Someone in a tree

I want to make a confession. And I’ll get to it in awhile.

First, let me tell you about a writing assignment I’m working on. It is a set of short daily devotions on the Gospel of St. John to be published in The Journey in 2019. The editors ask the writers to make use of personal stories to help find common ground with the readers. I was thinking about the next passage I had to address, one that began at

John 8:13. The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 

I was praying, asking the Lord where to begin, when the memory of an old song came to mind. It was from a Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim. It was not one of his great successes, running for barely 100 performances when it opened in 1976. It was called Pacific Overtures. I’d never seen it, but, being an admirer of Sondheim’s work, I had, along the way, picked up the cast album and the published script.

It told about the 1853 arrival of American Navy Commodore Matthew Perry to open trade negotiations with the formerly closed and isolated empire of Japan. The story was told from the Japanese point of view. In Japanese Kabuki-style staging. As you can guess from my description, it presented little competition for audiences accustomed to The Sound of Music or Cats. But it is a Sondheim gem.

The song that came floating back to me as I prayed was called “Someone In a Tree.” It is a droll testimony by an old Japanese man who, as a ten-year-old boy, had witnessed the meeting of government officials with Commodore Perry and his delegation. The young boy had climbed a tree so he could peek in the window of the Treaty House where the meeting was going on. He couldn’t hear anything. He couldn’t really understand what was happening. In the musical, the Old Man and the Young Boy up in the tree talk back and forth, correcting each other’s account. But both take great pride in just being there for the moment.

I saw everything! …
Where they came and where they went —
I was part of the event.
I was someone in a tree!

Without someone in a tree,
Nothing happened here.

If I weren’t, who’s to say
Things would happen here the way
That they happened here?

Sondheim has great fun playing with the undeserved pride of this witness to history, while it is clear to the audience that more was happening than this witness could grasp then, or, in memory, now.

The humor lay in the assumption by the witness that he could see all there was to see. Sondheim is slyly inviting the audience to realize there was more going on than could seen, or comprehended, by someone — a ten-year-old boy, at that — limited to peeking through the window.

And I realized that John was describing the same approach by Jesus’ critics. They ask for witnesses to back up the incredible claims Jesus has made. But they are expecting only a certain category of witnesses. They want witnesses of a familiar sort, ones they can own and control. They want to exclude Jesus, himself, from offering testimony. They are certain that if “no one else is in the tree” to say what they saw, then “nothing happened here.” If there was no one else who was “part of the event,” then there was no event.

Jesus confounds them when he calls his own Heavenly Father as a witness. It is confounding because, Jesus says, “You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19) Here is a witness the Pharisees cannot control or box into a corner.

After I wrote the devotional commentary, I kept thinking about Sondheim’s song. The logical flaw he has exploited in his clever song made it a perfect rally cry for atheists, I thought. They, too, want to limit their list of acceptable witnesses on the God question to narrow categories they can own and control. If you can’t see all you need through the “window” of natural human reasoning, then “nothing happened here.” That’s a simple enough argument that any ten-year-old can understand.

I said I had a confession to make. Several years ago, in a chapter meeting of the Order of St. Luke the Physician prayer team at my church, the chaplain invited team members to speak briefly about why they had committed to that ministry. At the time, I had a very clear reason for my interest. I believed Jesus still manifested works of healing and miracles today. And I wanted a front row seat from which to see them. I told the group that was why I was happy, eager, to pray for the sick. You have not because you ask not. I wanted to see Jesus do his stuff, so I was ready to step up and ask in prayer with as many people as I could.

In the years since, I’ve had that opportunity to ask for others and for myself. Hallelujah, I have seen Jesus do his stuff many times. And I’m grateful. If I hadn’t asked, who’s to say things would have happened here the way that they happened here?

But I have come to think I shared a poor motive at that OSL meeting back then. Jesus is not here to heal people for my satisfaction or entertainment. One of the things I learned from listening to John Wimber was, after asking people what they wanted Jesus to do, to then ask Jesus what HE wanted to do. And then ask for that. Sometimes — most of the time? — there are things going on that can’t be seen just from looking through the window while climbing some tree. If Jesus isn’t answering my prayers in the way most satisfying to me, maybe it’s because this boy needs to grow up a bit more.

And anyway, when it comes to how things look from a tree, Jesus is the one who can really tell us something. The words resonate more deeply than even Stephen Sondheim is likely to have anticipated.

I saw everything! …
Where they came and where they went —
I was part of the event.
I was someone in a tree!

Without someone in a tree,
Nothing happened here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Good Eats

I spend lots of time online these days, both writing and surfing subjects of interest to me. Some are serious, like various Bible teachers and devotionals I read and listen to. Others are ways for me to pass the hours with nostalgic memories. Now and then, I’ll be surprised by a serious theological subject popping up in the midst of something frivolous.

One web page I’ve spent time exploring is the Archive of American Television. Since 1997, they have been collecting and posting interviews with famous people who were on screen as well as the greater number of off-camera people who collaborated in producing television programs. I’ve watched interviews with people who made my favorite shows when I was a kid, like Buffalo Bob Smith, who created Howdy Doody (turns out Buffalo Bob led his church choir after he retired), and Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo.

Most recently, I was watching the interview done with Alton Brown, whose cable show Good Eats ran for 14 years on the Food Channel. Alton was bored with the cooking shows he had seen on TV. His idea was to create a show that was one part Julia Child, one part Mr. Wizard, and one part Monty Python. It was certainly something completely different.

The Mr. Wizard part of the show was one of the most ground breaking elements — and the one that most often drove his consulting chefs crazy. On the recipe form Alton created, after every ingredient and step listed came a question: why? Alton said this was a particularly aggravating question for French chefs who just wanted to give directions and hurry on with finishing the preparations so the meal could be served on time. Alton wanted to know why an iron skillet might be better than aluminum, or why you should hold off adding all the ingredients at once.

He explained that viewers won’t taste the finished meal he demonstrated until they make it for themselves. Until then, he considered his job was to keep viewers watching his show. And that has nothing to do with cooking. It’s all about entertaining and fascinating the minds of the viewers. His shows certainly did that. Whether the viewers’ stomachs ever got any benefit was a whole different issue.

That discussion was where the spiritual lesson popped up for me. In church, there is lots of time and effort devoted to intellectually exploring and explaining the theological framework for the Christian faith. Can you recite the Ten Commandments — in the right order? Do you know why the virgin birth of Jesus is important? Can you explain the significance of Jesus promising to “baptize us in the Holy Spirit?” If so, that’s wonderful.

But Jesus also warned that some who thought of themselves as “in” would find themselves left “out.”

Matthew 7: 22. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
23. Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 

Learning the right words is different from having the right relationship. Hearing the lessons counts for nothing if you don’t live the life. Making disciples calls for more involvement than making students or gaining viewers.

I always enjoyed watching Alton’s show. I was curious to learn why meals were put together the way they were. But I never tried a single recipe for myself.

I try to make my books and blogs interesting to read. But nothing in them will matter if you are not responding to the Holy Spirit’s nudge to follow Jesus and listen to him for yourself.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

43

Today is our 43rd anniversary. 40 of them were “normal.” The last three have been different for both of us. I had a stroke. Melanie contracted Lyme disease. In different ways, each of us has experienced a serious loss of energy and stamina. And you don’t find young people celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary, so there’s that.

Until these restrictions crashed into our lives, we had enjoyed living in Florida, especially on vacations. Like my dad, we loved heading for the beach. Along the way we got to know people who already lived at the beach. When a hurricane was heading the Gulf coast, and a single mom who rented rooms at her waterfront beach house where we had stayed needed somewhere to flee for safety, we invited her, her two children, and their Labrador, to come stay with us in Lakeland for a couple of days. She never let us pay for a room again when we could get over to the water for a day or two.

By the time her children were off to college and our friend sold her place, we had made other friends who generously invited us to hang out at their homes close to the water. These beach vacations began to turn into private retreats for us, where Melanie and I would read spiritual books to each other and pray. Eventually we began writing our own books on these retreats.

This week, we had been remembering those days. I am hesitant to expect that we can ever leave the house like that again. I am too fragile and cannot eat a meal without special preparation from Melanie. Any vacation like those we used to have would not be vacations for her.

But I went back to look at pictures I had taken on these getaways. I had not looked at them since the stroke changed things for us. With the pictures, I looked through a window on those happy days.

And I rediscovered a picture that has become my favorite of my dear wife. I took it one night in the house where we were staying. The only light we had on was one above the kitchen counter. Melanie was across the room, sitting at the dining table with her computer. Writing.

I can’t express how proud I am of her and books the Lord has given her to share. I was thrilled to be her technical helper getting them published and listed online. These days in our daily devotions (during my long mealtimes) she often includes pages from her books written so recently, so long ago. We often shake our heads at the words of counsel and exhortation that strike us now as prescient. The fruit from our times of retreat now reminds us to hold on to our trust in Jesus. [See a listing of her books at her blog. The photo on the cover of her first book, Listening For His Voice, was taken on one our first visits to Anna Maria Island.]

Since my stroke, Melanie’s writing time has been largely taken over by the care she gives me. I love you, Melanie, and I hope you will be able to return to this ministry and gift from the Lord. I  am delighted to think you still will be able to touch lives and encourage hearts, even if you do it behind closed doors while watching out for me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Indifference

A friend and I were discussing events in our lives that we did not like or want.

After he left, I went internet searching for something on the Ignatian idea of “indifference.” I found this blog by South African chemistry professor and spiritual director Margaret Blackie on the subject. She offers an interesting reflection on the admittedly difficult concept.

Didn’t Jesus tell us to ask, seek, and keep knocking at the door with our prayer requests? Didn’t he often ask those who approached him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) Of course, there were times he got answers  to that question and responded, “You don’t know what you are asking.” (Matthew 20:22)

When his mother tried to stir his concern for the friends running out of wine at their wedding party, Jesus responded that it wasn’t their business to interfere. (John 2) Mary stopped asking for his help — but she told the servants to do whatever he told them to do. She became “indifferent,” but only about trying to figure out the solution herself. She left that in Jesus’ hands.

When Peter pressed Jesus, giving him his best advice on Jesus’ future ministry, Jesus (who had just finished affirming something Peter said) bluntly rejected his counsel. “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) Clearly, there are times when the Lord has no interest in listening to what we have to say.

Jesus highly praised the centurion who had a firm understanding about how authority worked between a master and a servant. (Matthew 8:8, 9) When the master says, “Go,” the servant doesn’t ask for explanations. He just goes. Both parties assume the master knows what he is doing, even if the servant does not.

If Adam and Eve had had this principle down pat, the conversation with the serpent would have gone differently. “Yes, this tree and its fruit look just as good as all the others we have permission to eat. But He said to leave this one alone. Yes, that’s what He said. Which of those words is not clear to you, snake?”

What that tree looked like should have been a  matter of “indifference” to them, having no impact on their decision. God had already made the decision.

This is not to deny what they saw. And the principle of “indifference” that St. Ignatius taught does not deny the way things may look to us. It’s simply that “the way things look to us” is the wrong channel for us to focus on when God has already spoken. In his prayer that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is clearly aware of strong signals on two channels. Paul discussed those two channels.

I Corinthians 2: 12.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
 13.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
 14.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 

Paul speaks elsewhere of the level of flesh and the natural man being servants of “the stomach god.” (Philippians 3:19) Anything more significant than the hungers of the moment cannot be understood at this level, by this god. If God Almighty has some other goals or plans, there is going to be a struggle in our will over which master to follow. The struggle was so strong inside Jesus that night in the Garden that he was sweating blood.

St. Ignatius is saying we must practice being “indifferent” to the desires of this lesser, limited god. There is no suggestion it is ever easy (see Jesus in the Garden again).

In her blog, Margaret observes “I believe that the experience of that kind of indifference or freedom is grace.” In other words, both the Word from the Lord and the ability to obey it are His gifts to us.

I Corinthians 10: 12.  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  13.  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Asleep

Jesus told some of his critics the only sign he would give them was “the sign of Jonah.” Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish. Jesus would be three days in his grave before rising again.

Matthew 12: 38.  Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
 39.  He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

This was not the only time Jesus imitated Jonah. There was also this moment, minutes before Jonah was tossed over to that fish.

Jonah 1: 4.  Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
 5.  All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

Two of the Gospels take note of the parallel where Jesus also falls asleep in a boat in the midst of a storm.

Matthew 8: 23.  Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.
 24.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.
 25.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
 26.  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Mark 4: 35.  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
 36.  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
 37.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
 38.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
 39.  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
 40.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

In Matthew’s account, this moment follows a description of Jesus trying to call several new followers. He is turned down with several excuses. Perhaps it was the weariness and frustration of these rejections that made Jesus tired.

In Mark’s account, the boat ride follows an episode of teaching the crowds with a series of parables about sowers and small seeds that take time to sprout into useful harvests. Jesus could have been worn out from that long speaking effort.

Both Matthew and Mark follow the stormy sea episode with the one of Jesus delivering the man with a legion of demons, sending those into the herd of pigs that races down into the recently calmed waters of the lake.

But lets go back into that ferocious storm over the dark waters. The fishermen among the disciples — all of them in fact — are frightened for their lives. At the moment, it seems like those who declined to follow Jesus have made the smart choice. The boat is going to sink and the Teacher himself is snoring away, oblivious to the danger. It doesn’t look like any of them will live long enough to see any of the seed of his teaching blossom, much less bear fruit of any use to them. I don’t wonder that the panicked disciples would think Jesus must not care about what was happening.

It has been one of those weeks for me. It started when I read a devotional where the writer admitted that, although God might close one season of blessing in order to bring us a better one, “Sometimes it takes a while to see it.

I wrote a blog about it. As soon as I had posted the blog, I got email from a friend reporting he had lost a new job he started only a couple months ago. He was trying to stay calm and not worry about providing for his wife and children.

Another friend, who had planned a business trip to Washington D.C. with his wife, instead had to drop her off at the hospital before rushing to catch his flight. Fortunately they had already arranged for a babysitter who was able to care for the children while mom spent those several unexpected days in a hospital bed recovering from the medical emergency.

The next email I opened was from retired friends in poor health. The husband, a retired pastor, had needed a new prescription filled. On his wife’s way back from the pharmacy their old car broke down. The medication she picked up needed to be refrigerated. So she walked home, put it in the refrigerator, then walked back to the car to wait for the tow truck.

The following day we heard from a newly married couple in Texas. Their house had burned down.

By the end of the week, I was getting out of bed in the morning more slowly myself. I was not excited to be facing another slow day, shuffling around the house. As I wobbled to the bathroom sink, Melanie, sitting at her office desk computer, called out the latest news. The wife of another pastor friend of ours had had a stroke.

Since a stroke hit me two and a half years ago, my mouth and voice are quite hampered. There are moments when I’ve wondered if it isn’t a kind of blessing that it has become so difficult for me to speak. It takes such an effort, sometimes I decide not to bother. This was one of those moments. What was there to say anyway? “Don’t you care? How can you be sleeping at a time like this?”

Melanie and I often, as we pray before meals, run out of words and instead knock on the table top with our knuckles. It’s part of the O.B.K. we’ve proposed after reading Jesus’ instructions to keep knocking at the door until he answers. Do we have to keep knocking because we need to wake you up, Lord? I’m disturbed by what I see and I can’t do anything to fix  it. I’m struggling not to lose my mind with the other disciples in the boat, while the waves wash over the sides. How is it you can sleep?

Of course, I’m being tempted to commit the same mistake those disciples made. The one Adam and Eve made. Look! How could what we see this instant be understood in any other way? It’s just the same common sense that has gotten us this far. How could it be wrong now?

And I run the risk of hearing the Lord say what the disciples heard him say when they yelled at him to wake up. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Those are not warm, comforting words to hear at any time. Maybe I should just let him sleep.

Or did you want an honest answer? “I’m afraid because it looks like trouble has looked like before and I didn’t like it then. If I were acting on faith, I would have to pay attention and remember what you have promised me, Lord. And what you have promised me is something I can’t see yet. And I’m in the habit of going by what I can see, and approve, and understand. So I’m afraid.”

Once the disciples woke him up, Jesus calmed the storm. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say why. Did he need to stop the storm for his own comfort? So he could finish his nap undisturbed? Or did he do it as a kindness to his disciples frayed nerves? “You guys want a smooth ride? Oh, for crying out loud. But you’re already doing that….”

When they got to where Jesus had intended to go all along, they were all mind-boggled already and then they saw more. Jesus sent a fleet of demons to the depths, right where the disciples had been afraid they were headed an hour earlier. And Jesus finally managed to find someone who was interested in following him. Jesus knows how to keep looking until he finds them. And he stays calm, knocking on doors, no matter what.

I heard a story about Martin Luther. I don’t know who reported it. Luther woke up in the middle of the night, aware that someone was in the room. Luther sat up in the bed and peered into the shadows. He saw Satan standing by the bed, scowling at him angrily.

“Oh,” said Luther. “It’s only you.” And he plopped back on his pillow and went back to sleep.

A sign well-learned from the Lord. May I learn it more thoroughly, Lord.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sparky

A few years ago I posted a short observation that Melanie later included in her book Listening For His Voice:

Why do a VBS (alias Vacation Bible School)? This story is to encourage you, the reader, to make sure your kids KNOW about Jesus the Truth, this summer.

After a brief tour at church with VBS children, looking at the stained glass windows in the nave, one came up next to me so he could ask a question.

“Why was Jesus on a cross?”

Before I could answer, another child explained in an authoritative voice, “He didn’t die there. He was smothered after they came to his house and kidnapped him…!” And they both hurried off to their next activity.

“Non-churched,” someone said to me. But we had a few moments during the week to introduce new information into those curious minds. We took the opportunity.

Sooo, that’s why we do vacation Bible school.

I’m thinking about this because of something I found online the other day. At least 60 years ago, my mother bought a children’s record for my brothers and me. The album had pictures to illustrate the story that was recorded on two 78 RPM shellac records. (Yes, grandpa remembers when records could play at 78 RPM. Grandpa remembers record players. Grandpa can even remember shiny compact discs. Can you?)

The story was about a little boy named Sparky who had found an orchestra conductor’s magic baton. Trying to find the owner, Sparky went around tapping various musical instruments, causing them to be able to talk to him. The hidden educational purpose of the story was to introduce young readers to all the different instruments in an orchestra. When the baton was finally returned to the conductor who had lost it, the conductor invited Sparky to a concert to hear all the instruments play together.

This was a favorite record for us and we played it a lot. I especially liked listening to the short “concert” piece at the end of the story. I was also intrigued by how they had gotten the different instruments to “talk.” At five years old, I couldn’t imagine how that had been done by the mysterious “Sonovox” system that was credited on the album cover. (Since then I have found pictures of the simple device with the help of Wikipedia.)

I also have discovered where somebody uploaded the whole story, complete with pictures, online. Watching and listening to it again after half a century was an interesting experience. I didn’t really remember all the details of the pictures and voices and music. But they were all instantly familiar to me.

I emailed the link to my two brothers. One wrote back, “You don’t know how often snippets of this have gone through my head during these last few decades!”

My other brother wrote, “For me what’s interesting is that I hadn’t thought about the Sparky thing for decades, probably not since my teens I would guess. And yet as I watched it, I remembered the pictures and could sing along with the music. These memories are packed away in some dark place, I don’t remember that they are there, and yet only need a little prod to come back out!”

This brother, who now has a doctorate and works as a consultant to pharmaceutical companies, also noticed something else in the pictures.

“I was horrified to see Sparky’s face and I said, OMG, Sparky’s got lupus! (Google “lupus butterfly rash”)”

Childhood memories don’t always survive intact.

But they do survive. Which brings me back to my starting thought about VBS.

Some memories are bound to stick. The kids will need the ones they can get at VBS, even if they seem to forget them for a while. Get your children enrolled this summer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sometimes it takes a while

I have had the experience of reading something I wrote get published as a devotional in The Journey and have it slap me in the face when I saw it in print. I posted this example on my Facebook page the other day. Fortunately it was from another writer this time: Shirley MacNaughton.

“Personal disappointments are seldom easy. Indeed, some are nothing short of heartbreaking. But in a world where God can create resurrection and new life out of tragic crucifixion and death, God can create blessing out of our defeats as well. When something we have or want is taken away, God often will use that defeat to open a new door that is a blessing. Sometimes it takes a while to see it.”

During the night each time I woke up, examples from scripture kept running through my  mind. They bore witness to Shirley’s observation over and over.

Start with Job. Do I need to give his details?

And how about Abraham and his long-awaited son, Isaac, on their way to make a sacrifice on the mountain? That journey took three days. How many times did Abraham wrestle with thoughts in his head? “Did I hear You right? This child’s birth was a miracle. And You want me to do what?

Joseph had those amazing dreams as a young man. They did not prove to be a popular topic of conversation around the family dinner table. And then came the years where his brothers sold him into slavery, his owner’s wife lied about him and he was sent to prison, where he helped fellow prisoners in their distress who forgot about him as soon as they got out again. “All things work together for good.” Tell that to Joseph waiting in his cell. Shirley is right. There may be a new door of blessing God intends to open eventually but sometimes it takes a while to see it. Underline those words a while. Joseph would.

Moses, chosen to rescue his people from Egypt, got to spend 40 years in the wilderness the first time he tried to help. Then he got to spend 40 more years there. He barely got to see the Promised Land, and then only from a distance.

After turning in a faithful report, Caleb also got to walk those same 40 years in the wilderness.

David was secretively anointed to be king and then had to flee one assassination attempt after another from the king who was still on Israel’s throne.

His son and successor, Solomon, would consider the vectors of life and conclude,

 Ecclesiastes 2:18.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.
 19.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?

The servants God called to be His prophets and spokesmen cringed at their assignment.

Jeremiah 15:10.  Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me. 

Ezekiel 3:25.  And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people.
 26.  I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house.

The examples continue in the New Testament. The martyr deacon, Stephen, died for telling the truth. Believers then fled Jerusalem, taking the Gospel to other cities. In her devotional, Shirley observed how Paul’s synagogue teaching got him tossed out of there. Her well-taken point is that this rejection led to his decision to focus his ministry on the Gentiles. All things work together for good. But sometimes it takes a while to see it.

When John came to write the last Gospel account by an eyewitness, he devoted five chapters to his memories of the conversation Jesus had with his disciples the night of their last supper. There is a verse John sticks in the middle of this long account that has always struck me as odd or awkward.

John 14:31 Arise, let us go from here. (New American Standard)

Come, let’s be going. (Living Bible)

The wording varies by translation, but the conversation seems to simply continue in the next chapters without any sign that they’ve moved. I came across this verse again in another devotional reading as I was pondering all the “waiting” Shirley’s devotional had pointed to. A word from the Lord?

John 14: 2.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
 3.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 

It may take a while to see it. But come. Let’s be going.

John 15: 7.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
 8.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 

It may take a while to see it. But come. Let’s be going.

John 15: 15.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

It may take a while to see it. But come. Let’s be going.

The Journey closes each of their meditations with a prayer. At the conclusion of hers, Shirley wrote this one.

“O God, our Father, preserve me from the pain of defeat and failure.

But if it should come, lead me to see the blessing that is in it.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment