Before my cells were strung together, before blood began to flow through tiny veins, before my eyes opened, before oxygen filled my lungs, before my parents spoke my name — He already knew me. Before… More
When I was in fifth-grade, my class spent a day planting pine tree seedlings to fill areas of a local forest left bare by a lumber company cutting down trees. It was our Earth Day project and I was so excited to get out into the woods. I was even more excited when we were all given a few baby trees to take at the end of the afternoon so that we could plant them wherever we chose.
My parents helped me plant my bundle of pine trees on the border of our property. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we moved away from that house and that town…but my grandparents, uncles, and aunts remained there, living on that stretch of land where I’d ran so many times from my house to theirs. So, over the years, I’d go back to visit our family and always take a look at my trees, too. It felt good to have left something behind, something good that could keep growing; I didn’t live there anymore, but my trees did…so I felt like I was still a part of that land.
I remember when they were knee-high…I remember how impressed I was when they grew to reach my shoulders…I remember how delighted I felt, years later, when I first saw that they had finally outgrown me.
It sometimes feels like it wasn’t really that long ago when I first placed their roots in the ground, but since I’ve planted those trees? I’ve lived in no less than seven new towns, graduated from high school, moved out of my parent’s house to start college, got married and had three babies, watched my little sisters and brother grow up to start families and careers. My oldest baby started high school and my youngest is already 9.
It has been twenty-four years since I planted those seedlings.
And last week, I stood in that old yard of mine and looked up in awe at those same trees. These trees of such fragile beginnings, once so carefully carried by my ten-year-old hands, are now strong and deeply rooted. They’ve survived snow and thunderstorms, the heat of twenty-four North Carolina summers. The fragile limbs I once knew are now thick branches — and they’re home to birds, to insects, serve as the playground of happy squirrels.
The same trees that I once held in my lap on the ride home from school now touch the sky.
I haven’t been able to get those trees off my mind since I came home from that visit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how many years have passed and all that was changing in my life while all the while, those trees were steadily digging roots into earth, drinking in sunshine and rain, stretching inch by inch, reaching higher and higher. They never tired of holding their ground. No matter how many days and weeks and years passed, they simply stood taller.
They had small beginnings, those trees. Little hands planted them and then I had to leave them, trusting them to my grandparents and to their Creator to watch over them as they grew. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, not exactly. I can’t tell you in what year they changed from seedlings or lanky adolescents into mature pines that thrive on their own. All I know is that they stand now in the fullness of what they were created to be.
It took time, and maybe that’s why I can’t get them off my mind — because it’s something I’m learning over and over again…the things that matter, the growth that matters — it all takes time and, usually, more than we expect.
It can be so, so easy to get caught up in looking for quick results. It can become a daily race to make sure we get the right numbers, the right boxes checked off, the right amount of accomplishment. There’s a feeling of urgency to succeed, a worrisome hum in the air that we’re going to get too old to matter, that there are too many people ready to take our place if we don’t out-speak and out-do them right now, right this instant. We feel guilty if we don’t finish our ideas or achieve our goals within the time-frame our culture (and our own panicked selves) expect of us…
But, most often, the truly good things in this life do take time. The garden of nourishing greens, the caterpillar’s transformation to butterfly, a baby in the womb, a child growing day by day, long-lasting friendships, a forest filled with trees…real growth and real maturity requires time.
And while we grow frustrated with anything that feels too slow, God is patient. And although He can (and sometimes does) change things in an instant, He is interested in consequences that are eternal.
He cares about the single seeds that are planted. He tends them, watches them grow, looks for harvest that endures.
The earth is layer over layer, soil rich with yesterday nourishing today.
The stars go on further and there are more of them than we can imagine and not a one of them panics that their light isn’t significant. It takes a sky full to light up the night.
He tells His story through generation upon generation, never growing weary of reaching us with His love.
There is space for you, for us, for our lives. Don’t be afraid of losing your place. Don’t be afraid of running out of time.
God has entrusted you with a dream, with the work in your hands, with the relationships in your life — be patient with these sacred gifts. Our time is in His hands…so don’t fear the passing of seasons. When we live surrendered to Him, He never wastes time. He uses it to help us grow…what He asks of us is that we follow His leading and do what He enables us to do in the day we are living now. Offer your best while you entrust Him with the enduring and eternal harvest…He promises to finish the good work He begins in us.
When we believe that it’s all up to us and that it only matters if we get it done as soon as possible – and the sooner, the better – we will begin to live, create, and love surface-deep.
When we begin to believe that our words are important only if they’re the loudest in the room, we’ll get caught up in the clamor and miss the still, small voice that matters most.
If we believe that small beginnings aren’t worth our time and effort, then we’ll never see how beauty can grow.
When we try so hard to keep up with the pace of the crowd, we will lose step with Him.
Let’s be brave enough to get quiet and listen. Let’s be brave enough to take our time. Let’s move to the rhythm He sets for us, His melody of grace.
Let’s be brave enough to trust Him.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – keep digging roots deep into love, keep nourishing your life with Light, keep drinking in the water that you never have to fear will run dry, keep reaching out toward the heavens.
In this simple way, with patience and perseverance, we will hold our ground through every storm and the change of every season…through it all, our Creator will sustain us and we will bear the fruit He intends for us to share.
Steadily, inch by inch, we’ll keep growing into the fullness of who our God has created us to be.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.-Jeremiah 17:8
There are some days that are harder than others. There are some days when self-doubt and fear drum away in the corner of my mind. There are some days when accusation and anxiety clash their cymbals over and over again, raising a ruckus. There are some days when a chorus of insecurity plays over and over again.
The longer I let myself sit as an audience to this band of reproach, the louder and more enthusiastically they play.
So here’s what I do these days. I reach for God’s Word. I reach for the words of Spirit and Life. When I refuse to give ear to the uninvited band and open my heart to the voice of Jesus, a different song begins to play.
When I encircle myself with the truth of what God speaks to me, about me, and for me, insecurity becomes confidence in who He is, in who He says I am. Self-doubt becomes His perfect strength in my weakness. Accusation becomes my story of redemption, the melody of grace. Anxiety becomes faith in His goodness, in His purpose for me. The fullness of His love leaves no room for fear.
It’s a choice for me – and some days it’s a fight – to resist the lies and to purposefully tune into the words of truth.
But these words are our defense and our greatest weapon against the darkness that tries to infiltrate our hearts. And when we pick them up, when we open our ears to Him and ask Him for a new song – even in the presence of our enemies, He lifts up our heads and puts our feet on steady ground. He is near to us when we call Him, our help and our strong Deliverer. We are more than conquerors – we have overwhelming victory – over all these things through the Savior who loves us.
I’m holding onto this book even more tightly these days, and His words daily hold me together.
Wrap us in Your truth, God. Hold our hands steady as we hold Your word. Open our ears to hear the song You sing over us, the song of deliverance and delight.
For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With His love, He will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”-Zephaniah 3:17, NLT
The wind is blowing gently here by the Jordan River, but the words of the Baptizer are fierce. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
His eyes are on us, his words meant for us. We came to see what he would say for himself – this man drawing people into the waters for baptism instead of sending them to the temple to make sacrifices, attracting crowds with his declarations that God’s kingdom draws near. The others with me shift backwards and they begin to mutter under their breath, their indignation stirred by his insult.
Unbidden, words from the prophet Micah come to my mind and my hands begin to shake – He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
But if this is the fruit he means – the fruit in keeping with repentance – don’t I already produce it? Don’t I do all that is required of me?
Yet — my hands still tremble. I clench them into fists so that no one else will notice.
How can such a crowd become so silent? The Baptizer’s words are clear and carry so that every ear hears. “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The muttering around me becomes louder, insults for this wild man in his camel’s hair slipping from one man to the next, but I cannot speak.
It feels like he is looking directly at me when he opens his mouth again. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
I leave Bethany with one answer – this John, he says himself that he is not the Messiah. But his words have only filled me with more questions.
John’s declarations about repentance, about the ax at the root of the trees – I cannot shake them, even as I come home to Jerusalem. Why should I feel so unsure? I am a teacher. I know the law. I try to be wise in my work with the Sanhedrin. Anyone would say that we are holy – we are Pharisees, after all, set apart as much as we can possibly be from anything unclean. Our lives – my life – is dedicated to God.
And yet – we have heard no word from Him in so long…could this be the Word of the Lord? Isaiah prophesied a voice calling out in the wilderness, making straight the way for the Lord…could John, as he claims, truly be that voice?
The temple is ahead, beautiful in the light of the sun. It has been restored by one who does not honor God as we do, but it – at least – still belongs to us. I have often wondered what the kings of old would think if they could see us now – ruled by Gentiles, bound by the power of an Emperor’s law. First the Greeks held our land – our land promised to us by God – and now these Romans, they are everywhere and they consume everything in their path. When our fathers came back to this city, at last released from Babylon – surely this was not their dream, to have it fall back into other hands. Surely it was not what they would want for us – this constant struggle to keep peace with Rome, so that we do not lose power over our traditions and even our worship.
A weight fills my chest and it is like I am looking at these streets for the first time – how many beggars, blind and broken, line the way to the temple courts? Heat rushes into my cheeks as I see my friends – other teachers like me – walk by them. They take no notice. Just as I never take notice. And just like I have done so many times before, they begin to pray aloud on the street corners even while the poor beg for help.
Is this how we act justly? Is this what I call mercy?
Regret brings me to a stand-still.
I think of helping some of lame to the Pool of Bethesda – but perhaps that would only be giving false hope, for the pool is surrounded always and there is only enough healing for the one who reaches its waters first.
Terrible exhaustion grips my body – or is it my heart? – and I turn away from the Temple to take the roads that will lead me home.
My wife is curious. I am barely through the door before she asks – “Is he the One? Is the Baptizer our Messiah?”
“No,” I say, and gratefully sink into a chair, rest my feet in a basin of cool water.
Though I do not expect it, she kneels by my side and gently rinses the dirt from my feet. “I have to admit – I think I am disappointed.” She looks up at me, tears suddenly rising in her eyes. “I’ve been thinking about how wonderful it would be to be rid of the Roman soldiers. If the Deliverer would come soon, we would be free again. Perhaps we would see the glory of God again, Nicodemus, if they were driven out!”
“Glory.” The word on my lips is sweet like honey, but it isn’t the exile of Roman rule that I am seeing. It’s John, shouting out ‘After me comes one who is more powerful…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire…’
We are a people of tradition and law. Our High Priest keeps order. We adhere to the commandments of God – but wasn’t there once more to our faith than rules and rituals?
We know about our God – but aren’t we supposed to be a people who know Him? Isn’t that why He called Father Abraham? Isn’t that why He rescued our people again and again, drawing us back to our homeland? Isn’t that why He promised to write His law on our hearts, so that we could be wholly His?
“I’m sorry. He isn’t the One. But – he said to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” I say to her in a whisper, “and I think that he speaks only the truth.”
Her hands drop my feet into the water and the splash startles both of us.
I am watching the moon climb high and fade by the light of the morning sun. I cannot close these eyes to what I once could not see. I see money-changers in the temple – they set the price for the people to give sacrifices, to gain forgiveness, and the cost is too much for many to bear.
Everywhere I turn, I see bondage. I see Pharisees and Sadducees tightly bound in battles of their own making. I see leaders – Roman and Jewish alike – scrambling to keep their own power. I see the sick and the elderly, abandoned and afraid. I see widows in want. I see the poor with shoulders slumped. I see how they never lift their eyes to meet mine.
I lift my own eyes to heaven – Messiah, will You come and deliver us? Can these dry bones live again?
For I begin to understand that we are a people destitute, devoid of God’s presence. My own righteousness showed itself by the Jordan River; it is blemished and ragged. We are pleased with the sound of our own voices and do not plead to hear His. We have filled ourselves up with power of our own making and have not even noticed that we are famished for His Spirit. I am no exception – but how can I change this? How can I enter into the presence of the Almighty God?
He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire…
I think of Moses standing barefoot before a burning bush.
I think of the Hebrews following a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.
God, will You show us Your glory again?
My wife comes into the house, already back from her trip to the market. She sits her overflowing basket onto the floor. “Nicodemus, what are you still doing here? I thought you were going to the temple this morning.”
“I was tired,” I answer, “so I decided to stay here. But I see you’ve had a productive outing.” I raise my eyebrows and point at her basket. “Rachel, have you left anything in the market for the rest of Jerusalem?”
She laughs and shakes her head. “Who knows how many relatives are going to show up this year to stay with us? The cleaning is nearly done, but I have to start preparing for the meal now before all of Israel fills our streets.”
Pesach. She is right. Time is passing quickly by and the days of Passover are close…once again, we will remember the days of old. We will remember our escape from Egypt. We will remember the miracles of God. We will remember the days of His glory in our midst.
Rachel crosses the room and puts her hands over mine, kneels so that we are face to face. “I know you have felt unwell, but I do think you should take that trip over to the temple. I think a walk will do you a great deal of good. Perhaps the fresh air will help you to finally have a restful night’s sleep.”
“Perhaps,” I say. But I cannot bear the thought of passing the beggars in the streets. I cannot bear the unrest in my soul when I cross into the temple courts. It was not so long ago that I found my greatest satisfaction there where my name is known, where I fulfilled my duty to God – but that day by the Jordan pierced my contentment. And now – the Baptizer sits in jail, taken in by Herod so that he can no longer declare the sin of our Roman ruler’s marriage to the people.
If John no longer calls out the Word of the Lord in the wilderness, where can I hear the voice of God? And will he remain in prison – because our High Priest fears provoking Herod’s anger – while we celebrate our festival of deliverance?
We will remember the presence of the Great I Am in the lives of our fathers – but will we pray for Him to be among us now?
Without warning, the cry of Habakkuk springs from my heart – Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.
Yes, it is mercy that I need.
“Besides – you are missing the talk of the town while you are cooped up in this house.” The tone in Rachel’s voice shifts, gentleness giving way to urgency. “And – I think it is something you need to talk to the others about. Because I couldn’t get many details -”
“News of the Baptizer?” I lean forward, suddenly energized.
“No – not exactly. But there is news of one he baptized before Herod captured him. A Galilean man.” She squeezes my hands. “Perhaps it is just market-gossip, but people are saying that he is a prophet of God. They are saying he is a prophet with the power to heal.”
I stand to my feet, pulling her up with me. “His name?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll go,” I say. “If there is anyone gaining attention like this, Simon and the others will know.”
The morning sun is warm as I lift my face to the sky. With the Passover comes spring and the first blossoms on the fruit trees. The times of the rain are passed, the time of the songbird has arrived…this is the change of season. How ready I am for new life.
I stop for a few moments, putting alms into the hands of the blind and lame, but I do not linger because this does not feel like enough. How can a few coins help someone who cannot see? How can I give these people any hope?
My wife’s words ring in my ears – a prophet with the power to heal – and I enter into the temple courts in anticipation.
The courts are, indeed, full today. There is a steady sound of conversation and the lowing of cattle waiting to be sold. I overhear a complaint – “the first dove was blemished, and he charged me twice as much for the second!” Turning, I try to figure out who had been treated so poorly in their attempt to make a sacrifice, but they are lost in the bustle.
I glance around – there is Simon, one who prides himself on knowing everything there is to know. I eagerly beckon to him.
His grin is broad as he bypasses a sheep running from its new owner and comes to my side. “I am glad to see you are better, my friend!”
“Yes, thank you, I am much better today. How did you know I was ill?”
“The same way I hear most things. My wife heard from your wife that you were suffering some ailment.”
The beating of my heart is louder than even the chatter around us, isn’t it? “Perhaps, then, you will know about this news my Rachel spoke of today. Perhaps she heard it from your wife.”
“The so-called prophet?” Simon’s eyebrows are raised high. “My Rebekah will not stop talking about him. She has never laid eyes on him, but the cousins of our servants sent word from Cana that he can turn water to wine and give sight to the blind. From all the stories they fill her head with, she will soon think the man can raise the dead!”
“Is it true?” I ask, a vision of the Baptizer in my mind – after me comes One who is more powerful than I…could this be the One he spoke of? “Who is he?” I ask, but my words are drowned out by sudden shouts of indignation.
Simon’s eyes are no longer on me. “Who is that?” he asks. “What is He doing?”
I turn to look – there, in the middle of a pack of running cows and sheep, stands a man with a whip in His hands and – even from here I can see it – fire in His eyes. We are shocked into stillness and silence as He drives the animals out of the courts. Their owners, protests pouring out, have no choice but to run after the animals. The man strides to the money-changers, looks at them as they stare up at Him with mouths hanging open. Without a word, in a swift motion, He takes their gold coins and throws them with a clatter onto the floor. He reaches back to the tables and sends them crashing to the ground. The nearby merchants draw back with their doves.
He turns to them and speaks. “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
At the sound of His voice – at those words – I don’t know how I am so certain, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the man from Galilee.
The money-changers are on hands and knees, picking up their coins. Those men with the doves are leaving without complaint. The noise of the people has ceased. All eyes are on Him.
And there is one of our own, fury in his eyes, stepping around the overturned tables to approach this man. Simon grabs my elbow and pulls me along as others draw closer – I see Annas, indignation clear on his face, among the crowd.
“What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?” It is Annas who speaks out – our former High Priest’s voice is still strong, despite his age.
The man is bold; He looks directly at Annas. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Despite the tension of the moment, a muted chuckle rises from the crowd.
One of the priests calls out to Him, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”
Simon looks at me and shakes his head. “Does this man not fear the power of our council? Is he threatening our temple?”
“He is not afraid of anyone in this temple,” I say to Simon. That much is clear. “Can’t you see that there is no fear in that man? But I don’t know what He means.” I don’t know what it is He really saying – but I want to find out. He called this temple His Father’s house – and defended this place with authority in His voice. I have never seen – or heard – anything like this before.
But when I turn my head back to the center of the crowd, I no longer see Him standing there. I just see Annas and the rest of our people, with confusion in their expressions. As they begin to point at the mess and criticize the stranger’s words, the confusion becomes anger. Simon joins in the conversation and I slip away. I want to know this Galilean who so boldly cleansed the temple of our unrighteous ways.
Rachel was right – the streets are quickly become congested with visitors and vendors preparing for the Festival.
I stop the first person I see. “Do you know where the man from Galilee is?”
“You mean Jesus?” The old woman smiles. “Follow the crowd. They will find Him.”
Is this what hope feels like?
I press into the throng of people and, yes, they are looking for Him. I am shoulder to shoulder with the poor, with the sick, with the forgotten. I think of the words we will soon say over the Passover meal – Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come…
There, there He is. I hang back as all of these men and women, their children, approach Him. He listens to every word that they say. He bends His ear to the bent and lowly. He meets their outstretched arms.
I see a man with a useless leg drag himself closer. Was this the lame man I offered alms such a short time ago? I had no hope for him – but Jesus touches him and I see the leg straighten and become as it should be. I see the man touch his leg in astonishment and watch as he leaps through the air, landing firmly on both feet.
“Glory be to God!” he exclaims.
Glory. I cannot help myself. I move closer.
I watch a blind child placed at His feet. I see His touch, though I can’t hear His words from here, and I see the child’s unfocused eyes brighten. The child’s jubilant laughter is matched with His own.
Oh, these glad shouts of those who before carried sorrow heavy on their shoulders – isn’t this the sound of deliverance?
This – this is the impossible happening right before my eyes and, indeed, I stand in awe.
Who can this be but One from God? Is this the beginning of a new season for our people? Is this what the Kingdom of God looks like?
I can’t trust my legs to take me any closer, but I watch and I wonder – if He can heal bodies, can He bring new life to my dry and weary heart? Can He change even me?
With my eyes filled with tears, I finish the Passover words and I begin to believe them:
This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.
“We will monitor His actions and make sure He is controlled,” Caiaphas is saying as I step into the circle of Sanhedrin members gathered around him. “The last thing we need is the threat of an uprising against Rome – we must not let this Galilean incite the people into rebellion. We cannot chance losing control over our own affairs.”
This conversation is a far different one than I had with my Rachel last night. We talked well into the night about the wonders I had witnessed, hope leaping in our hearts. It was not rebellion on our minds, but restoration.
But these men nod their agreement with the High Priest.
“What if,” I hear myself saying, “it is a good thing? What if He is the one who can free us from Rome’s authority?”
It is a vision of glory – Israel crowned among the nations, all men walking together in peace. And – at last – our God as King, His glory surrounding us.
“Many have tried and failed to make Jerusalem our own again. What makes you think this man could succeed?” Annas eyes are narrowed, like he tries to peer into my mind.
“I know you are hearing the reports – and I have seen it for myself. He is no ordinary man. He touches people and they are healed of their ailments.” I cannot hold in my excitement. “Men! Don’t you see? Perhaps we have been waiting for this man, for this moment of time!”
“Look into it! He is the son of a carpenter – from Galilee of all places!” Benjamin looks at me with pity in his eyes. “Nicodemus, how can one so wise be tricked by one such as Jesus? Haven’t we seen these ‘healings’ before? He pays the poor to bring him their fake injuries and illnesses – it is not too hard to give sight to someone who can already see, now is it?”
I shake my head. “No, friend. This was no deceitful ploy. These crippled men were the same beggars I passed every day on the streets.”
“Enough!” Caiaphas’ face is strangely red, his hands gripped together. “He insulted the temple of God. He showed blatant disrespect to all of us. Not one more word shall be spoken in this place to imply that this Nazarene could be the Anointed One!”
“We are waiting for the King of Israel,” Annas says, “and not for a carpenter. I say this is the Baptizer’s doing. John has already caused us enough trouble with Herod and it is clear he has sent this man in his stead to provoke the people. We will not give him more attention than he deserves. No one on this council is to speak in favor of him or the people will surely take note.”
Everything within me wants to protest, to ask how they can be so quick to pass the final word of judgment – do they not want things to change? Can they not see that He did not insult the temple but defended it?
Every other man here nods agreement with Annas, their expressions grim and their wills resolute.
And I am filled with fear for all of us – if we are sent a new Word from God, will we be able to hear it? If we are sent One who baptizes with Spirit and fire, will we welcome him?
The ax is already at the root of the trees, John said, and the warning pounds in my head, twists in my gut.
Our fathers saw the Glory of God and begged to go back to their chains in Egypt…they died in the desert from lack of courage to enter into the Promises of God.
Oh, keep it far from me, my God – these dry bones crumbling in this desert of our own making.
If it is as John said – if the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, how will I find my way there? How can my unclean lips and this heavy heart come into Your Presence?
“They do not want us to be involved with him,” I say to my wife as she places two cups of tea on the table. I pick up one cup and stare into it. “If the people continue to be stirred up over him, they will try to stop him.”
She stares at me from across the table, her always-lovely dark eyes open wide. “They will stop him from helping our people? Why?”
“Caiaphas and the others – they do not believe that he can be the Messiah. They dismiss the healings as deceptions. They say that a carpenter from Nazareth is no king of Israel.” I put down the tea without tasting it and push away the bread. I have no appetite.
Rachel takes the bread and breaks off a piece of it. She looks back up at me and shrugs. “That is what they say. But what do you say?”
I think, again, of the way He drove out the merchants and stood up against the moneychangers. I think of His mysterious, fearless words. I think of His laughter as the lame danced and the mute began to sing out praise to God. I think of the fire in His eyes.
“I don’t know if He is King of Israel,” I say, “but He is not just a carpenter. And they may say He is from Nazareth – but how can such miracles be done unless He is from God?”
The moonlight streaming into the room only makes it more difficult to sleep. I turn, again, and Rachel sits up.
With a swift movement, a candle is lit in her hands. In the flickering light, I see tears in her eyes. “If what you say – if what you feel is true – then it will be far worse to not believe in Him than to deal with the anger of the council.”
My heart feels like it is taking up all the room in my chest, leaving no room for a deep breath. My palms are slick with sweat. “He may be gone already. Now that the Festival is over, many are leaving. And if anyone sees me – if anyone knows that I have sought Him out – ”
“Then what? What will they do?”
I sit up, wholly awake. “I don’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter.” I think of Moses catching sight of that bush ablaze with a fire that did not consume and drawing near to it. I think of his prayer and it becomes my own – Show me Your glory. “There is much that I desire – and I desire it more than the approval of those men.”
Rachel leans her forehead against mine. “You will go – but make the journey carefully, early in the morning. If the council does have men watching him, they may try to stop you from reaching Him.”
The moon catches my attention again and I do not lie back against the pillows. I get up and reach for my robes. “I am going now.” She is right – I must reach Him. I will not risk missing this chance.
The streets are empty and still but for the braying of a donkey in the distance. The scent of smoke floats with the wind.
I approach the road where I last saw him. The rumors flying through the market assured Rachel that He and His disciples were staying in a house along this way.
But it seems I will not have to search for him, for he has found me.
Face to face, under the moonlight, I can breathe again. He smiles and I feel no trepidation, no worry that he will turn me away. I am welcome here. This man that I have never before me – he knows me. So it without hesitation that I say – “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
He looks into my eyes and replies, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
It is like he sees straight into the desires of my heart. The Kingdom – this is what I long to see. This is where I want to be, in His Presence. But born again? Yes, these bones – they need new life – I need new life – but how is it possible? Is it, in fact, too late for me to enter into His Kingdom? “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
He answers, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” I ache to understand his words. I ache to know of this birth and His Spirit.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” says Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
My ears feel like they are hearing for the first time, my eyes open to a light like no other – everything, everything within me is wholly listening to these words – yes, even the very Word of God.
“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Oh, I cannot stay here on this border of fear and unbelief – for over it is the Promise of God.
Long enough, we have lived through these days of dry bones – long enough, we have wandered in our own power without His Presence to lead us. Long enough, we have neglected the cause of mercy. Long enough, we have been content with our own wisdom instead of hearing the Word from our God.
And no sacrifice has taken the weight of guilt from my heart for my sin, for the way I can never measure up to the law – but His words offer a way to freedom. His words offer salvation from condemnation. Here, in the presence of Jesus – this man from Nazareth and yet from God – I feel the fire of God’s glory and the song of His mercy. No, my hope will not be disappointed. For at last our God has come to us again, at last our Deliverer’s mighty arm is extended to His people. He loves us – we are a people beloved of God, a world given the gift of His life.
Who can stand on such holy ground?
Spirit, blow over us. Blow over me, make me new like one born again, like one made new. Write Your Word on my heart, teach me to know You – to walk with You, to honor You in all my ways.
On the outside, I remain the same –
But inside, abundant life flows.
I’m sitting here in the little corner of my room where I like to write. There’s a window in front of me; it’s still light outside, even though the dusk is as gray as the afternoon was. We’ve had a few cloudy days in a row here, with rain falling off and on.
It’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some laundry, helped Kailey take care of her birthday-guinea-pig (our first actual needs-to-exercise and have-attention pet), read quite a bit. I’ve been reading through the book of John again. I come back to John again and again; I love to hear Jesus’ voice in this gospel. When my heart feels a little shadowed, it’s His words that leave no room for darkness.
So when I read John 7:46 today, I had to laugh at what is maybe the understatement of all time. The Pharisees were trying to get local officers to detain Jesus and they wouldn’t do it. “No man ever spoke like this Man,” they said.
They couldn’t know how deeply true this was, how wholly right they were.
No man ever spoke like this Man, for there had never been a man like Him. Jesus was a son of man, yes, but also the Son of God. Before the creation of the world, He was there. Through Him, it was all made. Through Him, we were made.
And He spoke the heart of His Father into the world, into us. He spoke forgiveness. Healing. Peace. Freedom. Love. His words were power. His words were glory. His words changed everything.
And on this regular day that’s turning quickly into night, this quiet Thursday, or whatever sort of day it might be while you’re reading these words…He is still speaking to me and to you.
Maybe now is the time to slow down, to ask Him what He’s saying, to listen for His voice. If you need kindness, if you need Truth, if you need grace…if you need love that doesn’t falter and hope that doesn’t fail – His voice is like no other voice. His words are like no other words. He said it best: The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
Rather than resolutions, some people find a word to focus on throughout the year…a single word to dig into, to learn from. I don’t always do this, but I picked a word this year – or, rather, the Holy Spirit led me to this word in the last days of 2016: sustain.
To sustain is to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support, to bear up under, to buoy up…and as the new year dawned, I thought about God’s promises that He is all of this for us, our very present help in every single day.
We can’t know what’s around the bend of time. We can’t plan for what we don’t know is coming our way. What we can do is lean into His love, listening for His voice and following when we hear Him.
And when the difficult moments show up, He has gotten there first. He is already holding us steady. It is beautiful when we can see it, when we can see how God has already prepared us for whatever may come.
These six months of 2017 have been full of uncertainty, crossroads, grief, and holding onto hope. These six months have taught me more about give us this day our daily bread…I’m learning how to depend on the presence of God to sustain for today, for this moment, for this need.
I’m learning to trust that He has already shown up, already made a way before me.
And what is there to fear if He is the One promising to sustain me every step of the way?
Maybe it has been a few weeks, maybe a month – I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve started playing this song a few times a day, sometimes over and over again. Sometimes this happens. A song will plant itself firmly into my heart and the words will grow into protective branches over my heart, lyrics like leaves of shelter. And when moments come that would bring anxiety to my heart, the words of truth and grace are already growing wild there, leaving fear no room to grow.
I hope it reminds you, too, that His love has always shown up first and always, always will.
Confession: I woke up cranky today. I was impatient with my kids, griping about what they had or hadn’t done and short-tempered with inanimate objects like a box of cookies that wouldn’t easily open while I was packing lunches. I was stomping around and sighing deep and bitter sighs over an accidental apple juice spill when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it wasn’t my kids’ fault I stayed up too late and then overslept as a result of it. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I was feeling anxious about spending most of today in a dentist’s chair (). It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hadn’t gotten my ideal morning routines done, but it certainly was MY fault that I was behaving badly and starting their day off with Grumpy-Mom. He reminded me of gentleness, patience, and self-control. He reminded me that it is my job to teach them what it looks like to reflect Jesus even when emotions don’t measure up and circumstances aren’t perfect.
I stopped fighting with the uncooperative box of Oreos and apologized to my children. Without hesitation, they forgave me. They were sorry I was having a hard day and they wished me a better morning. They loved me so well in their compassion. Their kindness humbled me — and showed me a glimpse of God.
This is His way, to not only forgive – but to forgive with abounding love and mercy, encouraging us to move forward in His grace without condemnation lingering on our hearts. His forgiveness is whole and His redemption power fully covers our sin.
So, all that to say- if you happen to have started today or this week (or even this year!) on the wrong foot — stop. Take a breath. Make the apologies you might need to make, to your people and to the Father. And then move forward in His grace and in the unfailing kindness of His love. Know you are forgiven and it’s the next moment that matters. Leave behind what has been and press on, trusting that He is ever-transforming us into His image if we keep surrendering our hearts, our minds, and even our crankiest of mornings into His keeping.
I am grateful today for mercy. I am thankful for love that keeps on loving, never giving up on us.
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
Tonight, words are few. I’ll be honest – my kids are loud, my house needs a ferocious cleaning, and there are all manner of things on my to-do list that I have not yet gotten done today.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has their share of distractions…I’m sure there are those of us, too, who would raise our hand to say – my heart is heavy, my mind is too full, my shoulders are feeling weighed down with everything I’m trying to carry or the problems I wish I could solve.
If you’re raising your hand to say ‘me, too’ —
The psalmist says again and again, at different times and in different ways – I cried out to the Lord and He heard me. He helped me. He healed me. He delivered me. He rescued me. Out of His great love, He lifts me out of every dark place and even the deepest pit.
That’s for us, too. That’s for me. That’s for you. When we surrender our pride and our expectations and our try-hard and our figure-it-out — we are free to cry out to Him and put our hearts in His hands, to have these promises as realities: “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”-Psalm 30: 5, 11-12
Don’t wait for things to get easier. Don’t wait to make yourself ‘presentable’ or for the ‘perfect’ quiet time…now, in the middle of the noise and the chaos – in the middle of the heartache and the questions – in the middle of everything…go to our Savior and let it all fall at His feet. Surrender every bit of it, because He loves us so much that He wants to bear our burdens. He is already praying for us. He is our safest place. He is our peace. He wants to give joy and comfort, strength and rest. Find Him there, at the throne of mercy. When we surrender ourselves, just as we are, and lift our eyes to Him…we find arms-wide-open-welcome.
“How great the love, how strong the hand that holds us.”