Seeing Beyond Who Is at Fault

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Vol. 19 No. 30 | July 30, 2017

These five verses serve as the introduction to one of the great stories from the life of Jesus.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” (John 9:1-5, The Message)

The disciples are trying to understand Jesus. They are watching his every move. The religious leaders are trying to catch Him in sin, but His disciples ultimately, are just trying to understand Him. They have committed to follow Him, and they want to be like Him. But they are blinded by their humanity. They make human assumptions. They ask questions based on human understanding, and they give human explanations. Their eyes have not yet been opened to see Jesus for who He really is.

When they see the blind man, they revert to a common assumption of human reasoning: Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. If someone is suffering, it is because he or she has sinned. That is what His disciples believed. This belief may go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were punished for their sin. And you certainly see this logic conveyed in the story of Job when his friends and advisors tell him:

Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?

Where were the upright ever destroyed?

As I have observed, those who plow evil

     and those who sow trouble reap it.” (Job 4:7-8, NIV)

This understanding of life was common then, and is still common today. There is some truth to the fact that we reap what we sow and that sin has consequences. However, suffering is not necessarily the result of sin. In this scene, Jesus is not only trying to enlighten His disciples to this truth, He is also attempting to teach them that something much bigger is going on.

Read His words again:

You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.

Now, consider what Jesus is saying.

First, as followers of Jesus, we need to stop trying to blame people. Blaming others — someone, anyone — is a favorite pastime of our culture. Consider what is going on in Washington D. C. with the election tampering issue; the healthcare debate; and the arguments between the White House and the media. Read the comments on social media. (On second thought, you may not want to do that.) Listen to the discussions in corporate offices, church business meetings, and between husbands and wives. For some reason, we feel that we must blame someone when things do not go the way we want them to.

Jesus offers an alternative that leads us to move toward seeing beyond who’s at fault. He seems to be saying that sometimes people get sick, sometimes things go wrong, and sometimes people suffer for no apparent reason. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good things come to those we consider bad. It seems unfair and it seems wrong, but it happens.

Second, when circumstances seem dark, God may actually be doing great work.

Look instead for what God can do.

In this story, Jesus is about to do something amazing. Jesus is about to do something radical and  scandalous. If we keep our focus on blaming this man or his parents, we miss the miracle, we miss the thrill, and we miss the amazing. This is the message of the entire story in John 9, and this is the tragedy of much of what we call religion. While searching for someone to blame, we miss what God is doing.

I suspect you will see things, hear stories, and have experiences this week that by all accounts are unfair, cruel, and tragic. In some instances, who is at fault will be obvious. In some instances, justice will be carried out, and in some it will not. In some instances, you may be called upon to pass judgment, determine who is at fault, and place blame. Please be careful with this, and do your absolute best to move through this process thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with as much kindness as possible.

As you move through those difficult situations, remember to look for what  God is doing or is about to do. Do not spend your time seeking to place blame and miss the miraculous work of God.

Move toward seeing beyond who is at fault to seeing what God is actually doing.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

Life Can Be Disheartening

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Vol. 19 No. 29 | July 23, 20

Life can be disheartening. You may have experienced it. In fact, you may respond to that opening statement with something like: Disheartening? Are you kidding? My life is frustrating. My life is tough. My life stinks! My life is a constant struggle. My life is miserable. My life is a disaster.

I chose the wording of that statement for a reason. Disheartening presents a gentler and less severe description of life that seems a better fit for most of us. Of course, there are times when life is full of frustration, disappointment, and downright misery. But when most of us consider our life in total, we would agree that life can be disheartening, but it is not always disheartening.

There are times when life is full joy and celebration, when you are healthy, when your work is going well, and your family is happy. There are times when life is good.

Balance these times with times of sadness and defeat. You, or someone in your family, is not healthy. Your work is not going well, or perhaps you cannot find a job. Your family is in the midst of a crisis. Life, in its entirety, is not good, and you feel disheartened.

You do the best you can, but some days your best just does not seem to be enough. You feel like you have made the right decisions, you have received and followed good advice — the best you could ask for — but the results you had hoped for did not come. You are not down and out, but you are disheartened.

There is good news. You are not alone. If you follow the story of Jesus and His disciples through the gospels, you will notice times when His followers did not understand what He was saying, or where He was headed. They became confused, frustrated, and disheartened by the lack of what they considered progress. On one of those occasions Jesus addressed their low spirits.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:1-4, NIV)

There is more good news. Not only does Jesus understand being disheartened, He gives a reason for hope. You know the way. You know Jesus. Even though He is not physically with you, His spirit will always be with you. Comfort will come. You will not be alone.

Please do not think me naive. I understand that reading the words of Jesus, acknowledging that other people at times also feel disheartened, and remembering that Jesus is always with you is no magical formula for making you immune to occasionally being frustrated, discouraged, and disheartened. But I do suggest to you that knowing Jesus and relying on His constant presence is the best place to start.

When the negatives of the coming week begin to knock you around, remember Jesus’ words. By knowing Him, you know where things are headed, and He will be with you.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved.

A Time to Come Together, a Reason to Celebrate

Vol. 19 No. 28 | July 16, 20

Reunion: a gathering of two or more people coming back together after a period of separation.

To reunite with the ones we love, we will travel great distances, take time off from our jobs, and spend as much time and money as it takes to get to spend time together.

And on the day we all come back together, we celebrate.

We talk. We catch up on all the details of what we have missed since our last reunion. We talk about our careers, our health, and our kids. We talk about about how so much has changed, and how some things haven’t changed at all.

We listen. We listen to the details of recent weddings, of those who couldn’t attend and why. We hear stories about our distant relatives and marvel at the fact we’ve never heard them before. We listen to explanations of photographs, old and new, and search for familiar faces. We listen closely, a bit more than we used to, mainly because we can’t hear as well as we used to.

We remember. We reminisce about what it was like when we were kids, the trips we took, and the holidays we spent together. We remember our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters. And we remember the ones who are no longer with us.

We laugh. We laugh about stories from our childhood, the same ones we laughed about last year and the year before. We laugh about the things our parents said and the countless other things no one else would find humor in.

And we cry. We cry because we laughed until we cried. We cry because we are together again, and because we miss those who are no longer with us. We cry because every time we get together, we are fewer in number, older, and maybe a littler bit slower. We cry when we think of who might not be with us next time and because we know our time together will end much sooner that we want it to. We cry because we know we have to say good-bye.

And so, another family reunion has come and gone. We talked, we listened, and we remembered. We laughed, we cried, and we said good-bye, knowing we were blessed with another chance to do so.

One day, we will reunite with our families and friends here on earth for the final time. But this is not a time mourn. It is a time to celebrate. For we will then be reunited with our family, and the Lord, God, in heaven.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved.

Relationships Matter

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Vol. 19 No. 27 | July 9, 2017

Life is full of demands, and these demands create stress that tend to cause confusion, making it difficult to see the things that are truly important in life. When we lose our focus, possessions, position, power, and being productive crowd out what is really important: relationships.

Relationships are what matter.

When a baby is born, we realize the importance of relationships. Parents shed tears of joy when they realize they have been blessed together. Grandparents rejoice over the opportunity to share the joy with their children. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, close friends, and neighbors share the joy of being a part of the baby’s life.

Graduations remind us of the importance of relationships. Classmates celebrate the shared struggle of the education process. Students acknowledge the support they have received from parents, grandparents, teachers, and spouses.

Illness highlights the value of prayerful partners, neighbors who provide food, friends who help with medical costs, and the quiet servants who show up at just the right moment. When we are sick, we are thankful for doctors, nurses, and lab technicians who use their skills to provide healing for the body.

Memorial services create an atmosphere where we pay honor to someone with whom we have had a special relationship. Through stories, songs, poems, tears and embraces, we express our love and appreciation for the deceased and the survivors.

Relationships matter.

Jesus demonstrated His desire to have a relationship when He came to earth to dwell with us. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, The Message)

Jesus modeled His desire for His disciples to build strong relationships with one another when He washed the their feet and said to them:

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:15-17, NIV)

Jesus expressed the importance of good healthy and loving relationships when He told them:

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Jesus assured His disciples that even though He was physically leaving them, He would continue to be with them.

If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! (John 14:15-17, NIV)

During His time on earth with the disciples, Jesus demonstrated the importance of relationships by loving them, teaching them, and modeling what it means to love God and love people.

Spend some time this week reflecting on the relationships that you consider most important. Are relationships more important to you and to your church than buildings, budgets, inward-focused programs? Are you expressing the value to these relationship? Are you doing everything you can to strengthen and nurture these relationships?

Don’t allow the demands and pressures of life rob you of the joy of your relationships. Take the time to enjoy them, for they are what truly matter. 

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved.

Come to Him

Vol. 19 No. 26 | July 2, 2017

As described in Luke 24, Jesus’s disciples had been following Him for some time, experiencing many miraculous things in His presence.

When Jesus receives news that John the Baptist has been beheaded, He retreats to a solitary place to reflect upon and mourn his death. Once His followers discovered where he was, they crowded around him with the hope of receiving more of his teachings.

His compassion would not allow Him to turn them away, and he healed many of them. As the day came to an end, He asked His disciples to provide food for all. At least 5000 people were fed that evening with a miraculous display of food.

He dismissed the crowd and sent His disciples out onto the lake, while He again retreated to a place of solitude. What happened next reminds me of the quandary in which I often find myself.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:27-29, NIV)

This is how I can relate to this story:

I am trying to go to Jesus, to follow Him, and do what He wants me to. I am trying to sort through my options to discover His will. Like Peter, I am frozen in time wondering if I should step out into the unknown, or if I should I stay where it is safe and familiar.

It is decision time. I have heard the Lord say, come and I want to go. But fear paralyzes me, filling my head with all the reasons why I should stay where it’s safe. You’ll look foolish, people will laugh at you, they will think you have lost your mind. You will think you have lost your mind. What if you fail? What if this is the wrong decision?

These voices get louder, as my heart pounds faster. I want to step out and join Him. But I also want to be where is it comfortable.

So here I stand, one foot placed firmly in the boat, and the other perched on the edge, ready to step out into the unknown.

I can remember times when I choose to play it safe and risk nothing. God has never scolded me, ridiculed me, or deserted me when I chose this path. I have experienced good times in those safe places and been blessed in many ways. I have also known times of regret for choosing to stay where it was safe, looking out where Jesus is, wondering what it would be like to be standing in front of him.

I can also remember times when I did step out, overcoming my fear of the unknown and accepting His invitation. The experience was exhilarating! The reality of knowing and accepting that it is not me, but him who is in control is overwhelming. Yes there were those who wondered what I was thinking, and times when I wondered the same. There were others who said I was a fool, and times when I felt like one.

The difference between these two paths is that I cannot recall a time when I walked toward Jesus, and then looked back and wished I had stayed in the boat. This is not to say that I haven’t had moments of doubt and long periods of waiting to see where He was leading me. But I never regretted taking the risk. My only regret has been that I didn’t do it sooner.

Maybe you are in the boat and hear Jesus asking you to come to him. Perhaps He is asking you to choose do what it takes to have a better marriage. Maybe he is asking you to take the necessary steps to improve your relationship with your children, or maybe to pursue a new career and a better way of living.

I cannot read this passage from Luke without being reminded of these words from Patrick Overton that I have shared so many times: “When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”

Is it time for you to step out into the unknown? Or are you content where you are, playing it safe.

Listen closely, He might be asking you to come to Him.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved.