Intellectual Pride and Unbelief

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In John 7, we find Jesus in Galilee and avoiding going to Judea, because the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill Him.  However, the Festival of Shelters arrives and Jesus goes secretly into Judea.  The crowds of people are divided in their opinions about who Jesus is; many believe in Him but some believe He is just a phony (see John 7:12).  Midway through the Festival, Jesus begins teaching openly.  The division among the people is not resolved when Jesus speaks.  Confusion reigns in people’s minds and hearts as they say:

Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? 27 But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from.”

In spite of the misunderstanding of the Scriptures and the division of opinion among the people, many people placed their faith in Jesus.  “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”  (John 7:31)

When the Pharisees find out what is being said among the people, they send the Temple guards to arrest Jesus (verse 32).  This begins a telling exchange in verses 45-49:

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

This is a classic example of intellectual pride at work.  The Pharisees believe that their intelligence and their years of schooling make them superior to the crowds of people in the Temple.  They cannot accept that the untrained Jesus could have all the answers, and His claims of being the Son of God infuriate the Pharisees.  They believe so much in their own training and education that they ignore what their hearts might say to them about Jesus’ teaching and about His miracles.  In actual fact, what’s happening is that their intellectual pride is choking the belief out of them.

Our intellect is a gift from God, and following God does not require that we check our brains at the door.  In John 5:31-47, we see a remarkable exchange where Jesus lays out for the Pharisees all the logical reasons that they should believe that He is the Messiah – He wants them to think it through and reach the right conclusion about Him.  (See my post on this chapter here.)  His hope was that they would believe their intellect if not their hearts about Him, but they refuse to do so.

Although God’s desire is that all people would be saved (2 Peter 3:9), He has given us the freedom to choose His way or to choose our own path.  Pride of all kinds can lie to us, blinding our eyes to the fact that we need Jesus and His work on the cross to cancel our sinfulness.  Pride keeps us from humbly bowing and receiving this amazing gift of grace from Him.  Even after we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, pride can throttle our spiritual growth, keeping us immature and ineffective at reaching out into our world as Christians.  However, there is good news:  There is an antidote to pride, and it is gratitude.  Thanking Jesus sincerely for His work in our lives and for His sacrifice will render pride powerless.  What can you thank Him for today?

 

 

The Bread of Life

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As John 6 opens, we find Jesus being followed by crowds of people who had seen his miracles and wanted to see more.  As they gathered around Him as He and His disciples sat in the hills, Jesus asked Phillip how they could feed the crowd.  Seeing only the impossibility of the situation, Phillip responds that it would cost a fortune to feed so many people.  Andrew points out a young boy with five loaves and two fish, but even he doesn’t seem to expect the miracle that Jesus performs.  Jesus takes the loaves and fish, gives thanks to God for it and passes it out to the people, feeding everyone and leaving twelve baskets full of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill.  The people, seeing this, exclaim that Jesus must be the Prophet for whom they had waited, but they still don’t understand who Jesus is.  The people want to make Him their king when He offers to be their Savior.

The crowds continue to seek Him the next day, and eventually they catch up to where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus knows that they are following Him only because they saw His miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 the previous day.  In verses 26 and 27, He says to them:

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man[a] can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

The people have been seeking miracles instead of seeking the miracle Maker.  They seem to view Jesus as some sort of reality TV show; they want to see His next “trick” and find out how it will be of benefit to them.  Jesus seems to be of great entertainment value to the people.

However, the people do ask Jesus what God wants them to do.  Jesus tells them that God wants them to believe in the one He has sent (verse 29).  The people then apparently suffer a memory lapse, because they tell Jesus that He must perform a miraculous sign for them to believe in Him — as if they hadn’t just seen and benefited from his miraculous feeding the day before!   Jesus explains that they are now being offered the true bread from heaven, and the people say that this is what they want.  At that time, Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life.”  He goes on to explain that anyone who eats of this bread has eternal life and that His flesh is the bread and His blood is the drink.  The people do not understand this concept at all, and they murmur among themselves about what He could mean.  In fact, even His disciples could not all accept this difficult teaching and many abandoned Him that day.  Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them if they are going to leave Him, too.  The beautiful response comes in verses 68-69:

68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.[a]

Aren’t we often like the people in this chapter, seeking the miracle instead of the miracle Maker?  Oh, that we would seek after Him above all else!  Even when we try to follow Him, don’t we sometimes find His words to be hard to understand and difficult to follow?  Take heart!  As James tells us, all we have to do is ask for wisdom and He will gladly give it to us (James 1:5).    Such wisdom will help us understand what God wants us to do, and He will, by His Holy Spirit working within us, give us everything we need in order to follow Him.  Now that is good news indeed.

“Would You Like to Get Well?”

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John 5 is a chapter in which there are many interesting contrasts. One of the most interesting contrasts is that of people’s reactions to the offering of two different miracles.  One man receives his miracle and the other group of people refuse theirs.  Let’s take a look at what happens.

The chapter opens with Jesus returning to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.  He passes the pool of Bethesda where there were five porches filled with people who were sick, lame or blind – people hoping for a miraculous healing if they could be the first to get into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred by the angel of the Lord.  There Jesus encounters a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Jesus  asks him, “Would you like to get well?”  The man replies that he can’t because he has nobody to help him get into the pool and someone always beats him to it.  Jesus then commands him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  The man is instantly cured and begins to walk!

Let’s think about this man for a minute before we move on to what happens next.  This man has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Thirty-eight years of not being in the workforce and able to support himself.  Thirty-eight years of limited social involvement.  Thirty-eight years of being abandoned by friends and family.  Thirty-eight years of watching the waters, of waiting for them to be stirred, and of trying to get into the pool first. That’s a very long time to wait and hope for a miracle, and yet he didn’t give up.  He remained by the pool, ever watching for his chance to receive a miracle.  He had done all that he could do but in the end he was unable to help himself be healed.  He knew that help would have to come from someone else if he were to receive his miracle.  This man who had nobody to help him is ultimately helped by the Son of Man, who cures him in an instant.  Oh, to have a heart like his that remained hopeful and believed through such a long period of suffering!

When the Jewish leaders see the healed man as he leaves Bethesda, they are not amazed that he has been cured.  They do not celebrate his healing with him and welcome him back into society.  Instead, they are concerned that he is breaking the law by working on the Sabbath by carrying his sleeping mat.  They demand to know who commanded him to do such a thing, breaking the law of Moses.  When they find out it was Jesus, they begin harassing Jesus about it.  Jesus replies in verse 17, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?”  This claim, which makes Him equal to God, enrages the leaders, who plot all the more to kill Jesus.

Jesus, fully aware of their murderous thoughts, continues to explain that He is authorized  by the Father to do the things that He does.  He even goes so far as to offer the Jewish leaders the gift of eternal life in verse 24, where He says:

“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

The Jewish leaders react with surprise so Jesus continues to reason with them.  He lays out all the witnesses that testify that He is the Son of God in verses 31-47:

  • John the Baptist testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s teachings testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s miracles testified as to who Jesus is,
  • The Father has testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Scriptures testify as to who Jesus is,
  • Moses testified as to who Jesus is

In their culture, two witnesses to something were treated as irrefutable evidence and Jesus laid out many more than just two witnesses to testify for Him, and yet the Jewish leaders still refused to believe that Jesus is who He said He was.  You can almost feel Jesus’s heart breaking as He tells the leaders in verses 39 and 40, “You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life.  But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you eternal life.” [Emphasis added.]  He makes another desperate plea for them to believe in verses 45c-47 where He says, “Yes, Moses, on whom you set your hopes.  But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me.  And since you don’t believe  what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”  These men, scholars of the Scriptures, were unable to accept that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore they denied themselves the miracle  of eternal life.

What if the man by the pool had refused Jesus’s miracle because he wasn’t being helped into the water, where he thought the miracle would come from?  What if, unlike the Jewish leaders, we looked at the evidence for ourselves and chose to believe?

We, like the people we just read about, have decisions to make.  Will we prepare our hearts to receive a miracle, even when it seems distant from us?  Or will we be so insistent that the miracle look a certain way that, if packaged differently than we expect, we refuse it?

 

The Woman at the Well

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Of all of the wonderful stories in the Bible, my very favorite is the one of the woman at the well.  Her story resonates with me on so many levels that I hope to one day get to talk with her when I join her in heaven.  Until that day, however, I love to read and re-read her story, which is told in John 4:1-42.

The story opens with Jesus and His disciples travelling through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee.  Going through Samaria would have been almost unthinkable in and of itself as Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds.  Contact with Samaritans was to be avoided at all costs.  What makes the story even more scandalous is that Jesus, whom the disciples leave alone near Jacob’s well in the village of Sychar, has a one-on-one interaction there with a Samaritan woman.

In the desert environment in which  they lived, the Samaritan women would have gone to the well to draw water early in the day before the heat was overwhelming.  They would have gone in groups and it would have been a very social time for them.  This woman, however, comes to the well alone in the heat of the day.  It is clear that she is an outcast from the other Samaritan villagers, living as an exile among her people.

Jesus greets her by asking for a drink of water from the well.  In verse 9b, she responds by stating the obvious differences between herself and Jesus.  Undeterred, Jesus proceeds to offer her living water.  By verse 12, she is asking Him who He is.  In verse 14, He offers her the gift of eternal life.  The woman is ready to receive His gift – but she is looking at it through earthly eyes, thinking only of avoiding the toil of  going to the well in the middle of the day every day.

He has much more for her than that, though, so he tells her, “Go and get your husband.”  In giving this command, He is actually inviting her to get real with Him and to be known in her place of brokenness.  The woman responds in verse 17 with a half-truth as she tells Him, “I don’t have a husband.”  Jesus lays out the truth of the woman’s condition in verse 16:  She has had five husbands and she isn’t married to the man with whom she currently lives.  It’s important to understand that Jesus doesn’t say this to humiliate her, to judge her or to make her feel ashamed; He says it so that she can come to the place where she can be authentic with Him and with herself about her need for Him.

She’s not quite ready to be that authentic, however, and she attempts to deflect the truth by turning religious on Him in verses 19 and 20.  Jesus is unwilling to let her settle for mere religion, and brings her to a place of relationship in verse 23.  In verse 25, she states her belief in the coming Messiah.  Finally!  She has reached the point of admitting that she doesn’t have all the answers but she knows where to look for them.  Now Jesus can reveal Himself fully to her, telling her plainly in verse 26, “I AM the Messiah!”

What happens next is remarkable.  In verses 28-30, the woman leaves her jar at the well and runs back to the town, telling everyone about the Man she just met.  She has turned from an outcast to an evangelist; from someone who lives in isolation to someone who is known, accepted and loved. The people come to meet Jesus for themselves.  In verses 39-42, we learn that many of the Samaritans come to also know and believe in Jesus and recognize Him for who He is.  Her life, once hidden, has now been made to shine brightly for Him; her story, once shameful, is used to bring Him glory.

Jesus met me in my own brokenness on October 14, 2001 and brought me to the place where I was ready to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and needed Him.  He came into my heart that day, and my life has been forever changed.  Your brokenness doesn’t have to look like that of the woman at the well for Jesus to meet you in the middle of it, and no matter how broken you might feel that you are, you’re not beyond His love’s ability to make you whole again.  If you have already accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, won’t you take a moment to reflect on that glorious day and to thank Him for all that He has done in and through you?  Won’t you accept Him as your Lord and Savior today if you haven’t already?  If you don’t know how, it would be my privilege to lead you through a simple prayer to surrender your life to Him right now, wherever you are.  Just message me.

 

 

The Wedding at Cana

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In John 2:1-11, we read about a wedding that took place in Cana.  Jesus, his mother and his disciples were all guests at this wedding.  However, as the celebration went on, the wine that had been provided ran out.  Mary brings this to the attention of Jesus, knowing that he will do something about it. She therefore instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus says.  At his instruction, the servants fill six large jars to the brim with water, and then they take some to the master of ceremonies.

The master of ceremonies knows nothing of what has transpired, but when he tastes the water, which is now wine, I imagine that he becomes very excited.  He calls over the bridegroom and exclaims, “You have kept the best until now!”  Because of the miracle they had seen, the disciples believed in Him.

Jesus performs this miracle very quietly and inconspicuously.  Most people who were present at the wedding ceremony did not even realize that a miracle had been performed in their midst that evening.  In fact, only Mary, the disciples and the servants knew of the miracle that changed the water into wine.  Jesus seems not to have wanted to upstage the marriage celebration by becoming the center of attention, as He surely would have had the people seen what He had done.

There are three points about this passage that I find remarkable.

First, Mary sees the need and she goes straight to Jesus, knowing that he will do something about it.  This is a remarkable step of faith as up to this point, Jesus has not performed any miracles.  However, she makes her request on the behalf of another known to Jesus. She also takes action that will allow her to receive the miracle by telling the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Second, the bridegroom is unaware of his need.  He has no idea that he has run out of wine. He has no idea that it was Jesus who has provided the new wine for him.  Yet he and all of the guests present are beneficiaries of God’s goodness and generosity.

Third, Jesus answers the need with an overabundance.    Jesus doesn’t provide just the bare minimum needed to get by; he does “immeasurably  more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).  The six jars would have held between 120-180 GALLONS of wine for the celebration.

I wonder how many times someone else has seen a need in my life that I’m unaware of and they have gone to God with that need in prayer and in faith.  I wonder how many times Jesus has quietly and sweetly provided miraculously for me when I didn’t even know I needed His provision.  I wonder how many times I’ve been a beneficiary of His overabundance.

I wonder who I can lift up in prayer today so that they might also be beneficiary of God’s goodness and generosity.

Foundations

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John is a book of the Bible that was written by the apostle of that name.  In John 1, he establishes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who existed before time began and who created all things.  He further establishes that Jesus is also fully human and lived here on earth among us.

John then recounts the testimony of John the Baptist with regard to who Jesus is.  John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, and one day as John the Baptist is baptizing people, he sees Jesus coming towards him.  He then proclaims to the people gathered there that Jesus is the Son of God.

The identity of Jesus is the foundation for all that is to come in the book of John.  Without understanding who Jesus is, it is not possible to understand his actions and his words.

What I find fascinating about John 1 is that Jesus so clearly understands the importance of the identities of others.  As He meets Simon Peter, Jesus tells him, “You are Simon, the son of John – but you will be called Cephas” (which means Peter).  (John 1:42, NLT)  The footnote in my Bible indicates that Cephas and Peter both mean “rock”.  Simon has received more than a new name – he has received his true identity.  This prepares Simon Peter for what is ahead for him; it is a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Jesus also tells Nathanael who he is when he meets him in verse 47.  Jesus says, “Here comes an honest man – a true son of Israel.”  (NLT)  Amazed, Nathanael responds in verse 49, “Teacher, you are the Son of God – the King of Israel!”  There is something about being known by Jesus which brings out a response of faith from Nathanael’s heart and a desire to proclaim who Jesus is.

I remember a time when Jesus told me who I am.  He proclaimed that I am “Chosen”.  Having my Creator reveal my identity to me totally shifted my understanding of who I am.  Has He revealed your identity to you?

 

Finding Sydney

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This story happened several years back when my daughter, Sydney, was probably about five years old.  I had stopped at the mall with her and my other two daughters for a quick look at some exercise equipment in the sporting goods store that was at the end of one of the “arms” of the mall.  Since we were just going to be there for a few minutes, I left my cell phone in the car and off we went.  In the sporting goods store, we quickly looked at some of the treadmills and moved on to the workout clothing, when suddenly I realized that Sydney was no longer trailing behind me.  I re-traced my steps with my other two daughters, expecting to find Sydney still looking at something we had already passed, but she wasn’t there.  In fact, I couldn’t find her ANYWHERE.

If you’re a parent, you can imagine what was going through my mind — every story I’d ever heard of every child abduction and all the ways that this could end really badly.  Very calmly but firmly, I asked for the manager to come right away because I had a missing child.  The manager seemed willing to help but uninformed as to what to do, so I calmly asked him to post security people at each of the entrances/exits from the building.  I waited, but there were no reports of having found her.  I had them check the bathrooms and the changing rooms, and those were also reported to be clear.  Other store personnel were fanning out across both floors of the store, but they were coming up empty.

This simply could NOT be happening.  I felt the fear really beginning to rise now, although I was fighting it.  I knew I needed prayer…but my phone was in the car.  I had no way in that moment to reach out to my prayer warrior friends or to ask people to come to the mall and help me find my daughter.  WHY had I left my phone in the car???  Meanwhile, I was still directing the search for Sydney with the help of the store manager.  I was standing at the entryway to and from the mall “arm”, scanning everywhere for the light brown curls of Sydney’s hair as I clutched the shoulder of Sydney’s twin sister.  

Fear threatened to turn to outright panic.  I prayed hard.  Seconds felt like minutes…minutes felt like hours.  I said to the store manager that he needed to lock the store down and call in the police if she weren’t found in the next minute or two.  I saw the indecision on his face and was preparing to convince him, when suddenly a young man walked up to me and said, “Are you missing a little girl?”  HOPE sprang up in my heart.  “Yes,” I said, and I described her to him.  He said he thought he had seen her down the “arm” of the mall and asked if I wanted to come see if it was her.  I did, but I also didn’t want to leave the store I was in, afraid that they would stop the search for her and that I would never again see my precious girl.  The young man saw my dilemma and asked instead if I would rather he go check and see if it was, in fact, my daughter.  With gratitude beyond anything I could measure, I said, “Yes, please.”  He jogged off down the mall.

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  So much time had passed.  Where was she?  Was she okay?  Was this going to work out all right?  I prayed fervently.  

Finally, I saw the young man returning to where I stood, a huge smile on his face.  Just behind him was a concerned-looking woman holding the hand of my precious daughter.  A cry of relief sprang from my lips as I ran to her, my arms open wide, with a quick, “Thank you SO MUCH” to the young man.  He was my hero for sure.  As I hugged Sydney, the woman with her explained that she worked at the pretzel place in the middle of the mall and that it was her habit to watch for lost kids.  When she spotted Sydney, she brought her into the safety of the pretzel stand and they tried to call me, not knowing where I was.  Again, I mentally kicked myself for not bringing in my phone on this “quick trip” that had almost turned into a nightmare…but the most important thing was that I had my Sydney back safely again, thanks to these two heroes — the woman who found her and the young man who recognized the look of anguish on my face and put it together with a missing child.  There is nothing that I wouldn’t have done to repay these two heroes for returning my daughter safely to me.

It struck me later that day that this is how the Father feels about His lost children.  His heart breaks because they are apart from Him, and He searches and searches.  “Have you seen My son?  Have you seen My daughter?”  Every now and then, one of us gets to help one of these lost children find their way home.  We get to tell them about the love that the Father has for them, how He longs to hold them close and tell them how precious they are.  Then, we get to knock on the door of Heaven and ask the Father, “Is this him?  Is this her?  Is this the one for whom You’ve been searching?”  Then we get to put the child’s hand in the hand of the Father, and His heart is overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”  Luke 19:10