU too, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."           

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sychar Sympathies

I’ve taken to sticking my nose into Scripture during those early morning hours when I’m lying awake. 

Rather than trying to read a large portion I’m using this time to concentrate on a chapter or section. I’ve moved from Jeremiah 52 into the gospel of John.

This morning in Chapter 4 I followed Jesus into Sychar, a city in Samaria.

For the first time ever I walked over and sat down in the dust near Jacob’s Well. It was a  time of intimacy as I did my best to get to know the Samaritan woman. It was easy enough to identify with her in terms of my past transgressions and current struggles with sin - on different issues but none the less real. 

First, it surprised me that Jacob gave his son Joseph a well situated in Samaria. Guess my biblical history is weak. Anyway, it was clear that Sami* was ahead of me. She knew the well was a gift from Jacob and that it had been used by generations of family and herds. She was even aware that Jacob was a man of high standing before God. (v. 12) 

Sami had a lot of other details informing her interactions with the stranger. For one thing she knew about local customs. When Jesus asked her for a drink she pointed out how odd it was for a Jew to even talk to a Samaritan, never mind ask her for a drink. (v. 9) She sounded a lot like me when I get confused. I attempt to find my balance by mentally reviewing familiar facts, habits or routines.

When Jesus spoke about being able to provide her with living water Sami’s common sense appeared. She pointed out the impracticality of Jesus’ suggestion that He could collect water of any kind from a deep well without a jar or bucket. (v. 11) If she was anything like me, Sami was beginning to feel the pressure of a situation she might not be able to handle. I know I often find it helpful to bolster my confidence by stating an obvious fact or two that others seem to be overlooking.

Jesus went on to explain the total thirst-quenching advantage of the water He had to offer. It seems Sami finally began to catch the significance of His words. She ran their meaning through the same common sense filter. Her request for some of His special water had a practical basis. She'd be able to avoid thirst and stop making trips to the well. (vv. 15-16)

Now that Christ had Sami’s attention He opened the crucial subject, her marital status. Perhaps like me she was caught off guard and simply blurted out the truth. Whatever was behind her candid statement Christ drew her out with the truth about her circumstances. (vv. 17-18) I felt a kinship with Sami as she responded out of the logical mindset given to her by the Father.

Sami must have figured out Jesus was right up there above Jacob because she refers to Him as a “prophet”. Then she goes on to lay out an apparent contradiction about the proper place to worship, the mountain or Jerusalem. (vv. 19-20) It’s the kind of question I often come up with as I meditate on Scripture. For example, since God attends every detail, what’s the significance of the particular well where this conversation is taking place, a gift from Jacob to Joseph?

Jesus continues the discussion by pointing out that neither the mountain nor Jerusalem are appropriate sites for worship any longer. He explains that true worship of God must be done in spirit and in truth because God is a spirit. Sami responds by pulling together the fresh evidence she's gained and combining it with her own personal understanding, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  (v. 25) 

Right about then the disciples returned, surprised that Jesus is talking with a woman. 

Sami rushed off to the village, leaving her jar behind. She alerted those she met by sharing what was most significant to her, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (v. 29) For me this scene solidifies my connection with Sami. 

She had gathered a body of knowledge about Jacob, the Jewish God, proper worship, prophets, the coming Messiah, and likely other related topics. She brought all of that information to bear on the conversation she was having with a stranger at the well. She connected the explanations Jesus had about living water, her husbands/non-husband situation, clarification of proper worship, and most likely Christ’s declaration when she mentioned the coming Messiah, “I who speak to you am he.”  (v. 26) 

Her testimony about Christ knowing everything about her convinced “many of the Samaritans” of His divine identity. They pleaded with Jesus to stay with them and His words led “many more” to accept that He was indeed the “Savior of the world” (vv. 39-42) This bountiful result makes me smile and gives me confidence. 

You see, I recognize how God used Sami’s persistent application of the gifts He gave her in logical deduction to draw her into His Truth. That means that He can and probably does do the same for me. It doesn’t look like something other-worldly or a bunch of hocus-pocus. The Father works within me to illuminate my mind and spirit and guide me in His ways. 

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:13

The great I AM began His work when He put my name in the Book of Life before the creation of the world.

The LORD continues His mastery over my days since He created me in my mother’s womb.

The Savior will call me home on my pre-arranged graduation day. Hallelujah!!

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
you eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book 
before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:13-16

*her name is my invention

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let's Think Again

It was a lovely time of learning and fellowship around the Word of God. 

I really enjoy feasting on the product of the Father's breath with ladies serious about their spiritual growth. 

The passage was familiar as was the reaction of the other ladies in the group. 

The general sense was that Jesus was totally frustrated with the disciples' reaction to the situation. A couple of the ladies even repeated Christ's words with a strong get-with-it-guys, what's-the-matter-with-you tone.

I felt terribly off in the face of their common responses. 

We were reviewing Mark 8 which opens with the account of Jesus feeding a crowd whose core was 4,000 men. Evidently the disciples had no idea where to get enough bread to feed them and asked Jesus.

He answered them with a question of His own. 

"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.   (verse 5)

"Seven," they replied.

Jesus organized the crowd, broke the loaves into pieces, and directed the disciples to share it among the people. A few small fish were discovered so Jesus did the same with them. Everybody ate their fill and there were seven baskets full of leftovers for the disciples to retrieve. 

After an interaction with the Pharisees Jesus and the disciples got in a boat to go to the other side of the lake. When Jesus spoke to them about the "yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod" in verse 15 the disciples said His remarks were probably the result of their having only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. 

Aware of their discussion. Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"

"Twelve," they replied.

"And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"

They answered, "Seven."

He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"  (verses 14-21)

Okay, I recognize the seeming dense-ness of the disciples.

I mean, after all, they had already been with Jesus when He fed an even larger crowd with 5,000 men at the core. And there were many similarities.
  • on the edge of a body of water
  • a boat was involved
  • an isolated setting
  • crowds of hungry people
  • no sources to get food
  • insufficient funds to purchase food
  • Jesus asked about available bread
  • the disciples reported a small amount of bread
  • the disciples found a small amount of fish
  • Jesus got the people organized in groups
  • Jesus broke the bread and fish into pieces
  • the disciples participated in the distribution
  • all the people ate their fill
  • the disciples collected leftovers with their own hands
Yet, I'm not convinced Jesus would have lost His temper with the disciples when it was discovered they had "no bread" in the boat. I question whether their loving Older Brother even had an edge to His voice.

I am continually overwhelmed by the long-suffering nature of God the Father throughout the Old Testament and the seemingly-endless compassion of Christ during His time of earthly ministry. I've also come to see the Master's time with the Apostles as a full-on mentor program. Perhaps these views impact the way I perceive the Mark 8 interchanges.

From my perspective Jesus was making the most of the tutorial time He had with the disciples on their mini-cruise away from distracting crowds. 

Nothing happens by chance with God. Every detail of this life is woven into His perfect plan. I see the similarities between the two feeding sessions as specific teaching points for the Master Teacher. Jesus made the most of the lack of provision on the boat to draw the disciples back to the previous episodes where it seemed there were no resources on hand. 

Their Tutor used questions to lead the disciples' thinking.
First about the topic of their conversation.
Then about the need for them to engage their minds with what was happening around them.
Next encouraging them to check the condition of their hearts.
Also about their ability (or willingness) to make the most of what their senses gathered.
Continuing, the Savior urged them to remember what they had witnessed in the past, on both occasions over several points.
Having prompted them in each of these areas, He asked them again if they understood.
This strategy seems like an excellent way to walk through an intentional life.
Consider the purpose of our conversations.
Apply our minds to what's going on around us.
Examine our hearts.
Make sure we're verifying and evaluating what we see and hear.
Remember the past, how God acted in Scripture, the world, our own lives.
Bring all this input before the Lord to confirm our conclusions and seek real understanding.

Rather than chastising the disciples for acting like knuckleheads, I suggest Jesus the Christ was caring for them in intimate ways on their personal journey toward maturity. I also suggest that He was modeling the way the disciples were supposed to treat others as they shared the Gospel and guided others in their spiritual growth and development.

As usual the Word doesn't really end there. The same loving, compassionate, gracious, specific, careful, and obviously effective model stands before each of us. 

Dear Father, thank you for the richness of the Scriptures. Please cause each of us to grasp all You have for us as we study and meditate, not just as a collection of things to itemize but as the transforming work of Your Potter's hands. Amen

Monday, January 6, 2014

Surprised by Pasture!

I find myself reading through Jeremiah with a fair amount of interest. 

I can't remember exactly how I decided to tackle this Old Testament book.

Nevertheless I revel in the richness it is impressing on my heart and mind and soul. 

God spoke to Jeremiah, giving him Truth to foretell to the people around him. 

God also gave Jeremiah everything he needed to carry the entrusted messages where their exact delivery point. Over and over again God proclaims His judgement with specific details.

The theme that's been impacting me is that following judgement and consequences God declares over and over again that He will restore those who have sat under His wrath. 

In the midst of months and months of intense struggle, for judgement or otherwise, it's quite comforting to know that redemption and restoration were and are part of the bedrock of God's character.

This morning as I was reading I was caught by a subtle yet vital concept recorded for my benefit.

Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, "We are not guilty, for they sinned against the LORD, their true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their fathers."  Jeremiah 50:7

Jeremiah reports that the enemies of Israel and Judah counted themselves guiltless in destroying them because they had "sinned against the LORD." That's kind of interesting because it means those outside God's covenant understood its conditions. 

The enemies of God actually stood on His covenant to support their own freedom from guilt in bringing devastation on those with whom God made that covenant. James 2:19 comes to mind.

But the part of that verse that really grabs me is the way these alert opponents go on to describe the relationship of the Creator with His chosen ones. 

the LORD, their true pasture

These rebels recognize that God is meant to be the "true pasture" of His people. 

I am trying to wrap my heart and mind and soul around that concept.

Psalm 23 appears in my memory and I consider the LORD, my Shepherd, as He leads me into green pastures. Could they be the pastures of His presence - lush and bountiful in every way that restores my soul . . . that the personhood of God Almighty is meant to be my peaceful dwelling place?

The LORD is my true pasture.

And so the meditation point for my day is set. 

Will you join me?