Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"10 Things to Say to a Loved One Who Struggles with Depression"

Here.

A few additional thoughts from my experiences as a pastor...

1. Spending time as an active listener, if the depressed loved one wants to talk, is good and can be healing. Just being heard without judgment is helpful. An active listener is an engaged listener who doesn't give advice or make directive comments unless asked for them.

2. If the depressed loved one is willing to pray with you, it can be a very good thing. Don't use your prayer petitions as a means of convincing the loved one of your preferred course for them, but simply reflect what they have shared with you, asking God for help, comfort, and guidance.

Of course, if the loved one doesn't wish to pray with you, you need to respect that desire. But you can pray for them in private and I think that there's probably nothing more important that you can do for them.

Related: How to Help a Grieving Friend



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If Britain were a U.S. state...

...it would be the second poorest of the nation.

Let that sink in. Britain isn't exactly a Third World country. Even in this era of income disparity, an issue being identified by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the United States is incredibly wealthy by both world and historical standards and most Americans derive some benefit from that wealth. We still have a large, if embattled, middle class.

Spiritually, wealth can be an enormous challenge, often amping up selfishness, diminishing compassion, and contributing to a sense of entitlement.

Biblically, money is not the root of all evil. It's the love of money that's a problem: "...the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).

I have seen more marriages--and the love and devotion in them--killed by one or both spouses' love of money than by adultery.

I have seen many friendships ruined, many siblings alienated from each other, all because of money.

The call from God is to see our money and our possessions as gifts to be used to God's glory. First Corinthians 4:7 asks, "...what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" And Ephesians 4:28 says to the reformed thieves in the first century church in Ephesus: "Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." This tells us that the function of wealth is to be useful to others, not to be an idol in control of our motives and aspirations. 

Jesus teaches us, in the Lord's Prayer, to ask for "our daily bread." In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther defines the meaning of this prayer petition: "God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." God supplies the world's inhabitants with more than enough of what they need; the problem is that we don't like to share what God supplies.

To have a life with God and a life of significance, we need to hold on loosely to the things of this world and hold on tightly to Jesus Christ. This is one way to live out Jesus' command that we love God and love our neighbor. (HT: Eric Swensson)



Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Powerful Word of God

[This was shared during worship services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, today.]

Jonah 3:1-10
Pastor and writer John Maxwell tells about a junior high basketball coach who was smart. If he had a kid who was slow of foot, he named him Speedy. If he had a kid who seemed to lack the confidence to be aggressive on defense, he called him Mr. Hustle. He hung these nicknames on the kids not as putdowns calling attention to their deficiencies, but with a straight face and seeming seriousness. “Did you see how great Mr. Hustle was on defense?” he’d ask the team during practice. 

Guess what happened? When combined with the proper instruction and correction, kids whom the coach called Mr. Hustle really did become hustling defenders and those he named Speedy became among the fastest ones on the team, able to lead the fast break.

Somewhere this coach had learned the power of words. We see this confirmed elsewhere. I read about a study yesterday that said compliments outnumber criticisms by five to one in good marriages.

Our words have power. 

But no one’s word is more powerful than God’s Word! 

Hebrews 4:12 says that “...the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases this same passage in The Message: “[God’s] powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

I like this last line because, in fact, we do try to get away from God’s Word. We do it because God doesn’t always say what we want to hear.

And we don’t only try running away from God’s Word only when it warns us against the sins we like to commit—be they gluttony or tax evasion, sexual promiscuity or personal arrogance. We also seem to run away from God’s Word when it forgives and affirms us because we convince ourselves that God couldn’t possibly forgive us.

A woman approached me after worship and told me that, in her mind, whenever she heard the absolution, the assurance of forgiveness for all who confess their sins to God the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ, she thought it applied to everyone but her. She eluded the Word of God for her.

We also run away from God’s Word when it tells us to do things we don’t want to do. Thing like...

Forgive as we’ve been forgiven. 
Lend a hand to someone who doesn’t deserve it. 
Fight for justice and equality for all people, even those with whom we disagree. 
Say a good word for the person nobody likes. 
Tell someone else about the hope we’ve found in Jesus Christ.

And on that last point, I know that more often than I care to remember, I have been hesitant about sharing Christ with others. I've been a lot like Jonah in our first lesson for today.

There have been many times when God’s Word has come to me as it did to Jonah, clear as a bell, whether while I’ve been reading the Bible at home, or hearing it in worship, or an insight from another person in a Bible study. But do I heed it and do what God tells me to do? Not always. And so, I try to block God access to my heart. I try to elude God's Word. 

This was exactly what Jonah did. The Old Testament book of Jonah describes events in Israel and elsewhere in the 8th. century BC. A nation that neighbored Israel, Assyria, was less than neighborly. It was, in fact, Israel’s greatest enemy, murderous and warlike. Assyria’s capital city was a place called Nineveh. Ancient Nineveh set on the same ground as a modern city you may have heard about: Mosul, Iraq.

Please open your Bible to Jonah 1:1-2 (page 645 in the sanctuary Bibles). We’re told: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’” Jonah was not keen on this idea.

In fairness to Jonah, whose reaction to this call, his hatred for the Ninevites, and his surliness toward God throughout the four-chapter book that bears his name have given him a bad press through the centuries, if God told you to go to Mosul, a city where today the murder and intimidation of Christians has been so horrible and pervasive, would you go? 

Or would you, as Jonah did the first time God’s Word came to him, run in the opposite direction and book yourself on a Mediterranean cruise? 

But God’s Word is relentless and powerful! 

God was emphatic that Jonah needed to do what God’s Word had told him to do. 

Once the ship on which Jonah boarded was at sea, the God Who can control the wind and waves, sent a storm. Jonah convinced his shipmates that he was the cause of this life-threatening storm and that they needed to toss him into the drink so that God would bring calm seas. The second they did that, there was a dead calm. The storm had stopped and you might think that that was the end of Jonah, now experiencing the death penalty for his rebellion against God.

But, of course, God initiated a unique bailout plan for Jonah. There’s a lesson in this for you and me: God gives second chances and new starts even to people who don’t seek them

No matter how far you feel you’ve wandered from God, God wants to speak His Word of reconciliation, peace, purpose, and forgiveness to you. God wants you to have second chances. 

That’s exactly what happened to Jonah at the beginning of today’s lesson: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” 

Jonah still didn’t want to do what God’s Word told him to do. But when given this second chance, Jonah obeys God. Our faith is often measured not in our willingness to do what God asks of us, but in our obedience to do what God asks of us even when our wills cry out to follow completely different paths. 

So Jonah goes to Nineveh. There, he does the absolute minimum that God tells him to do. He only walks a third of the way into the city and delivers what is in the original Hebrew a five-word sermon. Here it is: "Forty days more Nineveh overthrown." That’s it.

If you had been a Ninevite and heard that sermon, how would you have reacted? 

Would you have laughed it off? 

Would you have gotten angry? 

Would you have ignored this strange foreigner covered with the stomach juices of the great fish that had swallowed and spit him out? 

I can imagine reacting in any of these ways.

During my first two quarters as a student at Ohio State, I commuted by bus, getting a transfer in downtown Columbus. There, most days, I saw and heard a guy who was well-known. He walked around the downtown area pushing a stroller filled with rolls of toilet paper. Attached to the stroller were posters with illegible scrawl. This man would go around telling people to repent for their sins and then, occasionally, he would crow like a rooster. Clearly, there was something wrong with the man. The Ninevites might have been expected to react to Jonah in similar ways.

But their reaction was more akin to that of a businessman in the Loop in Chicago one day. There, man was in the habit of pacing quietly back and forth among the throngs of people, then stopping, pointing to a single individual, and saying, "Guilty." The businessman was once the target of this performance, turned to a friend with whom he was walking, and asked, "But how did he know?"

When Jonah proclaimed Nineveh guilty, the whole city repented.

They turned from sin and turned to the God none of them had ever worshiped before. On hearing Jonah, the Ninevite king told his people in Jonah 3:8-9: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

Jonah 3:10 then tells us: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”


Nineveh was spared. Its people--at least the people living there in the eighth century BC--turned from sin and turned to God. God forgave them and they lived, reconciled to God.

What about that paltry sermon of Jonah’s changed the lives of all those Ninevites? 

It’s fairly simple and truly amazing, really: Jonah’s words weren’t just Jonah’s words; they were also the Word of GodThe Word of God is powerful.

Think of it:

God spoke His Word and the world and everything in it came into being. 
God’s Word, the second Person of the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--came into our world and came into your life in Jesus Christ to die and rise in order to set free from sin and death all who repent and believe in Word of good news about Him.
God’s Word comes to us today in the Bible, in the water of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in the fellowship of believers, in our confession of faith, and even in sermons, paltry and otherwise.

God’s Word is powerful! It comes to us and, usually incrementally, imperceptibly, changes us from the inside out.

God underscores this in Isaiah 55:11, when He says: “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” 

God has unleashed His Word on the world so that all people will have the chance to repent--to turn from sin--and believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior. It has even, in the words of John Newton in Amazing Grace, “saved a wretch like me.” 

God wants His Word to come to and penetrate all the Ninevehs of the world, even the Ninevehs that reside in our own hearts, minds, and wills.

And God’s Word comes to you again today: to tell you whether to confront you for your sin, to confirm you in His forgiveness, or to send you like Jonah to your own Ninevehs at work or home or school, to believe God’s Word, trust it, and do what it tells you to do because God’s Word is still powerful, even today, even for you. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God convicts us of sin. 

It convinces us that Jesus died and rose for us and that His grace is for us. 

It guides us in living lives that honor God. 


May we hear it and heed it always. Amen





Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ernie Banks Has Died

Ernie Banks, the great Chicago Cubs slugger, has died. It's impossible for baseball fans to talk about Banks without a smile: By all accounts, he was not just a Hall of Fame great, but a nice man.

So far as I know, Banks never gave out with any lamentations, but it's too bad that he played for the Cubs throughout his major league career and so, never got to the post-season.

Here are two interesting articles about Ernie Banks:

14 Remarkable Facts from Ernie Banks' Hall of Fame Career

Mr. Cub Ernie Banks dies at 83

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

This great hymn by Martin Luther (1483-1546), recounts the spiritual warfare to which every Christian who seeks to follow Christ faithfully is subjected, but also the confidence we can have in Jesus Christ. The Bible is a true and definitive witness to Christ's saving power. I love this hymn!


I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry by John Ylvisaker

This song has become a modern classic since it was composed and performed by John Ylvisaker for a project on Holy Baptism that John did with theologian Dick Jensen. John is a classically trained musician who spent time as a coffee house performer.

One of the most memorable days of my life was spent with John when he and I drove from Bowling Green, Ohio to the first parish I served as pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Okolona, Ohio. There, John led us musically through hymns and liturgies of his composition. People were so taken with them that, literally, they didn't want to leave the sanctuary, just stay and continue worshiping God.

I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry takes believers from the moment when God claims them in Holy Baptism to that moment after they've closed their eyes in death to be shown God's grand surprise, secured for all who believe in Christ, resurrection life eternal with God!

That surprise will include reunions with all believers of every time and every place.

The video is filled with pictures from John's and his family's life in Christ.


For Good (from 'Wicked')

You've Got a Friend by Carole King

Too Much Rain by Paul McCartney

Thursday, January 22, 2015

You Are My Only One by James Taylor

My son and I used to sing this song at the tops of our lungs when he was a boy. The harmonies are wonderful.

The song is so joyous. And plaintive. That makes sense. When you love and are loved, you feel joyous. And are anxious to always love and be loved.

The Causes of Addiction May Not Be What We Think

This article from The Huffington Post suggests that we may not know what causes addiction.

Three different colleagues posted links to it on Facebook today and when I read the piece this morning, for me it confirmed a basic truth of the Bible: We are made for relationship with God and with others, made for community. When community is distorted, we look for comfort where we can find it. That often leads to addiction.

One interesting section of the article:
If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right -- it's the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them -- then it's obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here's the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.
If the patient has been discharged into a loving family and to a life that gives options, it appears, she's less likely to be addicted to the drug than a person in whose life there are few close relationships or in which opportunities for happiness are few.

Difficult environments and relationships, not the allure of a drug's buzz, seem to be breeding grounds for addiction.

To me, the article suggests the importance of churches being strong communities in which faith in and relationship with Christ is both taught and lived.

It also suggests to me that some addictions, even those often seen as harmless, such as overeating, may be seen, and I think, should be seen, as symptomatic of a need for deeper relationships with God and others.

Addiction entails filling voids with stuff that can only be filled by community with God and with others. The call of the Church is to share Jesus so that the world can be free of its "stuff" forever!

Read the whole thing.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for linking to this post.]

The God Who Changes People

In Genesis 49, Jacob, one of the patriarchs of Biblical faith, is dying and pronounces blessings on each of his twelve sons. But his blessings on two of them, Joseph and Judah, are the most intriguing.

Joseph is one of the most interesting people in the Bible. Despite being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he, unlike any human being I can name from Genesis--except the mysterious Melchizedek--maintains his faith and his integrity throughout his life. Because of this, God uses Joseph, in the midst of adversity, to save His chosen people.

But then, there's Judah. Judah is the guy who, in Genesis 37, first suggested to the other brothers that they sell Joseph into slavery and be done with him. Joseph was his father's favorite and the siblings didn't like him at all.  Judah, then, could be seen as a bad guy. And he was sinner. Judah was Joseph's Judas, in a way.

On the other hand, it was Judah who, years later, offered to become a hostage in order to save the youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah seems to have submitted to the melting of his heart so that the one who once set in motion a scheme that would have, effectively, been a death sentence for one brother, offered to take a similar sentence for himself in order to save another brother. Judah was a sinner in whom something seems to have happened.

Judah had, by the grace of God, grown. He had changed.

The grace of God, God's undeserved forgiveness, help, and favor, which He today offers to all people through Jesus Christ, can do things like this to people. Second Corinthians 5:17, in the New Testament, says: "...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!"

So, did Judah "deserve" the blessing Jacob pronounced, which included that he would become the ancestor of Israel's kings, including the One conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Judah's line, Jesus, the King of kings? No. Judah didn't "deserve" that blessing, no matter how his life had been changed.

He deserved it no more than Joseph deserved greater blessings. Joseph hadn't deserved the pain in his life. He hadn't deserved its success either. Joseph had been "set apart" from his brothers by God, but could, at any time, have chosen to turn from God, making his life easier. But God graced him with the power to turn to God instead. That wasn't Joseph's doing any more than the blessings granted to Judah were his. It was all God.

We don't know what plans God has for our lives. And often--maybe usually--they are different from the ones we make for ourselves. Sometimes, the plans of God can be painful to us--just ask Joseph. Still, to follow God's plan, to turn to Him daily in repentance and belief in God the Son, Jesus, is the better path. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we needn't fear. God will be with us.

A prayer: Change my heart, O God. Make it ever true. Change my heart, O God. May I be like you. In Jesus' Name. Amen [See here.]


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prayer Begins with the Word, Includes Listening

"[In Martin] Luther's...treatise [on prayer] he tells us to build on our study of Scripture through meditation [of the Scripture], answering the Word of God in prayer to the Lord. As we do that, we should be aware that the Holy Spirit may begin 'preaching' to us. When that happens, we must drop our [prayer] routines and pay close attention." [Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

Helping Others to See Jesus

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday, January 18.]

John 1:43-51
Let’s say that friends are visiting you at your house.  

You’ve just renovated your living room: new chairs, couch, end tables, lamps, entertainment center, furnishings. Sometime during their visit, your friends are going to ask you about your newly appointed living room. Where did you get the furniture, the paint, the carpeting? Did you have help? If so, who was the contractor? Did you have a decorator? 

And I’m sure that when you're asked these questions, you won’t say, “That’s personal. We don’t talk about our furnishings in public.” 

You’d be happy to answer their questions. When we have good things we want to share, we do it unstintingly.

We’re now in a season of the Church Year called Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaino, meaning to show oneself, to appear. The Gospel lessons for the season of Epiphany are ones in which Jesus showed Himself to be God enfleshed, the Savior Who offers freedom from sin and death to all who will repent for sin and entrust their lives to Him alone.

Today, as in Biblical times, the true identity of Jesus can be shown to people sometimes in miraculous signs, sometimes in a lifetime of unquestioned belief, and sometimes in simple moments of quiet clarity when, as one person put it to me years ago, “You know what you know” about Jesus Christ. But however people come to believe in Jesus as their God and Savior, it always involves an epiphany or a series of epiphanies bringing a realization that Jesus is everything for which our restless souls have  longed

Today’s Gospel lesson recounts an epiphany in which Jesus revealed His identity to an honest skeptic named Nathanael. 

And it all happened when a friend of Nathanael’s talked about Jesus as freely and as easily as we might talk to friends about a newly renovated living room. 

You know the story well. But let’s look at it together this morning. Please go to our Gospel lesson, John 1:43-51 (page 740 in the sanctuary Bibles).

A little background: Three days before the incidents recounted in these verses, John the Baptist had told crowds thronging to him to repent for sin because the Messiah was coming. He said that he himself was such an imperfect sinner, he was unworthy to even do the slave’s work of untying the thongs of the Messiah's sandals. 

The next day, John saw Jesus and said, in John 1:29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

The next day, John told two of his own followers, Andrew and John: “Look, the Lamb of God.” Here, John was, in effect, telling his two disciples, “I’m giving you to a new teacher, one infinitely greater than me. I must decrease and He must increase. He’s Savior you and I and all the world have been waiting for! Follow Him!"

We pick up what happens next in today’s lesson. Jesus has gone from the Jordan to His native region of Galilee. Philip is from Bethsaida, a fishing town on the lakeshore there. Jesus goes to Philip and says, “Follow Me.” Philip follows Jesus. 

We know from other places in Scripture that people who were open to Jesus saw that He was different. He taught, the crowds observed, like someone with authority, an underived power exuding from Him, and not like the religious leaders of those times. 

Philip sees Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of a King who would bring forgiveness and new life to His subjects that God had made through the law and the prophets in the preceding centuries. Philip sees that in Jesus, the lives of those who repent for sin and believe in Jesus as their God and King, are changed forever. 

Look, please, at verse 45. Philip hasn’t been to a Bible study class. He’s received no training as an evangelist. He hasn’t been to seminary. But he can’t contain himself! He clearly didn't see the coming of the Messiah as "a personal thing."  

So, Philip finds his friend, Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 

Nathanael has an understandable question. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a pigsty of a village in the Galilean hills, composed of maybe 15 shacks where impoverished people eked out their livelihoods. 

Besides, Nathanael may have known what the law and the prophets had said of the Messiah as well as Philip: He was supposed to come from Bethlehem. Knowing nothing of the place where Jesus was born, Nathanael was skeptical.

We run into skepticism about Jesus all the time, especially in these days when most people know more about the stereotypes of Jesus palmed off by popular culture than they do about Jesus Himself, as seen in the witness of people who walked Judea with Jesus and recorded in the New Testament. 

This uninformed skepticism about Jesus is enough to make Christians want to run and hide when people ask what we believe about Jesus or why we bother with church. 

But Philip doesn’t run away from witnessing. He runs to it. 

He doesn’t become defensive. Neither should we. 

We should learn from Philip's response in verse 46: “Come and see.”

This is a great example for us as Christians who have been commissioned by Jesus Himself to “make disciples.” 

And this is no small matter! As I read the Bible, making disciples is the only job Christ has given to Christians and the Church. 

And the New Testament underscores this command to us repeatedly. 

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” 

In Luke 24:46-48, the risen Jesus tells the dumbfounded disciples in Emmaus: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” 

In John 20:21-23, Jesus says: “‘...As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” 

And in Acts 1:8, Jesus says: “...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

Church: Sharing Jesus to make disciples is our only job.

This is a simple task. But often we Christians forget it or complicate it. 

John’s account of Philip’s three-word invitation to Nathanael should tell all who are part of the body of Christ to keep things simple! 

We in the Church are commissioned to simply speak and simply seek to lovingly live out God’s truth about human sin and about the forgiveness and hope offered to every single person on the planet through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Our only task is to let others, see Jesus for themselves so that they too can follow Jesus and have eternal life with God.
  
We see Philip going about this task in his approach of Nathanael as soon as he came to faith in Jesus. I saw it in an acquaintance of mine named Zack, when he went to his father. 

After Zack's mother died, his dad was inconsolable. Unlike Zack's mom, a faithful believer in Jesus, his dad had always been indifferent to God, almost scornful of the Church. 

Following his mother's death, Zack watched his father go into a tailspin of depression and, worse, self-destructive behavior. The man had no hope and he ricocheted between long periods of sleeping for hours on end and almost frenetic activity, anything to block out his pain and grief and utter hopelessness.

Zack finally approached his father. "Dad," he said, "do you remember how strong and joyful Mom was? It was because of her faith in Jesus, Dad. You need Jesus, too. If you'll trust in Him, you'll know that He's beside you, helping you get through these tough days. You'll also know that one day, not only will you see Jesus, but you'll see Mom again." 

Amazingly, Zack's Dad took his son's message to heart. He came to faith in Christ. 

When I met Zack's father some years later, he was a truly joyful follower of Jesus, deeply involved in his church. This once self-absorbed man spent many hours every week providing help to people without work, food, or shelter. He invited everyone he came to know to check out Jesus for themselves. 

It all happened because his son, like Philip in our Gospel lesson, proactively went to him and said, "Dad, come and see. Come and see Jesus."

Who could you issue the same invitation to this week? When Nathanael took Philip up on his invitation and Jesus told Nathanael things about himself that Jesus could only have known if Jesus were God in the flesh, Nathanael confessed his faith in Jesus: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 

Philip, the Gospel of John makes clear, was no perfect disciple. But he was what we are called to be: an honest witness for Jesus. He made himself available for Jesus’ great commission and available to his friend who needed the Savior. When he invited Nathanael to “come and see” the Messiah, Nathanael saw the God Who knows all about us and loves us anyway.

May we be more like Philip, so that the people we know will experience epiphanies about the forgiveness, the healing, and the wholeness God gives to all who turn from sin and trust in Christ. May we tell the story of Jesus and let others see Jesus for themselves. Amen



When to Draw Close to God

Getting close to God while we are strong and healthy prepares us to lean on Him for support and hope when those “difficult days” in life come.
Read the whole thing. Be sure to read Deuteronomy 8:11-18, too.

No doubt, the most dangerous times spiritually are those when everything is going well, when we feel in control and on top of the world.