Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Four Guys

We know they were there.  They had to be.  What happened could not have happened without them.  But, their presence is close to invisible until the deed is done.  Along the way through Jerusalem, they prodded Him with their spears, slung insults and curses down upon Him, and hurried Him as if they were being paid by the job and not by the hour.  However, it is only when the cross is in the air and Jesus is well on His way to dying that the gospel writer reveals their presence on that horrid stage.  No names are given.  Just four soldiers.  We only know there are four because the gospel writer says, "...they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier."  (John 19:23)  They cast lots to see who would take home His seamless tunic.
 
What a moment.  These four guys were in the presence of the Son of God, the One sent from God to save them from sin's destruction, but they could only see a piece of human flesh to destroy, a duty to be done, and an opportunity to take a souvenir home.  They were there and missed it all.  Sometimes it happens like that for us.  It has happened so many times in worship moments where the people of God gather.  Some experience the fire and life of holy presence and others go about the task of doing their duty.  But, far more are the times when Jesus shows up in some needy sufferer and we are so busy with the stuff that has to be done that we simply look and see a homeless person, a poor soul, or a body waiting on death instead of seeing the presence of Jesus within them.
 
Encounters abound in the world.  But, we have to have eyes to see.  We have to have a heart that is open.  We have to have a spirit that is not just the human spirit, but a spirit that is holy and enables us to see the world and those around us through the eyes of the One who suffered and died on the cross.  His view of the world from up there in the air is always so different than ours.  We see so little and He sees so much.  "Father, help us see the world and its people through the eyes of Your Son."

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Long Encounter

As we read the encounter stories in the gospel of John, none seem to be any longer than the one Pilate had with Jesus.  Not only does it encompass a large number of verses, there is the awareness of time passing as Pilate talks to Jesus and goes back and forth to re-visit the demands of those Jewish religious authorities who brought Him for judgment.  Pilate keeps running into a truth he wants to avoid.  He realizes Jesus is innocent and one certainly not worthy of death on the cross.  But, there is this enormous pressure pushing against his conscience and it finally becomes too much as he relents to a thing he knows in his heart is a wrong choice.  The voices of those around him finally become more important and more pressing than the voice of Jesus.
 
We are so quick to judge Pilate.  Hindsight tells us he should have done differently.  But, then Pilate knew this without having to move into hindsight territory.  We read the story and see him as one not willing to take a stand, one who made the personally expedient choice, and one who tried desperately to shift the blame for what he was doing onto the heads of others.  In some ways it sounds like we are describing the person we know as the one who looks at us from the mirror.  Could it possibly be true that we have made the same choices Pilate made?  Could it be that we run into a truth in our encounters with Jesus that sends us running toward an easier way?
 
Surely, Pilate thought about what he had done long after the washing water had dried on his blood stained hands.  If he did, then he truly was like us.  Most of us have made Pilate like choices and lived for a long time wondering about what we did.  The only thing which delivers us from always looking over our shoulder with deep sorrow and regret is the death of the Holy One.  The very death Pilate finally authorized was the very thing which had the power to release him from his guilt, but he likely never realized it.   It still has that power for us. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Excited and Ready

I remember the story of the young man in love with the girl just over the ridge and down in the next valley.  Each week he would go see her and always he would profess his love as he left her on Saturday afternoon.  He was more than eloquent for a young mountain boy.  "For  you I would swim the widest ocean, climb the highest mountain, and walk to the ends of the earth," he would frequently say during the day.  And after he kissed her good-bye, he would always say, "I will see you next week if it doesn't rain!"
 
His words bring the story of Simon Peter to mind.  After the supper was done and the feet were washed, Jesus seems to have had a long time of talking and teaching with the disciples.  At one point Peter interrupts Jesus with a question and a declaration, "Lord, why can I not follow You now?  I will lay down my life for You."  (John 13:37)  Of course, we know the rest of the story.  Peter's heart was racing far ahead of his feet.  In such a short time he would be the one cursing and denying he even knew Jesus.
 
Maybe the moral of the story is "Be careful what you promise," but I think there is more to what might be learned than this simplistic adage.  There are times when we get caught up in the moment of being with Jesus.  There are some encounters with Him which are mountain top in nature.  Heaven and all its glory seems to be breaking in upon us.  In those moments we cannot imagine anything but a Peter like spirit that professes absolute and unreserved devotion.  Still, it is also true we can never know exactly where the road of discipleship will take us.  It can be to some hard places.  Remember Jesus prayed to the Father a prayer which asked if there was another way.  So, if we have memories of acting like Peter, let us remember how hard the way was for Jesus and how certain is His understanding of us and His mercy for us. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Gospel of Belief

Every one of the gospels is different.  It takes no seminary degree to see that one.  Even a schoolboy reader sees it.  Mark, the first gospel written, seems like one written under the mandate, "Hurry and get it done before He comes again!"  Matthew is written for Jewish Christians.  It is presented from the perspective of a teacher.  The gospel of Luke is for the world.  It is evangelistically written with the book of Acts in mind.  John is significantly different than the other three.  It does not follow the same chronology and a lot of unique teaching sections are included.
 
The window through which I have always read the gospel of John came to me via a seminary professor from long years ago who taught us that it was "the gospel of belief."  Its pages are filled with those who encounter Jesus.  Some chose belief.  Some chose unbelief.  The word "belief" pops up early and its theme is sounded throughout the writing.  And finally, just in case someone read the whole thing and missed it, the Word says, "But these things are written so that you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name."  (John 20:31)  Nowhere is the imperative of believing in Jesus sounded more clearly than in John's gospel.
 
We live in a world where the Biblical imperative about believing in Jesus is sorely compromised.  Too many affirm the importance of belief, but also declare the object of belief is not the important thing in the equation.   Believing is what is important.  It is a thought not found in the Word of God.  And strangely enough, the church of today often is reticent to proclaim Jesus and the way of believing in Him.  It does this because its ears are too attuned to the voice of common consensus and its mind too set on being politically correct.  What the world may not want to hear and accept is clear in the Word.  Believing in Jesus is not an option, but an imperative. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

No Sunset Ride

Not every encounter with Jesus ends with a "saddle-up-ride-into-the-sunset" kind of feeling.  Ask the young ruler who valued his stuff more than what Jesus said to him.  Or, ask Judas Iscariot after his departure into the night after he took the bread from the hand of the One He had betrayed.  Maybe Judas had in his heart forcing Jesus to declare Himself king as some kinder commentators suggest, or maybe his heart was simply under the control of the evil one.  Surely, for the one who carried the purse, it was not just about the money.  There may be a question about the motive, but there is none about his actions.  He took the bread and went to find those who wanted Jesus dead.
 
It is hard to imagine Judas leaving that moment of encounter with Jesus feeling good.  Could there have been some regret?  Did he feel things had gone too far to back out?  Was he trying to tell himself he was doing a good thing?  Did it seem like he was not only walking into the darkness of night, but also a darkness that was enveloping his soul?  It was surely not an encounter for Judas that was ending well.  He knew as he walked away from Jesus that he was walking away, not just with his feet, but with his heart as well.  After taking the bread from Jesus, the Word says, "...he immediately went out."  (John 13:30)
 
Unfortunately, most of us have had encounters with Jesus akin in spirit to this one of Judas.  We have heard a word from Him and chose not to do it.  We knew His plan and opted for our own.  We had clear understanding of His way, but "my way" took precedence.  When we leave Jesus with that kind of attitude and mindset in our heart, it is always like walking with a heaviness upon us that will not lift. What is surprising is that like Judas, we still go.  Judas finally came to a moment of trying to make right his wrong, but it was too late.  Today is not too late for us.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

At the Table

No encounter with Jesus is portrayed more powerfully than those Table moments Jesus had with the disciples on the night before His crucifixion.  While the first three gospel writers focus on the broken bread and the poured out wine, John shares the memory of his feet and the feet of the other disciples being washed by Jesus.  Surely, it was a memory poured in concrete.  It was impossible not to remember.  It must have been the same for Simon Peter who was at first reluctant to submit to this act of service. "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"  (John 13:6)  Peter knew he should have been the one doing the serving, not Jesus.  Jesus responded with a Word many of us have surely heard in our own lives.  "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."  (John 13:7) 
 
We may not have heard Jesus speaking to us as He did to Peter, but surely we can pause and remember those encounters where those words were whispered in our ear, or perhaps, shouted through the noise of our life.  We have heard it when we found ourselves asking why He allowed some hardship to slip from His hand, through His fingers, and into our life.  We have heard it when we felt like good had passed over us and gone to another.  We have heard when a hindrance fell in front us, slowing us down, or maybe even keeping us away from something thought to be absolutely necessary for our own well being.
 
How many times have we wondered "why" in some present moment of our life only to realize much later that what we did not understand was completely inside the plan of God.   Romans 8:28 is surely a Word which tells us that God is always working for good in the lives of those who love Him.  Not understanding does not take us out from under the umbrella of His love and protection.  It may seem that way when a storm is heavy upon us, but it always remains true that what we do not understand now will one day be clearer than the bright shining stars on the darkest of nights.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Committee

Anyone ever wondered how the church could survive today without committees?  Most of us would say, "Probably not very long."  The church today has more committee meetings each week than it does worship services.  Preachers get burned out and church members slip out the back door never to return because of them.  Imagine for a moment a church without meetings.  Ah, a vision of the Kingdom coming for sure!  It makes you wonder where it all got started, does it not?  It makes you wonder if it is a Biblical ecclesiastical phenomena, or something borrowed from the business world.
 
I think I may have found the answer in my current read through of John's gospel.  I have found a never before noticed record of a committee meeting.  The disciples always seem to be relating to Jesus on a one-on-one basis, but in the record of the 12th chapter, it changed.  Remember the story of the Greeks who came to Philip saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  (John 12:21)  Instead of going to Jesus with the request as might be expected, the Word reports, "Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."  (John 12:22)  The first committee.  Maybe it could even be called an evangelism committee.  
 
We do not know if the Greeks actually got to see Jesus.  The text does not tell us.  We know Jesus received the word of the committee because it precipitated a long discourse which indicates it was an anticipated sign.  But, the question still hangs out there?  Did the Greek seekers see Jesus?  Did they have their moment of encounter with Him?  It is hard to imagine it not happening.  There is no record anywhere of Jesus turning seeking people aside.  His Word was always, "Come,.."  It is same Word He speaks to us today.   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Truly Holy Encounter

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, He became the center of everyone's attention.  Maybe earlier it had been the two sisters, but once He showed up all eyes were on Him and all the conversation was about Him.  What He does is take charge in a powerful way.  With the stage set for the coming forth of Lazarus from the tomb, He lifts His face toward heaven to pray.  As He prays, it is obvious that the words of His prayer are not so much for the Father as they are for those who are standing alongside as mourners.  In His prayer, He prays, "Father, I thank You for having heard Me.  I knew that You always hear Me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here..."  (John 11:42) 
 
At this point we know what He was doing during those two days He delayed in coming to Bethany.  He was praying.  The Son on earth was having an encounter with the Father in heaven about what was ahead.  Jesus was preparing Himself.  He was getting His life aligned with the will of the Father.  When He arrived there at the tomb of Lazarus, He knew exactly what He was going to do.  Of course, this was not His first encounter from earth with the Father in heaven.  As we read the story known as the gospel, we are aware that He is always pulling Himself away from the crowds and their needs to be alone with His Father.  It is something He did often and always with intentionality.
 
If only we could see how important this type encounter is in our own journey of faith.  We do too much walking into the future trusting in the wisdom of our own choices.  We look for logic and common sense to guide us.  Whatever is ahead, we move forward believing we can figure it out when we get there.  Think about it, though.  How different life would be if we moved into whatever is ahead having been with the Father in heaven in such a way that we are able to follow His divine guidance into the things that seem beyond our control. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Worship Moments

Some encounters with Jesus take us into powerful moments of worship.  Have you ever been driving along listening to and singing with some Christian song on the radio?  And, then all of a sudden, you realize you are not just singing, but it is as if Jesus has entered the car with you and a moment of His presence is full upon you.  The singing suddenly becomes more than just a spiritual sing-a-long, but a moment as full of worship as any time ever experienced in the holy sanctuary.  Sometimes we come to our journey's end too soon and we simply sit and sing from our hearts until the song is over, or maybe, in some cases, we just pull off the road and worship the person of Christ who is suddenly with us in an overpowering way.
 
When I read the first part of the 12th chapter of John, I wonder if it might have been something like that for Mary.  Did she know Jesus was coming for a visit?  Did she plan to break out the costly perfume made of pure nard and anoint Him?  If she did, it is not likely she discussed it with her pragmatic sister who would have surely poured cold water on such an extravagant and wasteful thing.  Did she know ahead of His coming to her home what she was going to do?  It seems more likely that this moment was unplanned.  It seems more likely it was a spontaneous act of love and adoration that came from an overwhelmed heart.  Sometimes this is exactly where our encounters with Jesus take us.
 
What a blessed moment those times are for us.  One minute we are overwhelmed by the things of the world and the next moment we find ourselves being overcome by the glories of the presence of Christ.  The Word says that Mary's home was filled with the fragrance of that expensive perfume she sacrificed for Him.  In those moments of unplanned worship that we experience, we often find that the place where we are is filled to overflowing with the fragrance of our praise to Him.  What blessed moments!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Outside the Tomb

Outside the tomb, the mourners gathered.  They came with Mary and Martha as they returned to the place where their brother had been buried some four days earlier.  This time, though, something was different.  The young, controversial, rabbi named Jesus was walking alongside of them.  No doubt some had seen Him do some amazing and unbelievable things.  And, no doubt these same folks figured there was nothing for Him to do in the place where death lingered except offer religious platitudes, give a few hugs of concern, and then go His way.  They knew the  story.  The sisters had sent for Jesus and He had finally come, but it was too late.  Too late.
 
The mourners heard it all.  They heard those incredible words, "Take away the stone,"  and surely they wondered what He was thinking.  They heard Him pray and likely thought, "It is a little late for prayers."  And finally, they heard Him cry out with a loud voice, a voice that was loud enough to waken the dead, "Lazarus, come out!"  Just before the snickering turned into laughter, Lazarus showed up at the door to the tomb, still wrapped up with death's clothing.  "Unbind him, and let him go," was the command which some of them dared to actually do.  The Word says some remained unfazed, thinking it was a trick, but it also says some dared to believe.  (John 11:38-46)
 
It was a place full of spectators.  Strange as it sounds, cemeteries do attract not only the dead, but the spectators as well.  The only problem is spectators do not make it into the Kingdom.   It is always easier to watch what is happening than to make the kind of commitment necessary to get into the game.  At some point it becomes necessary to act on what has been seen,  to respond to what has been said, and to live in a different and new way.  Faith.  Those who choose to no longer be spectators in a world where God is truly at work are those who also live by a faith that makes entrance into the Kingdom offered through the grace of God a reality. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Encounter at Bethany

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.  As far as Martha and Mary were concerned, He was too late.  While each one greeted Him separately, both said the one thing which had no doubt been said many times after their brother, Lazarus, had died.  "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:21, 32)  Let no one miss their disappointment.  It is likely, too, that there was some anger inside their greeting to Jesus.  They obviously believed that Jesus could have come earlier and could have saved their brother from death.  While Lazarus was sick and the sickness was surely the cause of his death, it also sounds like these two grieving sisters wanted to put part of the blame on Jesus.  He could have made things happen differently.
 
There is some raw honesty in the story of this encounter which makes those who have never really suffered in the darkness of hopelessness to gasp and cringe.  "How could they say such a thing to Jesus?" they might well say.  Those kind of believers think of Jesus in such an exalted way that everything said to Him must be measured and tempered.  And, if harsh thoughts ever come to their mind, they are pushed away as inappropriate to say to Jesus.  Better to think them than dare to say them aloud.  In other words, some people do not feel the freedom to be who they are at any given moment in the presence of Jesus. 
 
This story of Lazarus is a wonderful story, but it also reminds us that Jesus does not turn us out when we say the things that are stirring in the darkness of our unthinkable moments.  He spoke no condemning words to the sisters.  He did not chide them for their lack of faith in Him.  Instead, He went with them to the place where their brother was buried and cried with them.  He may not always do what we think He ought to do, or what we want Him to do, but there is no end to His compassion when He looks upon us. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Messenger

When Lazarus seemed to be getting no better, only worse, the sisters, Mary and Martha, decided to send a message to Jesus.  Of course, that day was not this day.  There was no telephone, or email, or texting, or anything else we might use to reach a friend.  The scripture says, "So the sisters sent a message to Jesus."  (John 11:3)  In other words, the sisters sent a messenger to find Jesus and tell him to come quickly.  The messenger is really one lost in Biblical obscurity.  He had to have a name,  but no one knows.  He went as he was asked.  He found Jesus.  And what he went back to report was a rather ambivalent, non-committal Jesus. 
 
While we are sure this was not the response expected by the sisters, it surely must have been a surprise for the messenger as well.  What he must have expected was an expression of concern and a promise to carry back the promise that He would be there right away without any delay.  This was one time Jesus did not act according to expectations.  The messenger went home without the message from Jesus he expected to carry and Jesus waited two more days before heading to Bethany.  When Jesus finally arrived four days after the fact, Lazarus was already dead and in the tomb.
 
Most all of us have had those encounters with Jesus which can only be described as disappointing.  There are even those times when we feel let down by what He could do, but apparently chooses not to do.  We have gone to Him needing something in the present and He waits for what seems like forever before acting.  What we find out later in the Lazarus narrative is that He used the time to pray.  It makes us wonder what He might be doing for us when it seems that He is doing nothing.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

From the Grave

I must confess to being like the guy who had a bit too much to drink and stumbled into the cemetery on his way home.  He rambled midst the tombstones and came upon a freshly dug grave that was waiting on tomorrow to be filled and fell headfirst into it.  He landed in the soft dirt and passed out only to wake up as the sun was rising.  In his testimony he always said, "As I clawed my way out of that hole, I came to Jesus."  After that day he would often bring others whom he figured needed Jesus to the cemetery, not to show them where he came to Jesus, but to push them into an open grave hoping it would have the same effect on them as it had him.
 
I am kinda like that guy.  I want other people to come to know Jesus as I did.  I want them to kneel beside their bed, confess their sins, and open their heart to receive Jesus as their Savior.  But, what I know is that my way is not the only way.  The New Testament gives us two models.  One is called the Damascus Road experience.  This speaks to those who have what seems to be dramatic and almost instantaneous conversion experience.  Saul of Tarsus is the model.  The other is called the Emmaus Road experience.  Two guys are walking along their way not realizing that Jesus was walking with them.  This relates with people who say they have never known what it is not to know Jesus or to love Him.  Either way obviously works.  Either way brings people into life with Jesus and that is truly the important thing. 

Somewhere along the way it is important, no, it is imperative that we say "Yes" to Jesus.  According to John, He came into this world not to condemn us, but to save us.  He came that we might have a way out of the mess we have made of our life.  He came so that sin would not have to have the last word in our life.  Sin's last word is death and separation from God and all that is holy.  The word Jesus speaks is the word of mercy and forgiveness which restores the relationship with God we have broken with our sin.  Say it again now.  Say, "Yes" to Jesus.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Two Encounters

When the blind man encountered Jesus, his life was changed.  Never having seen anything, he suddenly was able to see everything.  Jesus reached out to him, put some mud on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  As soon as the caked mud washed off his eyes, he could see. He could not have imagined such a thing happening at the beginning of that day.  One moment blind and the next moment seeing!  It was a miracle beyond any hope that he had carried in his heart.  No better thing could have happened in his life.
 
But, as great as was his first encounter with Jesus, it was not to even be compared to the second.  The healing made such a stir, it came to the attention of the Pharisees who were protectors and enforcers of Sabbath law.  When Jesus healed the blind man, Sabbath law was broken and suddenly the man who could see found himself in some very hot water.  Jesus heard about the man's troubles and once again takes the initiative in finding him.  This time He asks the man who could now see, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"  (John 9:35)  More was at stake now than just healing eyes.  When the man sought out by Jesus responded by saying, "Lord, I believe," (John (9:38) he was given eyes to see not just the world, but the Kingdom of God which was opening up now in his heart.  The first encounter enabled him to see men in the world; the second enabled him to see God in the world.

No matter what we might say about the important moments in our life, none can compare with our choosing to say, "Lord, I believe."  It transcends everything.  It is the most important choosing of our life.  It opens our eyes to really see the world, not as most folks see it, but as those who are now kingdom dwellers.  Until we come to that moment of declaring faith in Christ, we may see what we think is everything around us, but we are unable to see the most important thing of all. 
 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Glimpse into the Future

Some mornings there is more to see from the front porch than ever could have been imagined.  Things that are present and, sometimes, things that belong to the years to come.  Such a moment came the other morning after I saw those tire tracks across the hayfield.  When I looked in the other direction, I saw the tractor shelter I built some ten years ago.  The biggest thing I had ever built was a dog house so when I finished the tractor shelter, it seemed like a skyscraper in comparison.  While I only had one tractor it was built big enough for three and when it was finished I must confess to a measure of pride in accomplishment.
 
As my gaze turned from the tractor shelter, my attention settled on a pile of old wood and tin which spoke of a old barn built long decades ago, but now only a pile of rubble waiting for someone to clean up. In a flash I looked back at the thing I built and saw its future and mine.  One day it, too, will be a pile of rubble for someone to clean up and when that happens, I will be only a memory.  Our life is fragile thing.  Even if we live a hundred years or more, it is still just a drop in the bucket as time goes and not even that much as far as goes eternity.
 
But, still there is no need to fret and worry.  Instead, rightly viewing the permanance of our things and the limited nature of our years can be a catalyst for using the time given to us by God with a greater degree of faithfulness.  Tomorrow is not to be taken for granted.  The old timers had it right when they said, "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today."  Living rightly in the present with those around  us is not something we need to put off, we need to get to it today.  And, living rightly with God, the One who has given us these years and the promise of eternity, surely takes precedence over every other issue of our life.  Living rightly is what the Word of God is talking about when it speaks of righteousness.  When living rightly with others and God is done, our trip through the years is not wasted.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Morning Meetings

Long ago I learned the value of morning meetings with the Lord.  When I left for college, I stuck a cloth bookmark which had a Ralph Cushman poem entitled, "The Secret" on my desk lamp.  The last verse of the poem reads, "So I think I know the secret, Learned from many a troubled way.  You must seek Him in the morning, If you want Him through the day."   Surprisingly enough, I pulled out the lamp the other day and the poem was still attached.  I wish I could say such had been my practice since those young college years, but it took too long to come to the place of embracing the practice of rising for those early mornings with Word and prayer. 
 
I was reminded of all of this the other morning when I encountered the presence of God, not in the pages of the gospel, but from the front porch.   On that morning the tire tracks, about which I wrote a previous blog, became for me the Word of God for the day.  You see, one of the practical values of early morning risings is that it often seems some verse of Scripture, or an image sticks in my spirit.  It gets carried around through the day and I often find myself coming back to it as a focus for continued reflection, or meditation.  My experience has been that the Word God begins to speak in the morning is not completely comprehended until I have lived with it for a bit.  All through that day which began  on the porch, the image of the tire tracks stayed alive as a Word God was speaking to my heart.
 
It is interesting to realize that God works in our lives in different ways.  In God's eyes we are truly individuals, unique creatures, one of a kind, not to be duplicated, so it makes sense to think that He would speak to each of us in a way that somehow fits how He created us to be.  Some may have those "light bulb" moments, those epiphanies, where divine truth is evident and clear.  Others of us may find it coming at a much slower place.  Me? I am just thankful He takes the time to speak to an old sinner like me who remains so dependent upon His mercy and grace. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tire Tracks

Before opening the Scripture to the gospel of John, I went out on the front porch to get a feel for the weather.  The sun was still hidden under the eastern horizon, but its light was breaking the darkness enough to see things around me.  The cows were getting started with the hay bale and two squirrels were playing chase around a nearby pecan tree.  When I looked over toward the brown winter hayfield, I saw it.  Tire tracks.  Almost a week before I had driven the truck across the barren field toward the house.  Tire tracks.  Evidence of where I had been.
 
Suddenly it was more than just standing on the porch to feel the cold of the morning.  It became a moment as filled with divine presence as it might have been had I been sitting inside in front of the holy Word.  I found myself wondering about the tracks I had left over the years in the places I had lived and worked.  Over a life time I have pastored churches from one side of this state to the other.  A lot of memories are a part of what is past.   My life has intersected more lives than I could possibly remember.  I wondered, "Can those behind me see any evidence that I have been where they are now?  Are there any tire tracks in the barren remembrances of the past?"
 
I imagine those behind me are a lot like I am today.  More things have been forgotten than are remembered.  This is not to say all the experiences and all the people from the past are gone in what is now the present moment of my life.  The truth is I remember much.  And, the thing I remember most are those moments when it was my privilege to stand alongside someone in moments when both our lives were being intersected by the living presence of Christ in our midst.  While standing on the porch in the early morning, I thanked God that His presence is never erased. His tracks in our lives never cease to be seen.  I found myself hopeful that just maybe someone from the past days might see evidence of His tracks and mine running close together.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mud and Spit

When Jesus saw the man born blind, knelt down on one knee, spit heavily in the dirt, made some mud, and then scooped it up in his hand, everyone had to wonder, "What in the world is going on here?"  And when that man who had never seen anything at all felt the cool mess being wiped across his unseeing eyes, his first reaction of pulling back apparently was overcome by his surprise at the unexpected.  There seems to be no words of warning about what was to come.  One minute people were talking, then there was such silence you could hear breathing, and then came the wet dirt on his eyes.
 
One might also think at this point that the deed was done.  Whatever Jesus was going to accomplish in that moment on the road was done.  Surely, the man was about to see.  Everyone was waiting on tip toe full of expectation.  Then Jesus said, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." (John 9:7)  This thing was not yet over.  Everything was now up to the man who had never seen anything in his whole life.  There was something he would have to do.  He had to first of all decide if he was going to do it and then he had to make his way to the place of washing.  It is a moment which reminds us of the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus told to go show themselves to the priest.  They had a similar decision before them.

It is not an uncommon thing to happen when we have an encounter with Jesus.  We are likely to hear some word from Him which requires action on our part.  Sometimes what we hear goes against the grain of our own common sense.  Sometimes it seems like he is telling us to do something outrageous.  Faith can be expressed in a lot of different ways.  Surely, if what we do is in response to our time with Jesus, it carries with it the power of a faith that can move mountains, or maybe even change the heart within us. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Next Day

After some of the 5000 had been fed and rested for the night, they started looking for Jesus.  On the evening of the big feeding, Jesus had gone off by Himself for time alone with the Father and then later walked on water in search of the disciples who had gone ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.   It did not take the hungry seekers long to find Him.  But, they were not hungry for the Words He was speaking.  They were hungry for more bread and fish.  Another free meal.  Another handout.  Something from Jesus.  They were not looking for Jesus so much as they were looking for something from Jesus.
 
Unfortunately, some of our encounters with Jesus do not have being with Jesus as the goal.  The goal is getting something from Him.  The truth is that we sometimes seek the blessing more than the One who gives the blessing.  Think about the way we pray for a moment.  Most of our praying has to do with getting something.  We want Him to hear about the sick we want Him to heal.  We want Him to provide the necessary resources we need to meet some financial crisis.  We want Him to make someone change so we can get along better with them.  Our prayers are too often filled with words that speak of what we want from Him.
 
Such is not the stuff of real relationships.  What marriage partner wants a spouse who is always wanting something of them instead of just wanting to be with them?  Who wants such a friend?  Relationships that are important to us are not the ones built on the stuff we get from them, but built on the joy of being with another.  Surely, there ought be times in our spiritual life when we simply spend time speaking of our love for Jesus, our gratitude to Him, and just letting Him know that there is indeed no one like Him in our life.  So, when was the last time you encountered Jesus and all you had to say was, "Lord, I love you.  I love you."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Real Reason

We do not have encounters with Jesus so that we have some "feel good moment" to include inside our testimony.  Such may be the apparent goal of some worship services or sermons, but it is not what Jesus is about when He makes Himself known to us.  As we consider the New Testament, we can see how this is true.  While it was not a Jesus encounter which Mary and Joseph had in Nazareth, it was certainly a moment when God made Himself known through Gabriel.  They were both overwhelmed and filled with fear.  Did not the angel say to both, "Do not be afraid..?"   And when would-be-disciples heard Jesus saying, "Follow me.."  it was for a lifetime of service and not a moment of feeling good.
 
Anyone can do their own browsing and see how it works.  Jesus makes Himself known to us in powerful life changing moments because He has some purpose He wants to accomplish.  And, what is always surprising to us is the fact that the One who can do all things without any help from us almost always (maybe always) calls us to partner with Him the work.  The experiences which lift us up out of the routine of our spiritual life are not random and neither are they designed to make us feel good.  Those moments come as a way of calling us to share in a new thing He is about to do, or maybe to prepare us for some moment in the future which has not yet revealed.  Always remember God does not count time as do we.  What we see as preparation in the present moment may be for something still in the process.
 
We relish and rejoice in those moments.  It encourages us in our faith to share in them.  But, they are not so much about the now as they are about what is ahead.  Perhaps, some of our encounters with Jesus should rightly bring us to moments of praise or even confession, but never forget about the possibility that it may also be about a hard thing which is in the present unseen by us, but very much in God's view of what is ahead.  There are surely those moments when we should leave the emotion of the moment with the question, "What's next, Lord?  What's ahead?  Help me be ready."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Unknown Child

He was just a boy.  Not even given a name in the Scripture, but his generosity was not unnoticed by the Holy Spirit as He inspired John to write his gospel.  Better preachers than I have speculated about how Andrew became privy to the fact that this one boy in a crowd of over 5000 had a packed lunch with him.  All we know is that he left home that morning with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  By the time Andrew shows up, the bread is surely hard and the fish cold.  Not much of a meal except for a hungry boy.
 
But, there is one other thing we know as well.  The boy was willing to give up what was in his lunch bag that day.  Not part of it, but all of it.  When he gave it over, it was his last hope for something to settle his growling stomach, but in his presence Andrew told Jesus, "..the boy here has five barley loaves and two fish..."  (John 6:9)  When Jesus reached for it, the thing was done.  Whatever he had that Jesus wanted belonged to Jesus.  It was just that simple.  No doubt when he gave it away, he expected nothing but hunger in the afternoon.  It could not have even imagined that some of it would come back to his hands, fill his stomach, and satisfy over 5000 other folks as well.  It simply was not the kind of things a boy could figure out for himself. 
 
His response to Jesus was not to question, but to give.  He did not consider the impossibility of the suggestion that was in the air.  He did not whine, "What about me?"  He just pulled out that bit of food so that it could be placed in the hands of Jesus.  It is no wonder the Spirit said to John, "Be sure to tell the boy's story."  Indeed, there is much to learn from the children who stand in the presence of Jesus and do nothing but just take Him at His word.  If Jesus needed what he had, nothing else mattered.  And so, he gave, not some, but he gave it all.  No childlike foolishness here, just childlike trust. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Boat Story

With the 5000 fed, Jesus slips away to a quiet place.  Evening came and the disciples decided to leave without Him and so they set out to cross the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum.  It seems a bit strange when you think about it, but then, stranger things have happened.  Out there in the dark night and the rough seas, they saw Jesus walking toward them.  The scripture says they were terrified.  Were they terrified that He was walking across the waters, or because of their fear of what He might say to them about being left behind?  Whatever the case, He spoke to their fears and then in response to everything, the Words says, "Then they wanted to take Him into the boat..."  (John 6:21) 
 
Stranger than leaving Him is their response to Him out there in the dark stormy night.  Jesus is out there doing something extraordinary as He steps across the moving water.  It was a sight like none they had ever seen.  And their response is "Get in the boat!"  What they wanted Him to do in that extraordinary moment was to do what their logic and common sense said was normal.  They could not grasp the fact that something was happening beyond their ability to comprehend so by telling Him to get in the boat, they were reining in what they could not control.  Jesus was too "out of the box" for them so they wanted Him to get back into a place with them which made sense.
 
There are times in our walk with Jesus when we suddenly find ourselves in one of those "this can't be moments."   Maybe we have been praying for financial relief in a crisis, or the healing of a loved one, or the coming home of a child and suddenly it all comes together.  Instead of going first to the conclusion that Jesus is doing something we thought to be impossible in our lives, we look for an explanation or a reason.  We pray a great game, but have trouble sometimes just accepting the fact that there is no other reason for the good coming into our lives except the fact that Jesus has come to work in our lives.  When Jesus gets outside the box of conventional and expected behavior, we do what the disciples did.  We tell Him to get in the boat!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Expectations

So many of us in whom Christ abides have such low expectations.  Perhaps, there has been some moment of spiritual disappointment when we expected Jesus to do something other than what He did, or did not do in our life.  It could also be true that we do not even expect Him to do something as common and needful as providing daily bread because we see ourselves as the one who does the providing for our lives and those of our family.  Whatever the reason, many of our prayers end up being half-hearted and empty of any real expectations that prayer is going to make a difference.
 
The Capernaum official mentioned in the later verses of the fourth chapter of John was not afflicted with low expectations.  His son was dying.  When he heard that Jesus was near, he went begging and pleading for his son's life.  Many of us can understand his desperate prayers.  He knew it was either Jesus acting or his son dying.  When Jesus told him to go home and that his son would be well, he went.  There was no more pleading from him.  He did not say, "Are You sure?  How about coming with me just in case he is still sick?  This long distance healing is not what I had in mind.  Won't You come to my home with me?"  He went expecting Jesus to make a difference and he left convinced that his expectations had been realized.
 
If we are in need of a spiritual role model to encourage us and point us in the right way today, then surely this Capernaum father stands as a Word sent from God.  He reminds us not to let our desperation be greater than our expectations.  It may be that Jesus is not going to respond as we might tell Him, but His response is certain.  We should expect no less from this One who has proven His love for us by dying for us.  Whatever it is we face, He is the One, the Only One, who can be counted on to get us through the desperate stuff to the good stuff He has in His heart to give us. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Never Forced

It really seems like such a strange and unnecessary question.  "Do you want to be made well?" (John 5:6)  This was the question Jesus put to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  Every day of those years he went to the Pool of Bethzatha hoping that it would be a day when he would be first into the pool when its waters stirred.   Tradition had it that an angel would stir the waters and the first sufferer in those stirred waters would be made well.  Surely, Jesus should have been able to figure that the man was there hoping to be healed.  Still, He asked the question.
 
As unlikely as it might seem, the man might not want healing.  As a sufferer for thirty-eight years, no one expected him to hold down a job.  He depended on others to get him where he needed to be.  His initial response to Jesus sounds more like whining and self-pity than anything else.  As strange as it might seem to some, this man by the pool may have been very comfortable with his life the way it was.  No expectations and no responsibilities.  So, the question of Jesus is more than valid.  Not every sick or broken person wants to be made well.  Some would rather stay as they are.  It is easier.
 
The encounter the man by the pool had with Jesus that day was not one he initiated.  Jesus was the one who saw him, had compassion, and reached out to him.  But, to look closely at Jesus' response is to hear him still giving the man an "out."  He said, "Stand up, take your mat and walk."  (John 5:8)  It is up to him.  He could hear Jesus and say, "But, I can't."  It was his choice.  Never does Jesus force Himself or the good things of His Kingdom on anyone of us.  What He offers we can receive as a blessing, or choose to ignore.  It is our decision.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Encounters

Encounters with Jesus are important.  But, the Christian life ought not be understood as going from one encounter to another.  An encounter with Jesus often serves as a catalyst for beginning the life of faith, but the word "relationship" speaks of our ongoing life with Christ.  To think of the Christian walk going from one encounter to another somehow misses the mark.  The danger is that we are likely to become an experience seeker and not a disciple who grows into a mature faith in Christ.  We are not called to be fed in our souls by the thrill of the encounters, but by the abiding presence of Jesus in our hearts.
 
Perhaps, those resurrection afternoon walkers to Emmaus best illustrate the point.  They were no strangers to discipleship.  Somewhere along the way of their lives they had been with Jesus and decided that He was indeed the One sent from God.  Though filled with confusion about the events of that day and the talk that was a part of it, they were men who had said, "yes" to Jesus.  On the Emmaus Road Jesus came and started walking with them, but they were too busy with the stuff of the day to recognize who He was.  As the day was coming to an end around the table, a meal was prepared, Jesus took the bread, and they suddenly realized who it was that had been walking with them all day. 

Their day was like our walk with Jesus.  We see ourselves as belonging to Him, but we can go through a day without really being aware of how He is with us.  We are not out of relationship; we are just not attentive to it.  Unfortunately, such is characteristically human.  And, then something happens and in an instant, we like those Emmaus walkers, know the reality of Jesus with us.  The encounter sharpens our awareness of the relationship we have with Him.  It makes us aware of it and even though we are careless, we remain in that relationship.  Encounters are not separate from the abiding we experience with Christ, but a part of it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Road

One of my favorite and most remembered quotes from 2016 comes from "Living Prayer"  written by Robert Benson.  He wrote about an experience in his life which filled him with discomfort, a moment in his life that he would have chosen to avoid, a moment when he says he was convinced he heard a Voice saying, "You promised to follow wherever I might take you, and this is where we go next.  Your are here because the road leads here."  At some time in his past, he had an encounter with Jesus which took him down a road full of surprising, unexpected, and sometimes unwanted turns.
 
Anyone who has had an encounter with Jesus and said, "Yes" to it has been in such a place.  Think about old Nicodemus for a minute.  He sought Jesus out under the cover of night because he did not want anyone to know he felt a need to talk with Jesus.  And, then, as suddenly as the story begins, it ends with the question, "What difference did it make?" unanswered.  It is only after the crucifixion that the answer is found.  Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea is seen taking the body of Jesus down from the cross and carrying it to the tomb.  The man who wanted no one to see him with Jesus is now doing what he surely would have said to be an impossibility  prior to that night time encounter.  The road took him to a surprising and unexpected place.
 
It often works that way.  Many of us who have lived as disciples for a long time often find ourselves in circumstances we never would have chosen.  Some are hard.  Some are so hard we seek relief and help through prayer, but none seems to come.  Sometimes all with which we seem to be left is hearing the divine Voice saying, "...this is where we go next.  You are here because the road leads here."  No rose garden walks were we promised; only that wherever we walked, He would be with us.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

One Well Known

No encounter with Jesus is more well known than that of Nicodemus.  His story is told in the third chapter of John.  Unlike the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well or those disciples of John the Baptist, Nicodemus went looking for Jesus.  Fearful of what others would think, he went hidden by the darkness of night.  Nicodemus was seen by others as one who had it made.  He was a powerful person.  He was a religious leader.  His face was well known in Jerusalem.  Nothing about his life suggested that he had any reason to seek out this young radical rabbi named Jesus.
 
But, there he goes, nonetheless.  While he does not want to be seen by his peers, he has no idea that Jesus would see him so clearly.  Though standing in the shadows, nothing seems hidden in the  presence of Jesus.  His hunger for more is exposed and, thus, he is confronted not so much by Jesus as he is by his true inner self.  The fa├žade no longer is comfortable.  It no longer fits.  No one knows more clearly than he does in that encounter that something more than just important is missing in his life.
 
As the narrative of the encounter fades and disappears, it is not clear what Nicodemus did in that moment of self=confrontation.  Did he run and continue to hide from himself?  Did he become a disciple, or did he slip back into his life as he knew it without anyone ever knowing how close he was to changing into something new?  If all we knew about Nicodemus was contained in chapter three, we could only speculate.  However, he shows back up later and this time in the broad day light of the most important hour in all of human history.  In that hour when he helps a friend take Jesus down from the cross and carry Him to the burial place, there is no doubt about what happened in that first encounter with Jesus.  Real encounters with Jesus always bring us out of the shadows and into the very visible place where kingdom dwellers live.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Finding

All of us have heard someone speak of their "coming to Jesus" moment by saying, "I found Jesus."  Not too many years ago those words made a popular bumper sticker in these parts.  While everyone understands what the user of those words means, it is still an example of some poor theology.  People do not find Jesus.  It simply does not work that way.  Jesus is not playing some game of "Hide-and-Seek" with us as He hides and waits for us to find Him.  The truth is if it were left up to us to do the finding, it would never happen.
 
The first chapter of John give us examples of Jesus calling disciples.  In the 43rd verse it says, "He (Jesus) found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' "  The languages convey an intentional deliberate seeking out of this man.  It brings to mind another seeking moment on the part of God.  In the Genesis story, we see God in the Garden looking for the couple who had succumbed to temptation and were hiding from Him.  Even though they had been disobedient, He was the One doing the seeking.  It is the theme of scripture from beginning to end.  In Romans the Word of God says, "But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:8)  The God of the scripture is a seeking and finding God.
 
Our encounters with Jesus are not about our playing some spiritual insider trick, but about God in His mercy and grace making it possible for us to know Him.  As sinners being in the same room with God is an impossibility.  He is holy.  Our sin excludes us from experiencing His presence.  But, Jesus has come, not to condemn, but to save us and deliver us to God the Father.  Jesus knew where to find Philip just like He knows where and how to find each one of us.  Thanks be to God for this unimaginable and unexplainable gift!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Turning Loose

One of the things with which we are always confronted when encountering Jesus is the turning loose.  Andrew's encounter with Jesus came at the prompting of his spiritual mentor, John the Baptist.   Spiritual mentors are trusted people in our lives.  They provide for us a sense of security.  They are trusted to pray for us, to encourage us to walk where we might not otherwise walk, to be a kind of spiritual safety net.  When John pointed Andrew toward Jesus, Andrew had to turn loose of the person of spiritual influence upon whom he was building his relationship with God. 

Sometimes as we go along, we discover that some person's influence may be too important for us in that we depend on it so much that we cannot really depend on Christ and what may be His radical leadership.  There have been times when it seems that it has been necessary for God to take us out from under the influence of some spiritual mentor in order for us to learn what it really means to walk with nothing but faith in Him.  It is never an easy moment for us to turn loose of someone who has been there for us and without whom we do not think we will be able to make it, but we are often brought to such moments, nonetheless.

There does not seem to be any hesitation on the part of the two disciples of John the Baptist when their spiritual mentor said, "Go," but any departure from what has become comfortable in our spiritual lives is always a hard thing that most us do only when we are pushed into making that step.  One thing is certain.  If we are intentional about walking forward in a deeper relationship with God, we will be asked to turn loose of everything that is more important to us than God.  It is not always about giving up things.  Sometimes it is about giving up people.  Important people.  People without whom we do not think we can make it.  Faith.  Trust.  But, only in God.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Life Changing

An encounter with Jesus is life changing.  Gives it a new direction.  Creates a new purpose for living.  Shapes it in ways never before imagined.  Begins a journey that can be hard and unpredictable.  When I begin to remember the many encounters with Jesus, one stands out head and shoulders above the others.  It is the one that marked the setting forth on a journey of faith that has lasted a lifetime.  Shortly before my high school graduation, I heard a preacher at a business meeting of the church say in his devotional, "If you see a need and realize you can do something to meet that need and do nothing, you may be neglecting the call of God on your life." 
 
It was a word I could not shake.  It became more for me than just the word of a visiting preacher.  When the church stuff was over, I went next door to the parsonage which was home, knelt by my bed and said "Yes" to Jesus.  I remember the confession of my sins, I remember the strong sense of my need for Jesus in my life, and I knew in that moment that saying, "Yes" was the only thing which made sense.  It has been fifty years since that night, but it was a moment of encountering Jesus in such a way that my life going forth was shaped and directed in an undeniable way.  There are some decisions we make and wish we might have a "do-over" but there has never been any regret in my life over that single decision I made just before I turned eighteen.
 
To be honest is to acknowledge that there is nothing special about my own word of witness.  It is the witness of ages of people who have discovered that Jesus was standing there in front of them with the power to make life totally different.  In many ways my life has seemed rather ordinary compared to some of the ways God has worked in the lives of others, but what I know is that He made Himself known to me at a moment when my heart was ready and thankfully divine grace and good sense prevailed to bring me to a place where something never before done could be done in my life.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Waiting Jesus

About midway through December when all the Advent blog postings were done, I decided to focus my scripture reading on the gospel of John.  It seemed like last year I spent more time in the Old Testament than the New Testament which has created a yearning for a slow reading of the good news about Jesus.  While I can read through a novel at a rather rapid rate, scripture reading has always been a much slower process.  Reading the Word always requires some quiet time to ruminate (a favorite word for a man who has cows).  So, I have started, but not nearly as far along as one might think. 
 
Whenever a section of the Word is read again, there are those truths which stand out as having been read the last time, but there are always things which stand out in new and fresh ways.  As I was reading the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well in the fourth chapter of John, I found myself captured by the word, "encounter."  The woman at the well had an encounter with Jesus that day.  It was not something she was expecting to happen.  Actually, it was the farthest thing from her mind.  She was much more into getting her water for the day while avoiding the wagging tongues of those who saw her only as object of community scandal and gossip.  Caught up in her stuff, she finds Jesus sitting there in the noonday sun, waiting.  Waiting on her.  
 
All of us can think of moments which were very much like that for us.  Some of our encounters with Jesus may be the result of our knocking, seeking, and crying out to Him, but is also true that more times than we can count, we have simply found Him waiting for us to come.  Where were we?  Maybe we were caught up in our games of trivial pursuit.  Maybe we were wrestling with the darkness of some committed sin in our life.  Maybe we were out there angry because it did not seem to us that He was doing for us as He had promised.  Regardless of where we are, where we have been, He is found to be there just ahead at some place in the road...waiting.