The gift that keeps on giving

Chances are, most of us received at least one material gift from a friend or loved one in the last few weeks. We also most likely gave a gift to a friend or loved one. Chances are also high that giving and/or receiving a gift brought us joy. We might have spent considerable time picking out just the perfect gift for someone in hopes of bringing that person great joy. We have reason to be thankful for the gifts we give AND receive.

During the season of Advent, we are given time to reflect on the spiritual gifts of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. These gifts from heaven help us focus and prepare for Christmas. Some of my personal favorites are the following:

Hope: Jeremiah 29: 11 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Love: 1 Corinthians 13 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. …. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Joy: Luke 2:10 1And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Peace: John 14:27 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

A few additional gifts during the season we can be thankful for include the gift of family, friends, and time. Time to reconnect. Time to reflect on the year. Time to refresh. Downtime away from the usual daily grind. God gives us time during Advent to help us prepare but also to refocus on the many gifts he gives us. May we use these gifts wisely! (Note to self: use the gift of time over the holidays.)

As we celebrate these days of Christmas, we are all well aware of the greatest gift, the gift that keeps on giving: Jesus’ birth. Luke 2: 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn……1“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Faith, hope, love, peace, joy, time….all words to help us reconnect during the Christmas season. Isaiah 9: 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  May this wonderful gift keep on giving to each of you in 2019. Merry Christmas!


During this Advent season, I have been following the Gifts of Advent Devotions.  Each day there is a word, a few verses and a story.  So far I have yet to be disappointed on the “word of the day” as they all seem relevant:  Hope, Wait, Steadfast, Help, Compassion, and Trust.  The word most relevant thus far is Trust.  What comes to mind when you hear Trust?  “Trust in the Lord, for he is good and his mercy endureth forever.”  It sounds very simple.  Please spend a moment reading Psalm 25:  1-10 .  These verses highlight the trust we are to put in the Lord.  “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.”.  This does not seem that simple.  What is we don’t like the path he shows us?  What if we can’t stop long enough to see the way God wants us to go?

Trust in our daily lives and our interactions with others is filled with twists and turns.  We want our kids to grow up trusting in others and trusting in themselves to make good decisions, not to be swayed by others.  As my kids progressed through junior high and high school, I have seen them trust their friends.  I have also seen them trust their teachers and their coaches.  This trust can be a good thing but what happens when the trust breaks down?  How do we teach them to handle situations where trusting in someone ends up hurting.  Then what?   The sports arena is where we see examples of things not working out as we would have liked.  Maybe it is playing time or maybe it is conduct or grades.  Kids watch closely as the season beings but then they start to lack trust if the guidelines outlined aren’t followed.  They follow the rules but others get “passes” for not following the rules.  Who can blame them for becoming disenchanted?  How do we help them through these hard times when life seems terrible all due to a sport or a coach?

Another personal example has to do with my oldest.  We were not sure as to why he ended up at the school he did.  Was it to get away from things that didn’t work out at the end of high school with baseball?  Did he really want to start over?  Multiple reasons but the path forward was incredibly fuzzy.  I kept praying for God to show up the plan and kept encouraging him to trust that there is a plan.  This fall part of the plan was unveiled through a fantastic internship opportunity.  He is a new person, so excited for this challenge and learning so much right before our eyes.  It could not have been a better situation and he knows he was given a gift this semester.  Fun to hear him talk about it as he wraps up the semester.

My devotion this week on trust was perfectly time.  It was a nudge to remember that there is path forward if we are patient.  When our children are faced with adversity, we should help them turn to God.  If one door closes or is even slammed in our face, another one will open if we are patient and trust in God’s plan.  Easy to say, difficult to follow.  “The ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” He has our backs.  He has our plan.  We just don’t know the end result.

Prayer from the devotion I am following:  “O Christ, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow, help us see your reliable, trustworthy nature working in us and sustaining us this season and this day.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.”

~Carol Barham

Thank You

John 21

“Can I see it?”  The words come from Freddy in the backseat.  “No,” is Annika’s simple response.  Not liking the answer, the question comes again, still the same, but a little louder, “can I see it?”  “No,” is again the response, now matching his tone.  “Annika, just let me see it, I’ll give it right back.”  Silence.  “Dad, would you tell Annika to let me see it?”  “No,” is my simple reply.  “Why not?  That’s not fair!” says Freddy, now agitated and becoming hostile.  Cooly and calmly, I remind him “because I love her more.”  Amazingly, that simple phrase ends it. Maybe it’s a cruel method.  Of course, it is not true.  My objective is not to put one child higher than another, it is simply to point out that the argument is ridiculous.

Jesus does something similar to Peter today in John 21.  Take a closer look at verses 18-23.  Actually, go all the way back to John 13:25.  They were at the last supper.  The disciple, John, was sitting next to Jesus, leaning back on him.  This was a sign that Jesus favored John over all the others.  Know what happened?  Peter got jealous, just like Freddy.  He wanted that attention and recognition for himself.  

This was a recurring issue for Peter.  Looking on to verse 18, Jesus gives him a picture of a tough life and a brutal death.  Peter accepted it.  Sort of.  At least, he was willing to submit to Jesus command, “follow me.”  But, Peter was not fully resolved.  He was still asking, internally “why, me?”  Reading forward to verse 21, they were walking. Peter asks Jesus “Lord, what about [John]?.”  He’s really asking, “hey, what about John.  Is he going to die badly, too?”  (v21).  In a nice way, Jesus’ response is “No.  He is going to live a long and bountiful life.”  Im sure that Peter didn’t hear it that way.  I’m betting that he heard “because I love him more.”  

I wonder how often we compare ourselves to other people and assume that God loves them more because their circumstances are better than ours.  This is simply not true.  In fact, God had special plans for Peter that only Peter could carry out.  The same is true for us.  Our inability to accept our current circumstances as God’s perfect plan for our lives will prevent us from fulfilling our destiny.  Today, Im finding the best words for God, despite all my trials and tribulation are “Thank You.”

The Feast of the Tabernacles

John 7

Today’s chapter is not easy.  I read and read it several times deciding on how to best break it down.  It is like a four part mini-series!

Part 1:  Jesus goes to the Feast of the Tabernacles

When we hear the word “festival” or “feast”, we often think of a carnival, a party or a celebration.  This festival was different than our current day festivals.  The Feast or Festivals of the Tabernacles was also called Booths.  It was held on the 15th of September.  I think of the booths they used at this festival to be what has evolved into our booths at things like the Sugar Creek Arts festival (a bit of a stretch I know).  Back then they were made of branches and thatches roofs (unlike tarps over metal contraptions of today).   These booths were like tents where people stayed for seven days to offer sacrifices to God.  This festival is said to have coincided with the autumn equinox which of course we just experienced here not that long ago (before this snow!)  This festival was known for “light” and also had a component of “water” asking that everyone in attendance prayer for rain to replenish the ground and the people.

All males were expected to attend this festival.  As Jesus’ brothers were trying to leave for the Festival, they asked an prodded Jesus to go with them.  His response:  Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not[b] going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.”  It is an interesting back and forth, with Jesus obviously not wanting to go and feeling uncomfortable, if not at risk in this crowd.  This story made me think about how in our house we have a similar bantering.  Two people are always up for a festival, party, or social event and two are not in the mode of rushing out.  I’m sometimes with the latter camp, wanting to see how things go before rushing into what I know could be a crowded and uncomfortable situation.

In today’s lesson, Jesus let’s his brothers go on ahead.  They do not know that he will eventually attend.  We are told festival attendees are looking for him, some in a positive light and some not so positive.

Part 2:  Jesus Teaches at the Festival

Part 1 reveals that Jesus really didn’t want to go, but once there, he sees a platform for teaching.  We are not told what prompted him to start teaching but he determines it is the right place and time.  As he starts to speak, some in the crowd question where he learned this information and why he thinks he can or should be the messenger.  He reads the crowd well and replies: 16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 

His response elicits more questions from the crowd and more people challenge him on the information he shares.  It appears to be getting contention with a crowd of people not believing him.  He continues to share the word.

Part 3:  Division over who Jesus is

The scene is one of conflict.  Some in the crowd question who Jesus is and some do not believe.

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

Jesus tells them that he is only here for a short time, foreshadowing his own death and resurrection.  Does the crowd believe him?  No, they start to question where he would go that they could not come or follow him?

My favorite part of the entire chapter:

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Whoever believes in him will have living water flowing within them.  Admit you are thirsty, not just for water, but thirsty for the word, for healing, for help for salvation, and come forward.  How awesome for us!

We are told the crowd starts to question whether he is a prophet.  Is he the Messiah?  Disbelief abounds (instead of our reaction today of wanting to receiving this living water).

Part 4:  Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

The Jewish leaders then become contentious.  They do not believe his teachings and want him captured.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 4No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

The crowd is turning against Jesus, thus why he may not have wanted to attend in the first place.  We know the story from here on out.  The crowd of disbelievers grows.  Jesus knows he must be careful yet he also knows his time is coming.  An interesting balance.  He took a risk going to the festival knowing it could charge up the crowd and it did.  We know this event was not a party or a celebration; it was a step in the process leading to Jesus’ crucifixion.

As I walk away from this long story, I am thankful for Jesus taking the “risk” to attend and for using this platform to teach the crowd and us about coming to him when we are most thirsty to receive his living water.  Will you attend Jesus’ feast?






My last post covered the entire chapter focusing on the “A” words.  When I first read Luke 19, the first story about Zacchaeus made me sing “Oh, Zaachaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he!  He climbed up in a Sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see!  For the Lord he wanted to see.”  I remember this much of the song from my early VBS days.  My focus today will just be on Zaachaeus.

All we are told in Luke was that he was small in a stature and a tax collector.  Researching “who was Zacchaeus” shows that he was more than a tax collector.  He was the chief tax collector in Jericho, a major city on the West bank of the Jordan River.  Zacchaeus, which means “pure”, was a descendant of Abraham yet he was not well liked due to his profession.  Most tax collectors were viewed as thieves or cheats, and Zacchaeus was no different as all accounts state he was a rich man.  The region was rich with a product known as “balsam” (sap to us) used for medicinal purposes.  With the balsam production, the tax collected was higher than in other nearby regions.

We read in our text, And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.   Zacchaeus must have heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.  I am assuming given his stature, he must have climbed trees before to get a better view.  We know he climbs this Sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus.  Little did he know what would happen next!

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

No preparation.  No warning.  No way to expect this turn of events!  Zacchaeus seemed to be prepared to host his guest.  Grumbling, moaning, disbelief from the crowd ensued.  How could Jesus leave with a “sinner’?  What was Jesus thinking going to Zacchaeus’ home?  Yet off these two men went.  I wonder what Zacchaeus was thinking?  “Oh no, now I’m in trouble!”  Or was he thinking “maybe this is my way to salvation?”  Who knows.  He was overjoyed to have this guest in his home!

As the story unfolds, Zacchaeus immediately repents and seeks salvation.  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Another story of Jesus’ power, influence and healing over this “sinner”.  If the Lord appeared and wanted to come to your house, would you be prepared?  What would you say?  What would you do to receive salvation?

The “A” words

Today’s chapter Luke 7 is yet again filled with so much to unpack.  Four very different messages for us to digest piece by piece.

AMAZED – In this first part of Luke 7, Jesus is the one who is amazed.  A centurion is panicked over his committed servant.  It is obvious the centurion cares so deeply for his servant that he asks for Jesus’ help.  He must have been desperate to seek Jesus’ healing but then changes his mind.  He feels he is not worthy of Jesus’ healing power.  The centurion may have felt guilty, realizing he was using his power over people in the wrong way.  It does not tell us why type of centurion this man was but back in that day, a centurion typically ruled over an army and thus was all powerful.  Jesus understands how he is feeling and is “amazed” at him.  It is as if Jesus is feeling the transformation of this centurion.   “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

AWE – The second story is one of great sadness which turns to joy.  Jesus is entering the city of Nain.  A widow’s dead son is being carried out of the city to his burial place.  The mother has experienced sadness given she is already a widow and now has lost her son. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Jesus, seeing her great sadness, immediately helps.  He stops, he places his healing hand on the bier and heals the dead son. “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.  We all can feel the grief of this mother who is then overcome with joy as her son is raised.

AWESOME – John the Baptist.  God sends his messenger ahead of Jesus to prepare the way, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  These verses are awesome as John and Jesus have not met each other.  John is sending messengers to try to find out more about Jesus.  They obviously didn’t have Facebook or LinkedIn or Google to search and seek more information like we do today!  They used the good old fashioned way of word of mouth, sending others to investigate, ask questions, bring back the truth.  Was Jesus the promised Messiah?  If he was performing all this healing, he might be, but how would John know?  22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Jesus then uses this time to preach to his followers. 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  He wants everyone present to understand John.  He may appear to be a wild man, but he is so much more.  He is the messenger for Jesus and plays such an important role in the story of Jesus’ time on earth.  The story does not continue in this chapter but we know that John and Jesus soon meet at the Jordan River where John baptizes Jesus.  Awesome!

ANOINTED – As we reach the fourth and final story of this chapter, we have a completely different setting.  Jesus is invited in to a Pharisee’s home for dinner.  As he enters, a sinful woman is overcome with emotions.  I see her tears as representing her release of her sins and her recognition of all the things she has done wrong.  She is meeting the awesome Jesus and is feeling less than worthy to the point of weeping.  She uses her tears to clean his feet as she feels this is the least she could do for him.  She then cleanses or anoints his feet with perfume.  He feels her repentance and grasps her need for forgiveness. 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus uses this scene to teach the Pharisee a different way to look at people, through is eyes.  This woman may not have been worthy of the Pharisee, but she was worthy of Jesus.  She believed, she confessed, she demonstrated her faith and is saved.

As I read these four very different stories and examples of faith, it reminds me to keep my head up, looking and searching for God’s word and messages in my daily life.  Sometimes we have many stories in our days and in our weeks.  Are we looking for God’s healing word?  Are we taking advantage of healing or helping others?  Look for the “A” words in your day today.

The Fig Tree

Mark 11

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”[d]

Today’s reading is one of those lessons I now know more about than I did before we started the Bible Journal.  Yes, I heard this lesson of the Fig Tree back in Sunday School but I didn’t truly understand the meaning.  Over the course of the last two years, I have written on the Fig Tree twice.  It is one of my favorite posts for two reasons:  1) I learned to unpack Jesus’ stories and parables and 2) it shows Jesus as human.  So much symbolism is shown in today’s reading.  If we look at the full context of Mark 11 and into the readings of the coming week, Jesus has much on his mind.  His “triumphant entry” is made is the city on a donkey.  He cleanses the temple.  He is challenged as unbelievers are surfacing.  He knows his death awaits him.  As we put the Fig Tree parable into context, I did go back to my first post on this topic and pull a few fig facts and key message points.

Did you know?:

  • Fig fruit is one of the popular fruits enjoyed since ancient times.
  • The fig tree is native to temperate regions of Asia Minor or Turkey, and today, grown as an important fruit of commerce in the eastern Mediterranean climates, USA, and Spain
  • Fig fruit is low in calories. 100 g fresh fruits carry only 74 calories.  However, they contain health benefiting soluble dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and pigment antioxidants that contribute immensely towards optimum health and wellness.
  • Dried figs are an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. In fact, dried figs possess higher concentrations of energy, minerals, and vitamins. 100 g dried figs provide 249 calories.
  • Furthermore, research studies suggest that chlorogenic acid in the figs help lower blood sugar levels and control blood glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (adult-onset) condition. if you want to learn more.

In Mark 11: 12-14, and also in Matthew 21: 18-22 Jesus sees the fig tree up ahead and was looking forward to tasting that sweet treat. He saw the leaves and assumes it will be bearing fruit, but once he arrived, he is disappointed. The tree was barren. Even though it was out of season, he was mad. He cursed the tree, which could be viewed by some as a show of his power. Typically he used his power to perform miracles, but this time, his power has the opposite result of harming a living thing. It was the only time he cursed something and it withered immediately.

We see Jesus use parables, miracles and teachings to make his disciples and followers think. We have to unpack his messages as they often have double meanings or can be interpreted differently. In this story, the fig tree has leaves, which outwardly shows growth, hopefully signifying fruit. We can liken this vision to people. People in Jesus’s time and also today, outwardly appearing to follow God, saying the right thing, going to church, but inside, the opposite is happening. They do not believe. They may say they are Christians but deep down don’t live up to God’s word. Or what about the opposite:  they have faith but don’t follow through. “Faith without good works is dead”.

Going back to the story of the Fig Tree, if I had been following Jesus and saw the Fig Tree wither, I would have shook with fear. Would Jesus now start performing this type of act or even take this type of approach with non-believers? What does he mean by this act?

What do you take away from this story? What would he want us to do? Believe, have faith, follow, perform good works, follow the commandments. To me, it is about being a Christian through and through. Not faking it for appearance sake, but living the life day in and day out as a follower of Christ.  God does not want us to fake it, and he also does not want us to wither away.  He will protect us.


Jesus is Crucified

Matthew 27

Today’s reading is familiar to all of us.  Jesus is delivered to Pilate.  The crowd choose Barabbas.  Pilate delivers Jesus to be crucified.  Jesus is crucified, died and is buried.  We know this story.  The disciples also knew this story as Jesus himself predicted his death many times.  In Matthew along, we read:

Matthew 16:21–28 says that Jesus “from that time”, i.e. on a number of occasions, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed …”.

Each time Jesus predicts his death, the disciples do not believe that this event will happen.  Jesus tries to continue to teach them new things.  Matthew 17:22–23 as follows:

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.[10]

Then, the third prediction in the Matthew 20:17–19 discusses his crucifixion:

Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

The fourth prediction in Matthew is found in Matthew 26:1-2 immediately precedes the plot made against him by the religious Jewish leaders:

“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Yes, the disciples did not want to believe.  As their leader, friend, hero, they wanted to listen but not really hear what Jesus was predicting.  How could this happen?  When?  What could be done to stop this horrific event?  Yet, as Jesus is foretelling his fate, it appears to the reader that he is calm, almost matter-of-fact.

We also read further into Pilate’s thoughts.  Pilate sat in judgment of Jesus.  I always think about the attitude of each man in this situation.  Pilate tried to push Jesus to talk.  He prodded him to save himself.  Yet, Jesus would not say much.  He just repeated what Pilate said “if you say so”.  Pilate must have been a bit irritated with Jesus for not engaging in the conversation.  He saw that Jesus was at peace with what was going to happen.  Pilate could have released Jesus, but he did not.  He turned the decision over to the crowd.   He gave the crowd the option to release him.  As Pilate lead Jesus out to the crowd, he may not have anticipated the reaction.  The word “crowdsource” comes to mind.

  1. obtain (information or input into a particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet.
    Now of course there was no Internet back then, but this crowd seemed to feed off each other.  They could hardly hear Pilate.
    21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

    As we know, Jesus is mocked, spat upon, crowned with a crown of thorns, bruised, and crucified.  There is so much to today’s reading!  What a turn of events.  Jesus is preaching and teaching, healing and feeding thousands.  Then, things turn, for him and for his disciples, for Pilate and also for the crowds who may have even been following Jesus!  Crucified, died and is buried.  How crazy.  How awful it must have been even if he predicted his own death, and all of these events happened in such a short time frame.

Two thoughts as you move from today’s reading into your daily life:  1)  Count every day with friends and family as a blessing as you never know when things might take a turn for you or your family; 2)  Be thankful Jesus died on the cross for us, to save us.


Faith and Healing

Today’s reading is Matthew 15.

As I read today’s verse, I was moved by the healing power Jesus provided the people, both Israelites and Canaanites, during his time on earth.  We are offered so many examples of his healing power and the faith people had in him.

In our first Faith and Healing example, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for healing.  The picture of a panicked mother comes to mind, fully exhausted dealing with her daughter.   25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

She does not know what else to do and appears to be at her wits end.  She needs her daughter to be healed.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

She is crying for help.  She is pleading, trying to draw his full attention by saying “Son of David”.  Jesus in turn does her her plea for help, yet he does not offer healing right away.  He instead questions her faith and questions her further.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she continues saying even the dogs need crumbs.  Even if this woman and her daughter are feeling as if they are not worthy, they still have faith and need Jesus’ healing.  Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.  Relief.

In the next story of Faith and Healing comes in the form of feeding the 4,000, no, not the 5,000, the 4,000.  This story is not as well known but a strong reminder of Jesus’ powerful time on earth.

30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

It must have been a wonderful seen as person by person, he offers healing power.  He offers healing to each person.  This story does not show discerning between who “deserves” the healing and who doesn’t, he openly offers his healing.  He must have seen or felt the strong presence of faith in the crowd, almost as we do sometimes going to church and feeling the power of the congregation in song and praise.

Jesus then turns to his disciples and shows his compassion.  He knows people have traveled far to receive his blessing and healing.  He does not want to turn away the hungry and he doesn’t.  This time, he has seven loaves of bread and some fish:

“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 

As we look for healing, we can count of God.  He may make us demonstrate our faith such as the Canaanite woman before he heals us, but he does heal us.   He also has compassion and provides the bread (fish) and wine we need through his body and blood offered through communion.

In the last few weeks, I have seen people in need of healing:  a concussion on the soccer field, a friend having sinus surgery, one son struggling with his path, and my ongoing journey with my mother’s failing health.  Faith and Healing.  Two powerful words for us to remember as we face life’s every day bumps.  May you remember God’s healing hand and to have Faith in his actions in your lives.

John the Baptist

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

This past weekend, I had the joy of attending church at Highland Park United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.  I was moving my oldest back to college and always take advantage of attending this church when we visit.  HPUMC is a thriving community of churchgoers, including long timers and college students.  We are always amazed at the outstanding choir and at all the baptisms.  Each time we attend, multiple children are being baptized and welcomed into the church.  As we attended this week, it was a refreshing moment to hear these words from the minister, baptizing each child, five in total.  Certainly a renewal of all our own baptismal vows and a reminder of the responsibility we hold as Christians to raise our children and these newly baptized children up in the word of Christ.

Today’s reading, Matthew 3, highlights a key moment in Jesus’ life on earth.  John the Baptist leads the way:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]

John’s  “baptismal font” is the Jordan River.  He baptizes the people as they confess their sins.  He calls for them to repent.  He continues to preach the word not in a temple but out in the wilderness.  He message is simple, and he is not fancy about this event.  We are told his clothes were made of camel hair.  Yet, he was given such an important job.  He is baptizing the people.

“I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire.

As we move further into the reading, Jesus appears.  John the Baptist believes Jesus should be baptizing him; he is a bit taken aback (as we would be too!).  Yet Jesus asks John to fulfill the scriptures and baptize him.  We all have a vision of these two people standing in the Jordan River.  John about to baptize Jesus.  What a emotional and wonderful moment it must have been.

Continue reading and we find the symbol of the dove.  “…and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So much meaning is represented in these two verses.  We see the spirit in the vision of a dove and then we hear God praising Jesus and saying he is well pleased.  As we tie together present day baptisms with today’s reading, it gives me peace knowing baptism has given us the gift of repentance.

As I was writing my post, this verse came into my mind.  “Let you light shine before others that they might see your good deeds and give glory to your father who is in heaven”.  It is Matthew 5:16.  Certainly speaks to me as a natural follow on to our own baptisms and discipleship this week.