You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Part 2)

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One of the most important keys to friendship is communication. In today’s blog, Claudine looks at ways Jesus communicated with his disciples and discusses how deeper levels of communication can strengthen our friendships. Many friendships suffer from lack of good, positive, … Continue reading

Bright Hope through Dark Days

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Today our Women’s Ministries Director, Marlys Burgett, shares how our bible studies and their focus on worship, study and prayer have affected her every day life. I’m going to be totally honest here. This year has been probably the most … Continue reading

God is Aware

My favorite part of the newspaper is the comic page.  It gives a slice of life.  Baby Blues has some insightful family moments.  One in particular has stuck with me.  The mother looks in the mirror and exclaims in horror that she’s just found a hair on her chin.  Her daughter walks by and says, “Oh, you mean “Chinny”?  We named him last week.”

It can be embarrassing to be caught unaware!

I’m so grateful that God is always aware. He doesn’t just see what’s going on right now but what has been and what will be in the future. He perceives the long view of our lives and knows who we will become.

A very familiar story of God’s awareness in one man’s life comes to us in Luke 19:1-10.  Here’s how the story of Zacchaeus reads in the Message:

Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho.  There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich.  He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way – he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.  When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down.  Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”  Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned.  He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.’”

Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home!  Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham!  For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”  

I notice a few things about Zacchaeus that could cause him to be ashamed:

  • Short.  I’m not sure what social stigma this may have caused but Luke did mention it. 
  • Head tax man. If you’re a Jew this is not a good occupation.  He worked for Rome collecting taxes but charged extra for himself.  Being the head tax man and quite rich, Zacchaeus must have been good at gouging his countrymen and family out of money. 
  • He would have been an outcast among this own people, the Jews.
  • He wasn’t welcome anywhere, pushed to the back of the crowd where he couldn’t see, he had one last option: Run ahead and climb a tree.

What kind of a wealthy businessman runs ahead and climbs a tree?  Seriously, think about what that would look like in today’s society.  Then realize that it was very improper for a man in Zacchaeus’ day to run at all for fear his robe would come open.  Then he climbs a tree on top of it!

Maybe he thought he could hide among the leaves. I’m sure he planned for everyone to be looking at Jesus, not up in trees. 

Imagine his surprise when Jesus stopped at his tree and looked up.

Imagine his embarrassment.

Until Jesus recognized him.

The one person in Jericho who everyone wanted to see, the man of the hour, that’s the One who called his name.  Not to scold him, not to embarrass him or make fun of him like so many in the crowd.

Jesus called Zacchaeus out of his place of shame and chose to spend time just with him.  No crowds, no pressure, just a friendly dinner in his home.

Jesus knew the root of Zacchaeus’ shame.  It wasn’t his job or his shortness, but the fact that he was an outcast.  Jesus knows shame has kept Zacchaeus in the trees.  The shame was erased when Jesus chose him.

Then, when the crowd complained and Zach tried to defend himself Jesus steps in again.  He called Zacchaeus out of his life of shame into salvation.  He confirmed his true identity and proclaimed him restored.

My friends, when we are ashamed our loving God is aware.

He sees how desperate we are to rid ourselves of the shame in our lives. We will climb our own trees in an attempt to catch a glimpse of Jesus. 

Perfectionism and control

Busyness and striving

Self-loathing and hiding

 What we don’t realize while we’re climbing higher and higher in our own strength is that Jesus planned in advance to visit us.  Not just for an evening meal, but for eternity.  We are the reason He came.

You are the reason Jesus walked into town.  He chose you.

And when Jesus is your savior, He doesn’t just call you what everyone else does.

He confirms that you are a daughter of the King and proclaims you restored.

I found Romans 9:25-26  in the Message and it just might become my life verse.

“I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;

I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.

In the place where they yelled out, ‘You’re nobody!’

they’re calling you ‘God’s living children!” 

Is there a place in your life where you hear the voices of the crowd yelling, “you’re nobody, you’re unlovable!”?  Maybe, like me, it’s right in your own head.

Trust God with me to hear His voice above the crowd. 

Listen for the many ways He calls you Beloved.

Why Do We Pray Together?

The simplest answer I have for that is, “I pray because Jesus prayed”.

That wasn’t always my answer.   When I was a child I would have said, “I pray because I’ll get a stomachache if I don’t pray before I eat.” (Not the kind of parenting I would recommend, by the way).

Later on, “I pray because everyone else is.”

Sometimes I’ve said, “I pray to get what I want; to make a deal with God.”

Other times my answer was, “I pray when I’m scared and desperate.”

All of those other reasons for praying don’t ring true.  Prayer isn’t a tool to get God’s attention.  Prayer is meant to be an intimate conversation.   Jesus knew His Father intimately and He prayed.  I want to know my heavenly Father too, so I pray.

Notice with me how Jesus prayed.  This story is in Mark 6 and let me just sum up what’s been doing on this day. This is the day Jesus hears the news that his cousin, John the Baptist has been beheaded.  He tries to go away with His disciples to mourn this loss, but the crowds follow him.  That crowd becomes the group of 5000 men that Jesus feeds with 5 loaves and 2 fishes.  So, it’s been a long, exhausting day for Jesus – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

 Verse 45 picks up the story …

“And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat to go ahead of him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.  And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land.   And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night (3-6 a.m.), He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they saw Him and were frightened.  But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, ‘Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.’  And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”

 Do you see Jesus alone on that mountain in prayer?  The sun has set on an excruciating day and He knows this is where He needs to be with His Father.  I wonder if He’s relieved that the disciples are gone.  I know He’s glad for the crowds to be gone.  As He prays He sees something … not with His human eyes because it’s pitch dark by now and the disciples are far away in the middle of the sea.  But with His spiritual sight Jesus sees His friends struggling – straining to row against the wind. 

So He makes Himself available to them.   But “He intended to pass by them”.  He would not climb on board unless they invited Him.  He would not enter their struggle until they asked for His help.

What’s their response?

“When they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they saw Him and were frightened.”

When the disciples were frightened, then they prayed.  Not before they headed out after a long day.  Not when they were struggling at the oars, trying to do it by themselves.  Not when they saw Jesus as Himself.  They cried out when they were afraid He was something else.

Even that prayer was answered.  Jesus calmed them first, and then He stepped into their boat and calmed the sea.

I notice a contrast here: the reason Jesus prayed was much different from the reason the disciples prayed, don’t you think?

Jesus prayed because He longed for time with His Father, especially after struggling through a difficult earth-day.  Yes, Jesus was God but He lived in the flesh too and His body got tired and His heart ached just like yours and mine.  Jesus prayed, I believe, in gratitude for His day as well.  He understood the miracles of healing and feeding and He wanted to talk to His Father about that – to share the joy with Someone who understood.

The disciples prayed in desperation, not out of faith or an intimate understanding of God, but really in spite of it.  Remember that last verse?

they were greatly astonished (at the calming of the storm), for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”

If they had understood what Jesus was doing all along – the miracle of healing and feeding the 5000 — their hearts would NOT have been hard.  They would have seen Jesus coming to them.

I pray because Jesus prayed.  I do want my prayers to reflect my faith and love of the Father.  I want to live grateful for the wonder of each day and notice God at work around me.

 But I will admit that much of the time I pray like those disciples on the water:            

desperate,

afraid,

trying to do it on my own,

missing Jesus passing by.

What makes the difference?  My heart.  When my heart is open to God and trusting Him I want to be with Him in prayer just like Jesus wanted to be with His Father.

When my heart is hard and closed off to God, I struggle.

But know this with me today … Even when I’m struggling Jesus is praying.   Now.  Today.  Jesus is praying for you and me just like He prayed for those disciples on the water. 

When my grandmother died a few years ago I remember feeling a great loss for her as a prayer warrior in my life.  I knew that she had prayed for me every day of my life until her life ended.  I wondered who would step in the gap and pray for me until I realized that Jesus Himself is praying for me all the time.  There’s no prayer gap.  Heb. 7:25 says Jesus “is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Some of us are on the mountain of solitude in life praising God and some of us are rowing like crazy on the rough waters.  We’ll encourage each other as we come together in prayer groups to pray because Jesus prayed. 

 Today in your prayer groups you’re going to learn to look Upward to God first when you pray.  That’s what Jesus did.  Get to know God better with the women in your group. Give it a chance and open up your heart to God.

 Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being a God who sees us on the rough waters of life as well as the quiet mountains.

Thank you for Jesus who is our example and the story of the disciples who offer us hope in our own weak moments.

Bless us with your Presence as we pray together.  May Your Spirit lead and teach us together each time we meet.

Amen