Saturday, December 30, 2006

John 5:1-15 Jesus Ups the Ante

In today’s study I noticed something interesting. Jesus has done three miracles, starting when He instantly turned water into wine at a wedding, then healed a sick boy with a word, and now healing the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. It’s this miracle that ups the ante, however. Let me explain…

Water is turned into wine all the time. Oh, I’m not discounting the miracle that Jesus did! It was bona fide, I have no doubt. But stay with me here, water gets turned into wine all the time. It’s not instant (unless instant wine is a new product I’ve missed—just add water—?) It takes a while for the natural process to transpire, controlled carefully by men, but in essence water on the vineyard grows the grapes, men ferment them, and in time that water is turned into wine.

Likewise, although I refuse to discount the miracle Jesus did in curing the son of the nobleman, the fact remains that kids who are sick, even dying, get better every day. I agree with you, if at the moment you’re noting that God is the one who heals them ‘naturally’! And I’m not trying to explain things away with some form of justification, the way people who doubt the miracles try to do. No, I just want you to notice something about the healing at Bethesda.

This guy sitting by the pool is a cripple. He’s been paralyzed—a word literally meaning ‘withered’—for thirty-eight years. I don’t know how old you are, but I’m old enough that I can subtract thirty-eight from my age and recognize that he’s been paralyzed long enough that folks know it. I don’t think there are too many people walking past him wondering if he’s a shyster, ripping off the insurance company by secretly walking on the weekends… He’s not an unknown quantity.

He’s sitting by this pool that’s supposedly a place people come to be healed. I have to take a short detour here, if you don’t mind. Some of the youngsters from our church went to a little town in Macedonia on a mission trip. While there a few of them were treated to a visit to the local ‘swimming pool.’ It turned out that it was a place that had been there for generations and was known as having curative waters. The kids described a few of the people who hung out in the naturally warm waters, and even though they were only visiting there for an afternoon the kids knew without a doubt that these people were crippled. The local townsfolk were no doubt even better acquainted with who they were and what infirmities they suffered. Likewise, the man at the Pool of Bethesda was clearly known to be a cripple.

So what? Well, let’s think about this. The two previous miracles are ones that people at the time might have tried to explain away, just as people have for the intervening two-thousand years. They didn’t have CNN and film at 11:00, they only had talk. News travels fast, especially when people are being healed, but making miraculous wine was a fun treat to talk about, and the nobleman’s son being healed was probably a curiosity, but this rich guy had access to some good medical care… I bet people were raising eyebrows all over the place, thinking some medicine given to the kid took effect about the same time Jesus said the word. Coincidence, that’s all. Yet here comes the man from the Pool at Bethesda walking past them. How do you scoff at that? Fact is, in thirty-eight years he hasn’t strolled past. He hasn’t done more than be carried, or at best lugged his body laboriously along on crutches. This is one of those undeniable, in-your-face miracles.

Fact is, water turns to wine every day and sick kids get better. Folks know that. It isn’t until Jesus heals this well-known crippled man that people begin to recognize that He does far more than the passage of time or natural processes do. This miraculous healing is an undeniable demonstration of His power!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mark 6:35-44, 7:24-30: God's Leftovers





I have so many bowls and little plastic containers of leftovers in my refrigerator that they get shoved to the back of the shelves only to be retrieved and thrown out when they have a coating of greenish fuzz. My wealth is almost embarrassing. I’ve been known to mutter that what I was throwing out could feed a third-world village for days. So when I came upon the idea of God’s leftovers as I read the gospel of Mark, I couldn’t help but think of my refrigerator, jam-packed with leftovers this time of year.

After Mark tells us about Jesus feeding 5,000 people, which may have been as many as 15,000 people if you include women and children, we’re told, “they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.” That’s a lot of leftovers, especially when you consider that Jesus began with five loaves and two fish. He filled all these people to the point of bursting, a feast of bread and fish. There was more left over at the end than there was when He started! Probably even the birds and bugs were satisfied with bits of fish and crumbs of bread too small to pick up.

Soon we read the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. When she hears that Jesus is in town she follows Him, persistently begging for His help. He finally stops and tells her “it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” He’s comparing her need to that of pet puppies begging for scraps? Yup.

I don't know about you, but I might have gotten plenty mad and stalked off at that point, but Jesus knows his audience. The woman’s response is most remarkable. She says, “… even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Leftovers. She’s more than willing to take God’s leftovers.

The ‘crumbs’ of the grace of God are sufficient. His leftovers are not stuffed in the back of the refrigerator to rot. They’re out there for people to have, to ask for and receive. He will feed the hungry with all that He has made, heal a child, comfort a mother in need and satisfy anyone who pursues Him.

With God the leftovers are abundance itself!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

John 4:43-53 Faith Healer

Today in my study I stand in a milling crowd, alongside a desperate father who approaches Jesus for help. His son is dying…

Imagine what this man is going through. He’s a bigwig, a suited corporate type who works in the capital, a rising star in business, about to make his big break, but right now he just feels like a little cog being ground to dust in the wheels of life. He’s taken his son to every high-powered specialist around but the boy is past hope, slowly dying. This man has heard about Jesus’ reputation and he figures, why not? What does he have to lose? He might as well see if this guy can help. He won’t be the first desperate father to go to some faith healer…

He pulls into Cana just about the time Jesus arrives in the town where they say He turned water into wine at a wedding feast. There’s a crowd of people that have heard all about the things Jesus did up in Jerusalem at the Passover. Miracles, people say. They’re hanging around hoping for a good show. Maybe more wine…free! The crowd swirls around the itinerant star. The exec is surrounded by riff-raff, no one paying much attention to his shiny shoes or Italian suit. He finally makes his way up to Jesus and sees an ordinary looking man, clothing stained from travel. Desperate, he finds himself caught up by the mood of the crowd, all looking for something. He reaches out his hand and begs Jesus for help. All he can think of is that his boy is already near death and he has to do something to save him.

Jesus speaks but his words stun the man by His side. Addressing the milling crowd He says, “Won’t you people believe in Me unless I do something miraculous?” The frightened father, focused again on his need, begs Jesus, “Come with me before my son dies!” Yet in his mind Jesus’ words start him thinking. What does he believe in? If Jesus could do this… How? What would that mean?

Suddenly Jesus turns to him, looking him right in the eye, and speaks simple words that change everything. “Go back home; your son lives.” The father’s heart hits his throat, his mind racing. There’s something happening here that he never expected. He looks for that one long moment into the eyes of this man. As He turns away, the father senses a shift taking place inside. He believes this guy. Maybe it’s the way He quietly assures him, or maybe it’s that glance touching his heart, but whatever it is he suddenly knows that his boy is okay. Faith, long relegated to religious form alone, is born anew.

The crowd envelopes Jesus, swirling noisily away as the man slowly turns, his mind still reeling, to head back home to Capernaum. The long journey gives him time to ponder things. “What just happened here?’ he wonders as he continues into the afternoon. A knot of happy men approach but he’s so deep in thought he hardly notices them until he recognizes one of his own men loping towards him, waving his hand and yelling. Joy paints his face as he shouts, “Your son lives!” At that moment the father knows, with a certainty that’s more than mere optimism, that this Man who looked him in the eye and spoke the words of hope, this Jesus, is God Himself! It remains a mere formality to ask the men for the details. “When did he get better?” he asks, breathlessly. He’s not even surprised to hear them mention the exact time when Jesus spoke those welcome words. His heart swells, full of gratitude, love and faith. He knows he must put his arms around his beloved son who lives, really lives. He must tell him of the Man—the God—who healed him.

“And he himself believed, and his whole household.” (John 4:53)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2 Timothy 1:7 His Prevailing Wind

This morning's verse was:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.


Have you ever experienced that spirit of fear? It's a dark wind blowing through your heart, freezing your soul. It might have been someone saying, "I don't love you any more." It could have been the dreaded diagnosis. Or maybe you received a late night call asking if you were the next of kin. There was that moment when your heart teetered between hope and dread, but the wind of fear pushed you over the edge in to the dark chasm where hope seemed to vanish. This fear takes you into the environs of hell, seemingly distant from the God of hope. Rest assured He's not distant. Remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear... Yet it may seem that way as you walk out of the house, leave the hospital room, or drive to the police station. You feel broken, full of dread and fear, but as you wend your way out into the unknown future where the wind of fear tries to keep you pinned down, remember that God has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. Let God's breath blow you back on course.



It's Jesus, Peter's Master, giving you the power to love in the face of painful words that cut to the heart, denying you love.


It's Jesus standing behind you, His nail-pierced hand on your shoulder, as you face the pain.


Jesus' hot tears mingle with yours at the morgue, the funeral and the grave.


Only the dynamic force of His Word will restore you. Only agape love, sacrificing self to face pain, will sustain you. Only God-given discipline, grown out of miles walked with Him, will allow you to face the lonely future, knowing He is there. And He is. He's the wind at your back, blowing you out of darkness, blowing the cold dread away, replacing it with power, love and self-control.


Like a bell sounding in the distance, muffled by the storm, come words rung from the apostle Paul's life, who was surely buffeted by the wind of fear. To your quailing heart he says, 'God is there.' God is always the next breath blowing into your heart, the prevailing wind that puts you back on course.
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (verse 12)


Have you ever experienced the spirit of power? The spirit of love? The spirit of a sound mind? This wind, this spirit of hope, blows away the fear that seeks to pin you down to a hopeless world, wracked with anger, disfigured by pain, achingly isolated. With belief--faith--comes the fresh, stiff breeze blowing you into the future, along the path He blazed for you. He was unloved, bleeding, deserted, yet His path restores you to the reality of life in the light, where you will stand with Him throughout life's storms.

_____




I painted a portrait of my great-grandfather, known only to me as Grandpa Klopp, a man I've heard my mother reminisce about all her life. I know very little about him. The legacy he left is but a whisper to me. A man of faith. A loving father and grandfather. He was a minister, married twice, and father to a little girl who grew up without her mother. He crossed the country in a wagon and built a sod house on the barren plains of Nebraska. His life was accompanied by tragedy: a young wife dying; a daughter who walked away from the faith in which she was raised to follow the vagaries of Mary Baker Eddy, taking her five children with her. Yet he was greatly loved by his granddaughter, my mother.



I see traces of his face in my uncle and cousin, and wonder where his DNA resides in me. I like his eyes. Maybe a bit of my vision came from him. Maybe he prayed for me and God answered his prayer. I hope to meet him in heaven. Then we can talk about the storms of fear the blew counter to the wind of God and how we both withstood them, faithfully committed to the Lord Jesus Christ until the day we each met Him face-to-face. It will be a good day.

Friday, December 22, 2006

John 4:23-24 Authentic Worship

This morning I read this verse...

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

It got me started thinking about what constitutes authentic worship. Jesus said we must worship "in spirit and truth", which is a phrase that rolls off my tongue easily enough, but what does it mean? How do I express worship each day?


He shows us two components to worship: spirit (not capital-s Spirit but lower case-s spirit, as in the spirit of man) and truth. I think Jesus is telling us we have to come to worship from the heart, not out of religiosity. If you know the passage this verse is from, you recognize that the Samaritan woman Jesus was talking to raised a religious argument, clearly a diversionary tactic meant to take the spotlight off of her questionable moral life, but Jesus hones in on the bare-bones description of what constitutes authentic worship instead of engaging in a discussion of where and how to worship. He doesn't let her get away with the diversion. He uses it like a ballistic missile aimed at her real need to understand what worship must be.
I think I understand what it means to worship in spirit, but I started to wonder what worship in truth means. I meditated on truth for a while and remembered that Jesus says, "I am..the truth..." in John 14:6. But what does it mean for a man, albeit God, to be THE truth? He tells the Samaritan woman, "Salvation is of the Jews" in verse 22. The Jews were the keepers of the Old Testament Scriptures that repeatedly predict the coming of Messiah, the Christ. That's the truth He refers to. It begins to dawn on me: Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the Messiah. I must worship Jesus to worship authentically!

But what does this mean in terms of my daily worship? I often find that this incredibly beautiful world He made brings me to my knees metaphorically--only because I'm so often in the car and unable to literally bow. I've been inspired (which means breathed into, the breath of God) by the splendor of nature since before being saved, but I have to tell you that the quality of that worship experience is a million-fold since coming to know Jesus personally.


I guess it's a little like personally knowing the author of a book. I have a friend, Pat, who writes novels. Before knowing her I might have read one of her manuscripts for the plot, the entertainment factor, or to solve a mystery, but knowing her I looked for little bits of her personality, evidence of our relationship, special insights on what we share. Knowing her makes the novel more personally involving, just as knowing Christ makes nature an ever-recurring affirmation of His character, beauty, love, provision, and so on.


My paintings are a form of worship, in that I express as well as I can the character of the Creator in my little recreation. Yesterday I completed a painting I began in my classroom a few weeks back. I've been exploring the color gray for several years now, and in one of my classes I attempt to show the incredible beauty of gray. I make my grays with a triad of colors, commonly using purple, orange and green. That makes a gray that's comprised of every color on the primary-secondary color wheel. Using ALL the colors makes for lively and vivid grays.


So you see that my painting, Gray Storm (11x17"on Wallis paper), has a lot of color in it! As I stood next to my woodstove and completed this painting I spent a lot of time praying, not about the place or even the painting. I was engaged in prayer for my husband, who was out ministering on the street to homeless people, and for my son, who had called me with an urgent prayer need. That's how the Lord often uses me! I consider it worship, in spirit and truth.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Isaiah 61:10- Clothed in Salvation

This morning I studied a wonderful verse:



I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.


I can't help but think of the painting by Klimt called The Kiss:



Jesus has given me the unmerited gift of eternity with Him. It's this robe of righteousness that only He can give, and I'm sure it's far more beautiful than I can imagine or ever paint, but if I could it would be dazzlingly lovely, shining and fair, bright and beautiful beyond compare. He gives it to me, as He offers it to anyone who asks, out of His agape, the sacrificial love of God, enfolding me in an embrace that is far more precious than any other. Amazingly, He has offered me HIS righteousness to cover my lack, like the robe that a Hebrew bride wears, symbolizing her new role as part of the life of her husband, covered by his name.

Lately I've been studying the armor of God in Ephesisans 6, asking to understand more about what that means. Oddly, although it pictures the garb of a soldier, I can also see it as a gorgeous garment of salvation. Picture the parts:

  • the belt of truth
  • the breastplate of righteousness
  • the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace
  • the shield of faith
  • the helmet of salvation
  • the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

I'm surrounded by truth, which holds all together. My heart is covered with His perfection. I walk on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ's peace. Faith protects me. My mind is covered, knowing He has done the work of salvation. And His Spirit pierces with the word, raising others to new life.

What could be more romantic than to be enclosed in a loving embrace, like the woman in Klimt's painting, only to find that it is God Himself covering me with His robe? Encased in His armor, I am IN CHRIST, and so I see it as a robe that's the loving gift of my Savior and Lord, who loves me as His bride.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Painting and obedience to Christ

"My career has been a journey in search of beauty and truth, which come from God. I seek to show His beauty, power and majesty, and my serenity and joy, however imperfectly translated through the talent He has given me. As I paint, I look forward to daily lessons from my Master, Jesus Christ. I hope that you will see Him shining through the work you see here."


Today I begin my web log, which I hope will be one way to keep myself accountable and transparent. Here you see one of my pastel paintings, Smoldering Moment. I really, really struggled with this one! It was twice as large and had a blue sky until one afternoon when I just lost it and decided it would either become a sunset or I'd wipe it out completely! As you can see, the sunset option worked, but I lopped the top half off in the process. I still struggle with painting, even after 25 years as an artist. It's a worthy struggle--but not the most important one in my life, trust me.

Painting is a snap compared to obedience to Christ, at least sometimes. The painting above is sort of loosely symbolic to me. There are days when my life in the Lord seems to need something changed, the way I changed the blue sky to orange and yellow. Yet I know that the reality is that I'm the blue sky or the orange sky or the clouds in God's picture, so it isn't that I need to change myself, but I have to be willing to let Him do the changing. Oh, I know, He will change me no matter what, but the means of change can be vastly different depending on my receptiveness and readiness to bend to Jesus. I'd rather be a blue sky gently wiped away and repainted to orange, than have to go through having the top half lopped off, in a manner of speaking!