Miracle or Providence?

 “[the Lord] satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” – Psalm 103: 5

For about twenty years I ran about four miles a day, not because I enjoyed it, but because I thought it would be “good for me.” – WRONG!

By middle age I began avoiding some of my usual activities, such as tennis, because they caused serious knee pain. Still, I kept running, ignoring the message my knees were sending me.

My body started to pick up the megaphone when it became difficult even to walk without pain. I thought, Hmmm, maybe there’s something wrong here … (“Gee, ya think?!“) I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who informed me that I would probably need knee replacement surgery on both knees within the next five years.

I think sometimes we hesitate to ask God for help with a problem we’ve created ourselves. I don’t remember the words I prayed, only pain and tears.

The next day at school a fellow teacher knew something was wrong the moment she saw me.

“Annie, you’re not your usual happy self. What’s going on?” I told her what the doctor had said.

“I have a book for you!”

The next day she brought me a book entitled How I Beat Arthritis and Praise the Lord!

(Frankly, I had hoped the LORD would beat the arthritis for me, but I thanked her for it.)

The book began with the author’s “journey” from being unable to walk across a room, to being active and pain-free. Her first piece of advice was, if you don’t do anything else, Ditch the sugar. Although I thought I was eating very little sugar – a cookie here, an ice cream cone there – I accepted the challenge.

For the next couple of days, I avoided sweets like the plague, piled on the vegetables, and seasoned my food with things other than condiments with “sucrose” or “organic cane juice” hidden in the ingredients.

I was pleasantly surprised (shocked) that within two days I was walking without pain!

The rest of the book was pretty basic advice for healthy living, which I had been practicing anyway. I did increase some of the supplements I was taking and exercised with low impact activities like walking, biking, and kayaking. Cigarettes and alcohol weren’t a problem, since thankfully I had never picked up those habits, anyway.

It’s been over twenty years since that bleak prognosis, and I still have my original knees.

I don’t often give this “testimony,” because it’s not as exciting as a dramatic, instant “miracle.” But I do consider it a true healing from God, who made my body and has always known what I need. When I started to discover how to minimize arthritis pain, I was not a baby in the faith. I didn’t need God to prove Himself with an instantaneous healing, just so I could go on my merry way living the same lifestyle I always had.

As I have often told my children, and now my grandchildren, sometimes God gives us what we ask for, other times He give us something better. In this case, He gave me physical healing, but with the added bonus of self-discipline. And for someone who had struggled with an eating disorder, self-control was something I badly needed – not the “control” a bulimic teenager fools herself into believing she has, when she’s really out of control – but the healthy lifestyle of a child of God, who loves her Creator and wants to be a good steward of the body she’s been given.

These days I remain “sugar-free,” but I don’t preach it. Everyone’s body is unique, so if I give advice at all, it’s “This worked for me. You might try it.”

These days I bike, kayak, and walk with a spring in my step and gratitude in my heart. I’ll admit that when I come to a flight of stairs, I suddenly feel my age, but that’s just a reminder to thank the Lord for all the years He’s give me, and that I can still climb those stairs, however slowly.

Some of God’s “miracles” in the Bible can be explained by natural laws. Even the parting of the Red Sea happened after a strong east wind blew all night. (Exodus 14:21) An act of God doesn’t have to break the laws of nature – the laws He set in place. Sometimes it’s divine timing.

Why did the Red Sea “happen to” part just when the Israelites need to cross? Why did it “happen to” flow back just in time to drown the Egyptian army?

And why did I “happen to” encounter a fellow teacher with an answer the very day I needed it?

This is called Providence.

I have seen few miracles, but I have experienced Providence all my life. I only need “divine perspective” to recognize and praise God for it.

Prayer: Lord, You can do anything, any time You choose. Help us not to be lazy in our prayers, when You want us to partner with You in bringing about the answers we seek. Thank You for giving us knowledge and the power to use that knowledge for our benefit and the benefit of others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

A Lot Can Happen in 50 Years

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 50-year high school reunion.

At the opening luncheon I enjoyed a long and animated conversation with an old classmate. At the party that evening I saw her again and said “Hi!” She looked surprised.

Ann! You haven’t changed a bit!” she exclaimed.

I laughed. “You mean since the luncheon this afternoon?” She looked surprised.

“There was a luncheon this afternoon? Huh! I must have missed it.”

I was a little taken aback, but then realized we’re approaching that season where short-term memory loss can start. That was a little scary to me.

Equally scary was seeing a classmate walking with a cane, another who’d been brought from the nursing home where she’d lived for several years, and another who had lost her vision three years ago. There were a number of cancer survivors, one who had survived a brain aneurism, and numerous widows. This was not only scary, but deeply inspiring. In talking about their lives, where they had been, the adventures they had had (Old people have much better stories than young people.), every one of these ladies spoke with the same bubbly enthusiasm I remembered from school. We just looked different.

I didn’t realize how different until the slide show.

Grainy photos of innocent-looking kindergartners, mischievous grade school students, awkward middle schoolers, cocky high school girls ready to take on the world, and teachers no doubt long departed brought laughs and fond memories. Then snapshots of sports, plays, dances, graduations, weddings, babies, mothers-of-brides, grandchildren, and past reunions all flew by in a matter of less than an hour. At the end of the show, the lights came up and everyone cheered and applauded the photographer-classmate who had pulled it all together.

Even writing this now, I have tears in my eyes. Where did fifty years go? Was I the only one acutely aware of the brevity of our lives?

“Life is fleeting.” I know that’s a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Young people hear old people warn them that they will blink and be old, and the young people roll their eyes, mumble “Yeah,” and think, That’s what they always say. (At least I know that’s what I thought.)

Early the next evening, a group of us gathered to pay our respects to the classmates who had passed on. Beside the bench that was our class gift to the school was a concrete column displaying the names of departed classmates on small placards; someday it will have all of our names on it. I played the harp, we sang a hymn, a classmate gave a brief devotional, and we prayed in unison the “prayer for graduates” we had all memorized in school.

At the final party the next night, my peers and I were rocking out to the classic 60’s and 70’s songs played by fellow classmates’ retro band. (One 18-year-young man, there to help haul the sound equipment, stood looking amazed – and amused – at the stamina of these “old folks.”)

There seemed to have been two themes of the weekend:

I.) Age is not a deterrent! Even with disabilities that tend to come with aging, we can still live full lives, especially when dedicated to the One who created us and apparently isn’t finished with us yet. Even the gal with short-term memory loss was the life of the party. Aware of her impairment, she nevertheless enjoyed living in the moment, chatting and laughing with the rest of us. As I visited with the classmate who had lost her eyesight, we talked about our love of audiobooks and made recommendations to each other. Unbeknownst to her, she’s inspired me to stop procrastinating, get my novel Counselor off the shelf, and make it into an audiobook so she and others like her can enjoy it.

2.) Life is short! Time is short! There’s been a lot of talk lately among Christians about the “last days” and whether the end is coming soon. But for any one of us, the end could be today. As I read the names of the classmates on the pedestal by the bench, I knew some of them were believers in Jesus Christ and are now with Him. As for the others, I don’t know. As I wrote my page for our “second senior yearbook,” I was aware that reading my “letter to my younger self” might be the last chance some of these ladies have to know the gospel, put their faith in Jesus, and secure their places in heaven. I pray the Lord plants those words where they’re needed.

In case you missed it …

Don’t waste another moment. Whatever your age, if you don’t know Jesus, or you’re not sure, I urge you to get to know Him today! (Read the gospel of John in the Bible, especially chapter 3.) He holds the key to abundant life here and eternal life afterward. (“Afterward” is sooner than you think.)

Prayer: Lord, Your Word says our lives are a mist that quickly disappears. Teach us to make the most of our days, be assured of heaven, and take as many people along as we can, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I Need a Break

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

For the next 40 days, maybe more, I will not be on social media, so any of you who are, please don’t take my lack of response personally. I am simply tired of seeing so much anger – anger that steals joy, weakens immune systems, alienates friends, starts feuds and wars, breaks up marriages, damages mental health, and in other ways is counterproductive.

Please don’t think I’m sticking my head in the sand. (That posture leaves other parts of the anatomy in a vulnerable position.) I do realize that there are horrible things going on in the world, and no, I am not ignoring them or saying they aren’t important. Many horrendous things I can do nothing about So why wreck my health and add to the burden?

However, there are other things that I can and should do something about, I just don’t think that “something” is to rant about it on social media. When I see these rants, I am tempted to either (1.) join in the rant and escalate the anger, or (2.) argue and escalate the anger. It’s a lose-lose situation.

If I see racism, rather than posting a self-righteous rant on social media, I should volunteer in an organization that helps people of color better their lives. This may take the form of health care services, tutoring kids, or starting a sports team, crafts class, or drama troupe to channel energy in positive and productive ways. At the very least, I could invite a friend of a different race to have coffee with me and share our thoughts for a couple of hours.

Instead of railing about the lack of respect for women, I should go and do something respectable.

Instead of blasting the politicians I don’t like in a tweet, I should find one that’s doing something good and tell people about that person in private conversations when everyone is calm and open. I should contact that person, saying that I am supportive and praying for him/her. (Being a politician can be lonely.)

Granted, these kinds of approaches don’t grab the widespread audience a Facebook rant might get, but in the long run, I do think they bring us closer to a solution, instead of throwing gasoline on the fire. I have never seen anyone have a change of heart because of a clever attack, name-calling, or emotionally charged accusations.

As always, I will respond to emails, texts messages, and comments on my blog posts. But please, be nice.

Prayer: Father, You have always been gracious to us, not treating us as our sins deserve. As Your people, help us to treat others not only in the way we want to be treated, but in the way we have been treated. You have reached out to us in love, how can we not do the same for one another? Give us gracious, patient, and understanding hearts, in the name of Your Son Jesus, the personification of grace. Amen.

CAUTION – SIGNS & WONDERS

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.” – Matthew 24:23-25

I was sent a video yesterday of a strange occurrence happening in the skies over Jerusalem. Whether the imagery and the sounds were real or fabricated (People can do just about anything with video these days.), it was indeed intriguing. I also found it a bit eerie. The person who sent it to me declared with great excitement that prophecy was being fulfilled! I had to wonder, Which prophecy? When I asked, he responded, “Jesus does what Jesus wants. It is the signs and wonders!”

I had to wonder, a sign of what? Usually when Jesus does something, it means something. The lack of a specific message in this weird phenomenon made me hesitant to jump on the signs-and-wonders bandwagon.

Because of the way things are going these days, I have been revisiting the Scriptures regarding the Last Days – the final days before Jesus’ return to earth – and it does seem possible we could be heading toward the end. But as believers we need to exercise caution. I don’t recall a prediction of this recent sign specifically, although the vague prophecy of “wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (Joel 2:30, quoted by the apostle Peter in Acts 2:19) might include this one.

Nevertheless, Jesus warned His followers multiple times to be cautious in the last days, because there would be many false prophets and false messiahs, performing false miracles. Just because something appears to be supernatural doesn’t mean it is. And even if it is, we can’t assume it’s from God, especially when Jesus told us to watch out for them.

The apostle John admonished us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1) Revelation 13, reminiscent of the prophet Daniel and his dreams, foretells the rise of a “beast” that will be given power by a “dragon.” This beast will appear to suffer a fatal head wound and be healed. Because of this “miracle,” according to John’s revelation, men will be seduced into worshiping both the beast and the dragon.

All these warnings are disturbing, especially considering the kinds of things happening today. One thing that gives me comfort is the phrase, “if that were possible,” implying that the Lord will not let His children be deceived. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Are we availing ourselves of that promise? When we read about the latest “miracle,” the latest sign, conspiracy theory, or the latest teaching at a well-known church or organization, are we testing the spirits? Are we like the ancient Bereans, who when they heard the gospel searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was teaching them was true? Their healthy skepticism was not criticized, but rather it was written that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians.” (Acts 17:11)

I am not saying we should stick our heads in the sand and disregard the news of the day – “if that were possible.” I am saying that as always, and now more than ever, our main source of truth should be in the Scriptures, and we should prayerfully read them every day. What is being taught today will be either confirmed or denied based on the Word of God.

This post is a bit shorter than usual. I am headed for my 50-year class reunion, 51 years after graduating. (Last year’s reunion got postponed.) By the time this is posted, I will be in St. Louis with former classmates, some of which I haven’t seen in 51 years. It will be a time to get reacquainted and “catch up” with one another’s lives. And if you have read me for any length of time, you know what I’ll be sharing. 😉 I hope to have some good stories to tell when I get back.

Meanwhile, here’s a post about my page in the new yearbook, one of the features of this year’s reunion:

Blessings

Annie

Prayer: Lord, as we wait longingly for Your return, help us not to be led astray by the enemy’s various attacks and deceptions. Help us hide Your Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) and stay clear-minded and self-controlled so we can pray. (I Peter 4:7) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Kill It!

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8: 34-36

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” John 5: 6


Last Sunday my daughter and I saw the theatrical production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” performed by the Fellowship for Performing Arts. Having read the book decades ago in college, I had been looking forward to seeing it performed on stage.

The premise for the storyline was that souls in hell were allowed to visit heaven, and if they chose to live there with God, they could stay. If it sounds too good to be true – it is. By the end of the visit the vast majority, for various reasons, expressed most adamantly that they did not, would not stay, and they boarded the bus to go back to their eternal home.

As usual, I was intrigued by C. S. Lewis’s imagination. I knew Lewis didn’t believe this was what hell was like, but it was a portrayal of a dream illustrating spiritual truths at play on earth.

Just as hell was depicted as a giant bureaucracy in The Screwtape Letters, hell in The Great Divorce did not fit the traditional description. Instead of endless flames and smoke and physical agony, hell in this production was a dreary, dimly lit place with perpetual conflict. Every time new people arrived, they couldn’t get along with their neighbors and would move farther out. Thus, hell was constantly expanding, with no meaningful human relationships.

The characters in the story were all different from one another, but I’m guessing you’ve met them.

Two of the travelers didn’t even board the bus. Instead, they got into a fist fight while standing in line and stormed off.

When the others arrived in heaven, a well-known artist found she couldn’t deal with the fact that in heaven she wouldn’t have the fame and status she’d had on earth. For her, the thought of being equal to everyone else there was unbearable, and she opted to go back.

A priest, who seemed to think himself intellectually superior to heaven’s humble Christ-followers with their simple faith, couldn’t handle the fact that he wasn’t allowed to come to God on his own terms, create his own version of Him, or depersonalize Him. He left in a huff, unable to let go of his ego.

A woman who had pined for her lost son since his death, was asking, begging, then demanding to see her boy. When she was told she needed to let go of him first, that God was to be first in her life, not her son, she dug in her heels and became increasingly hostile. She broke into a rant, accusing God of callousness and cruelty. It was explained to her that her son had been taken away because her obsession with him was not good for her, and she needed to trust God and put Him first. Doing so would have allowed her to reunite with her son without making him her god. Refusing to relinquish her idolatry, the self-righteous mother became more and more enraged, until she stormed out, declaring that she wanted nothing to do with the Lord. – She preferred a loving God!

Other mortals came and went, each rejecting the true God, each refusing to open their eyes to what they were missing and let go of their own notions of what God and heaven ought to be. Each stubbornly chose to turn down eternal life rather than come to God on His terms.

Finally, a man entered the scene with a red lizard on his shoulder. He impulsively petted it, talked to it, and listened to what it was whispering in his ear. An angel told him if he’ll turn over the lizard, he could stay in heaven. Reluctant, he kept holding onto the creature. Time and again he almost handed it over, but then it would whisper something to him, and he would shrink back from the angel and continue to dote on the creature. And when he learned that the angel wanted to kill it, horrified, he clung all the more tightly. He agonized, longing to stay in heaven, but seemingly unable to relinquish the “pet” he was enslaved to. The struggle grew in intensity, until finally, near hysteria, he gave it over to the angel, who threw it onto the ground, where with a little explosion it was reduced to a red blob on the floor. The man screamed in horror.

But then, something marvelous happened.

In its place there rose up another creature, a beautiful horse. The man then mounted it, and together they galloped up the mountain – “further up and further in,” as it’s described in The Chronicles of Narnia.

C. S. Lewis painted a clear picture of the powerful hold sin can have on us. Today we use a different word, but “addiction,” is just another word for slavery.

When we have sin, sin has us.

Many people struggle unsuccessfully for years with what the Bible calls “besetting sin.” No matter what kind of self-help methods they try, they remain enslaved to it. Mere “will power” is not powerful enough to set them free.

There’s only one way to break the power of sin, and that’s to love God more than the sin. Give it to Him and let Him kill it. If we have been attached to that sin, when it dies it may feel as if a part of us dies with it. But as Lewis described, in the place of that sin we surrender to Him, He will bless us with something infinitely better, something we can’t see now, because the sin – the counterfeit – has blinded us to what will give us true joy.

What’s your lizard?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to hate sin as much as You do. Help us to give it to You to be destroyed. Break our attachment to it. We want to be truly free. In Jesus’ name, amen.

C and E Christians

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another   – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  – Hebrews 10: 24, 25

The video made me smile. It also brought tears to my eyes.

A group of Ukrainian Christians were gathered to worship. They weren’t in a church. For all I know, their church may have been bombed into oblivion. These people were gathered in a subway station, bundled in coats, hats, scarves, and gloves, trying to stave off the cold.

And they were singing. Their faces revealed recent trauma, but their voices praised the Lord anyway. Though the subway was grey and damp looking, there was something exquisitely beautiful about the scene.

As the songs reverberated through the underground, it struck me how their devotion contrasted with the attitude of so many “Christians” today.

How many believers on a Sunday morning opt to “skip it this week,” for whatever reason? Maybe we’re tired from being out too late Saturday night. Maybe there’s another activity we feel obligated to do, “just this once,” that precludes church.

Maybe a spouse doesn’t go to church, and frankly, we’re tired of going alone. Maybe we’re thinking we work hard Monday through Friday. Saturdays we coach the kids’ soccer team and do all the yard work, grocery shopping, and laundry for the week. We deserve a morning just to sleep in and relax before the whole rat race starts up again.

Maybe we don’t want to admit that church just isn’t that much of a priority.

When I was in high school some of my peers identified as “C and E Christians,” meaning they only went to church on Christmas and Easter. They seemed to find it funny.

I know people these days that I would call “W and F Christians,” meaning they don’t even go to church on Christmas and Easter. (Why waste an hour on a holiday sitting through a church service?) These people come to church only for weddings and funerals.

One of my friends, a refugee from Iran, asked me if I knew a certain woman. She was thinking I probably did, since that woman was a Christian. I laughed and told her there were a LOT of Christians in America.

She replied, “But most of them don’t act like they really believe it.”

OUCH!!!

Is that it? Do most Westerners not really believe what they say they believe?

Five days ago, we celebrated the fact that the Creator of the universe loved us so much He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sins – and then rose from the dead! The Resurrection was the miracle that “sealed the deal,” so to speak. Because Jesus loves, we can live forever with Him! For the believer, death is not the end!

Do we not believe that, or do we not care? Will we only care when we or a loved one is facing death and it’s obvious that this is the ultimate destiny for each of us? Are we that good at avoiding truths that might inconvenience us or distract us from …

… what? Which of our earthly activities is more important than knowing where we will spend eternity?

I’ve certainly had mornings when I didn’t feel like going to church, but for the sake of the kids, my conscience – whatever reason – I forced myself to go. (I’d like to say because of my undying devotion to God, but that probably wasn’t always the case.)

However, on those days when I made myself go to church, I ended up glad I had. When my heart (not my feelings, but my will) was open to what God had for me that day, it came – a song that was particularly uplifting, an encounter with someone, or a report of an answered prayer we could all cheer about.

Sometimes I’d be searching desperately for an answer, and the Scripture that day nailed it!

Other times I encountered conviction, a wake-up call, or a rebuke. Someone was there that I needed to forgive. Or apologize to. Or pray with. Then the weight I hadn’t even recognized was lifted.

Still other times I’ve been in a unique position to minister to someone struggling with something I’ve experienced myself. I had come in asking God (consciously or not), What do You have for me this morning? and the answer was, Nothing. I want to use you today. And somehow, knowing God had used me felt better than being personally blessed.

Sometimes as I was leaving, I was thinking, – Wow, I almost missed that!

For most of the world’s Christians, gathering for worship is not taken for granted. Persecuted believers who escape to the West are incredulous at the casual attitude so many of us have toward what they have longed to do and have risked everything for.

Last night I heard comedian John Crist reading off some Google reviews – yes, GOOGLE reviews – of churches. The reasons for one-star reviews included things like the way the worship leader was dressed or the style of preaching. Crist imagined out loud these believers meeting some first century Christians in heaven:

“We were gathered in a house, worshiping, and the Roman soldiers broke in, arrested us all, and dragged us off to prison! Tell us more about those pews that weren’t properly cushioned…?”

Somehow, gathering as the Body of Christ is more precious to those for whom the risks are greater. Next time you’re indecisive about going to church, ask yourself, how would you feel if you were suddenly forbidden to go? If the penalty for going was being fired from your job, imprisoned, or executed?

Maybe we need some persecution to bring us to our senses.

Or maybe we should ask ourselves, Do I really believe? – Am I really saved? If you’re not sure what “being saved” even means, check out my posts on the road to true happiness. They explain what the Gospel (“Good News”) is.

Prayer: Father, please clear the clutter from our minds so we may see Your glory. Fill us with wonder at Your love, that You gave Your Son to die for us. May we respond with joy, giving You first place in our lives, Sunday and always. In Jesus’ name, amen.

As This Day Comes to a Close…

A fellow blogger asked the question, “What does Easter mean to you?” I responded,

“I was a prisoner of my own sin nature, bound with heavy chains, condemned to everlasting death and hopelessness. Then Someone offered to take my penalty on Himself, and as He suffered excruciating death, my chains fell off, and I was free!

But free to go where? – Now what?

“Next thing I know, there He stands – He’s ALIVE! He looks at me with love and says, “Follow Me.” And life is just beginning.

And that’s what Easter means to me. 

Careful What You Ask for

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:24-25

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” – Luke 23:27-28

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the day Christians call “Good Friday,” is full of examples of the wisdom of the words, “Careful what you wish for.”

According to the apostle John, after Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Pilate was reluctant to condemn Him. In an attempt to free Jesus, he appeared before the Jewish crowd and offered to release a prisoner, according to what had become a custom at Passover. To his bewilderment, instead of choosing the Man who had been feeding the hungry, healing the sick, delivering the demon-possessed, and raising the dead, the people chose Barabbas, who had taken part in an insurrection and murder. My fellow blogger Keith Peterson wrote an excellent piece recently about the implications of this choice. (If the shoe fits, kick yourself with it. And repent.)

https://keithpetersenblog.com/2022/04/07/give-us-barabbas/

John wrote that the Roman governor was afraid, especially after hearing that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, (John 19:7,8). But apparently, Pilate was more afraid of the people. In the end, Barabbas was released, and Jesus was handed over to be crucified.

Attempting to distance himself from the outcome of their decision, Matthew’s gospel tells us Pilate took water and symbolically washed his hands, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matthew 24:24)

At the mention of “this man’s blood,” according to Matthew’s gospel account, the crowd then made an unbelievably reckless declaration: All the people answered, Let his blood be on us and our children!'” (Matthew 24:25) It is doubtful that these people had any inkling of how the fulfillment of that declaration would unfold over centuries to come, but Jesus did. As He made His way to the cross, He spoke to the women who were weeping for Him: “‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children.'” (Luke 23:28)

But there was another person present at the cross who likely had second thoughts about what she had wished for earlier.

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them … the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27: 55, 56)

I can’t help thinking that as she watched Jesus die, she was remembering a certain request she had made of Him a short time earlier.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. (Matthew 20:20-22a)

No, they did not. And as the mother saw Jesus in His agony – with two other men on crosses of their own, she must have felt shame and a chilling sense of relief that her sons were not on His right and on His left.

Jesus had asked them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” and James and John had replied, “We can.” (Matthew 20:22b) Again, they had no idea what they were agreeing to. Jesus foretold then that they would, in fact, drink of that cup, and the brothers were later to be martyred for their faith. Mercifully, their mother did not yet understand that statement as she watched the Lord’s crucifixion from a distance.

How many times in our prayers have we asked the LORD for things without thinking through the consequences of their fulfillment?

How many times have you been given what you asked for (maybe after “helping God a little”) and ended up being disappointed at best, and at worst kicking yourself and wondering, What was I thinking?!

How many times have you seen what the LORD gave you instead of what you asked for and thanked Him that He knew so much more than you did what would truly bless you?

Years ago, I had one of those epiphanies, when my husband Marty and I attended an open house. As many people were reconnecting and visiting (not socially distanced), I noticed Marty was standing next to a man I knew but hadn’t seen in years. They weren’t talking to each other, but as they chatted with others, I had a moment to stand at a distance and get a new perspective.

The man I hadn’t seen in “forever” was someone I had gone out with in high school. I don’t remember why I was so crazy about him, except that he was “cute.” After a few months, he had dumped me, probably because he saw before I did that we didn’t have anything in common – except our cuteness 😉 . I had been crushed and depressed for weeks. If I had been much of a believer in those days, I might have asked the Lord to pleeeeeeze bring this guy back! (I know, what was I thinking, right?)

Now I could see in front of me my plans versus God’s plan for my life. I no longer found this old flame appealing, and knowing what I know now, I would have gladly chosen to be dumped.

(Thank You, Jesus!)

Here’s a suggestion, straight out of the Garden of Gethsemane. Let’s learn to pray, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Prayer: Father, we sometimes think we know what’s best for us, and we ask according to our momentary desires without thinking or praying it through. Forgive us and help us to be wiser. Give us divine perspective, so we can pray according to Your perfect plan, not our own flawed human agenda. And when our prayers are contrary to Your will, please don’t give us what we ask for! We trust You. Help us to trust You more, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Christmas open house?)

Fickle!

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:8,9

“What shall I do then with the one you call king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted.” – Mark 15:12,13

The story is familiar to Christians. The crowds who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles had been recipients of His blessings, from the food miraculously provided to deliverance from demons, to healing, even being raised from the dead. And now He was entering Jerusalem and what they presumed to be the climax of His ministry. Their joy was overflowing, and they praised Him with abandon.

Five days later they were calling for His execution.

Stupid, fickle people! we might say to ourselves. What happened? (And what didn’t happen?)

  1. The Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day was one who would lead a military revolution, overthrow their Roman oppressors, and set up an eternal kingdom on earth. Surely, they thought, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem meant all their hopes were about to be fulfilled! When this didn’t happen, they turned on Jesus.

2. Besides the people’s crushing disappointment, there was the envy of the religious leaders, who saw their influence waning. Desperate to hold onto their power, fearful of what Rome would do to them in the event of an uprising, and taking advantage of the fickleness of the people, these leaders stirred up the crowd to turn on Jesus and ask for Barabbas, a notorious criminal, to be released instead.

3. Since Barabbas was an insurrectionist, perhaps the people thought, if Jesus wouldn’t overthrow the Romans, …

4. Ironically, Pilate, the Roman governor, wanted to release Jesus. But he let himself be swayed by the screaming people.

But the Number One reason for the unpleasant outcome of the week in Jerusalem, is:

This was God’s will.

Jesus had come into the world for one reason: to die for our sins. As much as we would have liked to see Him released back to His family, to the ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding, His release would have left us unforgiven, condemned to die in our sins and lost for all eternity.

A few weeks later the same crowd heard Peter preach his first sermon about the resurrected Jesus – the One they had crucified. “Cut to the heart,” they repented and put their faith in the One whose death they had called for weeks before. Roughly three thousand were baptized that day!

As much as we’d like to believe we wouldn’t be as fickle as those people, none of us can claim that we never go along with the crowd.

The fact is, we are all conformists.

The question is: to whom are we conforming?

We all know people who jump onto every bandwagon that comes to town. They’ll be passionately outspoken about that person or cause. Until the next one comes. (Maybe you’ve been one of those people.) The temptation to follow is especially strong these days, as various internet celebrities present either the latest revelation or conspiracy theory, depending on whether the thing turns out to be true (Who really knows?).

There is nothing wrong with changing one’s position, when what is first believed turns out to be false or misunderstood information. But if we’re careful to do our homework, these shifts in position should be rare. Serious commitment to a belief system or cause should come slowly, after researching reliable sources, digging, and listening to both sides, and most of all, prayer for wisdom, discernment, and strength to resist the pressure from opponents.

(We should also make sure the cause is important enough to be worth committing our time and efforts to.)

Luke, the historian who wrote the book of Acts, commends the Bereans for their response to Paul’s preaching: Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

The Bereans were eager and enthusiastic. But their zeal came with careful attention to truth and faithfulness to the revealed Word of God.

As a college student I hung out with “Jesus freaks,” and I became one of them. My enthusiasm was not accompanied by much knowledge, and I spent way too much time talking about God and not enough time talking to Him or studying His Word. I cringe at some of the memories of those days, and I’m grateful Jesus had the patience to grow me into a more mature faith over the past five decades. I no doubt took a few detours in my younger days, and I still have a long way to go, but I’m going there steadily and (God willing) without being sidetracked by doctrinal fads and internet rabbit trails.

In a few weeks I will be going to my 50-year high school reunion. Every five years I see these people, and it’s always interesting to see where they are spiritually. Some have come to Christ (Glory!), some are more open to hear about Him, and some who were passionate about Him last time I saw them, are now … not so much. I’ve been deeply disappointed to see some of the people I knew in past years who were “on fire” for Jesus, now dwindling in their faith, abandoning their faith altogether, even becoming outspoken opponents of the truth. It hurts me, because I know how much it’s hurting them.

It’s also sobering, knowing that I could have been one of them.

It’s my prayer for my brothers and sisters who are reading this that you will remain steadily faithful to Christ, committed to the truth of Scripture, and very prayerful about joining any cause. Passionate devotion should belong to Jesus alone.

Prayer: Lord, we confess we can be fickle, but we don’t want to be. Give us hearts that are steadfast, patient, and willing to grow steadily in the right direction. Help us to finish well. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You’ve Been Chosen!

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18

According to our pastor in Florida, rabbis in Jesus’ time didn’t actively go around looking for followers. Those wanting to be disciples would seek out the rabbi and hope to be accepted, much like students applying to a college today. In choosing his students, the rabbi would speak a specific Hebrew phrase, translated literally, “Behind me,” meaning “I choose you,” or, “Follow me.”

This was precisely the same phrase Jesus used by the Sea of Galilee, when He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples. According to Luke’s gospel, this was just after the miraculous catch of fish. (Luke 5:4-7)

Imagine the emotions felt by these common fishermen.

First, they’ve just experienced a massive haul of fish, after catching nothing all night. Then, as they are still stunned by this miracle, they hear the familiar words, “Follow Me.”

They had heard these words spoken in the past, but not spoken to them. As young boys, they had been passed up, or possibly had never had the confidence to apply.

Most of us understand the feeling of rejection, whether we’ve been last one “chosen” in elementary sports (which of course means not chosen), turned down for a prom date, not getting the part in the play, not making the team, denied entry to the hoped-for college, having the engagement broken off, not offered the job, or turned down for the promotion. I’m guessing most or all of us have felt that disappointment and eventual resignation that what we had hoped for was not to be. Maybe we never even applied, figuring we weren’t good enough and never would be. We can identify with Peter, Andrew, James, or John, who were expecting nothing other than being fishermen for the rest of their lives.

But now imagine a Man has burst onto the scene, performed miracles, and caused a stir everywhere He went. Imagine being in the crowd, just wanting to get a glimpse of Him. Imagine one day He performs a miracle for you, then looks right at you and says, in essence, “I want YOU.”

Would you say, “Naa, I got work to do,” or “I think You’re getting me mixed up with someone else,” or “I’m going to have to think about this …”?

Or would you have realized that this Man calling you was the greatest Rabbi who ever lived – that He was much more than a rabbi? Would you have had a stirring in your heart that let you know this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed? Would you have done what these men did – drop everything and follow Him, even if you don’t know where He will lead you, or what the outcome will be?

Matthew, the despised tax collector, tells a similar story of his own conversion:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. – Matthew 9:9

When considering the context of the culture of that day and the appearance of this extraordinary Rabbi, what may have initially seemed a little odd suddenly makes perfect sense. I think if I were being called by Jesus, I would react the same way, wouldn’t you?

But wait … we ARE being called by Jesus!

He stands at the doors of our hearts every day, calling, “Follow Me.” It may not be on the shores of Lake Galilee, but He does call us, right where we are. He calls us through His Word, the Bible. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He makes it clear this call is for “whoever. – Is that you?

I’m guessing God has been calling you in other ways, too – in the way you feel a longing for something more, even though you don’t know what that “something” is. He may be speaking to you through someone who knows Him and wants so much for you to know Him, too. He may speak to you through “coincidental” articles, radio programs – or blogs!? – that answer questions that have been silently nagging at you all your life.

If you are feeling insignificant today, maybe even wondering why you’re here on this planet, take a moment and imagine the King of the Universe looking into your eyes, pointing to you – yes, YOU! – and saying,

“I choose you.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so prone to judging ourselves and others by the wrong criteria. While we see “common” people all around us, maybe even seeing ourselves as the most common and insignificant of all, You see what the world doesn’t. You have divine perspective. And You alone determine the value of each of us. We know we are flawed, sinful people. We are utterly unworthy of Your giving Your life for us, and yet You did. Somehow, we must have huge worth in Your eyes – You have chosen us! You call us to forsake the old life of sin and follow You into a new life. Who are we to say “no”? We yield to Your leading, in Your name. Amen.