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Posts Tagged ‘John’s Gospel’

Jo 17There I was, happily reading John’s Gospel when I noticed I had previously put two exclamation marks beside a particular verse. Then I discovered two more in another spot—and I realised why. What the Jewish leaders were saying and how they were responding to Jesus just seemed so crazy-ridiculous to me!

I read how the Jewish leaders pester Jesus to tell them plainly if he is the Christ. Jesus points out he already has—and how his many miracles back up his claim (10:25-26). They try to stone him, but when Jesus asks which of the many great miracles from God the Father has upset them so much, they dismiss them, as if they are unimportant:

We are not stoning you for any of these,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (10:33)

I then read how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). While many Jews put their faith in him as a result, some head off to the Pharisees, who call a meeting to discuss the matter:

What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him …” (11:47-48)

Their conclusion, in collaboration with the chief priests, strikes me as sad but kind of funny too:

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (12:10-11)

Doesn’t it seem weird to you that the best idea the Jews can come up with is to kill Lazarus? If Jesus had brought him back to life once, could he not do it again?

Finally, I read the saddest verse of all:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. (12:37)

As I reflected on all this, I remembered a time when I was a student at Queensland University and a keen member of the main Christian group there. One year, we held a mission on campus and tried to strike up conversations about Jesus with passers-by. During one such discussion, some sceptical philosophy students clinched their arguments with us with the following very definite statement:

‘If Jesus were to appear here right now and do some miracle, then we’d believe in him, for sure.’

An older minister helping us then chimed in.

‘Would you really? … Would you really?’

At that point, they left, uncertainty written all over their faces.

I sat for a moment, remembering and reflecting. If God had not opened my eyes to see who Jesus truly is and changed my life forever, I could well have had the same response as these students—and the Jewish leaders. I too could be lost in that sea of scepticism and unbelief. I still scratch my head at God’s absolutely amazing grace and love for me—but I also receive it with a truly grateful heart and with determination to treasure this gift forever.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:11-12

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I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

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I love Easter. To me, it’s as if God is extra close all around. It’s as if Jesus is reaching down through the centuries since he hung on that cross, looking straight at me, willing me to see the love and forgiveness in his own soul as he looks deep into mine. And it’s also as if God is crying out to a world that is rushing on, heedless, ‘Listen—all of you! Remember what my Son did for you. And remember and celebrate that death could not hold him down. Remember the price that bought your freedom!

On Easter Sunday, I received an email from a friend who lives in a country where most of the population do not celebrate Easter. She shared with me how, when life is continuing as usual around her, it feels a little surreal to be celebrating events that others do not acknowledge. Yet, the true meaning of Easter is so much a part of her that she still goes ahead and celebrates it with great joy. Meanwhile, here in Australia, I was free to attend any number of church services, as well as see family members and delight in buying those Easter eggs for our grandchildren (with a few stray ones making their way into grown-up hands too!). But best of all for me are those moments of quiet reflection, alone in the presence of God.

This year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion from John’s Gospel. I read how Judas betrayed his Lord in that olive grove, how Jesus was brought before Annas, how Peter denied him for the first time, how Jesus was bound and sent to appear before the high priest Caiaphas and how Peter then denied him twice more. I read with increasing horror how Pilate, despite believing Jesus to be innocent and wanting to set him free, had him flogged, then caved into pressure and handed him over to the people to be crucified. I read how Jesus was nailed to that cross, with a mocking sign above his head, and how he died—for you and me.

And on Good Friday night, as I went to bed, the result of all this struck me with almost overwhelming force and simplicity all over again. This means I’m saved—completely and forever! The realisation was so strong that I almost shouted the words out loud, until I realised my husband might not be impressed with this revelation as he lay there, trying to get to sleep! ‘I’m saved’ is such a hackneyed phrase—one that is even ridiculed at times. But this to me is the bottom line of our Easter celebrations—we are indeed saved from the consequences of our desire to go our own way by Jesus’ death on that cross. We have a whole new start in life and our relationship with God is restored. And one day, because Jesus conquered death and rose again, we too will rise and be with him in heaven forever.

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

Now that’s a bottom line I find absolutely mind-blowing and well worth celebrating—not only at Easter but all the time. How about you?

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I wonder if you’ve ever had some nice plan or scheme all worked out, only to have someone come along and mess the whole thing up! Perhaps this person might ask a simple question or give a suggestion for a better way forward. Yet you don’t want to hear. After all, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this particular project. Or it might be that you finally think you’ve come to grips with some issue and know what you believe. Then someone comes up with a radically different idea that makes your whole concept—or perhaps even your whole world—seem a little wobbly. Maybe it could even cause it to come crashing down! So, however well intentioned this person might be, how dare he or she throw a spanner in the works like that!

If you have, then perhaps you might relate to those Jews in Jesus’ time who, according to John 8, had apparently believed in him to some extent. But then, Jesus started talking about things like knowing the truth and being set free. What was this all about? Weren’t they Abraham’s descendants? They didn’t need to be set from anything. They were fine, thank you very much. More than that, it was very dangerous teaching. Much better to get rid of him if he’s going to keep talking about such rubbish as pleasing his Father and being ‘from above’.

Yet perhaps we should give them some benefit of the doubt. Maybe they hadn’t heard about the amazing things Jesus had been doing, like changing water into wine, healing people, feeding more than five thousand with a few fish and rolls, not to mention walking on water. Whether they had or not, however, they decided there was no place for this crazy, insulting person in their world and that he was better right out of the picture.

But Jesus saw right through them. He knew they wanted to get rid of him—and he did not beat about the bush. In Jn 8:37 we read:

I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

No room for his word? No room to hear what the Son of God was saying? What a sad, sad statement! These Jews seemed to be too full of pride in their heritage and too concerned about their own wellbeing to have any space in their hearts and lives to take Jesus’ words on board. They knew God in a special way—yet Jesus bluntly tells them that ‘the reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ (Jn 8:47)

Yet … yet what about us today? In fact, what about me? How often in my busy life do I simply have no room for God’s word? Yes, I might get to read it somewhere along the line, but how often does it not really enter my heart? Or worse still, just like these Jews, how often do I decide I simply don’t like what God has said and choose not to make any space for those changes that need to happen in my life?

You have no room for my word.

I still think that’s one of the saddest statements in Scripture, don’t you?

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This past week, I achieved a couple of ‘firsts’ again for me. I gave the final of ten talks I had agreed to give at various venues during May—a record number for me all in one month. And I also completed the final few edits of my next novel, The Inheritance.

Now I am so grateful for those ten speaking opportunities—I loved them all. I even look forward to more in the coming months. But it has felt at times a bit like a mini-marathon, as I have juggled preparation and editing. I completed the original version The Inheritance in May 2011, so it has been in my mind for a while—even through the writing and eventual release of my first non-fiction work, Soul Friend, last August. But now I again have a clean writing slate, so to speak. At last I am again on the brink of being able to dive in to another whole project—and that can be a heart-stopping moment, I’ve discovered.

You see, in one way, the possibilities are endless—almost overwhelmingly so. Of course, one key decision I need to make is whether to plunge into writing a second work of non-fiction or to opt for a seventh novel. Which should it be? I have ideas for both. In fact, I have the outlines or general concepts for three more novels already saved on my computer, each very different from the other. How do I decide?

And it’s at this point that, despite all those ideas running around in my head, I can hear that doubting little voice whispering away as well. What makes you think you can come up with yet another book? None of those plots you’ve already thought out are any good. Anyway, it will be such hard work—and you don’t have the time, in the midst of preparing for speaking engagements. As for another non-fiction book, what on earth would you say that hasn’t already been said? I know from past experience this is the enemy using my old self-doubt, so I close my ears to it all. But on it goes.

I turn to the Scriptures, wondering what God has to say to me today. I am excited, as I always am, when it’s time to begin reading a different book in the Bible—and today I am about to start John’s Gospel yet again. I read that first chapter and am reminded that God, ‘the Word’, created all things, that in him was life and that this life brought great light to men, overcoming and confounding the darkness. I read on and take in the mind-boggling fact that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).

I remember that the Spirit of this ‘One and Only lives in me right now, inspiring me, encouraging me, dispelling the darkness of doubt and fear. I know, as I listen to that voice that is so full of grace and truth, it will become clear which of those endless possibilities I am to pursue. The Word is with me and in me, shaping my own words. And I am so blessed.

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