Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Book of John: lessons in purpose, focusing on God, and prayer

We have finally come to the end of the gospels with the book of John. It was written by John, son of Zebedee, brother of James and it was written to new Christians and searching non-Christians as conclusive proof that Jesus is the Son of God and all who believe in him will have eternal life. I will discuss John the Baptist, even though he appears in all the gospels, John starts with John the Baptist as he declares his mission. We can learn from John the Baptist’s life and his commitment to his purpose. Second, I will discuss why physical aliments are not punishments for sins but possibilities for God to show his works in our lives. Lastly, there is no wrong way to pray. The importance of prayer is coming to God, not having the right words or the perfect length.

John first writes about John the Baptist, he is giving testimony when priests and Levites asked him who he was. First, they asked him if he was the Christ, to which John replied no (John 1:20). Then they asked if he was Elijah, again John replied no (John1:21). They finally asked him if he was The Prophet as foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), John replied no (John 1:21). John tells them that he is “the voice of one calling in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23) as foretold in Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist was unique. He wore odd clothes, ate strange food and preached a message that the Jews hadn’t heard before. He has a specific role: to announce the coming of the Savior and he did so with all his strength and energy. John is an important figure in all four gospels. John was set apart for God’s service and he remained faithful to that calling until his death. He was a man with no power or position in Jewish society, yet he spoke with irresistible authority. There are three important lessons from John the Baptist’s life. First, God does not guarantee an easy or safe life to those who serve him. John was eventually imprisoned and executed because of his message. Many people believe that the Christian life is a cushy one; but it isn’t. Second, doing what God desires is the greatest possible life investment. Even though he lost his life, John the Baptist, his message never stopped. John had accomplished what God wanted him to do. Lastly, standing up for the truth is more important than life itself. Even when his life was threatened, John refused to back down. Although we may not face life threatening situations, we can still learn this important lesson from John the Baptist. It is better to stand up for the truth than being liked by others.

John writes about the healing of a blind man to illustrate Jesus’ lesson that physical ailments are not always punishments for sins. In John 9:1-12, a man who had been born blind passed by Jesus when the disciples asked Jesus whose sin caused the man’s blindness: the man’s or his parents? Jesus replies to his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (verse 3).  It is still a common belief today that our troubles are caused by our sins. Sometimes they are, we suffer the consequences of our bad decisions. Like getting injured in a car accident because we decided to pick up the phone instead of watching the road. However, sometimes it is not our fault at all. God uses our misfortunes or disabilities to teach us and others to rely on him through our rough times as well as our times of comfort. Jesus makes a salve with dirt and his salvia, places it on it on the man’s eyes and sends him to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off. When he did, the man could see. What was the purpose of the man’s blindness? To demonstrate the healing powers of God. I have seen people receive devastating news of terminal cancer and yet their faith and focus on God never waivers. Through the treatments and the wasting of their bodies, the light of Jesus still shined in their eyes and it never dimmed even when their death was imminent. Even as they prayed for healing, they knew God heals in two ways: he may heal us physically or he may call us home to heaven. Regardless of the source of our misfortunes, God wants us to focus on him, rely on him and he will guide us on the right path.

As a new Christian, I was told to pray to the acronym JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself. For many years, I struggled with this. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t until I studied the book of John and prayer in general in my college years that I understood why. When in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays. However, he prayed, first, for himself. John 17:1-5. He asked God the Father to glorify him now that the time has come to glorify him, so the Jesus can glorify the Father (verse 1). He then prays for his disciples. In John 17:6-19, he asks God the Father to protect them by the power of his name, to protect them from the evil one. He lastly prays for future believers. John 17:20-26, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (verse 20). When Jesus prayed for himself, the disciples, and future believers, he prayed for unity (verse 11), protection from the evil one (verse 15) and sanctity/holiness (verse 17). To me, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no right formula to bring your requests, concerns to God. A quick prayer for safety is okay. A detailed prayer for those in our lives is okay too. God listens whenever we call on him. The order or length isn’t what to focus on. The focus should be on coming before God with our prayers. Some people set a certain time each day to pray. That’s okay. Some people pray throughout the day as the need arises, that’s okay. As with every relationship, it’s different for everyone. Follow Jesus’ example and pray as you feel is necessary. Pray for yourself is that’s what on your mind. Pray for others if that’s what is laid on your heart. The order doesn’t matter. The length doesn’t matter. Heck, even the place doesn’t matter. It is coming to God that does.

In conclusion, the book of John is a book filled with great lessons in the life of Jesus and those around him. John the Baptist was a man with a mission. A man who never backed down when threatened. He stayed focused on God and his task until the end. He is an example that each of us is given a purpose in life. It may not be as extreme as John’s but a purpose for the glory of his kingdom. The blind man is a lesson that our ailments aren’t always punishments but a chance for God to show his power in our lives. We need just to focus on him in all times of our lives and he will heal us, lift us out of our calamity, as we demonstrate our faith in him. He will use it to his glory. Pray as your heart is led. God doesn’t care if the words are eloquent or lengthy. He cares that you are coming to him with your cares and concerns. He wants that time with you. All you need is to pray.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ask me about my uterus: one woman's journey to seek answers for her pain

Ask Me about My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman is her own journey through a painful past to deal with a painful medical condition which many doctors do not fully understand. As a young college student, Ms. Norman began to experience painful, stabbing cramps that would keep her bed ridden for days. She is finally diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition which isn’t fully understood even with today’s medical technology and knowledge. Ms. Norman discusses the journey of women’s medical knowledge through the ages and even in psychology as it was thought that women’s pains and conditions were caused by hysteria originating in the uterus. Does she ever get the answers she’s looking for? What can doctors learn by listening more closely to their female patients?

I originally chose this book because I know many women who suffer from conditions with no real explanations or solutions, who still struggle to find answers. I expected this book to be so much more than it was. I thought she would focus on her journey for answers and help other women reading her story to fight for their answers. However, she tended to focus more on her troubled and horrific childhood. There are a few statements Ms. Norman makes which I don’t agree with or question the age of such knowledge. At one point, she makes the claim that women are more likely to be given sedatives after surgery and men are given painkillers. I’m not sure where she got this information, as she doesn’t give any references that I saw, but this has not been my experience with surgery at all. However, it is a disturbing thought to think about if it is true for even one female patient in pain. I recommend Ask Me about My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain as a tool, inspiration to help women confront their doctors to listen more closely.

Ask me about My Uterus:
A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believer in Woman’s Pain
is available in hardcover and eBook

Saturday, March 10, 2018

My name is Venus Black: a young adult story I could not finish

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd is the story of Venus Black, who at the age of 13, committed a crime which has her incarcerated until she’s 18. During her incarceration, her half-brother, Leo, goes missing. After 5 and half years, she’s released, and she slowly tries to rebuild her life, putting her past behind her and creating a new identity. As her old life begins to remerge in her new one, Venus must find a way to truly leave the past behind her in order to move forward. Will she be able to move past her crime? Will she be able to find her brother after so many years?

Unfortunately, My Name is Venus Black is a book I could not finish. With seven parts, 51 chapters and multiple points of view, it became way too long and too muddled that I found myself getting bored and not caring about Venus, her crime or her life after incarceration. The book is marketed as young adult book which I don’t like it’s why I couldn’t finish it as I’ve read a decent amount of young adult books and was entertained. I cannot recommend My Name is Venus Black. The book started with a great idea, but it didn’t live up to it.

My Name is Venus Black
is available in hardcover and eBook

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Luke: blessings, women's roles and a lesson in mercy

This month’s reading was on the book of Luke. Luke was a doctor, Greek and a Gentile Christian. He is the only known Gentile Christian to author a book for the Bible (he also wrote Acts which we will get to in a couple months). He was a close friend and companion with Paul. Luke’s purpose in writing this book was to present an accurate account of the life of Jesus. This book is the most comprehensive Gospel. The general vocabulary shows that Luke was educated and Luke stresses Jesus’s relationships with people, empathizes prayer, miracles and gives prominent place to women.

In Luke 6:20-23, Jesus gives the Beatitudes. In verses 20-23, he speaks of those who are blessed. The word, “beatitudes” is from the Latin for blessed. They describe what it means to be a follower of Christ, standards of conduct in contrast with the world values. Verse 20 states that “blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” Poor in this verse doesn’t necessarily mean poor in money. Many commentaries state that it may mean poor in spirit. Someone who is thirsty for revival, for God’s presence to return to the people. In verse 21, he states “blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” This isn’t a just physical hunger, but for a hunger for God as well. In a time when riches were a sign of God’s favor, those who were poor, hungry and at the bottom of society, yearned for God’s favor. Jesus is telling us that riches are not a sign of God’s favor. God’s favor came to those who searched for him and followed his Word. Also, in verse 21, Jesus states “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” A time of laughter and joy were coming. In verse 22, Jesus says “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” Jesus is saying that when we are hated, pushed aside, and rejected because of our belief in him and his words, we are blessed. Jesus is also trying to prepare his followers for the days when they will be persecuted because of their belief. This persecution still goes on today as many believers are ridicule in the media, in schools and by family and friends for their belief. Jesus tells us in verse 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

Luke speaks about the women who accompanied Jesus during his ministry. In Luke 8:1-3, a few are mentioned by name. “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene), from who seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Three women are named specifically. First, Mary Magdalene, who tradition often tells us that she was an immoral woman, which the Bible never says, and this verse specifically tells us that she was healed from a possession of seven demons. Many scholars believe that the story of her leading an immoral life is because her name is first mentioned right after the story of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:36-50). There is no evidence the two women are the same. Second, Joanna, the wife of the manager of Herod’s household. The Bible doesn’t state what she was cured of, but she traveled with him throughout the rest of his ministry. Third, Susanna which no further information is given about who she is or how she came to follow Jesus. However, the most important information about these women is found in the last part of verse 3, I wrote it above and wonder if you caught it. Luke writes “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” These women had their own money and were using it to support Jesus’s ministry! Jesus lifted women from the agony of social degradation and servitude to the joy of fellowship and service. Women weren’t allowed to learn from the rabbis and Jesus shows that all are equal with God by allowed these women to learn from him. These short verses also give a glimpse into the behind the scenes of the ministry. Many times, the focus is on those in the forefront, but it is those who are working in the background who are the backbone of the ministry.

Lastly, everyone has heard of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-38). It is a lesson in who is our neighbor and how we should treat them. An expert of the law came to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding him of the law. “Love your God with all your heart and with all your sour and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). The expert further asks, “who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). Jesus tells the story of a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed. The man was beaten and left for dead (verse 30). A priest passed him and didn’t offer help, a Levite passed him and didn’t offer help (verse 31). A Samaritan came upon the man, took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, took him to an inn and took care of him (verses 33-35). Jesus then asks, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (verse 36). Here is the lesson, the expert answered, “the one who had mercy on him” (verse 37). Jesus tells him to go and do likewise. To love our neighbor is to show mercy. Our neighbors is everyone, even those we have a deep hatred for as the Jews and the Sarmatians had for each other. The Samaritan in this story probably had the most reason to leave the man on the road but he didn’t. He saw a man hurt and in need of help and took pity on him. When we are able to push our hatred aside to show mercy, we are loving our neighbor. I know it is easier said than done and we don’t often do it. That is when we need the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit to help us.

In conclusion, the book of Luke is filled with wonderful examples of how we can follow Jesus in our world today. The Beatitudes tells us that we will rewarded for our suffering and persecution today. Women who have been traditionally in the shadows of history and in the church are shown in Luke to have played a major and important role in Jesus’s ministry. And lastly, a lesson in loving your neighbor told through the classic story of the Good Samaritan. Although it is hard to follow or emulate these lessons in life; however, don’t forget we have the Word of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit to show us, to correct us and guide us to continue on our path with God.