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.