Monthly Archives: April 2021

“To Whom Shall We Go?”

“Jesus then said to the twelve,Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:67-68)

The Gospel of John reports that at one point many of Jesus’ followers started to grumble about some of his teachings and stopped following him.  Jesus asked the twelve whether they wanted leave him also.  Peter answered with the above statement. 

With our fractious society today and its many competing agendas, where do we go for truth, moral guidance, and peace?  We have Covid related mandates vs. constitutional freedoms, the right to life vs. abortion, and concerns for the environment vs. the economy. We have the challenge of managing illegal immigration with compassion; public schools being closed during the past year, and a media that is not always objective, to name just a few examples. 

Many are looking for meaning and purpose, but the world tosses us to and fro like a small boat in a stormy sea.  Everyone seeks peace, but few find it without God becoming a priority in their lives.

In our early 40’s while our children were still young, my wife and I faced a decision as to how we wanted to live our lives as a married couple and family.  We each had experienced a spiritual renewal with the aid of the Holy Spirit, but how were we going to live as a family?

We believed that God was calling us to put him at the center of our marriage and family.  We thought of the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” Looking back after many years, I would attribute a number of blessings to this decision:

  • Two more children added to our existing three daughters, including a son, and a daughter with special needs; the daughter has taught us so much about God’s love and ways;
  • Career choices attempting to follow God’s will that allowed for more time with family and him while still providing for us;
  • Four married children who are now raising Christian families themselves;
  • Thirteen grandchildren to love and pray for;
  • Involvement in Christian ministry.

Of course, we have made mistakes and there have been our share of challenges along the way, but God has remained absolutely faithful in his care and provision for us. 

To whom do you go for answers to the questions of life?       

“Do You Love Me?”

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’” (John 21:15)

If Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved him in order to redeem the three times Peter denied him, how many times would Jesus need to ask us?

Most Bible commentators seem to confirm that the threefold challenge to Peter was designed to counter his threefold denial.   With the third time, Peter protested, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus did not mince words on this subject. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny him before my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 10:32-33)  

Denial can take a variety of forms.  There is the direct denial like Peter’s, when we deny our Christian faith or that we are followers of Jesus Christ.  While this is not a circumstance that most Christians have had to face in this country historically, this may change in the future. 

There are the more subtle forms of denial such as failing to speak up when our Christian beliefs are challenged or when explicit anti-Christian conduct by others is taking place in our presence.  When I used to attend receptions and dinners following day-long company meetings or conferences, the conversation during cocktails could often get a bit raw with off-color jokes, and stories of various exploits.  After experiencing a renewal in my relationship with Jesus Christ, I started to quietly walk away these conversations.    

Another form of denial may be the times when we fail to live up to Jesus’ commandments of love of God and neighbor.  While I hesitate to think how often I have failed to love according to this standard, we can thank God that we have just celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, and the promise of life with him forever.      

While we may not reach perfection in our love for God and the people he puts in our lives, we should still strive for it, so we can say, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  

“It’s the Lord!”

“Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not recognize that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4)

The Gospel of John reports that seven of the disciples went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias sometime after Jesus’ resurrection, but they did not recognize him as he called out to them from shore.  It was only after he suggested they cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they caught 153 large fish, did John say to Peter, “It’s the Lord!.” (John 21:7)

During the days following Jesus’ resurrection, most of his closest followers did not recognize him in their first encounter. 

Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener and did not recognize him until he said her name, “Mary.”  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus even after he spent considerable time with them explaining what all of the scriptures had to say about him.  It was only at his breaking of the bread while dining with them that they recognized him.

How often do we fail to see the risen Lord in our lives?  Like Mary Magdalene, he may be calling us by name.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he may be opening our minds to the meaning of some scripture.  Like the seven disciples fishing, he may be suggesting we take an action that will have a surprising (miraculous) result.

Today, as I am writing this blog, we will soon be celebrating the 35st birthday of our daughter Emily who was born with Down syndrome.  At the time of her birth I did not recognize the presence of the risen Lord in our midst.  Later I came to see Jesus in her big beautiful smile, her purity of heart, and her natural inclination to love and hug the people she meets. 

While we may not always recognize Jesus in the people or circumstances of our lives, the apostle John in his first letter says that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Wherever there is love, Jesus is present.  Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, I was ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt. 25:35-36)  Jesus is telling us that when we love others through our actions, we love him and he is present to us. 

 In the musical Les Miserables, ValJean’s closing words are:

“And remember

The truth that once was spoken.

To love another person

Is to see the face of God.”

Let us offer love and receive love, so someone can say, “It’s the Lord.” 

Do you recognize the risen Jesus when you see him?  

Hearts Burning within Us

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke with us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)  

These were the words of two disciples after encountering Jesus on the day of his resurrection.  They were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing the events of Jesus’ death and the surprising reports that he had been seen alive.  Jesus comes up alongside of them, though they do not recognize him, and enters into their conversation. Jesus then begins to explain what Moses and the prophets wrote about him.  He observes how slow of heart they have been to believe all that was written.  

They subsequently recognize Jesus when he breaks bread with them at supper, as he then disappears from their sight.  They make the above statement as they return to Jerusalem to report that they too, had seen Jesus. 

Has your heart ever burned within you by something someone has said, a scripture that leaps off the page, an extraordinary act of love from another person, or the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit? 

Many years ago after the burial of my father, I was riding out of the cemetery with my mother and brother back to town, and I started to have this overwhelming sense of joy.  It was in the middle of January, on an overcast, cold day.  The snow drifts along the road were covered with soot from the windswept plowed fields of northern Iowa.  It was a bleak dreary scene. 

Yet, here I was, inexplicably experiencing this heightened sense of joy.  I said to my mother and brother, “I know this sounds odd, but I have a great feeling of joy.”  They both looked at me as if I was crazy, but said nothing, not understanding how I could possibly feel joyful.  The next morning while I was praying in my father’s bedroom, the following words came into my mind,“The reason for your joy yesterday was because your father is with me in heaven.” 

My heart burned within me as I heard those words and recalled the joy from the prior afternoon.  It was the Lord, and I wanted to hold onto every word I heard.  I shared it with my mother who cried with joy as well. 

Has your heart ever burned within you from something you have heard or experienced?