John’s gospel does not start with the birth of Jesus, like the other gospels do. John is less concerned about Jesus’ earthly beginning and instead addresses his eternal beginning, as confusing as that oxy moron is. “In the beginning the Word already existed…” (New Living Translation). Just like God’s love and peace that is already there whenever we come to know it, the Word was already there, already complete, already perfect. This is the Word that created the world, that gave life and light to everything and everyone. It gave such a light that the dark can never extinguish or overcome it. The beginning all started with “Let there be light” and this light was given by the Word.
And then the Word became flesh. A prophet was appointed to declare this miracle, to prepare hearts for the fullness that was coming. The law that came through Moses could not make us complete. The light the Word gave us needs more fuel than the law can provide. It requires the source of the light itself to dwell in us. But how can the Light dwell in us without first coming to us? Especially since we certainly cannot go to the Light of our own accord. So the Word became flesh.
And in the Word’s flesh, we came to know God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. The Word in the flesh revealed God to us. He was the example of God dwelling within, of how God makes the light already in us become a consuming fire that rules us.
Just as the Word already existed in the beginning, so we already have the light of the Word within us. Our enemies and those that irritate us also have this life within them. And through God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, this light becomes what makes us complete, whole, perfect. We already have the light, but we are not yet perfect. We celebrate the light, but we wait for perfection. We experience tension in this worship. It is somber, painful, thoughtful, peaceful, glorious, joyful. The “already” is the deposit that fuels our hope for the “not yet”.
Father, please help me focus on the hope you have given us. On your peace and love that is already there. On the light that is already in everyone. Help me learn more about all of these things this Advent season and for all my days. I love You. You fill me overflowing. All in Your Will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Over and over in these two chapters we see examples of what faith in God looks like. In 17:5-10, we see the introduction to the power of faith, that faith means not being limited by our own small abilities. We also very quickly see that this power of faith does not make our small abilities useless or exempt us from any effort. In 17:11-19, we see that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can bring God glory through your faith. Even if you are the equivalent of a Biblical Samaritan, one of the most hated groups by the Jews of the time.
In 17:20-21, we find out where faith must grow, “…For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Take a moment to read that again and let it sink in. The remaining verses of the chapter outline the commitment required to have the kingdom of God within us. In this kingdom where the world’s measures of success and status do not apply, we cannot look back on the world with longing. In these verses we also see the result of having faith or not. It is uncomfortable to talk about the fact that not everyone will be saved, but what choice does God have if we refuse to let Him rule in our lives? He will not force us. We have to choose.
In 18:1-8 we see God’s end of the deal. He will hear us, always. In 18:9-14 we see that He will forgive us. In the following verses we jump back to how our attitude influences our faith. Faith grows in the heart of people who are as dependent on God as a child is on the adults around them. Secondly, the story of the rich young ruler illustrates that we are powerless to save ourselves, no matter how much we reach the world’s standards of success or how closely we follow the commandments. But then in 18:24-30 we see how God already has our powerlessness taken care of.
Now, for the climax of this whole sequence of passages about faith, we see Jesus point to His ultimate example of faith in 18:31-34. As a man, Jesus could have easily doubted that God would raise him from the dead. As a divine being, he fully knew what was coming and could have called it all off. But in 18:35-43, we see one of many examples of his tender compassion that made him not resist the pain required to save us. In this passage, we see Jesus’ interaction with just one man, so small in the grand scheme of things. So powerless in comparison to God’s might. But this man knows who Jesus is and has faith that He is the Messiah. He asks for his sight and Jesus heals him. And God is glorified.
Father. My King, my Savior, my Comforter. The heavens declare Your glory and the sky proclaims the work of Your hands. Help my life be like the sky. Help Your church be like the heavens. Help me get unwound from my uptight brain that can’t let go of things. Help Your church live by the expectations of Your kingdom instead of our own. Help me heal. Please be with others who need healing. Please remind me of Your presence when I am unable to remember it on my own. I love You, Father. Please provide us strength for tomorrow. All in Your Will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Holy Father. All praise, nothing but worship, to Your precious name. Your fullness is all around us, tangible and intangible, in pleasure and in pain. You offer the wholeness we crave, the meaning for our limited amount of time. You offer boundaries and freedom in perfect balance. You offer love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and companionship overflowing. You don’t expect us to be perfect or uniform or anything else, but instead You hope and yearn for us in all things to turn to You. You are always near, waiting for us to turn and come closer to You. We come to You with all that we have, our joys and our pain, our gratitude and our requests, our fears and our hopes, our lament and our praise. And You are with us in all of them. You know them intimately. You listen as we share them. You occupy the space that creates relationship. You make us full of awe as we think that the Eternal Creator and Sustainer of all is here to listen, to guide, to fill us up, to reconcile with us so that we can be in relationship. You are King of my days and all that is in them. I will worship You forever. Please help me live by faith. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
There once was a girl who sought the meaning of life. She found someone to love and loved them unconditionally. She thought she had found her purpose. But then her loved one went away. So she found someone that she could help. And another, and another. She helped lots of people and thought she had found her purpose. But her health failed and she could no longer help. She could do nothing but lie in bed. So she listened. She listened to the rain falling on the car port, to the breeze blowing the leaves and to the silence of snow falling on snow. She listened so carefully she could hear the stars singing their nightly hymns of praise. She joined the praise. She felt the grace falling on her like the rain, she felt love in the breeze and peace in the silence. She sought the Creator of these physical and spiritual blessings. She studied His word and prayed for hours on end. In time, she prayed every moment of every day. She found her purpose.
Gradually, her health improved and she began to do chores around the house, still praying every moment. She found herself putting love into her cooking and patience into her cleaning. When she could leave the house, she noticed humility in her interactions with co-workers and grace in her shopping, buying a little extra to give to those in need. And she kept praying, every moment of every day. She kept listening, and this time she heard opportunities calling her name to love and help. But loving and helping others was different than before. Now, when the ones she loved went away, she still had her purpose. When she could do nothing to help, she still had her prayers. She always remembered the days when all of her control was stripped from her. The days when she learned her purpose was not to depend on her own abilities, but on her Creator, who cared for her always.
So many prayers to offer up—
Smiles, hugs, money and time to give
Dishes to wash
Poems to write, songs to sing, art to create,
Bodies to stir into motion like you first stirred breath in us.
Each movement a decision to keep living in surrender to You.
So much love to fill and to feel
Filling our neighbors and our enemies and feeling from others
In a never-ending cycle that is fueled by You.
So much suffering to become familiar with
To look in the eye and see You there,
Grieving with us
Reaching out to us,
As our only hope for true healing.
So much worship to give You
With tear filled eyes and helplessness
In the overwhelming presence of You.
Not praying during worship, love and suffering,
but worshipping, loving and suffering during prayer.
We live to pray.
Waking each morning for the sole purpose of communing with You in
Not for any benefit to us, but because we can’t help it. It is our purpose to be with You. Life is prayer.
In You we live and move and have our being.
Every molecule of matter vibrant with Your particles and presence.
Every wisp of thought filled with Your light.
We are made complete in Your wholeness,
Holy in Your pure love,
Alive in prayer.
Many times I wonder where I’m going to get the energy to get out of bed tomorrow and get through the experiences that I know are coming, much less the ones that I don’t expect. Not only the energy, but also the courage.
Many times each new idea I have also makes me tremble with fear. Because I know these are not just ideas, they are ideas God has given me the responsibility to act on. I tremble because I forget He has also given me or will give me the energy, courage, support, resources and whatever else I need to act on them.
Right now I feel so open to where God is taking me that I also feel empty. And right now I feel scared. And right now I feel alone, but also not alone. And right now I feel my faith changing into something real.
I’ve learned that God will draw near to me when I draw near to Him. I’ve learned that He is all I need in any circumstance. I’ve learned that He still works miracles and He sometimes uses human hands to do them. I’ve learned the mission of the church is healing. I’ve learned that sin is anything that is destructive or distracts from the mission of healing. I’ve learned that the Bible is a multitude of stories and experiences that provide us a means of reflection on our own stories and experiences so that we can make sense of them on God’s terms. I’ve learned that God’s terms are not bound by space or time and that they are founded on grace, love, mercy and justice. And I’ve learned that in this transforming faith, I may have many fears, but there is no room for letting fear prevent me from moving forward. It is simply not an option.
And what is my plan for conquering this fear? Simply being present. Showing up and staying. Showing up, staying and letting God take care of the rest. So I show up to the blank page on my computer to express and organize my thoughts. I show up to my Bible and prayer journal for guidance and assurance. I show up to the various tasks and commitments of my life to seek God and learn about Him, to thank Him and to share Him with others. I show up to various relationships to let God work His most powerful miracles, teach His most powerful lessons and move and shape my life in His most powerful ways. Sometimes I don’t show up and that is my greatest sin. I’ll try to ignore the thoughts that I am scared to express, I’ll do something else rather than pray, I do daily tasks without being present with God in them or I’ll neglect or avoid a relationship. But every time I do show up, God is there, every single time.
Sometime ago, I prayed for God to show me what it meant to take up my cross daily and follow Him. The best I could gather from how I was reading scripture is that it would involve suffering, but there’s just not that much suffering in my life, not compared to others. I don’t live in a place or time where I suffer because of my faith. I have all of my needs met and an abundance of support and blessing in every area. More than that I couldn’t make sense of it because suffering alone isn’t really productive. I didn’t see what action I would need to take on my part to pick up my cross.
I think God answered my prayer on Friday. For a brief moment, I became closely involved in a situation that contained so much of the brokenness of our world, but also a miracle. A real miracle. Two lives surviving against all odds. As I reflected on everything afterwards, I realized that Christ picked up His cross to bring healing to the world. To pick up my cross means to work towards healing in all the ways that I can. It’s a conscious decision to be aware of the brokenness and allowing God’s strength and compassion to flow through me to take part in healing it. Not fixing it, healing. Fixing involves trying to change something from the outside. Healing involves providing the resources and support for something or someone to grow from the inside.
Father, help me not ignore the brokenness around me. Help me not avoid it. Help me go into it with your strength and compassion. Help me not seek to fix it on my own but to have faith and trust in your power to heal. Use my hands, my feet, my words to bring the message that healing is here right now. And not only healing, but fullness. Complete fulfillment in love, joy, peace, relationships, life. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for answering me. Thank you for healing me.
In vs. 6-7 Paul lists the “tools” he and his team use in their ministry. In vs. 5 and 8-10, Paul lists some serious hardships but states that he and his ministry team could redefine their circumstances because of Christ. As I imagine what they might have felt like, I think that they had a purpose, burning like a fire, that provided a strong light in any dark situation. “Had a purpose” isn’t really what I’m trying to say. It’s more like understanding purpose. It’s the feeling of when you know God satisfies every need and then abundantly more. That we can trust in the most mighty and most perfect being in all existence. And that we are loved by the highest and holiest. The knowledge of that security, trust and love allows us to look at earthly “disasters” in a whole new light because we are satisfied beyond the world’s terms and we don’t define success the way the world does. It’s like Psalm 139 that praises God by saying “the darkness is as light to you”. God gives us the grace and love to view any “dark” situation as if darkness didn’t matter because the darkness and light are the same thing– He is there in both. How great is our Father! It would be very odd to proclaim this message through any other form of ministry other than one characterized by the things listed in vs. 6-7. (Self-evaluation question, are my idesa of ministry and the ministries I’m involved in characterized by this list?) This passage helped me understand ministry as God working through us. Administration often describes people who accomplish tasks through other people. Ministry is letting God accomplish his purposes through us, like he did with the prophets, Mary, patriarchs, numerous characters in the OT and ultimately Christ. I am most likely to miss a ministry opportunity because of my own fears. This passage reminds me that 1. the tools for ministry are from God and the Holy Spirit, not from me and 2. God has already saved me, what else could I possibly be afraid of?
Reading chapters 9 & 10 together, there are a few repeating themes. Jesus tells his disciples3 times that they are not to worry about who is the greatest. He tells about his own death 3 times and he tells his disciples to be like children twice. He does 2 miracles and answers 2 questions about the law. This collection of stories seemed unrelated to me at first, but the end of chapter 9 helped provide a uniting theme. Jesus tells his disciples to “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”. Salt in this context is closely related to the idea of purity, which fits with vs. 49 (salted with fire/purified by fire). Verse 50 helps define what purity is– being purely one thing, not corrupted or diluted by anything else. The disciples had been corrupted by being concerned with who was the greatest or who is “with” them or not with them; the rich man diluted his love for God by loving his possessions; the father of the boy with a demon diluted his faith with unbelief; hardened hearts in Moses’ time diluted God’s purpose for marriage. All of this un-purity is contrasted with the purity of the transfiguration, the children Jesus welcomes, the blind man’s pure faith and belief, Jesus’s teaching to get rid of any corruption in ourselves (9:42-50) and finally his repeated explanation of his purpose and his sole focus on it, despite the physical pain and shame. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45) succinctly states Jesus’s mission and the context in which he states this implies that we are here to serve others too.
I want to get rid of anything that is corrupting me or diluting my faith. I want to have a pure focus on loving God and loving others by serving both. Anytime that I feel challenged to change my behavior, attitudes, perspectives, etc., I try to define why I want to change my behavior so that I do not start to think that I can save myself by my own deeds. Being pure will not save me or make God love me more, but it is a response to the love he has shown me. It is the best I can offer him. It will also cause others to see how great God is and bring unity among fellow purity seekers (“be at peace with one another”). And it will bring me closer to him and make me love him more.