I AM the Door: Reflections on the Gospel of John

            There are so many things I could comment on about John’s gospel that it’s hard to know where to start! I’ve long been intrigued by the way it opens, not with a narrative account of Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke; and not without preamble as in Mark’s gospel. John instead takes the time to introduce his readers to Jesus by directing them back to Genesis chapter 1… “in the beginning…”.  He states that Jesus (the Word) is God, which Jesus Himself also claimed throughout His ministry. These statements, as revealed in the gospels and in John in particular, are often lost on modern-day, non-Jewish readers, but to the readers and hearers in that day the intent and meaning behind Jesus’ claims would have been both crystal clear and shocking. His use of the phrase “I Am” was directly and deliberately correlated to God’s name for Himself as revealed in His conversation with Moses (Exodus 3:14), which the Jews would have immediately recognized. It’s pertinent to note that Jesus didn’t merely make these statements verbally, but He also communicated these truths by His actions. For instance, He stated, “I am the bread of life”, and also miraculously fed thousands of people. He claimed to be “the light of the world”, and healed a blind man, literally illuminating that man’s world!  

            I think one of the things I notice more now than I used to is the depth and character of Jesus’ personality. He’s not the dry, boring, humorless man that is so often depicted in movies and paintings; and even by many Christians I’ve encountered over the years, including myself at times. He overturned the status quo (and continues to do so), in much the same way he overturned tables in the temple. He cared very little about what was culturally and socially acceptable. He spoke to women and children, slaves and foreigners. He didn’t approach His conversations with people in a scripted fashion. Every encounter He had was uniquely tailored to that individual.  He asked lots of questions, not because He needed the information but because the other person needed to be drawn out or challenged in some way, yet always with the other person’s best interest in mind. One of my favorite passages is in chapter 8 where the Pharisees brought a woman to Him caught in the act of adultery (btw…How did they know when and where to find her?… Where was the man who was also committing adultery?… This “testing” of Jesus reeks of calculated, arrogant antagonism toward Jesus and indifference toward the woman.).  Jesus’ handling of the situation is brilliant, in that He upholds the validity of Old Testament law while at the same time demonstrating the New Testament mercy that He alone can provide.

            Another passage that stands out is Jesus’ encounter with Mary following the death of her brother, Lazarus (chapter 11).  I think people often believe that they’re not allowed to express to God when they are angry or upset about something, but here in this account, in verse 32, Mary blurts it out… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She’s angry and confused, questioning Him for His apparent failure to arrive on time. She knows who He is and believes in both His goodness and His power, but in that gut-wrenching moment her faith is in conflict with her experience.  He of course responds with compassion. He weeps, I think, partly in loving empathy toward her in that moment in time, and partly for the brokenness of our fallen world that brought death, in all its forms, that we were never intended to experience. I appreciate the reminder that we can and should be genuine in our relationship with Him. That we can cry and doubt and ask Him questions and even express hurt or anger, and He responds with grace and mercy.  He also reminds us, as He did Mary, that “if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (v 40). This doesn’t mean that things will always get better immediately. They often don’t. But it does mean that we can trust Him completely, even in our waiting. Ultimately, Jesus responded by going to the cross on our behalf and offering permanent restoration and resurrection to us all.

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

John 21:25, NASB

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Faith in the Midst of Uncertainty

Clarity…

For those of you who know me, you know that I like order. And planning. I like to know what the expectations are and how to get where I’m going. I like to be prepared for any and all contigencies that may arise. I like it when I feel confident. My organizational skills are off the charts. In a lot of contexts this is great, right!? In work? Check! In school? Check! In all that administrative/ministry/behind-the-scenes-stuff? Check! In my faith as a follower of Christ!? Um.. well… not necessarily.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot in recent months about clarity. I’ve been looking back over the course of my life and my journey with the Lord and have realized that very often my prayers have included a request for clarity…whether for myself, or as I have prayed for and with others. I have literally used that word, “Lord, please give clarity regarding…. “. It seems like a reasonable request, right? Wise, even. After all, if we have clarity we can plan, and organize, and “be prepared for any and all contingencies”. We have a decision to make, or something has happened, and we want to know what to do or how it will turn out. Sometimes clarity comes in our situations, I love it when that happens. But oftentimes it doesn’t. Perhaps that’s even the case more often than not. We’re unsure what the next moment will bring. We’re left wondering if we’ve made a right choice. Or maybe a decision we made previously doesn’t turn out well and then we’re angry because the Lord could have prevented it. He could have shown us what would happen and then we would have (presumably) made a different choice.

Of course, we should seek the Lord’s direction, and absolutely we need to be grounded in the truth of His word and engaged in loving community with other Christ-followers. But, when we place our faith in our own ability to see and understand clearly (a form of idolatry, btw), we’re needlessly setting ourselves up for fear and confusion during those times and situations when we can’t see and when we don’t know.  I had thought, in my requests for clarity over the years, that I was demonstrating my faith in the Lord. In some ways I still think I was… but in the past few years He’s been pressing me to go deeper. To trust Him more. To not suddenly worry when the path becomes obsure. To place my faith in Him. To believe in the goodness of His character, and not in my own ability to think or see clearly.

I no longer ask the Lord to give me clarity.  Jesus can provide it if He wills, but what I seek now is His presence. I don’t ask Him to erase my doubts, I ask for deeper faith in the midst of my doubts, and a more abiding, patient trust…

I think one of the reasons I find my calling and role as a worship leader so compelling is because I am personally moved and ministered to by the Lord through music and the arts. I always have been. I listen to tons of music and have many favorites. Hillsong Worship released a song last year titled New Wine, with a lyric line that says:so I yield to You and to Your careful hand, when I trust You I don’t need to understand....” That stung the first few times I heard it. But.. it’s becoming the posture of my heart, and I hope it’s yours too.

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Song Story: Love to Tell

Hey you guys! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here! I’ve been taking some classes and also working on songwriting!! Which I am suuper excited about! I’ve added a Music page to the main menu, which I will use to gradually post videos of my original songs, but may also add some here individually along with the story behind the song.  As a worship leader, these will most likely be songs of praise and worship for the church to sing! I hope you enjoy them! And if you’re a worship leader and ever feel like one of these will work well with your congregation or Bible study group and/or etc., then please message me via my Contact page and I’m happy to send you the chord chart!

Acts 3:6-10-“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”

A month or so ago at my church, we were finishing up the book of Acts and our lead pastor was talking about how we, as believers, all have stories of encounters with Jesus. Not just the recounting of how we came to a saving faith in Christ, but also all of the times the Lord has been and continues working and moving in our lives and on our behalf. juri-gianfrancesco-655957-unsplashThe tendency can be to think that only those people with really radical testimonies have anything worth sharing, but that just isn’t true! All of us who know Jesus have stories of His faithfulness. Of His patience and compassion. The way He comforts and pursues us. Of how He works in even the smallest of details. Of how He gets our attention or how He sometimes redirects our course. The stories are as endless and varied as his people!

I love the above account from the book of Acts. First, the disciples are willing to share Jesus…it starts there right?  This man is aware of his own need and is willing to hear and receive what they say, and he believes and is healed. Then his immediate response is to get up and boldly go about showing and telling others of his encounter with Jesus as he leaps and praises His name. Followed by the people who saw and knew him being filled with wonder and amazement! Maybe we haven’t received a dramatic physical healing like this man, but we are no less broken apart from Jesus and our stories are no less remarkable! And you never know who might need to hear yours! May we be filled with renewed excitement over the Lord’s work in our lives and be bold about sharing our Jesus stories! And may we be quick to offer up praise to the One whose love for us is relentless.

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

 

 

Cafe image by Juri Gianfrancesco, on Unsplash
Featured Image by ItsPortAdelaide, on Unsplash 

#mothersday2018

Happy happy Mother’s Day to all the mommas out there! I hope you’ve had an awesome weekend! Being a mother is a source of some of life’s greatest joys & blessings and also at times its greatest trials and sorrows. I can’t imagine trying to do it without Jesus!  Being in ministry also has its share of both mountains and valleys; times of triumph and blessing and times of doubt, frustration and discouragement. I have some thoughts for the women in particular today as this Mother’s Day draws to a close. I hope this speaks to your hearts!

First of all I want to remind us that we are uniquely created in God’s image!  Just because we refer to God as Father and Son, and He and Him…and rightfully so, (it would be wrong to do otherwise), it doesn’t mean that we, as women, are any less His image-bearers.

As a reminder, let’s take a quick look at the familiar creation account in Genesis chapter 1 . It isn’t Adam only who was created in God’s image. It was Adam and Eve. Male and Female. Both of them together.  In His wisdom, the Triune Creator brought forth the man and the woman and in the process infused each with part of His character and likeness. So men and women together are designed to represent the Godhead. Neither can do it ontuscany-grape-field-nature-51947.jpeg their own. We need each other. Both at home and in the church God’s plan is that women and men would be partnering with one another in work and service to each other and to the Lord.

Throughout Scripture we can see aspects to God’s character that are clearly feminine, or motherly. One of them is in the gospels when Jesus states: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..”. And there are multiple instances in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:11 we read:  “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.”  Then this verse in Hosea 13 paints a picture not just of nurturing but of fearlessness and bravery:  “I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and I will tear open their chests; there I will also devour them like a lioness, as a wild beast would tear them.”  There are also several instances in the book of Isaiah of God using the imagery of motherhood to describe Himself.  There are a variety of characteristic traits specific to women that are a reflection of our Creator. We are image-bearers of the King of kings! Amazing! 

I know we know all this already, but if you’re like me then sometimes you just need to be reminded. I want to encourage you as mommas and as ministers to continue to serve the Lord, your families, your ministry teams and your congregations with tender boldness and courage! You’re created in His image. He’s given you a particular set of gifting and skills. And He has a plan and a call specifically for you!

By His grace I pray that we rightly represent Him in all that He’s given us to do.

Happy Mother’s Day!! ~ Michelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 33…Shout for Joy!

I recently revisited the familiar passage of Psalm 33 v1-3.  You probably know it.

1. Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
2. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3. Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.  

                                   Psalm 33:1-3 (NASB)

I’ve read these verses countless times before and I don’t recall what drew me to them on this particular occasion, but I love how there’s always something new to glean from even the most familiar of passages.  These days I primarily read from a Strong’s New American Standard version on my favorite Bible app , and I was struck by the use of the word ‘sing’ in each of these three verses, which I guess I had never really noticed before. Now, other translations don’t necessarily use the word ‘sing’ in time, but the NASB does.  Anyway in our language the definition of this word seems pretty straightforward, but I decided to do a quick word study in the original and I’m so glad I did! The first point of interest to me is that each of the three words translated as ‘sing’ in English are actually three different words in the original Hebrew language, with similar meanings yet each one conveying different implications and nuances. Here’s what I was able to unpack.

In Verse 1, “sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.” ,  the original word is rânan, which means: to creak (or emit a stridulous sound), i.e. to shout — aloud for joy, cry out, be joyful (greatly, make to) rejoice, (cause to) shout (for joy), (cause to) sing (aloud, for joy,), triumph.  For starters, this verse is an exhortation to the entire body of Christ. All of the Church. His bride. His sons and daughters. All of us. Not just the worship leader or the worship team. The first part of the definition interests me. “to creak or emit a stridulous sound“.  I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had someone approach me and say that they love corporate praise & worship but they themselves can’t carry a tune (they say) so they just listen. I think they’ve meant it in the context of a compliment generally, but it’s so unfortunate that they have felt the need to sing silently instead of, as this verse says, “aloud” and “cry(ing) out”.  I’ve tried to encourage them to sing anyway! To remind them that the Lord is looking at our hearts and our intent, and He doesn’t care about how beautiful our voices may or may not be. We’re all to sing, and shout! And to do so with great joy and triumph!  Also it says right there in the verse that “praise is becoming to the upright”!  So God finds it lovely and beautiful when all of His people praise Him!

For verse 2, “sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings”, the meaning is more or less what you might think taken in the context of the English phrasing. The original word here is zâmar; and means: “to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music: — give praise, sing forth praises, psalms”.   So…  making music accompanied by vocals… and to celebrate in song!  This verse paints the picture that along with the myriad of joyous voices are the musicians playing their instruments. The last phrase in verse 3 reiterates this idea of certain people “play(ing) skillfully” and “with a shout of joy.”

The Hebrew word for ‘sing’ in the first half of verse 3, sing to Him a new song”,  is šiyr; which implies the idea of “strolling minstrelsy”.  That was unexpected! We don’t use the English word minstrel very much these days so I Googled it for a bit more insight and found that it dates back to medieval times and is a reference to a “singer or musician, especially one who sang or recited lyric or heroic poetry to a musical accompaniment for the nobility”.   I also discovered that this same Hebrew word is found in 1 Samuel 18v6, and paints for us a picture of the meaning of the word:..”When David returned from killing the Philistine (Goliath), that the women came out …., singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.”  I love that! The imagery and realization that we are to collectively sing and play music to exalt and delight our King Jesus! That we are coming out to meet Him, as it were, and shower Him with the praise and adoration He deserves.

Two other things about verse 3 to point out are that we’re to create new songs, and we’re to play skillfully. I’ve heard it said over the years, and have in the past said myself, that we’re not to be performing when we lead worship. But I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. We absolutely need to be continuously monitoring our motivations, and should not be trying to promote or bring glory to ourselves, so in that sense then yes we shouldn’t be ‘performing’.  But these verses seem pretty clear that we should desire and strive to play with as much skill as we can. That we are not only leading the congregation in praise and worship to the Lord but we are also presenting to Him the songs that we’ve prepared and we need to give it everything we have. Jesus is our noble King and He deserves our praise and adoration and that we would play and lead with as much skill as possible. And we’re to write new songs and poems and create beautiful visual arts as well. I think that as believers, the creative process is also a form of the praise and worship that we offer to Jesus.

One last thought is for those of us who lead worship to evaluate our leadership of the people God has asked us to serve. Do I lovingly lead in such a way that they are free to be expressive and joyful in the ways these few verses describe? Am I setting that example? Actually not just me but the entire team? Is everyone on stage singing and leading with instruments doing so with joyous faces and with heartfelt singing? Or.. not? And if not then how can we address it and make improvements? How can we encourage and/or what do we need to teach? I think for the most part our congregations won’t be more expressive in worship than we are. So asking ourselves these types of questions and dialoguing with our teams on a regular basis is vital.

Blessings to you as you continue to purse excellence in the art of worship leading!  ~ Michelle

 

Photo from Pexels.