GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 3

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Interrogation (John 9:8-34)

Remember the Tesla globes displayed in science centres? Electricity would light up gases in purples and pinks pressing toward the hands of participants. Or remember the Van de Graaff generator that could make the hair of volunteers stand on end? The globes remind me of how God works in the lives of people.

Jesus shows us that our life’s purpose is to display God’s handiwork. In the process, He infuses our hopes and prayers with the light of insight. He is the central electrode. We are globes, filled with His Spirit. As we come into contact with other people, something amazing happens: His energy flows through us toward them. His design is that our lives impact others.

The newly sighted man of John 9 shows us how it’s done. His sprightly pace is the first clue others notice. He strides along the path he had before known only by feel, greeting those he sees along the way. He looks up at the sky in a new way, seeing leaves on trees and birds on the wing for the first time. He simply cannot stop drinking in the beauty around him. Soon friends and family surround him, wanting to know what has changed him. It is the Sabbath, a day of rest, refreshment and celebration. What a day for healing!

Yet not everyone is happy about him. Some, soured by life’s difficulties, doubt his identity. They begin talking about him the way they used to when he was blind. Soon, they’ve attracted the attention of the Pharisees, a bitter band if ever there was one. The Pharisees cannot see the miracle for the misdemeanor: healing is work, and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. They suspect Jesus is somehow involved.

“Where is this man?” the Pharisees interrogate. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” As the interrogation progresses, the Pharisees become increasingly frustrated. This man, who formerly had sat helpless in the dust, begging, is simply glowing. He is exuding a joy they have never known and it infuriates them. It, metaphorically speaking, makes their hair stand on end.

But something amazing is happening to the once-blind man. A second miracle is happening before their eyes. His answers to their first questions are merely factual: Who healed him? “Jesus”. How? “Mud and washing”. Although he had been a beggar, he is not blind to the growing animosity the Pharisees feel for this healer, Jesus. He well knows acknowledging Jesus as God’s Chosen One will mean cultural suicide. To be ostracized from temple life is unthinkable for a Jew. It is worse than being a blind beggar. Yet, rather than weakening him, the more they interrogate him, the stronger becomes his confidence. He begins to challenge them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too?” With the word, ‘too’, he boldly and publicly moves into the Christ-following camp. Summing up his observations, the now-sighted man delivers his closing argument in favour of his healer, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. As expected, the incensed religious leaders banish him from the temple. They can’t help but noticing how this man’s whole demeanor has changed since being with the enigmatic Jesus.

Sometimes our lives are like that. We pray for healing of body and mind and He loves to heal. But maybe we need eyes to see how His work in our lives is intended also to connect with others. How we become living reflections of the One whose power makes blind eyes see and timid lives bold. How we become people of influence, not for our own platform or benefit, but for God’s glory. His lifework always points back to him. So go ahead. Put your hands out toward your Maker and be amazed. His lifework will be displayed, your life will have significance, and others will see God.

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GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 2

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Light of the World (John 9:5-7)

Have you ever noticed your circadian rhythm? (No, that’s not got anything to do with your toe-tapping tendencies). Circadian rhythm is all about the cycles of day and night. Regardless of our work and leisure activities, our bodies respond to a roughly 24-hour schedule. Do you know why that is? It’s because of the sun. Apparently our brain picks up sunlight that enters in through our eyes; it then releases chemicals that set us up for the circadian rhythm we generally experience. Not so the blind. Their eyes not only fail to convey images to the brain, but also to transmit light there. The result? Some blind people find they are not synchronized to the usual 24-hour rhythm of life. They are always a little off this world’s schedule.

It’s interesting that as Jesus approaches the blind man of John 9 (see “God’s Lifework: Part 1), he speaks directly to that man’s need. He describes circadian rhythms and then confides, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

“What is light?” the blind man must be thinking. “How is light relevant to me?”

I’m wondering if we sometimes think that about Jesus. How is he relevant to me? How is what He is offering connected to what I really need? How is He able to affect my relational problems, my responsibilities, my character flaws, my physical ailments, my doubts? Jesus’ answer always gets to the root of our problems. He knows how we tick; He created us for Heaven’s sake. And it just may be that we are praying prayers that are actually superficial. Our prayers may only be scratching the surface of a much deeper, foundational need that we can’t yet see.

No doubt, the blind man in this narrative had been praying for sight. If only he could see, life would be O.K. But Jesus offers him something incredibly greater: He offers Himself, the Light of the World. Physically speaking, if the man had the full capacity of sight, but there was no light (no sun, no firelight, no light anywhere), his sight would be useless. Jesus is revealing a truth to this man regarding his spiritual need. He needs something Jesus can give that is of far greater value than physical sight. He needs the Light of God’s love and truth, of forgiveness and of hope. His prayer for opened eyes will be answered by giving him an open heart first if he will accept it.

With this offer, the light of insight pierces the blind man’s soul. The silence is broken by the earthy sound of Jesus spitting onto the dirt. The blind man hears a scraping, a rubbing of fingers, a scratching about down in the dust. Then Jesus’ hand is back on his shoulder and he feels something sludgy plastered onto his eyelids. It smells like mud.

“Go, wash…” commands Jesus.

And we’re told the man went and washed, perhaps with the help of a friend or family member. Or maybe he knew how to shuffle his way to the pool, hands feeling the stone walls that led there. We’re told he “came home seeing”. We’re not told of the exhilaration he felt as the mud washed away a lifetime of blindness. We’re not privy to the sense of gratitude he felt for the One who gave him a deeper sight. But we know Jesus is a man of His word. He has become light to the blind man.

Has he become light to us? What do our prayers sound like? Is it possible we are asking for too little? Has the Light of the World got something even greater for our needs than what we can envision? If we listen to what He is saying, His light will pierce the deepest places of our souls. The time for darkness is over.

 

GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 1

Skeleton in the Closet

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We all have a skeleton in the closet. We all know something about ourselves we feel is abnormal or handicapping, socially awkward or even shameful. We try to hide it, but occasionally the door cracks open a bit and someone catches a glimpse of what’s inside. We fear disclosure will bring rejection. It was like that for the unnamed man in John nine.

Sitting in the Palestinian dust as he had done all his life, feeling the hot sun on his face, he was listening. He was always listening; he had developed the fine art of listening through much practice. This day, he heard sandal-clad footsteps drawing nearer and picked up the subdued comments he knew almost by heart. Key words like “born blind” and “sinned” were often words he heard whispered from passers-by. You’d think they’d know he wasn’t deaf. Surprisingly, the footsteps stopped before him and a warm hand settled on his shoulder. The voice spoke firmly.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” came the reply. “But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

With these words, the blind man’s closet door was flung wide open and the stinking skeleton of guilt he had tried to hide all his life evaporated, falling like flakes of dust to the ground.

Jesus is in the habit of flinging closet doors open. It’s not like He can’t see into them anyway. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves setting a well-placed heel against the corner of the door, wishing He would go bother someone else. We tell ourselves we don’t need His prying eyes in every corner of our lives. He respects that. He never forces His way into a life that is truly opposed to Him. But give Him an inch and He will take a mile of closet-cleaning opportunity, working God’s light into the darkest corners of our souls. Where it will end only God knows. But where it begins is with a prayer.

The blind man was not passive in his interchange with Jesus. It began with a prayer. It had to. He had plenty of time for it, sitting there in the hot sun day after day, waiting for alms from passers-by. He had time to think upon the ‘why’ of his life-long disability, and to pray for help. He had probably been praying for help for years, and this day, it came.

How about us? How long have we been praying for help, for healing, for transformation? How long have we been asking ‘why’, waiting for an answer? We might be blind to His behind-the-scenes working in our lives, but Jesus is near. His touch is on our shoulder and His mighty voice is proclaiming, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in your life.” Imagine that: God displaying His amazing workmanship in our lives, muddied and impaired though they be.

It will mean giving up the habit of hiding anything from Him, and it will mean transformation. His touch does that because He wants to display in us His lifework.  I’m beginning to believe it. Do you?

PRAYER IN THE NIGHT

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Richard Turere used to be plagued by lions. Living in the savanna of Kenya, the thirteen year old has been responsible for the safety of his father’s cattle for more than half his young life. And lions were causing him grief. The Maasai boy knew he had to do something, if he wanted peace. Through a series of trial and error experiments Turere discovered something: small solar-powered electric lights, set up in series to flash separately, simulating movement, fool lions into thinking an armed man is guarding the cattle all night. The lions got the message; they no longer bother Turere or his father’s cattle. Even his neighbours recognize a good idea when they see one, and have asked him to set up lights like he has.

Turere has something to teach us. Not about lions and flashing lights, but about the enemy in our lives. Our enemy is subtler than the great Kenyan cats, but we are losing sleep over issues in our lives too. We are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about a variety of stressors in our lives.

We cannot do it all. We cannot protect ourselves from every danger in this life. Perhaps we have tried other options available. We’ve tried independence – doing it our way – but we’ve suffered the trial and error casualties that come with it. We’ve tried making our own gods – education, wealth, fitness, prestige – somehow life’s dangers are no respecters of these. We’ve tried using our own strength, but we are like children in the dark African night, and we know the odds aren’t good.

The best thing we can do is a sort of non-action. It is giving up all the striving and manipulating efforts that have gotten us nowhere and tapping into the Light of the World. It is admitting that He, God, is the only one who can watch over us day and night. We can’t do it ourselves. We only wear ourselves out trying. So instead, we pray through our fears and troubles, our worries that the enemy will take something precious from us. Calling out to God, our prayers are like beacons linked in series, flashing a message through the night: God is greater than our enemy, and the enemy knows it. Listen to what some of the psalmists had to say about night prayer:

“Blessed is the man…(whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1,2).

“By day the LORD directs His love. At night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8.)

“On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands…” (Psalm 77:2).

Et cetera. I could go on. You see the connection. The point is that prayer is strategic communication. It harnesses the power of the Almighty to guard our souls, and it is the only thing that will do it. So, meditate on His Words, sing to Him, remember His presence with you, seek Him and stretch out untiring hands to Him. It’s all prayer. And it’s the only way to get a good night’s rest, because it’s a jungle out there.

 

SUPPORT FROM WITHIN

SUPPORT FROM WITHIN

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.”

Psalm 3:3

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I cradled the bright red lobster in my hands, gingerly moving each articulating joint. It was amazing. As an endoskeleton, I’m not used to seeing and handling my own bones and joints. They lie well hidden beneath layers of muscle, connective tissue, nerves, blood vessels, fat, and skin. But lobsters, like other crustaceans, go about things differently. They conceal nothing of their girding. They are supported from without. While not actually wearing their hearts on their sleeve, they do bare all when it comes to their mechanics.

We people are different and not just because we are endoskeletons; frankly, I prefer not to think too much about the skeleton within me. We are different because of the primary core of soul we house deep within our being.

This nucleus of our being was designed to dwell with God in unhindered community. But you and I know the nitty gritty of every day life. We know the curse of our sin. Unhindered community with God doesn’t seem to happen on a daily basis. We are battered from without, and sometimes batter ourselves from within. We are distracted, disturbed, and disoriented from our true calling to be in relationship with our Maker.

But thanks be to God, He cares more deeply about His plan to connect with us than we do ourselves. And He has access to that deep inner place in our souls that no one else does. In fact, the psalmist says, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head”. It’s like God surrounds and supports our soul with a divine inner exoskeleton that is central to us functioning as we were designed. His inner presence protects, defends, and supports us; it provides a framework for our spiritual musculature that enables us to rise up and accomplish real, eternal tasks.

So how do we open ourselves to the inner working of God’s Spirit in our lives? Let’s look at what the psalmist David does. We don’t read him saying here, “He, the LORD, is a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head”. That would be narration. It would be David discussing in third-person mode God’s action in his life. That happens; it’s happening now as you read this. But David says, “You, O LORD”. He’s speaking directly to God. He’s praying.

David bares his soul candidly before God and finds, voilà, that God is there; not only there in thought but also in function. David’s prayer opens his own eyes to God’s sustaining function deeper than skin, bone, or muscles.

Once again we find prayer is the language of our deepest self. It allows us to worship the One who lifts us up. It allows us to acknowledge His active ministrations deep, deep within ourselves. When we speak to Him we see more of Him and we give more of ourselves to Him.

Deeper than my deepest being,

gird me, holy framing God,

within a realm where I would fall

but for You, my soul’s Rod and Staff.

O lifter of my soul and head

to higher places than I knew,

come fill me with Your Spirit’s form

that I may rise to fall upon

my knees before You Mighty One.

 

PRAYER, FORGIVENESS, AND REST

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Exhausted. Have you ever felt that way after forgiving someone? When you’ve been the one hurt, offended, aggrieved or wounded, was it easy to forgive? Or did you feel like it was the last thing on earth you wanted to do, but you grudgingly knew the Father’s will: to forgive.

I wonder if Jesus’ passionate prayer struggle in Gethsemane had anything to do with the immense energy it would take for him to forgive the entire human race of their rebellion, sin of massive proportions. How did his task compare with the relatively small grievances I have had to forgive? Listen to his prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And a second time: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” And a third time, “Abba, Father…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

When we forgive, we release our offender from our own judgment and leave them to the justice of God. But when Jesus forgives, he takes on the very debt the offense imposes. We begin to realize that the burden of forgiveness Jesus shouldered was not only extensive but also intensive. All of humankind is included in the remittance; and every person’s debt should warrant a death penalty.

What is the point in looking at the depth of the cost to Jesus of forgiving our rebellious race?

I am drawn to observe the resources Jesus employed in his great act of forgiveness because I too am called to forgive. So are you. It will be a death to self for us too, in a manner of speaking, if we are to accomplish it. How did Jesus do it?

He prayed. He brought before the Father His sense of the daunting weight of the prospect of forgiving. He likened it to a bitter drink he must swallow. He invoked the immeasurable power of the Father; the vigor of the Divine Trinity would need to be harnessed in order to forgive the magnitude of offense the human race had inflicted. Describing a gap between His own wish and that of His Father, He verbalized submission to the Father’s will, and not only once. Three times he brought this hindrance and solution before the Father. The result? He was strengthened and enabled to accomplish the impossible task of forgiving and bearing the moral debt of all of humanity.

Will we ever be called upon to forgive to that extent? No. We can rest assured that colossal task was Christ’s alone. But some days it might feel like our opportunities to forgive are mammoth too. Then we, more than ever before, must mimic our model of true humanity, and pray. We too must bring before the Father our sense of the daunting weight of the prospect of forgiving. We too must invoke the immeasurable power of the Almighty One; only the vigor of the Divine Trinity is enough to enable us to truly forgive. What does He say the result will be?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Let’s do like Jesus. Forgive and find rest.