Seeking Mercy, Finding Healing

I thought today we’d take a look at the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10:

“Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.”

Bartimaeus’ story reminds me of many of our lives. So many of us are crying out for some attention, even something as simple as just to get a word in edgewise. With the wonderful inventions of technology we’ve been given the ability to connect with more people than ever, which both helps and hurts our cause. It’s easier to get an apology to a family member, communicate a message of love to our partner or learn something that could further our lives. That doesn’t mean that they’ll listen of course.

Which is exactly what Bartimaeus experiences in the beginning. But Bartimaeus doesn’t give up. He persists in sharing his message, believing that he knows the truth and that Jesus can help him. Maybe Bartimaeus would have run into Jesus another time, but more likely this would be his only chance to connect with Jesus. Fortunately we usually get more than one chance to make things right.

So Jesus hears Bartimaeus and decides to listen. Then Jesus, who knows everything, asks Bartimaeus what could be considered an obvious question: what do you want? Sometimes it’s important to ask the stupid questions to make sure we’re on the same page. In Jesus’ case, He was checking Bartimaeus’ faith and heart out.

Bartimaeus just wanted a little attention from Jesus, what he got was a whole lot more. Sometimes when we turn to Jesus for help, or reach out to others, we get a whole lot more than we asked for. He may have been happy to just have been noticed by Jesus, happy for people to stop telling him to shut up and just listen to what he had to say, but I’m sure Bartimaeus’ dream was to see again. Maybe you’ve been asking Jesus for a job, but He’s got something bigger and better for you. Maybe you’ve been praying for a relationship to be fixed, when God’s got a better one in store for you. Maybe you want healing, but God wants to do something bigger with your life story. I can’t answer for what God will do in your life, but I do know that like Bartimaeus you have to get out there and start seeking if you want to find.

What about you? What are you seeking? Will you join me this week in being open to what God could have in store for you?

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Exploring God

This month one of the things we’re talking about is the topic of exploring. I think it’s important for us to spend time exploring as part of our lives, I don’t think it’s healthy for us to stay in our little bubbles and not consider the other people and parts of the world that surround us. I don’t think that God wants us to stay in our little bubbles either, otherwise we won’t be able to share the Good News with the world. But the more I explore the world, the more I hear, the more people I meet, the more I learn that there are some things that don’t change and are universal around the world. These are things like family, enjoying sunshine, wanting to be loved, the power of love, the challenge and power of communication, and the joy of being a child are universal.

Something else that won’t change no matter where you go or what you do is God. That’s not something that I say because it sounds good or just something I believe, it’s something God has committed to. Malachi 3:6 says “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” With that verse in mind we can go through the whole Bible and explore who God is and get to know Him, knowing that what the Bible shares about Him is true and hasn’t changed. Yes, there are things that have changed from when the Bible was written to today with regard to culture/society, but that’s not the case with God. God has remained the same and that’s a good thing.

This week I would encourage you to explore the Bible on who God is and take time to explore your relationship with Him in a new way. Maybe it’s starting a lunch time devotional time or taking walks in the woods or parks to talk with God (without listening to something on your phone/audio device), maybe it’s memorizing a verse or delving into a particular aspect of who He is as the Bible shares, or maybe it’s joining a Facebook group or local group to do a devotional each week. What will you do to deepen and explore your relationship with God this week?

Reality Reflection: Have a Little Faith

The past few weeks have really tested many people’s concepts of their safety and understanding of how the world around us is operating. From massive hurricanes to violence perpetrated by individuals in both mass-casualty situations and too many “simple” murders and other acts of violence in cities around the US and the world, we’re really seeing our world change in ways that we don’t want it to. It becomes pretty easy pretty quick to feel like giving up.  To accept that life is just this difficult and that’s how it is going to be moving forward, to accept that any home we build could be destroyed by mother nature, to accept that it’s not safe to be in large gatherings, but if we accept these things, there’s really no safe place anywhere for anyone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to be my future, my reality.

But then you hear about people making donations of money, food, shelter, help and even blood. You hear about people risking their lives for each other. You hear about the moms and dads who put their lives on the line to figure out what happened and protect the rest of us, from surgeons to missionaries to soldiers to police officers to those who fly weather planes, some of these people do their jobs without a guarantee of going home ever again, yet they willingly put their lives on the line every day. Why? Because they still have hope in a better future for the rest of us. They still believe that we’re worth saving, or that there are more good people than bad in the world. Some may get up each day with the purpose of defeating or beating the destruction and destroyers, but I don’t think they are able to stay sane or focused for very long. Instead, I believe that those who are able to put their lives on the line day in and day out do it because they believe there’s something and someone worth fighting for.

If you think about it, it’s not the evil or darkness that can sustain us. Without some serious scientific improvements and major changes to our world, it’s not possible for all of us to be sustained if all we knew was violence and night, war zones show that and some still struggle to recover now, decades after the bullets stopped. We need sunshine, community gatherings, schools, green pastures, safe places to work on scientific and medical challenges, and homes we can trust won’t fall down around us. It’s not about creating a perfect world or everyone having innocence, but about being safe and comfortable enough to be fulfilled in the present and be part of building a better future. More violence isn’t the answer or step forward in creating that, better, future, contribution, faith and hope in the community that we all live in is.

Eyes on Jesus

This Wednesday in the US is See You At the Pole, a day honored by high school and college aged students gathering for prayer around the flag pole at their schools. As adults we can certainly pray for them as they gather, and we can also reflect on the verse they’ll be focusing on: Hebrews 12:2: “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”

This is a great reminder verse for all of us, believers of all ages. We all can benefit from the reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus because there are so many distractions, responsibilities and dreams that fill our days and nights, often not specifically focused on Jesus and the work He is doing and has us doing. Having done the human experience Jesus understands some of what we’re going through and trying to manage in our lives today, so we should not be completely discouraged or frustrated by the fact that we get distracted, that’s part of the life we live.

But as people of faith we should always be working to strengthen, grow and share our faith. We should be listening and learning and praying and sharing as we all work through the challenge that is 2017 and beyond. We should be more understanding of the pressures each of us face, and be more encouraging as we try to figure out what it looks like to live a life of faith in 2017.

So as students around the country gather to pray and remind each other to look to Jesus, I encourage you to pray this week for that generation.  Pray that they’ll gain the wisdom, knowledge and experience that the world needs to lead it into the future, that they’ll be good stewards of the world we share, and that they’ll share the love, compassion, consideration and faith the world needs to hear today.

Listening for Encouragement

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Bible passages. Many people hear it in church, but it’s also often shared at funerals or with those who are going through a challenging time in their lives. In some ways it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer which is used by countless self-help programs and groups. One of the things I love about Psalm 23 is that it brings us through the journey of our lives in just 6 short verses, talking about both high points and low points that we go through.

As I was thinking about this chapter and about our topic of the month I was reminded that sometimes what we need is to hear something as simple as Psalm 23 to find the peace, hope, encouragement, strength and perseverance to make it through another day. It’s not about having all the answers, having tons of money, having lots of friends, being well-known, or not having any issues or challenge or problems in life. That’s not the story of Faith or the Bible, despite what some people may say.

Throughout the Bible we’re reminded that there will be challenges we face and there is no guarantee of a great life on earth. However, we are assured if we’re people of faith that God will go with us through all challenges we face and that we’ve got the hope of heaven to look forward to because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Earth is a chance for us to learn from the challenges we face, to
explore our individuality, to develop the gifts God has given each of us, to encourage each other, and to pave a better way for the next generation. Perfection isn’t expected or the goal on earth, instead it’s to live a life worthy of the God you believe in.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life, I encourage you to print out copies of Psalm 23 and maybe even the Serenity Prayer to post in locations around your home, workplace, and car and anywhere else you go frequently. Don’t give up because it seems like the darkness is lasting for so long or the mountain seems too high. Rely on God to bring you through, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. After all, Jesus didn’t do His years of ministry on earth alone, He had men who worked closely with Him and women that He taught and trusted too.

Faith in Planting Seeds

Summer is always an interesting time of year, it’s my favorite season, we get to enjoy late nights and early mornings, we take lots of time to be with friends and family, and unfortunately it goes by so fast! One of my other favorite things about summer is all of the readily available fresh fruits and vegetables, many that are available grown locally or within the US, which isn’t the case during the rest of the year. But summer’s break for all the kids and teachers and fresh fruits and vegetables is only a result of the work that’s done prior to summer arriving; summer and into early fall is the time that we see the results of the seeds that we’ve planted in spring, and the education that’s been going on for the past 8-9 months.

Summer seems like we get instant results, but the reality is that those results took a lot of work and time to get to. If you’ve done any gardening before you may be familiar with plants, especially in the fruit category, that take more than one year to really see results. For instance, you won’t see apples the first year you plant the tree, nor will you see raspberries the first year you plant the bush. Just like apples and raspberries, most of the great results in our lives take time and effort.

I think this is something God planned intentionally, knowing how immediate and light-speed our lives would be today. It’s an important lesson on taking time in our lives. Technology has shortened the distance between people which is amazing, it’s also made it easier and cheaper to connect with others than ever before, which means that we’re able to take the time we never could to really build relationships and have conversations. It’s easier than ever to touch base with someone who needs a friend or is having a bad day and just tell them that we love them. Since it’s that easy to do, we really have no excuse not to do it.

It’s also an important lesson on the value and concept of planting seeds. It’s easier than ever to get things done and make changes in our lives with all of the resources and technology available to us, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take time sometimes to really get things done the way they should be done or the way we want them done. Sometimes God will delay that timeline intentionally because we’re not ready or because the time isn’t right yet. God may have you working on something now that won’t show fruition for several years or seasons of our lives, and other times we may not even see the results of the seeds we plant because those seeds are planted in people who move away or live after we die.

So this week I encourage you to not only plant seeds, but to make sure you’re taking action when you’ve got the opportunity to do so, and enjoying the fruits of your labor when they do happen. And don’t forget to thank God for bringing you from seed to fruition too.

Faith and Imperfections

Last month we spent a lot of time talking about relationships and this month one of the things we’ll be talking about is freedom. As I was thinking about these two topics I read these words:

“We’re all broken in one way or another. So let’s be kind” Mary Carver

People of faith are often seen as perfect. Maybe we seem that way because we make people think that, or because we talk about being forgiven and freed all the time. But the fact is just because we’re people of faith, it doesn’t make us perfect. We still need other people, we still have faults and failures, we still screw up and hurt others. Even the people who are living a life of faith that God is proud of (the people who everyone looks up to because of how spiritual and well-behaved they are) aren’t perfect and struggle with the same human experience and emotions that the rest of us do.

People who are “good” are important because they show the rest of us how to live in a way that honors God and reminds us that it is possible and that it isn’t something reserved for people in the Bible or people with an official church title. For those of us who aren’t quite so perfect, it’s not easy to show both sides of this to the world, because we want to be a good reflection on God. But being truthful about the struggles we face on a daily basis or about the challenges God has brought us through not only help those who don’t share our faith better identify with us, it’s a reminder that we’re still people in need of God.

Over and over throughout the Bible there are examples of Jesus and other people of faith who choose to show love and compassion in the face of sin and suffering. Jesus made a point throughout His ministry to show love to those who were suffering or fallen and knew they needed help, but when faced with those who thought they were without reproach or had lost sight of what their faith was supposed to be all about, He didn’t show interest or have mercy (He even lost His temper a time or two).

No one really wants to admit how flawed they are or how badly they screw up, but it’s only in those moments that we can really take account of where our life is and what changes need to be made going forward. It’s also in those moments that we’re given the ability to reach out to others for their support and encouragement. Are you honest with yourself about how broken you are? If so what are you doing about it? And what happens when someone who feels broken comes to you for support?  Are you there for them to support them or just judge them?

This week I encourage you to choose kindness and support, both for others and yourself, when faced with failures and struggles.   Choose to be the person who loves and doesn’t condemn, and the person who’s honest about the help they need.