Seeing Jesus contains a series of short reflections that help the reader see God at work in our daily lives. Though Jesus is an ever-present reality in our lives, we often fail to recognize his presence in the midst of life’s storms and difficulties. Through metaphor and story (both biblical and personal anecdotes), Engelmann reminds us that we are surrounded by, sustained by, and empowered by a God who is intimately present in and through all of life’s experiences. Learning to “see Jesus,” to recognize Jesus’ presence in our lives, is a lifelong process.
Seeing Jesus by Expanding Your Context
Seeing Jesus in Letting Go of What We Cling To
Seeing Jesus in the Unexpected
Seeing Jesus When He Seems Far Away
Seeing Jesus in the Storms
Seeing Jesus in the Acorns and Mustard Seeds
Seeing Jesus in When You Are Out on a Limb
Seeing Jesus In the Master Fiddler
Seeing Jesus in Suffering
"The miracles of God are all around us but can we see them? People to help, opportunities to serve, and lessons to learn are all around us, but do we see them? The redemptive activities of Jesus Christ are happening all around us, but do we notice? Do we take them in? Can we really see them with our eyes, our minds, our hearts? Dr. Engelmann encourages us to 'open our eyes' and see the presence of Jesus."
—from the Foreword by James W. Moore
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About the Author
Kim Engelmann is Pastor and head of the Congregational Care Department at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, a dynamic church with nearly 5,000 members. She supervises staff, oversees recovery and support groups, does individual counseling, crisis intervention, and prayer ministries as well as preaching on designated Sundays. Before working at Menlo Park, Kim was Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church in Redwood City, CA. She grew up on the East Coast and worked in many pastoral settings there, including working as the chaplain in a psychiatric hospital and a general hospital, and serving churches in urban and rural settings. Kim was Associate Pastor of Trinitarian Congregational Church in N. Andover, Massachusetts, and The Federated Church of Ashland, Massachusetts. Kim has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care from Boston University. She has published three children's books (NavPress) and a variety of articles, devotionals, and prayers. Her most recent publication is Seeing Jesus: Glimpses of God in My Life (Abingdon Press, 2004).
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Glimpses of God in My Life
By Kim V. Engelmann
Dimensions for LivingCopyright © 2004 Dimensions for Living
All rights reserved.
Seeing Jesus by Expanding Your Context
"On Beyond Zebra"
Matthew 5:13-16, 38-44
I am the mother of three, and we love to read books together as a family. One of my favorite children's authors is also a theologian—the late Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel. Of course, he's not really a theologian, but I find theological meaning in his work. He wrote such books as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and Green Eggs and Ham. I think that one of his lesser known books, On Beyond Zebra, is one of his best. It's all about the serious problem that occurs when you stay within the limits of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.
Conrad Cornelius O'Donnell O'Dell is the character in the book who is learning to spell. He begins in a very pedantic way, declaring, "A is for Apple" and "B is for Bear." After Conrad reaches "Z is for Zebra," he thinks he is done. But his friend who is listening takes up a piece of chalk to draw one letter more. That letter is YUZZ, which he tells Conrad is the letter used to spell "Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz." The story continues in classic Seuss style, introducing new letters that stand for completely fantastical things. The teacher tells Conrad that in the places he goes and the things that he sees, he could never survive if he stopped at the letter Z. Seuss continues:
So, on beyond Z! It's high time you were shown That you really don't know all there is to be known.
And the book goes on with all kinds of fascinating letters and concepts that are beyond the ordinary, bringing in a whole new dimension by extending our normal conceptual frame of reference. Of course, this is child's play. What can possibly be beyond Z? you might ask! Z is as far as the alphabet goes, right? Once you've reached Z, you've reached the end. There is no more.
There are also times in our lives when it may seem that we've come to a halt. You might be at the end of the road in your life. It may feel that there are no more options, that life has dealt you a dead-end hand, and that you can never get beyond the Z. Maybe the end of the road for you is a divorce, the death of a loved one, financial ruin, or a serious medical illness. Or perhaps you've felt trapped in the doldrums, in the A to Z of routine; where it appears that there is no purpose to your life; and you are caught in the alphabet soup of the same old thing.
Seeing Jesus' Love in the Alphabet Soup of Life
If this is just another year of the same old A to Z, of nothing new, or if you think you are at the end of the road because of some pain in your life, be encouraged! These are exactly the times when Jesus Christ loves to take up the chalk of our lives—no matter how blunt and worn down—and draw one letter more. Perhaps even a letter we'd never dreamed of before.
I am using On Beyond Zebra as a metaphor to describe the awesome reality of the love of Jesus Christ for us that is "beyond Z," because it is more wonderful than we can conceive of in our normal A to Z frame of reference. The writer of Ephesians prays that we would experience or "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (3:19 NRSV). God's love creates new possibilities for us, bringing with it the seasoning of joy, expectancy, and hope.
Amazingly, these new possibilities come to us right where we are. In On Beyond Zebra, new letters are created using the existing twentysix letters of the alphabet—such as the letter called Yuzz, spelled Y-U-Z-Z. In the same way, the "on beyond zebra" love of Jesus Christ uses the very situations we are in, meets us right where we are, and gives us a new purpose and hope, either by reconfiguring our circumstances or by changing our perspective.
My father died suddenly and unexpectedly—a massive stroke took his life as he went to the bank one Monday morning. I stood in the reception line after his memorial service for several hours listening to stories about how he had made a difference in people's lives and had so deepened their love for Jesus that ministry had new meaning for them.
My father was a professor at Princeton Seminary and had been trained at Harvard Divinity School. He was an academic, not prone to tears and emotion, ready to psychoanalyze a religious experience away in his earlier years. But none of this came up at the memorial service. What people mentioned was how much he loved Jesus and how a car accident changed his life.
This life-altering accident happened when I was a teenager, on the first day of a family vacation. We stopped to help two women with a flat tire. They stood on the shoulder of the New York thruway, waving a little white glove. We had parked in front of their disabled vehicle because we almost passed them. My father got out and was squatting down to change the tire when a man who had fallen asleep at the wheel while going sixty-five miles an hour smashed into the back of the car my father was working on. The car rolled over my father, grinding him along in the gravel until it slammed into the back of our parked camper. When my father struggled out from under the car, still conscious, he was torn up from stem to stern. He lay there for half an hour before anyone realized that no one had called an ambulance.
At the hospital, almost an hour and a half later, the doctor said he wasn't sure my father would live. He was turning blue, his lung was bleeding, and they needed to get him on oxygen as soon as they could. First, however, he needed quick surgery. As he was being wheeled into surgery, he felt this "on beyond zebra" love, this palpable presence of Jesus, pouring into him. He began to sing "Fairest Lord Jesus"—an old familiar hymn—to the masked, somber surgical staff. The nurse poked him and told him, "You can't sing that. The doctor is Jewish." "Okay," said my father, "let's discuss the Old Testament." They did, and as they did, my father turned from blue to pink, his lung stopped bleeding, and the oxygen was cancelled.
This "on beyond zebra" encounter with the healing love of God forever changed my father's approach to theology. His head knowledge frame of reference was seasoned with heart knowledge, and when he returned to Princeton, he began doing things a different way. He became known as the weeping professor, for whenever he mentioned the name of Jesus during a lecture, tears often welled up in his eyes. He never stopped being an intellectual, but now his lectures were also filled with heart knowledge as well. His great love for Jesus was what people remembered at his memorial service. And by his person, he taught me to love Jesus as well.
One of my favorite scriptures comes from the book of Job. After Job has lost everything and has a long intellectual debate with his friends about it, God appears on the scene: "I spoke of things ... too wonderful for me to know," says Job to God. "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:3, 5).
That personal encounter with God changed everything for Job. Knowing about God was nothing compared to knowing God personally; his head knowledge was seasoned with heart knowledge. And in the last scene, God takes up the chalk and draws one letter more, restoring Job's fortunes entirely.
Jesus came to show us that this is what God is like. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), he essentially rewrites the Mosaic law, fulfilling it based on God's nature—"on beyond zebra" love. Notice what Jesus does in the words we read in Matthew 5. There's a repetition of the phrase over and over: 'You have heard that it was said But I say to you" that there's another way. Conventional wisdom and practice tells you to "love your neighbors and hate your enemies"—this is the way it has always been done in the normal A to Z world—but Jesus turns this upside down, telling us instead to "love your enemies." You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This is the status quo, the A to Z way. But I say to you, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. "Jesus ushered in this new order, this New-Testament-On-Beyond-Zebra way of being in the world and loving the world. Once we are touched by God's "on beyond zebra" love in Jesus Christ, we are called to do things in a different way, to become the salt of the earth.
In all the churches I served, we had potlucks, but I have never really liked them. By the time you get a bite of every casserole on your plate so you don't hurt anyone's feelings, not only does the plate buckle, but also everything also ends up tasting bland and alike for some reason. I used salt—a lot of salt!—and it helped. A little shake from the outside brought the entire mound of casseroles to life. I understand why people leave the church. Religion without the salty experience of God's "on beyond zebra" love is bland, boring, and irrelevant. Knowing the love of Jesus personally ushers in a whole new way of being in the world, a salty way, a zesty way. The reality of Jesus' love becomes our passion and redefines everything we do.
A car accident could have been the end of my father's life. Instead, God broke in and seasoned it, transforming it for his purposes. What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you? Is it something so painful that you wonder whether you'll ever get beyond it? Give it over to the One who is a Master at making a way, "on beyond zebra," taking the chalk and drawing one letter more, when the rest of the world tells you there is no way through or around your situation.
I was recently told about a painting. Evidently it depicts two people playing chess. The positions of the pieces on the board seem to indicate to the observer of the painting that the chess game is over. That one player is in checkmate. But one day a master chess player saw the painting and after studying it declared, 'The painting is wrong. The king is not in checkmate. He has one more move." And as the story goes, the master chess player was right. God has one more move for you. Something you view as a sunset may actually be a sunrise in the context of God's "on beyond zebra" love for you. Remember:
Your life matters to God—it is valuable and counts!
God loves you with "on beyond zebra" love—a love that surpasses our A-Z knowledge, a love that never gives up on you, a love that knows you better than you know yourself.
No matter what the situation, you will never find yourself at the end (at Z) with no options if you belong to Jesus Christ. God always has one more move for you—a new letter to draw with the chalk of your life.
And once you believe that you are loved that much, then you will have something salty to share with the world!
Questions for Reflection
1. Can you remember a time when it felt as if there was no way out, and God made a way for you? What were the circumstances?
2. Are there situations that you have stopped praying about because it seems that there is no hope? How might you regain hope in the transforming power of Jesus Christ?
3. What are the most meaningful scriptures, experiences, and thoughts that have helped you be aware of God's ability to take the most difficult situations and use them for good?
4. Would knowing that God's love is deeper than anything bad that could ever happen to us affect the way you live each day? How so?
Dear Lord Jesus, You always make a way where there seems to be no way. Your presence transformed the cross into resurrection, and I know your presence can transform whatever cross I am carrying today. I trust you to do this, and I leave the baggage of my circumstances in your hand, knowing that no matter how difficult I find this journey of life, you are with me to renew me, strengthen me, and work all things for good. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.CHAPTER 2
Seeing Jesus by Letting Go of What We Cling To
"With Open Hands"
* * *
2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 2:20; John 20:21-22
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving, that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
The prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most famous of all Christian writings. It asks God to give us the power to do what is not humanly possible—to replace hatred with love, doubt with faith, sadness with joy. In essence, the prayer asks God to give us the power to change ourselves and change the world for Jesus Christ. Yet, this prayer may seem too idealistic for us who do not live in cloisters or monasteries; we who have schedules, demands, and ongoing obligations.
Recently I opened up a checking account at a nearby bank. This bank's motto, written in huge black letters on the window, was "You Have More Power Than You Think." I couldn't help admiring the motto. I could see how it would be a tremendous draw in times like today when we feel powerless about what is going on around us. Who knows? Maybe a checking account at this particular bank was the answer to it all! And yet, I began to think about the difference between power as our culture defines it and power as Christians define it, and how easy it is to slip into substituting our cultural definition of power for world-changing Holy Spirit power.
If I curl my hand into a tight fist, this represents power the way our culture defines it. Study the fist position carefully sometime. Ask yourself what a hand can do when it is in this position. If nothing else, it certainly can pack a wallop, can't it? When I went to college in Manhattan, New York, I took a self-defense class and learned how to pack some power behind an arm thrust and a fist.
A hand in the shape of a fist is also much smaller than an open hand. Sometimes when we try very hard to win battles or gain points in order to be more powerful as the world defines power, ironically our world becomes constricted, just like a fist. Our perspective grows smaller, our world becomes no bigger than the problem at hand, our solutions are forged with tension, and we feel as though any resolution to a problem is all up to us. Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have. But the worst part about it is that this kind of power quest—and we might even define power here as the need to control—affects those closest to me whom I love the most: my family and friends. I can't hold anyone else's hand when my fingers are rolled up underneath my thumb. Making a fist is a solitary stance. I can't give anything or receive anything either; and giving and receiving is the living dynamic of any relationship. Isn't it odd that a clenched fist, so impractical and ineffective, is considered threatening and powerful?
When you release your fist, slowly and carefully, you can feel tension leaving your hand. Opening your hand, palm upward to the sky, is a far more vulnerable position. But your fingers are able to touch and reach and stretch in freedom. You are now able to hold things, to offer things, to receive things. It feels much better this way, and so much more can be accomplished. An open hand is better equipped to do what it was created to do.
A quote making the rounds these days is, "Do not feel totally, personally, irrevocably responsible for everything. That's my job. Hand it over. (Signed,) God." When we open our hands and relinquish our control, we actually do have more power than we think, though it has nothing to do with higher interest rates, free checking, or yield on investments as the bank might define it.
It has to do with the Lord's statement to Paul when he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9 NRSV). Weakness and power together—that's the catch. It's literally hard to grasp because weakness and power don't usually fit hand in glove. But the scriptures are full of such paradoxical truth, turning the world's values and expectations upside down and inside out.
Paul says again, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). And this truth is so deeply embedded in the event of Christ crucified in weakness that once you discover that your weakness is actually a venue for his strength, you are onto what Jesus meant when he said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). It's the paradox understood and echoed by Saint Francis of Assisi who wrote that "it is in giving that we receive." In our vulnerability, in the emptying of ourselves, his strength in us finds a home.
Excerpted from Seeing Jesus by Kim V. Engelmann. Copyright © 2004 Dimensions for Living. Excerpted by permission of Dimensions for Living.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Dr. James W. Moore,
Chapter 1: Seeing Jesus by Expanding Your Context,
Chapter 2: Seeing Jesus by Letting Go of What We Cling To,
Chapter 3: Seeing Jesus in the Unexpected,
Chapter 4: Seeing Jesus When He Seems Far Away,
Chapter 5: Seeing Jesus in the Storms,
Chapter 6: Seeing Jesus in the Mustard Seeds,
Chapter 7: Seeing Jesus When You Are "Out on a Limb",
Chapter 8: Seeing Jesus in the Master Fiddler,
Chapter 9: Seeing Jesus in Suffering,