The God Who Sees Us

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…” John 1:48 NIV

I love “The Chosen,” the television series about the ministry of Jesus and the calling of His first disciples. Not only does it put flesh and bones on those familiar Bible characters but it gives me wonderful moments where their stories intersect my own.

Like Nathanael.

When we meet him, he is a young Jewish architect whose building collapses, taking with it his dream of building beautiful synagogues for God. Broken-hearted, in despair, he sits under the fig tree, all alone, sobbing, “Do not turn Your face from me in the day of my distress! Where are You, God? I did this for You! Do You see me?”

Silence.

So when Jesus tells Nathanael He saw him under the fig tree, it has deep significance.

“When you were at your lowest moment and you were alone,” Jesus says. “I did not turn away my face from you.”

No wonder Nathanael gasps, “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” He knows God saw him, after all. God had a reason…and a Plan.

Then I heard that Whisper in my heart: “Your lowest moment–remember Las Vegas?”

I should never have gone to that convention. I was sick when we got on the plane but I’d prayed and I thought I’d heard the “Go ahead” from God. It was only a cold; I’d get over it.

It wasn’t and I didn’t.

I got sicker and sicker until I ended up in the uncaring emergency room of a strange hospital far from home. After eight hours in shivering cold, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted. I sent my husband back to the convention, thinking they would take care of me.

They didn’t. I was fed an uneatable dinner, ignored all evening. I crawled out, tubes dangling, to remake my own bed when no one made rounds at bedtime.

The night which followed was the longest of my life. Sleepless in snarled sheets, I cried, like Nathanael, “Why, God? I trusted You! I thought You said, ‘Go.’ Where are You?” I never felt so alone.

I got home and recovered. The hospital administrator even called me to apologize. But the experience lay festering like an unhealed scar in my heart.  And God knew it.

“Like Nathanael, you weren’t alone,” whispered the Spirit. “I want you to know you are NEVER alone, child…not then, not now. Whatever is happening and however you feel–

I am the God Who sees you.”

He saw Nathanael. He saw me. And He sees you, too.

FATHER GOD: How awesome You are. Amen.

To be published Sunday, May 23, 2021 in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle.”

 

 

 

The Witnesses and the Gift

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. … Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5,9

The sky outside my window is low and grey. I can see snow misting the mountains. The glory of Easter weekend, warm and ripe with the promise of spring, has faded.

But the glory of the Resurrection has not.

“He is risen!” cried those first witnesses.

Three days before, the very same people had been crushed, broken, destroyed. The One they loved and had given their lives to, the One they thought was God’s Messiah, had been arrested, tortured, crucified, before their eyes. They ran like hunted rabbits, hid in whatever hole they could find, listening in shivering terror for the tramp of the Temple guard outside their locked doors. They had no hope, no faith, no future.

Then, came the miracle of miracles. Jesus stood before them—healed, whole, real. They saw Him, heard Him, touched Him. He assured them of God’s amazing promise: because He lived, they would, too. Death was defeated. Eternal life was real. He was the evidence.

So transformed were they that they ran back through the same streets through which Jesus had staggered to the cross, to the Temple where His enemies had plotted against Him, to those enemies, themselves. The rabbits had become lions, roaring in victory.

“He is risen, indeed!” they cried.  “We have seen Him! Say you’re sorry!”

Frightened in their turn, the Temple authorities arrested the witnesses, threated them, told them to be quiet.

“Do what you will,” they replied, “we cannot help telling what we have seen and heard.” (See Acts 4:5 ff.)

Nothing—not beating, not torture, not crucifixion, not burning, not even real lions—ever shut them down again. Two thousand years later, we Christians still believe their witness because it cost them everything to proclaim it.

The message of the Resurrection is the bedrock of our faith, the anchor of our hope that no one and nothing can rip away, (Hebrews 6:19), a message that has endured the church’s own flaws and failures, as well as everything the world has thrown at it for two thousand years.

It endures still.

So we Christians celebrate still, no matter what. We join with Paul, himself a witness and a proclaimer, to cry:

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 1 Corinthians 9:15

Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” April 18, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Mary’s Faith…and Ours

Jesus said to them, “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. … When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:12, 13

 

It’s called the Anointing.

All four gospels tell some version of this dramatic story (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-11)—though Luke’s is so different that some scholars think there might have been a second incident.

Just before Passover and Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples are having a special dinner in the village of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem.   A devout woman (named only in John) comes into the room. As Jesus reclines at the table, she washes His feet with her tears and anoints Him with rare and expensive perfume. Someone in the group (named as the disciples, some of the guests or Judas Iscariot) objects. Jesus rebukes them, saying she is honoring Him by preparing His body for His upcoming death.

By identifying her twice (11:2, 12:3), John makes sure we know the woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, the one who famously sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha served (Luke 10:39.) This family was dear to Jesus; He had just raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from death. His eating with them, their desire to honor Him and her deep devotion make perfect sense. (He might even have been staying with the family.)

Mary’s extravagant gesture was not spontaneous. One does not keep a vial of perfume worth a years’ wages sitting around, “just in case.” Of all of them, she knew and prepared for what was coming. From the disciples’ reaction, they didn’t—even though Jesus had told them plainly and often that He would suffer and die. Most likely, they were still clinging to the idea that the Messiah would be a military leader who would save them from the Romans. But Mary had been sitting at Jesus’ feet and paying attention. She knew Him; she loved Him; she believed in Him. Her faith in Him was as strong as her devotion.

That’s what Jesus commended.

We are in the season of Lent, a time in which it’s common to do something or “give up” something. But what if Lent is not so much about behaving better but believing better, about giving God time and space to strengthen our faith? What if we just “sit at His feet” and listen to Him?

As Mary did.

DEAR JESUS: Increase my faith. Help me to know You, love You, believe in You and honor You. Amen.

          First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 7, 2021.

The Best Gift of All

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

 

What was your favorite Christmas present? And why?

I’ll bet it was something from your childhood. Mine was.

My friend, Carol, from up the street, had two rubber baby dolls bought at the Worlds’ Fair in New York before the war. Now it was 1946, after the war, and rubber was scarce. I didn’t know that. I just wanted two rubber baby dolls, too, and campaigned for them with all the energy and persistence of my six-year-old heart.

Imagine my joy to see those dolls under the tree Christmas morning, with a dresser full of beautiful clothes sewed by my grandmother. I especially remember little pink coats trimmed with lace and bonnets to match…

My mother told me later she scoured New York City to find them.  And I am awed by my grandmother’s work—especially as I recall she never used sewing patterns, but made clothing “from scratch,” as she put it.

It was the time and effort, the love those women invested, that made their gift so special.

When my parents sold my childhood house, I gave the dolls and their clothes to the young daughter of a good friend. They probably wore out and ended up in a landfill somewhere. Sad, but that’s the way of all gifts…

Except the One God gave us at Christmas—the best gift of all, a gift which can’t be lost, stolen or broken, a gift which never wears out or goes out of style. Circumstances can’t change it. Time can’t fade it. The darker the world becomes, the brighter His Gift shines. Through the amazing gift of His Son, God promises us eternal, perfect life, the world as He intended. Eden. Forever. And “God is not a man that He should lie.” (Numbers 23:19)

John the Visionary described it: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. …He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. … Behold! I am making everything new.’” Revelation 21:3-5

God gave us this special Gift for the same reason we give special gifts: love. Love which began in a manger…and ended on a cross.

“And the greatest gift we can give our great God,” writes Ann Voskamp, “is to let His love made us glad.”

FATHER GOD: Let me rejoice in Your wonderful, amazing Gift, now and always! Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 20, 2020.

 

 

 

Give Thanks Anyway

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

               Before me, on my desk sits a little Pilgrim lady, dressed in a plain white wimple and a brown dress. I bought her at a craft fair years ago; she’s been part of our celebration ever since. Her job is to remind us of the Story.

               Four hundred years ago, almost to the day, a party of English religious separatists, called Pilgrims, got their first view of the new land where they’d come to find freedom. William Bradford, in understatement, described them as “not a little joyful.”

               But they faced a long, cold New England winter with little food, shelter or time to prepare. Over half of them would be dead before spring. The saga of their survival, their courage, their faith, the feast they held in their second autumn, is what we call “the first Thanksgiving.” Perhaps, with so much of our extras cancelled this year, we can spend some time on that saga and the lessons to be learned.

               I even have a special family connection to the Pilgrims which helps their story be part of mine.

               My father’s grandmother is descended from Thomas Blossom–a member, perhaps even a deacon, of the original Pilgrim congregation.  

The Pilgrims hired two ships for their journey: the famous Mayflower and a second, smaller ship: the Speedwell. Unfortunately, the Speedwell did not live up to her name, developing leaks which required extensive and time-consuming repairs. After two attempts to set sail—the second one taking them as far as 200 miles from shore—they gave up, deciding to crowd as many passengers as possible on the Mayflower and leave the Speedwell behind. Eighteen people, including Thomas Blossom and his family, were forced to return to Holland.

               I can only imagine their crushing disappointment, as well as their fear. The King of England’s agents, seeking out Pilgrims for punishment and execution, had already been spotted in Holland. Dissent was not welcomed in the seventeenth century.

               Blossom and his family endured it all and made the crossing with a subsequent fleet in 1629. His daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband became one of the founding Quaker families of New Jersey.  

               Much has changed in our 400 years of history but I sense some familiarity, too. If our future feels uncertain, so did theirs. If we are haunted by deadly illness, so were they. If difficult circumstances test our faith, so did they theirs. People of God, they endured what they didn’t understand. And gave thanks, anyway.

               As must we.

FATHER GOD:  Help us endure…and give thanks as the Pilgrims did. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” November 15, 2020.