Abundant Life

Read John 10:1-14.

Have you ever considered your life to be worthless or that people would just be better off without you? I know, I know this sounds rather melodramatic to some, but in the depths of depression, there are loads of people who feel this way. And telling someone in the throes of this despondence that God loves them may be like singing a song to a deaf ear that cannot comprehend.

Or perhaps we’ve never experienced such so we just want to tell that individual “cheer up,” “look at the bright side,” or if we’re a little more blunt, “suck it up.” Unfortunately, even with good intentions, this type of advice can cause even greater despair.

Perhaps you are in a low place right now and just want to give up. Can I tell you that your life is worth a great deal to God? Even in the midst of circumstances that seem overwhelming. Even when you have committed some horrible sin, or have been caught up in an addiction, or deserted, or wrongfully accused, your life is meant…well, to live.

Jesus promised us abundant life as we follow Him (John 10:10). An abundant or satisfying life does not mean that everything will go our way. No, we will suffer. He promises us this. But our lives still matter and are worth living, even if the circumstances are horrific.

In John 10:1-14, notice what Jesus says about thieves, and contrast it to what He says about the good shepherd. The thieves (the enemy, Satan and his forces) want to steal and kill and destroy. So, there may be literal attempts on our mortal lives, attempts to steal our joy, or attempts to destroy our very reasons for living. There will be hard times but that does not mean we can’t have an abundant life. Not if you think of abundance as having a rich and wide variety of experiences.

Mankind dreamed of flying for millennia, and there have been some rather humorous attempts in our not-so-distant past.* Did you know an airplane (or bird for that matter) essentially “struggles” to get in the air? Lift and thrust must overcome the forces of gravity and drag. But once at cruising altitude we probably feel only the forward momentum, and if we are not afraid to look out the window, we can view mountains, forests, farm land, cities, all from a new and exciting perspective.

Consider that Jesus knows us in our struggles and is with us as we struggle through our daily lives. The thieves may be right outside the gate or climbing the walls, but the Good Shepherd is fighting for us. He has already laid down His life so that we may have a full, abundant, and satisfying life. Yes, we will face obstacles. Yes, we may face real danger. But remember Jesus has overcome the most powerful enemy…that of death.

Even now, He fights for you.

He loves you. Yes, really. Walk with Him. Just walk at His pace, in His path, and let Him guide you to abundant life.

A Moment to Reflect

Do you believe the Good Shepherd fights for you?

Have you ever survived something that was a real danger to your life? Do you feel as if God intervened?

Take a few minutes to laugh:

The Savior and His Mother at the Cross

Based on John 19:17-35.

As I type the words of the title, my heart wrenches for Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can’t imagine her absolute grief as she watched Him die in such agony. When my son died, he was in a hospital where the doctors and nurses did everything they could for him. They were compassionate and concerned. Even so, my sorrow was great.

Now I try to put myself in Mary’s place. Her situation is just the opposite of mine. The Roman soldiers deliberately torture Jesus as they put Him to death. I won’t get into all He suffers and all the physical details of crucifixion. Suffice to say, it is a slow, painful death.

And Mary is watching.

The soldiers show no concern—they are just following orders. Execute the man who calls Himself the king of the Jews. And do it in a way that is not quick or easy. They even gamble for his clothes while the Son of God hangs near-naked on a cross.

And His mother is there.

Other women are with her, including Mary Magdalene. John his beloved disciple stands with them. We’re not sure how long Mary stays at the cross, but when Jesus sees her and the disciple whom He loves, He declares the tender, practical words, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” I think of the strength it must have taken to say those few words and wonder if he wanted to say anything else. “I love you, Mom,” or “You’ve been a great mother,” or perhaps “Thank you for all you did for me growing up.”  But His strength is gone.

Is this the moment the steel pierces her heart—the sword that Simeon predicted when Jesus first came to the Temple as a baby (Luke 2:34-35)?

While Mary’s eyes are blurred with tears and Roman soldiers taunt and torture our Savior, He takes the time to show a son’s love for His mother. With the rough wood against His beaten back—still fresh with wounds from the lead-tipped whip—He reaches out and cares for His mother.

At this time in history, it is important for a son to make sure His mother is cared for. As I’ve said before, life could be very difficult for women who had no husband, son or other male relative.

I’m not sure why Jesus does not assign the responsibility to one of His brothers. Perhaps it is because the beloved disciple is there at the cross, and He wants to make sure this detail is not left undone. Perhaps his brothers still have hard feelings towards Him, do not understand Jesus’ ministry, and have not spoken to him in years.

I’ve never suffered the physical or emotional pain Jesus did, but, as I consider His sweet words to His mother, I think about the times I have experienced hurt, emotionally or physically. Let me be honest. I seldom think about others when I am in serious pain. Oh no. It is all about me. Now, I don’t think God has a problem with us taking care of ourselves when illness strikes, but the fact remains that Jesus reached out to His mother while in anguish—an anguish I cannot imagine.

Let’s take a look back and consider how Jesus acts towards His mother at another time. In Matthew 12, someone informs Him that His mother and brothers want to see Him. He points to those listening, to those who follow Him, and declares them to be His family. At this point in time, His sole desire is to bring others into the Kingdom so that He could relate to them as brothers and sisters and mothers (Matthew 12:46-50).

But now, the focus seems to change, and He acts as the responsible son. With the love he has shown others, He now demonstrates a love for the mother who bore Him and raised Him.

Jesus, the holy Son of God, became a man so that others can become a part of His family. Yet as human son, He made sure His precious mother would be taken care of at His death.

A Moment to Reflect

As Christ-followers, we love to celebrate the Resurrection, as well we should. But I want you think about the cross for a few minutes, and what Jesus went through. I did not get into the details, but remember that He was tortured to death by people hardened to suffering. Think about the simple statement: “Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.” The “scourging” alone probably put Him into a state of shock, and He would have been in serious or even critical condition. This is overwhelming to me. Perhaps there is something specific Jesus went through that you think is particularly heinous. Can you take a moment to thank Him for doing this for you?

Also thank Jesus for the way He ministered to His mother. Ask Him to help you see His ministry to you in a practical way. You could even ask Him to show you how precious you are to Him. Thank Him for any answers you receive and take time to record them. Then take the time to show God’s love to another.

Peace to You, my Children

Have you ever wished you could just disappear? Responsibilities weigh you down, and you want to leave them behind. That weight perhaps causes you to forget the good things, the blessings you have.

Maybe you feel this way now or have felt this way in the past. There is no peace in your home, in your job, your community, let alone in your country and in the world. You are tired of the bickering in politics. Yes, I “went there” because I have found that putting my energy into “whose side” I’m on can drain me. My fear of the future may haunt me because of what the politicians are doing or not doing. Or because of war or the threat of war.

The Eleven remaining disciples are different from us though, right? They know they have to continue His mission. So, they go out and preach everywhere the Gospel and love of Christ!

Oh, wait. No, they don’t.

Instead, they go into hiding. Fearful of the Jews—which meant, by the way, the fear of the Jewish leaders—they disappear from the public eye. Huddling together, they lock the doors. But without a warning, instead of a dreaded pounding on the door, Jesus appears in their midst.

And is He ever upset with them! After all, they’ve denied Him, deserted Him, and even fallen asleep while He asks them to pray (Matthew 26:36-45, 56, 69-75). And they know their mission. Yet they hide from the perceived threats that He has had to face.

At least that’s what He could have told them. But instead, His first words are “Peace be to you.” They are frightened by His appearance, thinking he is a ghost or spirit. At this point Jesus seems disappointed with their doubt yet He tells them to “Handle me and see…” in order to assure them it is Him in the flesh. (Luke 24:36-40).

After this event (we don’t know how much later), Peter announces he is going fishing, and some of his fishing buddies decide to go with him. I’m not sure what motivates Peter, but he heads out to his former occupation. Apparently, Peter does not want the responsibilities of being a fisher of people, not only catching them, but teaching and training them as well.

The men fish all night as is the custom, but by morning, they have caught nothing.

Someone on the shore calls out, and the voice carries across the water, “Children, do have any food?”

So Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?’ They replied, ‘No.’ He told them, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ – Slide 4

With a weary sigh, they holler back, “No.”

Who is this guy anyway?

Maybe they should have known when He calls them “children,” but only after He tells them to cast the net on the other side of the boat, and they catch a net full of fish does Peter realize “It’s the Lord!” And Peter, being Peter, jumps in the water and swims towards Jesus.

When they haul the fish to shore, Jesus invites them to breakfast. He asks them to bring Him some of the fish even though he has already started cooking and tells them to come and eat. He doesn’t fuss at them for fishing. He doesn’t tell them they should be ashamed for trying to net fish when he has told them to fish for people (John 21:3-13).

Do these reactions by our Lord surprise you? Don’t we sometimes see God waiting to fuss at us when we lack faith or when we turn back to our old ways?

But look at what Jesus does. He knows these men are hungry after working a physically exhausting and discouraging job. So, he prepares a meal for them. I also think He longs to sit with these men and enjoy their company before ascending to the Father.

That is God! He understands. He comes to us in our need and even in our doubts. He holds us close, sits with us in fellowship, and invites us to sup with him, to be nourished at his hand.

I know God disciplines us and guides us away from the wrong path, or even away from a good path to the best one, but He knows our needs too. He understands when we falter. He will come to us, remind us He is our peace, and remind us we are His children.

Perhaps He calls to you today. “Children, have you any meat?”

No matter what your need, He longs to fill it. Bow to Him, set your longings at His feet, and trust Him to sustain you.

 

Comfort to Pass on

God's comfort

 

Have you ever experienced God’s comfort in a real and almost tangible way? I hope you have. But in order to experience that comfort we must also experience pain–emotionally or physically. At the same time, pain in this life is unavoidable. Experiencing the comfort only our God can give makes the pain, not only bearable,  but also worthwhile.

Most of us know that sooner or later we experience less than ideal circumstances. Something we didn’t see coming. Something that overwhelms us and brings us to our knees. It may not seem like a tragedy, but we are inconsolable because of a rejection, a broken relationship, a lost job or any number of crises. That broken relationship or rejection could be a spouse leaving or a grown child you haven’t heard from in years. That lost job could be what you thought was a God-given calling. But then the doors slammed shut. And you were left to figure out what to do next, attempting to make sense of this loss, and perhaps determined to never dream big again.

Second Corinthians teaches us that God is a God of comfort “who comforts in all our tribulation.” In all our tribulation. That includes trials, conflicts, rejection, and broken dreams. Isn’t it wonderful that the God of the universe wants to gather you in His arms and comfort you?

But there’s more to this promise. He comforts us “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” You get that? We are to comfort others with the same comfort God has given us. That may make some of us uncomfortable. We may not like the idea of comforting others. But every gift God gives us–mercy, kindness, love, comfort–is something we can pass on to others.

It may be that our own tears need to clear a bit before we are ready to reach out, but eventually we’ll see someone who needs our compassion because they are going through a similar sorrow. Our hearts will stir, and we will be able to pass that wonderful gift of God’s comfort on to another.

Prayer:

God, please use my hurts so that I may see you as my Comforter, and please use those hurts as a way for me to comfort others who are in need.

God Loves You in Your Sorrow

Grief and hardship come to us all.

The heartache you and I face helps put comparatively minor circumstances into perspective. I have friends and relatives who are suffering, those who now have an empty place in their lives due to the loss of a spouse or loved one. There are others who are waiting—waiting for a job, waiting for news concerning their health, or waiting for a son, daughter, spouse, or sibling to return safely to them.

Grief is something all of us will face at some point or another. While nobody in my family has passed on this year, I have experienced some losses and have been reminded of the shortness of life. A few months ago, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She used to tell people that I was her special friend. Not only did we attend church together, we seemed to understand each other. We laughed at many of the same things, enjoyed coffee together, and her sweet spirit helped sustain me through some rough spots. But now she is in the arms of Jesus. I imagine she is happy in the extreme to be with the One she loves so dearly. Three more friends have also left this earth since then, all of them Christ-followers, all of them showing evidence of that fact. I am happy for them, but I grieve also—mainly for their spouses, children, and other family they left behind.

Two other friends face serious health issues. One has had a stroke and at a rather young age (I consider late fifties “young”). She made it to church after 8 months of absence. Another was awaiting a heart transplant when I originally wrote this. Just a few days ago, he got the call, and has successfully received a lung. He is doing well, but has a long road of recovery ahead.

Yet another friend surprised me when I saw him at church one Sunday morning, and he told me he had resigned his pastorate. He has no prospects right now, but made this decision, he told me because “it was time to leave.” I sensed his hurt even though he knows he is following God’s direction.

Hardships and struggle come to us all. This is an imperfect world, and we will face tragedy, loss of jobs, health issues, and a myriad of other disappointments.

Does this mean we have done something to displease God? Does it mean He is punishing us or is mad at us? Perhaps we even question if He still loves us.

I do not believe God is mad at you or that you have displeased Him. Yes, we can be disobedient but as a Christian, Christ has done all that is needed to please the Father and He is not punishing you. Realize that Christ suffered the punishment for our sins. Disciplining? Perhaps. Remember that discipline can just be redirecting, giving a different perspective, or leading you to repentance, but realize that He continues to love you.

If you are suffering or grieving or struggling or fighting an impossible battle, realize you may be doing just as God wants. Don’t believe me? Allow me to point to Job who God said  was a righteous man (Job 1:1). As a result of his righteousness, he suffered terrible losses. God also told Job’s friends they were wrong in their criticism of him. He told them to ask Job to pray for them and He would accept Job’s prayer (Job 42:8).

While I cannot answer your big questions in time of heartache or tragedy, I will suggest what God may want from you. He may just want to draw you close as He invites you to sit with Him. (He has a HUGE lap.)He may want to take your worries, exhaustion, and nightmarish circumstances upon Himself. Perhaps He just wants to love on and comfort you. The Bible says that He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1) who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we in turn can comfort others.

Take a moment today to ask God for His comfort, for His direction in whatever situation you face. And do not isolate yourself from others who want to comfort you.

When God comforts you, try to find someone who needs comfort, and pass what God has give you onto them. It may take time to be able to do this, but eventually, through your own sorrow, through your own tears, you will be able to see the needs of another.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

 

 

 

Jesus Heals a Woman on the Sabbath

Read Luke 13:10-16

I daresay that most of us have been around people with serious physical deformities or perhaps you yourself suffer from a particular physical challenge. I grew up with a brother who had a form of muscular dystrophy. He died at the age of twenty-eight, and actually that is a rather long life for someone with this disease. Even though there were a lot of things he could not do, his disability did not keep him from studying God’s word and attending church. One thing that caused him problems was—believe it or not—he did not look like he had any kind of physical defect. He could walk without crutches or braces, get around without a wheel chair, and other than always being rather thin, he looked “normal.” I remember when children figured out that something was not quite right they might say something like “what’s wrong with him?” So I grew up being rather sensitive to the problems of those with physical challenges, and today I cringe when people treat them as less than a person or I see the “normal” people staring. While it is our human nature to be curious, a look can always be accompanied by a nod or smile. (Sorry if it sounds like I’m being a little “preachy.”)

So now I try to imagine how the woman in our story today struggles to make it to the synagogue. Does she have any idea of what is to come? Bent over, unable to even look up to the sky, she is most likely in pain—both physical and emotional—but has learned to cope. Just as many people today learn to cope with pain that we perhaps cannot imagine. She walks to the synagogue, probably alone as people stare and children point and giggle at this oddly shaped woman—that is, unless people have changed a lot since Jesus’ day.

When Jesus sees her, he apparently stops in the middle of his teaching and calls her forward. Let’s take a moment to consider this. He calls her forward in front of everyone—the very people who have stared, ignored her as a fixture of sorts, minimized her existence, and maybe thought of her as being punished by God. Keep in mind that she may have been a young woman whose beauty and potential for finding a husband have been robbed from her. We don’t know her age, only that she has been bent over for eighteen years. So when Jesus calls her forward, what is she thinking? Has she seen Jesus heal before? Is she excited anticipating what the Savior might do or is she embarrassed at having this attention placed on her? I imagine her struggling to come forward, her feet shuffling, trying to lift her head to this teacher. But we know none of these things except that from our perspective the miracle that is about to happen.

And Jesus reveals his plans to her in a brief moment. First He lays his hands on her. We may not think of that as significant especially since it is a common practice for Him to do so. But this woman has probably not received much affection so this touch is significant. And when He does she is free from her infirmity. Immediately she straightens up and praises God. Immediately. I love that Jesus can work in such a way, and the Bible indicates nothing of pain from this transaction, but perhaps we can hear the cracking of bones, as joints and vertebrae straighten, as muscles strained by the years of deformity relax, and those meant to hold her up are now free to do so.

Now we glance over at the synagogue leader who whoops and dances with joy!

Well, not quite. Instead he becomes indignant, and notice that he addresses the people (not Jesus), basically telling them that if someone wants healing they can come to the synagogue and be healed on any day of the week besides Saturday.

As quickly as Jesus has healed the woman, He cries out “hypocrites!” addressing the leader as well as the people who back him. He points out that if it’s important to take care of your animals on the Sabbath why can’t this “daughter of Abraham” be healed from an affliction on the Sabbath? That argument makes so much sense that notice what happens. The official and his backers are humiliated while others—the regular folk with little or no religious training—are amazed. All this takes place while the woman as I imagine tests out her new perspective, looks people in the eye for the first time in eighteen years, jumps for joy and runs to tell everyone that she can. She experiences joy in God while Christ’s opponents sit sour and humiliated. By the way, Jesus did humiliate his opponents on more than one occasion, and people were often won to Him because of this.

Praying you find joy in Christ, no matter your suffering.

Washing the Feet of Jesus

Scripture: Luke 7:36-50

Have you ever done something for the Lord that seemed a little strange to others, but you were so passionate about it that what others thought didn’t matter? The woman in our story today is one such person. She has a passion to worship Jesus. It seems there is something about Him that draws her—something that makes her heart ache to be in his presence.

One thing I want to mention before we go any further is that the other gospels record a story of a woman anointing Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6, John 12:3-7 and Mark 14:3-6). ) That may seem a little confusing, but for now just realize that some Bible scholars have had questions about these passages too. “Whether these accounts represent one event or two, or possibly even three, has been the subject of speculation for centuries.” (http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-of-the-passion-anoint-oil)

Identified only as “a sinful woman,” we see that she has a passion for Jesus and as a result, worships Him in a way that seems a little, well…extreme or “over the top” and definitely improper. She has, more than likely, seen Jesus heal, teach, raise the dead, and forgive. When she follows Him to Simon’s home perhaps she wonders if He could forgive her. Maybe she is desperate for the peace that His forgiveness might bring her.

However there are some social barriers in her way. Here she is—a known sinner (probably a prostitute or adulterer), inviting herself into the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader. She also plans to perform an act involving two things that were huge faux pas—touching a man in a society where men and women did not even address each other in public and letting her hair down for someone other than her husband.

But none of this seems to matter to her. Proper or not, she will show Jesus her love. So she anoints Jesus with oil and as she does her eyes fill with tears and she kneels at his feet without a word. I can hear the room grow silent. Her tears brim over and unashamed she uses them to wash His feet. I imagine she weeps a good bit moved by the fact that she is in His presence, before gently drying his feet with her hair. Think of it, here she is before at least fourteen men (probably more), touching Him and allowing her hair to fall freely over His feet.

At this point Simon begins to think. Perhaps he should not have for Jesus seems to read his thoughts–thoughts very logical to Simon–that she is a sinner and if Jesus were a true prophet, He would not allow her to touch Him. First, Jesus tells Simon he wants to say something to him. Almost as if He’s asking for permission. But Simon’s okay with that and tells Jesus to say what’s on His mind.

So Jesus begins his reprimand by telling Simon a story about two debtors, one who owes a great deal and one who owes little. The generous moneylender forgives both debts. “Which one will love him more?” Jesus asks. Simon says that he supposed the one with the larger debt. (I think it’s cool the way Jesus let Simon figure that one out for himself.)

But He is not done.

Jesus points out Simon’s areas of negligence in performing the simple courtesies extended to visitors in that culture. Simon has not even called a servant to wash his guest’s feet. He did not greet Him with a kiss. And look at the “sinner”—she kisses, anoints, washes, and dries His feet. Not only that, but as Jesus says here, she offers these things with her own body—her tears, her hair—and performs the lowliest of services.

He then turns his attention to the woman and wish I could have seen the look on Simon’s face as Jesus said these words, comparing him, a religious leader to this “sinner.” We hope he begins to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. Maybe he is angry at the rebuke, or perhaps he has a revelation about his own character. I like to think that he becomes less judgmental after this visit with Jesus and begins to show mercy to other “sinners,” realizing he is one also.

So what can we learn from this passage?

  • As Simon perhaps figured out, we seldom understand what is in a person’s heart. Maybe on the surface, their sin is more obvious than ours, but that does not make it worse. And Jesus accepts an offering made with a worshipful heart.
  • Jesus is not at all interested in convention. He not only allows the woman’s touch, He compliments her unusual behavior.
  • Jesus forgives sin. He has such a deep well of love he does not worry about who comes to Him; He doesn’t worry about being influenced or tainted by our sin. As a matter of fact, He appreciates the openness and sincerity of the woman in our story.
  • No matter what, Jesus longs to demonstrate His love to us. Some of us may have committed the very sins that this woman was guilty of or worse. He still desires that we come to Him and lay all that “junk” on Him. He can bear the weight of our sins and the shame we may feel because of it—and I may add, the shame we may feel from what others have done to us.
  • Perhaps like me, you become emotional in public worship. Other people may think you’re a little odd for making such a big deal over Him, but I don’t think Jesus minds that at all.

And by the way, the things we have done wrong and the wrongs that have been done to us are not who we are; they do not define us. Jesus sees His followers as righteous and redeemed, and you are of great value to Him.

I invite you to listen to the words of a beautiful song by Mercy Me:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXI0B4iMLuU