Learning to Expect the Unexpected

I am seaside today, in John 6, at the end of a long, hard, amazing day, and full of questions more than answers. Do you ever have days like that? Days full of a roller-coaster ride of emotions and outcomes? Days that seem to pack a week of living into 24 hour period? Like an old wine skin about to burst, the hours wear on, and each drop threatens to burst its wearied sidesOahu sunset crop 2011 TApgar

This day began so awfully. A beloved disciple and leader for Christ was lost in a heart-wrenching and violent manner. Then, at the point of emotional exhaustion, there was a faith-building miracle that swept over thousands of souls.

Evening has finally come. The disciples crawl into a boat and start across the sea toward Capernaum. Jesus has bid them to go on without him, and finally dismissed the crowd on the hillside that lingered. He retreats to the mountain by Himself. After all the day’s activity, the crowd’s response to this miracle worker who claims to be God, is to take Him by force and make Him king. It isn’t His time, and it isn’t His Father’s plan, so He steps aside into the shadows to pray. Dimond Hill Farm 2013 TApgar

While I wait for Him to finish, I am wondering…

Does Jesus withdraw from the world, from us, from me when we try to make Him something He is not?

In what ways do I try to force Him into my own mold and try to capture Him into my life the way I see fit and when I think He’ll fit best?

My eyes shift out to sea and I am in the boat along with the disciples. It is dark. The water’s chop is becoming larger and the wind whips up against the boat, making it painfully difficult to make headway.

I have a boat. It’s not a fishing boat. It’s a modest 17-footer motor boat in which we play in the sun on a little lake tucked into western New Hampshire. I am not a fisherman, as comfortable on the sea and with its fickle temperament as I am on land. I am wary of the waves. When the clouds hang dark, the inviting blue of the water becomes a stern and unsympathetic grey. When the wind whips up, and slows the momentum of the boat’s progress, the shore seems farther and farther away. It is unsettling, especially as you watch a storm draw closer from over the hillside.

I would never be in a boat, in a windstorm, at night. You can’t see what’s out there. I admire the men and women who fish for a living, who live this daily and take it in stride.  Such were some of the disciples. These men row with the wary respect due the sea that they know well, and with knowledge and experience to navigate the waves safely.

Climb in this boat with these fishermen turned fishers of men. Hang on to something because it’s not a smooth ride. What do you see? Not much. By a flicker of oil lamps, perhaps, you see the shadows of those that row, squinting in the wind, muscles straining against the opposing pull of the waves that rise against the keel. The spray from the waves stings your face as the waves beat against the boat. Up and down we rise as the sea roils black and contrary. It is somewhere between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM. Dark. This trip is taking longer than it should. Where did these waves come from, and would they Please. Just. Stop.

“When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened (struck with fear, to be seized with alarm).” John 6:19

Matthew and Mark add another perspective. “They were terrified.”

Matthew and Mark use a word which means, among other things, “to cause one inner commotion, to take away one’s calmness of mind…render anxious or distressed”

Hmmm…Have you been there? In a storm? Without calmness of mind? Anxious…distressed…seized with alarm…?

Relationships are stormy. Parenting is stormy. Church fellowship is stormy. Illness is stormy. Work is stormy. Growing up is stormy.

I find it interesting, don’t you, that the disciples were not afraid of the wind here. It is not the same storm as when Jesus is asleep in the boat with them, and rises to calm it, and their fears.

So what were they afraid of?

It is dark or toward dawn—black at its worst, grey at its best. They are preoccupied by the struggle of moving forward, and dealing with the opposing forces of the wind and waves that are obstacles to them reaching their destination.

Ahhhh…I see myself here. (Do I have company?) Hawaiian Sea 2011 ApgartT

Suddenly, in a totally unexpected manner, Jesus strides along toward the boat. He’s walking, not struggling. He means to pass by them. Maybe there wasn’t room for Him in the boat. He was comfortable sloshing through those turbulent waves like they were nothing. (Mark 6:48, 49)

The disciples are struck with alarm and a feeling of anxiety and distress overwhelms them, so much so that they cry out in fear. Definitely gone is that calmness of mind and focus. They don’t even recognize Him for who He is at first.

“Take heart,” He says. “It is I. Have no fear.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.  John 6:20, 21

(There is more that happens in this boat. Please pop over here another time: http://anearthenvessel.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/company-in-the-boat/ )

The wind ceases. They are where they need to be, with Whom they need to be.

Here are my other questions…

Do I, in my struggles, not recognize Jesus when He comes? Is it because He arrives in unexpected manners, totally out of the ordinary?

What can I do to recognize Him more?

I recognize people by spending time with them and paying attention to them when I am with them.  Isn’t it the same with Jesus?

I should remember to expect the unexpected. Jesus doesn’t fit into my human mold. He shows up in events, in circumstances, through people, in ways I cannot imagine, that break all the rules. I need to get used to that.

And I need to get used to Jesus treating the waves like they are nothing. Because, to Him, they are.

Do you notice here that Jesus doesn’t offer a discourse on how to row better against the wind? He doesn’t offer solutions, as in actions to take. He offers only Himself. That is enough.

“It is I. Have no fear.”

It has been quite a boat ride. I have learned a lot on this part of the journey, but I am ready to have firm footing on land for a while.

I will be thinking about these lessons for a while.

Next up: a conversation about bread…

Blessings on you as you journey. Be on the lookout for the unexpected ways Jesus shows up!

 100_7825

All scripture quotess from: Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1971

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What You Can Learn from Listening in to a Conversation

Sometimes you stay longer in one place than you intended. It may be because what’s there is so  sweet, you don’t want to leave. Other times, your feet get mired by one distraction or another and it takes a while to untangle the vines.Grapevine tendril ApgarT 2014

I’ve been untangling the iron tendrils of the world, and mulling over where they’ve had me tethered… 

Still at the temple, I am watching the conversation between Jesus and those who spent a lifetime pouring over God’s words and discussing their importance. Those in charge.

As always, Jesus has something to say to those that professed to be ‘religious’.

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to Me; yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.” V. 39,40

I cannot move past this verse, spoken from the lips of God’s Son, and it has me looking at this from all sides. By “this” I mean the coming to Him.

Just prior to this soul-excavating two-by-four, He says something else:

“…you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He has sent.” v. 38

These men have poured the hours and days of their lives into knowledge about God and His promise of redemption, and yet His word remained lifeless on the ancient scrolls–unrolled for study and dialogue, and rolled back up until the next discussion.

I have more in common with them than I think, sometimes…
Like them, I go to the right places, digging deep into scripture on my own or in a class, but in the process, I forget the Person. “... it is they that bear witness to Me.”

Even Jesus knew that devotion to the study of God is not the same as abiding WITH God. Bible by Kaylee

After pulling off the chokehold of the vines of responsibility and distraction, I have gathered the blessings of coming to Jesus and abiding with Him. What richness I found that renewed my soul! In the quietness of this moment we have together, breathe them in with me:
Coming to Jesus’ side is coming to a place of STRENGTH!

“Everyone who COMES TO ME and hears my words and does them, I will show you what He is like. He is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundations upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” 6:47-49

The message: Dig deep. Lay your foundation into the bedrock that is Christ. Not scripture. Scripture points TO Christ

Coming to Jesus is to come to God, whose Place is one of compassion, healing, and love.

“Yet it was I who taught E′phraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of compassion with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

 and I bent down to them and fed them.”  Hosea 11:3-5

Breathe in those words of deep, deep love. Wouldn’t we rather be here than anywhere else?

This place with Jesus is our intended residence!

“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne…Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Mt. 25:31-34

Jesus calls us to Come, and has waiting for us, exactly what we need.

“The apostles returned to Jesus, and told Him all that they had done and taught.  And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.”

This happens immediately following a long, very difficult day. They had just lived through the beheading of their beloved coworker, John the baptizer. Can you imagine the gruesome vision in their heads? They must have been broken hearted, and terrified. Still, they took care of their friend and came to Jesus to report on their work in His name.  He recognizes their need for pause and refreshment, compassionately bidding them, “Come.” Not “Go, take a break, regroup, then return to Me and the work at hand.” He uses the word “Come.” Come with. Come alongside. This is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 4:19 for “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It’s an ‘along with Me’ word—a word of presence, of companionship and teaching.

Did you ever have an exhausting, horrific day or season of your life? (Are you having one now?)

Look what Jesus does here:

He invites them to come away with him for rest from the pressing crowds and separation from the emotional and political turbulence that was John’s death. They hadn’t even had time to eat, let alone regroup and refresh. You’d think, being Jesus, that He’d choose to exercise His power and clear off that secluded place He had promised them for rest. Yet a great throng followed them and beat them there.

I hate it when that happens. I clear out my morning, my day, or place, or activity so that I can decompress and rejuvenate, then the people come, or a need arises, or husband, kids, friends, mother, strangers, brothers or sisters in Christ…they press in with their needs and wants and expectations. Apgart 2014

Jesus does something interesting here I almost missed. In inviting His beloved disciples to rest, He moves into a situation that at first looks absolutely draining, but ends up turning the world upside down for a while, and their faith with it. “Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them.  As He went ashore He saw a great throng, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” Mk. 6:33ff

He takes over the work for a while. Maybe the disciples stayed slumped in the boat while He taught, or resting on the hillside. Maybe they dragged themselves on shore to provide crowd management, as always. No matter, Jesus took over for a while. Then He feeds them from almost nothing. You know the story: 5 loaves, 2 fish. Thousands fed.

Forget about the filling of bellies. Think about the filling of souls. THINK about it!  Those disciples got exactly what they needed. What a faith-building experience that drove the needy to Jesus who provides! In their exhaustion and fear, in the middle of an oppressively difficult day of training, Jesus bid them “Come” and gave them- and in the process, others- exactly what was right for them at the time. Totally different from what they were expecting, it took a long while for what He really did for them to sink in. They didn’t get it at all at first, and their hearts were hardened. (v.52)

Gulp. I’ve been there. Has that ever happened to you? Longing for rest, God places more on our plate. We don’t get it at first. Quite frankly, we rebel against it.  Then, with the passage of time, He gently nudges us toward understanding of the gift He gave us in all of that.

Coming to Jesus and abiding with Him is living in a place where His grace is deep and the pull of the world can be cast off.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Our bodies may not rest, but our souls will. It is promised.

 

I’m back to the temple sit in John 5, the tangled vines released and laid down at my feet.  I am ready to move on. With Him. Alongside Him. Vines cast aside T Apgar 2014

Some things to ponder…

Whether we are church leaders, officially, or leaders of our families, our friendships, our marriages… we need to come to Jesus and abide with Him. The responsibility that comes with this privilege is to help those we lead in the Coming to Jesus.

If we mentor another precious soul, or are a camp counselor, or a Bible class teacher…we need to come to Jesus and abide with Him. The responsibility placed in our hands by God is to guide those we lead in the Coming to Jesus. Not to me. Not to the lesson agenda. Not to the structure of church activity. To Jesus. Those are worthy tools, but they are just tools to keep us clinging to Jesus.

I am thinking, too, of the danger we place each other in by treating God’s word as an academic study. How challenging it is to share and gather knowledge about God without reducing Him, His Son, and His plan to a scholarly outline! This is the peril that comes with the gifts of our Christian schools and universities, and of our Bible classes, is it not?

Let us train ourselves to love the presence of God and abide in this life here, with His Son, Jesus.

Blessings on your journey to and with Him.

“LORD, I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwells.” Psalm 26:8

Lily hope T Apgar 2014

Posted in Facing Jesus, One Another, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What is it You Want?

I have been stopped for several days now, in Jerusalem, trying to get to the temple. There’s a conversation unfolding there (in John 5) that has grabbed my attention.  However, God has not allowed me to get close just yet. He has had another work in mind for my heart. In life and study with God, I find that I sometimes think the direction I am going is so clear, the destination so obvious, that I plow forward of my own accord, disregarding some precious ground of opportunity along the way. Sometimes I cause God to have work very hard to unlock MY focus and reestablish HIS. Does that ever happen to you?

Apparently I have a stop to make before I join that temple conversation. 100_4461

It is the Sabbath day of a feast, which like any holiday, brings throngs of extra people to town. There is a multitude of humanity pressed in by a certain pool of water. The crowd is at a standstill. It is the bottom layer that I see. It pulses with need, pressed in, straining to get closer. That is where I find the expectant and hopeful faces, etched by years of agony. Bobbing above this layer are the occasional faces of mothers, fathers, and brothers, lined with the burden of caregiving. Sprinkled into the crowd are the rubber-neckers, the “hey-while-we’re-in-town-let’s-go-visit-that-pool-and-watch-what-happens” kind of folk.  It’s hot, and smelly, and claustrophobic. The air is riddled with sighs of despair, groans of pain, murmured petitions for help. Squinty eyes, hands shading foreheads from sun. “Is the water moving yet” the constant question. “Is there hope for relief?”

In the middle of this all is where I find Jesus.

Don’t I always? Don’t I always find Him in the middle of the muck?

Here’s the interesting thing to ponder…

Jesus had no obvious reason to be there. He was not ailing. He was not taking care of a family member or friend that could not move of his own accord. There was feasting to attend—a scheduled set of events and obligations.

But we do find Jesus there. On purpose.

Jesus looked upon that crowd pulsing with disease and want. He saw the helpless individuals trapped in bodies that had failed them, at the mercy of their fellow man’s grace, and totally without subsidized health care.

Why he chose who he chose, I’ll never know, but he began a conversation with one individual, a man who had been ill a lifetime—38 years worth. Jesus knew him. He knew he had been lying there a very long time. Hopeful, but helpless.

He begins a conversation with a question: “Do you want to be healed?”

That man has been lying there for who knows how long. Others are cutting in front of him, time after time. The crowd is big, and needy, and unhealthy.  The possibility of a sarcastic retort is bubbling up in my mind, including a rolling of his eyes. “No, thank you. I am just here for the view, taking a little break from the feast!”

But no, this man responds to Jesus with respect, and answers the question by summarizing his situation:  “Sir…I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” There is no demanding, no rant of complaint, no begging, just a respectful commentary of need.

Jesus always seeks the hearts that know they need Him. And He always finds them. 100_6457

His response to this man, the one He’s singled out of the crowd, is “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” At once, the man is healed, takes up his pallet and walks. Jesus slips away.

The next day, the location changes. Jesus is where He is expected– in the temple. The man that was healed is also there. Jesus finds him and finishes their conversation: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may befall you.” Then the man leaves and tells his story.

 Today’s Take-aways:

I have a lot to learn here. There are things I MUST let God make me better at:

*Go where the people are. Those who are spiritual invalids—blind, paralyzed, lame—seek them out. Sometimes they are far outside the safe circles of church fellowship, sometimes they are right in the pew next to me (scooted over at a safe distance). There are hearts that don’t see the hope in God’s truth, or are paralyzed by fear, apathy, or sin. Others are limping along and just need the strong shoulders of encouragement and service to rise up and walk. Be that.

*Become a question-asker. Find out whose heart is open to the work of Jesus by asking. We don’t know if we don’t ask. I have a brother in Christ who makes a point of asking total strangers (usually fellow passengers on an airplane) what their goals in life are, and what they are doing to achieve them. He pries open the reluctant doors of their hearts with unexpected questions that create opportunity. That’s a little scary for me, but I’ll bet I can start with asking my brothers and sisters in Christ, and my friends and family. If I practice with them, I’ll be better at starting conversations with those I don’t know that need to have that conversation.

*Take a look at the way Jesus finishes the conversation with the man whose life He touched. “See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” Listen to His words. What are they really saying? Affirm what I have done! Reflect and affirm! Underline and boldface it for yourself. AND….Sin no more. Go forward. Jesus asks us, every day, what do we want? “I know it already, but you tell me in your own words. Do you want to be healed?”

Then, “Rise. Walk.” By His direction, under His orders: Rise. Walk. Whatever you do, whatever ails you, or whatever you want, get moving! Then, affirm what I have done for you. Remember Whose you are and by Whose power you move, then go forward as I have directed you!

*God is big on remembrance. He wove a structure into the lives of His people from the earliest times, because He knows that one fault of His imperfect beloved is their habit of forgetting. When time and activity stretch the distance between our salvation and today, the freshness of His grace, and its impact can become dull. IT is not dull, our perception of it is. So, like the man at the temple, walking on healthy legs in temple worship for the first time in 38 years, listen to the words of Jesus: “See, you are well!” Remember the Before, to appreciate the After. This encounter with Him will always be your touchstone.

*After Jesus celebrates with the man in greeting, and cautions Him about how to move forward, the man goes away and tells his story. Not anyone else’s story, but his story. I can do that. I can tell others the effect Jesus has on my life. I don’t have to impress them with doctrine, I don’t have to recall book, chapter and verse, I can just tell my story. Everyone has a story. forsythia

Whew! Now that I have spent time at this pool of healing, I am ready for the walk to the temple. I can hear the murmur of Jesus’ words, and He’s saying something powerful. See you there…

 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

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When the Questions You Ask Aren’t the Ones You Need Answers To

Sidle up, Friends. It’s time for a little rest on this dusty journey. Grab a stone, shade your eyes from the noonday sun and look up.   You can tell a lot about someone by the way they talk to others. We’re in John 4, at an old well–a well that has seen generations of God’s people coming and going. Our Savior is taking a rest, and sets His wearied body down. Along comes a woman–an ordinary woman going about her daily business of water-gathering. Jesus starts a conversation by asking her for something simple, yet deceptively complex-a drink of water. There were a lot of social protocols attached to the getting of water in those days… River in Jackson NH 2011 apgart

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you,  a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

I love how Jesus doesn’t even really answer the woman at the well’s initial question, the question she thought was the most important to ask. He doesn’t get sucked into that conversation. He steers the conversation toward Himself. Now this would be quite off-putting for any of us to do. No one’s heart or mind stays open to the words of an arrogant conversationalist who must always be the focus of the dialogue.
Somehow it’s different with Jesus. Because it’s supposed to be different. This is the One Conversation that we should have that is always, ALWAYS turned to Jesus.
The Questions: What on earth are You doing with me, Jesus?! You are not following the rules! Who ARE you?
He leads her heart and mind a bit, until it’s ready. Then…
The Answer: I am He.

Sometimes, the first questions that pop into my head aren’t the ones I really need answers to. What are my first questions?…Why?  How?  When?

Maybe they need to be Who?

Not Why is this happening?  How will it unfold? When will it change?

But Who will walk me through this? Who will grab ahold of its edges and peel them back to reveal what is needed? Who will choose the right time, and Who will help me wait?

Not Why do we do things this way? How should it look? When should we start?

But Who will help us see it? Live it? Whose eyes and hands and feet shall we use?

Have you ever had a faith conversation with a skeptic, particularly one who comes from a religious tradition? They are often relentless in their questions that hinge on the perceived externals of faith. Like this woman, they say

Question 1: Why aren’t you following the rules? How is it you are even speaking to me, let alone asking me for something? What ARE the rules?

Watch Jesus. He massages her curiosity. He knows her heart. This one…she needs to be led, with dropped crumbs, as though leading a skittish bird to hand. She’s missing the point.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

I wonder how often I stand beside Jesus, asking Him a question, without remembering, without really KNOWING the Gift of God, and to whom I am speaking? Is that why I get my questions so wrong sometimes? It’s not that He doesn’t hear my questions, He just knows me so well, that He tries to guide my heart to asking the deeper, more needed questions-the ones that have the important answers to unlock the power of His grace and majesty. These are the questions that point to HIM. 

Question 2: What you offer is impossible, and it doesn’t fit with what I think you’re saying. You don’t have a jar, the water is out of reach, and by the way, where do you get that living water?

Question 3: (She doesn’t even give Him a chance to answer her second question before she’s peppering Him with another. I am so like her!)  Are You greater than those leaders in the past on whom we place our confidence?

Jesus does not stray from the point He’s trying to make. He has something to offer that is different from anything she’s ever had, and He’s willing to offer it to her.

Next, she responds with a demand, and it’s a demand with an expectation that when satisfied, this daily burden of water-drawing will be gone from her life.

But Jesus gets personal. She won’t, so He will. Let’s talk about your husband…s.JacksonNH covered bridge 2011 apgart

Uh-oh. I know that sinking feeling of  Jesus hitting my heart in the hard places.

She deflects His attention away from her to yet another religious argument.

Jesus is so patient. He finally addresses her question…sort of. He reminds her of what she should already know. It’s about salvation. Then He opens it up for her: God is seeking those that are His. (I love that He shares that the Father SEEKS those who worship Him!)

The woman mulls over her religious history… “I know that Messiah is coming…”

Jesus responds: I am the one you’ve been waiting for. I am He. He has spent the whole conversation trying to lead her to Himself. He has been bringing her past what she supposed was important to wrestle with, and led her to Who He is.

How often does He do this with me? What kind of questions have I been asking Him? Am I missing the point?

I laugh when I imagine the next few moments. The disciples arrive, carrying food from the city. They notice Jesus in conversation with this woman. Their eyebrows raise. (Can you imagine the knowing looks flying back and forth between them?) They see it. They marvel at it, but for some reason they don’t question Him about it. Maybe they’ve learned that this Man of God has the authority to not play by their rules. He’s a game-changer. Then the woman flees, leaving her water jar, and calls out to the people to come see this man that may be the Christ!

Today’s Take Aways… Rhododendron bee apgart 2014

*I really see myself in this woman. I am so grateful for Jesus’ patience in our humanity and often misdirected focus.

*Jesus knows our hearts. He’ll steer our conversations the way they need to go. Even if we don’t ask the right questions, He’ll give us the needed answers.

*Jesus will wait while we pepper Him with questions that aren’t of primary importance. He’ll answer them by redirecting our attention to Himself, then He’ll get personal. What’s REALLY going on in our lives? He sees that, and takes it, and uses it to move us forward.

*God seeks after us. He offers full satisfaction. How wonderful to be sought after and satisfied!

*This ‘living water’ He offers…it’s amazing! It means active…blessed…endless in the kingdom of God…having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul. Soul refreshing!

I hope our stop has been restful. We  next stop in Jerusalem, after continuing on our journey through Galilee. This would be a good time to check the soles of your sandals, and fill up your travel mug with some of that living water.

May your day and walk be blessed. Enjoy your drink.

Posted in Facing Jesus, Prayer, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Nighttime Conversation

What began as a stop along the journey to KNOW and BECOME LIKE Jesus, has turned into a lesson from God today on HOW TO BE WITH Jesus. Pathway to cabin apgart2013

We are on a night visit, and joining a man whose heart is beginning to have divided loyalties. He slips away, under cover of night, and knows exactly where to go to have a private conversation with a certain rabbi, away from the suspicious eyes of his fellow leaders.

I admire Nicodemus, and his earnest desire to understand. This evening, at great personal risk, he slips out from underneath what is expected of him as a ruler of God’s people, and he pursues what has been niggling at his consciousness…this Man…this Man is from God. Something is different about Him…No one can do what He does without being from God… He goes right to the Source. There is no postulating or philosophizing with a committee before he acts. He goes right to Jesus, acknowledging what they already know: “for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with them”. Then he listens. The interesting thing is, despite how enmeshed his life must be in the organization of faith, he’s not asking about rules or traditions or how to demonstrate his faith. Nicodemus draws near to the man, Jesus, makes a statement of confidence, and listens. Ocean bench Wallis Sands April 2014 apgart

Whenever you watch Jesus, you see that he gives each individual exactly what their heart needs. Sometimes it’s a rebuke, sometimes it’s a reminder or refinement of understanding. Still other times it is compassion or a basic need, like food.

What Nicodemus needs is the simple truth. He has already acknowledged the connection Jesus has with God. What he needs to know is buried deep underneath the traditional rituals and teachings. It is covered by the cloak of people management. Written in the law and the prophets, he already possesses the truth, the Son of God just has to connect the dots for him.

Jesus cuts right to the chase: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus had better pay attention! This was his job–ruling the Jews and keeping them on track to claim the kingdom that is their inheritance.

What is Jesus’ message to Nicodemus? Start over. Begin at a new kind of beginning. Be born anew. From above. Of all the messages Jesus could have given Nicodemus, He chose to speak of a sacrificial love that disintegrates the walls of separation, and gathers all mankind to Him. He speaks of salvation and hope. He speaks of the character of man, and nails it exactly. Then he acknowledges what Nicodemus already knows: “That which is true comes to light so that it may be clearly seen that His deeds have been wrought in God.”

Today’s Take Aways… (Tuck them in your heart!) Ocean bench Wallis Sands apgartapril2014

Pursue understanding. Nicodemus keeps asking questions. Do I do the same? Throughout scripture, recorded in the annals of secular and religious history and written in the lives of fellow sojourners on this earth, is evidence that this Man is from God. Do I also go right to the Source, and pursue understanding? The Source. Not a book, THE book. Not a conversation with a friend, to THE Friend. Do I ask HIM to help me understand? There is much wisdom to be gained by reasoning God’s word together, and leaning on the knowledge of well-learned others that walk with God. Ultimately, though, do I go to Jesus Himself and ask for understanding?

How to be with Jesus: Go to Him, open to hearing what He has to say. Lay down my preconceived notions. Ask Him questions. If I don’t ‘get it’, keep asking. Be relentless in my pursuit of understanding Jesus. Let Jesus connect the dots for me.

Sometimes you’ve got to remove yourself from the religious structure in which you are imbedded and take a mini-retreat with the Savior so you can really hear the Truth of what He has to say.

Don’t make things so complicated that others can’t see the basic simplicity of the gospel message (simple for us, so very hard for Him…) “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…”

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“My son, if you receive my words

And treasure up my commandments with you,

Making your ear attentive to wisdom

And inclining your heart to understanding;

Yes, if you cry out for insight

And raise your voice for understanding,

If you seek it like silver

And search for it as for hidden treasures;

Then you will understand the fear of the LORD

And find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

 

Today’s Mile Marker:

John 3:1-21 Read it like you have never read it before.

See you in Samaria on our next stop…Be blessed (you already are!).

 

All scriptures, unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1952/1971

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A Wedding Surprise

Dust your feet off, put on your best, and scoot alongside. Here’s our chance to be wedding crashers, without the chance of being thrown out by the bride’s family! Let’s tuck ourselves in at the celebration and watch.

Reading the gospel of John, chapter two, is like beginning to  examine a multi-faceted gem in a sunbeam. The result is a stunning realization that there is always more than meets the eye to our Savior.

I’ve made a stop along my journey in Cana, where Jesus, along with His new minted disciples, is invited to a wedding.  Weddings are wonderful affairs–such joy and celebration–until there is a glitch in the preparations. (I speak as a survivor. My daughter’s tented wedding reception took place on a farm. After cake- and guest-withering heat, we found ourselves in the middle of a major electrical storm. It’s always interesting being the highest point on a hillside, under tall canvas held up by a long metal pole.) CCeremonyapgart 2012

At this wedding is a particular family–among them the mother, the firstborn son, and a group of his students from the village. The celebration began like any other, with ordinary focus on the joining of families and weaving of community

I have never before considered the particular manner in which Jesus chose to act on His mother’s request to provide more wine for the guests.  How simple it would have been to just increase the wine, and miraculously fill those six empty stone jars. Yet Jesus chooses not to. Instead, He has them draw 120-130 gallons of water. Why the extra step?

Because as always, in all extra steps, Jesus teaches us. Why does it take so long to realize some of our dreams? Why are there so many diversions and side trips? Because Jesus has something to teach us. In delays and disappointments, extra hoops to jump through and off ramps, He continues to shape our hearts.

Our God is One of great contrasts. His holiness vs. our sinfulness. His unyielding love vs. our fickleness. His saving grace vs. our human perversion of Law.

I’ve been turning the brief conversation between Jesus and His mother over and over in my  mind…“When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.’  And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

I never have been able to figure out why Jesus would respond to her this way, and then go on to do exactly what He said it was not time to do. What I notice today, though, is that Jesus, being both very human and at the same time Spirit, apppears reluctant to begin an unstoppable chain of events. Once started, there was no going back. I think I get that. We know what we have to do. We know what we are willing to do because the profit of our actions will be worth the cost. At the same time, we dread beginning because the ensuing action is huge, there is no exit strategy, and the sacrifice is great.

Through the years, as I’ve poured over the ancient words God has chosen to keep for us, one of the great constant Truths that He continues to engrave on my heart is that He is deliberate. There is nothing our God does without purposeful intent.

“Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine, but you have kept the good wine until now.

This extra step of water to wine was the “Great Reveal.” It was time to let the whole world in on the Secret. He has come. It really was the right moment. What better time was there to strip the cloak of inadequacy and offer the hope of grace? There is so much to teach us in a blink of an eye, in the empty jars-filled with water-now turned to wine: How much sweeter is the healing covenant with Jesus than the teaching-law of Law! Human hearts are the ultimate empty vessels, and God spent centuries shaping them to see the inadequacies of anything but His given grace. Seemingly satisfied with the house Merlot, we needed the lesson of contrast to awaken our hearts. Pay attention Children. I have come. This colorless liquid isn’t enough for you. Your house wine isn’t worthy of this celebration. Look at the difference–It is I who provides the best wine. I am the vine from which it comes. (And P.S….Guess Who is really the Bridegroom here?!”)

I am giggling a moment here, this side of the cross, envisioning the surprise of the servants, the wedding families, and the guests. They had no idea they had the best wine kept in their storehouses. What a surprise! And they thought it was just another family wedding…

Today’s Take Aways (tuck them in your heart today)…

I have a need. My wine has run out. Jesus is the one to fill that need. He is the one to satisfy.

Breaking with the custom of allowing the guests to drink freely of cheap wine once their senses had been dulled by the bridegroom’s best offerings, as always, Jesus does the unexpected. He underlines what God wants us to know, always: Your best isn’t good enough. It isn’t the best at all! I provide the best. Pay attention to the difference.

We sometimes have the best wine stored away, and Jesus will call it out at the right time.

God devotes time to shaping the empty vessels of our souls until we are ready for the New Wine.

God’s ultimate act of grace was revealed for all at a wedding, and ends at the arrival of the Bridegroom to gather His Bride.

Blessings on your day and journey back from Cana to wherever you walk today, and hoping that you know Him more.

Rainbow

All Scripture from the Revised Standard Version. Thank you, Matthew Henry, for your insights.

P.S

Water. What a marvelous teaching tool! From water to blood, there was the first escape. We are born again in the waters of baptism, after our burial with Jesus. Someday I am going to put on my galoshes and slosh around in the marvelous wetness and gather the blessings of God there!

 

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Restablishing the Awe

I’m falling in love again. I just thought I’d mention it.  Heart Hands TApgar 2011
Whenever I find myself not quite focused spiritually, not quite in daily sync with God–whenever His calls of faith and service become muffled by life’s responsibilities, distractions, or religious controversy–I go back to Jesus, and fall in love all over again. I remember Who He is, and Whose I am. I strip down my faith to its core–Jesus, the Son of God, my Redeemer.
I have recently committed myself to a journey with Jesus through the apostle John’s eyes, and to get to know Him all over again.

In the hustle and bustle of life, and straining under the stress of church family stretched thin, I feel like I have completely lost my focus. Each morning, I stand convicted of God’s truth and He awakens my desire to serve, and as soon as I close the front door behind me, my brain and energy are pulled elsewhere. Evening arrives and nothing has changed. Feeling like my devotions have been scattered and without direction, I haven’t been writing or sharing regularly. The desire and intention is there, but ‘things’ seem to be getting in the way. I feel burdened by work demands on most of my time at home.

There are always seasons like this. I’ve been here before. I venture to say, you have also. I know I should be taking action, DOING something, putting feet on my faith–not for me, but for Jesus and the humanity that He loves and died for.

I am stuck in inertia, bound by the ties of work and other life demands.

So, I go where I always go, where we MUST go, to reestablish direction and power. To Jesus. I have committed to joining John in the coming weeks, which is, of course, living with a close eye on Jesus. I will walk at His side, with the purpose of letting the Spirit continue His work in me, guiding me to reflect Him more where I am.

Off  I go to Jerusalem and the surrounding area! I am drawing near, and will scoot aside on the path for anyone who wants to join me.

John makes it easy for me to hear God’s calling. He helps me reestablish the awe. The awe calls my heart to praise and action, as it is convicted of God’s holiness and purpose not only for me, but for all mankind. It is this awe, in God’s power and plan and redeeming love that massages my heart and prepares my feet.

John 1

I always knew it. I knew it while walking in the woods. I knew it while standing ankle-deep in pulsing ocean waves. I knew it while trekking across lava fields. I knew it when nose-to-nose with singular snowflakes caught upon my mitten, as I marveled at their unique beauty.  Daffodils TApgar 2013

Even at work, as I coach my little ones through a study of animals diverse and fascinating, unlike anything outside our front doors, I know it.

He was there. He IS here. And the natural world declares His character and creativity.

In the beginning was the Word (the Reason!), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.   John 1:1-3

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him… v. 10

…for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible, and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.  Col. 1:16

…in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. Heb. 1:2,3

…for it is fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist… Heb. 2:10

This is the one Truth that can be known and spread without special training or confidence. It doesn’t require weeks of language study to be shared cross-culturally. No age or stage, physical or mental attribute is required.

The HEAVENS declare the glory of God and the firmament His handiwork, the skies proclaim the work of his hands! Psalm 19:1 NIV

What is it, exactly, that the heavens declare? What glory is this?

God is mighty!

God is powerful! Clouds rays and farm

God is exacting, and detail-oriented. He does care deeply about the details of our lives, not just the sweeping generalizations of another saved soul.

There is no one region in particular that He loves more. Deserts, canyons, ocean depths, grassy knolls, deep woods, lush rainforests—they all receive His care. How’s THAT for a wonderful metaphor of Jesus’ view of our souls?!

Today’s “Take Aways”…
Pay attention to the way the natural world works together. Notice the intricacies and grandeur of nature and absorb them. Revel in their taste, their texture, their colors. Notice them not only for the beauty and power themselves, but for the character of Jesus they reflect. Remember, that’s OUR Jesus!

Remember that all creation declares His love of contrast and uniqueness. We don’t have to look like, or serve like, or be like any other of His children in order to reflect Him. His power and majesty is cast forth through Him working in all our differences.

Be blessed. See Him in everything. Butterfly1 TApgar 2013

 

 

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