The Strength of His Presence

The actions (or inaction, actually) of three Hebrew friends led to a confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. They did not prostrate themselves in front of a huge golden image, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be thrown into the furnace.

We started this story last week.

Daniel 3.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s calm response to Nebuchadnezzar infuriated him even further than before the confrontation, and his attitude toward them changed (Daniel 3:19). I think he stopped seeing them as employees who made a mistake and began seeing them as subversives, intent on undermining his authority. I can imagine an “after all I’ve done for you!” attitude. He turned to some workmen nearby and ordered them to heat the furnace as hot as it could possibly go. Continue reading

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Are YOU Talking to ME?

The Woman at the Well (part 2)

Not just anyone can cop an attitude with Jesus, but this woman did! Let’s sit down with Jesus and the woman He met at Jacob’s well outside Sychar, a small town in Samaria. (For more on the context and background, check last week’s post.)

John 4:1-42. You might want to pull out your Bible or click on the link. I’m not going to quote all the text here.

After He raised a ruckus in the temple at Jerusalem and then drew record crowds to big baptism services, things got a bit dicey for Jesus down in Judea, so he decided to make Himself scarce. (This is where we started last week.) Continue reading

Context and Consequences: The Woman at the Well

After He raised a ruckus in the temple at Jerusalem and then drew record crowds to big baptism services, things got a bit dicey for Jesus down in Judea, so he decided to make Himself scarce.

John 4:1-42.

Jesus headed back toward Galilee, probably back to Capernaum, where he usually made his home-base while in that region. There were two ways to go: the direct route, which would take them through Samaria, or the long way, which involved crossing the Jordan Continue reading

Women of the Bible: Jochebed

She lay awake in the dark, listening with one ear for soldiers’ footsteps outside her window. Her other ear strained for the slightest whimper of her new baby boy. He cried out only once before she could reach him, offering her heavy breast to calm him. She held her breath to listen, but the heartbeat echoing in her ears blocked any other sounds. While he nursed, Jochebed resumed her silent prayer to Yahweh, the God of her ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. -Hebrews 11:23

Her tears anointed the child in her arms, a physical manifestation of her pleas for a savior. She begged God to redeem them from this slavery, from the bonds that tightened so stealthily around their necks. Her people hadn’t come to Egypt as slaves. They were God’s Chosen Ones—the Hebrews—and only entered Egypt to escape famine. But now they were tied to this place. Now even their newborn babies belonged not to them but to Pharaoh. She had cried with too many mothers as they mourned the loss of their sons, born healthy but thrown to the currents and crocodiles of that cruel river.

Somehow, he was the answer
to her prayers for a savior.

As she prayed, she felt the same confidence of the night before…and the night before that. She was doing the right thing. This child was special, not just “mama-loves-you” special but specially chosen by God. He was no ordinary child. Somehow, he was the answer to her prayers for a savior.

But how long could she keep this up? How long could she hide him in the house? His lungs were getting stronger. The neighbors were looking askance at her. And what of her older children? What if the overseers questioned Aaron and Miriam?

 

I love this story because Jochebed was a thoughtful, faithful rebel! Read more about her courage, confidence, and creativity in my guest post at My Life. His Story..

Moses’ mother was a rebel, full of courage, confidence and creativity. This is faith.(click to tweet)

Don’t Get Too Close to Jesus or You May Lose Your Lunch

Jesus and his disciples climbed up the side of a steep hill. A little out of breath, they sat down on some rocks. A huge crowd of people had followed them to this remote place; some of the people were looking for healing, some for entertainment, and a few just wanted to see what Jesus would say next.

John 6:1-13 in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people, but there’s so much more…

Can you see it? Can you put yourself there among the disciples? I like to think that Jesus scans the crowd, gets a sneaky grin on His face, then maybe He catches John’s eye and winks. Turning to Phillip, he says, “Hey, Phillip! You’re from around here, where can we get food for all these people?” Phillip looks out over the crowd and sighs. He furrows his brow; his words are clipped, impatient: “It would take six months’ pay to give all these people even one bite each!” While Phillip looks around for Judas, the money keeper, for confirmation, Jesus glances back at John with an I-told-you-so glint in His eye.

These are about to become the
most famous leftovers in history!

But that whole exchange had one purpose: to set up what comes next. Andrew has also taken Jesus’ question seriously and thinks he’s found something. There’s a boy, probably ten or eleven years old, whose mama packed him some lunch. It’s just some leftovers, something to tide him over until dinnertime, but they are about to become the most famous leftovers in history!

Let’s give this boy some backstory. No school that day. The morning chores are done. Some prophet named Jesus is in town. If he hangs out near Jesus, maybe he’ll see a miracle or an arrest or something else interesting to talk about at school tomorrow. Mom says he can go; she even throws some food in a bag in case he gets hungry. He slings a “Thanks!” over his shoulder before the door slams behind him.

Being shorter than most of the adults in the crowd near Jesus, he inches his way to the front and finds a spot off to the side, where he has a good view of the hill and the crowd. While he’s waiting for something to happen—anything, really—one of Jesus’ permanent followers spots him and steps back down the hill. I like to think that Andrew was kind to the boy and that he invited him up onto the hill instead of forcing him. Andrew isn’t sure such a meager offering will help, but at least it’s something. (Or maybe Andrew knows Jesus can make something out of virtually nothing. After all, he still remembers that fantastic wine at a wedding the year before.)

Jesus takes away this child’s food.
It seems wrong.

Andrew throws out a vague question, “How far will such a small amount of food go when so many need to eat?” (I’m paraphrasing.) Jesus doesn’t answer. Instead, he tells the disciples to instruct everyone in the crowd to sit down. The boy remains standing there beside Jesus. While the disciples are busy getting situated (and probably fielding questions such as, “Why?”), Jesus looks at the boy and does something strange. If we didn’t know the story, we might even think Him cruel. He takes away this child’s food.

I have a ten-year-old boy. He doesn’t share his food willingly. It makes me think that maybe this little guy hesitated as well. If he lets go of his bag, he will (based on previous experience) go hungry that day, and his mama will probably fuss at him. He doesn’t want to go hungry, and he doesn’t want to get in trouble. But there’s something about Jesus that’s different from every other adult he’s ever met. For some reason, the boy knows he can trust Jesus, so he lets go. He lets Jesus take the whole bag. He doesn’t reach in, grab just one roll, and stuff it in his pocket just in case. Sure, it’s basically five crackers and two sardines—not much by anyone’s standards, but the boy gives it all. As he looks up at Jesus’ face in that moment, I think he sees the delight in Jesus’ eyes and the smile of anticipation playing at the corners of Jesus’ lips.

The little boy bounds back down the hill and finds a place to sit with some other kids his age. When they start passing around the fish and bread, he feasts until he can eat no more. The leftovers he carried that morning would have staved off hunger, but they never would have filled him like this!

What was barely sufficient for one
becomes sustenance for many.
(click to tweet)

Do you see it? The boy had to let go of the meager portion he’d been given in order to receive the greater portion Jesus offered to all. What was barely sufficient for him became sustenance for many. Oh friends! We try to hold onto the individual rations meted out to every person when He wants us to let go so He can convert them into plenty. But we have to give them to Jesus first. This is not logical; it’s uncommon sense. There has to be a moment when we have nothing, when we’re not only empty-handed but bare…maybe even desperate. For a few minutes there, the boy had no food at all. Then Jesus begins to bless what we’ve released, and we receive back far more than we surrendered—not only us, but everyone around us receives from what we thought was barely enough for us alone.

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:25

 

For further consideration: In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), those who saw a return on their investment first had to let go of their money. It was out of their hands for some amount of time.

Read another Biblical story of a humble person who gave everything: Muffled but Magnified.

Across the Street

Edna gathered her purse and shopping bags, took a deep breath, and opened the car door. Nine paces to the front door. Eight if she took big strides. Head bowed, her fingers fumbled with her keys at the doorknob as usual. Every window on the quiet street seemed to frame a curious neighbor peeking from behind blinds or curtains. She dared not look.

The door latched behind her, but she leaned back against it anyway and dropped her bags. Reaching across her body to set the deadbolt, she glanced at the calendar: three weeks to the day since she moved. Boxes still lined the hall. Bubble wrap still overflowed the recycling bin. She had yet to find her full set of coffee mugs.

Coffee. Maybe that would help. While the coffee brewed, she unwrapped a few more dishes. “Don’t know why I bother. I’m the only one eating.” One cup, one fork, one bowl, one plate; that’s all she needed. Would she ever get used to it? To this…“loneliness.” She said the word aloud, like a declaration, and stood up straight.

“Buck up, kiddo!” the words came to her lips unexpectedly, but her body’s response didn’t surprise her. She crumpled into the nearest chair, tears brimming over her lower eyelids. “That’s what he would have said. That’s what he always told me when I got discouraged. He would already know all the neighbors by name, too. We would have baked a Bundt cake and delivered a few slices to each door. He would have rung the doorbells while I held the cake. He would have made the introductions so I could just stand there and smile.” The usually comforting smell of coffee turned acrid in her nostrils as she rose with a sigh.

At the exact moment that she pressed the button to turn off the coffee pot, the doorbell rang. It took her a full twenty seconds to realize that the coffee pot didn’t make that kind of noise.

“Must be selling something,” she muttered as she stretched across the grocery bags to access the peephole. A young woman stood outside shifting her weight from foot to foot. In one hand, she held a plastic wrap-covered plate. The other hand stretched down, grasping another, tiny hand tightly. While she watched, the young mother looked down anxiously and stage-whispered something to the child.

Edna’s hands shook as she shifted the shopping bags away from the door and fumbled with the deadbolt. Why had she locked her door at four in the afternoon? The door stuck so that, when she finally wrenched it open, she had to catch her breath. “May I help you?” Her words sounded too formal even to herself.

“We, umm, we live right there,” the woman nodded to a townhouse across the street, “ and we noticed that you just moved in, and umm, we thought maybe you…umm…that is, we wanted to say ‘hi.’” She thrust the plate toward Edna with a nervous half-smile. The plate shook in her hand. Edna reached out to take it, but the girl (She really seemed more like a girl than a woman.) didn’t let go. They stood awkwardly, each grasping a side of the plate. “Usually, my husband is the one to go out and meet people, but he’s, umm, he’s…away right now. In the military. We’ve been married for three years, and he knows how shy I am, and he always helps me meet new people, and I don’t even know why I came over here today except we had this whole Bundt cake, and we couldn’t eat it all by ourselves. Jake here,” she gestured toward the child, “has already eaten about half of it. I’m afraid he’s going to throw up, so when he woke up early from his nap, I thought maybe I’d just come over and give you some, but I think we’ve disturbed you because you look kind of upset, like you’ve been crying or something, so maybe we should just go now, and I’m really sorry we bothered you. Come on, Jake.” Her cheeks blossomed with uneasiness.

She let go and turned before Edna could balance the plate of cake. She was helping Jake down the steps before Edna could speak. “Wait!” Edna’s voice croaked, emotion and lack of use thickening her throat. “I just made a pot of coffee…” Now her voice trailed off, as if she were indecisive. While the girl turned around, Edna took a deep breath. “Please! Don’t go.”

The girl smiled gratefully and exhaled as if she, too, had been holding her breath.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40

 

Author’s note: This is a departure from my usual post, but I took up Lori Roeleveld’s challenge to write a piece of “flashover fiction.” You can read about what that means and find other flashover fiction stories at Lori’s blog. Let me know what you think about my story by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!