A place to ponder the awe and mystery of God in everyday life.

Posts tagged ‘Questions Jesus Asked’

Beyond Question: Why do you doubt?

He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Luke 24:36-40

It seems to me that Christians have often confused doubting with questioning.

My first training was in medicine.  In that field, like in any of the science fields, students are rewarded for questioning.  Questioning leads to deeper understanding, and that is always a good thing.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, in the church we have confused questioning with doubting.  Some of us are just wired to ask questions.  To wonder.  To probe. To explore.  To examine.

When I bought my first motorcycle I was only twenty-two. It was a used bike and needed cleaning.  I was curious about everything. I was at my parent’s home visiting and I took it apart and had it spread across the garage floor.  My dad came home and looked at the parts and screws and bolts and then looked at me.  “What are you doing?!

DSCN0366 (My most recent bike.)

“I needed to understand how it works,” I said simply.  It was true.  I took apart everything that I could; cleaned all the parts and reassembled it.  (I was delighted there weren’t any leftover pieces.)

A few years later I married my husband who was already a Lutheran pastor.  I had grown up in a Lutheran home with parents who modeled faith well for me. I had been a leader in our youth group and youth choir at church.  But I didn’t want to be Lutheran just because I happened to be baptized Lutheran.  I wanted to know that Lutheran was the “right” faith tradition for me.

And so I did to my faith what I had done to my motorcycle: took it apart and examined each piece and then reassembled it to understand how it works.  I can honestly say that I am a Lutheran by choice, having critically examined the doctrines, the core beliefs, and the scriptures through a “Lutheran lens”.  My clergy husband was patient with my questions.  He never ridiculed or shamed me for asking questions.  He took each question seriously and we had wonderful conversation.  His patient conversation is certainly a part of what led me to seminary a few years later.

I am grateful my husband understood the importance of questions.  When I felt guilty for questioning, he quoted one of his former professors who said something to the effect of, “The unexamined faith does not go very deep.”  Since then I have read and appreciated much of what Buechner has written.

God intends for us to struggle with the great questions and challenges of life and faith. I believe doubt is a chief building block in the construction of our faith. Frederick Buechner, contemporary theologian, says, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep faith alive and moving.”

Today’s question is one that Jesus asks.  Was it meant to shame? I doubt it. Jesus put great effort into lifting people from shame and encouraging them to grow in his image.  So why would Jesus ask, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

How would you answer him?  And in the searching, what would you learn?

When I took training to be a coach, I learned that teachers “pour into” and a coach “pulls the answers out of the student.”

What answer would Jesus be hoping that you would discover?  What lesson deeply understood?

‎R M Rilke wrote,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

A Prayer for today:
Ah, holy Jesus, you know the questions in our hearts before they are even on our lips.  And you love us as a parent watching a child question the world in delight, awe and wonder, learning and growing.  Grant us patience with ourselves and with others when it seems there are more questions than answers.  For you are a patient God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Thank you, rabbi. Amen.

Advertisements

Beyond Question: How will you believe what I say?

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”  John 5:46-47

Today’s scripture is the story of Jesus walking the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples.  They don’t recognize Jesus.  It is shortly after he has been crucified, and the followers don’t know how the story ends yet.  They are deep in grief.  Their hearts are heavy and they are just putting one foot in front of the other.  Their minds must have been a blur.  What were they going to do now?

Jesus asks them several questions.

What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?

Scripture says, “They stood still looking sad.  Then one of them answered Jesus, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  Jesus asked them, “What things?”  And the disciples told the man whom they still did not recognize as Jesus, the story of what had happened.

Jesus responded to their story by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  And then Jesus “interpreted the Scriptures” to them.  They still didn’t recognize him.  Not until he broke bread with them did their eyes open.

Jesus asks his followers questions to help them understand.  To transform their understanding and their very lives.

So how is it going with you?  What would it take for your heart to burn within you?  It is one thing to read the questions that Jesus asked others.  It is another thing to consider how we might answer those same questions directed at us from Jesus.  It becomes personal!

And isn’t that the point?  Jesus asks us personal questions because he cares.  Even when we don’t recognize Jesus in our midst, he keeps showing up.  He promises to be with us.  Dr. Carl Jung had a sign over his office door that read, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present”.  That’s just it.  The same claim that is central to the beloved 23rd Psalm.  “For you are with me”.

Jesus keeps coming to us. He has people to bless, lives to touch, and hearts to transform.  Christ can open our mind to understand his word, and his holy meal will sustain us on the journey.  Thanks be to God!

Beyond Question: What if you gain the world but lose yourself?

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?    Luke 9:23-25

My first career was that of an intensive care nurse.  I loved the work.  I knew my presence at my job made a difference.  I also had the experience of resuscitating more people than I can remember.  Some of my patients were ready for death. Some were not.  Some families were prepared for their loved one to breathe their last.  Some were not.

Chaim Potok grew up in Buffalo, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.  When he was a teenager his mother encouraged her intelligent son to, “Be a brain surgeon.  You’ll save lots of lives and makes lots of money.”  Chaim’s mother was persistent with her suggestion until one day Chaim countered her with unusual insight for a teenager.

“I don’t want to save lives,” he said sincerely. “I want to teach people to live!”  Chaim became a best-selling author and rabbi.

When I heard the story, it spoke truth to me.  While I loved and valued my work as a nurse, I also had the growing sense that I was being called not to save lives, but to teach people to live.  For me that is about life lived in relationship with Jesus.  I had witnessed many people facing death in my work, and I understood that death can come suddenly, without warning.  I wanted to do what I could to help people prepare for death without fear, and be confident of their new life that would begin when their time on earth was done.

Unlike Potok, I haven’t written any books, much less become a famous author. (Maybe in retirement!) And if my body is ever broken or sick, I pray that I have access to good medical care.  But I was pleased to be called and ordained as a pastor.  Some days I wonder how I can convey the passion and love I have for God in a way that can be received by others.

In both of my careers I have worked with people of great means, and with those who can barely scrape out a living.  I know that a certain amount of financial security certainly does make life easier, but I have also witnessed over and over again that money truly cannot buy happiness.  I have lost count of the times I have heard people lament the amount of time and effort they put into “making it to the top,” only to find it was pretty lonely there.  The glamorous lifestyle was not what they imagined, and oftentimes relationships had suffered along the way.

One of our daughters spent a year in Kenya during college.  She volunteered in an orphanage on the weekends.  As she walked to the orphanage she passed a man she came to call fondly, “Gramps.”  He lived in a mud hut.  He had next to nothing but he was always willing to share what little he had with our daughter when she stopped to visit with him.  A piece of sugarcane or a bit of fruit.  Katie didn’t want to accept it because he had so little, but she didn’t want to offend him by refusing. She experienced the generosity of the Kenyan people often, and also the presence of God.  She wrote in an email to me, “Out of everything I have seen here, my faith has gotten so much bigger.  God is in the midst of everything!”

“Gramps” hadn’t “obtained the world”, but he and many others who lacked worldly possessions shared from their deep faith with my daughter. They lived to the best of their ability in God’s will, and recognized the many blessings in their life.  They danced and prayed fervently.  They recognize God’s presence.  They are grateful people.

Untitled-1

“The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life…. The more we do God’s will, the less unfinished business we leave behind when we die.” –    William Sloane Coffin (1924-2006)

Questions to ponder:
If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
What would you need to give up to give your whole life to Jesus? Why is that so difficult?

Prayer for today:
Gentle Jesus, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to speak to you. Thank you for this day and for the blessings you give us. Open our minds to hear the word you have for us this day, open our hearts to receive your love, and give us the courage to be your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

Beyond Question: Who is greater, the one at the table or the one who serves?

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules is like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  Luke 22:25-27

In Jesus’ time, only the servants – the lowest class of people – were the servers. Respectable people didn’t serve.  What Jesus did here, and in so many other times and places in his life, turned the society of their time on its head.  He was asking people to step out of the roles that society had clearly defined for them. … give up the status they were entitled to enjoy.  Who would do that?

In the Servant Song (above) we are reminded of the many roles that servanthood can take.  We are also reminded that we reflect Christ when we are serving others from a loving heart.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

It all comes back to love.  Jesus’ love for us.  Extravagant love. Love that serves.  And enjoys doing it. Love that brings light into the darkness, and hope into grief.

martin-luther-king-quote

Albert Schweitzer is another contemporary great man who followed Jesus closely.  (1875 – 1965)  He understood the value and importance of serving.  He said, The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.  He lived what he ‘preached’ – as a German then French theologian, physician, musician, and medical missionary.  He received the Nobel Peace prize for his ethics work, “to be in awe of the mystery of life.”

Schweitzer, and countless other everyday people of far less notoriety, have found the truth and the joy of life.  Serving!   Schweitzer also said, Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier. 

In my denomination we have many hymns about serving.  We talk about servant leaders.  We preach regularly about serving others.  If you want to know what we believe, listen to our music.  This hymn, “We are Called,” is based on Micah 6:8. This particular video is made by the Catholic church, so it shows some of the priorities in that tradition that are not shared in all of the Christian denominations.  It is beautifully done.

And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

 In Marty Haugen’s song, the refrain includes the line, “we are called to serve one another.”

ServeTheLord

Questions to ponder
Who do you know who serves others joyfully?  How do they serve others?
What is one thing you could add into your life to serve others?  How will you begin? And if you don’t, what’s stopping you?
Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” How might serving our neighbors be part of God’s plan for us and the world?

Prayer for today:
Lord God, you are the king and savior of the world and yet you stooped to serve us again and again. You modeled love in serving. Strengthen us to be your servants each day that your love and your light might be reflected brightly throughout the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Beyond Question: Do you Love Me? – part 2

“Beautiful Things” by Gungor:

[Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  John 21:17

The New Testament was written in Greek, and there are three words that all translate as “love” in English, but have very different meanings.  The first is agape (pronounced “ah-gop-aa”).  Agape is the perfect love that God has for us.  It is sacrificial love: with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The second word for love is phileo (pronounced “feel-ee-oh”).  Phileo is brotherly or sisterly love toward another.  The city of Philadelphia is rightly called the city of brotherly love.  The third word for love is eros (pronounced “air-oos”) from which the word “erotic” is derived.  You get the idea.

So in this passage, Jesus is asking Simon Peter if he loves Jesus with a complete, total, sacrificial love.  And Peter just can’t go there.  Twice Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves [agape] him.  And twice Peter answers that he loves [phileo] Jesus.  So the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love [phileo] me?”  And Peter can finally answer, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”

I have often heard it said that Jesus accepts us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.  In this passage, Jesus tries to show Peter the deeper love that Jesus desires from each of us.  Total.  Sacrificial.  Whole-hearted.  But when Peter isn’t ready, Jesus brings it down a notch, to a level of love that Peter understands.

I had a seminary professor who said the toughest job we would have in ministry is convincing the people we serve that God really, really loves them.  After a number of years in the ministry, I’d have to say that he is correct.  It is hard for any of us to grasp the extravagant, unconditional, amazing grace and love that God has for us. It is wondrous love.  If you have time to listen to a choir singing the well-loved hymn, “Wondrous Love” – here it is.  It can be your prayer of thanks and gratitude for today:

* Questions to Ponder
* When and where have you been most aware that Jesus loves you? What words, songs, or images does Jesus’ love bring to mind for you?
* Worshipping, praying, giving, reading the Bible, teaching, inviting, and serving are among the many ways we can grow and develop our love for Jesus. Consider making one of these practices a more regular part of your life for the remaining days in Lent.
* “Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question by Eric Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

Beyond Question: Do You Love Me?

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon peter, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.” John 21:15-16a

Tevye and Golde singing, “Do you love me?” from The Fiddler on the Roof   (<—  click here to hear this classic favorite.)

A few years ago, around the time of our 25th wedding anniversary, this scripture from John came up in the lectionary.  My husband and I were both serving as pastors in the same congregation at the time, and we sang this song from “Fiddler on the Roof” as the opening story for the sermon.  There haven’t been many sermons when we’ve received applause, but this was one of those days!

DSCN0622

“Do you love me?” is a question that many people ask of others, either explicitly or implicitly.  Sometimes the answer is known even before the question is asked.  Sometimes it is asked in desperation, and the answer really is unknown.

Do you love Jesus?  Really love Jesus?  This is one of those transformative questions.  The answer matters.  What does your love look like on a daily or a weekly basis?  Can other people tell that you love Jesus?

In this text, Jesus returned to his disciples after he has been raised from the dead. The disciples didn’t know how the story was going to end, so they were astounded to see Jesus.  The risen Jesus asks the same question of Simon Peter three times. This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times just before Jesus was crucified.  Peter knows it.  Jesus knows it.

But this is the God of love and second chances.  And third chances.  Even seventy times seven chances.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

In the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written) there is more than one word for “love.”  They describe different types of love.  More on that tomorrow as we look at “phileo” love and “agape” love.  My teaser for the day. (Come back tomorrow!)

For today just ponder your love of Jesus, and what happens when you turn your eyes on him.  Here is Michael W. Smith singing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,” a song I learned to love in my high school youth group.

Or, listen to this lovely surprise by the  Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale when their plane was delayed for a maintenance check: “Give Me Jesus.”  I think they were singing about love.  I leave you with this as your prayer for today.  God bless you!