Christianity 201

March 13, 2019

Jesus Feeding the Thousands was for More than Physical Hunger

Today once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery, at the blog Practical Faith. Please, click the header below and read this at her blog and then check out some of the other devotionals.

Jesus sets up the crowd so they will listen

My mother amazed us when it came to feeding people. On the farm it was common for friends to drop in around lunch time. She usually prepared lunch for 2-4 people, but these drop-ins could bring the number up to a dozen or more. This didn’t faze her. She found ways to feed all of them. Her goal was meeting needs.

Our current church has brunch after the service on Sunday. This ministry started small but now we host between 400 and 500 people. We stack chairs, bring out tables and tablecloths and folks line up to several buffet tables with regular breakfast fare, plus a counter with toast and coffee, and another table for those on a gluten-free diet. This congregation is mostly well-to-do so it is not a charitable event. The main goal is that we can get to know one another as we fellowship over food. Brunch develops relationships. Unity in Christ is our goal for brunch.

Jesus fed people too. John 6 tells of a crowd who followed Him and when it was lunch time, all but one of the five thousand plus hungry people forgot to pack a lunch. The disciples were concerned. Finally, Andrew brought a boy to Jesus with his lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes.

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. (John 6:10–13)

What was Jesus’ goal in doing this? Filling their bellies, or did He have something more in mind?

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14–15)

He was not ready to be exalted, but this miraculous picnic did prepare the people for what He wanted to tell them. The next day the crowd gathered again, seeking Jesus, but He knew their real motive:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:26–40)

This miracle gave Him opportunity to talk to them about their spiritual need. The rest of the chapter tells how Jesus used the situation to teach them the contrast between “the flesh” and “the spirit” and in doing so He uncovered their failure to understand spiritual realities. But some stayed, including Peter:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66–69)

He got it, at least got the part that kept him close to Jesus. He understood that Jesus was the Lord, and that they had no other options.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jesus, so many times I’ve figured out other options. When challenges come, “I can do this” runs through my head far too often. It should be “Jesus will enable me . . . .” Forgive this reliance on the flesh and keep prodding me to walk by faith, trusting You for all that I need, including but not limited to lunch!

March 1, 2019

Pity vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

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This is actually our fifth time featuring resources from Seedbed, but each of the previous ones was the videos in their Seven Minute Seminary series. This time we join them in print for an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt.

On the Difference Between Pity and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

CONSIDER THIS

Jesus went to a town called Nain. Jesus was not just wandering around the countryside. Every step he made held significance beyond our ability to even comprehend. Everything he did had profound theological significance and yet it all was insanely practical. He turned water into wine, a mystery whose theological meaning we are still discerning. All the while he was solving a major problem at a wedding celebration– the wine ran out. Watch as this same dynamic unfolds in today’s text.

So why Nain? Nain was a small town about six miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. We are about to see the clashing of movements. Jesus is followed by his disciples and a large crowd of people as they near the city gate. Just as they arrive, a funeral procession is leaving the city with a large crowd following a widow with her deceased and only son. The movement of Life is meeting up with the movement of death. Imagine the contrast between the joyfully astonished throng following Jesus and the mournfully broken crowd following the widow and the dead son. We are in for a cosmic confrontation.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Far from easy sympathy, Jesus had compassion on this woman. I’ve heard charity described as giving someone the shirt you no longer want and compassion as giving someone the shirt off of your back. I love this translation. “His heart went out to her.” When I say, in response to some tragedy, “My heart goes out to them,” what I mean is I feel sorry for them. That’s about it. With Jesus, it’s more like his heart actually leaves his body and enters into the body of another person. This is precisely what God has done in Jesus and continues to do through Jesus in the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means for one person to “be with” another person; to enter into their reality and experience so deeply that their presence cannot be distinguished from your own. In the midst of two large crowds converging at the narrow place of a city gate, Jesus “saw her.” God seeks out the brokenhearted. We know “his heart went out to her” not because he said something nice but because he made a bee line straight to her. He was not at this funeral. He didn’t know these people. He was doing something else entirely, but he went straight to her.

So many times I have been in a hospital to see a particular person. As I approach their room I walk past and see so many other people, most of whom are all alone. Something in me says just knock on their door and ask if you can help them, pray for them, get them some water. Too often, though, I reason to myself that I don’t know them, that they have “people”, that it would be an unwanted intrusion to do this and I just go on about my business. In retrospect, I think the Holy Spirit was bursting at the seams to release the heart of God in those hospital rooms but was coming up short on Jesus types to actually do it. Lesson learned.

It’s so rare for someone to “be with” us like this. It requires the kind of attention of which only Divine Love is capable and this is the amazing thing about Jesus. He naturalizes Divine Love as a fully human expression. This is how he wants us to “be with” each other and particularly the broken and hurting among us. This is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does: He naturalizes and normalizes Divine Love in and through our ordinary lives in all our dealings with one another. It’s all at once miraculous and ordinary. And Daily Text readers, this is not just the pastor’s job. This is all of our shared privilege together. I would love to tell you a story about Brother Buddy Ratliff who does this as well as I’ve ever seen it done, and I’d love to tell you a story about a community of Africans who taught me what this kind of “being with others” looks like in the wake of tragic loss.

I need to close for the day. Jesus tells her not to cry and then he shows us all why. He walks over to the dead son and talks to him. Yes, he speaks to a corpse:

“Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And lo and behold the MIRACLE happened!

The dead man sat up and began to talk,

The life movement won out over the death movement. Sooner or later, it always does. You want to know the real miracle here? It’s in this last bit:

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, this widow had not only lost her son, she had essentially lost her life. She was completely disconnected from the community with no source of status or sustenance. She had truly joined the ranks of “the poor.” This act of Jesus giving the boy back to his mother was a profound Gospel move, restoring not only her son but her life as well. Profoundly theological. Insanely practical.

The people were awestruck. I love that they said this:

“God has come to help his people.”

That’s what we want to be said in the wake of our being with others in the midst of hardship, struggle, loss and pain: “God has come to help his people.”

Tomorrow, we’ve been invited to join Jesus for a meal in the home of a Pharisee. It will be interesting. Prepare yourself.

P.S. Some of you may have felt a little deja vu in today’s text. That wasn’t a glitch in the matrix. Jesus doesn’t miss a trick. To see what I’m talking about check out this Elijah story.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for showing us what it looks like when the movement of Life overcomes the movement of Death. It’s who you are. Lord, I want to be in that number; part of that movement. Open my eyes and my heart and my faith to this awakening movement today. IN Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

What stands out to you about this story today? Why do you think it stands out to you? What does it awaken in you?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

January 19, 2019

Some Analogies from Photography

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. The first article is more elementary, but is a good setup for the second. Both are so very well written.

Where is Your Focus?

If you have time and have never thought about the analogies in scripture to light and lenses click the title above and read this devotional first. Click the title below to read the second article at source.

Why focus is Important

…In a good photograph, the subject is in focus and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to that spot in the picture, seeing the statement the photographer is trying to make. In our Christian walk, we have to make sure we are focused on the right subject so that our life reflects the image of Christ that dwells in us. A camera records an image by the light reflected off the subject, back through the lens where it is captured on film or a digital sensor; it records the subject we focus on. Jesus stayed focused on his Heavenly Father so well that Colossians 1:15 says that He is the image of the invisible God.”  

The Importance of Lighting 

For good focus to be achieved, you need good light. Modern cameras have auto-focus, but if there is insufficient light, the camera will not focus correctly. One of the ways the word “light” is used in scripture is as an idiom to represent the knowledge and wisdom from God. Psalm 119:105 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Jesus was a man who was well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures. When he was being tempted in the desert by the Devil, he countered each temptation with it is written (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days during this account, and was tired and hungry. If anyone had an excuse to become unfocused, Jesus did. This is a great example of how using the light of God’s word allowed Jesus to stay focused and achieve victory over the temptations the Devil had set before him.  

Hebrews 12:2 

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and finisher of our trust, who, because of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Do We Focus On? 

With all the distractions in life, it’s easy to get focused on the wrong thing. Jesus Christ is the subject of God’s word from Genesis to Revelation, and that should be a clear message of “what” we need to focus on. Subsequently Christ, in his life and ministry, stayed focused on God’s will, which was to conquer sin and death and make life right again just as He intended it when He first created mankind in Eden. Jesus is our example of how to stay focused on the right thing, we can focus on him by studying his life as it is recorded in Scripture. 

The “joy” that was set before Christ was a picture of a Kingdom here on earth that he would rule in peace and justice—a kingdom where there is plenty of food, safety, health, and ultimately, no more death. Because Christ was so focused on this picture, he was able to endure the torturous death of the cross along with the shame and pain that he suffered. God asks us to stay focused by “fixing our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the epitome, or that perfect example, of a particular quality or type; he is the subject of our focus in our walk of trust.  

Quality of Light 

The quality of light is also important. Photographers know about the “golden hours,” that time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and the quality of light is at its best. They also use flashes and studio lights with their camera to eliminate harsh shadows and to illuminate the subject so that the image is the best representation of who or what that subject is. Sadly, much of Christianity today presents God in poor light—such as with the common saying that “all things happen for a reason.” When many Christians make that statement, what they mean is that “God is in control of everything that happens.” That presents God as a shadowy figure who is very arbitrary, who can bless us one minute and destroy us the next. That is not the God of Scripture.  

1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. And 1 John 4:16 says that God is love. One of Satan’s strategies is to “shoot” God in poor light, as a shadowy figure who is untrustworthy. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that the Adversary disguises himself as an angel of light. His purpose is to keep us from “shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, which represents the true image of God to the unsaved world. 

2 Corinthians 4:4 

…in whom the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, to keep them from seeing and shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1 John 3:8 says that The Son of God appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the Slanderer.1 Timothy 2:4 teaches that God, wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth. That “full knowledge of the truth” is the quality light that reveals the true nature of God.   

The Depth of Field 

Another element in photography is the f-stop. The “f” stands for focal ratio. This setting controls the pupil in the lens of a camera and determines how much is in focus in a picture. Portrait photographers are very aware of this setting because it controls what is called “depth of field.” If all the objects in a picture are in focus, this can make for a confusing picture. The subject can get lost in all the background details. Using a shallow depth of field blurs out the distracting details in the background and brings the true subject forward in a picture.  

There is a great example in the Gospel of Luke 8:40-48 of Jesus doing this very thing. The fame of Jesus Christ had spread throughout Israel by this time. Many believed he was the promised Messiah and in this account, a crowd surrounded him and his disciples and were pressing in to see and touch him. At one point, Jesus said, Someone touched me.” Peter turned to him and replied, “Thank you, Captain Obvious. We’re in the middle of a crowd. Of course someone touched you!” But Jesus was not distracted by the crowd. He focused in on the real subject: a woman who was suffering from menstrual issues and had been bleeding for twelve years. She had also spent all of her income on doctors, but they were unable to help her. This woman knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. She believed that if she touched the folds of his robe, she would be healed. In the middle of all this confusion, Jesus stopped and said, Daughter, your trust has made you whole. Go in peace. It’s easy to become unfocused by all the background distractions that life presents, but staying focused by zooming in on the real issues, just as Jesus did in this instance, will keep us centered in our walk of trust in God and His Son.   

Producing a Good Image 

We all project an image. We do it with words and deeds in our interactions with others. For the most part that image depends on what we focus on. Mankind was created in the image of God, but we have the freedom of will to project that image or not. As His children, God asks us to put off the old sin nature and put on the new one that is created in us through the gift of holy spirit. That new nature bears the image of the One who created it in us. 

Colossians 3:9-10 

Never lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self that is being renewed to a true knowledge that is in accord with the image of the one who created it.  

Photography is a learned craft. It takes consideration of all the elements involved to produce a good image. With digital photography, an image is further developed with software in what is called “post processing.” With film, it takes time and skill to develop a quality image. It’s taken me years to hone my photography skills, but over time my ratio of good photos to bad ones has improved. This is also true when developing the image of God that we project. It’s something we have to practice every day, but by staying focused on our Lord Jesus Christ, that image should develop and become clearer as we progress in our walk of trust. 

2 Corinthians 3:18 

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same appearance, from glory into glory, even as from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

 The final glory we will be transformed into will occur when our Lord appears at the Rapture, and as 1 John 3:1 says, Beloved, we are children of God now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when it is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” Our focus should not be limited to the Jesus of the Four Gospels; it should also include the risen Lord who is seated at the right hand of God, far above all might and dominion, and who some day in the future will transform us into that “same appearance.” 

We will never perfect the image of Christ in us in this lifetime because of the sin nature we struggle against. But as we stay focused on the subject, who is Jesus Christ, and as we illuminate the “subject” with the true light of God’s word, and as we use the proper depth of field to eliminate distractions, we will reflect the glory of Christ who is the image of the true God.

 

 

January 9, 2019

The One Who Has Faith is Never Insignificant

Each year we revisit the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great insights here from a variety of writers. The author of this piece is Don Lipsett. Click the title below to read at source.

(In)significant

Luke 8:42b-45aAs Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. (NIV)

Imagine the scene that day: Jesus, the Man who did miracles and spoke powerfully — unlike any other — was making His way down the street, surrounded by His disciples and a noisy, jostling crowd. Everyone was trying to get close to Him, to be seen with Him, to hear His words, or ask a question. In the dust and commotion, the woman just hoped to touch the outer hem of His robe. She was seemingly so insignificant in that whole chaotic scene, unnoticed — except by Jesus.

Do you remember about the day when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, met Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

Here also we find weakness, faith, and hope, face to face with the Saviour.

These incidents touch us, I believe, in their revealing how Jesus responds to faith, and to those who humbly seek. No one is insignificant to Him.

Perhaps for many of us, our contributions to and work for God’s kingdom may seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things, or in the monotony of daily life. However, Jesus’ call to us is to be faithful. Even if our circumstances may be limiting, we can pray, and maybe, there are yet little ways that we can share God’s love and the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, strangers, or even enemies. In little things and details, people can see, and wonder, and be moved by the Holy Spirit.

As the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, fill our weakness with Your strength, and give us faithful hearts that we may “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9a NKJV). We ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

August 15, 2018

His Words or His Works?

Jenny writes at Covered in His Dust. This is her first time showcased here at C201, and there are a number of other great posts on her site. This one appeared in February; click the title below to read it there.

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

February 8, 2018

Who Then is This Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41

When Jesus stills the storm, the first question of the disciples was not “could this be the a prophet?” or “could this be the promised Messiah?” What had just happened was completely beyond what was expected from either a prophet or the Messiah. It was not just that the wind suddenly died down, which could be chalked up to coincidence, but that the sea went into a “dead calm” (Mark 4:39). The sea does not respond to a drop in wind in that way. Who simply speaks and nature responds? Well there is Genesis 1 which is our first clue.

The question “who then is this?” is one that reverberates throughout the Gospel of Mark, including the passages that follow in Mark chapters 5 and 6.

Who then is this in 5:1-20 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons?

2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Mark 5:2-4 (emphasis added)

No one could ever subdue this man, and no chain could ever restrain him. Jesus does something far better than just subdue him. He frees the man. Who then is this who can do far beyond what anyone else only hoped to do?

Who then is this in 5:21-43 when a girl is raised from the dead?

41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42

Who can restore to life except the One who gives life in the first place?

Who then is this in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the disciples?

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7

It is amazing enough that Jesus has authority over unclean spirits. It is even more amazing that Jesus can give authority to others also. Who then is this who has even the authority to grant authority?

Who then is this in 6:30-44 when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish?

32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. Mark 6:32-33 (emphasis added)

The fact that Jesus will provide for such a great people in the wilderness takes us back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Who then is this who is acting out a scene from Israel’s story of being rescued by God?

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)

This brings to mind another chapter from the history of God’s people. In Ezekiel 34 God points out the failure of Israel’s leaders to shepherd the people. He has a plan to correct this:

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 34:14-15 (emphasis added)

Who then is this who shows himself to be the good shepherd?

38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:38-39 (emphasis added)

Here we have another reference to the Old Testament:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . Psalm 23:1,2 (emphasis added)

Not only can the 5,000 relate to “I shall not be lacking” thanks to Jesus, but we should not miss the reference to being made to sit down on green grass. Who then is this who reflects Psalm 23?

Who then is this in 6:45-52 when Jesus walks on water? There is a rather odd moment with this miracle:

When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. Mark 6:48 (emphasis added)

Though Jesus sees the disciples struggling, he intends to “pass them by”. That may seem quite un-Jesus like. However, I recently heard an insight from a Jewish scholar who saw the connection with the Old Testament. Moses had asked to see God’s glory but because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Moses, God protected Moses, then

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine)

Who then is this who recalls how God passed by Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 33 and 34? There is another point of contact with Moses:

49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:49-50

While it is difficult to see in the English, in the Greek is as plain as day. Jesus in calling out to the disciples says more literally, “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid”. The “I am” reflects the identity of God:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

“I Am” sent Moses. “I Am” is present in Jesus. Who then is this who reflects the identity of God?

Mark answers the question “who is Jesus” all the way through his Gospel. Jesus himself is the answer to the question “Who is God?”. He is the One Who calms the storms, Who destroys the demons, Who raises the dead, Who shepherds and provides, Who comes to us by the cross and says “Take heart, I Am, be not afraid”.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more in the Gospel of Mark series at Clarke’s blog

November 26, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Jim Thornber writes at what we call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.” Like him, I had never noticed the wording of this familiar story. Click the title to read this at source.

Would I Worship Or Would I Whine?

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

A few weeks ago a pastor in my town brought this passage to my attention. It is the story of Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is our own breathing.

Add to that silence the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away and you have an emotional breakdown in the making. But she doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request. And when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He says. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother with a child possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “But she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent, after the church folk have suggested He send me away and finally after God says He’s not here for me? I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

But now this woman challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It is only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how the demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there’s more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her town; she didn’t travel to him. There is always hope when God is present.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, there is still hope. If there wasn’t, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith – and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding my requests, I need to remember that His silence doesn’t mean “No.” I need to remember that Jesus came to me before I came to Jesus, for that reminds me how important I am to Him. I need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the Banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

August 25, 2017

Even the Weather Obeys Him

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We’re paying a return visit today to Bryan Lowe and his blog, Broken Believers. Click the title below to read this at source. We had several good articles to choose from, so click through and look around.

Here Be Giants!

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT

There is an ancient map in London, England dated from 1525, that has some interesting notations written on it. At one edge someone wrote, “From this point there are fiery scorpions.’  And also written, was “Here be dragons.” On the other margin somebody else noted, ‘Here be giants.” But a believer named Sir John Franklin wrote on this same map, “Here is God.”

Certainly cartographic scorpions, dragons and giants seem to be bit quaint. We certainly don’t really believe in such things anymore. Yet the presence of God is true and quite real. He is present, and is quite active in the lives of everyone who has ever used a map of any sort.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:25-41, NLT

The Sea of Galilee actually has four names, and it actually isn’t a sea, but a lake with sweet and good water. The lake is over 13 miles long and 7 miles at its widest point. The way the hills surround the lake can produce waves over 20 feet, due to unique weather pattern that exists today.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen. They had each seen tough times, but what is going to be unleashed on them is far and above anything they have ever seen. They were frightened.

Jesus was pretty much exhausted. He had been ministering for several days. This was a stretch. A trip across the lake would give Him a definite break. He is so tired, He falls asleep, using a “boat cushion” as a pillow. He is soon sound asleep.

The disciples seem to respect Jesus’ need for rest. But it all gets chaotic and confused quite quickly. None of them had experienced such a terrible storm. They woke Jesus up, and strongly suggested that He do something decisive. Otherwise, they would all be lost.

Jesus was awakened to another need. My guess is that He needed more sleep, but the present moment He needed to speak boldly into this ugly storm. The waves are quite nasty, but at His Word spoken, everything becomes quite serene.

His disciples are undone. They simply draw different conclusions. What they have just seen strips them down to a basic level. The deep presence of Him takes apart of all they understand. God takes them apart, and they end up in a very interesting position.

Our perceptions shouldn’t alter the presence of God. He is our steady rock in our ‘quicksand world.’ He shuts down our storms. You can truly rest with Him in your boat, controlling the storms.


Related: If you grew up in your church you know the song which follows, which is based on today’s scripture text. But if you didn’t give this a listen even if it’s not your usual musical genre.

 

March 14, 2017

After Suffering for 12 Years, A Woman Encounters Jesus

Kelsey Lewis is currently a full time seminary student working on her MDiv at Emory University in Atlanta. She wrote what follows to be part of an oral presentation, but after reading it on her blog Faith(,) in Words I asked her for permission to share it here. Many of us are familiar with the first scripture portion, but it takes the second one to put it in context. Click the title below to read at source.

Within Reach

The following is a manuscript from a short sermon I preached in my Preaching class on February 23, 2017.

 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5: 24-34

I would like to read one more passage for you. From the book of Leviticus:

19 “ ‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “ ‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. … 25 “ ‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. … 29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “ ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’ ”

Leviticus 15:19-31

This is not a passage that you or I have likely heard read aloud in church. However, I wanted to lead with it as I introduced you all to our subject today because these laws followed her everywhere she went. In fact, the words in Mark used to describe her condition, “spring of her blood” were a direct reference to this Levitical passage. She—along with every woman of sexual maturity—but especially she, would have been very familiar with such laws. It was this passage that added insult to the injury of her suffering, keeping her in a perpetual state of uncleanness, unable to touch without contaminating.

All three synoptic gospels give an account of this woman’s story but Mark, usually the most succinct, gives us the most details into her background. The passage characterizes her as one who has suffered. And her suffering is threefold:

  1. She suffers bodily from what is a likely a painful condition, which persists for twelve years of her life. Despite having seen countless doctors, her condition continues to worsen.
  2. She suffers financially, having spent everything she has on failed medical treatment.
  3. She suffers socially.

As alluded to in the passage and as was customary, such a condition would have required her to live outside of the city wall, on the literal margins of society and everyone who came into contact with her would have had to go there too to offer a sacrifice in a purifying ritual, and wait until evening to be ritually clean again. The gospel writer would have us know this about her so that we understand the scandal and the audacity of what happens next.

In an act of desperation, she reaches out for Jesus, touching his robe. . . and it works! She feels herself healed inside. As Christ says, it is her faith that has healed her.

More amazing still is Jesus’ reaction to her touch. I can imagine her fear as Jesus looks around for her and she realizes she has been caught and cannot go unnoticed. But he shows no concern for her impurity. In fact, just after this passage—presumably within the same day in the narrative—he goes to Jairus’ home and grasps the hand of a dead Gentile girl, an act which may have set a record for most purity laws broken at once.

In a stunning reinterpretation of the law, Christ not only liberates her from her bodily physical suffering, he liberates the community around her from fear of her impurity. He shows us this: It is not her impurity which goes forth onto Jesus, but his power that goes out upon her touch. It is not her impurity that is the contagion, but Christ’s power which cannot be contained. Impurity which kept her ostracized for 12 years has no power in the presence of God’s holiness.

No matter how far on the margins you are, no matter how unclean or unfit you or others perceive you to be, Jesus is not beyond your reach. In fact he may be closer than you can imagine. You see, a study of this word “suffering” which in this passage is associated with the pain this woman has endured for twelve years reveals that every other use in the book of Mark and 11 times out of 12 in the entirety of the gospels reveals that suffering is connected with Jesus Christ as the sufferer. The Biblical author would have us associate suffering with the suffering Servant himself.

As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, verse 12:  “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”

You see, not only does Christ situate himself so that we may reach him in the city among the “pure” folk, but he comes to us, and inhabits that outside, marginal space with the suffering. That is the power of God’s contagious love over our suffering. God has come down, not to contain Godself to the holy of holies, but as an uncontained, unbridled force, extending far beyond the limits of our social constructs, lighting up the darkest corners of unmentionable pain, even out beyond the city gates where the “impure” and “unholy” reside. In Jesus, God climbs down into our suffering with us and redeems it with God’s holy presence, so that as we reach out, we can be assured that God’s power goes out to meet us.

 

November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Morgan, who blogs in the UK at Digging The Word. Click the title below to read at source. This is very timely for our US readers for whom today is the start of the Thanksgiving holiday.  This is actually two different posts, we’re presenting them in reverse order to how Rick had them. Click the individual titles to read at source. Other titles in this series include A Heart of Love Has Peace, A Heart of Love Even When Life Is Difficult, A Heart of Love Joyfully Praises God.

A Heart Of Thanks: Refuses To Forget

Most people are quick to forget where the blessings come from.

Luke 17:11-19 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. 15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. “


You just met a man that you heard rumors about, and then sure enough you and your friends all cry out for healing, all ten of you get what you asked for.

Which leper are you? You just witnessed ten people healed simultaneously, you being one of them, what do you do?

Do you think the other lepers remained healed? If so, what was the benefit or blessing for the one leper who returned to give thanks?

Does living with a heart of thanks make a difference in your life?

I have been blessed beyond measure, I have been healed from the leprosy of sin, I need to give God thanks for what he has done and what he is still doing in my life.

Thank you Lord for healing me and bringing me back to life! I am an unworthy servant that seeks to obey you fully from a heart of gratitude.

I Will Give Thanks

I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks
I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks (repeat)

For He is good, And His love endures forever
For He is good, And His love endures forever

I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks
I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks

For the Lord has been so good to me
He has blessed my life abundantly
He’s provided, guided, lifted me, He is faithful through it all

O His love endures, yes His love endures
O His love endures, yes His love endures

Can we ever comprehend how good God is to us? I don’t think that we can comprehend or appreciate it before we get to heaven and meet him face to face. Then we will understand why the song says “I will give thanks to the Lord forever!”

Psalms 30:11-12 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever!

As you count your blessings today don’t forget to praise and worship God for the gifts that are impossible to have without him. Things like salvation, true love, the ability to know him and relate to him, if we really appreciate these things then our desires for the stuff that the world has to offer will fade.

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!)

September 16, 2016

Our Faith Should Be More Than Just a Coping Mechanism

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I remember was hearing this preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel

 

December 24, 2015

The Life That Changed the World

Several years ago I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference. That type of endorsement is meant to impress, and it does. Certainly I’ve never done those things.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I mentioned above, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog, or a Christian television show.”

That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. (CEB)

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage. (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

December 19, 2015

Does Your Hearing Need Healing?

A shorter reading today, but one rich in application This is from Adrian Plass, from the book You, Me and Mark (previously published as Never Mind the Reversing Ducks).

Mark 7:31-37New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

adrian plassSensitive as ever, Jesus takes this deaf man well away from crowds and noise so that he will not be overwhelmed by a cacophony of sounds when his hearing is restored.  Are the fingers in the ears and the spitting on the tongue part of the healing process, or, as seems more likely, was Jesus simply miming what he was about to? Another interesting but unanswerable question.  But here is one indisputable fact.  For this man, the first sound to emerge from a lifelong well of silence was the voice of the Son of God.  Not a bad way to start, was it?  For as long as he lived he would never forget the voice that called him out of silence and bewilderment into a new way of life.

It may seem blunderingly symbolic to say so but many of the Christians that I meet have forgotten the tone and content of the voice that first called them to follow their master without question.  There are so many other voices that come crashing in with opinions and doctrines and advice and temptations and distractions.

Move away from those other sounds to a private place away from the crowd.  Close your eyes.  Listen hard.  Do you hear that voice coming out of the silence, the voice that first commanded your eyes to be opened and your ears to be unblocked?  Do your vision and your hearing need to healed again?  His gentle touch is upon you.  Open your eyes and listen with your ears.  There are old and new things to see and hear.


I want to know you; I want to hear your voice…


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Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

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