Peter, stop arguing!
John 13: Why can’t I follow now?
It’s Thursday night before Jesus is arrested. He and his disciples are in the Upper Room and Jesus is in the role of servant, washing their feet. He comes to Peter, but Peter resists, declaring “You’re not going to wash my feet – ever!” Jesus, though, persists telling Peter that if he won’t allow this that he’ll have no part in what Jesus has come to do. Peter decides to give in, but if that’s how it is, he has a better idea. He wants Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. Once again, our Lord holds steady, explaining that it’s foot washing that Peter needs and it’s foot washing that he’s going to get. Then, the meal ended, Jesus tenderly commands his disciples to love one another. This, he says, will be their primary, distinguishing characteristic. As Jesus is stating these words, Peter’s focus is on what Jesus said earlier. He ignores the teaching concerning mutual love and wants to know where Jesus is going. The Lord patiently responds, telling Peter that someday he’ll follow but not right now. Peter is having none of that. “Why later? Why not now?” he demands. Then he adds, “I’ll lay down my life for you.” At this point, Jesus has had enough of Peter’s approach. Even as he declares his allegiance to the Lord his responses are always that he knows better than Jesus. At this point Jesus tells him that big time failure is coming to him, and soon. I don’t know whether to smile at Peter’s “Lord, I love you but I know better than you” approach or if I should wince and remember the times I’ve blundered ahead of the Lord thinking I knew what to do without asking him. How often do my actions betray the truth that I think I know better than God?
Take Away: A part of following Jesus is admitting that he’s smarter than we are.
Big faith, little faith
Luke 17: There is no “more” or “less” in faith.
They’ve seen Jesus do amazing things. On some days he’s healed so many people that they couldn’t even keep track of them all. He’s fed thousands and walked on water. He then explains it all as the result of faith. They’re convinced so they ask Jesus to give them more faith. His response is that with faith there’s no such thing as more or less. You either have it or you don’t. A “little bit” of faith is as powerful as a “lot” of faith. At least that’s what I hear Jesus saying in this passage. At other times, though, Jesus talks about people having “great” faith and he sometimes chides the disciples for having “little” faith. Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: when I have faith I believe God can do anything. When I have great faith I apply that belief in some extraordinary way. It’s not my faith that’s large or small. Rather, it’s my application of what I already believe that can be “great” or “small.” Like the disciples, I don’t really need to believe in God more. I already believe that he is Almighty and acting in the world. However, also like the disciples, I do need to trust him with more of my life, even the areas that are so big and menacing that I tend to be overwhelmed by them.
Take Away: Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.
Do you think copiers pick up on our stress level?
Luke 12: What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax.
Most Sundays I arrive at church early, meeting with friends for coffee and prayer. Usually, as we’re praying I can hear the church “waking up” as folks start arriving. Generally, I like what I hear. I’m a real fan of happy chatter, children playing, folks sounding glad to see one another. Sometimes, though, I can tell that the morning isn’t going well for some. They’ve met with some issue or another on the way to church. Maybe there’s some family argument going on. Others have things to take care of when they get to church. They arrive and want to get past the friendly greetings as quickly as possible so they can hurry and make copies before their class begins. I appreciate their dedication but wish I could get them to relax a bit. In the passage I’m reading today Jesus notes that some people are always worried about one thing or another. His examples aren’t just frivolous stuff either. They’re concerned about having food to eat and clothes to wear. In soothing tones our Lord points to how God supplies the needs of nature and assures them that they’re more valuable to him than all else. I understand that life brings unexpected, last minute concerns to us so I’m not being critical of those folks who anxiously wait for the copier to warm up. Still, I have the idea that their day will go much better if they’ll make it their practice to join us in prayer, enjoying some quiet time in the presence of the Lord before launching into a busy Sunday morning.
Take Away: If I view the Lord as a stern unyielding judge I have every reason to be stressed – if I see him as my loving Heavenly Father I can rest in the assurance of his provision for me.
Power packed words
Mark 5: Don’t listen to them; just trust me.
Jesus arrives in the seaside village by boat and is greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd. One of those seeking our Lord’s attention is a respected member of the community, Jairus. His daughter is very sick and he asks Jesus to come and heal her. Jesus agrees, but along the way a woman “steals” a miracle, touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothes. This delays Jesus and, while everyone else is enjoying the miracle the woman experienced, Jairus receives the bad news that it’s too late and his daughter has died. It’s now that Jesus tells Jairus to ignore their words and trust him. The Lord goes to his home and in a private audience raises the twelve year old back to life. The words of the Lord to Jairus speak to my heart today. How often the voices of circumstance or experience sadly report that there’s nothing that will help and I might as well throw in the towel and cope as best I can. In the midst of discouragement Jesus says, “Don’t listen. Don’t give up and don’t doubt. Instead, look at me. Focus; remember who I am and what I can do. Remember that I love you and I wouldn’t let you get into this situation if I didn’t have the authority to see you through it. Trust me.” These brief words to Jairus are packed with power and hope.
Take Away: Remember who Jesus is; look to him even in the impossible moments of life.
A wonderful faith experiment
Matthew 14: When he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve.
This is such a neat story! Out on the sea in rough, windy conditions Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the water. Peter asks for permission to join Jesus out on the waves and Jesus tells him to “come.” Peter does it! He climbs out of the boat and steps out onto the water. Can’t you imagine Jesus and Peter laughing together as they do the impossible! However, this is no glassy pond on a summer afternoon. Instead, they’re in the dark in a wind storm and the waves are high. For Jesus and Peter it must be quite a ride, bobbing up and down, being sprayed by the driven waves. It’s at that point that euphoria drains from Peter. The water’s very real and in no way capable of supporting him. As he begins to sink he looks up to Jesus who remains confidently on top of the water. “Save me!” Peter cries. Without a second’s hesitation, Jesus reaches out and pulls him back on top, now carrying the weight of both of them. Jesus calls Peter “faint heart” but I think he’s quietly pleased that Peter joined him in this wonderful experiment of faith. I know this is a unique situation: a moment in history. Still, I can’t help but be impressed by the power of faith in very real, impossible situations. I’m also glad to note that Peter didn’t have to cry out but one time. Jesus may have called Peter a “faint heart” but he saved him first.
Take Away: God responds to our faith in wonderful, sometimes unexpected ways.
Living in the present
Matthew 6: Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anticipation. Part of the joy of Christmas is the “longing with hope” aspect of it that we highlight on the first Sunday of Advent each year. Still, there’s a danger of so looking forward to something in the future that we forget to live in the present. Life isn’t all about tomorrow, for good or bad. Life is lived in the present. It has no rewind or fast forward buttons. In this passage Jesus reminds us that God is with us “right now.” We remember wonderful blessings in the past and appreciate what the Lord did for us then. We also look to the future with confidence in faith that the same good, gracious God will be with us in that day. Still, it’s right now that’s most under my control. Not that I control the circumstances of right now, but I have some say about how I will live in those circumstances. So, one thing I gain from this passage is the reminder to live in this present moment; to appreciate the good things and to trust God with the not-so-good things. The other thing that comes to mind is the calm, certain assurance that God is, indeed, doing something “right now.” I may be praying for a great revival to come to my church, longing for that day to come. I may be looking forward to some major life event like the birth of a grandchild or some special anniversary. However, Jesus tells me that God is also doing things right here and right now. He’s working in my life, walking with me in these ordinary days of life. After all, the great mystery of Christmas is the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us.
Take Away: I need to be more aware of the blessings of life right now and not always focusing on some future blessing.
Me, doing my part
Haggai 2: I own the silver, I own the gold.
Every Jew knows about the Temple. Even though it was destroyed decades ago they’ve heard stories of its glory. A few of the old people actually saw it when they were children. It could be that one reason the returned exiles have neglected the rebuilding of the Temple is because they don’t think they can do it justice and whatever they do will be a pale reflection of the great Temple of history. For one thing, they can’t furnish it in silver and gold as their ancestors did when they first built the Temple. Fearing that they can’t do a good enough job of rebuilding they haven’t started at all. Now, in Haggai’s second sermon, he tells the people they don’t have to worry about that. If they do what they can do God will do the rest. In this case, the Lord’s word is that he’ll provide the silver and gold if they just get started on the building. So what is it in my life that’s never been started because I know I lack the resources to complete it? Is my failure here not so much resource-based as it is faith-based? Years earlier the ancestors of Haggai’s congregation were told to march forward through the Red Sea. Even though they didn’t have the resources to dam up the waters, they obeyed. When they did what they could do, God did the rest. What might the Lord do in my life if I would simply do what I can do while trusting the One who owns the silver and gold of this world to do the rest?
Take Away: We do our part while trusting the Lord to do his.
The God who never fails
Habakkuk 3: Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
The little book of Habakkuk is all about the prophet’s concern with how God works in the world. How can a holy God use such an unrighteousness people as those of Babylon to accomplish his purposes? The Lord answers his question, first, by assuring Habakkuk that he’s aware of sin and rebellion and that it will be judged. The second answer, I think, is when the prophet sees God, in his holiness, enter his Temple. Such a vision of God produces an awed silence and an undeniable assurance that God is God. Because of that, whatever happens will be the right thing. Habakkuk breaks out in praise, writing what might be called a “displaced psalm.” The final chorus, in particular, states an unshakable trust in the Lord. “Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen…I’m singing joyful praise to God…counting on God’s Rule to prevail.” This hymn is a powerful expression of trust in God. Even when the enemy attacks, even when life takes an unwelcome turn, even when all else fails…even then I rejoice in the One who never fails.
Take Away: Even when live is confusing and painful…even then, God is God and God never fails.
Trusting without understanding
Habakkuk 2: Look at that man…full of himself but soul-empty.
The prophet understands that sinful Babylon is God’s chosen instrument for punishing sinful Judah. As bad as Judah is, Habakkuk is having a hard time understanding how God could ever use such an evil nation as his tool against the Children of Abraham. Habakkuk reverently takes his concern to God and now God answers. A part of that answer is contained in chapter two of this brief book of the Bible. The Lord tells Habakkuk he’s well aware of the sin of Babylon. Although the language used suggests that the remarks are about only the King of Babylon, the context tells us that it’s the nation as a whole that’s being described. The Lord wants Habakkuk to know that he hasn’t underestimated the sin of Babylon and he isn’t about to overlook it. Babylon’s self-indulgent pride, its injustice, and its immorality will be dealt with. Just because God intends to use this nation for his own purpose doesn’t mean that he’s going to overlook its sin. The Lord remains sovereign and, in the end, he always has the last word. This godless empire is, indeed, a tool in the hands of the Almighty. At some point it may seem that Babylon is getting the benefit of this arraignment, but the real result will only be seen when the final chapter is written. Today, I’m reminded that all of Creation is in God’s hands. Anytime he wants, he can use whoever he wants for his purposes. The Lord doesn’t need for me to explain his actions or to make apologies for them. He does, however, insist that I trust him even when I don’t understand him.
Take Away: I’m not required to understand the Lord but I am called to trust him.
Waiting for God’s response
Habakkuk 2: If it seems slow in coming wait…it will come right on time.
The prophet has stated his concerns to the Almighty. He’s troubled that a holy God would use such unholy people as his workers in the world. Having asked his questions of God, Habakkuk braces himself for God’s answer. The first thing he hears from God is that the Lord does, indeed, have an answer for him. The second message he receives is that sometimes God’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for, and when they do come, it’s plain that God not only answered well, but the answer came at just the right time. This passage is a wonderful blessing to all who have dealt with hard things in their lives; who have asked God for help in understanding them but haven’t yet received an answer. At such times God’s word to Habakkuk is also his word to us: “wait.” I’m not a big fan of waiting but in this passage I’m reminded that God hasn’t forgotten me and he isn’t ignoring me. At just the right time – in God’s time – the answer will come. When it does, it will have been well worth the wait.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for.