Christianity 201

August 26, 2019

Jesus Chose Not to Identify with the Rich and Powerful

Last night we listened to an interview that Michael Card did in the spring with Skye Jethani at The Holy Post Podcast. It reminded me what a tremendous gift his writing and music is to The Church. Today’s reading is taken from his blog; click the header which follows to read at source.

Good News To The Poor

“I have come to preach good news to the poor.”
Luke 4:18

Those were the very first words Jesus spoke at the start of His ministry, and so they are the perfect words, simply because He spoke them. But they were not easily spoken. They were costly words. In the end, they would cost Him everything. His followers would fret, “If only He would have had the good sense to identify with the rich and the powerful instead of the poor. If only He had acted in accordance with their values. If only He had danced to their tune…” But Jesus did not, would not, dance (Luke 7:32).

There are no words to describe the extent to which He radically identified with the poor. In one of two disturbing and surprising moments that are yet to come, Jesus said, in effect: When you fed the poor, you were feeding Me. When you neglected them, you were neglecting Me. This is one-on-one identification. “If they reject you, they are rejecting Me.” The absolute Highness standing with the lowest.

In a religious world that had concluded that the poor were poor because they were sinners and cursed by God as a result, Jesus came and paradoxically pronounced on them God’s blessing. “Blessed are you who are poor,” He said, because this world is not the only world that exists, and an upside-down kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world is here and at the same time, it is coming.

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t have a few wealthy friends, Joseph of Arimathea being the most noteworthy. But by and large He gravitated toward the poor, and they were drawn almost gravitationally to Him. They followed Him in droves, not necessarily because they grasped fully what His life meant, or what the gospel was, but because they recognized in Him a compassionate heart that would feed them if He could, even when He was forced to borrow bread and fish from a hungry little boy to do so.

Even those who, because of their lack of education, were unaware of Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be a Man of Sorrows acquainted with our deepest grief recognized in Him someone whose rears were somehow their tears as well. He was not only weeping for them, He was weeping with them, becoming acquainted to the darkest depths with their poverty and pain.

Jesus had made it clear that He was going to raise his friend Lazarus, and yet when He saw Lazarus’s sister Mary in tears, initially He could do nothing but weep with her. He did not explain away the pain, did not say He had come with the answer, that He would fix everything; no, He bowed His head and allowed the tears to flow. It was not about providing answers or fixing a problem, it was about entering fully and redemptively into her suffering. Jesus did not weep because it was the right or sympathetic thing to do. He did it because the shape of His heart would not allow him to do otherwise. Jesus knew that God uses suffering to save the world. He had not come to fix death and sorrow but to ultimately bring about their demise. He had not come to give answers; He had come to give Himself. His presence, His tears were the solution, the answer, the Truth for that painful moment, perhaps more than the resuscitating of Lazarus; for, after all, that would only be a temporary reprieve. And in the midst of that moment, Mary didn’t get what she wanted, not just yet, but she got exactly what she needed.

Before the Man of Sorrows wept, Job became acquainted with all-out grief. Job’s experience was just the same. He had lost everything a person can lose – his possessions (that was the easy part), his children, his health. He was exposed to every fear, from the terrorism of the Sabeans to the hopeless anguish of cancer, or perhaps some other wasting disease like Ebola. He tasted the despair of losing his children. Most painful of all, he thought he had lost his God, or perhaps even worse, that his God had abandoned him.

So how does this apply? What does Jesus’ redemptive weeping have to do with us? The answer is, it has everything to do with us. Our call is not to fix those who weep, but to weep with them. We don’t need funds or expertise. We are not expected to provide every individual answer, each solution. Those who seek in obedience to follow Jesus don’t pretend to have all the answers. We don’t pretend to be able to fix every problem and dry every tear – but we can weep. And our tears uniquely qualify us for mission.

After all, fixing people is God’s work. The Father is more deeply committed to it – to fixing all of us, rich and poor – than we could imagine. But fixing isn’t the right word for it; the Bible’s word is salvation, re-creation. We don’t need to be fixed; we need to be re-created. The only way we, all of us, will ever experience that re-creation is to open the door of our lives to the poor, to enter redemptively into their suffering, and to discover through it our suffering as well. They are weeping our tears; Jesus in them is weeping our tears.

So celebrate the tears, the frustration, the confusion. Celebrate every day that you are tempted to give up but don’t. Celebrate changed lives, re-created lives, saved souls, men and women who have discovered that they are not alone after all, children who have discovered that there is a place in a family just for them after all. Be glad with us that good news has come to the poor, as a special blessing to all of us who labor and are heavy-laden. He is worthy of such gladness. In the meantime, continue to weep with those who weep; enter redemptively into the suffering that comes to your door.


Although this wasn’t a book excerpt as far as I know, I want to recommend this series of Michael Card books to you (pictured below) and also his newest book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP, 2018).

August 24, 2019

The Honor Due Christ

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m speaking about the Philippian Hymn, the passage in Philippians 2: 5-11.

NIV.Phil.2.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

I thought it was interesting to notice a synergy between the concluding phrases of this passage and the Ten Commandments. Here are some notes from my teaching points outline.

That at the mention of his name

  • A whole study can be done on the scriptural significance of names, their meaning and what it means to do something under the authority of someone’s name, i.e. praying ‘In Jesus’ name.’

Every knee will bow (in physical submission)

And every voice announce (in verbal proclamation/declaration)

  • This passage is also in Romans 14:11, “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” where you also see a reference to words spoken prophetically in Isaiah 45:23:
    By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
    Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every knee shall bow?” Not bowing? Yes, but also bowing to some other God. This is expressed in the second commandment: Exodus.20:4-5“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every tongue confess?” Not proclaiming? yes but also misusing, trivializing, or profaning his name. That is expressed in the 3rd commandment: 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
  • So where is the 1st commandment? Wouldn’t it be nice to tie it all up with a bow and have all three covered? I believe that “You shall have no other gods before me” is implicit in Christ being Lord, of having supreme rule over our lives. That’s the phrase that follows next.

That Jesus Christ is Lord.

  • The early church adopts “Jesus is Lord” after the style of “Caeser is Lord” (Earlier, Jesus asks, ‘Whose image is on this coin?’)
  • In The Lord’s Prayer: Kingdom is repeated twice; Jesus came to set up God’s kingdom over which God is sovereign ruler
  • “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. – John 5:23
  • If you want a verse that goes full circle on this, look at Jesus prayer in John 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed. Jesus returns to the father to the glory that he had, but based on what we see, with greater honor, because,
    “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

►►So what do we do with all this in our world?

While we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem.

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility; the laws of selfishness.

Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…”

We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from such things and keep a humble spirit.

I’ll post the full teaching notes tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud.

 

May 28, 2019

Three Years With Jesus… and He Still Didn’t Get It

Six months ago we featured an article which had appeared on the website The Ministry Wire. We went back this week to see what else is there. This article is by Will Berry who the site describes as passionate about ministry to children and teens. He’s one of three regular contributors to the site. Click the title to read at source.

Growing Pains

Have you ever been embarrassed by how little you know about someone that you should know a lot about? Maybe you forgot a church members name, and have been calling them “sir” or “brother” for years now, and you’re too caught up in the charade to come clean and just ask for their name? Maybe you’ve forgotten an important date like an anniversary or birthday and felt the wrath thereby incurred by your forgetfulness? It probably wasn’t as bad as Phillip’s blunder in John 14:8.

Jesus had more patience and temperance than I can fathom. He spent years with the disciples and, though He was the greatest teacher to ever walk the earth, they did not seem to “get it.” He taught them over and over again what His purpose on earth was, and they still assumed He was there to overthrow the Romans in a blaze of glory. He taught and taught about humility and service to others and yet, up until the last supper, they still viciously bickered about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. He told them bluntly and often that He would die and rise again, but when the day came, His disciples were hiding, confused, scared, and doubting. They just did not seem to be the best listeners.

One prime example of this being played out is in John 14:1-9. Jesus is trying to comfort the disciples and explain to them that He is not only the Messiah but God incarnate. In verse seven, Jesus practically spells it out for them and basically said “I am God, the Father and I are one and the same”. I can just imagine Him pointing to Himself when He said, “and have seen Him”.

But Phillip proved for all time that there are indeed stupid questions when, in verse eight, he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He wanted Jesus to show them the Father because he did not understand what Jesus had been teaching them for ages. It hadn’t clicked. He had not been able to see who Jesus actually was, because he was too busy seeing Jesus as who he wanted Jesus to be.

Verse nine has got to be one of the most stinging rebukes of the entire Bible.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Basically Jesus is asking, “After all this time you have still don’t understood this?” Despite years of walking with Jesus, Phillip had not grown to the level he should have. He still had the same view of Christ as before. He had not matured in his faith like you would imagine a disciple sitting at the feet of Christ would have.

Now it can be easy to make fun of Phillip and point out his flaws because they are spelled out for us. But the thought that really took hold of my heart was, “Would Jesus ask me the same question?” I have been saved for eleven years, but have I grown as much as I should have in that time? Are there lessons that I still have not gotten down despite numerous sermons, devotions, trials, and tests? Do I have greater faith in Jesus and His grace than I did last year? Am I closer to Him now than before? Or have I grown complacent in my walk with Christ? Am I content with where I am?

This thought really gripped me, because I think we often lose sight of who Jesus really is and only see Him as what we desire Him to be. Like Phillip, we try to fit Him into a box so that He matches our narrative. But He should be our friend and God who we walk with daily and learn from constantly.

My simple question for you, reader, is this: are you growing in your walk with God? Or are you stuck in a rut of failing tests over and over again where you are not experiencing the joys and benefits of yielding to God and growing? I have known plenty of Christians over the years who have not experienced the joy of having faith in God in every area, because they refuse to trust Him in areas like finances or with the lives of those around them. I have known Christians who have not experienced the peace of God because they still let little things offend them greatly. God wants to use the time we have and experiences we go through to teach and sanctify us. Is there an area of your life that you are not letting Him use?

Would Jesus have to ask you the same question He asked Phillip? Maybe you’ve been saved a year or maybe 50 years. Have you grown to the level God wants you to be at? Are you still growing? Strive for “Well done” not “Yet hast thou not known me?”

September 24, 2018

Living Out the Law Where it is Really Important

It’s six months later and we’re paying a return visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. Each of his recent articles is written in a vertical orientation as prayer. (It’s especially helpful to note the time of day when he wrote/prayed each.) Click the title below to read at source, and check out some of the more recent articles as well.

Love and Law

Thank You, Father, for a wonderfully productive day! You have been with me all the way and all the physical things are ready for worship. May I continue to prepare spiritually so that I may say, be and do exactly what You need. Praise Your holy name!

NLT.Matt.5.20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

When we first read this verse Lord I think we are a little shocked – even if we know who the “teachers of the religious law and Pharisees” were. Maybe I’m just not enough of a rebel but I was brought up to respect leaders in all walks of life. But regardless of how high someone is in any organization – even the church – lines can be crossed. And evil cannot be tolerated…and it must be dealt with. I’m sure there were good men among this nefarious crew of religiosity but they may have been few and far between, as well.

You have just proclaimed Your intent to fulfill the law as given to Moses and we are also called to be obedient to it. My study Bible* helps a great deal in understanding this law.

First of all, “there were three categories of law: ceremonial, civil and moral.” Ceremonial law dealt with Israel’s worship and it all pointed to You. Your death and resurrection fulfilled it all! So we “are no longer bound by” them but the “principles behind them – to worship and love a holy God – still apply.”

Our world is a “radically different” place from when the civil law was given to Israel for daily living. We don’t follow them specifically but Your example showed us that the “principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct.”

Lastly, the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) “is the direct command of God” and we are accountable to abide by it. Lord, You abided by it in its entirety.

And that is the rub with the religious leaders of the time You walked this earth. They were so busy splitting hairs that they didn’t really take time to live out the law where it was really important. Lord, Your desire was and still most assuredly is for us to live in a loving, intimate relationship with You. We can strive to abide by every rule and regulation but unless there is relationship…it is worthless.

Lord, help me (and I know You do) to love You more every day. May there be a burning in my heart to spend time with You regularly. The more time I conscientiously spend with You the closer our relationship will be. Amen – so be it!

*Life Application Bible New Living Translation

May 28, 2018

Jesus Raised the Bar, Making Law-Keeping Impossible

This is our 9th time featuring Christian musician and author John Fischer. Click the title below to read this at The Catch.

How good are you?

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20

In other words: Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most holy people you know, don’t even try.

This was one of the main things Jesus accomplished in the Sermon on the Mount. He established a new order. He put the law on a new basis. He made the law harder (indeed, impossible) to obey, but easier to fulfill. If that sounds like the same thing, it’s not. Think of it this way: If you are setting out to make yourself righteous on the basis of following all the laws of God … forget it. But if you want to know the point of the law — the reason behind it — so you can know why God gave it in the first place, and what to focus on, because you want to please Him and align your life in close proximity to His will … then you can do that by following only one law: the law of love.

Jesus made the law impossible to follow by reinterpreting some of the basic laws of Moses from an internal basis. He’s concerned with what is going on in our hearts and minds not just our behavior. So six times in this sermon He says something like, “You have heard it said,” or “You have read,” and six times He says, “But I say to you …” and that’s when He restates the depth of the law in our hearts, which we all have broken and continue to break because of our sinful nature.

Instead of murder, hatred in your heart will do the same thing. Instead of committing adultery, wishing you could, will put you in the camp with adulterers. Instead of allowing divorce, as Moses did, think of divorce as another trip to Camp Adultery. Instead of keeping your vows, don’t even make them, because you’ll break them before you even walk out the door. Instead of meeting evil with evil, meet evil with good. (This is what we talked about yesterday.) And instead of hating your enemy, which was acceptable by law, love your enemy. Six times He stated the law; six times He reinterpreted it in a way that made us all guilty.

This restatement of the law did two things:

1) It showed how the law is impossible to follow from the inside out. (The Pharisees followed the law on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones.) We are all guilty. No one can justify themselves by the law specially as Jesus reinterpreted it.

2) There’s a New Deal as far as the law goes. Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.(Matthew 22:37-40)

So we follow not the laws, but the purpose of the law which is love. And we follow as those who have been humbled to realize our spiritual poverty. We start where the sermon starts: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And from that place, we realize His power to make us into those who love as Christ has loved us.

February 1, 2018

Parables of Jesus: The Tricky Bits

by Clarke Dixon

In reading through the parables of Jesus from Mark chapter 4, there are certain parts that have always stood out to me as being difficult to understand. While we might normally gravitate to the familiar parables, I figured that if I found some parts tricky, you might also. So let’s take the difficult path and look at two tricky bits.

First Tricky Bit: Is God keeping secrets, and keeping people outside?

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;
12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” Mark 4:10-12

From verse 11 we might wonder if God is keeping secrets and from verse 12 we might wonder if He does so because He does not want people to be forgiven. This seems a direct contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So how are we to understand this? First off, the word translated “secret” by the NRSV may be better translated as “mystery”. However, even that word comes with baggage as we tend to think of mystery as something we could never know. Here the idea is that though we couldn’t know it before, it has been revealed to us and can now be known. While a secret is something meant to be kept hidden, this “mystery” is something shared.

However, those “outside” (verse 11) won’t be able to understand this mystery while those on the inside will. The point is not that we should pity the people outside, but that we should invite them in. The point is not that those outside should stay there, but that they should push in. We have seen people pushing in to see Jesus before in Mark’s Gospel. We can think of the paralytic in chapter 2 whose friends were so desperate to get him before Jesus they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him in. Note that the first thing Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven. That kind of thing happens when you press in to Jesus.

The parables are meant to get people thinking and questioning. Are you outside, thinking that you know everything you need to know and there is noting about Jesus or yourself that you need to learn? Or are you pressing in to find out? The question is not, “are you stuck outside?”, the questions is “are you coming in?”

Second Tricky Bit: Is God being harsh when those who have nothing lose everything?

24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

It seems both harsh and without logic to say that those who have nothing will lose everything. What are we to make of this? Imagine you have nothing, but are given a house. You don’t even send a thank you note to the generous person who gave you the house.  You go on with your life, living in the home, but you put no work into it. You never clean it and do no maintenance of any sort even though water has started pouring in from the roof, windows and foundation. You live in it, but you turn your back on it. Your benefactor, being very generous indeed, offers to give you a much better home, but you turn your nose up at the offer. Though you earned nothing, even what you do have will eventually be lost when the house falls apart. This is like our relationship with God. God has been good to every one of us in that He has given us life. Life is a gift from his hands, a sign of grace. Now suppose, though you live now by the grace of God, you turn your back on Him and refuse to have anything to do with Him. You refuse the offer of a further gift of eternal life. What will happen? Even what you have though have not earned, namely life, will be taken away from you. Separation from God, what we often call hell, is not harsh on God’s part. It is a natural consequence of the sin that separates us from God. It is what happens when we refuse the generous gift of Jesus who deals with that sin.

While the parables reveal truths about God’s Kingdom, they also reveal truths about us. God is bringing His kingdom. Are you pressing into it, or turning your back on it?

God is offering you a love relationship. Are you pressing into that relationship or turning your back? Jesus didn’t turn His back on you when he could have, when perhaps he should have. His back was to the cross.

All Scripture references are taken from NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

Based on a 32-minute sermon. Click here to listen in full.

 

 

November 10, 2017

Humility – Part One – As Jesus Demonstrated It

Today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

September 2, 2017

“For This Purpose I Have Come”

Its time for our annual visit to Steven C. Mills of Steve’s Bible Meditations.  Click the title below to read this at source.

Why? – John 12:27

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!” (John 12:27, NLT).

Recently, I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. The premise of the book is that successful leaders influence loyalty to a product, movement or idea because they communicate why their organizations exist. According to Sinek, knowing your why is more important than  knowing what you do or how you do it. And, knowing your why will help you know what to do and how to do it.

So, apply this on a personal level. What’s your why? Why do you exist? Why do you do what you do?

In a conversation in John 12 that Jesus had with some of His disciples concerning His impending death, He seemed to be very aware of His Why. He knew exactly why He existed and why He did what He did.

Some God-fearing Gentiles (Greeks) approached Philip and asked if he would introduce them to Jesus. Jesus had, heretofore, focused His ministry on the Jews and had only occasional interactions with Gentiles. Philip told Andrew about the Greeks’ request and Philip and Andrew went to Jesus to ask Jesus to meet with the Greeks.

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t consent to meet with these Gentiles. Rather, He made it a teachable moment to announce to His disciples a change of direction in His ministry. Instead of continuing to heal the sick and teach and preach to the Jews about the coming kingdom of God, Jesus declared that His ministry will now become a matter of sacrificing His own life so all people, Jews and Gentiles, can enter into God’s coming Kingdom.

But, He seemed to express some hesitancy at first. Although He knew the reason He had come–to die for the sins of the world–maybe there was another way. Perhaps there was an easier way to save the world besides suffering a torturous death.

But, I don’t think He was really hesitant. I don’t think He believed there might be easier way. I think these expressions of doubt were really expressions of resolution.

Jesus absolutely knew what He had to do. Because He knew His Why!

He knew without a doubt His reason for living…and for dying.

The Apostle Paul also knew His why:

“Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning” (Ephesians 3:8-9, NLT).

So, what’s your why? Why did God create you? What did He call you to do? And, how are you going do it?

Find out your why. Ask God why He created you. Ask Him what is the purpose of your life.

Then, when you’re clear about the why, you can pursue the what and God will empower you to accomplish the how.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Colossians 1:9-10, NLT)

July 28, 2017

When People Disappoint

James MacDonald is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the host of the weekday radio program Walk in the Word and blogs at Vertical Church Blog where this first appeared. Click the link to read at source.

Dealing with My Biggest Disappointment

The psalmist said, I have been young, and now am old . . . (Psalm 37:25), and that is how I feel. Fifty-something is not over the hill, but it is surely down the road—and now that I am down that road I see things a lot differently than I did when my shoes were new and I hadn’t broken a sweat. Back then I was filled with convictions that have lasted and idealisms that have not.

I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is God’s Son—the One who made atonement for sin and exemplifies righteousness—that the Bible is God’s Word revealed to us in perfection and sufficiency, that heaven and hell are real, and that God’s glory is the only thing worth fighting for. But I am less convinced about methods—mine or yours. I am not persuaded that my way is the only way, or even the best one in some instances. And I have lost my naivete about people. I frequently doubt when a person expresses their sincerity, their longevity in leadership, or their commitment to do as they say they will. It’s so shocking to look back and see how frequently people are excited about accountability until they are the one who needs it.

And it’s not just others I am disappointed with, it’s myself. I see how often I have failed to be all that I wanted to be for God and for others. Without question my biggest disappointment is with people—you and me, the whole bunch of us. On our best day we are incredibly flawed, and the harder a sincere person tries to push the blame on others, the more they should feel the weight of their own shortcomings . . . what “I” should have done differently.

But here’s the thing: give others the grace you know you need and move on in the lessons you have learned. Too much navel gazing and wallowing in disappointment hinders the work of God in and through you. The Christian life requires forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3:13). If your focus is on the rearview mirror today, I challenge you to lift your eyes to the road ahead and leave your disappointment with people behind you.

HOW???

Jesus had disappointments with people, right? With the religious leaders who attacked Him, with the family members who first rejected Him then fought for their own prominence when His popularity was on the rise. Where were they at the cross? Then the disciples—Peter denied, Judas betrayed, the rest ran when the Savior needed them most. Or did He? Of course Jesus loved people, but did He need them? An interesting verse in the opening of John is a lesson I could have used a lot earlier.

After many were flocking to Jesus and “believing in Him,” John 2:24-25 says: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus was neither cynical nor naive. He loved people without entrusting Himself to them, and He served people without exposing himself to their faults or failures. Are we so attached to one another that we set ourselves up to be shattered when the inevitability of our fallenness comes to the surface? Are we so in need of affirmation and acceptance that we find ourselves ‘wheels up’ in the ditch when a friend or colleague denies or betrays? Loving people, yes. Living in community, yes. But attaching ourselves to people in a way that we lose our footing in following Jesus when they stumble or trip us up? No!

Let’s fix our eyes squarely upon the only One worth following—praising God for the blessing of people, but refusing to attach ourselves in a way that puts our faith/following at risk. Looking back, if I had been a little less euphoric in the glory days with any particular person, I would have been less crushed by disappointment when I discovered their feet of clay . . . no doubt they would say the same of me. Only Jesus on the pedestal, the rest of us on level ground, looking up. That’s how I deal with disappointment.

John 21:21: “Peter . . . said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘. . . What is that to you? You follow me!’”

July 23, 2017

The Humanity of Jesus, the Christ, and Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Before the sacrificial ministry of Christ can be understood, the fullness of his ministry as man must be appreciated since it is as man that he lived among humankind and that he died. It is easy to allow one’s mind to miss the extent of the Lord’s ministry on behalf of people and to fail to perceive the extent of his love, and even the means of eternal salvation without knowledge of his humanness.

Jesus was born from the womb of Mary possessing the human characteristics of all humankind. He had the same limitations and suffered the same temptations.  He came to help humankind, and to be effective in doing so he had to endure the flesh and its trials just as must all people. “For this reason [to help people] he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:16─17 NIV. Italics added.) There was nothing about the humanity of Christ that would distinguish him from anyone else. He was fully human. He hurt when his flesh was wounded and agonized over the death of friends.  He went hungry and became tired. His body exerted the same desires and demands as does that of all men.

The above passage goes on to say, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The temptations that afflicted the Lord caused him distress and suffering. A temptation is something that has a draw on the flesh and motivates for its appeasement. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the effect of temptations on Christ. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) The Lord fought his flesh and its draws; his interest in living a holy life and in pleasing his Father was greater than interest in his body.

Christ experienced the humanity of people and he understands it. His experience was necessary so that he could become our merciful and faithful high priest.  A high priest offers sacrifices for sins committed “in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Known sin is to be confessed in order to be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9); however, unknown sin, that not recognized as sin by the sinner, must also be cleansed.  According to his knowledge of the flesh and his mercy, Christ offers his blood to meet one’s need in this regard.

The human body and its interests are so prone to evil that Paul calls it “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24) The Lord’s experiential understanding is a blessing for those who seek righteousness, but is a curse for those who are willing to submit to carnal interests.  Paul wrote, “Now if we are children [of God] then we are heirs—if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17 NIV Italics added.) The requirement for sharing in his glory is that people must suffer to gain victory over those unrighteous practices and thoughts that tempt the body and soul.  Paul taught, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (! Cor 10:13 NIV) John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The Lord triumphed over temptations so he knows that victory can be gained and the redeemed need to appreciate that he knows their commitment, or lack of it, to defeat sin.

The Spirit of Christ is there to help during times of temptation (Heb 2:18), but they, like the Lord, must seek it.  “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Heb 4:16 NIV) Believers are not called to live a passive life. They are to contend for victory, just as Christ did, and they are to help one another in that battle.

Jesus came to defeat the Old Covenant requirements for righteousness’ sake and he had to accomplish these in his own flesh to be an acceptable sacrifice. The Lord now dwells in the bodies of those who have professed his lordship. The secret that had been kept hidden for so long is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Just as he gained victory over the temptations that afflicted the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, a body like our own, he is able to accomplish such in the bodies of the remainder of humankind provided they are willing to listen and to obediently follow his leading. He has provided all that is necessary for victory (2 Pet 1:3) but just as he had to suffer to gain it, so must those in whom he indwells.  He does not over-rule a person’s will. Those who truly desire to dwell in his presence throughout eternity will strive with him. They are to put forth every effort (Lk 13:24), are to die to self-interest (Lk 17:33; Gal 6:7─8), and are to follow him. (Jn 10:27)

It was the humanity of the Lord that enabled him to be an acceptable sacrifice for humankind and it was his humanity that allowed him to appreciate the trials of the flesh arousing his mercy and grace so that he might intercede for those seeking to walk in the light and to pursue righteousness. Many accept that his ministry for them was completed at the cross, however, it is on-going and will only be completed when his life in the confessor is quenched, thwarted, or denied or when death occurs. He is the second Adam, the victorious one, and the one that enables victory.


After next week, Russell Young’s articles will appear here on alternative Tuesdays. We’re introducing a recurring feature starting August 6th with all articles appearing under the title Sunday Worship. Feel free to recommend any writers or articles you think would fit here.



Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 26, 2017

Who Was Thomas Doubting?

John 20:24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

This is actually part two of two posts by Jon Swanson at 300 Words a Day who we linked to many times in the early days of C201. A link to part one is found in the first paragraph, but I especially appreciated the insight found in this part of his study on Thomas.

More on Thomas

(Part two of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31. See part one.)

And we say, “But what about Thomas’ statement when he heard about the night?” He says, “unless I see his hands and side, and I touch him, I won’t believe.”

That’s the sure sign of a doubter, right?

May I ask a question? Who is he doubting? Jesus? Or is he doubting Peter? The man who had said he would stick with Jesus and then denied him. Is he doubting Nathaniel, who had been the original doubter of Jesus? Is he doubting the word of a bunch of guys who are never recorded as saying anything at all?

Thomas had no reason to trust these guys who talked to him about seeing the hands and side of Jesus. So when he says, “unless I see” he’s not doubting Jesus, not necessarily. But he is doubting them. He’s wanting the same evidence that they say they received.

And Jesus knew. Because Jesus loved Thomas. Jesus wanted him to believe, to trust. So a week or so later, Jesus gave Thomas the evidence that he wanted. Jesus appeared. He offered his hands. And Thomas believed. He didn’t even have to touch.

Because he was known by Jesus, I think. The person who had called him by name years before. The person who had fed him, taught him, walked with him, died in front of him, was alive and calling him by name. With gentle scolding and clear conversation.

Some of us resonate with Thomas.

We are active people, willing to move ahead, even in risky times. We, or I should say, “you”, don’t much care about the resisters, about the opposition, about those who are making threats. You are practical people, aware that if you die, you die, because everyone does some time.

But you have questions. You’d love to have the kind of evidence that other people say they have. Just once, you’d like to hear a voice from heaven like other people claim to have. Just once, you’d like to see the evidence of Jesus that other people claim they have.

Not miracles, not healing necessarily, not everything going great.

You just want to know that God knows you. For who you are. And to you, the story of Thomas says, “just say it.” Just tell Jesus that you’d like to hear him in the way that you can know it’s him.

And I’m confident that you will. If and as you listen.

I’m a little envious of Thomas, by the way. His honesty, his perseverance, his courage. Those were things the people who knew him saw. The rest of the disciples I mean. And Jesus.

People who lack discernment may call him, and you, “doubter”.

But Jesus doesn’t. After he said to stop doubting, He calls you friend.

And maybe you are ready to take steps that Thomas didn’t at first. You can take the words of the rest of the disciples-and Thomas-that this is Jesus, died and risen. And God.

October 24, 2016

Freedom from What is Hurting You

Articles here are often a mixture of in-depth Bible study and personal devotions. Sometimes I think we don’t do enough of the latter. Today, we’re again returning to Proverbs 31 Ministries. This time it’s a different writer, Leah DiPascal. Click the title below to read this on their site.

When the Struggles of Life Knock You Over

“When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” Luke 13:12-13 (NIV)

She heard His voice but couldn’t see Him clearly. The surrounding crowds had blocked her view.

Bent over at the waist and unable to stand up straight, she strained to get a good glimpse of Him. Then, unexpectedly, He’d called her forward.

I imagine her heart was racing as she slowly shuffled her way to the front of the synagogue.

Why would Jesus single her out of the crowd? Was He going to make a spectacle of her brokenness? Or expose her deepest pain and darkest secrets?

As the crowds around her murmured, each step toward Jesus felt as if she were lugging the weight of the world behind her.

For 18 years, her body had been crippled. Eighteen long, exhausting years.

She certainly had plenty of reasons not to go to the synagogue that Sabbath morning. Why subject herself to the possible harsh stares and hurtful comments? Yet she was there, listening intently to the teachings of Jesus.

She didn’t say a word. She didn’t try to get His attention. She simply stood in His presence, soaking in the life-giving statements that gave her hope in the midst of her hopeless situation.

But Jesus saw her. Jesus had compassion for her. Jesus loved and wanted to heal her. And in one swift statement, those 18 long, exhausting years came to a screeching halt.

“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12b).

With the gentle touch of His hands, warmth flowed through her body, and she suddenly realized she was standing upright. She no longer strained to get a glimpse of Jesus … she now saw Him face to face.

With a burst of joy, bondage gave way to freedom and she exhaled in worshipful praise and adoration to her Lord. Her healer. Her bondage breaker.

Scripture doesn’t tell us her name, but I think we all can relate to this woman in one way or another. Maybe you see a small part of her story that rings true in your own life, connecting you though years separate. Could it be:

  • An ailment that physically restricts your body and makes you feel weak?
  • A spiritual battle keeping you in bondage to the enemy?
  • An unwanted flaw that draws painful attention and hurtful comments from others?
  • A heavy heart filled with shattered dreams and stinging emotions?
  • A burden you carry, causing you to shuffle through life feeling alone, unwanted or disposable?

Whatever has made your life seem long and exhausting, Jesus can repair it by His powerful presence, His comforting words and His healing touch.

He loves you. He longs to be gracious to you. He rises to show compassion so you can stand upright again.

Assured. Secure. Enveloped in His comforting embrace.

You are never lost in the crowd because you have captivated Jesus’ heart. His gaze is always fixed on you.

He sees your pain. He’s aware of your affliction. He knows your struggles.

Like the woman in the synagogue, come as you are — with all that makes you feel less than. Draw near to Jesus, soak in His life-giving Word and wait expectantly to hear Him speak freedom over your situation:

“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12b). Jesus did it for her … and He can do it for you too!

Lord, I come to You today and lay all my burdens at Your feet. Take the emotional and mental weight I’ve been carrying so that I can stand upright again. Draw near to me. Heal me. Free me. I want to live assured, secure and continuously aware of Your loving embrace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Isaiah 30:18, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (NIV)

Psalm 145:14, “The LORD supports all who fall, and lifts up all who are bent over.” (NET)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
I would’ve loved to see Jesus miraculously heal that precious woman in the synagogue on that Sabbath day. It’s beautiful how her very first response was to praise God. How do you express gratitude for all God has done in your life? What are some things you can praise Him for today?

October 1, 2016

“I Am Willing”

This is our sixth visit with Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day. He has been faithfully writing since June 2012, and if you click the title below, you can then browse other posts.

I Am Willing

Join me in Mark 1 today and let’s think about what Jesus said in these three little words. But first … a little context.

And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” – Mark 1:40-41 NASB

Jesus ran into people every day during His ministry years. It is in fact why He came, to seek and to save the lost, to run into people and bring the kingdom of heaven into their lives. No two of the folks He encountered were alike. It was not as though everyone who came to Him for a miracle came with the same level of faith and expectation.

Some knew deep inside that if they could reach Him, they would find healing, like the woman with the issue of blood.

for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” – Matthew 9:21 NASB

Some were not even sure He had any power whatsoever.

“It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” – Mark 9:22 NASB

Some understood He was not limited to proximity, and could heal across the miles like the centurion.

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. – Matthew 8:8 NASB

So what about this leper we meet in Mark 1? He had a concern I often hear voiced in Evangelical circles. It’s common thought today that Jesus can still heal and does still heal, but it is linked to some sort of whim or fancy or divine fiat. We come to the Lord in prayer asking for healing as though we hoping He’s in a good mood and might just condescend to do us a little favor and heal our loved one.

This phrase only comes up five times in the NASB and three of them are three accounts of this event. One is when Jesus is talking about John the baptist, explaining that he was Elijah who would come. The only other time we hear this phrase is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus cries out to the Father:

saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” – Luke 22:42 NASB

Many have adopted this phrase as part of their prayer life.

Here’s the thing.

Jesus answered the question.

He answered this man in no uncertain terms.

He could have simply healed the leper to demonstrate His will without saying a word.

But Jesus—the Word of God—the very Will of God incarnate—the express image of God—Jesus—answered.

I am willing!

And if this doesn’t answer it for you with enough clarity, look at His ministry. He healed all who came to Him. Time after time we see Him heal them all.

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. – Matthew 4:24 NASB

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, – Matthew 12:15 NASB

We are not calling out to God for something unclear, or something unprecedented.

Jesus, in the Garden, placed Himself into a circumstance we could never see. He was facing separation from the Father, He was facing the cup of God’s wrath stored up against all our sin and the prospected was horrifying.

This is not our case when the come to the Lord Jesus for our healing. He told us His name is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord our Healer.

I understand that when we are talking about our future James tells us to leave it in the Lord’s hands.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” – James 4:15 NASB

But James is not teaching us to pray. He’s talking about our attitude toward life.

Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, said without hesitation:

“I am willing; be cleansed.” – Matthew 8:3 NASB

Hallelujah! (That’s a place for shouting!)

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