Saturday, July 18, 2015

Random ponderings on John 2

I read through the second chapter of the Gospel of John tonight. I've never really spent much time in deep thought about what happened when Jesus and the disciples went to a wedding in Cana along with Jesus' mother.  Until tonight.

The story, if you aren't familiar, goes like this:  Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were invited to a wedding feast in Cana, in Galilee.  While they were there, the guests drank all of the host's wine. Jesus' mom, Mary, came to tell him the wine had run out.  Jesus responded, "What's that to me and you? My hour has not yet come."  But Mary goes to the servants and tells them to do whatever Jesus says. So Jesus tells them to fill these huge jugs with water and serve it to the headwaiter.  The water became wine - the best wine of the day, in fact.  This was the start of the miracles Jesus performed and showed His glory for the first time, and the disciples believed in Him.

I've heard this passage preached many times, but tonight I had some new questions.

1. Did Mary actually expect Jesus to do something "supernatural" about the wine problem?  John states that this was the first miracle, "sign," that Jesus performed. So did Mary tell Jesus about the problem and expect a miracle?

Or is it possible that Mary expected something far more practical, like sending Philip and Andrew to the market in Cana to buy more wine?   The text doesn't really say.  There's part of me that chuckles at the possibility that Mary was telling Jesus because she thought He'd do something "normal," and then He responds by miraculously changing water to wine.  Granted, I think it is likely that Mary, who knew that Jesus was God in the flesh, was asking for a supernatural act.  But it still makes me giggle.

2. Why did Jesus perform the miracle at all?  I mean, when Mary first came to Him, He responded that it really wasn't His problem, and that His hour hadn't come.  If Jesus really didn't want to start performing miracles on that day, He certainly could have done nothing.  He hadn't performed any signs before that day, so I'm sure another day wouldn't have been a big deal.  So why do it at all?

My husband joked that it was the power of a nagging Jewish mother to get her son to act. :-)  Again, chuckles. It makes for a funny scene in my head, that's for sure!

While I don't have a secure answer to my question, I suspect that there's a clue to the answer in John 2:11- "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him."

According to the first chapter of John, Andrew was following Jesus because he had been a disciple of John the Baptist and was there when John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God.  Peter came to follow Jesus because Andrew told him that they had found the Messiah.  Philip received a personal invitation from Christ to follow Him.  And Nathanael was in the group because Philip told Him they had found the one of whom the prophets and the Law spoke - the Messiah - and Jesus told Nathanael things he couldn't have known if he were simply a man.

But none of these disciples had "seen His glory" in person.  They were all following Jesus on the hope that He was, really, the promised Messiah.  They thought He was, but this was the first time that Jesus was revealing His power and glory, and so they believed in Him.

No matter what the true answers to my questions, I am comforted by the fact that Jesus never rebuked his mom for telling the servants to obey Him.  Jesus could have simply not acted on the problem, or used a practical solution, or He could have told the servants that it wasn't His problem and to figure it out on their own.  I am glad that He was willing to intervene in a seemingly insignificant problem.

It gives me more confidence that I can come to Him with my own petty, insignificant problems.  He won't turn me away or tell me to figure it out for myself, or tell me that it's not worth His time.  God cares for me, and that means that I can come to Him about everything.

Don't take my word for it - take God's word:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  ~ Philippians 4:6

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Titles

What we call ourselves can be revealing.  How many of us call ourselves "losers" or "stupid" or "disgusting"?  Who do you know that insists on being called "Doctor" or who gets upset if you call them "Ms." when they are really a "Mrs."?  [As an aside, we had two professors at my college who were married to each other - the husband was "Dr. ____" and his wife was "Dr. Mrs. _____."]

We give meaning to titles, because they reveal something about who we are.  We call ourselves names that we think reflect the truth of our existence.

I've been thinking about this tonight after spending more time in John 1.  In the final verse, Jesus calls himself "the Son of Man."  I wondered why He chose this particular title. So I started searching the rest of Scripture.

It turns out that the first time that phrase was used to refer to Christ was in Daniel 7.  Daniel saw "one like a son of man coming with the clouds."  This "son of man" went before the Ancient of Days, was given authority to rule over all things, that all peoples, nations, and kingdoms would serve Him.  And His kingdom would be everlasting and could never be broken.  This passage is an important messianic prophecy - concerning the Christ, the promised one who would redeem Israel.

Jesus used the phrase "Son of Man" to refer to Himself more than any other title.  In Matthew 9, he told a paralytic man that his sins were forgiven.  The Pharisees were, as usual, very persnickety and complained that Jesus had no right to say that.  Jesus responded that, "in order to show you that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins," he told the man to take up his mat and walk. And he did.

I find it fascinating that Jesus' words mirror the prophecy in Daniel.  Almost like He meant them to, huh? :-)

In Acts 7, the apostle Stephen proclaimed that he saw "one like the Son of Man" at the right hand of the Father in heaven just before he was killed.  And the apostle John, in his vision of heaven, heard someone talking - when he turned, he saw "One like the Son of Man" standing there, and John fell at his feet.

One of our Bible's commentators suggested that Jesus only used the phrase "Son of Man" because it was an innocuous term that wouldn't arouse the ire of the Jews.  While I certainly understand the potential validity of this explanation, it strikes me as a bit unsatisfying.

I mean, wouldn't you think that the God of the Universe could avoid arousing anger grammatically by simply using the first person?  I, at least, am pretty sure that if I can see that potential, the LORD could, too.

No, I don't think Jesus called Himself the "Son of Man" over 80 times simply as a grammatical turn of phrase.  I cannot be totally certain, but I think that the term was chosen very specifically to emphasize the enormity of the truth about Christ:

The Word that existed in the beginning, that was God Himself (John 1:1), who created all things (John 1:3), became flesh (John 1:14) - became, literally, a son of Man - and dwelt among us!!

The God of all creation forced Himself into human form, with all of the pain, suffering, desires, and temptations (Hebrews 4:15 - For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.).

And why did He do this?  Why did He "who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"?  

Well, friend, He did it for you.  Because He loves you.
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ~ 1 John 4:9-10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~ Ephesians 2:4-9

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. ~John 3:16-17

Pretty cool, I think. :-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Confession

No, I'm not going to make some weirdly inappropriate confession on social media, so don't get excited.

I'm thinking about a verse I just read in the Gospel of John.  I'm doing an inductive study of John for my personal bible study right now, and this particular verse struck me.  The context is that the priests and Levites came to ask John the Baptist who he was - in particular, whether he was the promised Messiah.  Verse 20 of chapter 1 states:

"And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.'" (John 1:20, NASB)

The dual emphasis on the confession stood out to me.  John confessed who he was not.  He did not deny that the truth was the Messiah was yet to come.  He confessed freely that he was not the Christ. I have been thinking about why God emphasized this.

What came to mind were two verses from later in Jesus' ministry, when He was talking about the end times.  In two different passages, Jesus told his disciples that people would come saying, "I am he" and "I am the Christ," and Jesus warned the disciples not to follow those people (Luke 21:8, Matthew 24:5).  These liars tell people that they are the ones sent by God, but then feed them lies, deceptions, anything but the truth.  These people confess - testify - that they are men and women sent by God, but they are not. Their confessions are lies.

But here's the thing - if we are truly in Christ, we can freely confess who we are.  And who we are not.  There is no condemnation (Romans 8:1), because we "formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:3-9).

We can confess who we are in Christ.  We are sinners (Romans 3:23), broken and in need of repair, slaves to sin.  Formerly.  In Christ, we are redeemed. We have been bought with the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).  We are called the sons and daughters of God (John 1:12).  We are not perfect.  We are striving to become more like Jesus.  We are beloved.

I don't have to put on pretenses and "fake it."  I don't have to try to pretend to be something that I am not.  God gives us grace so that we can say freely, "Yep, I'm a total screw-up. But God loves me anyway. And I am ever striving to be like Him."  I can have confidence in who I am in Christ.  I can confess freely how I have screwed up. But I can also confess how God is shaping me and how He is freeing me from those screw-ups.

Friends, you can have confidence, too.  Study the Word and see who God says you really are.  Confess and do not deny, but confess who you were, who you are and who God is making you to be.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mom

Happy Mother's Day in Heaven, Mom.

Are you celebrating with your daddy today?  Or with your father-in-law?  Or maybe you are celebrating with the little girl you lost so many years ago, who never had a name here on earth.  Do you get to hold her in your arms and tell her how she was never far from your heart?

This is my second Mother's Day without you. In twelve days, it will be your 64th birthday. It's been 19.5 months since you slipped the bonds of this world. 

I miss you more every day. I miss your laugh, especially that hearty laugh that brought tears to your eyes when something really tickled you.  I miss your sense of humor, how you teased and giggled and made our pastors laugh.  I miss your stories about your second graders, your preschoolers, your first grade Sunday School class, the kids you grew up with.  I miss how we used to lay on your bed and talk late into the night.  And laugh.  I miss the daily (and sometimes more than daily) phone calls.  I miss talking to you about Scripture and church.  I miss getting your advice on, well, everything.  I miss calling you to talk about recipes and getting your advice on how best to cook something.  I miss calling you when I am lost as to how to be a better wife, to get your wisdom that came from 40 years of being a phenomenal wife to Dad. I miss your love and support when the fact of infertility and physical dysfunction seems crushing.

There isn't anyone who can fill the massive hole in my life since you've left.  I try to hold on to the memories, though some of them have already faded away. Your voice is already hard to hear. Though sometimes I still remember how it felt when you touched my hair. I watch certain movies because I know you loved them. I'm learning a little German because you studied it in college, and it makes me feel just a little bit closer to you.  I keep the ceramic Christmas tree that you bequeathed to me so many years ago constantly out on the end table in our living room because you and I both loved it so dearly. 

This week has been so hard without you, Mom.  The hours spent trying to support Aunt Chris as Ernie was dying. Worrying about Great Aunt Wilma as she was in the hospital. Worrying about your mom as she was in the hospital with pneumonia.  Going to Grandma & Grandpa's house that was empty of both of them for the first time in 65 years.  Visiting Grandma at her new home, trying not to cry at seeing her so weak and confused.

This week has been so very hard without you. I miss you so much, it hurts to breathe.

On this Mother's Day, I am so grateful for everything you were and everything you did for me. You were kind, generous, loving, passionate, funny, humble, godly, a faithful wife, a joyous mother.  You were not perfect - you were deeply human.  You lost your temper and made mistakes with the best of them. But you were always  there for us.  You taught me the value of generosity, the joy of faithful servanthood, and the glory of living a grace-filled life. 

All that I am, I owe to you and Dad.  I want so much to curl up in your arms today. I hope that you can feel my love in heaven. I love you with all my heart. You were my best friend.

And you are, now and forever, that ultimate title of love - Mom.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dreams

Do you remember what dreams you had when you were a kid? 

I had a plethora of them, constantly changing and always quite big. I wanted to be an astronaut.  A marine biologist.  A singer.  A musician in a professional orchestra.  A music therapist.  A full-time missionary.  A scientist.  A teacher (when I was really little).  A wife and mother.

Sometimes those childhood dreams simply fade as you grow.  Others morph and change as your interests and personality shift year by year.  And others are flatly discarded when you realize that you had to be insane to think you'd ever want to spend your life that way. A few remain even into adulthood.

When I was an undergraduate student, my dreams went into a new direction.  I knew 100% that God was gently nudging, then pushing, and finally shoving me into the path he wanted me to go.  After about age 7, I never really considered being a teacher.  I didn't think I had the skills or the confidence; I was terrified to have to stand up to talk in front of 10 people whom I knew and trusted.  I certainly didn't want to teach whole classes of people.  But God was completely and totally clear.

And so my dreams morphed to align with God's will.  I set my goals on graduate school - a Master's degree, a Ph.D. - so that I could teach full time and be obedient to God.  And so I did.  I went to Ohio and spent two years to get my master's degree in history.  Then I moved to Tucson to work on my doctorate.  It was ridiculously hard work, but after four years I finally took and passed my oral and written doctoral exams and was officially a doctoral candidate.  All that was left was the dissertation.

But then my mom got sick.  I tried to keep going with my dissertation research, but those two months that I spent in Spain almost killed me.  My priorities were crystal clear.  I couldn't stay halfway across the globe while my mom was dying. And so I went home. 

That decision probably destroyed any chance I had at finishing my PhD.  I took care of mom, returned to school, and watched that particular dream bleed out.  I met my husband, got offered a job, got more grant rejection letters than I could count, and so I moved on. I taught for a year, got married, and moved in with my husband.  For the past three years, I've taught online courses for a distant university and, for the past year, have worked at my church's elementary school & preschool.

My dreams have sort of ... disappeared. 

Between the multiple jobs, the health issues, the worry about my husband's well-being and his misery with his job, and the grief of losing Mom, I don't really know that I have dreams anymore.

I have lots of dreams for my husband.  So many dreams, dreams that involve him being happy, joyful, spiritually strong, in the center of God's plan. 

But for me? When I try to dream, they fade out before ever becoming tangible. It's a lonely place to be, living day to day without a dream.  Right now, I'm just trying to get through one day at a time. But maybe the dreams will return. 

Maybe.  A girl can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The hard month

May is hard.  This year, it's the firsts.

The first Mother's Day without my mom.
The first birthday without Mom to celebrate it. She would have been 63.

We also just said "until then" to my Great Aunt Louise, and her funeral is two days after Mom's birthday.

Mother's Day was a complete haze for me, as I contracted some virus at work and was sick all weekend long. I spent most of the day sleeping and trying to get excited about eating a small piece of toast. I couldn't bear to see all of the Mother's Day ads and posts.

I'm finding that it's harder to remember things. I don't remember the last real conversation Mom had with me before she died. Those last few weeks, I'd call and talk, but she really couldn't engage much. Mainly she'd listen and I'd hear her crying (Dad would put it on speakerphone).  I'm sure the last thing she said was "I love you," because I never said goodbye without saying it to her. But I'm finding it really difficult to deal with the fact that I wasn't there physically for so long. It was the right decision, but this week, I wish I could have held her hand one more time.

Things just aren't the same. She was my best friend, whom I called almost every day.  These days... I don't have that anymore.  I get more calls from my bosses than from anyone else. My brother barely says two words to me - or anyone else - and my dad is just trying to make it one day at a time back at work. I feel cut off from everything. There are other family members, sure, but no one whom I can talk to the way I could talk to Mom.

And this month, it's especially hard.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I cry easily. 

That wasn't always true.  Except when I was really hormonal. But these days, I tear up very easily.  Today, two things set me off.  The first was seeing a post about the Living Proof Ministries' Scripture Memory Team Celebration.  Last year, Mom and I were trying to memorize 24 scriptures, two per month, together.  For the first six months, we both were doing really well. But it got harder in the summer, once she went to hospice care.  After she died, I couldn't bring myself to practice my verses at all. We had planned on attending the celebration in Houston together.  It was this past weekend. Seeing the pictures made my heart wrench.

The second one makes me feel far more selfish.  But it came looking at pictures of yet another friend and their new baby.  My friends from college, especially, seem to be baby-making factories.  I have long lost track of them all.  But these days, it's so painful to look at the pictures of the families, especially of the grandparents, and knowing that it will never be true for me.  We have doubts as to whether we'll ever be able to physically have kids anyway.  But even if we do, or if we ever have the ability to adopt, any kids we have will never have their maternal grandmother in their lives.

Don't get me wrong - I am very happy for all of my friends that God is blessing their families so much. But it's very hard to combine grief for the loss of Mom with the grief that comes with infertility - well, whatever you want to call it when medical issues make the possibility of pregnancy pretty remote.

So, yeah, I cry easily these days.